The West clearly has an interest in helping Poland out of its massive economic difficulties. Not only because there is heartfelt sympathy for the nation's effort to chart a new path of greater internal freedom. Not only because the West itself has a huge financial stake in Poland. But because a collapse of the Polish economy would provide the Russians an excuse for intervening social and economic reform -- an intervention that could have repercussions far beyond Polish borders and would severely bruise East-West relations.
Yet how to help is not an easy question. Poland has run up a staggering $21 billion debt to the West. Now it is asking for some $8 billion, including $3 billion from the United States in low-interest loans. President Carter was only bowing to congressional realities in deferring action on the request. About $ 670 million in credits has already been approved to enable Poland to make food purchases, and this is a fitting move. But the magnitude of the aid request is such that it will have to be dealt with by the Reagan administration.
It should also be properly taken up in consultation with the Western allies. Presumably some sort of of consortium arrangement will need to be worked out which will link further loans with the kind of changes often required by the International Monetary Fund in granting aid. Inasmuch as it is the Polish government's abysmally inept economic policies which have plunged the nation into such turmoil, things cannot be turned around without some fundamental reforms. These cannot come all at once, perhaps, but Western creditors can make sure their financial help nudges Poland is healthy directions.
The cretical question is whether the Polish workers will restrain themselves in what promises to be a difficult winter ahead, with shortages of such staples as meat, salt, and bread. Independent trade union leader Lech Walesa and fellow moderates are aware of the delicate line they tread. They realize that the government does not have the wherewithal to meet their demands immediately, that it will take a period of self-discipline and hard work while reforms are worked out, put into effect, and begin to bear fruit. The union radicals, however, are impatient -- and it is not unlikely that orthodox party leaders are deliberately stirring them up in order to stay in power. This dissension in the workers' movement is where the greatest unpredictability -- and danger -- now appears to lie.
Within the party, too, the power struggle goes on, although leader Stanislaw Kania appears to be strengthening his hold. Drastic purges of party officials are being carried out in major cities and throughout the provinces, with hard-line officials being ousted in favor of moderates in some places. This is all a neccessary prelude to an eventual meeting of the communist party congress, which will lay down the new economic line.
Courting the Polish people, the Kania government has also made a dramatic gesture in the appointment of an independent Roman Catolic member of Parliament as a deputy prime minister. Jerzy Ozdowski will not have appreciable power in his new post. But his appointment, supported by the Roman Catholic Church, has symbolic importance in a nation where the church is the only unifying force and the repository of the national spirit.
There are, however, many unpredictables in the Polish crisis. The struggle is not likely to be resolved soon and much could happen to undo the unprecedented political gains won by the workers. One hopes they will have the acumen to know the limits of their power and the forbearance to give the party and government a chance to set the nation on a constructive economic course. The West, for its part, has the sensitive task of providing enough aid to help Poland out of its troubles -- but not supporting it in its profligate and inefficient ways. Aid without strings would simply postpone the day of economic reckoning.