Voice from jail: Polish dissident says 'naive' union underestimated regime

Adam Michnik's main regret about Poland's 15 months of freedom seems to be that Solidarity was too ''naive'' and underestimated the Polish Communist Party.

This emerges from the first essay smuggled to the West from the suburban Warsaw cell of this veteran dissident and historian.

Michnik, cofounder of the dissident group KOR, erstwhile Solidarity adviser, bete noire of the Russians, sarcastically commends Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski on the success of his brilliant ''counterrevolution'' of martial law.

The aim of the December ''putsch,'' says Michnik in his essay published by the West German magazine Der Spiegel March 8, was a ''classic counterrevolution against the workers in the name of defending the conservative interests of the old regime.''

Michnik, jailed 32 times for human-rights activism, scorns the official justification for martial law -- that Solidarity sought political power. ''Solidarity had neither a shadow cabinet nor a program for a coup d'etat.''

The real cause of the putsch, he argues, was the fact that the ''existence of an independent and self-run institution supported by the people was unacceptable'' to power-holders alienated from the people.

Unlike many Western analysts, Michnik does not think that Solidarity went too far, too fast with its demands. He describes Solidarity as a ''self-limiting revolution.''

Nonetheless, Michnik is said to have urged caution on Solidarity. He acknowledges that the trade union ''incorporated all the good and bad sides . . . of a society which for 37 years had lived far removed from any democratic institutions; . . . a society that was being systematically deceived, imbecilized, and humiliated; a society which is simultaneously haunted and suspicious, in which honor, freedom, and solidarity pass as the highest values, and compromise is all too often equated with capitulation or resignation.''

In this environment the spontaneous social movement of Solidarity had no clear concept of how to proceed: ''It let itself be easily provoked to arguments over unimportant things; there were many false conflicts in it. . . .'' Solidarity was itself ''a colossus with feet of steel, but with hands of clay.''

Looking at the weaknesses of its adversary, however, Solidarity forgot that ''the communist system in Poland was a colossus with feet of clay, but with hands of steel.'' It forgot that despite all the weaknesses, an ''apparatus of force, untroubled by democratic corrosion, can be a useful instrument in the hands of a dictatorial power, especially in the hands of a dictatorship that finds the floor burning under its feet.''

In the beginning those who were ready to compromise constituted the majority in Solidarity. But they became frustrated as ''the party apparatus took every inclination to compromise as weakness'' and forced Solidarity to strike to gain anything.

Michnik draws some faint optimism from the conviction that bayonets can never ''wipe out the memory of 15 months of freedom from the memory of men.'' While there can be no final victory in Poland's centuries-long wrestling between ''truth and lies,'' ''freedom and violence,'' ''dignity and humiliation,'' he says, neither can there be any final defeat.

He welcomes moral support from the West - but not economic sanctions against Poland.

Finally, Michnik wishes his comrades ''much strength to be able to step through the darkness that lies between despair and hope. And also much patience, to learn the difficult art of forgiveness.''

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