Here I assume that work traditions are everything preserved and handed down from one generation to another concerning labor: its descriptions, evaluation, and significance in reference both to individuals and to the whole society. Most of these testimonies, even the earliest, are still actual in spite of considerable historical and social changes. It is also understandable that, depending on the time that has passed and on the regions of Poland, there have been considerable changes not only in terms of quality or content of the views concerning labor, but also in reference to the number of people committed to these views. Nevertheless, even if contemporary sociological analyses -- although far from perfect -- are made in this domain, research concerning the history of this problem is very scarce in Poland. Certain factors remain to be clarified both in the history of Polish culture and today.

Materials for analyzing the Polish tradition on work, as in the case of other cultures, can be found in very numerous and diverse sources. All have not been suitably analyzed nor has attention always been paid to the problems in which we are interested. These sources -- stemming from various historical epochs -- were initially chronicles and other monuments of Polish historiography, sermons and lives of the Saints. Later on, they were joined by theological and philosophical treatises, as well as by various social programs. Also in literature -- in poetry, drama, and prose -- there are many remarks, sometimes very meaningful, concerning labor. Huge resources of thought about labor are to be found in journalistic writings of the last two centuries. Even if these writings were strongly conditioned by the place and time of their creation, often they afford more general reflections. The activity of the Polish Church, documented by numerous enunciations, especially during the last one hundred years, is also a rich source of thought about labor. Finally, since the middle of the XIXth century in Poland there has been an unusual abundance of scientific works concerning such domains as economy, sociology, ergonomics, and praxeology.

Changes in the intensity of the occurrence of the problem of labor in written documents depend on changes in Poland’s internal and external situation. Thus in striving at social and economic reforms and at the amelioration of the situation of lower social layers of peasants and townsmen -- whether in terms of the country’s internal situation, or of striving at state and national revival in response of external threats -- there has always been attention to labor, stressing its significance and value.

Nevertheless, the question of labor, even if present throughout history in all expressions of Polish culture, does not yet play a leading role, except for some short periods, especially during the last two centuries. This state of affairs converges with a general trend in the European culture, where work acquires extremely great importance only in some periods and only in some Protestant societies.




In Poland work obviously was related to the course of history and to geopolitical location of the country. Placed at the crossroads of the expansion of European and extraeuropean powers -- German, Mongolian, and later also Russian, Turkish, Swedish, and Austrian -- Poland manifests above all its military work, being proud since a certain period of its position of the bulwark of Christianity? Also although we do not know what is cause and what effect, an exceptionally high proportion of the population belonged to the szlachta, that is, nobility or knightly stratum. This group is several times (even as much as ten times, in comparison to France) more numerous than the nobility of other European states.

Medieval Polish chronicles, in accord with the general traditions of Mediterranean culture, recorded the legendary beginning of the Polish state and the origin of the first historical royal dynasty -- the Piasts. In the course of time the name Piasts became a common name for rulers of native descent, in contrast to those who came from abroad. After the unjust king Popiel was dismissed by a revolt of his subjects (VIIth-VIIIth century), as the founder of a new dynasty which reigned until the middle of the XIVth century, there was chosen a poor craftsman, Piast the Wheelwright. More recently historians tend to assume that his name Piast comes from the function that he had in the court of the former ruler: piastun, a caretaker or guardian of the princely sons. The universality of this legend proves, on the one hand, the sense of democracy, even an anti-aristocratic attitude. On the other hand, and of the utmost importance here, is that it testifies to a very high evaluation of human labor, especially of physical labor. It is to be noted that the last ruler of Poland from this dynasty, Casimir the Great, was also called the king of peasants, for in the face of the expansion of privileges of the nobility and the loss of rights by the peasants he defended the latter.

