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The Polish party congress: who won?

The Ninth (Extraordinary) Congress of the United Polish Workers' Party ended to the plaudits of most of the Western media, unsure which they should celebrate more: the unprecedented spectacle of a Marxist-Leninist party electing its officers by secret ballot in contests which offered a choice among candidates, or the good sense of delegates who rejected both the more radical reformers and the ultraconservatives in favor of those who appear to be moderates.

What really happened is neither so simple nor so encouraging to those who wish the Polish people well.

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First, the new Central Committee and Politburo contain many new faces, but nonetheless are still safely in the hands of the leaders of the apparatus, that is, of professional bubreaucrats who work full time as party leaders, high government officials, or managers of large economic enterprises. The three "moderate" holdovers in the Politburo -- Kania, Barcikowski, and Jaruzelski -- can count on the unfailing support of the professional security operative, General Miroslaw Milewski, long associated with Kania, and of the foreign minister, Josef Czyrek, a careerist who has never made waves, as well as of the three regional party secretaries and of three out of the four workers. To maintain the control implicit in this bloc of votes, the leading group of apparatchiks have at their beck and call the vast staff, operational, and research facilities of the party Central Committee and the government bureaucracy.

Many of the things said at the congress could be applauded by those Poles who regard economic and political reform as essential if the country is to be inspired to lift itself by its bootstraps out of the depths it is now in. Regrettably, however, these resounding statements do not add up to a comprehensive and internally consistent program for reform. And they are subordinate to what Stanislaw Kania proclaimed as the party's principal objective for the immediate future: that of "organizing the entire front of defense of socialism . . . a political offensive against its enemies, firmly opposing violations of the law and of social order, counteraction against all acts directed against the constitutional functions of state organs."

First Secretary Kania also revealed the party's plan for the eventual accommodation within a communist-dominated Poland of Solidarity and its rural counterpart, together with all other groups not now under party control. They should become members of the Front of National Unity, where, like the puppet United Peasant and Democratic Parties, they can rubber-stamp the policies laid down by "the leading political force in society," as the communist party described itself in the constitutional amendment of Feb. 10, 1976.

Of course, the Polish communists are still far from being able to accomplish this. Judging by the proceedings of the Ninth Congress, how do they intend to win the "political offensive" which Kania proclaimed?

The most important step preceded the holding of the congress. It was the successful intimidation of the Polish people, including the leadership of Solidarity, achieved by the Soviet campaign of terrorization. The threatening drama of the military maneuvers of early April was followed throughout April and May by unceasing propaganda directed into Poland by Soviet, Czechoslovak, and East German media, backed up by those of Hungary and Bulgaria. The culmination was the moscow ultimatum of June 5, which introduced yet another month of virulent and menacing propaganda.

As a result of the Soviet campaign, the "horizontal movement" within the communist party was contained, thus ending the threat that the apparatchiks would be unable to control the Ninth Congress. And, although many of the provisions of the Gdansk agreement remain unfulfilled or have been grossly violated by the regime, Lech Walesa felt compelled to call for an end to confrontation, thus renouncing Solidarity's only effective weapon, the general strike.

The Polish leadership was unable to comply with the demand of the June 5 letter that it reverse the course of events and restore the status quo ante August 1980 even before the convening of the party congress. It has, however, taken a less conciliatory attitude towards the demand of the Solidarity local at LOT, the Polish state airline, that the workers elect their own director-general and towards the Gdansk longshoremen. The leadership's success in dealing with such continuing disputes will provide a gauge of its self-confidence in the post-congress period.

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The USSR has not limited itself to orchestrating the psychological warfare which has been so essential to the Polish communists. As the head of the Soviet delegation to the Polish congress, Viktor Grishin, pointed out, his country has been delivering vital raw materials and "additional financial assistance" to Poland, Grishin added. "these are not surplus funds and resources in our national economy."

Both the Soviets and the Polish communists are counting on the West to continue to prop up by the sinking economy and to do so without exacting a quid pro quo in the form of assurances that the Polish authorities will use the new aid effectively to restore Poland's economic viability. If, as they have done during the past year, Western governments and banks continue to lend themselves to this kind of manipulation, the Polish communists may be able to regain their dominance without having made any lasting reforms.

We should then witness not a continued "crumbling of communism," to use President Reagan's words, but the tacit collusion of Washington, its principal NATO allies, and japan with Moscow and its Warsaw Pact allies to restore the Polish communist party to unchallenged supremacy. Then, the only unanswered question would be whether the regime we had helped should be called "totalitarian" or merely "authoritarian."

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