THE Soviet Army and the Communist Party used the Revolution Day celebrations on Nov. 7 in Red Square to stage an impressive display of political muscle. As a light snow fell, the disciplined ranks of the armed forces marched past Vladimir Lenin's mausoleum, followed by columns of tanks, armored personnel carriers, and nuclear missiles. They were followed by a tightly organized demonstration of tens of thousands of Communists, carrying largely conservative banners in defense of ``socialism'' and critical of both Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and of his liberal rival Russian leader Boris Yeltsin. The demonstrators carried portraits of Karl Marx, Lenin - even Joseph Stalin's picture was hoisted by a small group of hard-line Communists.
Mr. Gorbachev, in a brief speech from atop the mausoleum, attempted to portray his perestroika reforms as a ``new revolution'' that would fulfill the original ideals of the 1917 revolution.
``The past generations are not to blame for the fact that the goals they dreamed of were not achieved or that the ideals which inspired people to assault the old system were subsequently distorted,'' Gorbachev said.
Gorbachev defended perestroika, but admitted the process was ``much more painful and dramatic than could be expected.'' He acknowledged the signs of crisis: ``the scarcity of goods, long lines, high prices, and the slackening of law order. Ethnic discord also causes anguish.
``But,'' he appealed, ``one should not panic, still less call for a reversion to the old ways.''
But Gorbachev's reform aims were hardly reflected in the official banners of the Communists who marched in front of him. Almost none mentioned the transition to a ``market'' economy. Instead the slogans on red cloth declared: ``No to Private Property,'' ``We are for Socialism, Not for Capitalism,'' and ``No Unemployment.''
Some homemade banners personally assailed Gorbachev. One read: ``Gorbachev, You are winning points abroad, but you are losing them in your own country.''
The official celebrations of the Bolshevik Revolution were opposed in Moscow, as in many other cities across the nation, by alternative anticommunist demonstrations. A small group of radicals, numbering no more than 20,000, marched into Red Square after the official display was over. They carried pictures of the late dissident democrat Andrei Sakharov and of Mr. Yeltsin, shouting ``Resign'' and ``Down with the Communist Party'' as they passed the Kremlin walls.
The competing demonstrations provided a stage for Gorbachev and Yeltsin to play out their political rivalry. The two men stood together atop the mausoleum, along with figures such as Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, Soviet parliament chairman Anatoly Lukyanov, and radical Moscow Mayor Gavriil Popov. Mr. Popov had openly called for citizens to boycott the celebrations.
For the first time, they all stepped down from the podium to symbolically lead the column of Communist demonstrators, and returned to the stand to watch them pass by. The demonstrators carried slogans which repeatedly assailed Yeltsin, Popov, and the other ``democrats.''
A homemade sign linked Yeltsin to the United States Central Intelligence Agency. Another said his radical economic reform program ``is the road to the abyss.'' The ``Democrats'' were shown in another poster as a hammer breaking the Soviet Union into pieces.
Yeltsin and Popov pointedly balanced their appearance in such company by joining the radical demonstrators as they marked down Tverskaya Boulevard toward Red Square. As the column came down the hill, the two men pulled up in a car and jumped out, immediately swarmed by hordes of cameramen.
The crowd broke into rythmic chants of Yeltsin's name. With characteristic populist style, he plunged into the crowd, joining their ranks as they marched on.
The demonstrations passed relatively peacefully, except for several shots fired into the air by an unidentified man from a shotgun near the GUM department store on Red Square, according to the Tass news agency.
More tense confrontations took place in other Soviet cities. In the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, according to the independent Interfax news agency, radical demonstrators tried to block the military parade. Leaders of the opposition Rukh nationalist movement had to intervene to persuade students and other youth to disperse.
In the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, where the Soviet Army defied the orders of the nationalist republican government not to hold the celebration, clashes took place between paratroopers and students, the Baltic News Service said. Lithuanians lining the parade route shouted anti-Soviet slogans, the agency reported.