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From Moscow, First Report of an Unprecedented Call for Change : The Gorbachev Manifesto : PERESTROIKA Our Hopes for Our Country and the World by Mikhail Gorbachev(A Cornelia and Michael Bessie Book/Harper & Row: $19.45; 288 pp.)

November 15, 1987|Robert Scheer | Scheer, a Times staff writer, has been in Moscow for the past month, where Soviet sources gave him an English-language copy of "Perestroika," which will not be available in the United States until later this week

MOSCOW — When Mikhail S. Gorbachev comes to the United States next month for his summit conference with President Reagan, he will convey the main theme of this book: The Soviet Union is now in the grip of a new realism about its domestic crisis and world priorities.

His top foreign policy advisers are convinced that the "new thinking" of perestroika in foreign affairs has permitted a breakthrough on arms control beyond the signing of a ban on intermediate range nuclear force (INF) missiles. They speak openly of a dramatic deal to halve each side's strategic missile force in return for continued strict observance of the existing Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

Whether or not such a breakthrough is announced at the summit's conclusion, Gorbachev will be seeking to leave behind in the United States an image of his perestroika as a domestic policy whose foreign policy postulate is an end to the Cold War as we have known it, thus providing a much needed period of peace for the remaking of Soviet society.

Perestroika, or restructuring, as vividly and conversationally described in this remarkable manifesto, is based on a profound criticism of the "stagnation" of Soviet society and an insistence on radically reordering its essential economic mechanisms. But perestroika requires for its success a breeze of glasnost blowing through the country's stultified intellectual and political life.

A Second Russian Revolution?

If perestroika--for now a top-down movement with all of the limitations thus implied--succeeds in cutting through the morass of bureaucratic inefficiency and stupidity to ignite grass-roots support, it will represent a second Soviet "revolution." Or so Gorbachev claims, writing as a new Lenin in this modern rendition (or revision) of the Soviet Founding Father's "What Is to Be Done?"

"Perestroika means initiative," Gorbachev writes, "and creative endeavor, improved order and discipline, more glasnost, criticism and self-criticism in all spheres of our society. It is utmost respect for the individual and consideration for personal dignity. . . . The essence of perestroika lies in the fact that it unites socialism with democracy. . . ." Reading those bold words in the historic National Hotel up the hall from Room 107 where Lenin sat in 1918 looking out at the walls of the Kremlin where his party inexplicably and suddenly held power leaves one wanting to dash out into the streets, like John Reed in the movie "Reds," to witness the change.

Reinforcing the movie-land image of revolution is the presence of actress Vanessa Redgrave, here for the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, who sits each morning in the hotel restaurant huddling with her British Marxist adviser, speaking as if nothing has changed since 1917.

But it's not that sort of revolution. When tanks move here as they did dramatically one recent night, sweeping through Red Square, it's not for the seizure of power but rather practice for a parade.

This is a settled-in society, and nobody knows this better than Gorbachev does. He must now manage a society that he admits was, when he took power, close to "unmanageable" and yet quite comfortable for the people whose privilege and power might be lost in his reform. As he puts it, "The atmosphere in our society has grown tense as the perestroika effort has gone deeper. We have heard some people say: 'Was there any point to starting this at all?' "

What has Gorbachev to start with in the way of ideology or indeed mere example? Every leader other than Lenin has been discredited. Lenin's portrait hangs everywhere virtually alone, since Gorbachev frowns on the display of his own picture, fearing a cult of personality, and all of those who came in between him and Lenin are not favorably recalled, to put it mildly.

Unfortunately, there are precious few prescriptions left over from the founder to tell a modern leader what is to be done. "The classics of Marxism-Leninism left us with a definition of the essential characteristics of socialism," Gorbachev writes; "they did not give us a detailed picture of socialism."

Instead, what evolved over the years after Lenin's death and through Stalin's madness were, Gorbachev writes, forms that "were canonized, idealized and turned into dogma. Hence the emasculated image of socialism, the exaggerated centralism in management, the neglect of the rich variety of human interests, the underestimation of the active part people play in public life, and the pronounced egalitarian tendencies."

So what is to be done? What Gorbachev holds out is unprecedented for the leadership of an authoritarian state. Questions, more than tasks "have to be tackled, with no ready-made answers. Nor are there such answers today. Social scientists have not yet offered us anything cohesive. The political economy of socialism is stuck with outdated concepts and is no longer in tune with the dialectics of life."

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