Several weeks ago some friends of Donald Maclean gathered at a private apartment in Moscow to honor his memory on the ninth day after his death, as is the Russian custom. Among them were several scholars and specialists on international relations, two former members of the Cominern and myself. Maclean's circle of friends in Moscow was not large, but those who knew him best respected him and considered him a sincere person whose fate was not only unusual, but tragic.

Only a few of the people who worked with Donald knew the details of his biography. The short obituary in Izvestia paid tribute to him as a scholar, the author of a number of studies of England's foreign policy, a doctor of science and a prominent member of the Institute of World Economics and International Relations.

But that does not explain why leading newspapers in England and the United States devoted major articles to the death of a scholar who was never very well known in the U.S.S.R.

A Scotsman, Donald Maclean was born to a wealthy, aristocratic family, and dozens of influential relatives congratulated his father (who later became a member of the British Cabinet) on the birth of a son. But when, at the age of 70, Donald Maclean died in Moscow in total isolation, none of his relatives had been with him during illness and none was present at his funeral.

For Britain he was a spy, a traitor to his country and class, condemned in absentia to 30 years of imprisonment. For the U.S.S.R., he was one of the best spies who ever worked for Soviet intelligence.

For 20 years the Soviet media have been singing the praises of Soviet spies and members of the secret police. They have made a hero of Richard Sorge, one of the first to predict the Nazi attack on the Soviet Union, who was hanged in Tokyo in July 1944. Long articles appeared about Donald Maclean's former friend Kim Philby, who had also occupied posts in Britain's diplomatic service. But no articles appeared about Maclean, nor is it likely he would have agreed to any such publicity though entire books had been published in Britain about the Maclean-Philby affair.

I happened to meet Maclean in the late 1960s. I had written a large manuscript about Stalin (later published in the West under the title "Let History Judge") which I was showing to individual historians, old Bolsheviks and other writers in exchange for their comments and to gather facts and testimony to add to a future book. One of my acquaintances asked for permission to show the manuscript to Mark Petrovich Frazer; Maclean was going by that name in Moscow.

My acquaintance told me a little about Maclean's life. His childhood had been typical for boys of his circle. In the 1930s, he began to study at Cambridge, a university accessible only to a few at that time but rife with political passions even so. Britain still possessed her empire, and the ruling class was not yet contemplating independence for the colonies. World War I was still a fresh memory, as was the Depression of 1929-33.

Many saw a way out in radicalism or fascism. Still others, including some members of the intelligentsia and the aristocracy, read Marx and Lenin with hope. To them it was Soviet Russia that had provided ''a ray of hope in the kingdom of darkness" by overthrowing capitalism.

Donald Maclean's personal crisis came during the Spanish Civil War. At that time a Communist Party cell was active in aristocratic Cambridge. Young Donald requested permission to join the party, but he was asked to wait. Some time later he was asked to meet "a certain person," introduced to him as a senior member of the Comintern (the Communist International). "You can do more good for the communist movement and its standard bearer, the Soviet Union, by serving our common cause in secret, and not by joining the party," the man told Donald. "It would be best for you to put some distance between yourself and the communists and make a career for yourself like other young men of your background."

Donald agreed with this logic. He was still very young and only vaguely realized the price he would have to pay for his choice. He sincerely believed in socialism and did not want to continue the life of a well-heeled aristocrat. Within his own society he was a "dissident," but English society was tolerant to dissent and he would not have been faced with imprisonment even if he had openly come forward with a gospel of Marxism.

Now, however, Donald had become an agent of a foreign power, a spy, and English society -- like any other society -- could not forgive him this. True, he had not been bribed, but had been recruited through appeals to his convictions. He received not a single cent for his work as a spy, but that did not justify his actions in the eyes of British society.

Donald's career developed quite successfully. He openly "came to his senses" and began to work in the Foreign Office. For a long time he worked in the British embassy in Washington and was involved in the activities of the Anglo-American Combined Policy Committee on Atomic Matters. Thanks to Donald's reports, the Soviet leadership learned of the American effort to create an atomic bomb at various stages of its development. That was why President Truman's announcement at the Potsdam conference of the creation of an atomic bomb made no impression on Stalin whatsoever.

Naturally, I was interested in learning Maclean's opinion of my manuscript, and I soon delivered it to him at his apartment near the Kiev train station. He liked my manuscript, and we discussed it for a long time. He said he had learned a great deal from it. But, as I realized later, he was most interested in the very concept of the manuscript.

In analyzing Stalin's crimes, I did not deny the value of socialism and communism -- an approach which Maclean found congenial with his own view. When he had fled to the Soviet Union in 1951, warned by Kim Philby of the impending danger of his exposure, he found Soviet socialism to be very different from what he had imagined in the '30s. But even though he may have grown increasingly disenchanted with Soviet socialism, it is unlikely that he regretted the past or accepted the values of capitalism. In an utterly sincere step he became a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

Maclean and I subsequently met on several other occasions. He showed me his library and offered to help in translating certain English texts. "Samizdat" was at its peak, and he wanted to read many other manuscripts circulating in Moscow. Maclean never spoke of the details or the techniques of his work as a spy -- perhaps he was not permitted to do so. On a few occasions he made reference to certain historic events which he seemed to have influenced.

