DESPITE high-level political opposition, supporters of exiled writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn are pushing ahead with plans to get his most controversial works published in the Soviet Union. Three installments from Gulag Achipelago, his documentary work on Stalin's labor camps, are due to be published in the country's leading literary journal, Novy Mir. Several reports say that the first extracts will appear in May or June.
Novy Mir is being cagey about its plans, perhaps because its attempt to publish Mr. Solzhenitsyn several months ago was prevented at the last minute. But Solzhenitsyn has told Soviet supporters by phone that if the Gulag extracts do appear, he will allow a one-volume collection of his writings to be published here at the end of the year.
The collection is already prepared for print, and will include Cancer Ward, the novel completed in 1966 but never published officially here.
The book will be issued by the Sovietskaya Rossiya publishing house. Vladimir Bondarenko, a literary critic who has written the foreword to the collection, says it will have a print run of 100,000.
If Solzhenitsyn's works are published, it will be due to the confluence of two very different currents in Soviet society: the political leadership's gradual withdrawal from its role of chief literary censor and the gradual emergence of a school of thought that frankly repudiates the last 70 years of Soviet history.
This view is openly held by a number of writers grouped around the conservative literary monthly Nash Sovremennik. One of its most outspoken exponents is the critic Vadim Kozhinov, who, like Mr. Bondarenko, is a member of Nash Sovremennik's editorial board. These opinions, Bondarenko notes, are very close to those of Solzhenitsyn himself.
Bondarenko adds that Solzhenitsyn has previously said that he would return to the Soviet Union if his main works were published here. This would have a major impact on both the literary and political scene in the Soviet Union.
Support for Solzhenitsyn transcends political divisions in Soviet society. Anatoly Pristavkin, one of the most outspokenly liberal writers in the country, has actively promoted the publication of Solzhenitsyn's writings. So has Yuri Koryakin, a like-minded writer and literary critic.
On the other end of today's very wide Soviet political spectrum, Valentin Rasputin - whose political views are probably very close to Mr. Kozhinov's - has worked enthusiastically for Solzhenitsyn's return to the Soviet reader.
The process that is bringing Solzhenitsyn's works back to his homeland is a textbook example of how an idea takes shape in Mikhail Gorbachev's Soviet Union: It moves slowly around the periphery of the country, imperceptibly developing momentum as it approaches the capital. Then suddenly it becomes almost commonplace.
Five months ago, the chances of any major work by Solzhenitsyn being published seemed virtually nonexistent.
On Nov. 9 the Kremlin's new ideology chief, Vadim Medvedev, told an unpublicized meeting of senior editors that he was totally opposed to the publication of Solzhenitsyn's writings here. Mr. Medvedev particularly objected to his characterization of Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Russian revolution.
Communist Party officials correctly view Solzhenitsyn's writings as implacably hostile to the revolution and its legacy.
Shortly before Medvedev's pronouncement, a small railwayman's newspaper in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev had published Solzhenitsyn's 1974 essay ``Live Not by a Lie.''
Soon afterward, two Baltic newspapers, published respectively by the Latvian and Lithuanian National Fronts, reprinted the article.
Finally in February the small but combative monthly ``Twentieth Century and Peace'' ran the article in Moscow. It immediately got into trouble with the censors.
(The essay, ironically enough, bemoans the average Soviet citizen's herd-like unwillingness to take a political stand. This judgment may have to be reevaluated after the recent parliamentary elections - the first popularly contested elections since 1917.)
As a counterpoint to the essay, a number of large and enthusiastic public meetings were held in Moscow in December to mark Solzhenitsyn's 70th birthday. Then word gradually seeped into Moscow that a young writer, Petr Palamarchuk, had written a ``guide'' to Solzhenitsyn in Kuban, a literary journal published in Krasnodar, some 750 miles from the capital.
The guide describes Solzhenitsyn's works largely in the exiled writer's own words, and is currently being published in three parts. Each has been held up for a while by local officials, and each has brought with it a large jump in the journal's modest circulation.
BUT the fact that the series has seen the light of day, literary critic Bondarenko believes, is crucial. The guide could not have been published without someone in Krasnodar checking with the Central Committee in Moscow, he thinks.
The movement to print Solzhenitsyn was part coordinated, part spontaneous.
Some of the principal actors, for example Mr. Palamarchuk and Bondarenko, know each other. But neither was aware that the Baltic movements - whose political viewpoints probably differ sharply from their own - had published Solzhenitsyn. (Mr. Pristavkin on the other hand is a strong supporter of the independent political movements in the baltic).
Solzhenitsyn's progress shows once again that political changes are coming faster than anyone believed possible.
One of the country's most prominent writers confided just under a year ago that he and a small group of colleagues were trying to get some of the exiled writers republished here.
``We can probably legalize [exiled satirist] Vladimir Voinovich first,'' he said. ``But Solzhenitsyn will probably be impossible.''