Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev reappeared in public yesterday after almost seven weeks' absence, and seems set to resume his usual punishing schedule. Soviet sources say he will probably visit the far northern port of Murmansk next week. Mr. Gorbachev's return, these sources say, will probably mark a further intensification of political debate between supporters and opponents of reforms. Gorbachev reportedly told a visiting French group yesterday that he had used his vacation in part to prepare a major speech for the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution.
The Soviet leader's long absence from Moscow - his last public appearance was on Aug. 7 - had given rise to a variety of rumors. These included suggestions that he or his wife was ill, or that he was working on a key speech for a special plenary session of the Communist Party Central Committee which would overhaul agricultural policy.
Well-placed Soviet sources say they anticipate no plenum before early November, the anniversary of the revolution. They add that the main ideological battleground between those who wholeheartedly support reform and those who are less enthusiastic is not agriculture, but the reassessment of Soviet history.
The same sources say Gorbachev spent his vacation in the southern resort of Yalta, and that he is in good health. No one will say categorically that he was not at some point indisposed during his vacation, however.
Gorbachev's absence from Moscow was accompanied by a certain chill in the political atmosphere, some Soviet officials and intellectuals feel. This was particularly noticeable in speeches by Yegor Ligachev, the second-ranking Soviet leader, and Viktor Chebrikov, the chief of the KGB (the Soviet secret police). The two men are members of the ruling Politburo. Both paid particular attention the current reevaluation of Soviet history.
In an address to leading Soviet editors in mid-September, Mr. Ligachev criticized the ``one-sided'' coverage given by some publications to current political debates. The published version of his speech did not mention any names, but Ligachev is believed to have singled out a number of journals for criticism, including the weekly Ogonyok and the monthly literary review Znamya. He reportedly complained in particular of recent coverage of the 1930s - Stalinism, collectivization of agriculture (1929-32), and the Stalinist purges - in some publications. References to this criticism were not included in the published version of the speech.
A week before Ligachev's address, Mr. Chebrikov touched on the same theme. He stressed the orthodox view that Joseph Stalin's ``serious errors'' began at the end of the 1930s with the onset of the purges.
Supporters of reform, however, are pushing the limits of the historical debate back further, to agricultural collectivization. The debate is being further developed in literature. A number of long-suppressed literary works covering this period - notably Andrei Platonov's ``The Foundation Pit,'' unpublished since 1930 - have recently been published in leading literary journals.