Articles by Marx & Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung

The Model Republic[34]

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 42;
Written: Written by Engels on March 10, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 246, March 15, 1849

Berne, March 10. Just as Belgium is hailed by the constitutional bourgeoisie and ideologists as the "model state" so is Switzerland the ideal of the republican bourgeoisie and ideologists. Switzerland is not ruled by a king, there is no nobility, taxes are moderate, the country enjoys a state of profound peace;—the only things that people find to grumble about are matters that have been disposed of, such as Jesuits and separatist [Sonderbund[35]] activities. Why, only recently a radical newspaper, the Neue Deutsche, was envying Switzerland its peace and contentment. It grieves us to have to destroy this idyllic view of the happiness and well-being of the Swiss people, and to have to point out ugly blemishes "in that most faithful mirror, which reflects freedom". Let us first of all review a few public meetings. On March 5 at Schönbühl in the canton of Berne a so-called communist meeting took place, which was very well attended by workers. The subjects under discussion were the poor-law administration and the emigration question. The descriptions given by the speakers of the conditions of the working people in Switzerland demonstrated the need for speedy and drastic remedies; however, the way in which this was discussed betrayed a great degree of helplessness and showed that, despite all the republican institutions, the proletariat still has very little understanding of its own position and the means of achieving its own salvation.

The conservatives succeeded in exploiting the social movement for their own ends. The most vehement attacks were directed against the radical Government of Berne and in particular against those in charge of finance, and the defenders of the existing Government were only partially successful in justifying it. A revision of the Constitution [36] was decided upon as a remedy, but several speakers declared that they would follow a legal course only temporarily and tentatively. As a revision of the Constitution is the means by which the conservatives and in particular the patricians of Berne are seeking to oust the present Government, their plan to rouse the proletariat against the Government has for the time being been successful. This truly Jesuit tendency was even more evident at the meeting of the central committee of the Society for Emigration of the Berne canton, which was recently held at the Klösterli at Berne. Delegates from 25 superior bailiwicks, approximately 1,000 people, met to discuss every possible way of solving the emigration problem to the advantage of many thousands of unemployed and hungry citizens. As the Great Council, on hearing the report of the government official Schneider, had not pursued the matter with the necessary energy and dedication, here too a revision of the Constitution was proposed without taking into consideration the fact that any attempt to oust the present radical Government would simply make possible the return of the people supporting the old system.

For this purpose a petition is to be circulated in all bailiwicks, and as soon as the 8,000 signatures required under the Constitution have been obtained, the necessary steps will be taken for resolving this problem. As the emigration question is being argued out and discussed everywhere because of the daily increase in unemployment and the growing scarcity of food, particularly in the Bernese Alps, it is not unlikely that the required number of signatures will be obtained, and that means that the present government will then have a big obstacle placed in its way.

In St. Gallen too the working-class movement is making progress.

"Whilst," according to the Wächter, "the Arbeiter undertakes theoretical experiments in social communism, they have started to put it into practice in the Gasterland under the presidency of Hofstitter: they intend to reduce the rate of interest to 2 per cent etc."

In fact where the radicals are now in power, they ought to take care not to repulse the workers through their indifference. The Swiss proletariat is still largely what one describes as lumpenproletariat, prepared to sell themselves to anyone who will make extravagant promises. The clergy and the aristocrats do not of course remind the starving people of the times when the peasant was forced to pay tithes to the parish and the lord of the manor; they only ask, what is the present government doing for you? And the most loyal supporters of the Government are unable to reply. If the proletariat in Switzerland were strong enough and sufficiently advanced to form an independent party then opposition to the present radicalism would certainly be justified; under the present circumstances, however, every stand that is taken against the radical politicians amounts to a concession towards the conservatives.

The radicals should be generally much more go-ahead and active. It is not enough to attack reactionary personalities and to make indiscreet jokes about religion; the party whose main concern is foreign policy [Auslandspartei] should oppose the neutralist politicians with the same energy that Herr Ochsenbein and company displayed towards the Jesuits and separatists. It is more dangerous to delay at this stage than it was before. The question of the re-enlistment treaties,[37] which is being resolved by nine-tenths of the Swiss people in opposition to the cowardly and doctrinaire interpretation of the Federal Council, provides the radicals with a weapon capable of quickly putting an end to the present wretched state of things. The report from the political department (Furrer), which was presented to the Swiss Federal Council and dealt with the subject of the re-enlistments, and which is being hailed by most newspapers, especially the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, as the ne plus ultra of political wisdom, allows us an insight into the small shopkeeper mentality that pervades the Federal Council, which lets a few pennies and the principles of civil law guide it in its foreign policy making:

"Where," asks Furrer, "are we to get the money to pay compensation? It is absolutely impossible for us to pay anything like a substantial portion of this sum from the Federal Treasury.——This sum would therefore have to be provided by the cantons. However, if one considers the circumstances calmly and dispassionately and refuses to allow oneself to be carried away by blind enthusiasm, then one will see that getting this money together is also an impossibility, especially as far as the future is concerned, even if one grants that the present can exert such an inspiring influence."

And elsewhere:

"A large nation which cannot even muster a few regiments will hardly be capable of maintaining independence and political freedom for any length of time.

The Italian republics will no doubt one day express their thanks in the appropriate manner to the neighbouring Swiss republic for this official declaration on the part of its highest-ranking functionary. The Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the semi-official organ of the Federal President, had declared that the decision that the ending of the existing re-enlistment treaties is a matter coming under the jurisdiction of the cantons, was taken unanimously by the Federal Council. That is incorrect. The Italian Franscini was not present and the man of "permanent revolution", Druey, had intended to make proposals to the Federal Assembly according to which "the re-enlistment treaties should be abolished when the position in Italy and Switzerland demanded it". He moved, moreover, that enlistment in the Neapolitan regiments be stopped until the matter had been resolved, and that is the main point.

Herr Ochsenbein, the Napoleon of the separatist wars, seeks to introduce not only the Prussian Lohbauers but also the Prussian uniform. However, this laudable intention is being frustrated thanks to the question of cost.

The offer made by some Frenchmen to set up a casino in Switzerland caused great moral indignation among the virtuous republicans. The casino tenants in Germany must have been frightened by the decision of the venerable National Assembly in Frankfurt, otherwise they would not place the gentlemen governing the separatist cantons in the difficult position of having to choose between great financial advantage and traditional morality. The Great Council at Lucerne has also turned down by 79 votes to 67 a proposal to that effect made by a Herr Bias; the section of the people's association there has also sent a petition to the Federal authorities expressing the same sentiments; consequently the entrepreneurs addressed their requests to Schwyz (Stand) and St. Gallen (Rapperswyl), without seeing their wishes fulfilled however. Those gentlemen will now no doubt have to put up with the energy of the tenant of the casino at Homburg, who stated that his casino would endure longer than all Frankfurt parliaments.

The Great Council, which resumed sitting a few days ago, and which still allows itself to be presided over by Herr von Tillier, despite the fact that he is suspected of high treason, is discussing, article by article, the employment regulations, from which we can find nothing to remark on here except the stipulation that political refugees may follow any occupation without further proof of reciprocity. Moreover, the Department of the Interior has proposed that a sum of 8,000 frs. be earmarked for science, the arts etc.