Mikhail Gorbachev opened the 28th Communist Party Congress Monday by admitting the leadership has made mistakes but warning hard-liners challenging his five-year rule "not to indulge in trivial passions" that could rupture the party.
Gorbachev, the Soviet president and party leader, launched into a 90-minute report to the Congress with a counterattack on conservatives who have criticized his "perestroika" reform program."The claim that perestroika is to blame for all our troubles is nonsense," Gorbachev said. "This is an inability or a lack of desire to face facts."
Earlier, a delegate from Magadan in the Soviet Far East demanded that the party's entire 250-member Central Committee and its ruling Politburo resign immediately. The delegate did not refer specifically to Gorbachev, who is a member of both the Central Committee and Politburo.
Gorbachev brushed the challenge aside, saying the status of party leaders would be dealt with later at the Congress.
In his official report, Gorbachev acknowledged errors by the leadership, saying, "We could have foreseen many things and for this the Politburo considers itself responsible."
But Gorbachev said he took on enormous problems when he became the party's general secretary more than five years ago.
"The bad state of our villages that we inherited is not a problem that appeared yesterday, since 1985," Gorbachev said.
"The awful condition of our forests, our rivers . . . the difficult ecological situation of more than 100 cities - none of this began in 1985."
Citing a familiar litany of the vast country's ills, Gorbachev said such problems as ethnic conflict, labor unrest and the crippled economy all have long histories rooted in decades of mismanagement.
In a direct barb at his critics, who have become more vocal in recent months, Gorbachev said: "In big-time politics, one must not indulge in trivial passions."
Gorbachev earlier called to order the conclave, held every five years, by announcing that 4,683 delegates had been elected from across the Soviet Union but that 26 were absent.
"It is expected that the Congress will heatedly debate the question of what the party should be like," the official Tass news agency said. "The line of the party leadership has its supporters, but at the same time it is being criticized from the left and the right."
Breaking with the past, voting machines were installed in the Kremlin's Palace of Congresses, allowing the delegates to finally vote their conscience after decades of rote voting at such gatherings.
The largely conservative Congress balked at more radical steps, however, soundly defeating proposals to make the party directly accountable to the people and to hold a referendum among the country's 19 million communists on the party's future in the emerging multiparty system.
Delegates authorized live TV coverage of the conclave's opening and closing sessions and delayed reports on other parts. Cable News Network televised the proceedings live in the United States.