Poland: both sides playing chicken

The giant game of chicken drags on in Poland. The vehicles being driven headlong at each other by the Communist Party on the one side, and the Solidarity free trade union and (more discreetly) the Roman Catholic Church on the other, might be labeled ''power.''

The crash that both sides are risking and even daring is breakdown of the already disastrous Polish economy.

On Nov. 4 the historic summit bringing together Poland's Communist Party chief, Solidarity leader, and Roman Catholic primate looked like a breakthrough toward reconciliation. On Nov. 11 the first cautious official celebration in three decades of the anniversary of the 1918 Polish recovery of (bourgeois) independence allowed everyone to bathe in nationalist togetherness. But by the return to the workaday world Nov. 12 the realities of the deadlock reasserted themselves.

To be sure, the government and Solidarity have agreed to begin talks Nov. 17. And Politburo member Stefan Olszowski, has been promoting the idea of a ''front of national accord'' among party ideological workers in Legnica.

But the government has conspicuously failed to commit itself actually to negotiate on the six key points Solidarity has proposed, ranging from open local elections to a joint council to manage the economy. And Olszowski conspicuously reiterated that Solidarity cannot have access to the mass media - one of Solidarity's main demands.

Moreover, the ''front of national accord'' Olszowski approves still seems to be simply an enlargement of the old national front of emasculated noncommunist parties and social organizations under the domination of the Polish United Workers (Communist) Party.

And both Solidarity and churchmen have made clear they will have nothing to do with any national front that doesn't give union and church representatives equal partnership with the Communist Party.

The leader of the Roman Catholic Pax organization spelled out the view of churchmen (and Solidarity) recently in a remarkably frank interview in the Warsaw Catholic weekly Kierunki: In any unity front, no one group (i.e., the Communist Party) should have a predominant role.

And it would be desirable to have representation in any front correspond to the number of members of participating organizations. (That is, the Communist Party, with its shrunken membership of at most 2.5 million, should carry less weight than Solidarity with its 9.5 million members or the Roman Catholics, who number in the tens of millions.)

Solidarity is continuing to insist that its six points - including not only access to the news media, free local elections, and an economic council, but also economic reform, compensation to low-paid workers for price increases, and judicial independence - be negotiated by the government.

As usual, there are widely divergent assessments of the deadlock by Westerners and by Solidarity. Westerners tend to believe the deteriorating economy must put pressure on Solidarity, as one said, ''to give up its position that it (should) control the whole procedure but not share responsibility.''

But Solidarity members see no reason to accept party offers they regard as shams. They believe that the party has gotten Poland into its present mess, and the mess therefore puts pressure on the party - not on Solidarity - to yield.

Analyst J. B. de Weydenthal says, ''The fundamental fact which could force the government hand is . . . they realize more . . . clearly: If no negotiations take place or if no movement would be registered, Solidarity would take over through its active strikes and self-management networks. (These) exist in many parts of the country and show signs of growing. Certainly the government could face a situation where it had no power in running the country or the economy.''

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