The tidal wave of Solidarity, the free workers' movement of Lech Walesa, has transformed Poland, turning it upside down, but to institutionalize and consolidate the transformation while staving off brutal Soviet intervention demands the wisdom of Moses, the patience of Job.
"The ruling groups [the Communist Party] are divided into many sides with this in common: they don't understand the new situation or the new pressures Walesa can turn against them because it is a new intervention to them," Stefan Bratkowski, a leading intellectual, told us. What makes his opinion important is that he is one of the dangerously few who can speak with credibility to both Communist Party boss Stanislaw Kania and to Walesa.
Within the irrestistible force -- let loose by Walesa's discovery of the sid-down strike -- are perhaps as many divisions as within the party. In our interview with Walesa last week, he said without bravado: "I am the movement." In fact, he is its founder and leader, but within Solidarity and within radical factions on its fringes lurk extreme political dangers. Some of these factions show impatience with Walesa's go-slow policy. Hence, they expose a vulnerable flank to Communist Party hit men.
But Walesa is well aware it will take months if not years to consolidate his movement without seeing it ravished by force from the Soviet Union. He knows that too many quick demonstrations of Solidarity's power will build a trap for Kania and the frightened Politburo, even assuming they dare to explore with Walesa the revolutionary path of change he wants.
That trap would be sprung by Soviet invasion if the Kremlin decides Kania cannot carry out his pact with Moscow: consolidate the immense changes demanded by Solidarity without putting at risk the party's "leading role."
Sinister forces threaten Kania's pledge to accommodate Solidarity with Poland's bankrupt, unworkable communist system. In 35 years that system has plunged Poland into misery on three previous occasions. Hard-liners within the party are not eager to give up the pleasures and treasures of their "new class" or their control over industry, agriculture and everything else. For them, the choice between Soviet intervention and the loss of these very special privileges may not be at all easy.
Whether Kania and his Politburo strongmen, Stefan Olszowski and Mieczyslaw Moczar, genuinely want to find accommodation, as they profess, is a secret within the Politburo. The alternative would be a slow whittling down of Walesa's power by driving wedges to split Solidarity and using other tactics finely honed over the years by communist tyrannies to eliminate reformers.
But Walesa has allies that cannot be overlooked in his strategy of slow consolidation and toward building unique new institutions to carry out Solidarity's charter and its pledge to "renew" Poland. Out of the Communist Party's membership of 3.5 million, at least 2 million have ties to the old Catholic left. For whatever reason they joined the party, their support for Solidarity comes a lot easier than their support for the economic misery dumped on their country by the corrupt, selfish party brass.
Walesa's own ties to the Catholic Church (he attends mass almost every day) have brought the papacy close to the center of Solidarity's struggle. "The socialist idea behind a Walesa-style Christian society is very close to the ideas of the Polish pope," an influential Communist told us.
Finally, there is the rise of education not only in Poland but throughout Eastern Europe's enslaved communist states. Here are no longer ignorant populations whose communist rulers would entice by contrasting their false promises of "socialism" to pre-World War II's rigid class society. Having ruled out force against Solidarity, Kania opened a floodgate of public debate, and every part of that debate enhances Solidarity with the educated public.
The party-controlled press now publishes political news unthinkable last summer. Polityka, the party organ, recently reprinted a scathing attack on the collapse of the economy in the '70s written by KOR, the intellectual-based workers' defense league, and favorite party target. The longer debate proceeds, the more Walesa and Solidarity gain.
Success of Walesa's promised industrial peace the rest of this month would be a first slippery step in the long journey to consolidation and an acute defeat for Moscow. Whether the brave Polish people are allowed to continue their extraordinary and revolutionary experiment will depend on whether Moscow accepts such a defeat -- or tries to eliminate the movement by brute force.