Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung December 1848

Measures Against German Refugees. — Return of Troops from Tessin. — The Patricians’ Commune

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 204;
Written: by Engels on December 24, 1848;
First published: in the supplement to Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 180, December 28, 1848.

Berne, December 24. The new measures of the Federal Council, which are so gratefully recognised by the Empire, do not merely consist of the circular and Steiger’s journey of inspection; they consist in particular of the expulsion from Switzerland of three absolutely non-dangerous refugees who published an absolutely blameless, merely informative pamphlet about the latest rising in Baden, and furthermore of the steps taken against the newspaper Die Revolution and against the so-called Hilf Dir military association.[194]

The volunteer commander, J. Ph. Becker of Biel, who has been a citizen of the Berne canton for the past year, was the head of a military organisation of the above name, which is said to have had the aim of organising all the German volunteers living in Switzerland into a German Legion. It seems a dangerous business but was not really so at all. The Legion only existed on paper; there was no question of weapons, still less of drilling; its only object was to hinder more over-hasty and unplanned volunteer campaigns, and since all these are necessarily over-hasty and unplanned — as is proved by the two of Lucerne, the two of Baden, and the one of Val d'Intelvi[195] — the military association would inevitably have led to the prevention of such volunteer campaigns altogether. For that reason neither the Baden nor the Swiss Government had, anything to do with it, and as the leaders of the organisation owing to all sorts of beloved memories of all secret societies as well as to more or less bragging behaviour gave the Government a pretext for intervening; and as, moreover, the whole plan came under the Berne law on volunteer insurgents, there was the best possible opportunity to see here a far-reaching conspiracy and preparations for a new attack on Baden in the near future. Added to this was Becker’s indiscretion in announcing, on the title page, his weekly Revolution as the “organ of the democratic military association “Hilf Dir?”. That was enough: Herr Ochsenbein, who by chance or intentionally came to Biel, brought about the intervention of the public authorities. The specimen issue of the Revolution was seized, one of the editors, Michel, banished from the canton, and Becker’s house searched. After that there were second thoughts. The attack on the freedom of the press was too provocative. The distraint was again lifted, and the Revolution will continue to appear; but a judicial investigation against Becker has begun, and it will probably be the end of the military association “Hilf Dir”. The German imperial philistine can once more sleep in peace.

In Tessin, all the troops have been discharged. The extent to which the Tessiners were slandered by the East Swiss is shown by the excellent understanding between the Bernese battalion sent there and the population. It is true, of course, that this battalion began by behaving quite differently from the men of Zurich and Appenzell. At one of the banquets given to the officer corps, Colonel Seiler of Berne declared that neutrality was a necessary evil, and that he looked forward to the time when the Swiss, free from these fetters, would fight for liberty in the ranks of the other peoples. The battalion collected a day’s pay as a contribution for the refugees from Italy. If the gentlemen from Zurich and Appenzell had acted in the same way instead of taking pleasure in fulfilling odious gendarme functions and fraternising with Austrian officers, the Tessiners would have given them a very different reception.

Some days ago there was a highly amusing meeting of philistines in Berne. The residents’ commune met to decide whether they wanted to take over the burden of being the seat of the Federal Government. The patricians, beaten in the last burghers’ commune meeting, and seeing with their own eyes that the property dispute between the burghers and the residents was really beginning, wanted to have their revenge here. With the actual handing over of the property of the residents’ commune the town was made independent of the patriciate, they lost a large number of lucrative posts and the main props of their overwhelming influence in the Commune Council, not to mention the direct heavy financial loss. So they launched into all their intrigues in order to remove again the seat of the Federal Government from Berne! They declared that the costs of the seat of the Federal Government had been stated so uncertainly that there was a risk of being shamefully cheated by the Federal Council. Further, the state and not the town should bear the bulk of the costs; and under these pretexts they proposed to grant a miserable 300,000 francs, but no more. The law concerning the scat of the Federal Government demands however unreserved acceptance of the conditions within a month, and the month expires on December 28. The acceptance of the proposals made by the patricians was thus equivalent to a refusal to make Berne the seat of the Federal Government. The patricians’ plausible proposals for economy and safeguards met with tremendous approval from the Berne philistines, so that the radicals who wanted tout prix to keep the federal capital there almost despaired of succeeding in their object. It was debated all day, and not till evening did the radicals collect 419 votes against 314 for the unconditional acceptance of the obligations proposed by the Federal Assembly. There you have an example of the petty parochialism which dares to try to lay down the law, even in the capital city of Switzerland!