I don't know anything about diplomacy, international relations or the Soviet Union. My knowlege of Poland is limited to Hamtramck, Mich., Chicago, Ill., and Buffalo, N.Y.
I know about politics, however, and what has been happening in Polan over the last few weeks is a truly astonishing political event that could have a lot to do with the outcome of this year's presidential election.
Politics is the pursuit of power. This fact does not change regardless of the political system or the georgraphical setting. There is a misapprehension in this country about politics in the Soviet Union. We reason that the Soviet System, although inefficient and unproductive, provides a hihgly orderly means of making decisions. We assume that dictators are beyond recall and that when Brezhnev does or doesn't do something, we can presume his action to be the product of his best estimate of what is in the Soviet Union's strategic interest. Brezhnev doesn't have to explain his action's to the people, so the reasoning goes; he simply decides what's best and the Communist Party falls into line in robot-like loyalty.
Nonsense. No man who possesses power can escape the fact the others want it. Brezhnev is not free to make whatever decision he wishes; he must decide within the context of what will satisfy those whose support he must have in order to keep the power. This is especially true since Brezhnev is an old man perceived to be dying. Under these circumstances, it is even possible that Brezhnev's opinion may not matter as much as the opinion of those who can be presumed to be forming up on competitive sides to take the power for themselves. The Soviet Union has not acted in Poland because it can't solve some sort of internal debate as to what to do. It is just as possible for totalitarian leaders to be stymied because of internal politics as it is for democratically elected leaders.
In Poland, we see that no matter what the system, leaders cannot isolate themselves entirely from the people. When a man fears he will go hungry or that he won't be able to feed his family, he does something about it. If there are enough other men and women who feel the same way, great things are possible. The remarkable thing about the Polish experience is, how well the workers organized their effort. Large groups of people are potential mobs and, while the strength of numbers can be a compelling force, undirected violence invites retaliation.
The decipline with which the Polish labor leaders shut down the country without providing any excuse for Soviet intervention was an impressive feat. It left Poland's Communist leaders in a position where they could invite the Russians to intervene, thus admitting failure and inviting their own removal, or they could accede to the worker's demands and hold onto the power for the time being. They chose the latter; 99 out of 100 leaders do when their hands are effectively called.
The Soviets cannot afford to take what has happened in Poland lying down. To allow the Poles to take liberties that are withheld from others in Eastern Europe is to ensure similar assaults on Communist leaders elsewhere. Polish workers have a standard of living superior to that of most workers in the Soviet Union itself and, whatever the differing opinions of those sitting around the big table in Moscow, there is agreement that the threat of what has happened in Poland cannot go unchallenged. No governmental power in history has ever cooperated knowingly in its own demise.
But having said that the Soviets must act, it is also true that they have no easy actions to take. They could invade Poland without any excuse, but at the moment their better troops are tied down in Afghanistan in a guerrilla war and not doing so well. Occupation of Poland at this point might have to be a long-term venture since it is fairly obvious that the Polish workers have licked the communications problem inherent in making their power felt.
We often think of the Soviet Union as a country that is beyond the constraints of economics. But even though the Soviets need not pay for whay they do, if they do one thing, they are less capable of doing another; thereby, if they are to occupy Poland, the resources to do so must come from something else. Occupation is not a wholly attractive alternative or an undebatable one, since it would require that Poland's economic problems become those of the Soviet Union.
In addition, it would place the Soviet Union at loggerheads with the uniting force of the Roman Catholic Church. The church's real clout is not necessarily its moral strength but, rather, its staying power. The church will not be blamed if workers don't have enough to eat.
So it is that the Soviet Union may do nothing -- not because doing nothing is the best thing to do, but because it is unwilling to accept the burdens that action would compel. American presidents of late have often found themselves in the same position over lesser matters and have invariably done nothing. Let some future president cope with it; maybe conditions will change; this is not the time.
As in American, I have a strong preference that the Soviets do nothing about Poland, that the agreement between the Polish workers and their government remain in force and that others in Eastern Europe note the example. As a Republican, I know that if I get my wish, I may well get Jimmy Carter as my president for another four years, as well. Events in Poland are already taking attention away from Iran and Afghanistan; if Poland is to secure a measure of freedom, Carter can claim his own even-handedness has contributed to the result. It can be claimed by Carter hat a President Reagan might well have destroyed the delicate balance that led to a successful result and that a President Reagan might well have shamed the Soviet Union into action with his Cold War bellicosity.
Even if the Soviet Union does take action, Carter may not be bad off. Confrontations with the Soviet Union unite the country behind its president, and even a president's opponents must grudgingly let him make the call.
Incumbent presidents need only to do one thing well at the right and they will be relected. Carter now has that opportunity in the events in Poland.