In "Russian Orthodoxies" {op-ed, Oct. 16}, Stephen Rosenfeld comments on an article by Aileen Kelly that appeared in The New York Review of Books. He describes the writer as "a British student" who is "probably still in her teens." Her youth, evidently, excuses the errors of judgment for which Mr. Rosenfeld "forgives" her. I don't know how old Aileen Kelly is, but she is certainly not in her teens, since she is a lecturer -- not a student -- at Cambridge and the author of a highly acclaimed biography of Mikhail Bakunin as well as of many distinguished essays.

Apart from his gratingly patronizing tone, Mr. Rosenfeld is wrong about the two distinct "schools in Soviet studies" that have "been going at it hot and heavy for the last few years." While there was a time when the "totalitarianism" model held sway among some leading Western Sovietologists, this model has long been eroded and diluted by the work of numerous scholars -- including Leonard Schapiro, whose essays Aileen Kelly reviews with far more attention to their nuances than one would gather from Mr. Rosenfeld's piece. His apprehensions notwithstanding, the old "orthodoxy" is not about to be replaced by one that greets every reform under Mikhail Gorbachev as tidings of the Second Coming, but rather by an increasingly differentiated attempt to understand the nature, direction and limitations of the evolution of the Soviet system.

"The great argument about the Soviet Union," writes Mr. Rosenfeld, "has always been whether it is a state among states . . . or is one of a kind, bound by no rules other than its own." Like any simplification, this one is rather wide of the mark. Currently, the only meaningful "argument" among serious scholars concerns the durability and significance of the changes taking place in the Soviet Union. It is precisely this, and not any other question, that it would be "best," as he suggests, to regard as still "open and urgent."

JOSEPHINE WOLL Associate Professor German-Russian Department, Howard University Washington