Glasnost is not all euphoria. Sometimes it is a battlefield.

Bitter debates are likely, scholars say, when Vasily Grossman's long-suppressed World War II novel "Life and Fate" is published next month in the Soviet journal October. The epic novel is bound to infuriate antiliberal and anti-Semitic factions in the Soviet Union because of the book's extraordinarily dark portrait of Soviet society.

"This is a novel written by a Jew that concludes that the Soviet Union had come to resemble Nazi Germany," said historian Walter Laqueur. "The Soviet press is now full of stuff of an anti-Semitic bent and this publication is bound to cause a great reaction."

The glasnost policy of Mikhail Gorbachev has loosened the restrictions on Soviet newspapers and journals and has permitted the publication of many important books, including Boris Pasternak's "Dr. Zhivago," Anatoli Rybakov's "The Children of the Arbat," Nobel Prize-winner Joseph Brodsky's poems and, now, "Life and Fate." Gorbachev's attempt to revive intellectual life in the Soviet Union is part of a larger effort to revive the country's economic system and social life.

The Soviet leadership has long feared and suppressed "Life and Fate." When Grossman tried to get his novel published in the Soviet Union in 1961 -- at the height of Nikita Khrushchev's "thaw" -- KGB officers seized copies of the manuscript, and Mikhail Suslov, the Communist Party's chief ideologist, declared there could be "no question" of the book being published there for another 200 years.

Asked before his death from cancer in 1964 how he felt about the fate of his novel, Grossman told a friend, "They strangled me in a doorway." He died a broken man, poor and convinced that "Life and Fate" would never be published.

Soviet e'migre' author Vladimir Voinovich says Suslov's threat was an acknowledgment that Grossman's novel "would live a very long time." "It is worth noting," according to the novel's English language translator, Robert Chandler, "that the only other book to have merited such serious attention from the Soviet authorities is {Alexander Solzhenitsyn's} 'The Gulag Archipelago.' "

For years, scholars believed the manuscript might forever be lost, or locked up in the safes of the KGB. But in 1984 Voinovich smuggled a microfilmed copy to the West, and it is now widely available in English and other languages. "Life and Fate" is available in the United States in a Harper & Row paperback edition.

When it was published here, literary critic George Steiner wrote that Solzhenitsyn's and Grossman's works "eclipse almost all that passes for serious fiction in the West today."

Vitaly Korotich, editor of the Soviet weekly Ogonyok, said in an interview this week that October will publish the 871-page novel in five successive monthly issues and will also run accompanying commentaries.

Laqueur said that while Grossman's book was, in its way, as devastating a view of Soviet life as Solzhenitsyn's three-volume investigation of prison life, "Grossman died in Russia and Solzhenitsyn is an exile. That has to be part of why they would even consider publishing Grossman and not Solzhenitsyn."

Korotich, a leading proponent of glasnost who has published excerpts from Grossman's work and other controversial writings, said he could not predict the reaction among factions on the far right when "Life and Fate" is printed in the Soviet Union, but he did say that he himself often receives letters "telling me I'm a kike and a Masonic agent" from members of the ultranationalist group Pamyat (Memory).

Korotich said the anxieties that come from publishing critical material are "part of a period of payment. We are paying now for our mistakes of the past. We are only now touching the bottom of the abyss and discovering how deeply we destroyed some of our best minds and our economy."

According to Laqueur, who is now writing a book about glasnost, "Life and Fate" is a book with "explosive" conclusions and consequences.

"A novel like 'Dr. Zhivago' is a timeless sort of book, and it won't have much political effect," he said. " 'Children of the Arbat' goes much further and talks about Stalin, but basically it is an optimistic novel that says if only we confront the past there will be hope for the future.

" 'Life and Fate' is deeply pessimistic. It says that while the victory at the battle of Stalingrad was one of the greatest achievements in Soviet history, it ultimately strengthened the state, and that, he says, is the unfortunate trend of Russian and Soviet history for more than a century: the strengthening of the state and the weakening of the individual. The message throughout is that the Soviet Union is more and more like Nazi Germany."

Grossman was born in 1905 in Berdichev, a largely Jewish area in the Ukraine. Maxim Gorky championed his early work. During the war, Grossman was a correspondent for the army newspaper Red Star, and he witnessed the disastrous Soviet retreats early in the fighting. His article "The Hell of Treblinka" was the first journalistic account of the Nazi death camps in any language, according to Chandler. Grossman's mother died in a concentration camp -- an event that is described with extraordinary power in "Life and Fate."

Early excerpts from his war novel "For a Just Cause" were published in the journal Novy Mir, but by 1953 an era of anti-Jewish purges had begun and Grossman was attacked as a Jewish nationalist and reactionary. He was saved from arrest only by Stalin's death in March 1953.

Grossman continued revising the two great novels of his career -- "Life and Fate" and "Forever Flowing," which daringly describes Stalin's brutal forced collectivization program. In "Life and Fate," Grossman equates conditions in Nazi and Soviet prisons and compares the characters of party functionaries and dissidents in both regimes.

One of the central characters in the novel is the nuclear physicist Viktor Shtrum, a figure clearly modeled on the author, and the physicist Lev Landau, who was fired from his work during Stalin's purges but then returned to participate in the development of the atom bomb. In "Life and Fate," Shtrum agonizes over his mother's death in the camps and grows increasingly aware of his identity as a Jew and as an opponent of Stalin.

"Reading Grossman's novel, one automatically compares it to 'War and Peace,' " writes Voinovich. "In comparison with the better books written in the tradition of the epic novel in the entire Soviet period, Grossman's 'Life and Fate' strikes me as the most major, the most significant." Even before the novel's climactic battle, Grossman sets out his theme: "Among a million Russian huts you will never find even two that are exactly the same. Everything that lives is unique. It is unimaginable that two people, or two briar-roses, should be identical ... If you attempt to erase the peculiarities and individuality of life by violence, then life itself must suffocate."