IT IS A MATTER of great good fortune for Poland that the general strike that the Solidarity worker's movement had threatened to begin today was forestalled. The danger of an attempted crackdown either by Polish security forces or by Soviet-led Warsaw Pact forces has been eased, though not altogether removed. Poland now has at least a temporary respite from the calamity it has been approaching in recent days.

Of special importance is the way the strike was averted: through the process of negotiation by which Solidarity and the government have somehow resolved, or survived, all their differences until now. As difficult as relations between them are, each side accepts a requirement, for the sake of Poland, to step back from an ultimate showdown. This has been the country's saving grace so far.

The issue in this crisis had been brought to a head by police beatings of workers in Bydgoszca, and it could not have been more basic: is the state's apparatus of law and order to be used for the workers or against them? In a sense, Solidarity won: the government agreed to suspend those found responsible for the beatings.But in another sense the government won, although not all on the official side are yet prepared so to acknowledge: by moving to enforce the law fairly, it took a step toward making itself fit, in the eyes of the people, to exercise power.

But something else of even greater potential significance took place as the crisis wound down. Often the conflict in Poland is described as one between the workers and the authorities in the government and Communist Party. But a dramatic struggle has been going on within the party itself. Over the weekend the leadership had a profound argument over, in essence, whether power should flow from the top down or from the bottom up. The answer was that power should flow from the bottom up, from the people. On this basis elections, described as secret and democratic, are to be held for a party congress, which is to meet July 20. a

It would seem obvious that the party claiming to speak for the workers should earn it legitimacy by making its rule subject to their will.This turns upside down the Soviet model, but that is the road the Polish party is on now. The contest within the party, between the traditionalists and hacks on one side and those favoring "democratic renewal" on the other, is bound to become more intense. If the Soviets allow that contest to be played out by Poles, however, the Polish crisis may finally be on the way to a peaceful and successful end.