MOSCOW, NOV. 14 -- The political crisis this week over the ouster of Moscow's maverick party boss, Boris Yeltsin, is likely to have a profound impact on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's reform program, now poised for one of its most critical tests.

Yeltsin's spectacular downfall and wrenching public confession, unveiled in documents published in Soviet newspapers yesterday, could chill enthusiasm for an important new phase of Gorbachev's economic decentralization plan that is due to go into effect next year, foreign and Soviet analysts say.

The success of these imminent changes -- the first concrete embodiment of perestroika, as the Gorbachev program of restructuring the economy is called -- depends on the attitudes of thousands of Communist Party officials and government bureaucrats across the country. The punishment meted out to Yeltsin this week at a meeting of the Moscow party committee, chaired by Gorbachev, is unlikely to encourage the kind of bold initiative by local officials that the reforms will require.

"I think this tells the fence-sitters to keep sitting on the fence, to hedge their bets," said one western diplomat. "This tells them that glasnost {openness} does not pay."

Popular political support for Gorbachev also could be at stake, judging from the widespread expressions of shock at the way Yeltsin, who is generally viewed as a sympathetic figure, was personally attacked at the city committee.

Yeltsin's ouster, which came in the wake of his still unpublished attack on party leaders at a Central Committee meeting Oct. 21, surprised many foreign and Soviet observers here who had expected Gorbachev to act more vigorously to save a key ally, now an alternate member of the ruling Politburo.

But by taking the lead in criticizing Yeltsin on Wednesday, Gorbachev made it clear that he had no intention of fighting for a losing cause. "Personally, I am suffering over what has happened," he said at the party meeting, according to the published report.

The abandonment of Yeltsin, whose unpredictable and volatile behavior was seen as a growing liability for Gorbachev, also proved that the Soviet leader still must appease conservative forces in the party, western analysts say.

The Yeltsin affair underscored lingering confusion over the meaning of perestroika -- a word that apparently carries different connotations not only for the population, but also for ranking members in the leadership.

Yeltsin, in repenting his political sins on Wednesday, reaffirmed his faith in the reform process. But he added, "It is another matter -- and here there really have been different nuances in our evaluations of it -- that in different regions and in different organizations {perestroika} is moving in different ways."

Gorbachev's criticism of Yeltsin's personal ambition and political immaturity was echoed by a chorus of recriminations by Moscow party officials who turned on Yeltsin with gleeful alacrity.

The vindictive nature of the attacks, some of which excoriated his lack of love for Moscow or its citizens, reminded many observers of the fickle nature of Soviet officialdom.

Even Yeltsin's critics admitted that it might have been better to air their views earlier and not wait for their boss' downfall to speak out against his high-handed behavior. "We did not have the courage to speak out {earlier} apparently because we did not believe completely in glasnost or perestroika," confessed Yuri Prokofiev, protocol secretary at the Moscow City Council.

But few observers reading the criticism of Yeltsin splashed across three pages of Pravda and other papers expect the lesson of the Yeltsin affair to change Soviets' instinctive reluctance to speak out against their bosses.

The end result was indicative: just as Yeltsin, a newcomer from Sverdlovsk, was unanimously elected Moscow party chief in January 1986, so he was unanimously deposed in November 1987. Appeals for frank, open discussion have produced the same kind of unanimity that for decades has characterized the iron rule of Soviet party discipline.

At the Moscow meeting Wednesday, speaker after speaker condemned Yeltsin for stabbing the party in the back, for trying to split the capital's powerful organization from the Central Committee.

"It is monstrous to cast even the shadow of a doubt that Muscovites can have any other position than the position of the Central Committee. This enormous, if you like, party crime cannot be qualified otherwise," said A. Nikolayev, party leader of the Bauman district.

Yet the proof of Yeltsin's crime -- the Oct. 21 speech -- remains secret, its details unknown to all but a handful of his accusers and a mystery to Moscow readers.

The image of Yeltsin that emerged from Wednesday's speeches was of a self-satisfied administrator who disdained his employes, enjoyed showing off, criticized others for the sake of criticizing and mouthed appropriate phrases that he could not translate into action.

But as Soviet dissident historian Roy Medvedev pointed out in an interview yesterday, "All first secretaries are guilty of such behavior. This is the way they run their regions: their word is law."

Medvedev noted that Yeltsin had not learned that the Moscow job is different, requiring greater tact and diplomacy in dealing with the powerful organizations and ministries centered in the capital. Yeltsin, who made a reputation for attacking the special privileges enjoyed by the party elite, had made powerful enemies among these organizations, Medvedev said.

Other Soviet observers disputed the view that Yeltsin, a liberal, had fallen victim to conservatives. "The word is not liberal but populist," said one observer.

But Yeltsin's popularity with a large cross section of Muscovites did not factor into Wednesday's discussion at all. One of Yeltsin's more popular efforts -- the staging of a citywide carnival on Moscow's 850th birthday in September -- was even pointedly disparaged by one speaker, while food shortages and other problems in the city were not even mentioned.

For the most part, the criticism of Yeltsin centered on his leadership style and turned into a particularly vicious and public form of high-stakes office politics.

Regional party leaders complained that Yeltsin did not come to their meetings or answer their phone calls. Another accused him of fostering "Bonapartism." One official complained that his regular personnel changes had become a "bad joke." Another accused him of "cruelty."

There were a few vague words in Yeltsin's defense -- particularly about the hopes he raised when he took office almost two years ago. But on the whole, the assessment was sweeping and absolute. "One cannot have such a secretary of the city party committee," said Prokofiev. "And, in general, such a person should not be allowed to hold a political job."

The documents offered a rare glimpse of the inner relationships of a local party organization. Judging from the comments, rancor and distrust are widespread. Vladimir Skitev, head of a department, got up to say it was "torture" working for Yeltsin. Then A.M. Larionov, another department head, got up and took a swipe at Skitev, noting that he had participated in decisions: "Maybe he was forced to, I don't know, but he didn't have the courage to object."

The report published in the Soviet press yesterday indicates that Yeltsin's ouster became a fait accompli Oct. 21, when the Central Committee reacted to his scathing speech by declaring him guilty of "political mistakes." This heavily undercut Gorbachev's flexibility in defending his appointee.

The comments also suggest that Yeltsin's frustrations had been building up over time. Gorbachev himself hinted that the Moscow first secretary made an earlier outburst at the January plenum of the Central Committee and that he expressed similar complaints before a plenary meeting in June. Gorbachev described Yeltsin as sinking into a "helpless, fidgety, panicked mood."

City officials also described Yeltsin as becoming increasingly nervous at party meetings. A senior official told newspaper editors this week that Yeltsin had a bad heart. This weekend, reports circulated in the city that the former party chief was in the hospital.