Articles by Frederick Engels for The Northern Star

Further Particulars of the Silesian Riots

Source: MECW Volume 3, p. 532;
Written: in the latter half of June 1844;
First published: in The Northern Star No. 346, June 29, 1844, with an editorial note: “From our own Correspondent”

The riots commenced, as stated in my last, at Peterswalden, in the District of Reichenbach, the centre of the manufacturing part of Silesia. The weavers assembled before the house of one of the most respectable manufacturers, of the name of Zwanziger, singing a song, in which the behaviour of this individual towards his workmen was animadverted upon, and which seems to have been manufactured for the occasion. [241">[241] Mr. Zwanziger sent for the police, and got several of the ringleaders arrested; the people assembled in growing numbers before his door, threatened to rescue them, and, the prisoners not being liberated, they immediately commenced the work of destruction. The doors were forced, the windows smashed, the crowd entered the house, and destroyed every thing within their reach. Zwanziger’s family had hardly time to save themselves, and the throwing of stones at them was so incessant that it was found necessary to wrap up in bedding the female part of the family, and have them carried in a coach to Schweidnitz. To this place messengers also were sent to call in the aid of the military, but the commanding officer replied he could do nothing without orders from the provincial authorities at Breslau. The people, in the meantime, entirely demolished the dwelling house of Mr. Zwanziger, and proceeded then to the warehouse, where they destroyed all books, bills of exchange and other documents, and threw the cash they found, amounting to upwards of 1,000, upon the street, where it was picked up by a lot of Bohemian smugglers, who had passed the frontier to see whether they could not profit by the riots. The bales of cotton and bags, as well as all the manufactured yarn and goods, were, as far as possible, destroyed or made useless, and the machinery in the adjoining factory, entirely broke. Having finished up here, they left the ruins of the demolished buildings and proceeded to Langenbielau, the men of which town joined them immediately, and where Mr. Dierig’s factory and warehouse was attacked. Mr. Dierig first tried to buy them off, but after having paid part of his bargain, he was informed that the military were on the road, and he immediately refused to pay the remainder. The crowd immediately forced their way to the premises, and demolished them in the same way as they had done at Peterswalden; while they were engaged in this, a detachment of about 160 foot soldiers arrived, with the civil authorities; the Riot Act was read, the people replied by throwing stones at the military, then the word to fire was given, and twelve of the rioters were killed and many wounded. But the enraged crowd rushed on against the soldiers, and wounded such a number of them by stones, that the commanding officer, who had been dragged from his horse and severely beaten, retreated with them, to await reinforcements, while the destruction of property continued going on. At last two battalions of infantry, a company of rifles, some cavalry and artillery appeared, and dispersed the rioters. Further attempts at similar proceedings were stifled by the military keeping the town and surrounding places occupied, and, as usual, when everything was over, the proper authorities came forward with proclamations and such like, declaring the district in a state of siege, and threatened the most horrible punishments for every breach of the peace. The riots were not confined to these two towns; in Alt-Friedland and Leutmansdorf similar scenes took place, though not characterised by such a violent manifestation of feeling towards the manufacturers; some arms were broke and some windows were smashed before the military could restore tranquillity. The people throughout the district profited on this occasion by giving to the manufacturers such a display of their feelings as could not be mistaken. The causes of these affrays were the incredible sufferings of these poor weavers, produced by low wages, machinery, and the avarice and greediness of the manufacturers. It will scarcely be believed that the wages of this oppressed class, in a family where father, mother, and children worked, all of them at the loom, amounted to a sum which would buy no more than six shillings would in England. Besides, they were all in debt, which is not at all a matter of surprise, when wages are so low; and the manufacturers gladly advanced them small sums, which the men could never pay, but which were sufficient to give the masters an absolute sovereignty over them, and to make them the slaves of the manufacturers. Then there was, besides that, the competition of the English article, which had an advantage over them from the superior machinery of the English factories and the low wages there, and which tended to bring down their wages too. In short, it was the factory system with all its consequences that pressed upon the Silesian weavers in the same manner as it has done, and now does, upon the English factory workers and hand-loom weavers and which has occasioned more dissatisfaction and riotous outbreaks within this country than anything else. It is to be noticed, that during all these disturbances, according to the statements of all German papers, not one single robbery has been committed by the starving weavers. They threw the money on the street; they did not convert it to their own use. They left the stealing and plunder to the Bohemian smugglers and poachers.