Millions of Poles weep for the banning of their independent trade union Solidarity. Their friends and supporters outside weep with them. With the union's formation two years ago, hope blossomed not only in Poland but throughout the Western world that for the first time workers in Eastern Europe would be able to exercise the rights which a Marxist society is supposed to give them. For a heady year, it looked as if many of Poland's ossified institutions - its party, parliament, press - would also bow to the winds of reform.

But the winds blew too hard for the leaders in Moscow and Warsaw, who could no longer tolerate a competing political force. The union law now passed by the Polish parliament will preclude the kind of national mass organization which enabled Solidarity to become politicized and to challenge the communist party's power.

President Reagan's strong repugnance at this latest act of repression will be felt by all people of the West. And, while his suspension of most-favored-nation status for Poland is largely symbolic, one can understand that he felt the United States had to show some sign of displeasure.

Whether such an economic act will accomplish anything, however, is open to question. The Jaruzelski regime is not going to reverse course because of it. Indeed some argue that sanctions in general simply throw Poland more closely into the arms of the Soviet Union and hurt the Polish people above all. At a time when Poland is in such deep debt to the West, it does seem self-defeating to strike at its exports of manufactured products - however greatly diminished these now are.

What is taken away can also be given back, however, and the US presumably will restore the normal tariff treatment when something positive happens in Poland.

The key question is whether the Polish workers will accept the newly prescribed trade unions. There can be no doubt about the bitterness over the failure of their national movement. But the dilemma is that, by a defiant and perhaps explosive show of opposition, Poles could bring on more violence and repression.As the underground leaders of Solidarity debate how to proceed next, some of the more moderate voices suggest that the rational course would be to accept the dissolution of Solidarity, and then work with the new system determined to make the best of it.

Given the gloomy picture generally, this could hold out a way of preserving some degree of worker influence and independence. Along with outlawing Solidarity, the new law also disbands the old rubber-stamp trade unions which existed before Solidarity came into being. So if the Polish workers, the great bulk of whom are members of Solidarity, were to adopt a patient strategy of ''If you can't fight them, join them'' and make maximum use of the new unions, who knows, perhaps with time they could mold these unions into strong bodies with considerable influence on economic management. The law, after all, says the unions are to be ''independent'' and ''self-governing'' as called for by the August 1980 agreements. General Jaruzelski is on record as saying these historic agreements are to be observed. Why not test this? Why not bore from within?

This may be a slim straw for Poles to grasp at. One recalls that it is only by standing up to the authorities that the workers won their Solidarity union to begin with. But there seems to be little alternative now. Though General Jaruzelski is firmly in power, his regime is weak. Hard-liners within the party , doubtless assuming they have Soviet support, have dug in again and are fighting for influence and privilege. The danger is that, if Poles go to the barricades and refuse to compromise, things might get even worse.

The name of Solidarity is being expunged.But neither the men in the Kremlin nor those who rule under their shadow in Warsaw can ever expunge the spirit of freedom which is Solidarity's strength and will continue to reassert itself. The world can only hope that the Poles will draw on their capacities of ingenuity and shrewdness to keep that spirit alive - and to beat the suppressors of freedom at their own game.

of 5 stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read 5 of 5 free stories

Only $1 for your first month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.