LENINGRAD -- Dmitri Likhachev, a member of the Soviet legislature and a scholar of ancient Russian literature, saw the revolutions of 1917 from his schoolroom windows. He survived five years in a prison camp, the Nazi siege of Leningrad, the calcification of the Brezhnev years. And yet he cannot remember a moment in his lifetime more troubled than this one, a time more filled with resentments and anxiety.

"There is a sense of breakdown and constant tensions among people," Likhachev said in his study at the literary institute, Pushkin House. "I really fear the explosion of those resentments. I fear the poor attacking the people they think are wealthy. I fear the shape social anger can take in this country." Such is the edgy, uncertain mood as the Congress of Peoples Deputies opens a week-long session in Moscow tomorrow.

The classless society envisaged in Leninist ideology has turned out to be a society "equal in poverty," as the journal Young Communist put it recently. Thanks to a system founded on utopian ideals and violent administration, more than 85 percent of the population, the journal said, can be considered poor. Likhachev's Leningrad, once one of the great cities of Europe, is now on a food rationing system for the first time since World War II.

At the same time, there are small pockets of emerging wealth, new classes of people that have seized, legally and not, on the reforms of the Gorbachev era. Heads of cooperative businesses, mafiosi, intellectuals and officials with access to foreign travel and goods, privileged Communist Party apparatchiks and their spoiled children, the "golden youth": This thin, amorphous layer of society is united mainly by being the focus of enormous social resentment.

Soviet power ingrained into its subjects an equalitarian ethic, an innate suspicion and envy of the slightest material success. During collectivization under Stalin, a successful farmer -- meaning one who owned a cow or a horse -- was considered a kulak, a "rich peasant" who deserved little more than imprisonment or a firing squad. The totalitarian system was based on the repeated attempt to eliminate whole classes -- the kulaks, the land-owning classes, the intelligentsia -- all in the name of a workers' state.

"For decades in this country, the public was told that even though their standard of living was not too high, they felt that the whole nation was the owner of the country's wealth," said Giorgi Shakhnazarov, one of Mikhail Gorbachev's closest advisers. "Now there is this new class of millionaires, and people find themslves hired by them, exploited by them. This creates tremendous disgruntlement in society. The average man in the street may well ask: 'What do I need this for?' "

The contrast between the haves and the have-nots is as stark as the scene in Hollywood's "Dr. Zhivago," when the camera turns to the poor workers of St. Petersburg standing hungry in the slush as the swells eat caviar and dumplings in one of the great restaurants of Nevsky Prospekt. The same caricature today would show the great divide between the beggars in the Metro stops and the mobsters, apparatchiks and private businessmen diving into the blinis at the cooperative cafes on Kropotkinskaya Street.

To see the collapse of the old system and the fitful, often grotesque rise of the new, one need only enter a store like Ruslan across the street from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow. On one side of the store are state products -- dingy brown overcoats, cheap plastic boots -- sold at state subsidized prices. On the other side are foreign goods sold at astronomical "contract" prices: a pair of Reeboks for 1,500 rubles, a bottle of Johnny Walker Red Label for 300 rubles. For an auto worker or a surgeon in a state hospital, 220 rubles is a month's pay. For a black marketeer or a "new entrepeneur" -- sometimes it is hard to tell the difference -- a fistful of rubles is chump change.

"All this has brought out the hatred in people," said Yakov Ettinger, a founder of the independent political group, Memorial. "In every courtyard of every city you can hear the 'babushkas' on their benches grumbling about so-and-so having one more potato than they do, or how so-and-so's wearing a new coat. They see the reforms meaning nothing but worsening conditions for them and a boon to a select few." In many cases, the resentment is rooted in fact. Almost from the start, the Communist Party elite reserved for itself the privileges of power, forming what the Yugoslav dissident Milovan Djilas called the "New Class" and emigre' historian Michael Voslensky called the "Parasite Class." Until recently, the limousines and sweet meats of the Party rulers were a secret almost as closely held as the blueprints for the H-bomb.

Russian federation president Boris Yeltsin's political comeback was based largely on his willingness to expose the Party. During his campaigns, he described in pseudo-pornographic detail his old Politburo manse with its three cooks, three waitresses, a maid, a team of gardners, a home movie theater (with projectionist) and vast underground refrigerators. As for the dacha, well, "I lost count of the number of bathrooms."

"If you have climbed all the way to the top of the establishment pyramid, then it's full communism!" Yeltsin writes in the memoir "Against the Grain," a book widely available here.

With their power now in question, there is a sense both of desperation and cynicism in Communist Party ranks. With one eye on the sorry fate of their brethren in Eastern Europe, many officials try at once to cling to their perks and dispose of their assets as if the "end of history" were a fire sale. The splendid birch forests of Barvikha and Uspenskoye, the Party's East Hampton, are filled with apparatchiks and generals willing to rent or sell off their country houses. No rubles accepted, thank you. Hard currency only. The other day foreign businessmen and correspondents received in the mail an offer from the Soviet government (with help from an Austrian firm) willing to sell new dachas in the town of Zavidovo for $900,000.

