Both strikes by workers in Poland and the political trial of "the gang of four" in China reflect a recognized need for a real reformation in the communist movement.
In China the recognition comes from inside the movement, even from inside the official learderhip of the party and of the government. The most powerful single person in China today is Deng Xiaoping. He is the prime mover in bringing to public trial the surviving persons primarily responsible for the self-styled "great cultural revolution" which unleashed chaos in China and set back China's industrial and economic progress by a decade.
In Poland the impulse comes from outside the party apparatus, from the industrial workers themselves who are supposed in communist theory to be both the leaders and the chief beneficiaries of the communist system. Their rebellion against the system as practiced in Poland proves that the party has become the enemy of the very people it was supposed to represent and serve.
The public trial in Peking and the confrontation between workers and party in Poland have another thing in common. Both are attempts to break the dictatorship feature of the communist system. Both challenge the theory of the infallibility of the party leadership. Success either in Peking or in Warsaw would result in putting some form of check and balance into the system. This would be an important step away from orthodox communism in a truly democratic direction.
We observers in the noncommunist world cannot yet know how these two efforts to reform the communist system will work out. In Poland it seems almost inconceivable that the workers can win so long as the armed forces of the Soviet Union dominate Eastern Europe.
In the eyes of the Kremlin the arbitrary and unchecked power of the party is essential to the security of the rail lines through Poland which link the central group of Soviet armies on the NATO front to their bases and supply sources back inside the Soviet Union itself. If the Polish workers made good their reform movement the lifeline to the Soviet central group of armies could be cut. That in turn could lead to the end of Soviet domination over Eastern Europe.
The chances for reform are better in China, partly because the reform movement has been generated inside the party and partly because China is in fact independent of Moscow. What Deng Xiaoping wants, Mr. Deng may Achieve. What he apparently is aiming at is enough change in the system to prevent a repetition of another absurdity. Both the "cultural revolution" and its predecessor, "the great leap forward," were absurdities. Both set back progress in China. Both weakened China.
But how does one change the system in China without destroying the authority of the party? To admit that the party did wrong in the past is to undermine its credibility for the future. Deng's plan appears to be a beginning of separation of party from government. Under Mao Tse-tung the two were the same. The party not only originated policy but also managed the execution of policy. There was no distinction.
If Deng Xiaoping can manage to get through his public show trial without ruining the party in the process he may become the true father of a modern China moving from totalitarian communism toward something more like traditional Chinese government.
At its best the old system in China provided government by a highly trained professional elite. The mandarins were selected by examination, not by political favoritism. They were not a hereditary class. They were not ideological. They were simply trained civil servants selected for their knowledge and wisdom. It could and sometimes did produce efficient and competent government. The Chinese would be better off if Mr. Deng's reforms did point China back in that traditional Chinese direction. And a professional civil service would provide some restraint on party policy. It could even open the way toward an eventual withering away of the party.
Meanwhile the most interesting facet of the matter for the outside world is this further evidence of the failure of the communist system whether Soviet or Chinese variety to satisfy the needs of the people and the country. In Poland the party has become merely the instrument of Soviet control over Poland. In China it is exposed as the perpetrator of mass murder as well as of economic nonsense. It benefits the members of the party apparatus, but no one else. It sets up a dictatorship by incompetents. In simplest terms, it does not work well.