MOSCOW, DEC. 21 -- With fury in his voice, Col. Viktor Alksnis stood before the Soviet legislature and the television cameras and declared, "Yes, before you stands a reactionary. Before you stands a scum. I accept these charges."

The colonel's defiant declaration, his unabashed glee over Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation as foreign minister Thursday, was a revealing moment, a peek inside the emotional core of the powerful, complicated conservative forces now pushing for power in the Soviet Union.

Many newspapers and legislators here talk of a "creeping military coup," a campaign of military pressure that has pushed Mikhail Gorbachev into a more hard-line position than a few months ago. One member of the Congress, writer and filmmaker Ales Adamovich, warned that if reformers continue to leave the leadership, "we won't be able to see the president -- just the surrounding colonels and the generals and their epaulettes."

But when Shevardnadze warned of a return to dictatorship in the Soviet Union, he was not referring merely to the Soviet military. "That would be a primitive understanding of what is happening," said Anatoly Sobchak, the radical mayor of Leningrad. "This is not Chile. It is more complicated than that."

The scope of Soviet conservatism is wider, taking in the KGB secret police, millions of Communist Party apparatchiks, the new Russian Communist Party, the heads of factories and collective farms and right-wing cultural organizations such as the writers' union of the Russian republic. It includes movements as varied as the United Front of Workers based in Leningrad and antisemitic groups such as Pamyat.

Among the conservatives, in all fields, the emphasis is on a return to order, an end to secessionist movements in the republics, an end to talk of private property and the death of communism, an end to what they call "unbridled" criticism of the traditional institutions of power.

"This cannot go on forever, what is happening now in the country," said Gen. Boris Gromov, the last Soviet commander in Afghanistan and a hard-liner who has just been appointed deputy interior minister. "The governments of all these republics can keep up their secessionist actions, and we, like polite gentlemen, can wait and listen. But there comes a time to act."

Although many Communist Party apparatchiks and military leaders said they do not share Col. Alksnis's "emotional style," most of them share his politics. In the current struggle for power in the Kremlin, the conservative forces pushing the government to the right -- and Shevardnadze out of his post -- are ascendant and no longer mince their words.

"I'm in complete solidarity with Col. Alksnis," said Deputy Defense Minister Gen. Konstantin Kochetov. "He says what needs to be said."

"Why should we dawdle?" asked Yegor Ligachev, once the leading conservative in the leadership. "The country will collapse if we do not save it. We have a mission."

Earlier this week, 53 leading conservatives, ranging from writer Yuri Bondarev to military chief of staff Gen. Mikhail Moiseyev, signed a letter demanding that Gorbachev use "extraordinary measures" to protect the union and socialism.

Alksnis's conservative Soyuz faction, with 500 deputies as members, has also become a powerful force in the legislature.

Adm. Valentin Mesets said, "I cannot agree with everything Alksnis says, but we must stabilize the internal situation in this country. We must have order. This must be done."

Gorbachev himself may be the one politician in the country who cannot afford to clarify his politics too precisely. Early last summer, before the 28th Communist Party Party Congress, both Shevardnadze and Alexander Yakovlev discussed the possibility of splitting off from the Communist Party and creating a new party, sources said. The Politburo voted down the proposal and Gorbachev, the sources said, remained aloof from the argument.

Mavriks Vulfsons, a Latvian legislator, said, "Gorbachev is forever trying to balance his position. You could see in recent months that he was not always in full agreement with Shevardnadze or Yakovlev. It's as if he felt he could not afford to side with them."

While Shevardnadze and Yakovlev clearly drifted away from the mainstream opinion in the party leadership, Gorbachev has been quick to show his allegiances to the traditional icons of the Bolshevik state. Asked this week about his belief in Leninism, Gorbachev said, "You can kill me, you can pin me on a cross, you can put me in another job, but I will never renounce these principles."

But many of the conservatives want more from Gorbachev. They want him to declare presidential rule in every republic where independence movements are in power. So far Gorbachev has threatened such a move, but he has not made it.

Even Marshal Sergei Akhromeyev, Gorbachev's chief military adviser, does not hesitate to show his impatience with the president. Asked in what direction Gorbachev is moving, he frowned and said, "You ask him. I have no idea. All I know is that the time for words is over."

The collapse of the economy and the uncertainty of the political and ethnic situation in most republics have brought about an increasing nostalgia among ordinary people for "the old days," especially the years under Leonid Brezhnev, when it was possible to buy food and clothing at state prices and not have to worry about hustling enough cash to deal with black marketeers.

Sometimes the nostalgia for the past, especially among older people, extends to a yearning for the "iron hand" of Joseph Stalin. Nina Andreyeva, a Leningrad schoolteacher, is the leader of a political movement called Yedintsvo that calls for a return to the ideology and "certainties" of the 1930s and '40s.

"Why should everyone weep about the Stalin era? Better to weep about the present day, when you have to be a millionaire to get a pack of cigarettes or a slice of beef," said Yevgeny Dzugashvili, one of Stalin's grandsons, a retired military officer who lives in Moscow.

The hard-line conservatives, often known as National Bolsheviks, invest much of their passion and nostalgia in the armed forces. Reactionary magazines such as Molodaya Gvardia (Young Guard) and Nash Sovremenik (Our Contemporary) have made a campaign out of, as one article says, "restoring the honor and dignity of the nation's defenders."

The Soviet armed forces are a deeply troubled, even angry constellation of institutions. Under Gorbachev, the military suffered a humiliation in Afghanistan as painful as the American experience in Vietnam. Now, troops returning from Eastern Europe have discovered there is little money to house them.

"Let Shevardnadze visit the shantytowns where Soviet troops have been forced to live after evacuating Eastern Europe," Alksnis said. "Let him look those men in the eyes."

Liberal magazines such as Ogonyok and Moscow News regularly publish articles about the military that deeply embarrass admirals and generals who had never before been the subjects of public criticism.

Newspapers such as Komsomolskaya Pravda have been running stories for months about various army maneuvers and exercises that they claim are "practice" for a coup. In interviews, 15 admirals and generals dismissed the idea of a military coup. "I have been in the military for 50 years and there has never been a danger of a coup," Gen. Mikhail Sorokin said. "There isn't now and there never will be."

Still, Gorbachev's gestures toward the army are growing more frequent. Defense Minister Dmitri Yazov was awarded the rank of marshal. There was the recent presidential decree allowing soldiers to use their weapons to protect themselves from nationalist demonstrators. There was Gorbachev's speech this week praising the army and criticizing the intelligentsia.

With each such gesture, and now with Shevardnadze's resignation, reformists' fears grow. They worry that the military, along with the Communist Party and the KGB, have become more influential. It was Adamovich who expressed that fear most clearly at the Congress.

"We all remember how {Nikita} Khrushchev was ousted by being deprived of his staunchest allies in the cause of reform," he told the deputies and Gorbachev. "By losing allies such as Shevardnadze, you are losing your strength, prestige, your face. If this process goes on, the president will be surrounded by colonels and generals, and they will make him their hostage.

"You, Mikhail Sergeyevich, are the only leader in Soviet history whose hands are not steeped in blood. But a moment will come when they will instigate a bloodbath and they will wipe their bloodstained hands on your suit and you will be to blame for everything. You are known as a political genius in the West. Exercise your genius again, otherwise you will lose perestroika."