The success of Lech Walesa and his moderate forces at the recent Solidarity congress does not mean that relations between the independent labor federation and the government are now likely to be smooth.
There are still strong forces on both sides that make continuing conflicts almost inevitable. But, compared to a couple of weeks ago, fewer Poles now predict a "final confrontation" in the near future.
After a month of saber rattling and brinkmanship, the dominant mood in Poland is now one of exhaustion. By the end of the Solidarity congress, many of the 892 delegates had come down with the flu, and the remainder felt the effects of successive late-night sessions.
The steam also seems to have gone out of the propaganda offensive launched against Solidarity by the Polish authorities and the Kremlin. It is conceivable that the campaign may get a new boost Wednesday with an important meeting of the Communist Party's Central Committee here. But for the moment the accusations of "counterrevolution" and "antisocialism" seem tired and even routine.
Just after his election at the congress to the chairmanship of Solidarity, Walesa described the strategy he would adopt in talks with communist officials:
"I understand them," he said. "They have their role to play and I have mine. It's like a game of cards. I want to squeeze them as much as possible, and they want to squeeze me.
"But we stop short of destroying each other since otherwise the game would be over."
After 18 days of emotional and often acrimonious debate, it is this line that has been adopted as official policy by Solidarity delegates at their first national congress, which ended a week ago in the Baltic port of Gdansk.
On both sides, there appears to be a feeling -- voiced by a senior Solidarity adviser -- that "we're condemned to live with each other, even if it means a permanent trial of strength."
This momentary listlessness, however, conceals some important changes that have occurred in Poland during the last few months. The most significant is that the revolution has begun to challenge the limits it set for itself at the time of Solidarity's formation a little more than a year ago.
The area of Solidarity's permissible activity never has been clear. Originally it was believed that the outer limits of Soviet tolerance were represented by Poland's continued membership of the Warsaw Pact defense alliance and the preservation of communist power. Neither could be questioned without provoking a Soviet intervention.
Now it turns out that these limits are imprecise. The Communist Party remains in power, but the political and economic structures that underpin its authority are crumbling. If reforms demanded by Solidarity were implemented, the party would lose control over most of the economy and local government.
Furthermore, some Solidarity officials have called for a review of Poland's foreign alliances, even though this runs against official union policy.
It is difficult to find anyone in Solidarity who believes that there is any hard-and-fast line that, when crossed, will bring the whole experiment tumbling. The experience of the past year has shown that it is possible to breach one barricade after another. It was thus natural that debate at the congress centered not on which direction to go, but how far and how fast.
At one extreme, a significant and vocal minority of Solidarity activists are unconvinced by the angry rhetoric from Moscow and Warsaw. This point of view was articulated by Jan Rulewski, one of Walesa's rivals for the post of union chairman. Rulewski said it had been a great mistake even to take into consideration "the theory of a real or imagined threat from the Soviet Union." This, he explained, had acted as an unacceptable inhibition on the union's activities.
A more balanced view, accepted by Walesa and most of his professional advisers, is that Solidarity must accept some constraints to its ambitions. But the limits are fluid and therefore can be pushed out over time until "Poland becomes Poland again," to use a favorite phrase. This idea of evolutionary change found expression in the final program adopted by the congress calling for the creation of a "self-governed republic."
After some setbacks, Walesa managed to impose his strategy on the second stage of the congress, which was noticeably more moderate in tone than the first stage in early September. He was able to exploit his popularity among Solidarity's 9.5 million members and was also helped by the government's propaganda campaign.
In an interview during the congress, a close Walesa aide, Andrzej Celinski, showed understanding for the dilemma facing the Polish leadership. The government, he suggested, had to act as it did if it wished to avoid a repetition of the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.
"The authorities must pour buckets of cold water over society from time to time. Of course we don't like it, but they have to do it . . . . For our part, we must be tough, but we must also realize that this is a Polish government," he explained.
A complicating factor in Walesa's strategy is the very real threat of economic collapse facing Poland this winter.
The union view is that the old economic system has broken down irretrievably. But, largely due to the paralysis of the government, no new system has been put in its place. Solidarity therefore is obliged to force the pace of economic reform even if this involves a risk of confrontation.
As a leading Solidarity strategist, Karol Modzelewski, put it in an interview: "It is dangerous for us to push ahead, but even more dangerous to stand still. Imagine your house is falling apart: either you shore it up or you rebuild it entirely. What you mustn't do is stay inside while it collapses on top of you."