Poland's democratic revolution, after surviving last week's Soviet power play, now confronts the Kremlin with an impossible dilemma: invade this troublesome nation, or else permit its dramatic transformation within the Soviet Empire.
Nobody here believes that the new tightening of the Soviet economic noose paralyzing the already moribund Polish economy, will strangle that revolution. Last week's refusal by the Polish Communist Central Committee to knuckle under to Moscow's demands for new hard-line leadership showed that Soviet bully-boy tactics no long work here.
But the alternaive of armed Soviet intervention would almost certainly bring a blood bath, from both guerrilla, warfare and resistance by Polish army units from the regiment level down. That leaves Moscow with a remaining option of permitting the keystone of its empire to evolve into a Poland that while not seeking to leave the Warsaw Pact, is becoming a social democratic state in everything but name.
"We have a revolution," one sympathetic government functionary told us "but a revolution with no building dynamited and nobody hung from a lightpole." "Such candor from a Communist Party member shows how the Polish revolution has progressed since last summer's strike at the Gdansk shipyards spawned Lech Walesa's Solidarity Union. Newspapers and radio and television programs are filled with open political discussion. Polish citizens tell foreigners of their contempt for the Soviet Union and Soviet-style socialism.
Amid political euphoria and economic stagnation, Solidarity leaders declare that economic and political reform has taken on a life of its own, independent of the ruling Communist Party. In fact Solidarity has deeply infiltrated the party's ranks, which will reflect a wholly new face of the Polish Communist Party Congress convening July 15.
That new face was a prospective source of vast displeasure expressed by Mikhail Suslov, the Kremlin's chief ideologist, on his day-long visit to Warsaw in April. According to Polish insiders, Syslov demanded the Polish leadership abandon plans for a contested, secret ballot election to the Congress (that, as expected then, are turning the pro-Soviet minority out of party posts). Party Secretary Stanislaw Kania refused.
His refusal triggered the latest crisis. Moscow stage-managed a "forum" in Katowice attacking Polish democratization. When Tass trumpeted this with an accusation of "counterrevolution," officials in Washington reacquired invasion jitters. When President Leonid Brezhnev last week signed a letter in effect demanding Kania's dismissal and replacement by hard-liners, even Poles who never before credited invasion talk began listening for the roar of Soviet tanks.
After calling the bluff of Brezhnev and his Polish allies, Kania tried to soothe Kremlin sensibilities by denouncing "anti-Socialism" in Solidarity and the news media. Deputy Prime Minister Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the senior government official friendliest to Solidarity, called in Western newsmen to deliver extraordinarily harsh denunciations of Solidarity, "anti-Sovietism," and of the United States. All was clearly meant for Russian ears.
But Brezhnev's letter only deepened anti-Soviet public hostility here that so worries the Kremlin. While government leaders in a single day session of Parliament last Friday were echoing Kania's rhetoric that Brezhnev had a point, famed author Karol Malcuzynski took to the podium to denounce the letter over national television. He reflected rank and file opinion. "The letter was an insult," one low-level official told us, adding he might resign from the party.
The epidemic of consumer shortages -- food, cigarettes, gasoline -- is universally attributed to Soviet manipulations. That fulfills suspicions by Western analysts that instead of invading, the Soviets would employ their immense leverage -- such as control over this nation's oil supplies -- to ruin a Polish economy nearly prostrate after 35 years of centralized, Soviet-style management.
But instead of turning the public against Solidarity and reform, Polish economic destabilization further intensifies anti-Soviet attitudes. A current Polish joke has it that gasoline is in such short supply not only because Moscow holds up oil shipments but because Poles are hoarding gasoline for Molotov cocktails made in preparation for the invasion.
This is not gallows humer but reflects the high spirit of Poles, who, in the face of economic privation, reject Kania's counsels of caution and instead look to a free society. The mood was summoned up to us by Father Henryk Jankowski, pastor for many Gdansk shipyard workers, including Lech Walesa: "People have become more and more open, more free, more brave. It is irreversible, no matter what happens next."
That resolve is what the master of the Kremlin confront in the most important European political development since 1945, with unmeasurable consequences for this tragic continent and the world.