Vienna — Public response to the Solidarity underground's bid to turn official Polish May Day rallies into occasions for antigovernment protest was not likely to rock the government.
But some political protest did spill onto the streets of Warsaw and a half dozen other Polish cities despite the official precautions and a parade of police strength.
The number of active, vocal participants was not great. And their protest was cut short when the police moved in, apparently with relative restraint.
The protest could not be read as having meaningful political strength behind it. But the demonstrators at least made their voices briefly heard on several sensitive issues - including that of political prisoners. It was surely an uncomfortable reminder to the authorities that Polish society has yet to be ''normalized,'' even under the ''moderate'' regime of Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski.
Western eyewitness accounts seem agreed that Tuesday's events were on a smaller scale than any others since martial law. The immense police presence was an obvious deterrent.
Moreover, the Solidarity underground itself was reportedly split between those who advocated infiltration of the official marches and those who believe street actions can no longer serve any useful purpose. The latter would seem to be the case. The government spokesman might well dismiss the May Day events as unimportant and as requiring no unduly tough police action.
But, whether protesters were counted in the hundreds in one city or in the thousands in another seems minor. An outlawed Solidarity retains the force to stir protest and belie the official endeavors to erase it as a name that continues to have a hold on many more Poles than those just who stand up to be counted.
Events in Gdansk showed the name of Walesa and what it stands for also refuse to go away despite the authorities' efforts to make the former union leader irrelevant to the post-martial law ''normalization'' process.
Fifteen years ago, Alexander Dubcek - another ''counterrevolutionary'' in the eyes of orthodox communists - was removed from party office in the wake of the Soviet intervention in Czechoslovakia. Almost at once he was thrust into a minor job, isolated, and effectively precluded from any political contact. ''Normalization'' in Prague has had no ''Dubcek problem'' since 1969.
The Warsaw authorities deny they have any ''Walesa problem.'' But he still is a thorn in the regime's side - one that seems likely to stick there as long as the regime's credibility remains so low.
It is significant that, when a group led by Walesa showed up in the thick of the official May Day celebration at Gdansk, the police reportedly swooped on supporters near him but left him alone.
Walesa may have no political importance in real terms today. But he still represents something, and his name is not to be so effectively expunged from the slate as was Mr. Dubcek's. That may reflect the difference between a ''moderate'' and a hard-line regime (as in Prague). But it must also be seen as a measure of the Solidarity ''continuity'' that the authorities have to reckon with.
For Poles May Day brings memories of another popular Polish occasion - the anniversary of the May 3, 1791, adoption of Poland's ''democratic'' constitution. Official ceremonies are lower-key affairs than the mass turnouts sought for May Day. In addition to a laying of flowers, there are speeches by officials.
The underground urged Solidarity followers to observe the day in a ''solemn and peaceful way'' by attending afternoon and evening masses being celebrated in many churches throughout Poland.