The main interest of the chroniclers was in actions that led to defense of the state against alien powers and to its expansion; hence these concern the intensification of military power. However, both chronicles and other historical sources stressed also other activities directed at expanding the wealth of the state, the society, and particular citizens. Kings such as Bolesław the Valiant, Casimir the Renewer, Casimir the Great, and also numerous magnates, bishops, and abbots, and in the cities patricians and the many "workers" deserve the gratitude of their descendants due to their application to work.

Deepening and consolidating the social inequality expressed in the political, legal, and financial status of particular social strata, as well as the division of labor associated therewith, evoked a certain kind of ideology. To justify this division writers reached for alleged religious justifications, derived from the Old Testament. For instance Maciej Stryjkowski (second half of the XVIth century) in his chronicle claims that such a division has a very noble tradition, going as far as to the times of Noah who thus assigned tasks to his sons, laying foundations of social stratification: Tu Sem ora, Cham labora, Japhet rege et protege ("You, Sem, pray; you Cham, work; and you, Japhet, reign and defend"). That social divisions and the division of tasks results from both divine and natural law remained in the social consciousness for centuries.

The postulated and factually implemented division of work resulting in the lower social strata, peasants and townsmen being assigned worse, that is, manual, work, whereas upper layers were supposed to undertake more noble occupations. This did not mean that szlachta and aristocracy were to sink into stagnation and laziness. Models of life propagated in the Middle Ages and later, especially in historical moments decisive for the nation, were far from apotheoses of idleness. Of course, there was an gap between the postulated and the factual way of life. Yet this state of affairs contributed to the currency of rather abundant literature blaming laziness and advising application to work.

Industriousness was advised for many reasons. One of them saw laziness as a source of moral vices, as a source of sin against God and people. Industriousness was also referred to love of the fatherland, and to care of the common good. Looking after the common, not only the individual, welfare, after the country’s safety, and after growth of the native culture was considered nobility of the spirit. Hence came praise of those who raised cities, castles, and churches, who by their efforts, wealth, and wise command contributed to the growth of the country’s civilization and culture.

This praise was also reflected by dominant tendencies in the theology and philosophy of that time. According to historians of science, the main motives for founding Krakw University were practical, that is, educating people needed to administer the country which was one of the most dynamic and increasingly powerful states of that time. That is why Krakow University stressed above all law and medicine, as well as the other liberal arts. To a lesser extent the theoretical and speculative domains were developed, in other words, those related to contemplation; human praxis was considered more important. In the domain of philosophy and theology we see the greatest development in ethics, and most of all in analyzing social and moral phenomena. This set of questions dominates Polish philosophy and theology to this day. In that history of Polish moral and social thought stand out Paweł Włodkowic (XVth century), on the one hand, and Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the former Primate of Poland, and Karol Wojtyła-John Paul II, on the other. The space between them contains the whole pleiad of illustrious persons stemming from all social layers, from peasants and townsmen to aristocrats or even rulers of Poland (king Stanisław Leszczyński), of artists and savants, of representatives of the clergy, of social reformers and politicians. They contributed to enriching the spirit and to multiplying the common good. These questions of human action and creativity, of moral and social values seem characteristic for Polish culture and the Polish tradition of philosophical and theological thought.

The views on labor found in the various sources intermingle distinct traditions, which also is in accord with the more general situation of European societies. Their cultural differentiation consists not only in carrying on different contents, but also in the intensity of the opinions maintained, in the radicalism and durability of their particular elements. The earliest Polish sources reflect above all, if not exclusively, Christian ideas. This is understandable if we take into account the fact that medieval and later school systems were created by the Church: educated people were above all priests and monks. Because, however, efforts were made to provide a school for each parish, the number of educated people increased. At the same time, there developed a broader and deeper knowledge of commonly accessible cultural facts. The Middle Ages had provided access to a large part of Greek and Roman literature, and the Renaissance popularized and introduced a broader cultural exchange with ancient poetry and drama. These two traditions carried with them a completely different vision of the sense and value of work.

