Polish leaders seek way out of crisis as public criticism bubbles

By , Special correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor

Hard-pressed by three months of scorching crisis, the ruling Communist Party here still is searching for a "new road" for the future. And just in case Poland's leaders should forget their promises of reform, last Friday's token one-hour work stoppage provided a reminder from workers all across the nation. Indeed, five weeks after the August strike settlements, criticism continues to bubble up from almost every section of the community, and public sympathy for the workers in very evident.

The forum for the current debate on the country's future direction is a crucial meeting of the party's Central Committee now under way here. It was opened Saturday by Stanislaw Kania, the Polish party's new chief, with a generally conciliatory speech.

Mr. Kania was frank in his assessment of the present situation. "An atmosphere of excitement and nervousness still prevails in the enterprises and factories," he said. "We know how much betterness there is within the ranks of our party, how sharp is the criticism and with what passion ways out of the difficulties are being sought."

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The speech was persuasively addressed to the nation at large -- the vast noncummunist majority as well as 3 million party members, religious believers as well as nonbelievers.

Yet the leadership faces grave difficulties. Economically, the country has not yet begun the formidable process of recovering from a summer of near economic paralysis. Workers are not yet convinced of the sincerity of the pledges of a "new deal" nor inspired to work harder and produce more.

The workers' self-disciplined strike action has obviously convinced Mr. Kania and like-minded members of the party leadership that this was, as he said forthrightly on Saturday, a genuine mass worker protest.

He seemed to accept that the strikes were not some demagogic, "anti-socialist" maneuver against Polish "socialism," as the Russians and Polish hard-liners continue to insist. Indeed, any endeavors in this direction, he raid, or anything challenging Poland's geopolitically "natural" position as a member of the "socialist alliance" would be firmly dealt with.

He called Friday's token strike unnecessary because the government already had done a lot to implement the strike settlement agreement reached at the end of August. It would take time to do more, he said, and he added that some demands were simply beyond Poland's economic possibilities.

He spoke also of a "new approach" to the role of the trade unions and promised "higher sensitivity" to criticism and openness to ideas from workers and peasants -- from people of "different world outlooks" and from all "ordinary people whose wisdom flows from experience and from life's common sense."

He castigated the economic errors already ventilated at length since the close of the "Gierek decade." And he indicated thorough-going action within party ranks and public administration to eliminate graft, privilege, and abuse of official position, especially over housing. The latter is one of the most bitterly (and tragically) felt consumer shortages here.

He reassured Poland's private, individual farmers -- who work 70 to 80 percent of the arable land -- about security of tenure, better access to inputs (fertilizers, machinery) and services, and opportunity to buy more land. All these have been major grievances contributing to continued agricultural stagnation.

Youth was offered "active partnership" in building the social and political life of the country. "The party has to change its whole attitude toward youth," he said.

Perhaps most significant, in the atmosphere prevailing in Poland for almost two decades, was his goodwill gesture to the intellectuals: "Many artists, including party members and outstanding writers and poets, ceased to support us. We want to close that chapter of the past, to begin new relations with the intelligensia and artists. . . ."

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