Warsaw — As May Day came and went, it appeared that the massive police presence deployed by the regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski had paid off in this city: Major confrontation was averted here.
But a quite different story was being told from other cities, according to Poland's state television. It reported - as summarized by Reuters - that pro-Solidarity demonstrations were held in 20 cities and towns, with some marked by violent clashes.
The televised report showed youthful demonstrators throwing stones at police in two cities while police responded with water cannon and tear gas.
Additionally, Reuters reported from Gdansk, birthplace of the Solidarity movement, that thousands of demonstrators left the government parade there and joined an unofficial rally. After police charges, many sections of the Old City were said to have reeked of tear gas.
But Warsaw had awakened to a sunny May Day - and a massive array of the government's security forces on the streets.
The official parade - which stepped off in midmorning with General Jaruzelski , the Communist Party chief and prime minister, walking at its head - lasted well into the afternoon. But it marched in a highly un-holiday silence except for the drums and brass of a few bands that struck up from time to time.
The occasion was much too heavily overlaid by the ubiquitous antiriot police and other security forces for there to be any holiday atmosphere as such.
That was obviously what the government intended: The show of strength was adequate for use, should significant numbers of Poles turn out to support the underground opposition's counterdemonstration for the outlawed Solidarity union and for the release of political detainees.
The previous night television viewers were bombarded with film of clashes between French students and Paris police. There were few such clashes in Warsaw on May Day.
The police clearly had orders to restrict access to the Castle Square area, which the underground had made the rallying point for a rival demonstration. Although the regime's earlier request that church services be delayed until later in the day had been rebuffed, there was no interference with access to the churches. As congregations left, they and the many bystanders outside were ''encouraged'' to move away.
In one ugly instance near the cathedral water cannon and batons were used, and a number of arrests made.
But in two hour-long tours of the area, this reporter saw only a few other incidents. Some involved scores of young people, others involved a few hundred. They whistled and jeered at the police and shouted, ''May Day is our holiday'' and ''Walesa, Walesa.'' The groups dispersed when police vehicles moved toward them.
Some onlookers chanted religious songs. Others applauded ironically as police vehicles drove by. But that was about all.
By and large the May Day celebration passed with the order and quiet General Jaruzelski presumably had in mind in the 10-minute speech with which he sent the official parade on its way.
''If, in the coming days and months,'' he said, ''there are no disturbances and peace is consolidated, a realistic possibility will emerge for lifting martial law and adopting follow-up actions and moves.''
The general's time frame, of course, extends beyond the visit Pope John Paul II is scheduled to make to his homeland some six weeks hence. Jaruzelski's statement appears to confirm what one of his closest aides had said recently: that the general intended to complete the dismantling of martial law before the end of summer.
The proviso is that the country's present appearance of outward calm and order is maintained and the papal visit permitted to progress in a dignified manner free of political disturbance or efforts to use it politically.
The underground opposition has said there would be no call for political protest while the Pope is on Polish soil. And such protest is unlikely. But the underground's failure or inability, given the government's threatened counteraction, to secure more open support for its May Day call makes any protest during the Pope's visit even less likely.
The question of amnesty is bound to come up in talks between the Polish leaders and Pope John Paul in June. Machinery for amnesty already exists. And recently it was reported that of a thousand requests for clemency, about half had been favorably ruled on by the Council of Ministers.
Both Pope John Paul and Poland's primate, Jozef Cardinal Glemp, have repeatedly called on the government to amnesty all of the 2,000 to 3,000 union activists and others imprisoned for political offenses under martial law. If calm is maintained throughout the country, there might be at least a speeding up of the amnesty process.
On returning here after an absence of several months, one has an impression that the government has gained more control over the situation, although neither politically nor economically is there any sign of real change for the better.
Some branches of the economy continue to make slow gains. But last year's spurt in coal production seems for the moment to have leveled off. Rationed goods are available, but the lines are long for clothing and shoes. Other consumer items are in even shorter supply.
As for politics, apathy is more noticeable to an observer than the gains hopefully asserted by General Jaruzelski in a speech Saturday. The party may be inculcating a stronger sense of purpose among its rank and file, but the public attitude does not reflect it.
Sunday's official parade - which stretched on for 41/2 hours - resulted from an effort to ''get out the crowd.'' The silent onlookers who lined the sidewalks - and sometimes ironically applauded the police - seemed to symbolize continued passive resistance or mere indifference.