Ideological warfare is flaring anew in Poland over the tiny but significant private sector. Party reformers are aware of its value to consumers. Hard-nosed dogmatists call it ''capitalism'' and want it eliminated.
The government is caught between two stools. It knows that the private entrepreneurs' prices are often too high - or worse, that they make good profits. It also knows that many are cooking their books to dodge tougher taxes soon to take effect.
But the government also knows that the private traders not only offer many goods that are scarce or unavailable in the state stores, but also that their quality is usually better. Many Poles have the means to pay for these goods and are only too glad to do so.
It is not just the party hard-liners who nag the authorities about private sector profits, but also the disgruntled rank and file, particularly in major industrial working-class centers.
''The hard-working women of Lodz (traditionally Poland's textile city) are angered by the proliferation of nouveaux riches, of millionaires making fortunes at our expense,'' a worker delegate from one of its clothing plants told last month's Communist Party conference.
It is the ''zloty'' millionaires who make the headlines of investigative reports ferreted out by some of the newspapers. They are also spotlighted in the monthly statistics of a state inspectorate under orders to stop the profiteering.
Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski acknowledged this situation in his speech to the party conference last month. He spoke of ''a closed circle in the economy in which the rich are producing goods and services for the rich.'' He meant not only the private sector but also manipulators in the state network.
He said public resentment was justified over excessive profits and the lavish official issue of permits for opening expensive boutiques, when ordinary people ''find it hard to get a pair of shoes mended or a house appliance repaired.'' But preventive action, he warned, should be targeted on the blatant profiteers and not on ''honest'' private traders who meet important social needs.
It is hard to assess how widespread the big profiteering is. It is probably no more than the fringe of the private sector, which accounts for only 3 percent of the gross national product.
Almost daily, flea markets and small private businesses come under the scrutiny of economic militia teams. Dressed in plain clothes, they pose as ordinary customers and move around in pairs, asking the prices of everything.
Trybuna Ludu recently published the Warsaw antiprofiteering commission's report for February. Approximately two of every three shops visited were allegedly ''fiddling'' one way or another. One of the most common practices was the hoarding of goods for customers known to be willing to pay more.
Goods worth 34 million zlotys (some $3.5 million) were found ''under the counter.'' Most such commodities are taken and turned over to the general market , and the worst offenders are fined.
The harassed, ordinary consumer remains unimpressed. ''I don't want to encourage the black market, nor pay through the nose,'' says a housewife on a slender family income. ''But under our present conditions, even the bad element of the private sector meets a need. And I am not going to ask how they acquire the goods if they are essentials for the family and can't be obtained in state shops.''
Following the February food price rises, the authorities are applying stringent regulations to prevent public enterprises from passing increased prices for raw materials on to the consumer beyond a fixed limit to cover unavoidable increases in production costs. Enterprises must submit new cost estimates proving the increases are beyond their control.
The Consultative Economic Council's latest meeting on April 2 revealed ''a general picture of barriers to growth in Poland.'' Its report, the most candid for some time, is a reminder of the shadow over the whole economy. It spoke of:
* Huge growth in the incomes of farmers for the sake of parity. But the higher prices paid to them had not produced commensurate gains in production and efficiency.
* Diminishing motivation among farmers who produced less once personal needs were met.
* An increase in capital tied to old, wasteful investments which diminished credits for new ones using modern technology.
* Too many loopholes for managers to bypass the economic reform through uncontrolled pay hikes and ''excessive'' freedom to raise prices on their products.
* Studies since November showing that pay increases were greater in enterprises where wages were already the highest, financial performance the worst, taxes smallest, and state subsidies greatest, and the growth in sales lowest.
In a terse comment on this finding, scarcely two years after introduction of the reform, the council said: ''The present anti-inflation program has proved inadequate. The council is preparing detailed proposals for improving it.''