When the full weight of martial law is pressing down on Poland, with communications patchy and one guess as good as another, a sampling of academic analysis helps clear the mind. The scholars' "options" and "alternative scenarios" are offered without warranty. And they are as subject as those of the commentators and government leaders to recall in the face of necessarily unpredictable events.
But they have a refreshing ring of certitude that is denied to those encumbered with official responsibility or the pressure of daily reporting. The following assessment is a composite, assembled selectively from a brain trust of Soviet and Polish experts in and outside government.
It runs a fairly narrow gamut: grim, grimmer grimmest. The best that can be expected is, first, a prolonged period of essentially military rule by the new Martial Council for National Redemption established a week ago by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, the prime minister and leader of the Polish Communist party.
Second, this means a rough rollback of nearly everything accomplished by Solidarity since its beginning: national trade unionism; expanded freedom of expression; a voice and a force in political, as distinct from economic, affairs.
"Solidarity has been beheaded by the arrests of all the top people," says Vladimir Petrov, professor of Soviet studies at George Washington University. "All the troublemakers are behind bars." It's Petrov's view that Solidarity had been disintegrating--through the slow takeover of militants who were forcing Lech Walesa's hand. "Breaking the back of Solidarity," as one administration expert puts it, is the regime's primary objective. But most authorities also see it in a slightly more positive light: as the prerequisite, in the thinking of the new Polish junta, to a measure of "reconciliation," carefully controlled.
This "option" is described by Dimitri Simes, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, as "Hungary- plus." He means a modest return to "pluralism and independent political forces" and even a limited right to strike," but no voice for the unions in "grand policy." The Communist party (and the military) would be in control.
Petrov agrees that "once order is restored, the moderates could be brought back." Some think negotiations could even be resumed with a chastened, forcefully "reformed" Solidarity, strictly on economic matters. But all this presupposes generous Soviet economic aid, sufficient to pull Poland back from the brink of total economic catastrophe--a dubious hope.
That's what makes even the best outcome grim. A cold and cruel winter lies ahead, under the best circumstances.
The grimmest outcome is obvious: a breakdown of public order, a refusal of Polish army units to carry out orders to shoot rioters or strikers, sabotage of vital Soviet communication links through Poland to West Germany, a form of civil war, Soviet military intervention and suppression by force.
The consequences and repercussions scarcely need laboring. They would be measured in the degree of anarchy, bloodshed, starvation and repressive Soviet rule--inside Poland. Outside, the effects on East-West relations across the board, would be incalculable.
They would be adverse, as well, for the Soviets, within their own bloc, and in the Third World, the more so because suppression of the Poles would not be the same thing as Czechoslovakia, 1968. "If the Soviets are drawn in," says Simes, "there will be purges and a new, conservative, pro-Soviet government." But the crackdown, he believes, would be "even more severe" of necessity and also "very nasty." Polish hostility to the Communist government is "far greater." His second option--Soviet military intervention--he calls "Czech-plus."
None of the scholars with whom I talked doubts that the Soviets would move in force if they saw their security threatened, and never mind the stern warnings of the Reagan administration and U.S. allies. Still less do they doubt that the Soviet hand is very much in everything Jaruzelski is doing now. But they lay no claim to being able to say which way it will go. They deal in "alternative scenarios"--excluding only one:
The clock, it's generally agreed, can now no longer be turned back to, let us say, a month ago. Even with the most optimistic scenario, Petrov figures "much will be lost. Free expression in Poland is irretrievable for as far ahead as you can see."