Soviets, hard-line allies get tougher as Poles embrace new freedom; Kremlin may puts its boost down on any further Polish concessions
The Kremlin, faced with its worst East European crisis in a decade, will now work hard behind the scenes to prevent more concessions to Polish workers next door and to dilute those already granted.
Soviet leaders imply they cannot afford to allow concessions made by previous Polish leader Edward Gierek actually to be carried out, in the view of experienced Western analysts of Soviet affairs.
The concessions include independent trade unions, the right to strike, looser press censorship, and access to state-controlled papers, radio, and television by the Roman Catholic Church.
Already, officials from free trade unions have their own headquarters in Gdansk and Warsaw. Workers from more than 150 factories and offices have gone to those headquarters for advice and help.
To the elderly, suspicious, conservative group of men who make the decisions in the Kremlin, this has to stop. It cannot allow the communist control of workers to be seriously undermined in a country not only on their Western borders, but also one that forms a crucially strategic supply corridor for the 19 crack Soviet divisions in East Germany.
So immediate Soviet strategy is to grant limited economic aid -- new talks in Moscow opened Sept. 10 -- and to lean heavily on the new Polish leader, Stanislaw Kania, to delay and frustrate as much as possible concessions already made.
But it will be agonizing difficult. Polish strike leader Lech Walesa has said his men will go out on strike again if the concessions have not been fulfilled by Dec. 16 -- the 10th anniversary of the deaths of workers in the Gdansk rioting of 1970.
Western analysts believe the Kremlin cannot afford to see more strikes in Poland. If there are, Leonid Brezhnev and his colleagues might well make the momentous decision to send in Soviet troops.
That would ot only touch off protracted fighting with fiercely nationalistic and Roman Catholic Polish soldiers and civilians alike, but would wipe out any lingering hopes of an upturn in international detente.
Already the West, led by the United States, is maneuvering in Madrid to launch a fullscale verbal onslaught against moscow for its invasion of Afghanistan last December. This would come in November when the Madrid talks on European security gets under way.
A Soviet invasion of Poland would harden already strong right-wing opinion in the United States. It would half preliminary moves in both Wasington and Moscow to resume arms control talks. It would end Moscow's effort, for the time being, to split apart NATO European allies from Washington over a variety of defense and economic issues. The Soviets would sooner resort to backstage methods than take overt action against Polish strikers and workers.
New Polish party chief Kania is telling Polish workers that his government will honor the Gdansk concessions, but he has indicated that workers in 15 regions across the country must end their strikes if the government is to continue to take a conciliatory line.
In Katowice in the south, he warned that unless normal work was resumed, "We shall not be able to fulfill the welfare part of our promises given to workers. . . ."
Mr. Kania faces some pressing deadlines. Under the Gdansk agreement he is supposed to start talks with the Catholic Church right away on access to the media. In three months he has to report on how censorship in the press is to be loosened. Elections for trade unions are to come soon.
But Mr. Brezhnev will want the Polish communist leadership to start protracted talks over the fine print, and secretly to increase pressure on Mr. Walesa and other strike leaders in the Baltic regions and elsewhere.
Moscow is assumed to have approved Mr. Kania to replace Mr. Gierek because of his background in military and security affairs as well as in party administration.
If he fails to roll back the concessions granted, he, too, is likely to be replaced. It is an excruciatingly unhappy time for Polish leaders. They cannot do without Soviet economic aid: They need 1.5 million more tons of grain this year alone, and their debt to the West is about $20 billion. They also desperately want to avoid Soviet tanks charging in.
But the Gdansk settlement is leading to higher worker expectations. It also has brought ominous rumblings in the Soviet press. Pravda has talked of "anti-socialist elements" and has alleged that enemies of socialism, outside Poland (the West) helped instigate the Gdansk strikes.
This is the same kind of Pravda talk that proceded the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 -- an invasion that came only four months after the "Prague spring" of liberalizing by Alexander Dubcek.
The Soviets will not want to make a hasty decision on invading Poland. The stakes are too high. They will wait and see how Mr. Kania is doing.
They might be satisfied with compromise: an assurance from Mr. Kania that no more concessions will be granted, and that some of those already given will not be put into effect.
Much will depend on what kind of balance Mr. Kania strikes. Much will depend on the prudence of Mr. Walesa and other Polish strike leaders. The Carter administration is saying little, and objecting to the AFL-CIO decision to set up a Polish workers' aid fund of $25,000. Washington's fear is that the Kremlin will seize on such a fund as "proof" of American involvement, and launch tough measures.
To the Kremlin, trade unions can exist only as an arm of party control. In the Soviet Union, they organize worker competitions, handle such perennial problems as absenteeism and alcoholism, control incentives such as new cars and television sets, and run a network of resorts and hotels for workers whose records are good enough to qualify.
The Gdansk example threatens that concept. Workers are supposed to be the basis of the communist system, not challengers to it. Indications that intellectuals and other groups in Poland also want new freedoms will only confirm the worst Kremlin suspicions: To Soviet officials, the word "intellectual" often means "dissident."