Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung November 1848

The Neue Rheinische Zeitung

New Institutions -- Progress in Switzerland

by Frederick Engels

Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 143
 Translated by the Marx-Engels Institute
Transcribed for the Internet by director@marx.org, 1994

Berne, November 9. The new legislative Federal Assembly, consisting of the Swiss National Council and the Council of States, has been meeting here since the day before yesterday. The city of Berne has gone out of its way to give them brilliant and fascinating reception. There has been music, festive processions, illuminations, the boom of cannon and the peal of bells -- nothing has been forgotten. The sessions began the day before yesterday. In the National Council, which is elected by universal suffrage and according to the number of inhabitants (Berne has returned 20 deputies, Zurich 12, the smallest cantons two or three), the great majority of deputies are liberals of a radical hue. The decidedly radical party is strongly represented, and the conservatives have only six or seven seats out of over a hundred. The Council of States, which is made up of two deputies from each canton and one deputy from each demicanton, on the whole resembles the last Diet as regards composition and character. The old cantons have once again returned several true separatists, [89] and as a result of the indirect elections, the reactionary element, though definitely in a minority, is nevertheless more strongly represented in this Council than it is in the National Council. As a matter of fact, by abolishing binding mandates [90] and invalidating half votes, the Council of States has been turned into a rejuvenated version of the Diet and has been pushed into the background by the creation of the National Council. It plays the thankless role of a senate or a chamber of peers, the role of heir to the mature wisdom and sober judgment of the forefathers, acting as a drag on the National Council which is assumed to be excessively fond of innovation. This dignified and sedate institution already shares the fate of similar bodies in England and America, and the now defunct one in France. Even before it has shown any signs of life it is looked down upon by the press and overshadowed by the National Council. Practically no one talks about the Council of States, and if it did make itself talked about it would be still worse for it.

Although the National Council is supposed to represent the entire Swiss "nation", it has already at its first session given proof of typically Swiss discord and hair-splitting, even if not of petty cantonal spirit. Three votes had to be taken to elect a president, although there were only three candidates with any serious chances, and all three of them from Berne. The three gentlemen in question were Ochsenbein, Funk and Neuhaus; the first two represent the moderate radical party of Berne, the third the moderate liberal, semi- conservative party. In the end Ochsenbein was elected by 50 votes out of 93, that is, with a very narrow majority. One can understand the Zurich and other Moderados [91] preferring the wise and very experienced Herr Neuhaus to Herr Ochsenbein, but the fact that Herr Funk, who represents exactly the same political coloring as Herr Ochsenbein, should have been put forward as a competing candidate and received support in two votings, shows how unorganized and undisciplined the parties still are. At any rate the election of Ochsenbein means that the Radicals gained a victory in the first contest of the parties. In the subsequent election of a vice-president, five votes had to be taken to produce an absolute majority. On the other hand, the staid and experienced Council of States almost unanimously elected the Moderado Furrer from Zurich as its president in the first round of voting. These two elections amply illustrate how different a spirit obtains in the two Chambers and that they will soon move in different directions and enter into conflict with each other.

The choice of a federal capital will be the next interesting issue to be debated. It will be interesting for the Swiss because the financial interests of many of them are involved, and interesting for people abroad because this debate will reveal most clearly to what extent the old parochial patriotism, the petty cantonal narrow-mindedness has been finished with. The competition is most intense between Berne, Zurich and Lucerne. Berne would like to see Zurich satisfied with the federal university, and Lucerne with the federal court of law, but in vain. Berne at any rate is the only suitable city, being the point where German and French Switzerland merge, the capital of the largest canton and the rising centre of the whole Swiss movement. But in order to become a real centre, Berne must also possess the university and the federal court. But try and explain that to the Swiss, whose fanaticism for their cantonal town has been roused! It is quite possible that the more radical National Council will vote for radical Berne, the sedate Council of States for the sedate, wise and prudent Zurich. An extremely difficult situation will then arise.

