SO it happened. Perhaps we didn't cross our fingers properly. For the first time since the Civil War of 1918-1921 Russians were killing Russians in street battles. Hundreds of dead and wounded. Ruined houses. Mutilated corpses. Broken hopes. Uncertain future. What for? Just try and explain to the dead the benefits of free market as opposed to planned economy. The dead do not care. Winners are not to be judged, a proverb goes. But are there any winners in the Moscow warfare? Despite the habitual euphoria in the Western press, both Yeltsin and the White (now rather black-and-white) House have lost their battles for Russia. A bullet (to say nothing of a mortar shell) might be a powerful argument, but not a very convincing one. Every shot, every burst of gunfire from both sides were the sounds of shattering defeat for the new-born Russian democracy. I voted for this parliament in 1989. Indeed, 20 per cent of its seats were reserved by the communists, but the deputies for the remaining 80 were freely elected. I even remember the name of the candidate I voted for - Andreev. He was neither a communist, nor a hardliner. I also remember the feeling of joy and elation among the voters who, for the first time in their lives, were ''allowed'' to make their choice. It was this unparalleled joy of newly-acquired freedom that was the main victim of the ruthless fighting last weekend. There are no winners indeed, so let us judge the losers. Many might not like what I am going to say, but my strong belief is that journalists should always side along with the defeated. Perhaps, being an outcast myself, I am slightly out of touch with day-to-day events in Moscow, yet, on the other hand, ''big things are better viewed from afar'', Russia poet Sergei Yesenin once wrote. The first logical question is who started the violence and whether it could be altogether avoided. For some reason, the clashes of Yeltsin's OMON (special forces) with the still peaceful anti-Yeltsin protesters in Moscow on Thursday, September 30 (three days before the dramatic events at the White House walls), went largely unreported in the West. The scuffles took place at Barrikadnaya and Pushkinskaya metro stations, quite a distance from the Parliament House. I was listening to the Russian radio live broadcasts from the scenes where the OMON daredevils were picking up the weakest and the oldest in the crowd and were coldly and meticulously mutilating them. ''What are they doing?'' the reporter was screaming. ''An OMON thug has just rushed at an elderly woman on the escalator and matter-of-factly broke her leg!'' In another instance the chairman of Cheryomushkinsky district council, who was passing by Barrikadnaya Metro, was pushed to the ground and kicked unconscious by the OMON. Was this an unpremeditated upsurge of passions or a carefully planned provocation? I don't know. But it was only natural that on Friday, after many Moscovites saw the clashes on TV, the number of anti-Yeltsin protesters grew considerably. And contrary to the favoured Western cliche, they were not all ''communist hardliners.'' One 64-year-old lady, interviewed near the parliament, said that she only came there because the market was now dominated by Western mass culture products and she could no longer buy Russian folk tales for her grandson. Entrusting the OMON, the trained killers, who have simply changed their paymasters, with maintaining law and order was one of Yeltsin's grave mistakes. The OMON's reputation among ordinary Russians, who still remember its sinister role in the Baltics in January 1991 and in the August 1991 abortive coup, leaves much to be desired. His second mistake was retiring to his dacha for the weekend. When violence started on Saturday morning he found himself out of touch, and hence out of control for the first crucial two hours. When he was finally brought back by a helicopter, looking sombre and unsteady, it was already too late. The streets of Moscow were engulfed by waves of ruthless, meaningless civil strife. Yeltsin could have prevented the bloody confrontation several days earlier by simply agreeing to the deputies' proposal to hold parliamentary and presidential elections simultaneously in December. This would have been a shaky compromise, but any compromise, no matter how fragile, is still preferable to a loss of one single human life, is it not? I also doubt whether Western leaders (Clinton, Major etc) had a moral right to give Yeltsin carte blanche for using force thus making themselves partly responsible for all the deaths that ensued. I knew that the violence was going to erupt, when Yeltsin's spokesman claimed at the beginning of the last week (without any proof) that the parliamentarians were preparing for a coup d'etat - the same strategy that was used to justify the invasions of both Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. ''The main danger facing the world now is capitalism with a Bolshevik face,'' Adam Michnik, a well-known Polish democrat and freedom fighter, told me some time ago. Alas, we now have to agree that this has become the most likely scenario for Russia in the years to come. And the new dictator (not necessarily Yeltsin) may be already in the making. Let us review some of the first steps of the ''winning'' side that went almost ''unnoticed'' in the West. As soon as Moscow mayor's office was recaptured by Yeltsin's troops, they arrested a group of the city council deputies, members of Moscow's main anti-Mafia body, with its chairman Sedikh-Bondarenko, a man with spotless reputation. No charges were put forward, and the fate of the deputies is still unknown. Many rank-and-file White House defenders and parliament sympathisers were rounded up and taken to the Luzhniki stadium, where they underwent ''filtration'' (read questioning and beating) on the field of the Malaya Sports Arena. All the opposition newspapers were immediately banned and censorship, of which, according to Bernard Shaw, murder is but an extreme form, was ''temporarily'' reintroduced. A curious way of preparing for ''democratic elections'', which if we believe Yeltsin's promises, are only several weeks away. This prompted a remark by Anatomy Strelyany, a famous Russian author and publicist on Radio Liberty last Tuesday: ''By banning communists from expressing their views publicly, we turn into communists ourselves.'' Looking at the moribund faces of Khasbulatov and Rutskoi, escorted from the White House, I had a sudden painful recollection: the Ceaucescus' corpses, dumped in the corner of a littered courtyard. Were these the same Khasbulatov and Rutskoi, who only two years ago stood side by side with Yeltsin at the besieged White House proudly brandishing Russian tricolours? Living corpses. Yes, both men are still alive, but Abdulla Khamzayev, Khasbulatov's lawyer, was not allowed to visit him in Lefortovo prison last Tuesday - a sinister sign. What is this? The long-awaited onset of real democracy? Or the onslaught of an ''inside-out communism'' and neo-Stalinist purges, when people will be arrested and shot on the smallest suspicion of being communist sympathisers or for failure to specify whose side they were on in August 1991? One can't start reforming a country, especially one like Russia with her age-long traditions of totalitarianism, with bans, tanks and terror. The Bolsheviks tried it once in 1917-1918, and we all know the result. Are we in for a another repetition of history? Vitali Vitaliev, a senior journalist in the former Soviet Union, is a columnist with the European.