New men have gradually emerged within the Soviet policy machine: Better educated, more sophisticated, they believe in communist ideology but are not straitjacketed by it.
And new Soviet party leader Yuri Andropov has, from the real start of the ''succession'' period earlier this year, been their preferred candidate to take over from Leonid Brezhnev.
One side of Yuri Andropov, such officials suggest, is his suspicion of dogmatic approaches, his readiness to look at what are, at least within an often-confining Soviet context, new ideas and options.
Another, potentially contradictory, side is this: He is an extremely tough, shrewd politician.
The overall portrait - drawn from interviews over recent months with senior Soviet officials, some close to Mr. Andropov and some less so - is of a leader who would like to try new approaches but will also keenly consider the political risks and benefits of such moves.
One early hint of what specific policies this approach may produce could conceivably come at a party Central Committee meeting Nov. 22. As the Soviet system is set up, the meeting will in effect serve as a forum for the top nearly 600 members of the ruling party to get a sense of the post-Brezhnev leadership. (See story on the Soviet leadership and the Central Committee session, Page 12.)
What scant public evidence has emerged so far does seem to suggest a nondogmatic approach and at least a hint of innovation.
On the economic front: A decree published Nov. 20 offered new productivity incentives to farms that best help with supplies of meat and dairy products in the coming winter. The idea of incentives is nothing new. It was part of a food program adopted during the final months of the Brezhnev era. Yet the public mention of one specific form of reward, and its scale, was novel: It involves vouchers for travel abroad (presumably, to Eastern Europe).
On foreign policy: While giving nothing away in substance and suggesting that Moscow will not play the supplicant in any post-Brezhnev thaw between the superpowers, Mr. Andropov has moved to meet Washington halfway in improving at least the atmosphere of those relations.
He did so, first, by receiving Vice-President George Bush and Secretary of State George Shultz, who were representing Washington at Mr. Brezhnev's funeral. It was the highest-level Soviet-American meeting since President Reagan's election two years ago.
Further, a Pravda editorial Nov. 21, which Soviet sources indicated had come on direct Kremlin initiative, said Moscow wanted ''honest, equal, mutually advantageous'' ties with other countries, ''particularly with the United States.'' Pravda said: ''Normal - even better, friendly - Soviet-American relations would meet the interests of both peoples. . . .''
Mr. Andropov also seems determined to get down to work. Senior Soviet sources say he has done so in consultation with a veteran Brezhnev foreign policy aide, Andrei Alexandrov-Agentov, and with a trio of his own longtime associates. One is V.V. Sharapov, a Sinologist who used to work at Pravda and speaks both Chinese and English. The other two specialize in domestic and economic questions.
Still, specific policies remain a question mark.
With apologies to Kremlinologists, nothing Mr. Andropov has written or said before his elevation as Communist Party general secretary is sufficiently specific, sufficiently up-to-date, and sufficiently different from the stated ''Brezhnev line'' to serve as a reliable signal of any changes ahead.
But it is easier to chart the kind of man Mr. Andropov appears to be, his background, and the company he has kept.
He is a product of a period in Soviet history - beginning under the impulsive , abortive rule of Nikita Khrushchev and carried over by the much more cautious Brezhnev-era leadership - that greatly modernized the Kremlin policy machine.