The dissolution of Solidarity, the first legally recognized independent trade union in a communist country, represents the collapse of a unique experiment.
Solidarity's rapid rise two years ago, when almost overnight it became a mass organization of 9.5 million members, marked a serious attempt to introduce pluralist institutions into a totalitarian state. Its fall is a reminder that democracy and dictatorship are very difficult to mix.
[In a statement dated Oct. 9, four underground Solidarity leaders called for a four-hour, nationwide strike on Nov. 10 to protest the action dissolving the union, The Associated Press reported.]
When Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski announced martial law Dec. 13, he was still able to argue that he was acting to save the concept of national agreement, not to crush it. But it is difficult to sustain this argument following the adoption Friday of a new trade union law against the wishes of a clear majority of workers, the Roman Catholic Church, and independent legislators.
The original justification given for martial law was that it provided the nation with a needed cooling-off period after months of mounting tension. Official commentaries depicted the new military rulers as reluctant autocrats who had stepped in temporarily to fill the vacuum to allow Poles to forge a new national consensus.
There always had been a contradiction between the democratic aims professed by Jaruzelski and the autocratic methods to which he resorted last December. Ten months after the imposition of martial law, its effects are clearer than ever. Having failed to persuade the Polish people to trust him voluntarily, he now seems determined to teach them a lesson in political realities.
A Western analyst in Warsaw compared Jaruzelski's position to that of a child with a new ball.
"He is willing to allow the other children in the yard to touch the ball, provided they play his game according to his rules. As soon as they try to play the game by their own rules, he grabs the ball back and runs indoors," he said.
Jaruzelski's position is that Poles must be patient. In a speech to the legislature, the Sejm, yesterday, he insisted once again that the state needed the support of "a democratically organized society." But he depicted this as a long-term aim that could not be achieved immediately.
For now, Jaruzelski's chief concern is to eradicate all sources of opposition to Communist Party rule. For tactical considerations, the campaign proceeds in fits and starts. But gradually he is achieving his goal--by persuasion when that is possible, by force when it is not.
The outlawing of Solidarity last week was foreshadowed shortly after the introduction of martial law by the dismantling of the independent students' association. Similar action was taken against the Polish journalists' association on March 20 by the mayor of Warsaw following an intensive propaganda campaign against it.
The issue of Solidarity was always more delicate in view of its greater numbers and the still considerable power wielded by the working class. Initially, the government promised to consult society and respect the wishes of the workers. But in the end, the same methods were used against Solidarity members as against the students and the journalists.
Although few deputies voted against the new trade union bill in the Sejm, their composition was revealing. The 10 votes against the bill and nine abstentions were cast by semi-independent intellectuals and Catholics with the most claim to representing public opinion outside the Communist Party power apparatus. Jaruzelski needs the support of these people for there to be any pretense that he is interested in national agreement.
A couple of independent deputies made the point that, on the most vital piece of legislation to be passed since the introduction of martial law, the government had ignored precisely those bodies that it had set up to act as sounding boards of public opinion. Most deputies were informed of vital amendments to the bill, including a clause dismantling all existing trade unions, only three days before the Sejm session. The lack of progress toward national reconciliation helps explain the disillusionment of several people who accepted martial law as a necessity but opposed the trade union bill. When the martial-law decrees were submitted to the Sejm Jan. 25, there was one vote against and six abstentions.
The government's more forceful tactics against Solidarity seem to date from the last two weeks in August. Jaruzelski met the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, in the Crimea on Aug. 16 against a background of new unrest in Poland. It is impossible to know exactly what went on at that meeting, but it seems likely that Jaruzelski was urged to settle accounts with Solidarity once and for all.
The nationwide demonstrations on Aug. 31, the second anniversary of the Gdansk agreement that recognized independent trade unions, seem to have convinced the government that it was impossible to do business with Solidarity.
The disturbances also showed that the riot police could win a confrontation in the streets. This removed a psychological barrier for a showdown.
As soon as the demonstrations were over, the signal was given for a harsher policy. Several members of the dissident Committee for Social Self-Defense (KOR) who had acted as advisers to Solidarity were formally charged with conspiracy to overthrow the state by force. A government spokesman ruled out all negotiations with Solidarity leaders, Lech Walesa included.
Shortly after the passage of the trade union bill, pictures of Walesa and Solidarity slogans reappeared on the floral crosses set up outside churches around Warsaw as a mark of resistance to martial law. One slip of paper read: "Solidarity is not dead; it is alive inside us." Another said: "It is not the puppet parliament that creates the rights of unions, it is the nation."
The Polish authorities may have achieved their goal of dismantling Solidarity as a mass organization. It will, however, be more difficult to eradicate Solidarity as a symbol.