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GORBACHEV NEEDS TO FORGE AN ALLIANCE

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For more than five years, Mikhail Gorbachev has preached the gospel of democracy. Starting this week, with the 28th Communist Party Congress, he must begin to practice it or risk losing his remaining power base.

The time when a solitary czar-liberator could dictate events is over. Gorbachev must now evolve into a great reconciler, negotiating his differences with the reformist forces emerging in the republics. At the center of this effort must be a reconciliation with his nemesis Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic.Gorbachev initially had hoped to avoid this sort of politicking by using the Communist Party as his principal instrument in transforming the Soviet Union.

Yet, as the recent congress of the Russian Communist Party dramatically underscored, the party has emerged as the center of opposition to reform. Indeed, in all likelihood the democrats will be forced to leave the party.

Despite their rising and open hostility to their nominal leader, the anti-reform forces are unlikely to oust Gorbachev in the party congress - though they may have the necessary votes to do so.

The more intelligent hard-liners know that a return to the Stalinist model would provoke violent resistance in the cities and would be a disaster for foreign relations.

In these circumstances, it has been widely suggested that Gorbachev simply give up his party posts and continue his reforms by running the state machine as president.

But, as he is well aware, the new state machine is too weak - and the party is still too strong - for this to happen. Professional bureaucrats who dominate the party apparatus would continue successful efforts to undercut economic reform.

Fortunately, in this cacophony of political forces lie the seeds of a potent, progressive coalition. Gorbachev's task at the party congress is to begin the process of forging a strong alliance with the reformist elements, personified by Yeltsin.

Yeltsin was elected by democrats and liberals in Moscow and Leningrad and moderate patriotic elements in the provinces. This same constituency - which Gorbachev fumbled away in clumsy attempts at old-style domination - has emerged in all the republics.

If they are to gain the power to govern effectively, however, these emerging reform movements need Gorbachev's support. They also fear the hard-line alternatives to him.

In addition to mending fences with Yeltsin, therefore, Gorbachev must strike a deal with reformers in all the republics: self-rule in return for their support of his future efforts at reform.

What sort of self-rule should he offer? In the Baltic states, the people will be satisfied by nothing short of independence. Gorbachev should recognize the inevitable and agree to work out a plan for autonomy.

Ironically, Gorbachev seems slower than his opponents to adjust to the vast changes he has wrought. By virtue of his celebrity status, he continues to exercise great influence. But to maintain his standing, he has to realize that the diffusion of power that he engineered has irrevocably changed Soviet politics.