Marx in Neue Rheinische Zeitung January 1849

Swiss-Italian Affairs

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 216;
Written: by Engels on December 28, 1848;
First published: in the supplement to Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 185, January 3, 1849.

Berne, December 28. The Swiss troops have hardly been withdrawn from the Lombardy border and Radetzky’s chicaneries are already beginning again. He has written to the federal representatives in Tessin saying there is a disturbing trade in weapons on the frontier, and the federal representatives have talked the Tessin Government into authorising several house searches in Mendrisio. A few muskets have been found and confiscated. It cannot be foreseen on what grounds this violation of the privacy of the home and seizure of foreign property will be justified. It is only surprising that the Tessin Government has lent itself to such practices.

The Neapolitan recruiting in Lucerne and the Ur-cantons appears however to be leading nowhere. It is not as if they had not found a sufficient number of stalwart Alpine lads who would give their skins for ready money and be happy to do Croat services in Ferdinand’s army; on the contrary! But the whole business is foundering on the impossibility of getting from Switzerland to Naples.

According to the enlistment agreements,[207] the recruits must be transported via Genoa, and the Turin Government refuses transit. It is now said that the recruits are to be brought to Trieste and embarked there. This news has caused great alarm among the recruits. They do not want to. go to Austria. They are afraid of being put among real Croats and led against the Magyars, and they are now petitioning the Lucerne Government Council to insist on the Genoese route. Strange. As if it were not a matter of indifference to these henchmen of the counter-revolution whether they massacre Magyars or Messinese! But of course there is a big difference between Austrian paper money and Neapolitan full-weight gold ducats!

Incidentally, the Lucerne Government seems to imitate the Bernese Government in wanting to suspend the enlistment agreements till the Swiss merchants in Naples and Messina are indemnified.[208] At least, it has inquired of the Federal Council about the arrangements for compensation. So that leaves only the Ur-cantons, and these will not suffer any encroachment upon the right of every citizen to sell himself as long as the Federal Constitution allows it, i.e. as long as the present enlistment agreements have still to run. This right of self-sale is one of the finest and oldest privileges of the free Ur-Swiss, and if these brave “first-born sons of freedom” tried to defend their “five-hundred-year-old rights” against the new Federal Constitution, it was above all on account of this special right which the new Constitution has annulled. The military enlistment agreements are really a vital matter for the Ur-cantons. For five hundred years they have been the drainage channel for the superfluous population, and hence the best guarantee for the existing barbarous state of things. Annul the enlistment agreements, and you will unleash a real revolution in these so-called clean, i.e. in fact extremely unclean, democracies.

The younger sons of peasants, now setting off for Naples and Rome, will have to stay at home; they will find no occupation either in their own cantons or in the rest of Switzerland, which is already suffering enough from “over-population”; they will form a new class of peasant proletarians, who by their very existence must bring all the old relations of property, property acquirement and law of these pastoral races, established for a thousand years, into the utmost confusion. Where would these sterile mountain lands get the means to feed the paupers deposited there from all sides on the frontier by expulsion orders? The core of. such a class of paupers already exists and threatens in an exceedingly disagreeable way this traditional patriarchalism. And even if — which is not to be expected — in the next few years the European revolution observes the same respect as hitherto towards Swiss neutrality, the article of the new Federal Constitution forbidding enlistments is preparing a revolutionary ferment which will eventually completely uproot the oldest and most firmly entrenched seat of reactionary barbarism in Europe. Like the monarchies, the reactionary republics are going under, dying of pecuniary consumption, of the “pale melancholy of financial need”.