Soviets, Poles trade journalistic salvos -- a warning to Polish regime?
A worrying new question mark has been placed this past week over the Soviet attitude toward Poland. Poles were shocked when the latest issue of the Soviet journal New Times made a pointed attack on the Polish party weekly, Polityka. It labeled Polityka a purveyor of ''revisionist'' opinion and of other views hostile to socialism.
Poles have been puzzling over the motives for the attack ever since. And the Polish leadership appeared late this week to have sanctioned a mild, non-polemical ''reply'' to New Times to be published in Polityka. The thrust of this is that the Soviet article was ''without precedent'' in tone.
Under present conditions, this is the maximum, suitably rebuking way of telling the Russians such attacks are not appreciated and will not be ignored. Whether or not the reply is still in Polityka when it actually reaches the newsstands today will be a useful pointer to just how Soviet-Polish relations do , in fact, stand. And also to the inner political situation here.
Meanwhile, there is speculation about who in the Soviet apparatus was behind the New Times article and at whom it was really aimed. Some suggest that it reflects internal Soviet politics at a time when Yuri Andropov's control of affairs is thought to be less than absolute.
''New Times? It's more like 'old times' to Poles,'' said a party member and a former Solidarity enthusiast.
But the more serious view here holds that this Stalinist-style attack on Polityka is at least a warning shot across the bow of the Polish Communist Party , which remains unable to command national unity. It has yet to win any meaningful show of public support for its recovery program.
At a news conference May 10 Deputy Foreign Minister Jozef Wiejacz offered a predictable response to the article. He said relations with the Soviets were ''excellent'' in all areas involved.
He said also that the ideological issues raised by New Times would be studied by Polityka's editorial board and, he added, by ''other people who are concerned with ideological and party matters.''
Almost all Poles regard the article as an attack first and foremost on the former editor of Polityka, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, who is now vice-premier. Mr. Rakowski was not attacked by name, but his widely publicized interview with an Italian journalist in March of last year - in which he spoke candidly of the party's ''disintegration'' - was singled out as typical of the space Polityka had given to views alien to communist ideology and defense of the ''socialist state.''
Poles see implicit in the attack indirect criticism of other members of the Polish leadership whom the Russians would regard as too ''moderate'' or too ''liberal.''
This could include the country's leader, Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, Deputy Prime Minister Kazimierz Barcikowski, and possibly several other members of the party Politburo. Mr. Barcikowski was the firm but conciliatory negotiator of the August 1980 Szczecin strike settlement.
After nearly three years, Poles have not forgotten that it was Jaruzelski, then defense minister, who refused at the Politburo's last meeting in August 1980 to permit the Army to be used against the strikers in the Baltic shipyards.
There was considerable public euphoria when he took over as prime minister in February 1981. If that has since worn thin amid the government's popularly disappointing public performance - notably, the clampdown on the unions - pressure from Moscow would undoubtedly revive his public support.
This latest Soviet challenge is to the whole Polish concept of a national unity based theoretically on acknowledgement of the existence of differing opinion, even opposition, as long as it is backed by general acceptance of Poland's ''reasons of state'' - i.e., the Soviet alliance.
The Russians may accept the moderate, always prudent Hungarian way of reform. But in today's Poland, where general public opinion is nowhere near being as reconciled as Hungary's was relatively soon after its traumatic crisis of 1956, it is a vastly different matter.
The Russians want Poland to hew closely to their own version of ''socialist democracy,'' which they claim has been broadened. They and their more conformist allies in Eastern Europe call it the ''real socialism,'' and Polityka was accused of always putting the phrase in quotation marks.
All this may be raising serious new questions for the Soviets about the present Polish leadership.
It is said that neither the late Leonid Brezhnev nor Yuri Andropov has ever taken too warmly to General Jaruzelski and that, although they applauded the declaration of martial law as the only option, they see it in general as damaging to the Marxist-Leninist image of workers' rule.
In their view, what was justified at the outset has taken too long to resolve the crisis. Yet General Jaruzelski continues - as in his speech at the weekend (after New Times had appeared in Moscow) to assure the nation that he still wants it to be solved by Poles, in a Polish way.
It may be, some people here say, that East-West tensions are encouraging the dogmatists in Moscow and dictating a new caution on the part of the man who came to the Kremlin amid some belief he would be favorable to ''change'' and limited reform.
If that is so, it could mean Soviet pressure against any and every reformist trend in Eastern Europe. Hungary already shows some sign of caution.