It is difficult to think of anything that could more clearly illustrate Poland's ancient and continuing dilemma than the action of the Jaruzelski regime in granting a partial amnesty to political prisoners.
Most of the 652 political prisoners are to be released. But the state will retain those accused of ''high treason, espionage, and sabotage.'' And, of course, the state itself determines what is treason, espionage, and sabotage.
Also, anyone who becomes a repeater in those categories, as defined by the state, will be rearrested.
This means the Polish government has not the slightest intention of entering into a long-term and substantive dialogue with a free trade union movement.
Such a dialogue was specified by President Reagan as a condition for ending American sanctions against Poland. But for the Polish government to do such a thing would, in effect, be to institutionalize an independent labor union movement as a part of the Polish political system.
The Polish government is not meeting the condition laid down by President Reagan because to do so would be to abandon the monopoly on political power in Poland by its Communist Party. To abandon the monopoly of the party on power would be intolerable to the Soviets.
Moscow controls Poland through the instrumentality of the Polish party. Moscow will never give up its control over Poland so long as Moscow has the physical and military ability to hold East Germany in its grip. It insists that the party in Poland retain its monopoly in Poland because only by this device does Moscow know how to protect its military line of supply to East Germany.
But - and here is the other horn of Poland's dilemma - Poland can regain a reasonably comfortable economic condition only with financial and economic help from the West in general and from the United States in particular.
Poland was hurt economically by the sanctions President Reagan imposed after the declaration of martial law in December 1981. The Polish economy was already in trouble. The withholding of further US aid, in particular of most-favored-nation tariff treatment and a cutoff of loans for feed grains, put a new burden on that economy.
Poland's economy is geared to some trade with the West. In pre-sanctions days 25 percent of its imports and 20 percent of its exports were with the West. The exports to the West were the main source of profit. Moscow is hard put to make up for the loss of Western credits, grain, and technology. It doesn't, and it can't.
Hence for the lot of the Polish people to improve, the Polish government must be on good terms with the West and obtain economic and financial and technical help from the West. But improvement can only go as far as Moscow will tolerate. Poland can not meet all of Mr. Reagan's conditions without defying Moscow, which it is not physically able to do.
Poland has been squeezed between East and West ever since Peter the Great made the Russian state the dominant military power in Eastern Europe. That occurred at the beginning of the 18th century - in the early 1700s. By the end of the century Russia had joined Prussia and Austria in partitioning Poland. The third partition, in 1795, wiped out Poland as a political state. There was no Poland from 1795 to the Versailles conference of 1918.
The West wants Poland to be free and independent partly for the sake of the Polish people themselves and partly because the true independence of Poland would roll back the Iron Curtain. If Poland is liberated, so too is East Germany and, sooner or later, Czechoslovakia. And that, of course, is precisely why Moscow insists on keeping the Communist Party in exclusive power in Poland.
Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski is the man in the middle. He wants to improve the material well-being of the Polish people so they will be less restless and resentful of his rule. He can only do that by improving relations with the West and getting the sanctions lifted. But he dare not permit full political freedom for the Polish people, because they would use it to gain a voice in national policy and point policy toward independence from Moscow.
It comes close to being an impossible and hopeless assignment.