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Jaruzelski gains a probable Pyrrhic victory

By Charles SawyerSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 14, 1982



With the passage of the law abolishing all trade unions in Poland, the Military Council for National Salvation has put in place the last major component in its 10-month campaign to assert full political control over the country.

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Any doubt that Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski has achieved his aim withers in the face of the response so far.

True, there have been some outbreaks of resistance in the Baltic ports and elsewhere. But during Solidarity's heyday such an act by the Polish parliament would have provoked a spontaneous general strike. Every factory in Poland would have shut down, and the streets would have surged with angry workers.

Instead, the fugitive remnants of the independent union's leadership have called for a four-hour strike on the Nov. 10 second anniversary of Solidarity's legalization.

The pitiful condition of Solidarity was clearly illustrated even before the new law was enacted. On June 1, Wladyslaw Frasyniuk, leader of Solidarity in the Wroclaw region, wrote from underground urging preparations for a general strike.

''In order to induce the authorities to initiate talks with Solidarity,'' he wrote, ''we are prepared to reach for the greatest weapons that our union possesses: the general strike.''

Frasyniuk was apprehended two days before parliament passed the law banning the independent union.

The final move in parliament was presaged by formal charges brought against seven members of KOR, the group of intellectuals who advised Solidarity during its foundation and openly opposed the regime in the late 1970s prior to the union's appearance.

Most of the seven have been incarcerated since last Dec. 13, hence the formal charges had the Jabberwockian logic of arresting those already imprisoned for months. Jaruzelski would like to portray KOR as the head of the serpent, an arrogant band of intellectuals who pulled the strings of Solidarity from behind the scenes.

The fate of the KOR leaders is still unclear. But the willingness of Polish courts to impose harsh penalties for political crimes is already demonstrated by the case of former Ambassador Romuald Spasowski, who was recently sentenced to death in absentia for defecting to the United States. Most likely the Military Council will save their trial until it feels the need to reassert its control.

Jaruzelski is undoubtedly breathing a sigh of relief. His countrymen are cowed and the other East bloc leaders will stay off his back for the time being.

Yet his victory is likely to prove Pyrrhic. For in winning full political control, he has lost his chance to rebuild the country's still collapsing economy. Hence, as conditions continue to deteriorate, he may find the worst of his problems lie ahead.

Rebuilding the economy will require two internal changes plus massive aid from abroad. The two changes are:

1. An overhaul of the economic infrastructure away from the tightly centralized Soviet model toward the decentralized, market-responsive Hungarian model.

2. An up-by-the-bootstraps, psycho-social mobilization of the work force.

Neither change is compatible with the kind of controls imposed over the last 10 months. Decentralizing production means risking loss of political control. And mobilizing the national will means restoring self-respect to a humiliated population.

No one knows how far down is rock bottom for the Polish economy. Industrial production has already fallen 22 percent since the summer of 1981. Basic consumer goods like shoes and clothing are becoming scarce. The Polish diet, never a model of good nutrition, is losing calories as well as nutrients.

Declining conditions could conceivably threaten the very maintenance of social order. At some point frustration and despair may accumulate to where the consequences of massive resistance no longer matter.

Should the Poles arrive at that point, then the Polish Army will be put to the test many wrongly thought would follow the imposition of martial law last December. Failing that test would certainly bring Soviet intervention.

Jaruzelski has achieved something few imagined possible when he began: gaining control with relatively little bloodshed. But in the process he has put himself in a cul-de-sac with the economy.