Vienna — Despite the arrest of some 1,400 demonstrators May 3 and 4 and the reimposition of the martial-law curfew, the Polish government seems to be signaling it has not abandoned its hope for compromise and social understanding.
It is handing down relatively mild penalties to hundreds of those arrested. And it is continuing its talks with the Roman Catholic Church.
Some 100 of the demonstrators have already been given one- to three-month jail terms, and more than 350 others have received fines.
Communist Party Politburo member Kazimierz Barcikowski met May 5 with the archbishop of Krakow, Franciszek Cardinal Macharski. Their meeting in Krakow was at the suggestion of a meeting of the Roman Catholic Episcopate, which had gathered in nearby Jasna Gora with Archbishop Jozef Glemp following his recent conference with the Pope.
Mr. Barcikowski has been one of the outstanding figures in the party leadership since he emerged as a skilled negotiator during the 1980 crisis. A moderate, he is firmly identified with continuance of reform despite martial law. The cardinal has a comparable status within the church.
Monday's public outbreaks in Warsaw and other Polish cities apparently took both government and church authorities by surprise. Each obviously considered it necessary to move quickly to defuse the dangers of a bigger crisis.
Such a prompt resumption of top-level contacts will clearly do much to calm fears among moderates on all sides that the May 3-4 arrests and the reimposition of the curfew must mean a grave setback to hopes of dialogue at last between the authorities and the nation. Those hopes had been encouraged by the initial martial law concessions.
Despite the mild punishments meted out so far to the demonstrators, there may be heavier sentences for anyone singled out as an anticommunist ringleader allegedly intent on stirring things up. Vice-Premier Mieczyslaw Rakowski told parliament as much Monday.
But he seemed to be making a distinction between people who shouted provocative slogans or scuffled with the police and genuine Solidarity members and their public supporters. (Many of the demonstrators were obviously too young to be bona fide unionists.)
With the glass and debris being hastily cleared from Warsaw's Old Town Square , the authorities apparently saw an immediate need to assure Poles that discussion is to continue about both the future and issues like the trade unions.
The disturbances, in fact - whatever their degree of political undertone - may have served a useful purpose in drawing official attention to what independent observers saw as the essence of the problem long before martial law was imposed.
That is, that Solidarity, as a new kind of trade union in a communist-ruled society, is so deeply rooted in the public mind that it simply is not ''going to go away,'' even under the rigors of martial law.
The Warsaw branch of Solidarity was always more militantly ''political'' than most other major branches, like those in Lech Walesa's Baltic shipyards or in the coalfields.
Talking with many Gdansk workers only a few weeks ago, the writer found them quietly adamant that, whatever the final form or name of new unions, the restoration of Solidarity as an independent agent is a nonnegotiable prerequisite to get discussion started.
''After that we can talk about what it can do and what it cannot do,'' was a typical response. ''Whether Walesa will still lead or not - that's for us to decide - on the basis of our initial agreements.''
Other comments suggested that the union had become too involved in politics.
In the public mind the same deep feeling is generally evident. In broad outline, it reflects the kind of union Solidarity's massive grass roots and public opinion at large would probably settle for - given a fair and open chance to participate.
A depoliticized union that would be genuinely self-managing and independent of the government was envisioned in draft legislation last year when a row broke out over qualifications on the right to strike. The imposition of martial law Dec. 13 closed the discussion.
Since then, a respected Roman Catholic lay group has elaborated a far-reaching ''social platform'' embracing reform and responsibility for Solidarity and all branches of society.
It has the backing of the episcopate. It was delivered to martial law chief Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski shortly after Easter.The government has yet to react publicly. But the follow-up to Monday's violence suggests that the general's view is not unfavorable to the document, at least as a relevant part of a start to discussion.