Poland is not going to achieve true independence out of the present wave of strikes throughout its industrial cities. Poland is a military prisoner of the Soviet Union. It cannot hope to escape into independence unless or until the whole Soviet empire is shaken up by some political convulsion which is not yet on any horizon.
The essential fact about Poland's situation is that there are 66 Soviet divisions inside European USSR to the east of Poland (and more in Siberia, the Urals, and the Caucasus). There are 31 Soviet divisions in East Germany on the West side of Poland. There are five Soviet divisions in Czechoslovakia and four in Hungary to the south. There are two Soviet divisions, both armored, inside Poland itself. And the small Polish army of 15 divisions is effectively under Soviet command.
Since World War II the Soviets three times have used their armed forces to suppress any threat to their control over Eastern Europe and over the communist governments which manage those countries on behalf of the Kremlin. Soviet tanks were used, without hesitation, against dissident workers in East Berlin in 1953, in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968. There is not the slightest reason to doubt that they would be used in Poland if the Polish communist government lost control of the present situation.
But we on the outside who wish the Poles well can note with admiration this new evidence that the spirit of independence has not been smothered or crushed out of the Polish people. And we can also note with respect the care, the patience, and, so far, the success with which the Polish people are regaining some voice in their own affairs.
Poland is still nominally what all communist states set up under Moscow's bayonets are supposed to be. It is a country governed by a minority dictatorship. The euphemism for this is "the leading role" of the communist party. Under this system all power is centered in the central committee of the communist party which runs the country from the center, in all respects. It is dictatorial and unitary. The one thing it resists above all else is a diffusion of its power and authority.
All of the peoples in Eastern Europe have tried at one time or another to break out from under this form of unitary dictatorship run from Moscow for the primary benefit of the Soviet state. Hungary and Czechoslovakia went too far for Moscow. The dissident movement was repressed in Hungary with much bloodshed. The Czechs were repossessed without bloodshed.
One only -- Yugoslavia -- has been successful in being truly independent. But Yugoslavia was unique in emerging from World War II with its own self-established communist government. This was not a committee of Soviet sycophants brought in by Soviet troops and set up by Soviet bayonets. Marshal Tito was the most successful military resistance leader in his country during the war. He was indigenous. And besides, Yugoslavia has an open coast on the Adriatic and could be supplied from the west.
Being next door to Yugoslavia has been Romania's biggest single asset in its special type of semi-independence from Moscow. The Romanian formula has been built on maintaining an absolute communist party dictatorship but taking just a little economic and foreign policy freedom.
Poland is the most populous and in many ways the most important of the East European possessions of the Soviet state. Soviet policy in Europe is based on fear of a German revival. Hence 31 divisions of Soviet troops sit on top of the divided eastern half of Germany. To keep Germany divided Moscow must have a safe corridor through Poland. How can the Poles gain any independence so long as the Soviet line of supply runs through Poland?
It is not easy. But first, by wisdom more than by public demonstration, the Polish church has regained substantial control over its own affairs. Stefan Cardinal Wyszynski is without doubt the second most influential man in Poland today. He exercises his influence quietly, and largely behind the scenes. Yet the state would not dare to suppress either the cardinal or the Polish branch of the Roman Catholic Church. It tried, and gave up.
Now we have the workers in the great industrial cities of Poland acting in unison in what amounts to a national strike. The essence of what they are demanding is the same that the church has already won -- the right of self-representation. The strikers want many other things, but central to their rising is the right to select their own leaders, instead of having their leaders imposed upon them from Warsaw.
Stalinism means a unitary state controlled totally from the center. Poland has already broken that monopoly on power. The church speaks for itself. If the workers can gain the same degree of self-representation Poland will have become as free as is probably possible short of a breakup of the Soviet empire.