This appeal for workers’ inquiries was published in the Polish radical newspaper Przedświt in May 1886. Edited by Mendelson in Geneva, the paper frequently advertised an 1881 ‘Kwestyjonaryjusz Robotniczy’, and the appeal below makes reference to questionnaires in contemporary circulation. Also included in this section is the response of a worker, using the alias Wola, to pre-existing appeals for inquiry, detailing the conditions and political realities of six different workplaces in Poland. Translated into English by Maciej Zurowski.

For Comrades

Our journal, Przedświt, has a dual purpose, addressing two types of readers. On the one hand, we want to draw the attention of the workers to their plight, point to them the way to liberate themselves from the oppression of capital and thus become the warriors of the social revolution, as it were. This aspect of Przedświt’s influence might be regarded as the preliminary groundwork. The idea is to provoke thought, stimulate minds, call the attention of the worker, awaken him from the sleep into which poverty and oppression have lulled him. However, we cannot content ourselves with this objective. It is not sufficient to make others think – we also need to educate ourselves further, develop and refine our ideas, enrich ourselves with knowledge. It is not enough to be aware of evil, it is not enough to understand that we live in poverty, and it is not even enough to know that socialism is the path to liberation. Beyond all this, we need to familiarise ourselves with today’s [political and economic] order in its entirety: we need to expose the secrets of all the swindles by which they keep the people in bondage. We all understand, after all, that in order to defeat an enemy, we need to know him well: we need to know where to strike him and what force to use. In other words, we must try to get to know today’s social system in all its complexities and familiarise ourselves with all forms of oppression.

That, however, is not enough. True, we need to monitor the dirty machinations of the capitalists, but this knowledge alone will not suffice. Take the example of a teacher who wants to educate a child: first he will need to get to know the child, learn what its weaknesses and inclinations are. He will follow every step, every move of the child entrusted to him. If he observes something particular about the child, he has to get to the bottom of it – i.e. he has to find out what causes the child’s behaviour. In short, he has to familiarise himself with the child’s personality traits.

We need to proceed in the exact same fashion. Once we have acquainted ourselves with the different forms of oppression that capital imposes on labour, we must familiarise ourselves with the basis of today’s relations and determine what constitutes their character. And what else is the basis of today’s social relations if not the prevailing organisation of work? The more we look at the present organisation of work, the more we find that it is a rather unproductive form of work organisation, because today human labour is governed by the speculation of individual capitalists. Thus acquainted with the oppression to which the worker is subjected – that is, the exploitation of labour by capital – we can also see that there is today a disorder of work instead of work organisation. This is also what gives rise to crises, etc. This last circumstance has a twofold significance for us: today’s chaos is the cause of many a misfortune that afflicts the working people. To learn about this chaos is therefore to learn about the causes of our misery. There is another use we can draw from its study, though: by examining the chaos and understanding its causes, we inadvertently arrive at ideas that indicate how work should be organised, what should be done, and how it should be done so that a genuine, universally useful organisation of work can emerge in the place of the chaos in which work is steeped today. In other words, our examination will teach us how to build the structure of social relations in the future, ensuring that it is based on equality, freedom and justice.

So, as you see, comrades, the task before us is twofold: we have to inspire and encourage the masses of workers to reflect upon their fate, but we have to improve and educate ourselves too. We must educate and improve ourselves so we can tear down the present order and build a better social system in its place.

As a matter of fact, comrades, I do not believe that these tasks are the responsibility of scholars. They are the workers’ own responsibility. Admittedly, there are scholars who look at things impartially and tell us honestly what they see, but most scholars do not live up to that task. They constitute a group of servants who live off profits and are therefore concerned only with how to preserve the present state of affairs. Having merged with the ruling class, they only serve that class, not the truth. During the reign of the aristocratic class, intellectuals defended the aristocrats, but when the capitalists took the helm of government, all that serves power began to side with them. Now that the liberation of the working people is on the agenda, the working people themselves should take care of it. Once they have gained in strength, once they have prepared themselves sufficiently to assert their rights, then oh! – we shall not lack anything.

