Poland's Communist Party leaders are bracing for perhaps their most critical meeting since party secretary Stanislaw Kania took over last summer. And as members of the Politburo and Central Committee prepare this week for their expected full-length plenum, the risk of a new and unpredictable confrontation with the trade unions looms in the background.
At time of writing, the plenum had not been officially announced. But party sources said it would take place Feb. 6 to 7. What is clear is that it will focus on how to overcome the continued unrest -- a topic on which the country's leaders are known to be deeply divided.
The strike scene across the country is now exceedingly confused. Only a few days ago it had been thought -- as well as hoped by many Poles -- that the Jan. 31 compromise agreement between the government and unions over working hours would have brought January's wave of strikes to an end.
It did end the strikes in most regions. But not in the south and the southeast.
At Bielsko Biala, near the Czechoslovak border, strike leaders have resorted to a stoppage involving 120 factories and more than 200,000 workers in an effort to force dismissal of 30 allegedly corrupt provincial officials.
When the provincial governor and three deputies resigned Feb. 3, Solidarity urged an end to the strike. But when the government refused to accept the resignations Feb. 4, Solidarity called for sit-ins and passive resistance -- through without any new worker demands -- and the strike leaders intensified their plant occupations.
To the east, at Rzeszow, strikers continued a month-old occupation of the old state union's headquarters.
A government commission which went to Bielsko at the beginning of the week returned to Warsaw Feb. 4 without an agreement and with nothing said about a resumption of talks.
Elsewhere in the south, other disputes simmered -- from a sit-in by university students at Lodz to a dozen farmers mounting a hunger-strike in the church at Swidnica.
The students are demanding radical changes in the curriculum. They also want the political sciences, including Marxism, to be taught as an elective, not a mandatory course. The farmers' action is part of the pressure on the government over the controversial independent rural unions.
In the course of the past few days, tentative optimism has given place to new official disquiet. And it is the farmers' demand for their own unions which lies at the heart of the incipient new conflict between the government and Solidarity, which has pledged its support for the farmers.
The report on a meeting this week of a committee preparing for the extraordinary Communist Party congress planned for some time this spring reveals that the leadership is much divided on how to proceed.
There was, it was stated, a "wide variety of views, opinions, and conclusions" about implementing the "renewal" process and anxiety about the allegedly growing "politicization" of the demands being made by Solidarity and other independent unions.
On this score, the farmers' movement is under increasingly sharp criticism. "The dispute over Rural Solidarity boils down to one thing," Mr. Kania was reported as saying. "Is the countryside to be a plank of cooperation in the promised 'new deal' for farming or a plank of political struggle against peoples' power?"
A compromise on Rural Solidarity still is possible. But the party's misgivings are, above all, deeply political -- and difficult therefore to put aside.
The countryside is, in fact, a potentially disturbing political vacuum. Party membership is sparse and scattered. The opportunity, therefore, for organizing on a scale to establish a really effective party image is extremely limited. The new unions could, theoretically at least, move into that vacuum.
The other major concern is the pace of reform as a whole. There are two strong trends in the leadership at this juncture:
* One feels all the delays must be overcome and the agreements of last summer fully implemented before the party tries to lay down its own "law and order" limits.
* The other -- still possibly not properly appreciating Solidarity's strength in the country at large -- which is impatient and says the time has come for the party to make it clear that it will brook no further challenge to its authority and leading r ole.