The Judeo-Christian tradition considered labor as a usual and normal mode of human life. It stressed the common duty of work, irrespective of social status; it was simply God’s commandment. In this context, personal models of the Old Testament were recalled. Prophets and rulers of the chosen people stemmed mainly from the working class -- shepherds, farmers, craftsmen. The Old Testament tradition is characterized by respect for work and disdain of idleness.

The Old Testament is saturated with respectful descriptions of work and professions. The chronicles of those times may have wanted to transmit such models in pointing to the plebeian descent of the first, mythical rulers of Poland. This tendency is even more strengthened by the New Testament. The Gospel shows us that both Christ, the highest model of Christianity, and the apostles come from peasants, craftsmen and fishermen. The closest continuation of this tradition and its visible example were the emerging monesteries with their mission of both evangelizing and civilizing. Raising churches and cloisters, founding schools and hospitals, creating art, the physical work of monks -- all this was performed along with pastoral activities. These efforts were an everyday reality and example.

Nevertheless, Christianity found the Polish state already formed and a society organized and endowed with its own traditions. There existed distinct and hierarchically organized social layers -- the highest class: the king, dukes and magnates; the middle classes, the poor, finally the slaves. The boundaries between them were changing because of their inner dynamism, of influences from outside, and of the territorial expansion of the state. Federation with Lithuania (including the Ruthenian lands that it comprised) in the second half of the XIVth century, initiated a process of significant social changes. These changes were also supported by a massive migration. To Poland came and settled -- mainly in the cities -- people from Western Europe and from the East, for instance Armenians. A part of the Polish population, both nobility and peasants, settled in the thinly populated territories of today’s Ukraine included in the new Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In the course of time, social relations and relations of ownership in Poland increasingly polarized. The nobility acquired more and more rights; peasants became more and more dependant and were charged with increasing economic obligations. The situation was similar in the cities.

The second tradition, corresponding to the above mentioned process, is the aristocratic tradition. Its sources were two-fold. One, which is difficult to draw from historical sources, is the indigenous own social and cultural tradition. The second is the Greco-Roman tradition, received together with development of the system of education and with increasing knowledge of culture. This tradition is built on the philosophical views of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, and the literary legacy of Homer. Apart from Hesiod, who was rather an exception in this regard, these works included praise of an aristocratic style of luxury and comfort. Only such a life is worthy of a free citizen. Its proper occupations are managing his manor, war and politics. At the same time, this tradition expressed its contempt for all other kinds of work, especially physical work, and it despised those social strata that had to acquire the means necessary for life by the work of their hands.

It is understandable that these two great traditions intermingled. Medieval literature, consisting mainly of theological and philosophical treatises and sermons, includes above all moral teachings. There are also theoretical considerations concerning morality, society, politics, and economy -- all in connection with the problem of work. Several intertwined motives in this can be taken as recommended models of life. They partially complement one another, but partially they are disparate. Generally speaking, the commonly recommended attitude was active, irrespective of social descent. According to the Christian tradition, everyone is obliged to be active, but good acts are distinct from bad ones. We often meet the opinion that inasmuch an occupation is not reprehensible in itself, such as the profession of hangmen or usurers, it does not harm anyone’s dignity, even in the case of those who rank high in the social hierarchy. Yet it does not mean that everybody is entrusted with the same kind of work. The most often recommended division of work was accommodated to the tripartite social division, symbolized by the person of the priest, the nobleman, and the ploughman. In this division is reflected the Platonic idea of social organization and the Aristotelian division of human activities into contemplation, action, and production.

Nevertheless, we must stress that the situation in Poland was somehow specific. The weight of divine service or of priestly occupation was never put in question, apart from sporadic cases of extremely dissident religious groups. The contemplative life, in which we should also count purely theoretical scientific disciplines, never enjoyed much respect in Poland. Generally, though not as an unbroken rule, contemplation was suspected of the sin of laziness and sterility. This also may be the reason for relatively less interest, in comparison to Western Europe, in theological literature, speculative philosophy and mysticism. Priests were rather expected to be diligent in matters of service of the altar and in their pastoral work. The active were more appreciated than the contemplative religious orders. Generally, however, monks tended to combine harmoniously practical activities and theory.

