Soviet Social Scientists Gauge Their Country's Collapse

Article excerpt

The question of where the USSR is today and is headed tomorrow - economically, politically, socially - provides a dominating backdrop to the Bush-Gorbachev summit now under way in Washington. It's evident that the country is in the midst of a revolution, in its own way as profound as that of 1917. The type of society which emerges, and its relative health, will obviously be key to US-Soviet relations in the years ahead.

For the first time free to explore all aspects of their society's performance and to publish their findings, Soviet social scientists are now generating a wealth of data on present conditions - the inescapable raw material from which the new order will have to be fashioned. The economic data, which show weaknesses greater than what most American experts thought even a few years ago, are getting the most attention.

At a recent conference sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, leading Soviet economists plumbed the USSR's economic performance compared to the US and other nations. As Andrei Revenko of the Institute of Economics of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences pointed out in his paper, such comparisons are very tricky business still.

Revenko thinks the per capita gross domestic product of the USSR is somewhere between 25 and 40 percent that of US, probably closer to the former. Yuri Dikhanov of the Division of Economics of the USSR Academy of Sciences has arrived at similar estimates. He put the real per capita GDP of his country in 1985 at 29 percent that of the US, about the same level as Hungary and Brazil. Dikhanov calculates that the Soviet personal consumption level in 1988 corresponded to the American level in 1916, and that the Soviet GDP is now much smaller, in comparison to US, than it was before the Russian Revolution.

But the work being done in the USSR which is most important for trying to assess where the country is and where it may be headed, isn't the new economic analysis. Rather it's the sweeping assessment now being attempted of the Soviet Union's social and moral fabric.

Tatyana Zaslavskaya, who directs the All-Union Center for Public Opinion Studies in the USSR, has been called the world's most influential sociologist. Given her access to the political leadership and the apparent use it is making of Center studies, this may well be true. …