THE EXPULSION of 47 Soviets as spies from France calls fresh attention to the Kremlin's massive and unremitting effort to steal the secrets of foreign countries. Everyone knows in a general way that espionage goes on and that the Soviet Union is not the only nation to practice it. Still, the scope of Soviet intelligence activity is especially large and menacing--its reach beyond the military and political sphere into the scientific and industrial, its claim on Soviet resources including the particular resource of foreign billets, its contempt for the privileges of the West's open societies. Just in the last few days, Soviets have also been expelled from Britain and Spain. Nor should one ignore the work done for Moscow by the East Europeans--Bulgaria's apparent role in the attempted assassination of the pope, for instance.

Eyebrows are being raised over the spectacle of a French government of the left, one including Communist ministers, booting out a whole planeload of Russians spies (do you suppose they got the Aeroflot group rate?). Some French governments of the past have been suspected of lacking the backbone to assert French national interests. Socialist Francois Mitterrand, however, has not hesitated to take forthright positions on Moscow's foreign and nuclear policies. For that matter, there is not the slightest sign that Moscow scaled back its espionage in France just because a government of the left had come to power.

We cannot resist noting the dramatic and heartrending terms in which one of the booted-outniks, Tass bureau chief Oleg Chirokov, protested his expulsion. It was, he said, "an insult to the whole journalistic profession." That's a fascinating observation for a Tass bureau chief to make. How would he know?