In contrast to priests, the layer of people who worked physically, be it incultivating the soil or in crafts or trade, were for this reason considered to be the lowest. The low esteem they enjoyed resulted not only from their physical effort, but more importantly from the fact that their activity was not free, but dependant upon and submitted to others.

According to the Christian vision of man and his ultimate destiny, labor was not treated as a goal or an autonomous value in itself. This, however, did not negate its value. On the contrary, work was seen as a means necessary for the life of individuals, their families and their fatherland. It expressed the basic commandment of love of neighbors. Finally it responded to the recommended prosocial attitude. Hence, work as social service became a moral and religious duty.

Regarding the nobility there are the contrary view that if someone has wealth sufficient for himself and to help others, he is not obliged to work. This does not mean that the nobility was released from the active life and could remain idle. The tasks assigned to this stratum by natural law and God’s will were rather of a different kind. The nobleman’s duty was to care about the whole sphere of public and political life, to participate in steering the course of the state, and above all to defend the fatherland. Hence the nobility was burdened with a special kind of requirement. Called to hold the highest and the most perfect social functions, the nobility was obliged to look after their own perfection, after their virtue and military effectiveness. This in turn excluded certain occupations. Noblemen were supposed to run their manors, they even were expected to lend a hand with the more burdensome work, encouraging their subjects with their own example and maintaining the good physical form necessary for knightly actions. They could not, however, engage in crafts or trade under the threat of loss of nobility of spirit, even if also that restriction was not meticulously followed and if such activities were not absolutely forbidden. The stratum of nobility (szlachta) was in Poland relatively numerous in comparison with other European countries. Apart from great and medium landowners, there existed a considerable mass of gentry and yeomen.

Many representatives of the latter group were forced by economic circumstances to personal physical work or to seek service in magnates’ courts. Yet even then they tried to preserve their personal dignity, or at least its appearance. A nobleman in service of another nobleman could not perform works held ancillary. For these works were destined for people of lower state. Also for this reason noblemen who worked as court attorneys were not always respected, for -- in contrast to the noble service of judges -- they gave their abilities and tongues for money at the others’ disposal. Also it was not suitable for noblemen to engage in artistic activities professionally rather than as amateurs, treating their work as a basis for their existence. But in this domain too there were certain differentiations. Among writers there prevailed people of noble and magnate descent, who received quite good profit from their work. Yet this income was treated not as remuneration for work, but as an expression of recognition of the artist’s talents. On the other hand, up to a certain time it was impossible to meet noblemen among painters, and especially among Polish sculpturers. The same was true of people in theatre and music. This was due to the fact that the performance of these arts was combined with physical effort. From abroad we have a remarkable example of Leonardo da Vinci who showed his contempt for another great artist, the sculpturer Michelangelo, only because of the great physical effort of sculpting.




In the course of time also this began to change. In the XVIIIth century we meet a nobleman-dramaturge, an actor and a director, Wojciech Bogusławski, creator of the Polish national theater. Another nobleman, a shoemaker, Jan Kiliński, was a political leader from the turn of the XVIIIth century. In the XIXth century there emerged a new social layer, the intelligentsia, that is, a group of people of science, arts, and other free occupations that won, although not without resistance, acknowledgement of intellectual work as the basis of their existence and as a social value.

