The Kremlin never speaks nicely, but it sometimes speaks precisely. For many months it has called Poland's Solidarity movement "anti-socialist and anti-Soviet." Solidarity is, in fact, both. So if Solidarity survives, no elite anywhere in Eastern Europe--in Europe to the Urals--is safe.
The suppression of Solidarity-- which now means the Polish nation-- has long seemed, to me, inevitable. If it comes soon, as Moscow's menacing words suggest, some Western observers may blame the "excesses" of the recent Solidarity congress. The congress called for free parliamentary elections and pledged encouragement for free trade unions throughout the Eastern Bloc, including the Soviet Union. But for many months the Polish Communist Party's "leading role" in Polish society, although formally acknowledged by Solidarity, has been a chimera. Solidarity has become what the Poles call a "parallel state."
More than a year ago the Polish government signed the Gdansk agreement with Solidarity, a social contract, a constitution asserting citizens' rights and limiting government power. A Polish cartoonist depicted the event as "the international agreement between the Polish government and the Polish people."
Since then the government has become a bit more like a domestic institution. The Economist of London says: "In the 14 months since the Gdansk uprising last July, a totalitarian state has been turned into one that is now more pluralistic than most countries in the world--run by a Communist Party whose leaders are at least as democratically chosen as those, say, in Britain's Labor Party." The comparison with the Labor Party is faint praise, but the fact that The Economist correctly notes is astonishing.
At the Communist Party congress in July, most of the 1,950 delegates were democratically elected by secret ballot from unlimited lists of candidates. More than 80 percent of those elected had never attended a congress, and 80 percent of the 140-man central committee did not get to attend as delegates. A recent opinion poll (polls are not a normal feature of Eastern Bloc life) rated the popularity of 10 Polish institutions. The Church was ranked first, the Communist Party 10th.
Poland is the South Carolina of the Soviet empire, an incubator of secessionist sentiment. Most great revolutions, from the American through the Russian and Chinese revolutions, were directed from the top by leaders improvising tactics, but with a clear sense of their destination. The Polish revolution--by some measures the most remarkable yet, whatever the future holds--has leaders. But they are riding a headstrong horse, and they are not sure the horse knows the way. Recently, for example, one of Solidarity's regional newspapers printed, and the state agency distributed (perhaps inadvertently), an appeal--printed in Russian--to Russian soldiers to rise against the Kremlin.
Twice--twice in five years--the Soviet Union surprised the Poles by participating in atrocities against Poland. In August 1939, the Soviet Union became Hitler's ally and the next month collaborated with him in carving up Poland. By 1944, the Soviet Union, at Hitler's initiative, had changed sides, and the Red Army was near Warsaw. The Warsaw uprising against the Nazi occupiers assumed that Russian help would soon arrive. Instead, the Russians waited at the outskirts of Warsaw, content to allow their former allies, the Nazis, to serve their future needs by butchering Polish leadership elites that would have complicated Soviet occupation.
Perhaps Poland's economic calamity --a 15 percent decline in GNP last year; desperate food and other shortages--will cause the Soviet Union to choose to leave Poland alone. Perhaps Soviet leaders hope that Poland will be a sobering economic example to any Eastern European group that might be tempted to start down the path Poland has taken.
But it is more probable that the Warsaw government, directed by Moscow, will use the economic dislocations as an excuse for imposing martial law. There will be disorder, followed by some sort of Soviet intervention. Then the workers will flood the coal mines and the economy will grind to a halt, with interesting consequences for the foreign banks (including American banks) that are owed Poland's $27 billion in hard-currency external debt.
Before 1918, a Polish patriotic song expressed the prayer that God would "restore" Poland's independence. Between 1918 and 1980 the song was sung as a prayer that God would "bless our independence." Now it is again sung, defiantly, as a prayer for God to "restore our independence." But as John Denver's ballad says, some days are diamonds, some days are stone. Poland has given the world some sparkling diamond days. The days of stone may be at hand.