Now that martial law has been implemented in Poland, members of the ruling establishment, the Roman Catholic Church and the independent Solidarity trade union are confronted with an acute moral and political dilemma. Should they recognize what is officially described here as "the new situation," devoting their efforts to lessening the rigors of martial law, or should they come out in opposition?

It is a dilemma familiar to Eastern Europeans following the Soviet invasions of Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968.

The choice is an agonizing one--and it is difficult to be certain which course will work for the best interests of the country. In Hungary's case, those who worked for gradual reform after their revolution was put down with bloody repression were eventually at least partially successful. Following the same course in Czechoslovakia, they only lent their names and reputations to continued totalitarian rule.

Discussions over the past few days with Poles on both sides of this moral divide have indicated that the real question comes down to whether anything can be salvaged from the exhilarating 16 months of Solidarity's existence.

A senior Polish official in close touch with Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski said that the decision to impose martial law was taken after the premier was convinced that the only alternative would be a Soviet invasion triggered by the total breakdown of Communist Party authority.

According to this version, Jaruzelski feared that he would be pushed aside by hard-liners within the Polish party, men such as the Warsaw party chief Stanislaw Kociolek and the former Politburo member Tadeusz Grabski. At the same time, Jaruzelski was being squeezed from another angle by Solidarity, whose demands were becoming ever more political.

The official said that Jaruzelski's primary motive in declaring martial law was to save Poland from the worst: massive bloodshed and a fratricidal war. Once the party succeeded in reasserting its authority, the argument runs, it would be able to return to the idea of forming a coalition government--with the proviso that all those who join the government are committed to the idea of Communist Party rule in Poland.

The opposing view holds that it is simply wishful thinking to believe that having embarked on the present course the government will be able to reinstate the reforms in the foreseeable future. Given the bitter underground opposition to martial law, any significant relaxation in its conditions is seen as allowing resistance to grow.

"The events of the past few days have proved that communism can only be maintained in Poland through tanks and machine guns. What Communists who are left here are not about to commit suicide--and so they will have to maintain the repression," commented on embittered writer who resigned from the Communist Party after 25 years of membership shortly after martial law was declared.

According to this argument, it matters little whether the troops in the streets are Polish or Soviet. Poland is in effect under occupation--a state of affairs that has resulted from the proven impossibility of squaring the demands of the Soviet Bloc with the aspirations of the Polish people. Indeed, the Soviets probably much prefer having the Polish Army do the dirty work for them, the argument holds.

Poland's Roman Catholic Church, too, is caught in the dilemma. The primate of Poland, Archbishop Jozef Glemp, has described martial law as "evil"--but has also said that the church is not able to combat it. He has taken the course of negotiation, quietly sounding out the authorities to see whether a deal is possible.

Polish officials have made it clear that Solidarity has been suspended rather than banned. Evidently, there are plans to allow the union to operate again once martial law has been lifted--but clearly under much more rigorous Communist Party control this time.

The core of the reactivated union would be Solidarity activists who already have made pledges of loyalty to the new regime. Those who have done so, however, represent only an insignificant handful of the total number of detained union leaders, and--in view of the conditions under which their loyalty oaths were obtained--it is difficult to imagine that they could ever enjoy the trust and confidence of Solidarity's 10-million membership.

For Solidarity activists still at liberty who are refusing to cooperate with the authorities, there are two choices. Either they can withdraw from active work, assuming an attitude of apathy common among Eastern European citizens, or they can go underground. Those who want to go underground maintain that only by such uncompromising opposition can Poland's honor and sense of national pride be preserved intact for the next national uprising that is sure to come.

Others argue that resistance will only lead to greater repression by the military government.

"Now that the Army has taken over, there is no way that it can lose. The choices are now simple: Either we accept the presence of Polish soldiers in the streets or we get Soviet ones," remarked a prominent academic who shares his colleagues' revulsion with what amounts to a military coup but sees no alternative to going along with it.

The factor determining most people's behavior under martial law is not high moral choice but simple fear. By swiftly rounding up Solidarity leaders and occupying the union's offices, the military authorities were able to capture the psychological initiative.