Trade was also not an occupation suitable for noblemen. Szlachta could sell crops from their manors on the wholesale market, even personally floating corn to Gdańsk or driving oxen to distant cities. But retail trade was excluded, as well as buying crops from the others in order to resell them at a profit. This was an affair of merchants, Jews or townsmen who besides earned quite large fortunes on this business. At the same time, the law forbad Jews and townspeople from possessing land, a restriction that often was passed over. Of course, usury was firmly condemned by the church. It was not suitable for any Christian to engage in such operations, for they were held sinful. That is why the role of bankers was played by rich townsmen and Jews (to whom usury was not forbidden). In the course of time also this state of affairs was subject to change. In the XVIIIth century there emerged various enterprises, manufacturers, and later warehouses and banks owned by noblemen and magnates. Among their employees we can meet some from the nobility, rather minor and impoverished as a result of various fates or of the oppression by the invaders, for after each national uprising a considerable group of szlachta was materially ruined. These people joined the rows of intelligentsia or engaged in trade or crafts, even if this was held by public opinion to be a loss of caste. Yet the wealth obtained, especially if it was great, ennobled also these occupations.

The social and economic stratification of Polish society caused a deterioration in the destiny of the lower classes, especially peasants. In the worst situation were peasants who were subjects of nobility; better fortune was had by those who lived in royal and church manors. Literary evidence, sermons, and sociopolitical treatises between the XVth and the XXth century reflected the tragic destiny of peasants almost entirely deprived of civil rights, and mercilessly exploited by their lords. Peasants, while paying excessive taxes, were forced to maintain passing officials and soldiers almost without limit (which later were gradually introduced, although not always efficiently). They were ascribed to the soil, forced to consent to increasing amounts of statute labor, as well as to various services, and treated simply as living instruments. They lived often in tragic conditions, without any hope for an amelioration of their destiny. That is why many people of that time, more enlightened and with a sensitive Christian conscience, wanted to move the hearts of the people responsible for this state of affairs, even by the very fact of showing the peasant’s misery.

Marcin Bielski, a nobleman poet from the XVIth century, writes:


We call peasants [chłopi] so often our servants and slaves

Even if from their labor we advantage take

Even if God knows only how long they can so

Live if they without rest only work and bow

Before us, as slaves treated and abused by all


(The word chłop, from the Russian chołop, comes from the Mongolian language, where it means a slave.)

Writers and activists did not limit themselves to showing the misery of the peasant; they also appealed openly for a radical amelioration of the peasants’ life. The motives for these pleas were diverse. Above all they were religious: people were created equal by God and all were equally redeemed by Christ. Besides, Jesus Christ, His Mother and the apostles worked manually to earn their living. So people who work in a similar manner cannot live in humiliation and contempt. Amelioration of the peasants’ destiny was urged also by the natural sense of justice that those who devoted their life to work could live in dignity. Finally, economic arguments were presented: it is evident that the work of peasants undergirds the national income and its social welfare, so even the very care of national welfare implies care of those who contribute to it. Yet there were other voices, saying that attributing more rights can demoralize peasants, for, being less "noble" of their very nature, they are not able properly to use their freedom. This argument, known also from other times and areas, probably was simply a rationalization of group egoism.

The situation of townsmen was a little better than that of peasants, but also more diversified. We cannot compare the situation of the patriciate -- the bourgeoisie very rich layer that factually and legally enjoyed more opportunities -- with minor craftsmen, and above all with the paid workers or lumpenproletariat that filled the cities of that time.

In writings from the Middle Ages and from modern times we find an image of a more diversified social layer, as well as an appreciation of their life and the postulates for reform which result therefrom. This literature defends peasants as well as townsmen who, working with their hands, fulfill God’s commandment, and so cannot be disdained. It is different with those who do not work. If this is a result of unfortunate destiny -- the ill or cripple, the orphans of, war or epidemic -- they should find help and care, which is why various charitable institutions were created, mainly by the Church. If, however, people do not work because of laziness, then not only do they not deserve help, but they should be sentenced to compulsory work, to a kind of slavish service. These people are contrasted with peasants with their factual compulsory labor, which is why the misery of the latter requires immediate relief. Documents praise and set as example those Lords whose peasants enjoy wealth and fatherly care.

