The recent political turmoil inside the Communist Party does not put Mikhail Gorbachev in any immediate danger of losing his job or his consensus to reform the economy and gain arms control agreements with Washington, according to leading specialists on the Soviet Union in the United States, Western Europe and communist Eastern Europe.

But those experts say the energetic, 56-year-old Soviet leader will be forced to slow down and give ground on his efforts to democratize the Soviet party and others of the more radical aspects of his program of glasnost, or open debate.

The firing of Moscow party leader Boris Yeltsin on Nov. 11, and the unprecedented way it was described in the Soviet press, have given Soviet experts around the world a rare opportunity to analyze the personalities and disputes inside the leadership.

The approach of the Washington summit in two weeks has also served to heighten the drama around Gorbachev's status. Both Gorbachev and President Reagan will now be entering that meeting after a series of highly publicized political difficulties.

Academics and government officials interviewed in the United States, West Germany, Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Israel view the dismissal of Yeltsin as a key moment in moderating what has been called the Gorbachev Revolution.

Of the Sovietologists interviewed, all but one said they think Gorbachev will survive this storm and come out of it in power, if not quite as powerful. The lone exception, Marshall Goldman of Wellesley College in Massachusetts, gives the Soviet leader two or three years.

Those who argue he will survive say the traumatic leadership changes in the Kremlin between 1982 and 1985 and solid support for economic change should prevent any attempts to unseat the general secretary.

"Gorbachev is not in danger, because I think there's a consensus in the leadership for the need for reform," said one top West German government specialist. "I think they're quite happy to have someone who is so eloquent, so forceful, and who stays within the consensus of the leadership. This is a collective leadership."

The question, for now, is policy. Stephen Sestanovich, a former director of policy development for the National Security Council and now director of Soviet studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies here, said, "If you read what Gorbachev and {Politburo conservative Yegor} Ligachev said in getting rid of Yeltsin, it seems to me you could conclude they have cut a deal -- perestroika {the economic reform process} is slower but intact while a lot of glasnost is sacrificed."

The programs under most fire from the conservatives are elements of what the Soviets call democratization: the discussion of the past, the handling of individual nationalities such as the Tatars and Latvians and their grievances, elections with more than one candidate, the ability for nonparty groups to participate in politics.

Sestanovich added, "Since Gorbachev looks a little weaker coming into the summit, it's more important to him not to lose in any way. It's more likely than before that he'll avoid any risky moves."

Gorbachev's painful decision to join in the firing of his close colleague Yeltsin, who was known as a kind of point man for rapid change, is viewed as a distinct compromise and a gesture to the coalition of conservatives who began pressuring the Soviet leader during his seven-week summer vacation.

What was most telling, even chilling about the Yeltsin affair, Sovietologists say, is the manner in which Yeltsin was fired -- the accusations of "political immaturity" and "immoderate vanity," the humiliating way Yeltsin was forced to apologize, the fact that Gorbachev, once Yeltsin's patron, joined the unanimous critical chorus.

Although he may have calmed anxious, angry conservative critics last week, Gorbachev cannot have encouraged the intelligentsia and leaders who have spoken out most forcefully for radical change in the party.

"Yeltsin had been with Gorbachev all along, but in being forced in the end to join the criticism, Gorbachev sent a signal that he can't protect the bold even when he's been calling on people to be bold," said Princeton University historian Stephen Cohen.

"It's got to be chastening for Gorbachev's strong supporters," said Wellesley's Goldman. "Would you stick your neck out after the way they chopped off Yeltsin's head?"

The unanimity of the criticism was "scary" to former Central Intelligence Agency analyst and foreign policy specialist Arnold Horlick. "It's the notion that there is one, and only one, correct position. Things are 'politically erroneous' and there is no real difference of opinion. It's a throwback, a retrograde step."

Some Sovietologists said that while Gorbachev would never have gotten rid of Yeltsin on his own, he did make gestures in the process that spoke of the Soviet leader's self-confidence and skill.

Sometimes Sovietology is a matter of linguistic detail. Anders Aslund of the Kennan Institute in Washington noted that in his speech denouncing Yeltsin, Gorbachev sounded an almost affectionate, regretful note, addressing Yeltsin directly as "tee," the Russian form of "you" in familiar address. "That's not the way it's usually done," Aslund said. "It was kind of a blessing after he'd executed him."

"Look, no one was shot," said Harvard University historian Richard Pipes, who disagreed with the notion that the Yeltsin affair was reminiscent of Stalin's era. "It's more like the period between 1922 and 1928 before Stalin took control. There was a lot of maneuvering in the party and people were forced out or made to confess."

Some Sovietologists said a more accurate historical precedent would be when the leadership fired former prime minister Georgi Malenkov from the Central Committee and made him director of a hydroelectric power station in Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, in 1957 after he attempted to overthrow Nikita Khrushchev.

"It's a sign of Gorbachev's strength that he knows when to fight and when not to," said Dimitri K. Simes of Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. "He understands that the art of politics is to turn an embarrassment into an opportunity, a gesture to the party faithful."

Zdenek Mlynar, a former senior official in the Czechoslovak Communist Party and Gorbachev's close friend in college, said in Vienna, "Gorbachev knows the dangers better than the journalists who advise him. If he could survive for 18 years under {former party leader Leonid} Brezhnev with these special {reform} ideas and still come to the top, that's proof that he is a man who knows what steps he can take."

