Primary Sources

Preparing for Martial Law in Poland


In August 1980, a worker's strike began in Gdansk, Poland in reaction to the struggling economy and massive shortages. In a compromise to resolve the strike, the Communist government legalized Solidarity, but this only increased tensions as the shortages failed to improve. Imports from the Soviet Union and the West failed to improve the economy, with more strikes becoming endemic throughout 1980 and 1981. By December 1981, the Polish Communist Party had been convinced by its Soviet allies to declare martial law in order to restore order and crackdown on Solidarity. In this summary of "Operation X" (martial law), the Soviet Politburo was briefed on Wojciech Jaruzelski's, the Polish Party Secretary, plans. Interestingly, Jaruzelski intends to make an appeal to the public to accept martial law with a reminder of the national hero Marshall Pilsudski, who famously defeated the Soviet Union in a brief war in 1920-21.


Leonid Brehnev, "On the Question of the Situation in Poland," 10 December 1981, Cold War International History Project, Virtual Archive, CWIHP (accessed May 14, 2008).

Primary Source—Excerpt

RUSAKOV. The day before yesterday they had a conference of secretaries from the provincial committees. ...the secretaries of the provincial committees are completely baffled by Jaruzelski's speech, which did not present a clear, straightforward line. No one knows what will happen over the next few days. There was a conversation about "Operation X." At first, they said it would be on the night of 11-12 December, and then this was changed to the night of the 12th and 13th. And now they're already saying it won't be until around the 20th. What is envisaged is that the chairman of the State Council, Jablonski, will appear on radio and television and declare the introduction of martial law. At the same time, Jaruzelski said that the law on the introduction of martial law can be implemented only after it is considered by the Sejm, and the next session of the Sejm is not scheduled until 15 December. Thus, everything has become very complicated. The agenda of the Sejm has already been published, and it makes no mention of the introduction of martial law. But even if the government does intend to introduce martial law, Solidarity knows this very well and, for its part, has been preparing all necessary measures to cope with that.

Jaruzelski himself says that he intends to deliver an address to the Polish nation. But in his address he won't be speaking about the party. Instead he will appeal to Polish nationalist sentiments. Jaruzelski has talked about the need to proclaim a military dictatorship, of the sort that existed under Pilsudski. He indicated that the Poles will accept this more readily than something else.

How to Cite this Source

Leonid Brezhnev, "Preparing for Martial Law in Poland," Making the History of 1989, Item #269, (accessed May 28 2021, 3:27 pm).

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