THE KREMLIN'S latest effort to induce Poles to hold back their country's leap toward a new socialist order has failed. The Polish Communist Party's central committee, receiving what was in effect a Soviet demand to alter its leadership, left the leadership intact. Nor was action taken on an accompanying demand for a crackdown before the all-important party congress next month. Within Communist ranks there is a split. The moderates would conciliate the year-old democratic workers' movement, not least to form a united front against Soviet pressure. The hardliners would rein in Solidarity and other democratic elements, again not least to preclude a Soviet intervention. The two factions or tendencies have different ideas of what Polish socialism should be, but they appear to agree that Poles alone should resolve the Polish CRISIS. in the first instance, they are Poles.
Surely some in the Soviet Politburo argued last summer for what might be called the Begin option: strike early, take your knocks and move on. What has happened since in Poland can only have confirmed the realists' apprehension that the Soviet command way of doing public business was flimsily rooted in Poland and could not stand up to a genuine Polish movement. As a result, the Polish revolution has spread through the society, even into the party, and the costs of intervention have escalated wildly. To speak only of the immediate direct effects, there would probably be prolonged struggle at different levels within Poland and sympathetic reactions elsewhere in East Europe. The Kremlin's international prospect would substantially transformed.
Recall that, as the Red Army prepared to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968, the United States held its tongue lest it be accused of provoking Moscow, and, the day the Red Army moved, the Soviet ambassador appeared at the White House to confirm plans for an LBJ trip to Leingrad to open SALT. West Germany's opening to Moscow got into high gear shortly on the theory, later adopted by Richard Nixon, that a thickening of East-West links would tilt the Soviet scales against intervention the next time.
This time, though few American links with the Soviet Union were built and fewer remain to be cut off, Ronald Reagan has made it pretty clear that the United States would regard an intervention gravely. We say pretty clear because just this week, with atrocious timing, his negotiators consummated a new grain deal with the Soviet Union. On their part, the European allies could only take an invasioin of Poland as the Kremlin's final rebuke to detente. This would cost the Soviet Union, immediately, the Siberian natural gas project, which is the centerpiece of its new five-year plan. And much more.