Andropov on the shop floor

''It's not difficult to understand,'' said the leader of an industrial nation , ''the greater our achievements, the stronger our economy, the better our national production, the stronger will be our international position, and the more durable will be peace on earth.''

Who said it? Ronald Reagan? Yasuhiro Nakasone? Helmut Kohl?

None other than Yuri Andropov. The new communist leader seems to be echoing voices in the West when he links national security to increased productivity and a strong economy.

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That isn't the only sign of a change of tone and style in the Kremlin these days. Mr. Andropov has set Soviet tongues to wagging with his early campaign to bring discipline to the sluggish Soviet economy. He has fired officials, declared war on corruption and indolence, and is even hobnobbing with workers on the shop floor to spur labor productivity.

Whether Mr. Andropov will be any more successful than his predecessors at galvanizing the lackadaisical work force remains to be seen. His KGB credentials and tough-man image seem to be having some effect.Reports have it that Soviet workers are beginning to come to work on time, militiamen are taking fewer - or smaller - bribes from traffic offenders, and there is somewhat less alcohol in evidence. Over the long haul, of course, it will take much more to put the inherently defective Soviet economic system in order. Unless Mr. Andropov and his cohorts overhaul the structure itself and give managers and workers incentives to be efficient, it is unlikely the basic economic problems will be solved. And meantime, ironic as it may seem, bribery and other corruption often serve to lubricate the creaky gears and help make the rigid system work in spite of itself.

What may strike Westerners as interesting about all this, however, is the preoccupation of both East and West with the economy. The US and other industrialized nations wrestle with productivity, prices, energy costs, management. However different their systems, so do the USSR and its allies. Both sides want to ''get the economy moving again'' - the West to retain its technological supremacy, the East to close the gap with the West.

All the more reason why East and West should come to terms with their arms race and move their rivalry to the arena where, whoever wins, the citizens of both will benefit. This should not rule out - and indeed it may require - cooperation for the mutual good.

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