Poland's ruling Communist Party appears to be deeply divided over a package of proposed reforms and high-level personnel changes designed to set the country on a new course following the summer or labor unrest.
This is the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from an officially unexplained delay in holding an important Central Committee meeting that has been entrusted with drafting a new party program. The plenum, ostensibly a continuation of the meeting over three weeks ago that removed edward Gierek from the leadership, was originally scheduled for last Friday.
After numerous refusals to say when it would be held, the Polish state radio finally announced tonight that the meeting will begin on Saturday to examine the "political situation in Poland and the party's current tasks."
Meanwhile, an influential local party branch at Warsaw University has described the leadership changes introduced so far as "insufficient" and called for a complete purge of the old guard.
With the Communist Party still in "a state of shock," to use the phrase of one of Poland's foremost sociologists, it has been left to the new independent trade unions to make the most of the running. A decision to call a token, one-hour nationwide strike on Friday is likely in increase the pressure on the party leadership to out-line its reform plans.
In a television address tonight, Deputy Prime Minister Kazimierz Barcikowski accused union leaders of breaking last month's agreement by failing to inform the government of their intention to stage a warning strike. Barcikowski, who led the government negotiating team in the port of Szczecin, appealed to workers to use the strike as a weapon of last resort and not as a means of putting permanent pressure on the authorities.
The decision to hold the strike is a reminder that the agreement reached a month ago to establish independent unions only marked the first stage in what is likely to be a long, drawn-out struggle.The new Polish leader, Stanislaw Kania, faces the enormously difficult task of attempting to restore the party's shattered authority within the country at the same time as reassuring the Soviet Union that the structure of the one-party state will not be threatened.
His balancing act is complicated still further by Poland's huge economic problems. Despite the fact that the main round of strikes has not more or less petered out, productivity has fallen sharply as workers spend much of their time engaged in political discussion.
At the heart of the debate within the leadership is the question of to what extent should the party admit responsibility for the crisis and look for culprits in its own ranks. Despite the dismissal of six members of the 14-man Politburo, the higher reaches of the party apparatus -- both in Warsaw and the provinces -- have remained largely intact.
Widely differing views have been expressed over how capable the party is of reforming itself. Kania is understood to have been persuaded of the need for a clean break with the past. But he is facing intense resistance from provincial party secretaries anxious to preserve their own authority.
In a private conversation, a respected establishment figure who knows Kania well commented: "He is an intelligent man and seems to realize the necessity for change, but is unsure how to accomplish it, or even in what direction to go. You must remember that he himself rose through the party apparatus and owes his own power to it."
In the absence of hard evidence it is difficult to judge what impact Soviet reservations about developments in Poland has had on the internal party debate. Observers here have noted a softening in Moscow's propaganda line over the last few days, which could indicate that they are prepared to give the present leadership a chance.
A senior official identified with reformist policies remarked that, in the long term, the attitude of the Kremlin remained the determining factor. "If we do experience a Stalinist backlash here -- and this remains a very real possibility -- it will certainly be with Soviet blessing," he said..
Polish society has changed enormously over the last decade with the emergence of a more educated and more critical generation for whom occupation and Stalinist terror are just myths of the past. Gierek himself encouraged this process but, in the view of many analysts, the Communist Party remains reluctant to recognize the logical consequence: real political pluralism.
Among the ideas being presented by reformers within the establishment is the strengthening of Parliament, constitutional limits to the "leading role" of the Communist Party and the formation of a government of national unity that would include several non-party figures. But, despite a lot of talk about reform, there are few signs so far that these proposals are acceptable to the party's policy-making Central Committee.
As one reformer commented: "Ordinary people, even rank and file party members, have become very agitated as a result of the crisis. They expect both personnel changes and political reforms. But the power structure doesn't share society's concerns. It doesn't want to change."
Part of the difficulty is that, whatever the change at the top, the Central Committee remains a deeply conservative institution. It is estimated that, of its 143 members, only 20 or so are committed reformists.