Today, with the largest military show in the past few years, the Soviet Union celebrates the 60th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution that delivered Russia from centuries of czarist despotism and established a new kind of authoritarian government that has successfully ruled in the name of the people for six decades.
In their real to assert in every possible way how this government is better and more benevolent than Russian's earlier rulers, or the rulers of all the other countries of the world. the Kremlin leadership has gone to mighty lengths to make this celebration unique, one that will have lasting impact on the national conscience.
At the time, the celebration has raised Leonid Brezhncy, the unique durable general secretary of the Communist Party and president of the country, to new levels of public recognition. The 60th anniversary celebration is as much directed at the glory of this leader as it is to the glories of the state.
This sprawling capital, now cloaked in the first major snowfall of the long, arduous winter ahead is ablaze with lights, wreathed with flags and decorated with giant portraits of the human gods of communism - Marx, Engels, Lenin - who gave their energy and thoughts to the creation of a new world order. joining these portraits on the sides of major buildings are those of the current Soviet leaders, led of course by a larger portrait of Brezhnev.
For weeks, the public media has been filled with paeans to the power and glory of the Soviet state; the vast government ministries have poured forth statistics that proclaim the health and well-being the industrial might, and creative capacity of Russia "in the years of Soviet power."
As part of this celebration, the nation has a new constitution (its fourth since the revolution), and has just completed a two-day meeting of the government in which the leaders of nations around the world extolled the Soviet state, sent their congratulations to Brezhnev, and in every diplomatic way acknowledged the might and prestige of this country.
In the process, the leadership publicly ignored Western critics of its repressive human rights policies for the first time in recent weeks. Brezhnev, who excoriated and ridiculed the West for its support of dissenters and criticisms of the new Soviet constitution during the constitutional sessions of the Supreme Soviet last month, had only words of measured diplomatic caution last weeks, as well as a promising offer to change a longheld strategic concept in hopes of getting agreement on a comprehensive ban on nuclear testing.
The leader who spoke last week was the sober head of a country that today is immeasurably more powerful than it was a decade ago. It produces more steel, more coal and more electric power than any other country. Its 260 million people are better clothed and housed, better fed and have higher living standard than at any time in the torturned history of Russia. In recent days, the shops along Goki Street, Moscow's Fifth Avenue, have been filled with goods seldom seen during the year, and people have waited patiently by the hour to buy the clothing, food and gifts they so strongly want.
Young people gathering in down town pubs and restaurants or touring the streets in large groups, wear blue-jeans bought in the West and T-shirts traded with Westerners. Their shoes are purchased in East bloc countries where workmanship is higher than here. There is an insatiable demand for these goods.
In its 60th year, the Soviet Union is unmistakeably a member of the "northern industrial culture," the belt of productivity and buying power that centers in Western Europe and North America, where taste and culture is increasingly homogenized by the impact of global communications.
Despite continued postponements to make room in this struggling economy for enormous military expenditures, the domestic economy moves inexorably toward an era of consumerism. This year, for example, the Soviet Union will produce more than a million cars, the premier consumer item of the Western world. A decade ago, production hovered at several hundred thousand.
There are still long waits and prices and exorbitant (about $7,000 for a Soviet-built Fiat compact), in a country where the average monthly income is about $240. Nevertheless, the capital's streets are clogged and traffic jams are commonplace. Ten years ago, according to verteran observers and harried Muscovites alike, the city's broad streets were sometimes nearly empty of cars and trucks.
Even so, appearances in the capital can be deceiving. Cars are not plentiful in the countryside and lack of modern transportation is one of the many major continuing problems in the domestic economy.On a recent trip by train to a provincial city, I was amazed to see, 30 miles from downtown Moscow, farmers driving horsedrawn wagons through their fields.
The government is determined to improve these rural areas, and during the past decade it has launched numerous projects to provide hydroelectric power, more rail service in the strategic Soviet Far East, and more new roads. The Soviet Union has about $860,000 miles of roads, of which about 170,000 miles are paved, compared with 3.8 million miles of roads in the United States, of which 3 million miles are paved.
One of these projects, the Kama Truck Works, tells much about the problems and opportunities of the Sovict Union in its 60th year. The complex embodies the Soviet impluse to leap forward across decades of development in one mighty step. It is an impulse that has roots in Russia's past, when Czars sought to modernize the country by royal Fiat. The Soviets, however, are succeding in their own way.
Kamaz (for Kama Auto Factory) was designed to end forever the chronicc shortage of adequate trucks for Soviet industry and agriculture. Construction began in 1969 in a small town of about 2,000 persons 550 miles cast of here. By 1980, there will be a city of 250,000 persons, supplying 8,000 workers for the world's largest heavy-duty automotive works, a series of six plants that is supposed to turn out about 150,000 heavy trucks and 250,000 diesel engines a year, plus the spare parts to keep them running.