There has been considerable unrest in Geneva during the last three weeks. The reactionary patricians and bourgeois, who, from their villas, keep the villages around Geneva in almost feudal dependence, managed with the help of their peasants to push through all their three candidates in the elections to the National Council. But the (local] authorities declared the elections invalid, as more ballot-papers were returned than had been issued. Only this measure was able to pacify the revolutionary workers of Saint- Gervais, groups of whom were already marching through the streets and shouting "Aux armes!" The attitude of the workers in the course of the week that followed was so menacing that the bourgeois preferred not to vote at all rather than provoke a revolution with the inevitable scenes of horror; especially since the government threatened to resign if the reactionary candidates were once more elected. The Radicals meanwhile altered their list of candidates, to which they added some more moderate names, made up for lost canvassing time, and obtained 5,000 to 5,500 votes in the new elections, that is, almost a thousand more than the reactionaries had received in the previous round. The three reactionary candidates got hardly any votes; General Dufour, who received the highest number, managed to poll 1,500 votes. Elections to the Great Council were held a week later. The city elected 44 Radicals, and the countryside, which had to return 46 councilors, elected almost exclusively reactionaries. The Revue de Geneve [92] is still arguing with the bourgeois papers as to whether all 46 are reactionary or half a dozen of them will vote for the Radical government. We shall soon know. Still greater confusion may reign in Geneva; for if the government, which is here elected directly by the people, is forced to resign, then a situation similar to that obtaining during the second elections to the National Council might easily result, and a Radical government would be confronted by a reactionary majority in the Great Council. It is moreover certain that the workers of Geneva are only waiting for an opportunity to secure the threatened gains of 184793 by a new revolution.

On the whole, compared with the early forties, Switzerland has made considerable progress. This is nowhere so striking as among the workingclass. Whereas this old spirit of parochial narrow-mindedness and pedantry still holds almost undivided sway among the bourgeoisie and especially in the old patrician families, or has, at best, assumed more modern forms, the Swiss workers have developed to a remarkable degree. Formerly, they kept aloof from the Germans and displayed the most absurd "free Swiss" national arrogance, complained about the "foreign rogues" and showed no interest whatever in the contemporary movement. Now this has changed. Ever since working conditions have deteriorated, ever since Switzerland has been democratized, and especially since the minor riots have given place to European revolutions and battles such as those waged in Paris in June and in Vienna in October-ever since then the Swiss workers have been drawn more and more into the political and socialist movements, have fraternized with foreign workers, especially German workers, and have abandoned their "free Swiss attitude". In the French part of Switzerland and in many of her German districts, Germans and German Swiss are members of the same workers' association on an equal footing, and associations consisting mainly of Swiss workers have decided to join the proposed Organization of German Democratic Associations which has partially been set up. Whereas the extreme Radicals of official Switzerland dream at best of the one and indivisible Helvetian republic, Swiss workers often express the view that the whole of little Switzerland's independence will go to the dogs in the impending European storm. And this is said quite calmly and indifferently, without a word of regret, by these proletarian traitors! All the Swiss I have met expressed great sympathy for the Viennese, but among the workers it amounted to real fanaticism. No one speaks about the National Council, the Council of States, the riot of the priests in Fribourg, [94] -- but Vienna is on everybody's lips all day long. One would think that Vienna were again the capital of Switzerland as it was in the days before Wilhelm Tell, that Switzerland belonged again to Austria. Hundreds of rumors were bruited about, dilated upon, called in question, believed, refuted, and all possible aspects were thoroughly discussed. And when, at last, the news of the defeat of the heroic Viennese workers and students and of Windischgratz's superior strength and barbarity was definitely confirmed, the effect on these Swiss workers was as great as though their own fate had been decided in Vienna and their own country had succumbed. Though this feeling is not yet a universal one, it is steadily gaining ground among the Swiss proletariat, and the fact that it already exists in many localities is, for a country like Switzerland, a great advance.