Poland has just lurched into yet another last chance with its novel formal cooperation among the Communist Party, the Solidarity trade union, and the Roman Catholic Church.
Following the unprecedented meeting Nov. 4 of party chief Wojciech Jaruzelski , Solidarity head Lech Walesa, and Archbishop Jozef Glemp, the Solidarity national commission has grudgingly granted Walesa and the government three months to jawbone before threatening any new general strike.
The party has backed down on its threat to outlaw strikes. And Pope John Paul II has announced that he hopes to make another visit to his native Poland next spring - a plan that should urge some restraint on both government and the man in the street in anticipation of the return of the Poles' spiritual leader.
Despite the latest backdown from confrontation, however, the government-Solidarity talks due to begin about Nov. 12 will be tough. The two sides are still far apart on the major issues of how to revive and reform the disastrous economy, and how to distribute scarce goods fairly over a food-and-energy-short winter. Their differences are aggravated by the current polarization and improvisation in Poland.
The polarization shows up most strongly in the demand by both the party and Solidarity that their own members drop dual membership in the rival organization.
(The sole Solidarity member on the party Politburo was forced to quit Solidarity; the former No. 3 leader of Solidarity, Bogdan Lis, was forced to quit the party. In most cases where a dual member does not hold party office, he or she quits the party rather than Solidarity, according to diplomatic observers.)
Polarization shows up, too, in depletion of party cadres (especially through purges brought about by grass-roots protests about corruption) that has forced the party to turn to Army political officers to fill many of its regional civilian posts.
Polarization is also evident in the failure of the good working relations which the party and Solidarity have established in the shipyards and some other factories in Gdansk to spread more widely throughout the country. Continuing wildcat strikes in various regions attest to this failure.
The improvisation shows up in the lack of any clear-cut alternative programs for economic organization. To be sure, an uneasy compromise has been worked out on the prickly question of worker participation in management. Under the new law Solidarity will nominate for government approval managers in nondefense industries, while the government will nominate for Solidarity approval managers in defense-related industries.
But the dividing lines are likely to be contested every inch of the way. And no formula at all is yet in sight for the urgently needed overhaul of the whole economic system.
Solidarity wants economic reform and decentralization in general and would be willing to condone some necessary price hikes. But it still feels the party has cheated it at every point (except when it has resorted to strikes).
It therefore refuses to let itself be pinned down to economic responsibility without real authority. And this standoffishness exasperates the party further.
For their part, reformers within the party and government don't yet have any clear idea how to proceed.
The hard-liners on the party Central Committee - ironically, the more democratic elections at the party congress last summer retired many of the party machine hard-liners and promoted many obscure provincial hard-liners - don't seem to have any strategy in mind either, beyond hoping that the lengthening lines and a cold, dark winter will somehow turn the population against Solidarity.
While pragmatists like Jaruzelski do accept that order cannot be restored by fiat - the public uproar and overturning of police cars in Wroclaw after a Solidarity leader was arrested there was only the most recent proof of this - they seem unable to get out of the rut of reactive tactics.
As does Solidarity. The union has known only crisis since it was born 15 months ago. It still has difficulty focusing on anything longer term than forcing the retirement of a local party czar, preventing the docking of strikers' wages, or securing the release of arrested Solidarity officials.
The result, as one Western observer put it, is ''a trend toward pluralism, or , if you wish, chaos. It's an old Polish tradition. They never agree. . . . I think this is the most outstanding (aspect) of the new situation. It is pluralistic, and it's very difficult to pin down someone to one particular line. They have become unpredictable. It's almost like democracy.''
So unpredictable has it become that few observers expect the latest breathing space to last the full three months that Solidarity has offered before another major confrontation. A few weeks seems the more likely span of tolerance before militants in both Solidarity and the party again lose patience with jawboning.
Still, the newest attempt at some kind of a social compact differs in quality from previous attempts.
For the first time the government and party head himself has met with the Solidarity leader on an equal basis. (In the past negotiations with Solidarity have usually been conducted by the vice-premier.)
And the symbolic acknowledgment of the nation's real power triumvirate in the meeting of Jaruzelski, Walesa, and Glemp could lead to a more institutionalized coalition.
This final public acknowledgement of the behind-the-scenes situation of the past year is what also gives the new arrangement its ''last chance'' character, however. If this attempt fails, there is no visible alternative.
If Jaruzelski can't persuade the Russians (or the hard-liners on his own Central Committee) to accept Solidarity as an equal partner, there will be confrontation.
And should Jaruzelski step down, there would be no party leader left who enjoys even the partial confidence of both Polish workers and the Kremlin.