20 AUGUST 1988, Page 23

LETTERS Gorbachev's mask

Sir: As an historian, Norman Davies (`Sta- lin's history lesson', 6 August) grasps the essential truth which John Springs, as an artist, apprehends intuitively in his drawing for the article: behind its new mask of Gorbachev, Soviet totalitarianism smiles Stalin's old smile.

He does, however, misjudge his fellow scholars when he says that 'no one seems to have noticed that the recent celebrations of the "Christian Millenium" in Moscow were staged in a manner which endorsed all basic assumptions of the Stalinist theory of history.' As long ago as 1932, Dmitrievsky, Stalin's earliest Western apologist, wrote that Russia was on the threshold of nationalism, 'gradually and ever more thoroughly ridding itself of the buzzing fly Of Marxism.' When one 'notices' that (as Mikhail Heller and Aleksandr Nekrich do in their recent Utopia in Power), one hardly need notice anything else. As recently as last April, in the Times, I described the `Millenium', to be staged two months later, as a quintessentially Stalinist undertaking (`The Kremlin's Christian pawns', 1 April). In short, it should by now be clear, at least to historians, that the answer to Professor Davies's key question — 'Is it really possible to deStalinise the Soviet system, and still have something left?' — is Yes, but it is impossible to de-totalitarianise it. One only wishes that Professor Davies had reached this conclu- sion in his article.

Andrei Navrozov 6 Sydney Close, London SW3