Articles by Frederick Engels for The Northern Star

The Civil War in The Valais

Source: MECW Volume 3, p. 525;
Written: in the first half of June 1844;
First published: in The Northern Star No. 344, June 15, 1844, with an editorial note: “From our own Correspondent”

The valley of the River Rhone, from its source at the foot of the glacier du Rhone to the Lake Leman [Lake of Geneva], is one of the finest countries in the world. On its sides are the highest mountains of Europe, two uninterrupted chains of a mean height of 12,000 feet, covered with eternal snow, from which spring the numberless rivulets which feed the Rhone and fertilise the meadows and fields of the valley. Here, within a few. hours’ walk from eternal winter, the chestnut and the vine are found thriving under a sun as powerful almost in its warmth as that of the evergreen plains of Lombardy. This valley is called the Valais [The German name for it is Wallis], and inhabited partly by Germans, partly by Frenchmen. The Germans, entering the country from the north-east, occupy the higher and more mountainous part of the valley, where the country is unfavourable to agriculture, but excellent for the breeding of cattle; consequently this part of the population remains up to this time in almost the same state of nature in which their forefathers occupied the Upper Valais. Political and religious education is left entirely in the hands of a few aristocratic families and of the priesthood, who, of course, keep the people as stupid and superstitious as possible. On the contrary, the French settled in the Lower Valais, where the widening of the valley admits of introducing agriculture and other pursuits of industry. The French have founded the more considerable towns of the Valais, are educated and civilised, and by their bordering on the lake and the Radical canton of Vaud [230], are brought into connection with the outer world, and enabled to keep up with the progress of their neighbour’s ideas. Nevertheless, the rough mountaineers of the Upper Valais had, I know not how, many hundred years ago, subdued the French Lower Valais, and continued to consider this part of the country as a conquered province, and to exclude its inhabitants from any participation in government. In 1798, when the French overthrew the old aristocratic system of Swiss patrician despotism [231], the Lower Valais got its share of government, but not to the full extent it was entitled to. In 1830, when the democratic party in all Switzerland was in the ascendant, the constitution was re-modelled upon fair and democratic principles [232]; but the priest-ridden cow-herds of Upper Valais, and the sovereign rulers of their minds, the parsons, have ever since tried to bring about a change in favour of the old system of injustice. The Radical party, in order to guard against this, formed an association called Young Switzerlandla jeune Suisse — among themselves and the Radicals of Vaud. They were most violently assailed and calumniated by the priesthood, and usually attacked upon the ground of being infidels, which, however, on the continent is a charge more laughed at than shuddered at. In 1840 the first outbreak against Young Switzerland took place, but, finding the democrats well prepared, the dupes of superstition and ignorance retreated to their unassailable mountain passes, in order to break forth again in March, 1844. They have now succeeded in taking the Radicals by surprise, in profiting by the general reaction in favour of Conservative principles; and of the leading canton (the seat of the federal Government for the time being) Luzern, being a Conservative Canton. The democratic party in Valais is for the moment overwhelmed. The interference of the federal Government will be required; it remains to be seen what profit the priests, who accompanied the Conservative army and headed it, will make of their victory; but at any rate there is no chance, even now, to re-establish anything like the old system, or to keep the Lower Valais and its spirited inhabitants in a state of subjection. A few years, nay, months, may bring back the ascendancy of the democratic party. [233]