Polish authorities have reimposed restrictions in the wake of widespread popular demonstrations in Poland. But they are now face to face with a hard truth: after almost five months Poles have lost their fear of martial law and are no longer unwilling to demonstrate their discontent with the communist party and their support of the suspended trade union Solidarity. Martial law, in other words, has solved nothing. The deep cleavage between government and people remains.
Now the question is whether the Jaruzelski regime at long last will have the gumption to put a solid reform program on the table and engage the Polish people in that long-awaited national dialogue. That it has not done so thus far points to its internal weakness and lack of imagination.
The marches and clashes which swept across Poland, touching nine major cities , should make the communist authorities think again.They certainly cannot blame the West or ''antisocialist forces,'' inasmuch as the military was in control. The fact is, Solidarity has not been shattered, though its top leaders are in jail. There clearly is organization at lower levels, with communication and interaction between cities, towns, factories. Especially sobering to the regime is the fact that so many young people joined the demonstrations, pointing up again that socialism is not winning converts in the generation which will one day govern Poland.
General Jaruzelski can go on ruling by force, of course. But what will this say of the future of the socialist system, already so discredited? How can the government ever rally Poles for economic and social tasks without a reasonable political accommodation?
The problem is that the martial law regime does not know where it is going. With the Soviet Union and Polish party hard-liners at their backs, General Jaruzelski and other ''moderates'' seem to want to deal with everyone but Lech Walesa and other Solidarity leaders. Yet Solidarity has proved it is a force that must be reckoned with. Nor have Jaruzelski and Co. come out with a specific formula and tried to sell it to the opposition. Poles doubtless are disappointed in General Jaruzelski, who seemed to show some understanding of the workers' movement in its early days but who has not emerged as a strong, innovative leader.
Quite possibly the general and his allies are having trouble getting a program by the ambitious hard-liners in the party Central Committee. No doubt they fear being thrown out of power. But it is clear they will have to take the risk of bolder political action if they are to lift Poland out of its difficulties. They could, for instance, put forward a plan for a national accord and then push a discussion of it at grassroots levels -- in factories, universities, farms -- in an effort to mobilize public opinion. If the program seeks a middle ground, if it is reasonable and fair enough -- and has the tacit backing of the Roman Catholic Church -- it is possible Poles will press Solidarity to compromise and thus stop union radicals from again demanding more than the party will accept.
This may be grasping at straws. Winning the Polish people's trust after all that has taken place seems nigh impossible. But General Jaruzelski would seem to have little choice. Without a political solution, there will be repeated popular upheavals, the economy will continue to languish, and Poland can only look forward to more economic and political instability. The alternative is to win the Poles' cooperation by demonstrating a willingness to give them back something of what they have so tragically lost.
Can General Jaruzelski rise to the occasion? Or does his courage lie only in his guns?