One of the extraordinary byproducts of the Polish crisis and its impact here is symoblized by a proposal to use scientific public opinion polls to provide the Kremlin with information about "what the people think and what they want."
The proposal made recently in the Communist Party newspaper Pravda touched on the exceptionally sensitive and rarely discussed matter of government responsiveness to popular opinion and implied that the leadership may be somewhat out of touch with the people.
Pravda specifically noted "the events in Poland." The former communist leadership in Poland is perceived here as having failed to "keenly listen to the voice of the masses."
It said public opinion is a "sensitive barometer whose readings, if properly analyzed, can tell about deep social processes that at times can hardly be noticed or even those that are just being conceived."
Although theoretical in content, the article was interpreted here as a reaction to the Polish crisis whose workers' rebellion is believed to have profoundly shaken Soviet ideological officials.
The Russians have traditionally held the view that the "scientific laws" of Marxism-Leninism explain all social behavior and have firmly discouraged non-doctrinaire sociological research that strives for objectivity -- particularly when its conclusions suggested that Soviet society may not be moving toward the classless ideal forecast by Lenin.
Since the Stalin era, when sociology was outlawed, sociological research has been under way here. But it focused, R. Sarafov, the author of the Pravda article indicated, on one-issue questionnaires that have usually been done for local party organizations.
"The fundamental deficiency of all these pollings of public opinion is that on the basis of one question designed for a given concrete situation one often makes all too broad conclusions and generalizations," Sarafov said. He added that serious conclusions have to be made on the basis on "accurate, objective and multifaceted information which has been tested many times."
"The study of public opinion has become particularly urgent," he continued. "In that connection the scientists have to account for the degree of satisfaction of workers' need.
"We also have to know the extent of moral, psychological and economic losses which crop up as a result of failures to take measures responding to valid observations and suggestions of the working people."
The somewhat esoteric subject of sociology is a revealing symbol of certain pressures within Soviet society for modernization. The Soviet Union has become a much more complex society over the past decade while the nature of political authority has not changed.
Some other communist countries, such as Hungary and Yugoslavia, have been encouraging practical sociological research, which is used by authorities in shaping public opinion and responding to popular pressues. This has not weakened the party but has led to a kind of communism distinctly different from the Soviet model.
The long Pravda article, which quoted Lenin as saying that the communists "can rule only when we accurately express what the people are conscious of," suggested in effect that modern Soviet society needs factual information rather than ideological mythology.
It said the use of empirical sociology would be of "considerable practical value" in assessing public opinion since one can "catch its shades, nuances and shifting trends" and have ready "quantitative relationships" in various assessments.
It also pointed out that the rise in the level of education and culture has confronted Soviet population with "new processes and developments," and that "the real character of our democracy" requires that people have an impact on them.
In mobilizing public opinion, the article continued, party workers and ideological activists should have "accurate knowledge of the interests and mood of the people."
Whether the article foreshadowed a new Soviet attitude toward public opinion or only raised it as a matter of discussion was unclear. There was no mention of theoretical sociology, which treads all too close to the fundamental and still sacrosanct communist doctrine. But there was a clear call for sociological work in practical fields.