Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung January 1849

The Swiss Press

Source: MECW Volume 8, p. 246;
Written: by Engels on January 11, 1849;
First published: in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 197, January 17, 1849.

Berne, January 11. Year by year the political press in Switzerland becomes increasingly active. Besides some twenty literary magazines, there are now 98 political newspapers in the 22 cantons. But one should not imagine that among them there are any large-size newspapers like the German or even the French. Except for a few newspapers in the Waadt canton, they are all only half a printed sheet and in quarto, and scarcely a dozen of them are published daily; a small number appear five times, most of them three times and some only once a week. With few exceptions they are all wretchedly managed and written. And, of course, on the restricted basis of cantonal conditions in this country, and in the extremely petty polemics which is the only possible kind here, how can any considerable journalistic talent develop and what really talented journalist would consent to be restricted to these meagre conditions and to the space of a quarto sheet that appears three times a week!

The best quality of the Swiss press is its brazenness. People say such things to one another publicly in the newspapers, make unblushingly such insolent personal attacks, that a Rhenish Public Prosecutor for whom Article 370 of the Code pénal [234] is sacrosanct would not be able to stand it for three days in such a country.

But that is all. If one leaves out of account this recklessness which, incidentally, is quite without wit or humour, almost nothing is left but the most servile bowing and scraping to the repellent narrow-mindedness of a small nation, which in addition to its smallness is split and immeasurably puffed up — a nation of antediluvian Alpine herdsmen, hidebound peasants and disgusting philistines. That in large countries a newspaper takes the lead from its party and never undertakes anything against the interests of the party is quite understandable, and does little harm to freedom of discussion, because every trend, even the most progressive, has its press organs. But in the parochial conditions of Switzerland, the parties themselves are parochial, and the press is just as parochial as the parties. Hence the narrow-minded viewpoints from which everything is looked at; hence the absence of any press organs for trends which are indeed progressive, but which even in Germany have long been current. Hence the fear of even the most radical newspapers to diverge one iota from the narrow-minded programme of their party calculated only on the most immediate future, their fear to attack even the most extreme features of Swiss national narrow-mindedness. Anyone who violated sacred national feeling would immediately be punished by patriarchal lynch justice. What else does the honest Swiss need his fists for?

Such is the average level of the Swiss press. Above this level are the best newspapers of Romance Switzerland and Berne; below this level is the great mass of newspapers of East. Switzerland.

Let us begin with the press of the Swiss capital. In Berne a certain centralisation of the Swiss press is already taking place. The press of the canton is already concentrated there and is beginning to a certain extent to gain the influence befitting a capital city.

The chief organ of the reactionary, or as it is called here the aristocratic, party is the Schweizerischer Beobachter, which the Berner-Zeitung rightly calls the Moniteur of Swiss officers in the service of foreign states. This prim little newspaper (issued three times a week) praises the heroic deeds of the Swiss Croats in Italy, attacks the radicals with the dirtiest weapons, defends the enlistment agreements, fulsomely praises the aristocrats, extols Radetzky and Windischgrätz, defends the murder of Robert Blum, slanders the revolution in all countries and denounces refugees to the Government. This noble sheet has really no editor; it is compiled from all kinds of dispatches and items from idle sons of patricians, and from place-seekers of the Municipal Council. A worthy companion to it is the Intelligenzblatt, an organ which has on the front page only announcements, while the back page is filled with articles praising the pietism and profit-making of the patrician landowners. Die Biene is intended to act as the Charivari of this party. But since nowadays the patrician gentlemen on the whole have more to weep over than to laugh at, the humour of this Biene is of a terribly dull and lame variety.

The moderate or liberal party, the party of Ochsenbein, has the Berner Verfassungs-Freund as its main organ. This newspaper, the editor of which is Dr., formerly Professor, Karl Herzog, is regarded as the semi-official organ of Ochsenbein. Edited by a fairly experienced hand, but without a trace of talent, the newspaper limits itself to defending the actions of the Government and Federal Council, insofar as these actions emanate from the Ochsenbein party. In regard to the eastern cantons, especially the Ur-cantons,[236] it is of course fearfully liberal, and even in matters of foreign policy it sometimes issues a resounding trumpet-call in order, behind the warlike tone, to smuggle in the most non-committal neutrality. A more or less obscure newspaper, the Bundeszeitung, steers approximately the same course, as does also the French newspaper, La Suisse, edited in bad French by the Piedmontese Bassi. While not so directly linked with the Government as the Verfassungs-Freund, it is no less zealous in flattering the ruling liberal majority, and with great persistence but little success it attacks the revolutionary press of French Switzerland, in particular the Nouvelliste Vaudois. It behaves more decently in regard to the Italian question in which its editor takes a direct part. — These three newspapers appear daily.

