REVOLUTION is in the air in the East bloc. In the Soviet Union, perestroika is surely breaking revolutionary ground. Mikhail Gorbachev's policies of restructuring are undoing most of what was established during the Stalinist period and much too of Lenin's revolution of 1917.
Poland's extraordinary accord between a communist regime and the independent trade union Solidarity is nothing short of a Polish revolution.
Events in Hungary, however, transcend everything. Russians, after unprecedented elections, and Poles, after their agreement, seemed to take a pause to ponder: ``And where do we go from here?'' But Hungarians, both within the party and outside it, are in a hurry.
In the last year they have had a nonstop round of legislative reform and won liberties more sweeping than envisaged by the failed revolt of 1956. Yet there is no slackening of demand. Most recently, the Politburo was cleansed of four members whose reform credentials were either suspect or lukewarm. The nine-member body is now in the hands of the ``revolutionaries.''
Mr. Gorbachev, promoting democracy in the Soviet Union, sedulously invokes Lenin. It is doubtful, however, if the latter - could he offer an opinion - would endorse everything done in the name of perestroika.
The latest Hungarian reform was a so-called ``reform workshop'' that recalled the great open forums of Czechoslovakia's 1968 Prague Spring. They were short-lived. These, however, are different times.
It was a communist ``workshop,'' called by the Politburo's two most forward-looking and articulate members, Rezso Nyers and Imre Pozsgay. Also attending the workshop were three other members and 500 lower-ranking officials and party members, plus some prominent noncommunist intellectuals.
It was a unique occasion. There was an electrifying debate bluntly postulating a ``peaceful'' split in the party itself. Two-thirds of the present membership (780,000), it was said, should form a ``reform party,'' leaving the rest to preserve - if they could - an orthodox Communist Party to compete for power with all the other pluralist groups.
`WHERE do we go from here?'' Indeed!
Market economies and democracy alone cannot solve these East-bloc crises. Even with Western help, more hardship, not less, must be endured by the Hungarian public before the benefits from reform policies begin to accrue.
Meanwhile, with all the changes, one urgent question remains. That question - boldly acknowledged in Budapest and feared just as much in Warsaw - is simply whether stability and social patience can be maintained that long.
Events meanwhile also are creating an added dimension with a new, ideological Iron Curtain, falling not this time across Europe as a whole but dividing the communist area itself. On one side are Hungary and Poland (backed by the Soviet Union), on the other East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Bulgaria. A conflict of words begins to flow across this new curtain as much as over the East-West divide of old.
People in all these nations know only too well the system's inefficiencies. But only the Poles and the Hungarians have challenged it. The rest have yet to stir, and their regimes are doing everything they can, however repressive, to ward off threats to the system.
Gorbachev certainly approved but he did not initiate the Polish accord, nor prompt the Hungarians to go flat out for the multiparty system. In each case change was forced on local leaderships by deteriorating internal conditions and similar forces must in time propel the reluctant ones toward change.
It is all part of what former French President Val'ery Giscard d'Estaing has just termed ``the post-cold-war period'' which West and East enter together with a mutual responsibility.
Discerning East European reformers see it too as a situation in which the West can best help, not by talking glibly about ``reversing'' the Yalta agreement, but by seeking a process of adjusting a mischievous wartime agreement to the needs of the the contemporary world. This adjustment, they say, would encourage reform anywhere in Eastern Europe, without disturbing superpower balance and trust.