Another dramatic turn of events in Poland and the world again holds its breath. It is too soon to know what impact General Jaruzelski's severe crackdown on the Solidarity free trade union will have. But it should not be assumed that it spells the end of the democratic movement or that political disaster lies around the corner. First of all, Moscow's low profile is reassuring. There are no signs at this writing of Soviet troop movements or military activity. It is clear that, even with Poland on the brink of economic and political chaos, the Soviet Union does not want to intervene and still is leaving it to the Polish government to handle the situation. Of course it cannot but be pleased that the government is taking a tougher line.
Secondly, General Jaruzelski appears to be moving forcefully but in a measured way. He has declared a ''state of emergency'' under military rule and arrested hundreds of union officials and political dissidents. But he has carefully balanced this by putting former communist leaders in custody as well.
The question is whether the crackdown will lead to mass demonstrations and confrontation or - as many will hope - to a cooperative effort to put Poland on its feet again. The government plainly has lost patience with the ever-escalating political demands of union militants and may reason that only a demonstration of force will restore its authority and prevent civil chaos. It is a calculated gamble. But even many partisans of Solidarity question the union's growing militancy, believing the time has long come to postpone further demands until the economy is working again and gains already won are consolidated. The Roman Catholic Church, which plays the go-between, also recently warned the workers not to push too hard.
From the government's point of view, the problem is that Lech Walesa, an advocate of moderation, is no longer the sole voice and power within Solidarity. He is tolerated as a useful symbol of the reform movement, but he is not supported by the more militant leaders. The latter were making demands the communist party found intolerable. Thus, the union threatened to call for a national referendum on such provocative questions as redefining the country's military relationship with the Soviet Union and setting up a noncommunist government. Such approaches sent chills up party spines and necessarily aggravated the situation. That Solidarity has been determined to keep up the pressure on the regime is understandable in light of continuing intimidation of the union and unkept promises. But, if the Polish revolution is to succeed, the spiral of mutual antagonism must be broken and a way found of pulling together through compromise and restraint.
Demise of the Polish experiment would have tragic implications not only for Poland and Eastern Europe but for the entire East-West relationship. The Soviet Union makes no secret of wanting to put detente back on track. The nuclear arms talks in Geneva, the Brezhnev visit to Bonn, even the Kremlin's surrender to Sakharov in the face of public pressure are evidence of the importance attached to improving ties with the West. But Poland now looms a more unpredictable factor than ever.
It is to be hoped that General Jaruzelski's suspension of union activity and other drastic measures are only temporary and that his purpose proves salutary rather than repressive.This is not the first crisis faced by the reform movement.But it could be the last if this occasion is not used to build an accommodation between the government and moderate union forces in the interests of national unity and revitalization. Poles have bravely demonstrated their capacity for opposition. But, the world asks, can they construct something new - and manage it?