The radical party has the largest number of newspapers. At their head is the Berner-Zeitung, of which the editor-in-chief is the barrister Niggeler, Vice-President of the Great Council and member of the Council of States. This newspaper is the organ of the markedly radical party of the German part of the canton, represented in the Government Council by Finance Director Stämpfli. Implementation of democracy in the legislation and administration of the canton, from which much ancient rubbish has still to be removed, the greatest possible centralisation throughout Switzerland, abandonment of the policy of neutrality at the first opportunity — these are the main principles in the editing of this newspaper.

The most eminent representatives of Berne radicalism participate in this work, and it is therefore not surprising that the Berner-Zeitung is the best edited newspaper not only in the canton, but in the whole of German Switzerland. If the editors and contributors could write quite freely the newspaper would be much better still, the one and indivisible Helvetian republic[237] would come into prominence, with a very red coloration at that; but that cannot be done just now; the party would not yet tolerate it. Appearing alongside the Berner-Zeitung from January 1, and also daily, is L'Helvétie fédérale, the successor of the newspaper L'Helvétie, formerly published in Pruntrut in the Jura, organ of the Jura radicals and their leader, Colonel Stockmar, a member of the Government Council. The old Helvétie was definitely red; the new one is equally so, indeed in an even more marked degree.

The Schweizer Zeitung (previously Der Freie Schweizer) is likewise a representative of radicalism, but exclusively of the bourgeois variety, and therefore restricts itself wholly to demanding economic reforms which are advantageous to the ruling, propertied class. For the rest, however, this newspaper too goes beyond the usual Swiss cantonal narrow-mindedness (neutrality, sovereignty of the cantons etc.). Besides these three dailies, the Berne radicals have also a humorous newspaper, and in fact the only good one in Switzerland — the Gukkasten of Jenni. The Gukkasten (a weekly) restricts itself purely to Swiss and, particularly, Berne canton interests, but precisely for this reason it has succeeded in becoming a power in the land, so that it played an important part in the fall of the Neuhaus Government and is now trying to ensure that the Ochsenbein party does not remain at the helm too long. The merciless wit by which Jenni seeks to strip the halo of popularity from every one of the governing personalities, including Ochsenbein himself, has brought him innumerable court cases and vexations under the Neuhaus Government, and subsequently threatening letters and savage attacks. But all in vain, and the highly placed gentlemen of Berne still await the appearance of each fresh Saturday issue of the Gukkasten with considerable trepidation. When Blum was shot, the Gukkasten’s weekly cartoon depicted an executioner’s block and axe, surrounded by a mass of broken crowns, with the caption: “The only remedy.” When the sedate bourgeois of Berne waxed indignant over this, it was followed by a cartoon in the next issue showing a lamp-post with a crown dangling from it, and with the caption: “Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re [mild in manner, radical in substance] — in memory of Messenhauser!”

Until the New Year, the Seeländer Anzeiger, published by J. A. Weingart, a member of the National Council and the Great Council, was the sole representative of socialism. The Seeländer Anzeiger preaches a curious mixture of tearfully sentimental and philanthropic socialism with red revolution. It keeps the former for the Berne canton, but speaks of the latter as soon as it deals with foreign countries. As regards literary form, this weekly is one of the worst edited periodicals of the canton. For the rest, in spite of the Christian soft-hearted outpourings of his soul, Herr Weingart in politics supports the most outspoken radicalism. Since the New Year, the Seeländer Anzeiger has had a rival in the shape of another weekly, Der Unabhängige, which it is true has set itself a rather thankless task: in the conditions of the Berne canton and Switzerland in general to find starting points for propaganda of the fundamentals of socialism and to propose measures for getting rid of at least the most blatant evils. At any rate, this little newspaper is the only one in the whole of Switzerland which has adopted the right course to gain support for its ideas in this country, and if its chances of success are in proportion to the fury it has already aroused among the high and highest authorities, then its prospects are by no means bad.

Of the newspapers published outside the city, I shall mention only one: the Evolution, as Becker, the leader of the volunteer insurgents, has now renamed his Revolution. This most outspoken of all the newspapers published in Switzerland alone calls for a new European revolution, for which it tries to win supporters among its entourage. By way of thanks, the peaceful burghers detest it, and it finds few readers, apart from the German refugees in Switzerland, Besançon and Alsace.

In a forthcoming article I shall examine in more detail the newspapers published outside Berne.[238]