The Kremlin's attack against the Spanish Communists is aimed at the Communist parties of France and Italy as well, because Moscow fears that the three of them in combination could seriously undermine its world position.

The Kremlin dares not attack the French and Italian communist parties directly, because their replies might well raise the level of mutual invective to something like the bitter polemics of the Sino-Soviet dispute. This is why Moscow waited, with obvious impatience, until the Spanish election was over, to get its knife into Santiego carillo, knew that the attack would be read with interest in Paris and Rome.

The attack in the Moscow New Times on his new book, "Eurocommunism and the State," has given worldwide publiccity to a hurriedly written electioneering pamphlet. But it makes good reading, and the Kremlin may well have propelled it into an international best seller, in the same way that its attacks made best sellers out of some of the early dissident writings.

New Times evades the most important issue raised by Carillo, the question of the strategy and tactics to be followed by West European Communists, because this could take the dispute beyond the point of no return. An exchange of these issues, it says, would be great interest, but "we will not go into them in the present article," because they are "a subject in themselves."

In fact, however, they are quite inseparable from the issues the article does discuss, such as the attitude of the European Communist parties to the Soviet Union, and to its foreign policy. There are, of course, differences of approach and of emphasis among the Communist parties of France, Italy and Spain. The French party hopes to win the next parliamentary election in combination with the next parliamentary election in combination with the Socialists and to form a coalition government. The Italian party hopes to show that its constructive cooperation with the Christian Democrats will gain it more votes and a role in a coalition government. The Spanish Communists, with only 19 out of 350 seats in the new parliament, have a much longer way to go than the other two, which means that they must work much harder to make themselves acceptable to a democratic electorate.

But the strategy and tactics of all three parties have this in common: They must win the trust of a much wider public, and they can do this only by divesting themselves of the totalitarian aura that they have acquired by association with Stalinism and, more recently, supression of freedom and of dissidents under the Brezhnev regime. This association is as damaging to them as it is unfair, for the European Communists have been quite effective in protesting against some of the excesses of the Soviet secret police and in having police orders countermanded by the Kremlin.

But the supression of human freedoms in the Soviet Union proceeds on so vast a scale that protests from European Communists can do little more than scratch the surface of the problem - and every time the problem emerges in the news, they are put on the defensive by political foes in their own countries. They would almost be better off if they made a clean break with Moscow, though this could, no doubt, cause them a number of other problems.

The Kremlin could try, for instance, as it has done on previous occassions, to support the emergence of pro-Soviet factions within these parties, and thus cause enough internal dissention to do considerable damage to their electoral prospects. Indeed, some European Communists suspect that important forces in the Kremlin might welcome the break-up of the Western Communist movement. Otherwise it might emerge as a cohesive force that could press Moscow to proceed with internal political reforms more in keeping with the democratic traditions to which the European Communists lay claim.

Whether or not the Italian, French and spanish Communist parties become members of government coalitions in the near future, they will be increasingly able to speak with a united voice and to influence the policies of their own governments. This is a prospect that causes great concern to Henry Kissinger, who keeps issuing dire warnings, even out of office, about the effect this might have on the U.S. position in Europe. It causes equal concern to the Kremlin, which is afraid not only of European Communist pressure for internal Soviet reform, but also of a European Communist foreign policy that might take anti-Soviet direction.

Thus, the New Times cites Carillo's hope that Eurocommunism could help to create a United Europe that would play an independent role between East and West - and promptly brands it as Carillo's design for "a force opposed primarily to the socialist countries." Carillo wants a Western Europe independent of both the Soviet Union and the United States. New Times deduces, no doubt correctly, that he wants to sever the European Communists' organization links with the Kremlin.

His vague call for a European defense arrangement is seen by Moscow as endorsing "the imperialist policy of arming Western Europe against world socialism, a policy of alliance between European and American reaction." These are strong words to be used against the leader of a "fraternal" Communist party, especially as they are plainly meant to apply also to the Italian party, which is in favor of Italy's continuing membership in NATO. Carillo, too, New Times recalls, favored the entry of Spain into NATO, "that most aggressive block, whose main purpose is to prepare for war against the Soviet Union."

But if there is to be any war soon, it is more likely to be a war of words between Moscow and the Eurocommunists. After the desultory sniping of recent years, we may be seeing the first cannon shot of a new propaganda barrage from the Kremlin.