Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

The Closing of the German Frontier. — The Empire — The Council of War

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 116;
Written: by Engels on December 1, 1848;
First published: in Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 160, December 5, 1848.

Berne, December 1. Thank God! At last it appears that the official news of the closing of the German frontier has reached the Federal Council and we shall now know what the position is. It was high time, considering how long their worships in the Central Authority have been taunting us Swiss and making fools of us. The Federal Council is said to have decided not to put even a single company of Swiss troops in the field against the mighty formation of 50,000 imperial troops. The imperial, authorities can judge from this how much Switzerland fears their decisions, precautionary measures, threats and troop formations. Of course, the “Empire” does not have the same military system as Switzerland, which has no standing army at all but within a week can raise 150,000 trained and battle-ready troops — that is twice as many as the classical land of the military parade with its celebrated Scharnhorstian system of military organisation.

Even though the conflicting rumours about the closing of the frontier are threatening to dry up as a source of merriment for the Swiss, we can still rely on the “Empire” for something to laugh at. Yesterday the German and especially the Frankfurt imperial newspapers presented us in all seriousness with yet another fat canard: the recent invasion of Lörrach by refugees — or rather bandits — and the battle in which four real live Badenese dragoons succumbed! There is no need to tell you that the whole ridiculous story, which provoked the greatest hilarity here, is pure mystification. However, I can tell you that the Empire citizens’ fear of the couple of volunteers who may still be prowling about on the border makes a hilarious impression on every Swiss. The newly coined phrase, “Scared as six Empire citizens by one volunteer”, has permanently entered the language. The latest article in the Frankfurter Oberpostamts-Zeitung about the continuing subversive activities of the refugees along the frontier has greatly helped to keep up the laughter at the expense of the Empire. What important revelations Herr Schmerling’s spies have made! Metternich is in Muttenz and has been seen in Birsfeld, where Neff too is residing and writing and receiving many letters. Siegel and Katzenmaier are staying in Emmishofen — and they say the Empire need not tremble! Even more terrifying, the Swiss Government tolerates the presence in Dornach, close to the German frontier, of — “a few canteen-keeper stragglers from Lörrach and the vicinity"!!! In addition to that, “it is generally believed” that fresh “predatory incursions” would have taken place if... etc., etc. And was there not sniping across the Rhine from Gross-Laufenburg? When, how and by whom the imperial newspaper has of course no idea. In short, if the Empire is in such a bad state that it shakes to its foundations just because Metternich is seen in Birsfeld and a few canteen-keeper stragglers are wasting away in Dornach, Switzerland will certainly have no part in propping up such a rotten building! What is more, these confused reports strung together by Empire mouchards contradict themselves in every line: for example, Metternich is said to be the only refugee in Muttenz, and yet three lines further on “there are reports from Muttenz that they (!!) are once more arming there"!! ."They” — means Metternich, all on his own! And it is for this — for making them the laughing-stock of the whole world with such clumsy contradictions — that the imperial authorities pay their mouchards [informers] in Switzerland! Trema, Bisanzio, [Tremble, Byzantium! — Donizetti, Belisario] Metternich has been seen in Birsfeld and “several canteen-keeper stragglers” in Dornach have sworn your destruction!

But let us leave the Empire aside. The Federal Council of War has been dissolved pro forma, but immediately reconstituted as a military commission, Herr Ochsenbein, as head of the Federal War Department, taking over as chairman. The Berner Zeitung sharply criticises this reconstitution or retention of the most cumbersome and costly item of the old Federal Government. In its opinion, the Military Council has never achieved anything but the appointment of a few aristocratic officers and the birth, after protracted labour pains, of federal drill regulations [Kamaschenreglement]. These regulations proved so expensive that for the same price the whole army might have been equipped with puttees [Kamaschen] and boots. For the rest, the Military Council restricted itself to drawing its daily allowance of sixteen francs per head and because of all the difficulties and hair-splitting has long since given up all hope of ever achieving anything.

Besides the duel between Luvini and Berg, there were prospects of a second one — between Pioda and Michel from Graubünden — as a result of the Tessin debate in the National Council. Colonel Michel had expressed himself in an unbecoming manner and ended up angrily declaring Pioda to be a downright liar. Pioda answered extremely calmly and properly, but afterwards called the old federal war-horse to account. Thereupon Michel made statements that gave complete satisfaction to Pioda and his friends and with that the affair was allowed to rest.