There is plenty of food in Hungary, but not in Poland.
The difference comes from the fact that the Hungarians have given up trying to break away from Moscow, the Poles have not.
Solidarity was tolerated in Poland so long as it limited itself to internal affairs. Solidarity was doomed from the moment it began to question and challenge Poland's subordination to Moscow. It had become anti-Soviet (for good and understandable reasons).
The official liquidation of Solidarity by the Polish military government was the inevitable last step in the suppression of political independence in Poland. It was inevitable because Moscow commands decisive military power in the lands lying east of the Elbe, and will use that military power to maintain its control in those lands - as long as it is able to do so.
It is deplorable that the Poles cannot enjoy the full freedom and independence for which they yearn - and which Westerners wish them to have.
It is right and proper for the President of the United States to deplore the act of official suppression of political freedom in Poland. He, and many other Americans, felt better for the presidential imposition of minor trade sanctions against Poland.
True, the sanctions would have been more impressive had the President used the only economic sanction which would have made a real impression in Moscow - reimposition of an embargo on US grain sales to the Soviet Union.
And Mr. Reagan's expression of devotion to the rights of workers to form unions of their own choosing would have sounded more convincing had he not broken the air traffic controllers union in the US.
However, deprivation of political rights is to be condemned wherever and whenever it occurs. The President was right to condemn. But, neither the condemnation nor the pro forma sanctions (cancellation of most-favored-nation status) is going to ease the condition of the Poles. They are political prisoners of the military might of the Soviet Union. The more they yearn and strive to break from that condition the harder their lot will be. The less they strive, the more likelihood of a change for the better in their material condition.
Hungary is a graphic example of how a people can best get along who live inside the area which Moscow regards as vital to its own security. The Hungarians rose in rebellion against Moscow in October of 1956. That rising was suppressed by Soviet tanks. Thousands of Hungarians, and a few Russians, died in the suppression. The new regime set up in the wake of that repression claimed, and practiced, total loyalty to Moscow in foreign affairs, but gradually relaxed control over the Hungarian economy and over the personal lives of the people.
The Hungarian people went energetically about the practice of free enterprise. The private sector of the Hungarian economy broadened. The public sector shrank. Today Hungarian shops are full of bright and stylish clothes. Hungarian markets are full of food. Hungarians are well off materially. They do not try to break out of the Soviet ''alliance.''
The Hungarian rising in 1956 was the first suppression of independence along Moscow's western military forefield. It was also by far the bloodiest. In 1968 the Czechs tried to rise and cast off the Soviet yoke. Again, Soviet tanks rolled in, but there was little shooting. One Czech was accidentally overrun by a Soviet tank.
Now we come to Poland's reach for independence. Solidarity began as a protest against economic incompetence and corruption in the communist party management of Poland. The Solidarity movement enjoyed remarkable early success. There was a housecleaning inside the communist party. Much corruption was cleaned out. Some inefficiency was eliminated. Solidarity might have survived had Lech Walesa remained in control.
But a group of younger and more radical leaders emerged. They were aided with American funds from American trade unions. They were encouraged to aim at true independence for Poland. They reached for the forbidden fruit. Moscow would no more tolerate a truly independent Poland than the United States would tolerate Soviet nuclear weapons in Cuba.
This time the suppression was done by the Polish army itself. There was some bloodshed, but relatively little. The exact count to date is uncertain - apparently about 22 Poles killed. The Soviets are learning how to hold their imperial frontiers in Europe with a minimum of bloodshed.
In the process the unwritten rules of the game have been worked out. Moscow will tolerate economic deviation from the Soviet pattern. But it insists on loyalty in foreign affairs and a continuation of the dictatorship by the communist party.
Where the rules are observed, the people eat well.
There is plenty of food in Hungary. But the Poles are facing a cold winter on short rations.
Was it really a kindness to encourage the Poles to rebel?