General Jaruzelski's imposition of martial law in Poland last December changed the internal balance of power. By detaining thousands of Solidarity trade union leaders, dissidents, and other adversaries, Jaruzelski disarmed the opposition and regained the political initiative. In early March, during a visit to Moscow, he received the blessing and support of the Soviet leadership.
What are the general's objectives? First of all, to get the Polish economy moving again. Without a functioning economy, even a martial law regime administered by a 20-man military council is not out of danger of economic chaos and popular revolt.
Second, Jaruzelski has to rebuild the Polish United Workers' Party, as the communist party is called. It has lost about 25 percent of its membership during the last two years, and the quality and character of its leaders are doubtful. It is deeply split among uncompromising hardliners looking to encouragement from Soviet hardliners, liberals who believe the party must turn over a totally new leaf, and moderates who sway to and fro in the middle. No wonder that during martial law the party has taken a back seat to the military.
A third objective must be to restore Poland as a viable member of the Warsaw Pact and the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON). The Soviet Union together with its other Eastern European allies have had to shore up and bail out the Polish authorities since 1980 because of the country's political instability and poor economic performance.
In his speech to the party's Central Committee session on Feb. 24, Jaruzelski vehemently attacked what he called the destructive actions of Solidarity extremists but recognized that ''what is necessary are lasting and genuine political solutions.'' The Sejm (Parliament) meeting on Feb. 26-27 passed a resolution which called for ''further efforts to create and consolidate a broad platform of cooperation among all forces in the nation and all people of good will, irrespective of their views or to what organization they belong, so as to restore public confidence. . . ''
Where does the independent trade union Solidarity with its 9.5 million members fit in? There is no clear answer. Soon after the declaration of martial law, it was reported that General Jaruzelski was seeking the cooperation of Lech Walesa, Solidarity's moderate leader, in an effort to reconstitute a ''tame'' trade union, depoliticized, re-structured, and purged of its extremists. Walesa allegedly demanded the release of his detained colleagues prior to any negotiations with the government.
Party hardliners, meanwhile, make it clear they would prefer to see Solidarity banned rather than ''suspended'' as at present. They fear its potential influence under whatever leadership.
The Roman Catholic Church, on the other hand, has appealed to the authorities to reach agreement with ''the trusted representatives of organized social groups ,'' including Solidarity which ''enjoys wide social support.''
In late 1980, before he became deputy premier, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, the articulate editor-in-chief of the important weekly, Polityka, put forward the concept of partnership between the government and the Solidarity movement. Last November, as the situation progressively deteriorated, General Jaruzelski himself met with Walesa and with Archbishop Glemp, Primate of Poland, and suggested the formation of a Front of National Accord.
Throughout the 1980-81 period, however, the distrust and suspicions harbored by one side toward the other were extraordinarily difficult to overcome. Both these imaginative ideas failed for lack of consistent, determined, practical implementation.
Yet the Polish nation would reap immense advantages if a genuine political solution could be negotiated. The prospects for gradual economic recovery would improve as the working class came to believe that ''their'' trade union was actively participating in economic and social life and defending ''their'' interests.
Martial law itself could be revoked and the detainees set free. It cannot be beyond the fertile minds of the Poles to work out a scheme whereby the release of dissidents and so-called Solidarity extremists - not to mention those jailed for violating martial law regulations - would not constitute a danger to General Jaruzelski's rule. In the last analysis, if the situation threatened to get out of hand, martial law could be reimposed. This time, the party's warnings would more than likely be believed.
The West, in response to the restoration of basic human rights, could reopen the door to normal relations. The US and its friends could lift their sanctions, resume normal trade, and periodically negotiate the rescheduling of Polish debts.
What about the Soviets? Would they accept such a political solution? Provided they ascertain that it contains adequate assurances for the continuation of the socialist system (social ownership of the means of production), the leading role of the Polish party in the state, and Poland's membership in the Warsaw Pact and COMECON, the Soviets seem likely to come to terms with it.
After the events of 1980-81, it is difficult to see how the Polish communist leadership can achieve political stability and economic recovery without, in advance, building a broad, public consensus on national issues and government policies.
If, however, the party chooses to ban Solidarity, neglect civic and human rights, and ignore unfriendly public opinion, the Polish people will more likely protest through passive resistance, work slowdowns, and other demonstrations than work creatively and energetically.
The choice, the opportunity, and the initiative are General Jaruzelski's.