A little different attitude in theory and practice towards labor occurred within ecclesiastical institutions, such as monasteries or parishes. In religious communities -- apart from those that begged, which often were reprimanded as idle -- work was a duty. We learn from various critiques, sometimes malicious, that this duty was not always fulfilled ardently enough and that monks lived above their means. Yet the words of St. Augustine were recalled that a monk who does not work fails to do his duty, as well as those of St. Benedict: ora et labora (pray and work). The civilizing efforts of the Church, both of monasteries and of the people who surrounded them, were enormous and are visible to this day. They were expressed in raising sacred and temporal edifices, in new methods of work and in technical means, in works of science and art, in pastoral and charitable activity. These attainments were achieved by means of work for the greater glory of God and for the sake of neighbors. Many saints, proposed by the Church as models of Christian life acquired their merits through work. It is therefore no wonder that some Christian thinkers in Poland in all periods of its history placed work on the same level as military accomplishments, or even higher.

A nearly pathological striving for liberty, increasing among noblemen and tending towards anarchy, threatened the good of the whole nation. On the other hand, the activity of powerful and aggressive neighboring countries, mainly Russia, intentionally demoralized the Polish society and evoked wars that destroyed the Polish economy and state. The middle of the XVIIth century was marked by an internal war between the Ruthenian nation, awakening to its civil and national maturity, and the noblemen’s Poland, unwilling to recognize these aspirations. Not without significance were also the religious differences and dissent fomented by the neighboring Russia. Soon through Polish lands there passed the Swedish war machine called the "deluge", leaving behind ruins of many splendid monuments of architecture, mainly castles, which are frightening to this day. In spite of that Poland managed to defend itself, and shortly thereafter, in 1683, in coalition with the German and Austrian armies, gained a glorious victory over the powerful Turkish army in the famous battle of Vienna. The author of this victory and commander of joint armies was King Jan III Sobieski. Nevertheless, all these events seriously weakened the forces of the Polish kingdom. Hence, in the XVIIIth century, the century of the Enlightenment, there was an enormous intellectual effort and practical reform aimed at modernization of the state structures and economy. Among these attempts work had its important place through a fresh approach to its significance and value and through a reformation of the social structures of labor.

Polish social thought, including the question of work, was not isolated from its European context. The influence was mutual. The hypothesis is unwarranted that Polish thought about labor expressed only the class consciousness of their authors as is claimed by Marxist scholars, or that it was formed under the pressure of social events though, of course, such influences did exist. At the same time, however, we can speak about a major influence of religious and philosophical doctrines on the form of social views, and directly also on formal and informal social structures.

Since the second half of the XVIIth century there has been an obvious evolution in views on the sense and purpose of human work. Until that time opinions about the need of activity broadly understood and about the moral and eschatological meaning of work prevailed. So for instance Stanisław from Skarbmierz (1360-1431) writes that "physical work is useful for attaining eternal life". But what was most stressed was conformity of the division labor with social stratification. Sebastian Fabian Klonowic, a poet, townsman, and mayor of Lublin (1546-1602), while writing that manual work is useful for all, distinguishe occupations suitable for noblemen. Similarly Maciej Stryjkowski (1547-1593) in his poem "The Messenger of Virtue" (Goniec cnothy) says:


For God hath given office to us all

And watch’d that everybody hath his role

Noblemen, priests, plougers, all of them

For that let us praise Him.


But other earlier trends also strengthened, appreciating the social and economic value of labor. The well-known European thinker and reformer, Andrzej Frycz Modrzewski (the first half of the XVIth century), and later Abndrzej Maksymilian Fredro (1620-1676), and others agreed that not ownership, but labor is the foundation of social welfare.

Since the XVIIth century this motive became dominant in Polish thought about work. To illustrate this thesis we could quote dozens of more or less well known names and anonymous writings. It is true that moral and eschatological evaluation of labor still subsisted (for instance in Stanisław Poniatowski, the father of the last king of Poland in the first half of the XVIIIth century), but the economic approach becomes common: labor is a source of wealth. From there, it is only one step to recognizing working people, including those who work physically as peasants and craftsmen, as full-fledged citizens. The recognized efficiency of labor raises the claim to full liberty for its creators.