Some Party apparatchiks have made the transition to the hustling class rather well. At the USA-Canada Institute, once the Party and the KGB's window on the west, "institute-niks" almost invariably are making a little on the side. For handsome fees, they appear as paid "experts" on American television or run consulting businesses to guide westerners through the Hades of the Soviet bureaucracy.

Jan Vanous, whose Washington-based consulting firm PlanEcon tries to accumulate data on Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, said that in recent years he has even encountered the phenomenon of Party bureaucrats willing to peddle their inside dope for dollars.

"You'll spend half a work-day with a fairly high-ranking Party official trying to get a fix on, say, the mineral reserves in some part of Siberia and you'll get nothing out of it. Then, just as you're about to give up, they'll give you their other calling card and say, 'Let's meet later for drinks or dinner and maybe we can do better.' Lo and behold, for a private fee . . . they are suddenly ready to provide you with very valuable information in their evening capacity of 'consultant.' "

The Party, at least, has vast experience in concealing privilege. As a result, the popular contempt for visible wealth is often even more acute. And a critical element of that resentment is virulent racism and anti-Semitism.

At the most basic level, at the city's private markets, where food is far more plentiful (and more expensive) than in the pathetic state shops, there is a lot of grumbling in Russian about the Armenians, Azerbaijanis and other southern minorities who usually sell the produce. The markets are scenes of the most primitive, unbridled capitalism with bribes a matter of course. Time and again at places like Moscow's Riga Market one hears the muttered curse "chornaya zhupa" (or "black ass") after a Russian has had a sharp encounter with, say, a butcher from Baku. The rise of glasnost, increasing trade contacts with the West and the freedom of movement has allowed many intellectuals and a new class of business people to travel abroad and earn foreign currency -- the only currency that guarantees quick access to a decent material life. There are writers and even members of the Congress of Peoples Deputies who spend more time abroad than at home. "It gets harder to write when every other month you have the chance to go abroad to a nice conference in Tokyo, New York or Paris," said Andrei Bitov, author of "Life in Windy Weather" and other fiction.

Members of the traveling class are easily spotted on a Soviet street: amid the sea of cheap acrylic grayness, there's a fine loden coat from Vienna, a pair of wing-tips from Jermyn Street, a blood-red ski jacket from Dortmund. You can get rich, but you can't hide. Another novelist who has just come into some foreign royalties, Viktor Yerofeyev, said he likes his new Volvo sports coupe certainly, "but I'm afraid the neighbors are going to smash in the windows and slash the tires."

Foreigners are also losing their allure in Moscow. As reporters, diplomats and business people come trudging out of the Stockmann's hard-currency grocery store with their white and green bags packed with food trucked in from Finland, small crowds stare and sneer. The other day an American could not pull away in her car before a man grabbed on to her rear-view mirror and said, "I'll let go when you give me some of your food."

It should be a shock to no one that much of the resentment is in anti-Semitic terms. Anyone with a little extra is somehow a Jew. It can be terrifying at times. You can hear such grumbling in buses, on the streets, in the stores. Sometimes it becomes the stuff of public meetings. Last June 6 at the Red October cultural hall in Moscow, 700 members of the People's Orthodox Movement met, and the level of hatred was startling.

"We declare that the Jews bear the collective responsibility for the genocide of the Russian people and other peoples of our country!" said one speaker, Alexander Kulakov. "And we demand that Jews be forbidden to leave the country until a tribunal of the Russian people decide their fate. We express solidarity with the Arab world, which struggles with this evil! We also express solidarity with the German people. The Jews were never victims of the German people. The Germans were victims of Jewish deception!"

Such groups as the United Workers Front, Motherland and Unity make similarly horrifying grunts, all in the name of "proletarian justice." Journals like Moldaya Gvardia (Young Guard) and Nash Sovremenik (Our Contemporary) also support this strange amalgam of nationalism, neo-Stalinism and pure resentment that is known now as National Bolshevism. The workers' newspaper, Moskovski Stroitel (Moscow Builder) is like a constant handbill calling for class conflict.

"We face a paradox. An actual ban on the class approach and its false contrast with universal human values is happening at a time when the gap between rich and poor is widening," Richard Kosolapov wrote in Moskovski Stroitel. "We are stubbornly being told that there is a need for fraternization between striking coal miners and the growing ranks of millionaires . . . despite the fact that our entire historical experience is literally crying out about the inevitability of conflict."

It amounts to a bitter, uncertain picture. So much so, that some people here cannot help but fear a time when class resentments and petty conflicts could grow more dangerous.

"Maybe it's alarmist at this point, but you can't help comparing elements of life here now with Germany in the 1920s and early 1930s," said Yevgeni Proshechkin, chairman of the All-Union Anti-Fascist Center. "Economic strife, tension, the appearance of National Bolshevism, the {conservative} Russian communists, Pamyat and the rest. There's no need for conspiracy theories, but we would be failing ourselves if we did not remain as vigilant as we can."