When Poles ask themselves what life will be like after martial law, few can be quite so pessimistic as the intellectuals.
They face the prospect that their professions may be eliminated or transformed beyond recognition. For them, martial law began when Polish Army troops stormed the Academy of Sciences Building in downtown Warsaw and herded many of Poland's most respected scholars into waiting trucks for transport to detention camps.
The decree of martial law has spared none of the professions open to intellectuals. An immediate result: theaters and film studios were shut down; universities were closed; state-owned publishing houses furloughed; newspapers put out of print; concert halls stilled. Thus the intellectual life of the country has disappeared from the public arena.
Judging from the rhetoric of the military regime, intellectuals will be singled out for repression after martial law is lifted. Blame for the ''excesses'' of Solidarity is assigned to union hotheads who incited workers and politically minded eggheads who guided them into the role of political opposition. Following this logic, any post-martial-law formula for governing is likely to keep the union leaders in jail and force the intellectuals out of their professions.
There is reason for this repression beyond the need for a scapegoat. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski and his council of military rulers wrested control of the country by force. Their agenda for the coming months will focus on relaxing restrictions without losing that control.
In the long run the intellectuals pose a great threat to that control. Their writings and works can undo the coercion of tanks and troops as readily as strikes and banners can. By his choice of repertoire even a concert pianist can stir the sentiments of an audience against the authorities.
The contrasting conditions of intellectuals in Czechoslovakia and Hungary illustrate the pivotal role intellectuals are thought to play in maintaining control. In Hungary, Janos Kadar has won stable control by building a healthy, prosperous economy while reassuring the Soviets that their geopolitical interests are protected. He can afford to give Hungarian intellectuals comparative freedom.
Czechoslovak leader Gustav Husak cannot afford to be so tolerant. His control has never been secured. The ''Prague spring'' of 1968 had none of the cathartic effect of the failed Hungarian revolt of 12 years earlier. It left a permanent discontent that requires vigilant control of the intellectual professions.
In Poland a pattern is taking shape. One by one the intellectual professions will resume under strict control and after thorough purges. Committees have been established, and the work of ideological verification - political vetting - has begun. Loyalty oaths are becoming the minimum precondition for preserving a professional future.
The universities are particularly hard hit. Thus far only a few technical institutes have opened for the spring term. The independent students' union has been abolished. No student organizations outside Communist Party control are to be tolerated in any foreseeable future.
The despair of Polish intellectuals was apparant in the recent petition signed by well over a hundred leading intellectual figures. Addressed to the Polish parliament and Archbishop Jozef Glemp, the petition called on the authorities to honor the country's international commitments to human rights by ending military rule.
In challenging the legality of the restrictions the petition bears a striking resemblance to Charter 77, the Czechoslovak petition that called the Husak regime in breach of the Helsinki Accords.
Two signers of the Polish petition are well known to Western audiences: Tadeusz Konwicki, whose novel ''The Polish Complex'' has just appeared in English; and Andrzej Wajda, whose film ''Man of Iron'' won the Golden Palm at the 1981 Cannes Festival.
Of the two signatures Wajda's seems more significant, simply because he stands to lose so much more. Konwicki has been blacklisted since the mid-1970s. His last two novels were published in samizdat - crude, clandestine productions. Wajda, on the other hand, had managed to stay in the good graces of all the regimes up until Jaruzelski took power.
It is reported that Wajda decided to sign the petition only after profound agonizing. His dilemma is the dilemma of the future for all Polish intellectuals , and his signature is a personal verdict that the future is empty.
Prior to the advent of Solidarity Wajda had his difficulties. He struggled with the Ministry of Culture and the Bureau of Censorship. Every victory was a compromise. Approval to shoot controversial scripts was given in return for willingness to film those more agreeable to the official line. Wajda lent the state-owned film industry his formidable reputation as a gifted director and brought hard currency to government coffers. In return he used the highest state-of-the-art facilities available in Poland.
The arrangement, reportedly, approached a breakdown in the mid-1970s during negotiations over ''Man of Marble,'' his film about disillusionment of a ''workers' hero'' in the 1950s. Wajda reportedly threatened to emigrate if he was not allowed to complete his film. Authorities gave in and the film was finished, notwithstanding a non sequitur ending imposed by the censor.
''Man of Iron'' was shot when Solidarity held the authorities at bay. It continues the story of ''Man of Marble,'' correcting the ending of the earlier film.
Set mostly in Gdansk during the strikes of August 1980, it includes documentary footage and a cameo appearance by union leader Lech Walesa playing himself. Now, seeing the film on American screens, one can sense Wajda's desire to complete the film before Solidarity might fold.
On Dec. 13 ''the balloon went up,'' as a member of the secret police says in Wajda's film, and the Solidarity umbrella came down. (Ironically, the actor who plays the secret police agent trying to frame and jail a Solidarity leader is among those jailed under martial law.)
When asked to sign the petition, Wajda could not have failed to consider the consequences. His signature could very well kill his chances to make films again. Perhaps he considers those chances nil.
Perhaps he considers them not worth preserving - any film agreeable to a post-martial-law regime would, presumably, be repugnant to him after his recent masterpiece. His decision to sign cannot have been an easy one.
When events in Poland finally are resolved, the Poles may follow the lead of the Czechs in setting their policy toward intellectuals. In that case Polish intellectuals will find themselves anathematized and then invited to emigrate.