Hugo Kołłątaj (1750-1812), in accord with the physiocratism that was fashionable at that time, writes that "soil is the only treasure of wealth", but adds immediately that "the human hand is a key without which it is not possible to reach the wealth mentioned above", and that "human labor not only has its genuine value, but is also a measure of the price and value of other things". Franciszek Salezy Jezierski (1740-1791) considers peasants and townsmen to be the "first estate of the nation", "the nation as a whole". A poet, Adam Stanisław Naruszewicz (1733-1796) writes:


Man is born to work; who loses his time

Lives as those overwhelmed by an eternal dream


In Pozer’s "The New Calendar" -- such calendars were among the most popular literary forms of that time -- we read: "all is acquired by work; work is, so to speak, the soul of the whole good of every man"; "thanks to work, everybody can go beyond his actual condition".




In the XIXth century, we observe an enormous development of Polish thought about work. The earlier tradition was strengthened by two significant impulses. On the one hand, the loss of the state, entailing incessant striving at its restoration by means of armed efforts, drew even more attention to the need of Poland for economic strength. On the other, the great emigration movement caused thousands of people from all social strata to face the need to earn their life abroad. These people did not always find the work they were prepared for. New experiences drew their attention to the sense and meaning of life and evoked sometimes very radical theoretical attitudes. They referred to the experiences of the first Christians, to Christian communism, as well as to utopian socialism as conceived by Owen and Fourier. These ideas found their way back to Poland, where Poles on their own made theoretical and practical efforts to strengthen their economic situation. Even if these efforts were often understood as competitive in relation to liberation efforts, yet they resulted in important practical and intellectual achievements. The greatest economic and social accomplishments were had in Great Poland, located in the Prussian partition. At that time there emerged, more there than in other parts of Poland although not without hard struggle with the German partitioner, many economic institutions. Continuously perfected, they persisted till the first years after the second World War, when they were completely abolished by Communist authorities. Solid patterns of efficient and upright work in agriculture, craft and industry were also created at that time.

The literature of the XIXth century pictured work in two ways. Romanticism stressed its sentimental and nostalgic side. An exception here is Cyprian Kamil Norwid (1821-1883). In a period of transition to another literary epoch, he was the most "philosophizing" poet of that period. His poetical and philosophical thought about human destiny, about man’s relation to God, to the world and to culture was deciphered only in our century. He showed temporal and eschatological vision in his work; hence many contemporary thinkers refer to his thoughts. The conclusion of his meditation from Promethidion (Bogumił, verses 185-186) is often recalled today: "for beauty is to rapture us to work, and work/work is so that we resurrect".

The following literary period, Polish positivism (the second half of the XIXth century), with its slogans of "organic work" and "work at the foundations", pointed to the need to reshape Polish society, to create new cultural foundations, and to place work among the highest human values and objectives. In this context, an eminent figure in the domain of literature is Bolesław Prus (especially with his excellent novel "The Doll" -- Lalka), and among publicists Aleksander Świętochowski (1849-1938). Many writers at that time and later, such as Henryk Sienkiewicz, Stanisław Brzozowski (a writer and philosopher), Stefan Żeromski, Władysaw Stanisław Reymont, Maria Dąbrowska, developed these motives. Not mentioned here is the so-called socialist realism after the second World War, for the subject of labor was artificially imposed in it and served Communist indoctrination.

In a similar way the problem of work is represented on the level of science. It is not possible to enumerate all the motives or persons tackling this subject. It is possible, however, to point out the more significant figures. In the XIXth century there was Wojciech Jastrzębowski (1799-1882), a professor of agricultural sciences, who in his monumental work composed of many volumes laid the foundations for modern ergonomics. In the same domain there was also Józef Supiński (1804-1893). In philosophy one of the main figures was Stanisław Brzozowski who was simply thrilled by labor and considered it to be the foundation and source of all other values. The point of departure of his philosophical analysis was Marxism at the end of his short life (he died in 1911) he was working on a synthesis of Marxist and Christian thought. Jan Szewczyk (deceased in the 1970s) claimed Marxism to be a philosophy of labor. In the XXth century an eminent logician and philosopher, Tadeusz Kotarbiński, founder of praxeology, the science of efficient action, propagated the idea of the "good job" (dobra robota).

