Poland's beleaguered leaders try to beat Soviet clock

Poland's Communist leaders are engaged in a desperate struggle to reassert the party's role and make its policies felt at a time when Warsaw Pact allies are becoming increasingly impatient about the crisis.

But the situation remains highly uncertain as political pressures mount on the Warsaw leadership.

The Polish Supreme Court, for instance, is scheduled to rule Tuesday on Rural Solidarity's demand for legal recognition as a farmers' union; its original application was rejected by the Warsaw court in September.

Some last-minute way round the impasse created by the opposition of the Communist Party may be conjured up. Meanwhile, preparations are being made for a demonstrative show of almost nationwide protest, backed by the industrial unions, in the event of forthright rejection by the court.

Anything short of some real concession to the farmers is certain to fuel new and unpredictable difficulties for the government.

These challenges will weigh on the members of both the Polish Communist Party Politburo and Central Committee when they meet today. Equally daunting to a leadership that cannot control events is the meeting of the Soviet Communist Party in two weeks' time.

Against the present cold background of renewed criticism from their Warsaw Pact allies, especially the East Germans, the Poles will want to send their representatives to Moscow with a convincing argument that they are still capable of handling their crisis themselves.

That still remains very much to be seen. The position has scarcely improved since the Poles' last meeting with the Russians and other Warsaw Pact leaders two months ago.

The early December appeal to the nation for industrial peace had little lasting effect. January saw a fresh, uncontrolled wave of strikes reflecting continued lack of response to its efforts to persuade the nation only the party can steer the country out of its still deteriorating situation.

The week preceding this plenum saw the strike in the southern province of Bielska-Biala partially resolved -- but only after a predictable and embarrassing climbdown by the government that again did nothing to improve public confidence.

At the same time, moreover, other disputes continued or flared anew; and the farmers' union movement took on still more momentum. The continued bar to these unions has evoked strong feelings over broad regions of Poland.

Some 42 percent of the population is in the countryside. Its goodwill and support are essential if agriculture is to be lifted its present stagnation and the economy as a whole from continued decline.

Yet there is no sign of an easing of official opposition to the unions, even though in essence their demands focus largely on a decade of neglect for agriculture that this regime has undertaken to correct.

From the start of 1981, the situation has been shifting, with signs of considerable leadership indecision as to how to react to events. On the eve of today's party plenum the outlook was still more confused.

The government has promised a new agricultural program providing more machinery, inputs, and other resources for the private sector. But that will be largely nullified unless the peasants see the removal of all the past arbitrary restraints on farm enlargement and profitability and official attitudes regarding them as mere usersm of the land rather than as owners and farmers in their own right. That is what their movement -- counting now probably one-third of Poland's 3 million private farmers -- is about. They have scant confidence left in the present government-controlled farm circles the party has tried to turn into cooperatives -- some halfway house, the peasants feel, toward a gradual collectivization.

As always on such occasions in Poland, there is speculation and gossip that Monday's party plenum will touch off sweeping changes in government when parliament meets later in the week.

Pressures from the party's own rank and file for swifter, uncompromising implementation of the "renewal" process is hand in glove with the mood of the general public mood that someone must be held accountable for the delays.

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