Soviet Union Table of Contents
Similar in size to the congress was the party conference, although unlike the congress it did not meet regularly. The Nineteenth Party Conference--the most recent--took place in 1988. (The Eighteenth Party Conference had been convened in 1941.) Officially, the conference ranked third in importance among party meetings, after the congress and the Central Committee plenum. Oblast and district party leaders handpicked most of the delegates to the Nineteenth Party Conference, as they had for party congresses in the past, despite Gorbachev's desire that supporters of reform serve as delegates. Nevertheless, public opinion managed in some instances to pressure the party apparatus into selecting delegates who pressed for reform.
The Nineteenth Party Conference made no personnel changes in the Central Committee, as some Western observers had expected. However, the conference passed a series of resolutions signaling policy departures in a number of areas. For example, the resolution "On the Democratization of Soviet Society and the Reform of the Political System" called for the creation of a new, powerful position of president of the Supreme Soviet, limiting party officeholders to two five-year terms, and prescribed multicandidate elections to a new Congress of People's Deputies (see Congress of People's Deputies , ch. 8). The conference passed other resolutions on such topics as legal reform, interethnic relations, economic reform, glasnost', and bureaucracy.
By convening the Nineteenth Party Conference approximately two years after initiating his reform program, Gorbachev hoped to further the democratization of the party, to withdraw the party from many aspects of economic management, and to reinvigorate government and state institutions. He also sought to rouse the party rank and file against the bureaucracy. In this vein, the conference was a success for Gorbachev because it reaffirmed his program of party-directed change from above.
Data as of May 1989