MOSCOW -- As Mikhail Gorbachev's expanding economic reforms begin to trample more heavily on seven decades of Soviet ideology and entrenched interests, resistance to his plans will grow stronger, according to some of the Soviet leader's best-known supporters.

In the past few weeks, Gorbachev has called for an increased emphasis on family farms and a cutback on collective and state farms. He has defied the traditional fear of the "foreign exploiter" by permitting western firms to own majority interests in joint ventures here. His finance minister, Boris Gostev, has even floated the idea of creating a Soviet version of the stock market.

But according to a number of proreform Soviet scholars who met here last week with a similar group of visiting Americans, Gorbachev is perpetually in danger of outrunning his own people, of pushing them too far too fast. Although they all acknowledged that the Soviet Union -- with its crumbling infrastructure, isolated economy and lack of modern technology -- cannot afford time or half-measures, they agreed that Gorbachev is being forced constantly to balance political risks against economic needs.

"The vast majority of people are against radical change, though not perestroika {Gorbachev's program of restructuring} in general," said Leonid Botkin, a prominent historian at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. "The lower down you go, the greater the resistance. But it's not because those people are more conservative, it is because they are dealing with the real details of change."

At last week's conference, historian Yuri Afanasyev, economist Nikolai Shmelyov, human rights activist Andrei Sakharov and other proreform figures described a political culture in which 71 years of accumulated ideology acts as a braking force on economic reform.

"We have to get rid of this perversion of an egalitarian tradition," Shmelyov said. But, he added, "Socialism is still our national religion. Four generations have been brought up on socialism, and we are not prepared to give it up."

"The point is, we need to rethink the whole idea of socialism and what it means," Afanasyev said. "We can't rely on notions that have been proved wrong and ineffective long ago."

Gorbachev has had to withhold some measures that are vital to the rebuilding of the economy. To soothe the people's fear of inflation, he has put off for years retail price reforms that would end state subsidies on basic commodities. Only the most radical economists dare talk now about making the ruble an internationally convertible currency in the near future.

For western scholars like Ed A. Hewett of the Brookings Institution, the delays are costing the Soviet economy time that it may not have and postpone pain that is inevitable.

"Look, perestroika is a very polite phrase for firing a lot of people, moving people around and closing a lot of bad enterprises," Hewett said. "When you start having strikes, then I'll say you have real reform."

But even now, the conferees agreed, people have been worn down by the demands made of them and the lack of results. "Our people are tired," said Vitali Korotich, editor of Ogonyok magazine, which has championed Gorbachev's reform drive. Enthusiasm is waning. According to economist Pavel Bunich, "There has been a decline in the supporters of perestroika -- probably a 10 percent drop."

It has been easier, some conferees suggested, for Gorbachev to defeat or neutralize political opponents in the Communist Party leadership than in the huge Soviet bureaucracy. His attempt to cut personnel in the Soviet planning ministries by 30 to 50 percent has been a failure, Shmelyov pointed out. In agriculture alone, there are 3 million people who are considered administrators. These people, Shmelyov said, realize that they are doomed by an agricultural program that will take land and power from them and lease it to family farmers.

Then there are ideas even Gorbachev cannot dare propose. Take the concept of private property, said Shmelyov, whose radical essays on economics have been influential in the Kremlin. "I don't deny the fact that private ownership would improve our economy. Theoretically, it is possible. But not practically. The first private enterprise that went up here would be burned down by the people in the street."

Even more troubling for some of the western scholars was the question of Gorbachev's idea of the Soviet future.

"What do you see as your goals?" asked David Shipler, a former Moscow correspondent for The New York Times and now a scholar at the Carnegie Endowment. "What would a socialist market economy look like?" asked Hewett. "Will I be able to distinguish it from Sweden or the United States as a socialist economy? I find a strong consensus on what you find wrong with the past, but where are you going?"

The point seemed to leave some of the best minds of the Soviet reform movement -- Shmelyov, Sakharov, Afanasyev, Bunich, Botkin -- at something of a loss. All day long they avoided the question.

"No one knows exactly what Gorbachev is thinking about during his sleepless nights," Botkin said.

"Personally, I think reform is doomed to success," Shmelyov said in the end, "but the process will be protracted and agonizing."