VOTE IN HIS elections, Gen. Jaruzelski told restive Poles in an interview published in this newspaper on Sunday, and perhaps he'll let pro-Solidarity prisoners out of prison. Lech Walesa, leader of the banned Solidarity, which has appealed for a boycott of the vote, immediately denounced the offer as "blackmail," noting that Poles cannot choose independent candidates for the elections to "parliament" on Oct. 13.

The general is the hard and determined enforcer of martial law and its stern aftermath. But Mr. Walesa, still severely restricted in his political activity, has a superior claim to speak for the Polish people. Having weighed the trade-offs, he rejects paying Gen. Jaruzelski's price -- popular acquiescence in his brand of communist rule -- for cracking open the jails. The foreign friends of Poland should not second-guess Mr. Walesa on this decision.

There is a harder issue -- sanctions. It goes to the heart of the traditional attempt of American policy to deny legitimacy to unelected communist regimes without unduly hurting the people living under them. As he denounced the elections, Mr. Walesa urged Washington to end the remaining economic penalties it imposed when martial law was declared in 1981. He said sanctions had fulfilled their purpose and now are "bringing more harm from the propaganda point of view than good." His words followed a similar appeal by Cardinal Jozef Glemp, another unquestionably authentic Polish spokesman, who called the sanctions "unjust . . . it is the people who suffer, not the government."

It is easy to say no to Gen. Jaruzelski, who served a Soviet purpose by crushing democratic Solidarity -- "there is no Solidarity as such," he says -- when he asks the end of sanctions. It is much more difficult to say no to the leader of Solidarity and to the Roman Catholic primate of Poland, brave and clear-thinking men who know and share the burdens of the Polish people.

On the strictly domestic Polish issue of participation in what Mr. Walesa describes as "inauthentic" elections, the Poles will make their own choice, and Americans must respect it. On sanctions, where unavoidably the United States plays a direct role, Americans have no less an obligation to listen to the true voices of the Polish people. The West should demand assurances that new loans will not be misspent, Mr. Walesa says. "Poland should be helped as quickly as possibly when such a certainty exists."