And please do not assume that this is something outside the powers of the worker. No! The course of historical developments alone will make your task easier. In the past, when small workshops were the norm, the foreman kept his secrets to himself. Today it is a different matter, since everything is in the hands of the workers. The old mysteries of the foremen have sunk into the machines that the workers create and with which they work. Moreover, in the past it was difficult for workers to come together and communicate. Today, the development of industry is bringing you together, concentrating you in big workplaces; all you need to do is communicate with each other. In the past, high walls divided one craft from another, and guild laws were strictly observed. Today, all the crafts are merging into a single whole, and every separate craft is broken up again into fractions, and it embraces ever greater masses of workers. In short, nothing is a secret from today’s workers. The factory is a big, open book – you only have to read it, and you will understand what it is that ails you, and what you have to do to change things for the better.

Abroad, in countries where the working people have obtained consciousness sooner than in ours, it is superfluous to speak of a need for workers to become acquainted with the present state of things. Suffice it to say that when governments make so-called surveys1 on the state of industry, etc., the workers are called upon to voice their opinions. And the masters of capital, who rule everything and only reluctantly admit workers to the polls, have nonetheless more than once had to concede that workers possess a great knowledge of things, and good sense too. In Belgium, for example, where there have recently been major riots, the workers, when questioned by police commissioners, gave answers that demonstrated an immeasurable knowledge. In our country, unfortunately, the workers are not yet so well informed. And that is why we need to work all the more. Those who have the people’s cause at heart will work with redoubled energy to bring closer the moment when labour can emerge victorious from its struggle against capital.

It is for this purpose that we are addressing you today, comrades. We are pointing to the importance of consciousness, i.e. the task of a deep and serious understanding of the current state of affairs – and we urge you to get to work, which will facilitate and prepare the victory of the social revolution.

For the reluctant and unwilling, we shall merely point to the example set by the capitalists. Even though they rule the world today, capitalists never stop looking for ways to increase their power. Today they are investigating how to improve the tools of the trade, tomorrow they will be exploring ways to replace workers with machines; the next day they will be looking for new markets for their products – or rather, for the products they have appropriated – and so on. And we are supposed to fold our arms and confine ourselves to general grievances? No, we must get down to work! At first, we need to collect the material on which we can base serious indictments against the prevailing order. Then we need to equip ourselves with the means by which we can destroy the present system and with the necessary knowledge to create a better one. To achieve this, it is essential that we work conscientiously and according to a plan. Let each of us draw up a questionnaire, i.e. a series of questions to which we shall seek answers. If each one of us works in this way, we can build an edifice of knowledge from tiny blocks – workers’ knowledge, knowledge of the prevailing oppression and of the need for a better social order. And when information on all that exists is gathered from all parts of our country and then reaches the working class, there will be a universal uproar of protest – and the moment when the people assert their rights will draw nearer.

The kind of questionnaires we are talking about have already been circulated around the country more than once: one of them was even printed. Przedświt will issue a new questionnaire soon. But whoever does not have a printed questionnaire, let him compose one himself. Let everyone write down how many people work in this or that factory; how much each category of worker is paid; how they are paid; what the health conditions are in the factory (on the premises etc.); what the rules at work are; how they are handled; what the working hours are; what the situation is with respect to night work, Sunday work, women’s and children’s work. Then everyone should write down how the workers of this trade or the other live; what the cost of housing is; food (bread, meat, etc.), clothing; whether their wives and children work. In short, describe the worker’s life at home and at work. Finally, let them add whether there are strikes in their town and what results they wield; what kind of incidents occur between workers and landlords or caretakers; what abuses there are, etc. If this work is carried out conscientiously, it will make for a good start.

