The French Communist Party, bowing to public pressure, clearly criticized the military crackdown in Poland for the first time today and the Socialist government raised the level of its sharp reaction to the crisis.
Communist leader Georges Marchais' statement, in the form of a letter to Premier Wojciech Jaruzelski of Poland, steered clear of harsh language and did not mention the Soviet Union. It nevertheless ended a week of embarrassed refusal by the French party to join its Italian and Spanish counterparts in denouncing the Polish government's actions.
The Communist move coincided with a parliament speech by Premier Pierre Mauroy accusing the Soviet Union of "interference" in Polish affairs and a statement by the European Community denouncing "the grave violation of human and civil rights of the Polish people, which is implied" in reports emanating from Poland.
The European response to Poland's tragedy, while staying clear of any suggestions of concrete retaliatory measures, thus appeared to harden significantly as political leaders gauged indignation among their constituencies.
Washington Post correspondent Leonard Downie Jr. reported from London that the 10-member European Community announced a decision to go ahead with shipment of $20 million worth of cut-rate meat, grain and butter to the Polish people. The decision, which also included an $11 million gift of beef for Christmas, came despite suggestions that the aid be halted, he said.
European officials refused to pinpoint the origin of these suggestions. Observers noted, however, that Assistant Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger briefed community representatives this week on U.S. ideas for a joint stand with Western Europe on the Polish crisis.
While going ahead with the aid, the community ordered British Charge d'Affaires Ramsay Mulhuish to convey its protest note to Polish Foreign Minister Joseph Czyrek in Warsaw. In addition, the Europeans pledged to verify that their food aid indeed reaches the Polish people and to take extra precautions on Polish credit for the food-aid package.
In France, Marchais' party leadership had been particularly uncomfortable because the Socialist government, supported by an outraged public, strongly condemned the crackdown--making the Communist silence more noticeable.
In addition, some sections of the Communist-oriented labor union, the General Labor Confederation, openly contested the party stand Monday and 25 journalists for party publications issued a declaration yesterday calling on Marchais to "denounce without ambiguity this use of force."
In an apparent response, Marchais wrote Jaruzelski that the French party had "refused to mix our voice with the implications and injunctions of those who, in France, wanted to exacerbate passions and hatreds, push your fellow citizens toward a bloody adventure, and end up with an internationalization of the Polish problem."
Then, in gentle but unmistakable criticism, he added: "We are attached to liberty and we think development of democracy is fundamental in socialist society. So, although the state of exception is foreseen by the Polish constitution for extremely urgent cases, we regret in all aspects that you were driven to it and feel in a painful way the suspension of public liberties, the arrests and the internments that it implies."
As Marchais published his letter, Mauroy notched up the French government stand by accusing the Soviets of "interference" in Polish affairs. "Given the geopolitical situation of Poland since the end of World War II, everyone knows that the Soviet Union is implicated in everything that touches Eastern Europe," Mauroy told parliament.
"The Polish people is today a victim of the oppressive action of its own Army," he added. "We condemn this situation and we will not cease to use our weight to halt it. Even if the interference of the Soviet Union in the Polish situation is real, it is nevertheless true that there exists a perceptible difference between the present oppression, national in character, and a more massive, more direct foreign intervention. The French governnment must take this difference into account."
This was interpreted as a rejection of calls from the French right, and even from within the Socialist Party, for stronger reaction against the Soviet Union. It was unclear whether the note of caution also was aimed at the Reagan administration, which is seeking to organize a united allied stand on the Polish crisis despite European reluctance to impose specific sanctions, such as trade restrictions or aid cutoff.