WASHINGTON — WINNING AN ELECTION against a ruling Communist Party is one thing. Dismantling its control of a country is quite another.
From Russia to Prussia, from Warsaw to Managua, newly elected leaders confront entrenched officials of the previous Marxist regime who are still running all aspects of economy, state and society.
These new democratic leaders are confronted with similar questions. Should they leave the experienced Marxist bureaucrats and managers in place -- and run the risk that the Marxists will sabotage the new policies? Or should they replace them with a new, less-experienced team committed to change? What is fair? And what is possible?
Should these leaders assume that officials of the previous regime were really committed to it, or should they treat them as fellow victims of the totalitarian state? Does the new regime need the skills and experience of these Marxist cadres? Or can it get by without the apparatchiki, whose ambition or zeal or skills enabled them to rise in the Marxist hierarchy?
Can new governments actually take control and new policies take root if the administration of government, schools, factories, agriculture and police is left in the hands of Communist bureaucrats?
Opinions and policies differ. So do situations.
In Poland, this is one of the issues that divides declared presidential candidate Lech Walesa from his probable opponent, Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki. Mr. Walesa wants politically reliable new leadership -- in factories and fields and in government offices. Mr. Mazowiecki resists further purges. He believes that Poland needs all her people, and especially needs its experts.
East Germany has adopted a policy of sweeping replacement of leadership at all levels. Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel thinks his country has already suffered too many political purges. In his view, the corruptions of totalitarianism are universal, affecting everyone in the society.
In all the countries of Eastern Europe (except perhaps Romania), a serious effort has been made to rid the society of political police, secret police and ideological czars of the previous regime, and to reduce the size of military forces. In Poland, which had the first elected government in the region, the Communist ministers of defense and police who had been left in place to ''reassure'' the Soviets have now been removed.
This issue is important in all the new democracies, but it is particularly critical in Nicaragua, which has the only elected government that is attempting to function in a situation where Communist officials of the previous regime have retained a virtual monopoly over the police and military forces.
The Marxist Sandinistas, who suffered a landslide defeat in Nicaragua's elections last February, have not relinquished control over policy in virtually any area of Nicaraguan life. Instead, they have secured the disarmament of the resistance forces (the contras) and now possess a monopoly of force in the society.
The Sandinistas use that monopoly of force in a heavy-handed fashion to prevent change in economic policy, education, administration, and in the military sector itself.
Cardinal Miguel Obando y Bravo put it bluntly on Radio Managua September 13: ''The truth is that the [Sandinista party] is running the country. . . . The authorities elected by the people through their vote on February 25 should be the ones to govern. . . . What is lacking in Nicaragua is a state of law.''
The more than 400 state enterprises are still directed by Marxist loyalists who are mainly beyond the reach of President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro's government. The police are still effectively controlled by the hierarchy put in place earlier by Sandinista Minister of Interior Tomas Borge. And Humberto Ortega, Daniel Ortega's brother, wholly dominates the armed forces.
When Mrs. Chamorro retained Humberto Ortega as commander of the army, she named herself minister of defense -- apparently expecting that this would give her ultimate control over Nicaragua's armed forces. It was not to be.
The Sandinistas used the days between their electoral defeat and Mrs. Chamorro's inauguration to pass laws designed to give them extraordinary privileges and powers after the change of government.
One such law deprives the minister of defense of authority over the armed forces and gives the commander of the armed forces (Humberto Ortega) broad permanent power over the military establishment. Under that law, Mrs. Chamorro can neither dismiss nor appoint army chiefs. Only the army itself has these powers.
The result is that the government can control neither the troops nor the streets. When Sandinista unions strike and mobs silence radio stations, as they did in late August, no one is available to restore order. As a result, privatization is blocked, inflation soars, money-saving efforts are greeted by strikes, and the transition to democracy is stalled.
Arms from the Sandinistas still flow to Marxist rebels in El Salvador. Sandinista chiefs still live in the houses they confiscated. Nicaraguan children still learn to read from Marxist-Leninist textbooks. Democracy languishes. Resistance fighters -- promised land and a fresh start -- live under conditions of harsh deprivation.
The government has changed but, as Cardinal Obando y Bravo said, the Sandinistas still run the country.
Elections are the first step in the transitional passage from totalitarianism to democracy. No one knows how many Marxist managers in how many sectors of the social system must be fired before a people can regain control of their society. But clearly it must be more than has happened so far in Nicaragua.