As you see, the task is not difficult, and you probably realise how great its benefits will be. By gathering this kind of information from all over the country, we will create a knot that will unite all Polish workers into one whole. So let us get to work! Let everyone try to do their best and as much as they can. It is enough if you just send us the facts, and we at Przedświt will try to arrange them into a concise whole. For today, we are quoting a single letter from Poznan. A lot is missing from this letter. Each of you, reading this letter, will realise that it does not give a complete picture of the life of a worker. So try to fill in the blanks and do better. The beginning is the most difficult, and today we can only thank the author for making a start and giving us a range of information.

Attention. Please send letters using the address of Przedświt. Write to :
Imprimerie polonaise
7, Route de Carouge
Geneve – Suisse
There are other ways to send letters from the Kingdom of Poland, though of course we cannot write about them publicly.

Poznan, May 1886

Due to the banishment decrees, I cannot write to you about the success of the Przedświt appeal; nor can I tell you publicly how the ranks of our small band are growing. Let this last fact simply be confirmed by one symptom: following your advice, we have started to collect data on the life of workers, their working conditions and so on. You have to admit that this is a significant step forward. Perhaps for the first time, the Polish workers in the Principality are beginning to realise what they are putting on the altar of patriotism – capitalist patriotism, to be precise.

But let us get to the facts – as of today, from Poznan.

The factory of the Zeyland company (Meblo etc.). The manufacturer Zeyland has been nicknamed ‘the disgusting one’, so great is his fame among the working population of our city. Let us add that he rightfully deserves this nickname: for not only has he slashed prices, but wages as well. The workers in his factory work piecemeal and earn 8–12 marks per week. However, it often happens that one, two, three or many workers go home on a Saturday with earnings of only 6–7 marks in their pockets. If anyone happens to get a lot of work one week and earns, say, 15 marks, he will not get it a second time, because he has earned ‘too much’. The next time, someone else will get the extra work, and for a lower wage too.

The ‘healthcare’ is a so-called governmental fund. Workers enrolled in this scheme belong to the third class.

The following incident testifies to the kind of terrorism that reigns in this factory. Citizen Wichrzycki, who had been employed at the factory for a long time, was accused of ‘pride’ by the factory foreman Hildebrandt. In reality, this is what happened: Wichrzycki, who had already worked a lot in the big cities, did not possess the humility that unfortunately still exists in smaller towns. Eventually it came to a dispute between Wichrzycki and Hildebrandt, in which the carpenter Kulka also took part. Still on the same day, a paternal decree from Mr Zeyland was placed in Kulka’s workshop, stating that Wichrzycki and Kulka, because they were mutineers, could go to prison and be expelled from the country. At the same time, they were not allowed to go back to their workplace. When Wichrzycki and Kulka demanded to speak to Zeyland, a policeman appeared instead, summoning them to the police commissioner. The latter commenced his work, but neither Wichrzycki nor Kulka let themselves be frightened. It is only a pity that they complied with the commissioner’s summons in the first place because it was unlawful. In the end, Wichrzycki and Kulka themselves demanded to be dismissed from the factory.

The factory of the Cegielski company. In October 1885, this factory still employed 300 workers. Soon afterwards they began to sack people due to the reduced number of orders. By the time of the New Year holidays, 100 had been fired. Thus, workers who had wasted seven, ten or 17 years at Cegielski suddenly lost their jobs. Among others, the blacksmith Kolasiewicz, who had worked at the Factory for 17 years, was sacked. He was accused of no longer being “as strong as when he was young” and of “sometimes falling ill”. Anyway, it is the blacksmiths of the factory who have had more than one run-in with foreman Litowski, a true pillar of the Orędownik and the so-called third estate.2 Give that our third estate is not very strong, however, the blacksmiths have to use their hard-earned money to pay Mr Litkowski for beer, etc, which serves to ‘fortify’ him.

Earnings at the factory range from 7–15 marks per week. Conditions have deteriorated considerably since the New Year. Working hours are from 8 in the morning until 4 in the evening.

