MOSCOW, SEPT. 26 -- Ira Shushikova spent six hours standing in line today to buy basic necessities for her family. She has ceased to have any faith in President Mikhail Gorbachev and thinks that all the talk about the Soviet Union's making a transition to a market economy is a pipedream.

"The rich will get richer, and the rest of us will get poorer. Prices will shoot up, but our salaries will rise by only a few percent," said Shushikova, a Moscow seamstress, one of several hundred people waiting patiently on a gray afternoon outside a shop selling children's shoes. "Life was better under {former Soviet leader Leonid} Brezhnev," she said, adding, with heavy exaggeration, "The only lines back in those days were for caviar."

Shushikova's pessimistic outlook reflects the popular mood here this fall as the Soviet economy staggers from one crisis to another. In the Kremlin, the air is thick with proposals for a free-market revolution within 500 days. In the streets, there is deep skepticism that the communist system is capable of reform. Many Soviet citizens appear to believe that if there are any changes at all, they will be for the worse.

The "500 Day Plan," drawn up by a group of economists appointed by Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin, president of the Soviet Russian republic, envisages the immediate sale of state assets to soak up excess money now circulating in the economy. It suggests, for example, that two-thirds of all state-run food stores and restaurants should be turned over to the private sector by mid-1991. It also calls for the freeing of prices on all but essential items starting in January.

Out of dozens of Moscow residents interviewed on their daily rounds today, none expressed any real optimism about the future. Many reacted suspiciously to the 500 Day Plan, now under consideration by the Kremlin leadership, for the denationalization of huge chunks of the inefficient state-run economy. Even among the minority who said they favored the sale of state assets, few expected to benefit personally.

"I would buy a little shop if I could, but where do I get the money from? No one is going to give me a loan," said Tatyana Shirnova, an engineer whose monthly salary is 220 rubles -- $350 at the arbitrary official exchange rate. "The only people who will be able to buy these places are the speculators."

"All these proposals look beautiful on paper, but I don't think they will lead anywhere," agreed Oleg Vasiliev, a construction worker, who was standing in line to buy a hat. "Even supposing that I was allowed to set up my own building company, I would still need building materials. There's no point talking about a market until there are goods to sell."

The sense of despair displayed by many ordinary Soviets contrasts with the enthusiasm for the proposed reforms expressed by many Western visitors to the Soviet Union. Some members of a U.S. business delegation led by Commerce Secretary Robert A. Mosbacher spoke at a press conference as if capitalism were just around the corner.

"Capitalism is coming to the Soviet Union and, equally clearly, Wall Street will come to the Soviet Union shortly thereafter," predicted Donald Marron, chairman of the Paine Webber financial services group. Dwayne O. Andreas, board chairman of Archer Daniels Midland Co., agreed. "When there's free pricing in this country, there is likely to be a resurgence of economic activity. If you don't get in ahead of time, it could be too late."

After spending seven decades waiting for the promised communist utopia that never came, Soviet citizens react extremely skeptically to any talk about a shining future, whether socialist or capitalist. Their cynicism has been heightened by the failure of a half-dozen economic reform plans since Gorbachev took office in March 1985. The past year alone has seen two unsuccessful attempts by the government to initiate the transition to a market economy.

Viewed dispassionately, the prospects for economic reform in the Soviet Union are probably neither as bleak nor as favorable as either the domestic pessimists or the foreign optimists make out. But the depth of public cynicism is itself a political fact that is an important barrier to both the adoption and successful implementation of the 500-day program.

"You can change the government, but you cannot change the people," warned Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, who is fighting a desperate rear-guard battle to dilute the 500-day program with his own more cautious proposals for economic reform. "We must always be mindful of the people, ask ourselves if the people understand what we are proposing."

The principal author of the 500 Day Plan, economist Stanislav Shatalin, insists that nothing will ever change in the Soviet Union if the leadership is paralyzed by fear of negative popular reaction. Replying to Ryzhkov in a legislative debate, he said that the danger of doing nothing had become greater than the risk of proceeding with radical reform.

"If you don't have the courage of your convictions, you won't achieve anything -- in a year, 18 months, or as we have seen for ourselves in the economic field, in five years {since Gorbachev came to power}. . . . But if you stick at it, everything can be achieved. If we want to save our country and the great people who live in it, we must believe in what we are doing," said Shatalin, who describes himself as a social democrat, even though he remains a member of the ruling Communist Party.

On Monday, the Soviet legislature asked Gorbachev to produce his own economic recovery package by Oct. 15, drawing on both the Shatalin and Ryzhkov proposals. Economically, Gorbachev favors the radical approach of the 500-day program; politically, however, he has shown great reluctance to burn his bridges to Ryzhkov and the vast government bureaucracy.

For economic theorists like Shatalin, the Soviet Union's transition to a free market is a matter of political will. For Soviet citizens, it involves an almost inconceivable leap of imagination. The limited experience most Soviets have had with Western business practices -- such as joint ventures and semi-private companies known as cooperatives -- has not been entirely encouraging.

At the Moscow Pizza Hut, capitalism's latest shop window in the capital of world socialism, patrons are divided into two categories -- those with foreign currency and those with rubles. If you have dollars, you get served promptly and can buy Western drinks. If you have rubles, you wait in line for up to an hour and pay what seems to most Soviet citizens an exorbitant amount.

"What kind of market system is this?" fumed Ilya Anosov, an artist, as he waited to enter the ruble section of the restaurant. "Over there, they get beer. On this side, we have to pay 20 rubles for a bottle of Soviet wine that costs 2 rubles in a state store. In a market system, everything should be accessible for everyone."

"The pizza tastes good, but it costs a fortune," said Lyudmilla Nevzorova, lining up for a takeout pizza priced at 24.50 rubles -- 15 percent of her average monthly wage. "Perhaps for our children life will improve. But I don't think it will for us."