Polish leader Wojciech Jaruzelski is engaged in a major fight for his political life.
The battle is against more orthodox Polish communists who are closer to Moscow, according to information reaching Western Europe, primarily from Polish Roman Catholic Church sources. The outcome is said to be uncertain.
In this version of current Warsaw politics, General Jaruzelski and a majority of his governing military council are said to favor resuming Poland's reform course (though with a depoliticized Solidarity trade union). But this policy is opposed by the more orthodox Stefan Olszowski and Albin Siwak, who would like a thorough purge of party liberals and who are campaigning for a hard line in the mass media, which they already control.
Jaruzelski is said not to have a majority yet either in the Central Committee of the Polish United Workers Party, as the Communist Party is formally known, or among Polish generals as a whole.
This analysis of the Polish situation is controversial, for two reasons:
First, the uncomfortable implication is that if the West wishes to strengthen moderation in Poland practically rather than rhetorically, it should tacitly accept prolongation of Jaruzelski's preeminence - and hence of martial law or its equivalent.
Second, precisely because of the conspicuous implications for Western policy, American critics in particular suspect this analysis of being self-serving ''disinformation'' from a Warsaw regime that is trying to minimize Western opposition to itself.
Adherents of this analysis - and this is a very relative term, since no Westerners are at all sure what is really going on in Poland - argue that the disinformation theory is less rather than more likely. It would mean that the Polish Roman Catholic hierarchy is either deliberately colluding with Jaruzelski in disseminating false information, or that it has been unwittingly duped by Jaruzelski.
Skeptics of the disinformation theory regard either explanation of one of the world's most politically experienced church hierarchies as improbable.
As pieced together from conversations with US and European diplomats in Geneva, Bonn, and Brussels, the Jaruzelski-still-wants reform school of thought looks like this. The Olszowski-Siwak faction is calling not only for the dumping , but also for the trial of leading reformers Mieczyslaw Rakowski and Kazimierz Barcikowski.
It is further said that this faction even wants to hold Jaruzelski himself to account for his concessions to reform prior to his Dec. 13 declaration of martial law. There is also some indication that this faction wants to jail various Solidarity leaders for actions prior to the Dec. 13 declaration of martial law - a step that Jaruzelski has so far avoided.
This school's explanation for the failure of the Polish military regime to engage in talks with Solidarity in the martial law period rests on the refusal of Solidarity chairman Lech Walesa to meet the government without two key Solidarity advisers, Bronislaw Geremek and Tadeusz Mazowiecki.
The military leadership is said to have been prepared to release the entire Solidarity presidium from detention at the end of December to facilitate talks - but to have balked at releasing those two advisers. This school's analysis of the current dispute within the military council about how to handle Solidarity says there are two contending approaches, described as reorganization ''from above'' and reorganization ''from below.''
The first approach, favored by the Roman Catholic Church, would mean freeing and reinstituting the Solidarity presidium even at this late date. The church argues that without such a restoration Solidarity will go underground, as Warsaw Solidarity leader Zbigniew Bujak has already done.
The second approach would scrap the elected Solidarity leadership and hope that new leaders could eventually acquire legitimacy with the trade union rank and file. The military council is said to be split on this issue, along lines unrelated to the Jaruzelski-orthodox contest.
Any reorganization of Solidarity ''from above'' would necessarily require resolution of one additional reported dispute between Walesa and the military leadership. The military leadership is insisting on institutional guarantees that Solidarity renounce all political activity. Walesa is insisting, to the contrary, that according to Solidarity's charter only a full Solidarity congress could give a guarantee binding for the whole union. The Solidarity presidium could give only a personal guarantee valid for itself.
In the West the West Germans seem to be the most predisposed to credit this school of analysis. The Americans seem to be the most cynical about it, arguing that whatever Jaruzelski's own policy preferences, objectively he is doing the Russians' dirty work of repression for them, and therefore he deserves no sympathy or help.
Some West Germans and some other Europeans regard this American view as a classic case of the best being the enemy of the good, with American idealism preferring to hope for some unattainable pure freedom in Poland rather than working to salvage partial freedoms.
US-European differences in the political analysis of Poland do not necessarily augur a major clash about economic sanctions against the Soviet Union. The US argues that these sanctions are essential to deter more direct Soviet intervention in Poland in coming months. This relationship is not disputed by the Europeans as such. And the impact of sanctions on Jaruzelski's domestic position or his relations with Moscow are far from clear.
Where US-European differences will arise will be in the prioricorded to the three Western demands of ending martial law (or its equivalent) releasing detainees, and restoring the dialogue between government, church, and Solidarity. The American analysis of Jaruzelski as the witting or unwitting tool of Soviet repression implies that lifting of martial law is the most important of the three. The Polish church's analysis of Jaruzelski as more reform-minded than the Polish Central Committee implies that lifting of martial law would only strengthen hard-liners - and that the West should focus instead on resumption of Poland's social dialogue.