Polish Solidarity attacked

It would be unwise to be blase about the latest Soviet broadside at Poland. True, Moscow's stiff warning to the Polish party and government to put an end to "anti-Sovietism" does not look to be an ultimatum. Rather it seems an effort to increase the psychological pressure on Solidarity as it prepares for the second stage of its national congress -- and to put some starch in the government as it prepares to confront the free trade union. But the restraint displayed by the Soviet leadership in the past year cannot be taken for granted. It would be deeply tragic if the Poles took taht one step which finally exceeded the limit of Soviet tolerance and thereby placed their momentous gains in jeopardy.

From the Kremlin's standpoint, the recent demands of Solidarity militants must look frightening. The latter are calling for free elections in Poland and the formation of independent unions elsewhere in the Soviet bloc. Such political activism may quietly cheer democrats abroad. But even ardent partisans of freedom worry that the radicals within Solidarity may be going too far. Are the latter fully aware of the dangers? Or simply indifferent to them?

Common sense would seem to say that if the Poles continue to press for more and more political freedoms before a posture of cooperation is established between the government and the union, they are asking for trouble. Failure to move into such a cooperative phase of the "peaceful revolution" simply strengthens the hand of the party and government hard-liners, who already want the regime to take strong measures against the union.

Not only geopolitical concerns are at stake, however. The Polish economy is near collapse. While the government and union heatedly argue about worker self-management and other structural reforms -- which are essential to restoring economic health over the long run -- the immediate issue is how to get food to Poles in the next few months. During the summer months it was relatively easy for citizens to stand in lines for food and other products. But the winter will add to people's burdens, especially with coal expected to be in limited supply. If public tempers and tensions were to erupt in violence in the streets, the authorities, Polish and Soviet, would have a law-and-order excuse to move in.

This is not to sound a note of foreboding or to urge Poles to retreat from their democratic movement. But the situation seems serious enough to suggest that caution and restraint are the prudent course, that some political demands might best be deferred until earlier gains are consolidated. Indeed the moderate leaders in Solidarity and in the government are sensitive to the urgency of supplanting chronic confrontation with compromise and cooperation -- and proving that the revolution can translate into effective management of Poland's affairs. It is to be hoped that union radicals will let the moderates have the upper hand -- and that a sense of responsibility will prevail.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.