In the last half of our century the problem of work was analyzed in Poland by Marxists, but above all by Catholic philosophers and theologians. Among Marxists the main figures, apart from the above mentioned J. Szewczyk, were Tadeusz Jaroszyński and Tadeusz Kuczyński. Among Christian thinkers an eminent place was held by Cardinal Stefan Wyszyński, the author of numerous basic publications, as well as Czesław Strzeszewski, Józef Majka, Czesław Bartnik, and Józef Tischner.

The picture of Polish thought about labor would not be complete if we did not mention "the paramount work" of the Catholic Church in the course of the last century. Many Polish bishops, as well as common pastors and theologians were very efficient in shaping the people’s consciousness and creating various social institutions, awakening sensitivity to the value of labor.

A work that crowns in a way Polish thought about labor is the encyclical Laborem exercens by John Paul II. Though belonging to the whole Catholic Church, it is rooted in the Polish tradition.

The last half of the century was a period when new patterns and new traditions of work were forged in Poland. During the last war and occupation, in conditions resembling slavery, the patriotic duty of Poles was to work as badly as possible, for all benefits from their labor strengthened the enemy. After the war, new authorities -- the owners of the People’s Republic of Poland, as they were called -- wanting to subjugate the society entirely to their command atomized it and destroyed earlier social structures. The Communist political system declared itself based on work. Paradoxically, however, no other political system depreciated labor to such an extent as did this. First of all, private property was destroyed. Not only industry, but trade, and even minor retailers and craftsmen were nationalized. Numerous so-called cooperatives were as a matter of fact state enterprises. All means of production became as if nobody’s property. Even agriculture was partially nationalized in spite of peasant resistance. In such a situation, as writes John Paul II in Laborem exercens, the new Socialist managers played factually the role of owners, without, however, bearing any of the consequences of their bad management.

Also the relationship between the work done and the salaries received by workers was broken. Due to obsolete and incompetent industrial management, low labor efficiency, and the lack of consumer goods resulting therefrom, salaries were very low. A part of the goods produced was distributed as a special reward for submissiveness and obedience towards Communist authorities. Apartments, cars, fridges, and washing machines became unavailable luxuries. Social and economic policy -- among others -- was the exclusive domain of the so-called nomenklatura, that is, of that part of the society that was bound up with the new authorities. All managerial positions, even the lowest, were assigned not according to competencies, but according to the so called "key", that is, according to the plans and interests of the nomenklatura. Also many workplaces were created not due to the needs of economy or administration, but because of the needs of the new ruling class. Totalitarian tendencies to manage and control every domain of life led to an overgrowth of police and bureaucratic apparatus, burdening the economy that was already weak enough. Moreover, this whole group of bureaucrats and guards of order, corrupt but well remunerated, purchased rare and particularly valuable goods for low prices, out of relation to their real value. This whole process, deepened by political and economical crises, led to a new and hitherto unknown mentality, expressed by the maxim: "I pretend that I work, and they pretend that they pay me".

Over the last half century Polish society did not consent to the imposed situation. The subsequent dates of 1956, 1968, 1976, 1980-1981, 1989 point out attempts, sometimes paid with blood, to return to liberty and normal life, to attempts to work in the Polish "system of work". The emergence of "Solidarity" and its further consequences meant not only looking for remedies for a sick state and social organism, but also striving to remove the poison that caused the disease. Poland -- its social organism, its "system of work" -- found itself beginning once again. Yet it has enough energy and good patterns, including those from its own traditions, to move along the way towards democracy, liberty and wealth. May it follow this path.