MOSCOW, June 7, 1988 (UPI) - Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev is running into credibility problems as he tries to push through reforms of the Communist Party, the Pravda newspaper conceded Tuesday, three weeks before the start of a crucial party conference.
Letters to the Commmunist Party daily said Gorbachev had run into a credibility gap because no one had believed his predecessor Leonid Brezhnev, who gave rosy progress reports while the country's growth stagnated.
"Gorbachev is not believed sometimes because of his talentless predecessor,'' one letter said. ''I understand that Mikhail Sergeevich (Gorbachev) is now having a difficult time."
The letter blamed the cynicism toward Brezhnev on the ideological boss at the time, Mikhail Suslov, who helped bring Brezhnev to power in 1964. Brezhnev died in office in November 1982.
"Under Suslov, the ideological work of the party ... was directed at extolling Leonid Brezhnev," one letter said. "The party needs radical restructuring."
As ideological "tsar," Suslov had Brezhnev's memoirs printed so copiously that Brezhnev was hailed as the world's most published author -- a boast now mocked in the contemporary Soviet press.
Suslov died in January 1982 at age 79 in one of the first of the deaths of the aging old guard that eventually made way for the reformists under Gorbachev.
Soviet newspapers annually receive hundreds of thousands of letters, many dealing with social issues corruption and complaints about local authorities. Pravda generally uses such letters as a mirror of debate being conducted within high Communist Party ranks.
In many cases such letters are written by senior party officials on demand and printed on the orders of the party itself to emphasize points. However, newspaper officials maintain that letters appearing in the national press are a true reflection of those opinions received by the newspapers.
The amazingly frank series of letters in Pravda Tuesday coincided with signs Gorbachev is having difficulty getting his reformist delegates elected to the Special 19th Party Conference slated to open June 28.
The six-day conference of 5,000 delegates has a mandate to reshape the political structure of the country, including adopting rules that would limit office holders to two straight five-year terms.
But several of the most prominent advocates of Gorbachev's programs of restructuring known as perestroika -- virtual Soviet household names of reform like sociologist Tatyana Zaslavskaya and economist Nikolai Shmelyov -- were not selected by the Moscow Party for the conference, according to a list published Saturday.
In the new spirit of glasnost, or openness, another letter Tuesday mocked the euphemisms used when leaders have been fired such as the dismissals in May of the party bosses of Azerbaijan and Armenia because of ethnic disturbances in those two southern republics.
The letter called a ''half-truth'' the official May announcements that the party first secretaries of Armenia and Azerbaijan ''went on a pension when everybody knows the real reason.''
The long-used formulation for dismissals in the Soviet Union involves embattled leaders asking to be relieved because of health or age, and the other members of the leadership ''acceding'' to the request. The real political reasons for the removals are later enumerated in the state-controlled press.