Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

Letter of the Central Commission of the Workers’ Associations in Switzerland to the Association in Vivis

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 207;
Written: by Engels, about 25 December 1848;
First published: in Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, 1960.

To the Association in Vivis

Friends, Brothers,

We, the Central Commission set up by the Congress, have before us for reply your letter of December 7.[196] Since the Congress has now established the foundations for the unification of the various associations, we shall not deal with your reproaches to the Zurich Association[197] but go straight on to answer the different points of your letter which concern the proposed centralisation.

You demand, first, that at the Congress the votes of associations given only by letter should be included in the count, justifying this by reference to the democratic principle. The Congress discussed this matter and also the reasons you give, but it believed that it could not accept them. It took the view that in that case no congress would be necessary and the associations would only need to send letters to the Central Commission, which could then add up the votes and proclaim the result. This is more or less the manner in which the associations have been in communication up to now and which yielded no results, while the Congress was easily able to put matters to rights in a few days. And this was because more can be achieved, and understanding can more easily be reached, in a few hours of oral consultation than by years of correspondence. Associations which send no delegates cannot, of course, take part in the debates of the Congress, they cannot hear what reasons for and against are being put forward, and since in the end these reasons decide the voting, they cannot, of course, vote either. Otherwise it would not be possible ever to reach a majority decision. If you think this is not democratic, we take the view that no democratic state in the world has ever accepted your opinion in this respect, but invariably taken ours: in America, in Switzerland, in France, as in all former democracies, the principle has always held good that those who send no delegates cannot vote either. Incidentally, the Congress has seen to it that in future every association can be represented by the Congress taking over the entire costs of the delegates. At this Congress, too, you could perhaps have been represented; Lausanne, which lacked the means to send a delegate, arranged for a citizen in Berne [Engels] to represent them and sent him his instructions.[198]

It is certainly to be regretted that up to now there has been so little unity among the associations in Switzerland, and also that so many contradictory proposals for the Central Association were put forward. For this very reason it was an excellent idea of the Zurich Association to suggest a Congress. The provisional regulations which it drafted were, of course, only a suggestion on which the Congress had to vote, and which it altered considerably, as you will see from the enclosed printed copy of the minutes. But now, when a beginning at least has been made through the debates of the delegates of ten different associations, it is most desirable that the unrepresented associations should adhere to the centralisation which has at last been started and that they should yield in the same way that almost every other represented association has yielded on one point or another of its opinion and submitted to the decisions of the majority. Without mutual concessions we can never achieve anything.

Your suggestion that the Executive of the “Hilf Dir” military association be proclaimed the Central Association was very seriously considered, but was rejected. The Hilf Dir military association is a banned association under the local laws (the law on volunteers) and thus all associations joining it as associations would likewise be in danger of being dissolved and deprived of their funds. Moreover, the military association will only take over the military organisation, but does not see it as its task to represent the associations also with respect to social-democratic propaganda and correspondence with Germany. The Berlin Central Committee and the Workers’ Committee in Leipzig[199] would not be able to risk entering into correspondence with the military association, even on innocent matters, without exposing themselves to dissolution and arrest; and the other way round, the military association would likewise not be able to conduct a regular correspondence with these committees without exposing itself to the most persistent persecution by the Swiss authorities. Above all, however, we want a centralisation which does not give the governments any pretext for new persecutions of refugees, a centralisation which cannot be harmed and which is therefore ‘ in a position to perform its functions. The deputy from Biel [Julius Standau] himself was of this opinion and spoke against transferring the duties of the Central Association to the Executive of the military association. But all are, of course, free to join the military association; they are only asked not to join it as associations, so that the association can never be harmed as such, but only individual persons, if perchance new persecutions should take place.

Having thus replied to each of the points mentioned in your letter, we refer you to the enclosed minutes for the further decisions of the Congress and ask you on behalf of the Congress to join the Union of German Associations founded hereby and to advise us as soon as possible of your having done so.

We appeal to you again: give way in secondary matters as others have given way and will give way in future, so as to save the main object; join the nucleus of the Union which has already been founded by several associations with much sacrifice in money and time, and which can only succeed if we all stand together, forget the past and no longer allow ourselves to be divided by minor differences of opinion!

Greetings and fraternal good wishes.

On behalf of the Congress,
The Central Commission

Berne, about December 25, 1848
Address: Herr N. Berger,
Käfichgässlein No. 109, Bern