Officials in Poland, Gorbachev's strongest East European ally, privately concede they have grown more cautious in pursuing their own reform program while awaiting signals from Moscow. The language of a platform for political change published by the party this week was considerably toned down from earlier drafts circulated in Warsaw in early October.

In addition, the party leadership this week moved to postpone the second half of a key Central Committee meeting on political reforms from next week until a December date after the U.S.-Soviet summit meeting. Official sources said the Polish leadership may prefer to wait to see how Gorbachev emerges from the summit before going ahead with its own political plans.

Eastern Bloc specialists believe Gorbachev needs to show progress on limiting the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, known as "Star Wars," at the summit to ensure internal support for his policies. A failure at the summit in this essential area could increase the pressure on Gorbachev from hard-line sectors, East European officials say.

"The agreement on medium-range missiles is not as advantageous for the Soviets as it is for the West," said a Polish official. "For the Soviets the real measure of results is SDI. If there is no progress in that area or on strategic weapons, it may cause trouble for Gorbachev internally."

Gorbachev's supporters in Eastern Europe said the summit may offer him a chance to ease whatever political turmoil he may have suffered in recent weeks. Their hope is that if the Soviet leader performs well at the summit, he will have the strength to rein in conservative opponents at home or push through new domestic reforms.

"Our assessment is that Gorbachev is still firmly in control," said a Polish Foreign Ministry official. "Clearly he had to respect the existence of more conservative forces and yet still go forward with his program. His method of dealing with Yeltsin showed he could do this. After all, Yeltsin wasn't sent to Siberia."

Sovietologists in the United States and elsewhere agreed that Yeltsin's undoing was probably the pace and style with which he pushed reform and his relentless assault on the moribund Moscow party organization, the home base of thousands of the country's powerful bureaucrats.

When he succeeded Viktor Grishin in the post in January 1985, Yeltsin began firing many party regulars. He accused bureaucrats of corruption and gave his support to articles denouncing privileges such as special schools for the children of party members.

Yeltsin's speeches were blunt, even by the the standards of Gorbachev's own speeches. "Why even now does the demand for radical changes sink in an inert stratum of time-servers with party cards?" Yeltsin asked in February 1986.

Israeli sociologist Gregori Kanovich, who emigrated from the Soviet Union six years ago, said Soviet bureaucrats "would rather lose the country's superpower status than lose their own privileges."

Princeton University historian Robert C. Tucker noticed eight months ago that at a meeting in Moscow of area propaganda workers, Yeltsin answered unsigned, written questions from a sometimes angry crowd. One questioner, obviously enraged by Yeltsin's attempts to clean out the party organization and reduce special privileges, sounded an ominous warning: "You have Napoleonic plans," the note read. "What do you think you're up to? Gorbachev simply needed his own man. Go back to Sverdlovsk before it's too late."

Marshall Goldman sensed that anger when he read a clipping from an April edition of Moscow Pravda in which a bureaucrat's wife wrote of Yeltsin in a letter, "We are the elite and you cannot halt the stratification of society. You are not strong enough. We will rip up the puny sails of your economic restructuring and you will be unable to reach your destination."

Sovietologists say the Yeltsin firing is not an isolated defeat for Gorbachev. He has been under pressure to slow the pace of change since his mysterious seven-week absence from Moscow this summer.

"We don't really know what happened when Gorbachev was gone, but it's conceivable that he and the party people really had it out," said Harvard's Pipes. "When he came back he was a good deal tamer."

In Gorbachev's absence and after, forces of opposition in the Politburo such as KGB chief Viktor Chebrikov and ideological chief Ligachev made their positions clear in speeches.

In Leningrad and Murmansk this fall, Gorbachev continued to speak out strongly for radical reform. But by mid-October, not only were the voices of opposition stronger and more in the open, the Yeltsin affair was getting hot.

In the days preceding a Gorbachev speech Nov. 2 on Soviet history, no one knew about the brewing Yeltsin affair and the speech was touted by Gorbachev's allies as a blockbuster. Almost all of the Sovietologists interviewed agreed that what Gorbachev subsequently presented, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, must have been greatly diluted by such conservative leaders as Ligachev.

"The speech was Gorbachev's first deep bow in the direction of the conservatives," said Kennan Institute scholar Peter Reddaway. The discussion of history was milder than expected and, said Reddaway, "It showed him for the first time taking a centrist position on perestroika."

Everyone, of course, wants to know more about what has happened and why. Sovietologists are no different from the hundreds of Moscow State University students who protested Tuesday, demanding to know precisely what Yeltsin said in his notorious address before the Central Committee on Oct. 21, criticizing the pace of reform.

"The Russians seem to be picking up the habit of leaking secrets American-style, and I dare say there will be more of that," said former Carter administration official Marshall Shulman.

For the moment, the reform movement proceeds, said Milan Jelinek, foreign editor of the Czechoslovak party newspaper Rude Pravo. "It arises from an internal reality in the Soviet Union, not one person's initiative. It has gone too far to be reversed."

"In the end, the Yeltsin affair will turn out to be an episode -- not the beginning and not the end," said Cohen. "Gorbachev is going to win some and he's going to lose some.