When Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski announced his military takeover Dec. 13, he told Poles that in the long run no Polish problem could be solved by force.
Six months of martial law have proved him more right than he would probably now care to admit.
The first reaction of most people, Poles and foreigners alike, to the suddenness of the crackdown was that it was an irrevocable defeat for the independent trade union, Solidarity.
It now seems that Solidarity's 16-month life has left indelible marks on Poland after all. While it was easy for the Communist authorities to arrest the union's leaders and tear down its posters, erasing the Solidarity myth and the memory of the union from people's minds has proved impossible.
Nowhere is this consciousness stronger than here in Gdansk, the Baltic port where Solidarity was born in August 1980 and where it had its headquarters.
The feelings of many in Gdansk are summed up by Lech Badkowski, a local writer who acted as an adviser to Solidarity's leader, Lech Walesa, during the union's early days.
"I'm not so much concerned about Solidarity as an organization--it's easy enough to form a new organization--but Solidarity as a social movement," he said. "What's important is how people think, and that hasn't changed all that much since December."
Martial law, according to this argument, altered the superficial balance of power between the union leadership, which is now mostly interned, and the Communist authorities. But it failed to mend the frailty of the Communist Party's roots in society and the alienation of the population from the authorities.
This correspondent was refused access to the Lenin Shipyard, scene of the historic Gdansk agreement between the workers and the Communist government. The Communist Party cell at the yard made the decision because, the local party secretary explained over the telephone, "We don't need any more penalty points."
But two shipyard workers agreed to meet nearby at a restaurant on the condition that they remain anonymous.
They described a work force outwardly compliant but inwardly defiant. They said that, despite a strong secret-police presence in the yard, underground bulletins circulated and most workers still paid monthly union dues.
One worker estimated that, in his department, 90 percent of the crew remained behind Solidarity. A minority, however, was cooperating with the management by reporting what it considered "subversive talk" and refusing to take part in protests.
In an attempt to stop Solidarity slogans from sprouting around the yard, each Communist Party member had a specific stretch of wall to keep clean.
"They fail to realize it's not slogans on walls that matter but what's going on in our heads," the worker said. "We're learning whom to trust and we talk freely among ourselves. Information spreads very rapidly."
His colleague traced his disillusionment with the communist system to December 1970 when security forces killed dozens of workers during food riots here and in other Baltic cities.
"At that time, it was inconceivable for me that a Communist government claiming to rule on behalf of the people would use tanks against workers," he said. "It transformed my way of thinking."
The worker said that during street clashes in Gdansk after the declaration of martial law, he had fought on the opposite side of the barricade to his brother-in-law who had suddenly been drafted against his will into a riot police squad. That, too, had made a big impression upon him.
The workers said they believed that sooner or later there had to be another "explosion."
The strategy of Solidarity leaders who went underground when martial law was imposed is to use the threat of renewed popular unrest to force Jaruzelski to make concessions. But within the union are big disagreements on how far to push.
At one extreme is Jacek Kuron, the chief organizer of the dissident Committee for Social Self-Defense (KOR), which paved the way for the rise of Solidarity. In letters smuggled out from Bialoleka Prison in Warsaw where he is interned, he called on Solidarity to prepare for a general insurrection by conducting "agitation" among the Army and police.
Kuron evidently believes that Solidarity should prepare to seize power through a general strike combined with an assault on key buildings, including Communist Party offices and communications centers. Underground Solidarity bulletins quote him as saying that such a course of action would carry less of a risk of Soviet intervention than a gradual slide into anarchy.
Most Solidarity activists still at large appear to doubt the chances of such an insurrection succeeding. Some insist that Kuron is out of touch with the real world, while others believe that Solidarity should prepare for a general strike as a way of putting pressure on the authorities but should try to avoid an actual confrontation.
According to some reports from factories, restlessness is growing among workers who feel Solidarity should be more active.
This mood was voiced by a leading underground activist in Gdansk, Bogdan Lis, in a recent "open letter" to the chairman of Solidarity's Warsaw chapter, Zbigniew Bujak. Lis complained that short strikes and similar symbolic protests like ones in early May only provided the government with pretexts for greater repression.
He said Solidarity needed to prove to workers that it was taking decisive measures to mount an effective protest.
In reply, Bujak told Lis that the goal of a general strike could only be the toppling of the authorities. He could only accept the leadership of such a strike, as a result of which thousands of people might die, if it were shown that at least 80 percent of the work force in all major enterprises supported it.
The Polish crisis has a knack of confounding predictions. A few months ago, Solidarity coined the slogan: "The winter is yours, but the spring will be ours." Apart from a spate of street demonstrations, nothing happened.
Under an optimistic scenario, the government will open talks with Walesa, release most internees and allow independent unions, if in a different guise than Solidarity.
The pessimistic scenario is that, in the absence of a stable compromise, hard-liners within the Communist Party apparatus could attempt to crush Solidarity once and for all--with Soviet assistance, if necessary.
That would be the very catastrophe Jaruzelski sought to avoid by declaring martial law.