For example, in the summer of 1950 the North Korean army began its offensive on the south and quickly crushed the troops of Syngman Rhee, pushing them to the sea and seizing 90 percent of the territory of South Korea. Truman suddenly ordered that a 50,000-man American contingent make an amphibious landing in the deep rear of the army, and on the following day the Eighth American Army launched an attack from its base in Pusan. Cut off from their bases, the troops of Kim Il Sung found themselves in a hopeless position and were crushed. American and Korean troops, together with units of certain allied countries, moved north toward the Chinese border.

It seemed that the days of the Korean Peoples' Republic were numbered when Stalin insisted on Chinese interference. Mao hesitated, afraid that the Americans might move the war onto Chinese territory and even use the atom bomb on Chinese troops and industrial centers.

At that time an English delegation headed by Prime Minister Clement Attlee was visiting the United States. Donald Maclean, head of the American desk of the Foreign Office, was a member of that delegation. Neither Attlee nor their American colleagues had any secrets from Maclean. He managed to get a copy of an order from Truman to Gen. MacArthur not to cross the Chinese border under any circumstances and not to use atomic weapons. America feared a lengthy and hopeless war with China.

Stalin immediately passed on the information to Mao Tse-tung, and the Chinese reluctance came to an end. On Oct. 25 a vast army of "Chinese people's volunteers" crossed the Korean border and attacked American and South Korean troops. The bloody war entered a new stage and ended three years later with the establishment of a demarcation line along the 38th parallel.

In Moscow, Maclean did not seek meetings with the dissidents, although he observed their activities and struggle with interest. He never refused to make small contributions when collections were made in support of the families of the arrested. On one occasion he learned that the daughter of a family he knew had been arrested for distributing leaflets (handprinted sheets from a school notebook). That year elections were being conducted for the Supreme Soviet of the U.S.S.R. A Soviet citizen, Maclean went to the voting place and, inside the booth, wrote on the form: "While girls like Olga Ioffe are kept in mental institutions, I cannot participate in the elections."

Maclean was pleased when his book on British foreign policy was published in England without any concealment of his authorship. He announced to everyone he knew that he would no longer go under the name Mark Petrovich Frazer, but would again be Donald Maclean. About two years later the book was published in Russian in the Soviet Union. I received a copy with the author's compliments and inscription.

In Moscow Maclean's family life was not a happy one. He did not like to discuss the matter, but it was not difficult to guess that his frequent drinking bouts were the cause of the friction. He was an alcoholic and underwent treatment for the disease. Evidently, the nerve-wracking experience of previous years was not without effect.

Did Maclean maintain any contacts with the KGB? His closest friends were convinced that, if such ties remained, he used them only to get the material privileges and perquisites without which life in the Soviet Union is very difficult. In the past Maclean had evidently held some sort of rank in the intelligence service, that of colonel perhaps. But now he was a retired colonel and had no desire to remain in active service. Besides, he had never had any connections with those branches of the KGB that work in domestic matters.

Maclean had received the position of "adviser" to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs while Stalin was still alive. In essence, this was a sinecure. Latter he began to work in the Institute of World Economics and International Relations in the Soviet Academy of Sciences. It was there that he defended his doctoral dissertation.

Nevertheless, it was only thanks to the assistance of the KGB that he and his wife Melinda received good apartments in Moscow. If the KGB had not vouched for him, he would not have been able to make trips to certain countries of the Soviet bloc -- to Hungary, Poland, Bulgaria.

On several occasions he explained to me how to reveal an "informer" or learn if the secret police was following you and how. He even used one woman as an example, pointing out the clues that showed her to be a KGB informer.

Maclean could not have become a Soviet dissident, but neither did he wish to make any sort of career for himself in the U.S.S.R. He preferred to be an ordinary scholar. In the 1950s, Maclean still maintained friendly relations with a number of historians and specialists on international relations.

He became a regularrin the group that formed around the journal International Life, and he enjoyed the complete trust of its members. I am not going to name any names here. In the 1960s, the circle of his acquaintances shrank considerably. He broke off relations with some persons, and others passed on to a better world. In the '70s, his circle of acquaintances was reduced still further. By that time his sons had grown up and were studying in Moscow University, and not infrequently brought home young friends who were opposed to the government. Maclean listened to their conversations with interest, but this was already a different generation, with its own ideas about political and moral values.

Donald had a dacha not far from Moscow, in the resort area of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He lived there from spring till late fall, cultivating his orchard, flower beds and garden like a true Englishman. Often his daughter came to stay with him. He particularly loved his little granddaughter, who would stay with him for weeks at a time.

Gradually Donald's family began to fall apart. First his eldest son Fergus left for England. Then Donald's wife left to live with her mother. Together with her second husband, Donald's daughter left for the United States, taking his beloved granddaughter with her. Finally, his youngest son Donald also left, and Maclean was left alone in the world. When he learned of his illness, he withdrew into himself and stopped seeing even his closest friends. I learned of his death from the newspaper Izvestia.

Maclean lived a little over 30 years in the Soviet Union -- precisely the amount of time he would have spent in solitary confinement in an English prison. In his youth he had passionately longed for social justice, and he did not betray his ideals in old age. Fate, however, had prepared heavy trials for him, and he was not up to enduring them all. This was more his tragedy than his guilt, for he lived in a very complex time and found himself in extremely complicated conditions.

Various people will probably try to draw conclusions from his tragic experience. The history of intelligence gathering is also history, and sometimes very instructive. In the foyer of his apartment Maclean had hung a sign with large letters: "Opportunists, Dishonest People, and Anti-Semites leave this apartment!" It was a strange sign for a man who had been one of the most important Soviet spies and KGB agents. But it was a very natural sign for the man whom we knew simply as Donald Maclean.