Henry Kissinger's most recent tutorial in Realpolitik {"No Illusions About the U.S.S.R.," op-ed, Jan. 22} offers provocative insights, but seems foggy in judging Mikhail Gorbachev as a politician. Surely Mr. Kissinger is right to suggest the Soviet leader is "less benign" than popularly portrayed. As a nation, we tend to personalize politics. Benignity in politicians cannot be assumed. Their job is to master contending forces, some of them malignant and powerful enough to demand tribute. Alliances with the devil are part of the game.

On the other hand, Mr. Kissinger cites Mikhail Gorbachev's "lifelong commitment to Leninist orthodoxy" as counter to his reformism. It could as well be seen as an education for reform. Mr. Gorbachev has renounced, by his actions, enough of Leninism that the world considers him benign, a non-Soviet opinion. His problem, at this point, is not how to uphold Lenin's concepts, but how to deal with what Adlai Stevenson called "those one-eyed guys with knives between their teeth," who are, in this case, the ideological, bureaucratic and military forces of Soviet Russia. They have been gathering since Mr. Gorbachev first suggested the revolution went agley. JOHN R. MAPOTHER Potomac