Insider's view--faltering economy could prolong martial law in Poland

Poles will have to get used to living under some form of martial law for the foreseeable future--even though some day-to-day restrictions are likely to be modified.

Similarly, the ''hard core'' of the current internees face prolonged detention--even though total numbers of those detained will probably continue to decline.

Only a dramatic and unexpected change in the situation here would alter this rigorous assessment, given to this correspondent during a high-level, wide-ranging review of Polish affairs. Neither the authorities nor the people are counting on any such sudden change.

Indeed, no one is daring to make even a long-range projection of when the country's tottering economy might show signs of revival; and that is perhaps the most crucial element in the whole crisis.

Apparently the members of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski's regime here can envision only the most gradual climb back to normality. One gets the impression they feel they have brought the ship back to something of an even keel, but they are aware it would not take much to blow it over again.

Meanwhile, they are cautiously playing for time and defending their record so far--as other assertions made during this review indicate:

* The state of emergency has attained its first goal. In the government view, the danger of confrontation, ''counterrevolution,'' and civil conflict has been removed. Order and a level of labor discipline has been restored. For the first time since 1980 the rate of industrial decline is showing signs of slowing down.

* No early headway toward agreement on the structure and charter of a revived trade union movement is anticipated. It is said openly that despite numerous official contacts with Solidarity activists--both in internment and outside--no progress has been made toward even a minimal accord that could serve as a basis for substantive talks.

Meanwhile, despite Archbishop Jozef Glemp's appeal for their early release, many internees appear set for a lengthy period in detention. This includes the Solidarity leadership, other principal activists, and their dissident political advisers. About half of those initially detained have now been released.

* The government claims that in numerous warnings throughout 1981 it had hinted that it might resort to martial law. But it asserts that it did not decide to do so until the ''very last moments.'' And there is continued resentment of the ''instant'' assumptions by many in the West that martial law was imposed on the Polish nation at Russian behest. Officials bristle at suggestions that the Soviets were consulted before the event.

''Martial law was a self-decision--a decision made by Poles,'' this writer was told firmly.

The same source said Poland's major ally was informed of that decision at the latest possible moment. Moreover, this senior source asserted forcefully, ''If our (the government's) warnings had been taken more seriously, maybe this decision would not have come about. Even after Radom we hoped the union would pull back from its extreme positions.''

(Radom was the site of a Solidarity meeting last December at which union radicals forced through a motion threatening a general strike against the authorities' request for legislative curbs on industrial action.)

''The primate had warned Solidarity the situation was worsening,'' the source continued. ''This was the moment when it still was possible to avoid martial law. It is not we who are guilty--simply that we were not taken seriously.''

All that, of course, is a matter of history. Today's question is: What next?

Many Poles seem to have given up asking it. And the authorities are seen as offering little but generalities in reply, together with a process recalling last year's endless debates.

Parliament, for instance, is soon to legislate on reforms that--on the face of it--should put the private farm sector in better heart. But on the equally sensitive issue of unions, the authorities offer only broad postulates about ''independent self-governance''--and intimations of the kind of unions they are not prepared to consider.

The essential argument turns on structure. It will provoke the strongest objections from Solidarity at large as well as its interned leaders. The government is adamant there will be no return to the regional structure on which the union was founded and through which it developed into a social movement of tremendous popular appeal and power.

''We recognize that the unions of the '80s must be different from those of pre-August 1980,'' this writer's high-level source said. ''Independent . . . self-managing. . . . We can agree that they should have control functions (i.e., in economic fields over which Solidarity battled for wide watchdog participation with government agencies). We will not, however, agree to any regional structure , and they (Solidarity) so far remain attached to that concept.''

Martial law is in its fourth month, and the government seems reconciled to a long haul. It is counting on a broad national rethinking of the problems and conflicts within Poland before definitive programs can be undertaken.

Officials answer suggestions that the present ''discussion'' processes are one-sided (because the other party's hands are tied by internment, nonaccess to the news media, and so on) by saying that Solidarity, too, ''should have more time.''

''They are not yet ready for cooperation, and today - at this juncture--we are not partners. They were threatening the demolition of our state and there still are indications that they are ready to reject the former policy.''

There seems a reluctance to acknowledge that Lech Walesa is central to any consideration of the unions, at least at the outset.

The point was made by Archbishop Glemp in his sermon in a Warsaw suburb Sunday. He welcomed the release of some 3,000 internees so far and urged that the remainder, including Mr. Walesa, be freed. He said Walesa ''must be a central figure in the endeavor for national agreement and conciliation.''

The immediate outlook is bleak, however, even though there is no significant evidence of organized underground opposition. A message purportedly from Zbigniew Bujak, one of the union's committee militants who is still at large, urges Solidarity members to participate in the discussion on the future unions.

But how far can discussion go when most of Solidarity's national leadership remains in custody?

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