Mikhail S. Gorbachev says that if Soviet citizens aren't better off in two years, he and the rest of the Communist leadership will resign.
Gorbachev's remarks to reporters Wednesday, which were shown on national television, marked the first time the president and party leader gave himself a deadline for reversing the country's economic and political downslide."I think that in two years, if there are no changes, this leadership must go," Gorbachev said as he entered the Kremlin Palace of Congresses on the third day of the Communist Party's watershed 28th Congress.
A Western journalist on the scene said Gorbachev had been asked what should happen if there are no improvements in the Soviet Union in two years.
Gorbachev, who rose to power in 1985, did not specify who would be covered by his self-imposed deadline, but it seemed likely he meant only party posts.
Most important Soviet officials still hold key posts in both the Communist Party and the Soviet government, though Gorbachev has moved to shift power from the long-dominant and increasingly discredited party to the more democratic government.
Speaking confidently in a separate, videotaped segment shown on the nightly TV news program "Vremya," he denied that the Kremlin leadership would do anything just to hold on to political power.
Gorbachev pointed out that the reforms he initiated had diminished the power of the party post he holds, general secretary.
In Wednesday's session, Gorbachev heard more bitter criticism from regional party officials who accused the Soviet leadership of cowardice and indecision in failing to defend the party amid growing anti-Communist sentiment.
"Our position today reminds of an army that is retreating in haste without a plan," said Nursultan Nazarbaev, party chief in the Kazakhstan republic, pleading for clearer direction from the Kremlin.
However, no speaker offered any ideas on how to reverse the failing fortunes of the Communists - who have suffered crippling defeats in fairly contested elections. And no one offered an alternative to re-electing Gorbachev to another five-year term as party chief.
Traditionalist party leader Yefrem Sokolov of Byelorussia, who complained to delegates that Moscow failed to cope with the fallout of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster, nevertheless told reporters "Gorbachev started perestroika and party members support him."
The 10-day congress, which continued with closed committee sessions Thursday, also passed a resolution appealing to disgruntled coal miners not to stage a one-day strike next week. It said a repetition of last summer's mine strikes could "lead to a breakup of the country's economy."
Regional party leaders blamed their bosses in the Kremlin for ecological disasters near the Chernobyl plant, Central Asia's shrinking Aral Sea and its overdependence on cotton production, and deteriorating social and economic conditions that have more and more Soviets considering the party the source of their problems.
Gorbachev listened quietly to the criticism, which came mainly from party leaders of some of the 15 Soviet republics, large cities, and ministers in charge of important sectors of the economy.
Still, Gorbachev appeared in firm control of the congress and expressed confidence during another brief chat with reporters.
"No one at the congress casts doubt on the political course of perestroika," he said.
But regional party leaders demanded that the Kremlin give them clearer direction. They criticized party ideology chief Vadim A. Medvedev, who was jeered as he spoke on the first day of the congress.
Anatoly Poruchikov, director of a state farm, said farmers were not impressed with the government's reforms.
"We are like a big cow for you, you milk us non-stop," he complained. "What will happen to you if we all stop?"