IT HURTS in Poland. The workers are trying to institutionalize the independence and pocket the benefits they struck for in August, the government strives to keep the Communist Party in charge, haul the economy out of a deepening pit and, not so incidentally, stave off a Soviet invasion. It was not clear whether this could be done last summer, and it is no clear now.

Consider the most recent crisis. Solidarity, the new union federation, went to register with the court, the government's arm. The court granted the government's promise to respect Solidarity's independent status. But it also wrote in, where Solidarity had left blank, an explicit endorsement of the primacy of the Communist Party, and it diluted Solidarity's formal claim of right to strike. The workers at once threatened to strike anyway -- but not until Nov. 12. -- demanding, in the meantime, to talk. The Kremlin summoned Poland's top officials to Moscow to, presumably, underline that the Soviet Union will not tolerate the sapping of the party's leading role.

Is there room in Poland for an independent union and a dominant party? To work out coexistence will take an extroardinary mutual restraint, a leadership on both sides capable of controlling militant and distrustful flanks -- and a handful of mirrors. Absorbed in the political aspect of their struggle, many workers are reluctant to accept the austerity that Poland's economic dilemma makes unavoidable. Their judgement of what inroads on party primacy Moscow will tolerate is notably more expansive than the party's own. The evident Kremlin strategy is to have the official Polish leadership, which has its own interest in the matter, chip away at Solidarity and draw the workers into accepting the discipline that debt-ridden Poland requires in any case. But no one who understands Poland's central place in Soviet strategy, amd Moscow's fears of a loosening of any block party's keep things within bounds, the Soviets will, no matter the cost.

For outsiders, a careful nonprovocative course continues to be indicated. This does not exclude open moral and political support for the Polish experiment, notwithstanding Soviet protests of "interference." At forthcoming meetings of the Helsinki review conference and the International Labor Organization, Polish and Soviet authorities should be held to their repeated pledges to espect the trade union rights and civil liberties of the Polish people. Down the road, fresh credits to bail out the Polish economy shoyld be offered: when Solidarity's position becomes secure, when the shadow of the Red Army no longer impends and when Poland has begun the internal economic reforms that alone will ensure that good money is not poured after bad.