EVER since the tragedy of October 1917, historians and political scientists have complained that Alexandr Kerensky made a horrible mistake because he did not end the dyocylastie (``dual power''). He did not disperse the Soviets Workers and Peasants' Deputies by force. He did not arrest the Bolshevik leaders who dominated the Soviets. He kept postponing elections for the Constituent Assembly. The view is commonplace that by acting Kerensky could have saved Russia from the totalitarian coup in October.
At first sight it seems Boris Yeltsin learned the lesson of history. He dispersed the Supreme Soviet and the Congress of People's Deputies. He liquidated the dual power. He announced early elections.
Thus, at first sight, historians and political scientists can be satisfied. The situations seemed to replay itself, but this time the correct move was made. Mr. Yeltsin corrected Kerensky's mistake. But only at first sight.
The 1917 analogy leaves out decisive differences. First, the two leading ``hardliners,'' Vice President Rutskoi and Speaker of Parliament Khasbulatov, now in a Moscow prison, were two years ago close allies of Yeltsin. All three fought against the coup of communist hardliners in August 1991. Khasbulatov was the first leader who arrived in the White House in August 1991 to stand against the coup.
Yeltsin was first elected president of the Russian parliament, despite the vigorous opposition of Gorbachev. He did it only with the help of Mr. Rutskoi. Then Rutskoi ran as vice president on Yeltsin's ticket and helped him win popular election as president in the Russia's first free election. It is doubtful that Yeltsin could have been elected, except for his vice president who had the support of the liberal communists.
Yet, Yeltsin suspended his vice president two months ago. Can you imagine President Clinton kicking out Vice President Al Gore Jr.?
The differences between Yeltsin and his foes on economic reforms are hard to establish. Yeltsin's opponents did not oppose reforms. They only asked them to be slower. They argued that, in Russia, ``shock therapy'' was shock without therapy. Some Western economists agree. After two years of reform, the economic disaster is obvious. This offers a foil for real hardliners eager to support any opposition to Yeltsin.
Responsibility for the economic disaster also falls on the bureaucracies of the IMF and World Bank whose economic methods take no account of social and political realities. Shock therapy in Russia is comparable to building a huge meat industry in India.
The democratic historian Yuri Afanasyev may be correct in his Sept. 16 article in Literaturnaya Gazeta. The struggle between Yeltsin and parliament was an ``animal struggle for power,'' he wrote, having nothing to do with ideological or political principles.
It is generally believed in Russia that both sides are corrupt and that the accusations of the two sides are true. This may be why, during the battle for the White House, most Muscovites just watched as if the drama were irrelevant - like an audience sitting in a theater.
But no matter how small the number of people who were involved in these tragic events, it may lead to a huge disaster. It is too often forgotten that, in the initial phase of historic events, only a small number of activists are involved. Lenin's party had a laughable number of members before 1917.
It would be wonderful for the Russian people and the democratic world if free elections would soon establish a lawful government. It also may be that the end of the parliament will be the end of Yeltsin, December elections or not. He will be blamed as the first Kremlin leader in many years to spill blood. Even the coup leaders of August 1991 were unable to do this. People will remember he had barbed wire put around parliament, which was not armed. His imprisoned opponents may become martyrs. The failure of economic reforms, which Yeltsin has blamed on parliament, will now be blamed on him.
In a recent poll, Yeltsin got 32 percent approval; Khasbulatov, 16 percent.
The existence of two authoritarian power centers, no matter how corrupt, still constitutes a kind of pluralism. This pluralism ended last week.
In the liberal magazine Rodina (``Motherland''), a long article, ``Yeltsin and Lenin,'' was published this July. It found that, as politicians, the two men have many traits in common - except the goal of Lenin was negative while the goal of Yeltsin is positive. The abolition of totalitarianism may require tough means - dictatorship and even civil war - to move toward a real democratic society. As long as Lenin's tomb is in the heart of Moscow, red totalitarianism is not yet buried, even symbolically. The events of the last few days were a step toward such a development - toward civil war, not toward free elections. It may be that future historians will compare, justly or unjustly, the dismissal of the parliament by Yeltsin with the dismissal of the Constituent Assembly by Lenin in January 1918. The meaning will hopefully be Treversed.
HE West is in a difficult situation. In political reality it is impossible to support solely the idea of democracy and not the person who at the key moment represents, for better or worse, this ideal. Unfortunately, in the past the Western world has many times supported unworthy leaders in the name of pragmatic necessity. Such was the case with the unconditional support for ``Uncle Joe'' Stalin during World War II. The general public only learned later, with great surprise, about Stalin's Gulag.
This was also the case with support for the Yugoslav Stalin, Josip Broz Tito, after he broke with the Kremlin. President Carter once called Tito a ``hero of freedom.'' The result of Tito's system can be seen today in the tragedy in Yugoslavia. We can only hope that the same will not happen in the case of Russia. The Opinion/Essay Page welcomes manuscripts. Authors of articles we accept will be notified by telephone. Authors of articles not accepted will be notified by postcard. Send manuscripts by mail to Opinions/Essays, One Norway Street, Boston, MA 02115, by fax to 617 -450-2317, or by Internet E-mail to OPED@RACHELCSPS.COM.