Andrei Sakharov has become the most celebrated dissident in Soviet history, and deservedly so. His hunger strikes have focused nearly as much attention on him as his Nobel prize for physics has. From the most closed of societies he has managed the astounding feat of projecting his support of human rights onto the front pages of newspapers all over the world.
Andrei Sinyavsky may never elicit a letter of admiration from Walter Mondale or find himself the subject of a movie starring Jason Robards. While Sakharov, at the moment, is in the international spotlight, Sinyavsky is appearing in the pages of Dissent magazine - a distinguished but scarcely mass-circulation publication - writing about ''Dissent as a Personal Experience.'' Yet in his less-heralded way, one may argue, Sinyavsky pioneered the modern role of the Soviet dissident.
Almost 20 years ago Sinyavsky, a literary critic, short story writer, and novelist, went on trial with another writer, Yuri Daniel, as an ''enemy of the people.'' It was 1965, during the so-called ''thaw,'' 12 years after Stalin's death.
Under Stalin, one observer remarked, Soviet writers fell into two groups - the ''time-servers'' and the ''silent ones,'' like the storyteller Isaac Babel and the poet Anna Akhmatova. And, alas, heroic victims, like Osip Mandelstam, who died in a concentration camp in 1937 for writing verse denouncing Stalin.
The ''thaw'' was not all that hopeful Westerners took it to be. But under the less overt tyranny of Khrushchev, Sinyavsky was able to do an extraordinary thing - plead not guilty in public. He was sentenced to seven years of forced labor, but had the state won? It now found itself confronting a new breed - the dissenter who neither confessed and recanted nor disappeared.
Sinyavsky has been a dissenter in spite of himself. Nothing in his temperament seems to cry out: ''Rebel!'' He just found himself praising Robert Frost while attacking the Party's literary toadies. He just found himself writing rather Gogol-like short stories and novels of ''fantastic realism'' (as opposed to the officially approved ''social realism''), using the wife of the French ambassador to smuggle his manuscripts out of the country, to be published under the pen name ''Abram Tertz.'' ''Personally I do not care for the adventuresome,'' Sinyavsky writes in his essay, as if astonished at the outlaw life he has led. ''I prefer a quiet, peaceful, and secluded life, and I am quite an ordinary person.''
A little whimsically he blames his career as a dissenter on his ''dark literary double,'' Tertz: ''This person is, in contrast to Andrei Sinyavsky, inclined to go on forbidden paths and to take risky steps of different kinds, which has brought a great amount of trouble upon him and, accordingly, upon me.''
But then this reluctant dissenter makes a wild leap of logic that takes his dissent out of its Soviet context. Having ended up as an exile in Paris after serving time in the labor camp, Sinyavsky decides that ''Any writer is an outcast'' - anywhere.
Specifically, he finds himself a dissenter among the ''emigre corporation'' because he does not disapprove of the West and love Mother Russia as passionately as Alexander Solzhenitsyn, for instance. A witty man who sees it as his destiny to be ''trapped'' by the infrastructure wherever he may be, Sinyavsky writes his flights into ''fantastic realism'' rather as Chagall paints them - both artists recognizing how limited those graceful escapes must be. Thus does Sinyavsky propose dissent as his universal condition - and maybe ours.
Here, then, are two kinds of dissenters: Sakharov makes a courageous model of how a man or woman in his particular predicament ought to behave. We read him as an inspiring political parable. Sinyavsky, on the other hand, suggests that, whether we are in Moscow or Paris or Peoria, every one of us is in his predicament, right now. For we are all challenged to preserve our sovereignty while a member of a society that has certain intentions of forming us.
''I was a nice boy,'' Sinyavsky remarks - a boy who wanted to please, who wanted to belong. Aren't we all? But if Sinyavsky is correct, who of us, in the most benign community, does not grow up to find ourselves obliged, at one point or another, to become a reluctant dissenter too, or else abdicate an identity far more important than peer approval can ever provide?