Health insurance is factory-based – you pay 54 pfennigs a week. In case of illness 12 trojaks (1 mark 20 pfennig) are paid out daily. Third-class government insurance is 14 pfennigs, and the daily salary paid out in case of illness is 80 pfennigs. In case of death, both kinds of insurance pay out 64 marks.

The Katz and Kutner shoe factory is also notable for driving down wages. The workers are paid per piece, but so little that they earn between 8 and 10 marks for 11 hours of work per day. Moreover, the factory owners prefer to give them work and send them home to do it there. Sometimes it happens that a worker gets a job in the evening and is expected to complete it by the following morning. The workshops of these gentlemen are so dark that your eyesight will fail you, and under these circumstances errors are unavoidable. Even so, money is sometimes deducted from worker’s wages for ‘non-accuracy’. Mr Katz and Mr Kutner have yet another bad habit: they provide poor material. When the customer returns shoes for repair, the worker must pay a penalty and do the repair for free. Countless workers have been victimised by these kind of abuses. Health insurance is governmental; workers belong to the third class. In spite of the fact that the law sets the workers’ contributions at 14 pfennigs, the foreman Szriwer makes them pay 15 pfennigs. Another kind of abuse comes in the shape of the following fraud: Messrs Katz and Pies, who have an arrangement to exploit workers’ wages, have only eight apprentices working in their workshop – the rest of them work from home. Katz and Pies make the latter pay the full contribution to the health insurance fund, i.e. 21 pfennigs, despite the fact that the law requires the factory owners to pay one third, i.e. 8 pfennigs. As far as workshop facilities are concerned, it must be noted that there is no drinking water there, and the workers have to walk at least 100 steps to get a drink, which takes a lot of time.

Humel’s bookbinding workshop is so dark that you have to turn on the light in the daytime to see what you are doing. Moreover, it is damp and cramped. The courtyard is only seven metres long and eight metres wide. There are toilets in the courtyard, which are constructed in a very primitive way, and the smelly air comes in through the windows into the hole called the workshop. Wages are about 9–12 marks per week.

The shoemaker Skoraczewski has three apprentices whom he makes work from 6 am to 10 pm without any breaks, and whom he beats mercilessly. If one of the apprentices earns ‘too much’, money is deducted from his wages to rectify this! Wages are per piece; weekly earnings are 7–12 marks. The esteemed gaffer is sometimes not content with this policy, so he tears the heels off the finished piece of work, orders it to be done again, and ‘deducts’ from the earnings. Mr Gaffer wants a ‘third’ estate and is a veritable pillar of the Orędownik. Health insurance is governmental; workers belong to the third class.

Urbanowski’s machine manufacturing plant employs around 80 people. This year’s crisis, however, is hardly giving the workers anything to do; they are working from 8am to 4pm, but sometimes only four hours a day. The company’s health insurance is divided into three classes. In the first class the contribution is 25 pfennigs, the payout 7 marks and 50 pfennigs per week; in the second class 20 pfennigs contribution and 5 marks payout; in the third class 15 pfennigs contribution and 3 marks 50 pfennigs payout. Urbanowski regards himself as the father of the workers: he taunts them, calls them idiots, etc. – and at times he hits them too. Sadly, our people are so badly enslaved that they endure all this with humility.

I will give more details in a future letter.


  1. These so-called ‘surveys’ are in fact investigations. In social matters, governments or even private companies (for example, manufacturers’ associations) organise surveys, i.e. investigations into these or those aspects of social life. There are also surveys on women’s and children’s work, surveys on the state of industry, etc. In Warsaw, the society for the support of industry, composed of capitalists and farmers, also organises a survey, because in order to maximise profits from their capital, they need to know the state of the country, etc – original note 

  2. Orędownik: Polish-language periodical (journal) published in Poznan between 1871 and 1939. Created as a journal for the petty bourgeoisie, the paper dealt mainly with political and social issues, adhering strictly to the principles of Roman Catholicism – Translator 



Przedświt was a radical socialist Polish journal, edited by Stanisław Mendelson in Geneva.