Incredibly, after the months of rumors of a coming crackdown, the union's leadership was caught off guard. Perhaps it was overconfident. Solidarity leader Lech Walesa apart, most senior officials of the movement appeared to regard the Communist Party as a spent force.

One Solidarity activist who was not arrested remarked: "It all happened so quickly that we were not able to take it in. Our communication network, in which we had invested so much effort, was shattered immediately. Now we are trying to rebuild it by passing messages underground--but in these conditions it is very difficult."

After months in which Solidarity was free to plaster the walls of Warsaw and other major cities with posters and leaflets, the speed with which the streets have been cleaned up has had a big impact. Solidarity's famous logo has all but vanished. Few can believe it could have all happened so quickly.

One of the major tasks of those who wish to resist martial law is to convince the population that fear of the authorities can be overcome if workers stand united. A statement issued by the strike committee at the steelworks in the southern city of Krakow illustrated this point well when it said that the struggle being waged in Poland now was a struggle against fear.

"It is not suprising that we are afraid. We have parents, wives, children who could be taken away. We know what 'they' are capable of because we know the history of our country. But let us remember: They are a hundred times more fearful than we are. Hidden behind masks, clubs, tanks, TV screens and the rags of reptile newspapers, they are afraid of us. This is why they introduced martial law.

"They are hoping that defeated by fear alone we will open the gates. Then they will put their shackles on our necks, and we will become slaves. If we want to remain free, we have to endure this with calm and dignity. We have to overcome our fear because, even if they resort to extreme measures, our calm courage will be our victory."

So far, with some exceptions, it is the authorities who have won the short-term battle of fear. Since all travel outside Warsaw is forbidden to foreign correspondents, it is impossible to know of the exact extent of opposition to martial law.

Judging from fragmentary reports from travelers, however, pockets of resistance are now confined to a few limited areas, notably, the coal mines in the south and the docks and shipyards along the Baltic Coast.

Elsewhere, opposition is expressed by small gestures. In Warsaw, official posters stuck up in the streets are periodically smeared with red paint. A boycott has been proclaimed of the official press, which, judging from the piles of unsold newspapers left at kiosks, is at least partially successful. Several days ago, tens of thousands of Warsaw residents put candles in the windows of their apartments to commemorate those killed during food riots in Gdansk 11 years ago.

One of the potentially most effective weapons against the regime is ridicule, and at this Poles are adept. The Military Council of National Salvation headed by Jaruzelski is now routinely referred to by the general public as the crow, since its acronym in Polish WRON resemble the word for crow, wrona.

Several days ago, television news showed an illegal Solidarity poster published after martial law that depicted a crow made to look like the infamous Nazi eagle insignia used during World War II, but instead of a swastika between the birds' claws, there was a red communist star.

A little jingle is making the rounds: "The crow will not defeat the eagle" (Poland's national emblem). In Polish the phrase rhymes: "Orla wrona, nia pokona."

The Solidarity activists who have gone underground are building their operation on the model of the resistance during the war to Nazi occupation. The same methods, remembered by members of the Nationalist Home Army and passed down to their children, are now being used again. Activists who might be suspect are no longer sleeping at home. Information is again being exchanged via secret codes and safe houses.

An outsider who has not penetrated the underground, of course, can not know just how far-reaching the underground resistance is.

The military government is responding with increased patrols by soldiers in big cities, checkpoints at major intersections and spot searches of buses and street cars. A bus can be pulled over to the side of the road, the exits are blocked, and a systematic search is conducted. A passenger found with Solidarity leaflets--even those issued before the declaration of martial law are now illegal--is taken off the bus and fined or detained.

Many Poles are comparing these methods to the neo-Stalinist era of the late 1940s and early 1950s or--even more insulting--to the German occupation. Such comparisons infuriate senior Communist officials who regard themselves as patriots attempting to save their country.

One official remarked: "How can anyone compare this to the Stalinist times? These people are just too young to understand how lucky they are. I tell you it could be much worse. Now people are being detained. Then they were being shot."