In the Soviet Union, ``peace education'' is something that occurs mainly around the kitchen table, American observers say. They report little serious public inquiry or study of nuclear weapons, conflict resolution, or factors making for a secure peace. There is, however, some evidence today of modest change. Western Soviet experts and travelers to the USSR say that over the last decade, and especially since the arrival of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev last March, discourse on peace has become audible in Soviet intellectual circles. The change is roughly traced by researchers at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government and Russian Research Center, as well as at Columbia University, to the decision of the Sixth Communist Party Congress in 1981 to make the prevention of nuclear war its No. 1 priority. `Imaginative and risky'
According to Paul Doty, a professor at the Kennedy School, ``It was fairly imaginative -- and risky -- to take that line.'' Since 1981, the effects of nuclear war and the folly of nuclear brinkmanship have been acceptable subjects of discourse among the Soviet intelligentsia. `A licensed subject'
``New thinking'' about the nuclear question has become ``a licensed subject'' in Moscow, according to Bruce Allyn, a Soviet specialist with the Harvard Nuclear Negotiation Project and a frequent traveler to that city. Mr. Allyn says the Soviet intelligentsia have come to accept that ``there is an objective necessity to avoid a nuclear war, and they are discussing this more openly.''
One example of this new openness, says Mr. Allyn, is seen in a recent issue of Voprosy Filosofii (Questions of Philosophy), a journal widely read by Soviet thinkers. In an article entitled ``The Logic of Political Thinking in the Nuclear Era,'' Georgy Shakhnazarov, an influential Central Committee adviser, writes: ``In our world threatened by destruction, several concepts which had served as more or less reliable instruments of orientation begin with time to play a directly opposite role, like a demagnetized compass: The expedient becomes aimless, strength turns out to be weakness, profit -- ruin, acquisition -- loss, murder -- suicide. There is only one way to rid ourselves of this irrationality: . . . to reexamine the habitual patterns of thought from the point of view of the logic of political thinking in the nuclear era. We must learn to think in a new way.'' Gorbachev's lead
Analysts such as Prof. Seweryn Bialer of Columbia University also note that, in his fall speech in Paris, Gorbachev made mention of a need to move beyond ``habitual ways of thinking'' about arms control.
Dr. Doty points out that two years ago in an experimental program in the towns around Moscow, a subcommittee of the Soviet Academy of Sciences known as Scientists Against Nuclear War held meetings with academicians, researchers, and factory workers. The purpose was to present information on ``nuclear winter,'' the severe cooling of the earth's climate that some scientists say would occur in the wake of a major nuclear exchange. Doty says the presentation was ``not ideologically loaded'' but was ``a fairly good piece of research.'' The scientists seized on the issue of nuclear winter, he says, just because it didn't have to be cast in terms of a Marxist class issue. Evidence of new discourse
Other evidence cited by these scholars to show the growth of Soviet discourse about peace issues includes:
Two direct, unedited appearances by President Reagan on Soviet television.
The 1983 book entitled ``New Thinking for a Nuclear Age,'' written by Anatoly Gromyko, son of President Andrei Gromyko. While the book is rife with criticisms of American imperialism, experts see a marked shift from past attitudes in its call for new policies.
The Soviet support of telemosty, or ``telebridges'' -- live video linkups via satellite between audiences in the US and USSR. The first two of these were held in 1983 by the Esalen Institute in conjunction with the Soviet Academy of Sciences. There have been about a dozen since, involving the University of California at San Diego, Creative Initiative in Palo Alto, and the C-SPAN cable-TV channel.
Experimentation by artists and performers with a more open message about the nuclear issue. One example is a play entitled ``Noah and His Sons,'' by Yuli Mikhailov, a Soviet citizen of Korean extraction. It tells of a modern-day Noah, according to a recent visitor at the Stanislavsky Dramatic Theater in Moscow. This character realizes the danger to the planet posed by atomic weapons and consults his sons -- who symbolize various voices within Soviet society -- about what to do. The son who is a soldier discusses first strikes, mega-deaths, and the ``winnability'' of a nuclear war. Noah calls him an ``idiot.'' The son who is an engineer expects that technology can solve the problem. Noah dismisses him. The third son is driven to insanity over the problem. Finally, all four characters are given a chance to see what the destruction of the planet might look like. At that point, the actors take off their costumes, tell the audience they are ``just people living in Moscow, thinking about nuclear weapons,'' and join hands to sing a song with the refrain: ``Nothing in the world is worth such a price.''