The only course for the West as it anxiously watches developments in Poland is to wait and see. Governments are wise to maintain a low profile, avoiding rhetorical exchanges with the Soviet Union or anything that can be interpreted as interference in Polish affairs. The public, for its part, should beware of analyses based on only fragmentary reports. It may be some time before balanced judgments are possible.
The Polish military government must realize, however, that until it ends the blackout on news from Poland and restores communications, it risks feeding suspicion and overreaction abroad. The sooner Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski permits foreign reporters to do their job again, the sooner he will assuage concern.
The Polish leader can also reassure those in the West as well as the Polish people by stressing his promise that the government intends to go on with the nation's democratic ''renewal.'' By resuming a dialogue with the free trade union Solidarity and by reaffirming that such measures as the right to strike and the lifting of censorship will be reinstated, General Jaruzelski would help achieve his own declared objective in imposing military rule - to prevent a breakdown of order and get the Polish economy moving again.
Martial law is clearly a gamble for, if it fails and violence erupts, the Russians would feel forced to intervene. General Jaruzelski therefore treads a perilous line. Yet, given the economic collapse and the unending political confrontations, it seems clear that - if martial law seems extreme - something had to be done. The question now is whether he can persuade Poles that the government can act with fairness and equity as well as authority. An early test will be how well it carries out the distribution of food supplies. Poles are so cynical about their government that only a firm crackdown on nationwide corruption and the advantages enjoyed by privileged people can begin to rebuild their trust.
It remains for the future to write the history of these troubled days and to apportion ''blame'' for the crisis. The sympathies of most will continue to be on the side of Solidarity. Indeed it is saddening to see the struggle of a nation for greater freedom and democracy abruptly silenced, if even for a time.
However, it has to be observed that there has been a lack of realism in the union. Militant forces seemed to be pressing too far, too fast, perhaps because of their youth and political inexperience, and the situation was getting out of hand. Even factory workers were growing impatient, if not disillusioned, with Solidarity's escalating political demands and polemics with the government, especially in areas sensitive to the Soviet Union. General Jaruzelski no doubt is counting on the frustration of the public, especially housewives, to help get the country back to work.
The government, in turn, is to be blamed for its own foolish policies and weaknesses. Why, for instance, did it wait until now to arrest those in the communist party guilty of corruption and mismanagement? Or to stop the exports of Polish food products abroad when the whole country was waiting in line for bread? Solidarity members could make a strong case that the government did not know what it was doing - except for trying to constrain the union.
That is behind, however. The issue now is whether the Poles, sobered by recent lessons, can begin to work together in the national interest and salvage their hard-won movement for reform and more independence. There is no reason yet to be discouraged. But the days ahead will tell.