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Pravda editor: Soviet capitalism possible

The Soviet Union will follow the political path chosen by its people, whether it is socialist or capitalist, according to a senior editor of the Communist Party daily Pravda in an article published Monday in Moscow. Yuri Shabanov, deputy chief of the newspaper's ideology department, said it was inevitable that new parties will emerge that "could argue for capitalism or some other social structure. ... Whichever of these programs is supported by the people, that will be the road the society will take."

Reporting on a free-wheeling round-table discussion between Communists and other political groups on the future of the country, Shabanov emphasized his own support for the party's new platform of "humane democratic socialism." But as the voice of the party leadership at the discussion, he clearly intended to show an unprecedented flexibility toward the paper's more than 10-million readers and the increasing number of groups pressing the party for deeper structural reforms.

At a plenary session of the party's policy-making Central Committee this month, the party leadership reacted to tremendous public pressure and voted to give up its constitutionally guaranteed monopoly on power. Since then, nearly all political discussion has focused on the rise of a multiparty system _ how quickly it could happen and what type of parties would be permitted.

In recent days there have been many articles in the press recommending that the Soviet Communist Party follow the route taken in Hungary and Poland _ dissolving and then restructuring itself as a social democratic grouping. Opposition parties, from the Greens to the Social Democrats, are already challenging the Communists in local elections in the Baltic states, and thousands of groups throughout the country have pressed the Communists for deeper changes in Soviet society.

The round table included representatives from social organizations that have long been pushing the Communist Party toward more radical economic and political reforms and, until recently, were the subject of official scorn. The party is clearly attempting to show tolerance for groups such as Democratic Platform, the popular fronts and others that have garnered great popular support.

"In principle it is a natural situation for an open society and it means progress when a ruling structure is pushed toward more radical political measures by an opposition to reflect the will of the people," Shabanov said.

Shabanov said a legal multiparty system in the Soviet Union was unavoidable. Some party leaders, such as KGB secret police chief Vladimir Kryuchkov, have said such a system could include only socialist parties, while "extremist parties" could not be tolerated. Gorbachev appears to have taken a more permissive stand on that issue.

Although Shabanov's comments about neo-capitalist parties amount to a sensation here, even the most radical parties and political figures tend not to speak of the outright creation of a capitalist system in the Soviet Union. Instead, the political fervor here usually centers on the redefinition of socialism.