The Soviets have bought about $1 billion in Western equipment and technology, including computers and foundries from the United States. They could not complete the plant without Western help, but even so, production schedules have been missed and delays in the project have become chronic.
Although trucks are coming off the Kamaz lines, it is unclear whether the 1980 deadline for full production will be met. Delays of this sort are endemic in Russia, and lengthen as the priority of the endeavor declines. For all its power and productivity, the economy falters and projects wait years before completion, with untold impact on the society.
Western bankers take a jaundiced view of this ineffeciency and Moscow's financial problems in the West have been growing, presenting mounting problems for the decade ahead. The Soviet Union now owes about $7 billion to Western nations and faces another $3 billion in various additional hard currency debts, according to a recent survey.
Its Eastern European allies (Poland, East Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czecholslovakia) owe an other $40 billion to West. There are presistent reports that Western financial institutions are concerned about both this trend toward borrowing to pay for development and the mounting debt service the Communist countries face.
Soviet buying in the West has been set back by the 1974 Trade Act in which the United States virtually bared the Export-Import Bank from financing Soviet purchases of oil field equipment, and by earlier congressional measures trying trade credits to eased emigration procedures, which the Soviets are unwilling to approve.
Last week, Brezhnev had further bad news when he announced that the 1977 grain harvest would total 194 million tons, about 19 million short of official projections. This means the Soviets will once again have to divert precious Western buying power into feedgrains and food stocks, a boon to American farmers, but a blow to the Soviets who want to concentrate their buying in the industrial-technical areas.
The Soviets have tied their Eastern European partners into a series of complex trade agreements that rival the European Common Market and have insured Soviet economic primacy with its Communist neighbors.
That status was made explicit with the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia, a move that has caused Moscow endless problems among Western European Communist parties and in part helped create opposition that has fueled the ideological diversity of Eurocommunism.
To the east, the Soviets confront a China that looks hostile and menacing to them, and a U.S. policy of steady attempts at improving relations with Peking. The Soviets and Chinese got into a shooting match in 1969 over their borders, and while relations have improved somewhat since that low point, public excoriation of the Chinese remains steady fare in speeches by Kremlin leaders and the Chinese themselves throw invective back.
IN the world at large, despite its troubles and fears of China, the Soviet Union reached parity with the United States as a world superpower in the 1967-77 decade.
This equality was embodied in a series of treaties and agreements, the most notable of which were the first accord resulting from the Strategic Arms Limitation talks, signed in 1972, and the Helsinki agreement on European Security and cooperation, signed in 1975.
The SALT agreement established the principle of U.S.-Soviet strategic weapons party. The Soviets are seeking a successor agreement, and last week Brezhnev offered to abandon a related nuclear testing position in a clear gesture to improve chances of achieving both a SALT accord and a comprehensive test ban treaty.
The Helsinki agreement recognized Soviet hegemony in Eastern Europe, a Soviet goal since World War II. In return, the Soviets agreed to certain human rights provision of that treaty, an agreement that has caused considerable turmoil in the past two years as a small group of citizens began speaking out against the government's repressive tactics.
The Kremlin has created with fury, imprisoning some of its disidents and deporting others. When President Carter showed public support for Dr. Andrei Sakharov, the dissident physicist, relations between the two countries nosedived. Carter has since sharply modified his outspoken politicies and relations have improved, but the deportations and repressions continue.
Just yesterday, a special flight to Vienna carried three dissidents and their families into unwanted European exile. The airport at Sheremyetevo was filled with tearful friends and relatives and beady-eyed security men as the dissenters departed. It was a scene that very likely will be repeated in years to come.
In his 70th year and at the height of his power, it is clear that Brezhnev will not tolerate any significant public dissent from the authoritarian rule of the Communist Party. Those who speak out are punished, or silenced, or frightened, or sent away. They are not to be allowed to speak out. The attempt at liberalization of the society that Nikita Khrushchev began during his last years in power can still be discovered here and there, like whispers of a breeze. What more passionate and deeper yearnings or wellsprings of dissent may exist is virtually impossible for a Westerner to know, if they exist ast all.
In human terms, the leadership evokes little visible adulation or warmth from average citizens. In part, this is undoubtedly because their minds and hearts - like those of ordinary citizens everywhere - lie much closer to home, and have no room for including national leaders around the hearth on a cold night.
Recently, a Westerner fell into conversation on a Moscow street with a laborer and between swigs of kvass, a kind of beer, the laborer deliberated over the new constitution, and then said: "I have a home, a wife, clothing and food. My children are well. All's in order. What more can I say?"