In years past Polish workers have budged the boot of communist repression only to have it crunch down again when they have gone about their business. It appears that the Solidarity union, having brought about the biggest upheaval so far, is determined no to let the past repeat itself. As the first part of its unprecedented national congress ended, it was pressing farther and farther ahead as if to ensure no slipping backward once again.
Some elements in Solidarity are pushing harder than others. One remarkable thing about the congress was the stage it gave for the kind of conflicting opinions so often evident when movements taste freedom. The next phase of the congress, beginning later this month, may result in final documents with a less militant tone. Leader Lech Walesa reasons with his followers that they might get democracy in four years but not now when they still have to fight for their existence.
Yet even in lands where the main battles for freedom have been won it was exhilarating to hear the Poles call for elections and release of political prisoners -- anathema in the communist paradise. Political realism may find such goals remaining only goals for now. But the propaganda yelps of the Russian bear suggest how effectively Solidarity tweaked its nose by openly inviting workers throughout the Soviet bloc to follow the Poles' example.
The latter was an extraordinarily provocative gesture. But the Poles know they will have to give an example of more than political daring if it is to be followed by their Eastern European neighbors or, somewhere much farther down the road, the workers in the Soviet Union itself. Outsiders will be watching to see if Poland can bring itself back from a shattered economic condition with Solidarity leading the way. Will the union's demand for a referendum on "self-management" serve economic progress as well as economic justice? Can a country long frozen in centralized communist economic ways go forward economically without chilling the warm winds blowing through it?
Solidarity's effectiveness as an example will depend on the answers to such questions. Meanwhile, Poland shows the ineradicable power of freedom.