‘Neutres dans les grandes revolutions des Etats qui les environnaient, les Suisses s’enrichirent des malheurs d’autrui et fondèrent une banque sur les calamités humaines.’ (Chateaubriand)

‘Switzerland does not exist’. (André Gorz)

From a political point of view, Switzerland represents three things: a haven for international capital, the embodiment of the petit-bourgeois spirit, and an apparent challenge to Marxist theory on the national question. Though these phenomena are swiftly conjured up by the word ‘Switzerland’, they are not seen as forming an essential unit. Yet Switzerland is all these three things precisely because it is not an ordinary nation-state: it was created, by both internal and external forces, against the nation-state at a strategic moment of history. Switzerland is a unique construct—an international mercenary state, first of feudal militarism, and now of world capital.

If Engels was correct (Der Schweizer Bürgerkrieg, 1847)—though this position is disputed by Grimmfootnote1—the Swiss displayed their profoundly reactionary propensities as early as the 13th century when they performed the extraordinary feat of breaking away from Austria at the one and only time in history when Austria was a relatively progressive state. Switzerland’s mercenary role in the feudal ages is even today evidenced by the fossil Swiss Guard of the Vatican—the only such surviving relic in Europe.

Pictet de Rochemont, the Swiss delegate to the Congress of Vienna in 1815, subsequently wrote a book whose title is the summation of his country’s role: De la neutralité de la Suisse dans l’intérêt de l’ Europe. For, on the one hand, Switzerland specifically designed herself as nothing other than a disembodied refuge for international capital: she had to lack the characteristics which would make her like other states: others’ wars had to be her peace, her peace had to be others’ wars. On the other hand, international capital co-operated in the construction of this enclave, conveniently situated in the heart of Europe (where else?), and populated by the optimal combination of lumpen peasantry and petits bourgeois. In origin, therefore, there was a clear structural connection between the class composition of the area that became Switzerland, the role assumed by the Swiss state and the cultural characteristics of the population: what Gorz has called the ‘miserly opulence of Zurich’ is more than a figure of speech, it condenses a historical reality that is both prehensile and warped.

Given this, it was only natural that Switzerland should become the home of the two major symbolic institutions of international capitalism: the League of Nations (an institutionalization of imperialist legality for the first time, designed to preserve the status quo in the ‘third world’ in the interests of the established imperialist powers; the League only activated itself over new initiatives like Manchuria and Ethiopia); and the Red Cross (an institutionalization of international charity of a not dissimilar character). But, as is brilliantly brought out by JeanBaptiste Mouroux in his excellent Du Bonheur dEtre Suisse sous Hitlerfootnote2, the mere siting of the League in Geneva detonated intolerable political contradictions: the integral relationship between the nauseating tranquillity of Geneva and the world order of violence which that tranquillity represented could only be sustained if not made explicit. The Swiss economy was basically complementary with that of Germany; Motta, the strong man of Swiss politics in the inter-war period, was a rabid admirer of Mussolini. Thus it was that in 1935 Switzerland refused to comply with the League charter in applying sanctions against Italy; in 1936 was one of the first countries to recognize Italian fascist sovereignty over Ethiopia; and in 1938 decided to withdraw from the League in order to evade its responsibilities vis-`-vis Germany—on the grounds that to take action against Germany would infringe its own neutrality!

Mouroux goes on to detail the massive complicity between Berne and Berlin: major Swiss credits to Germany (535,000,000 Swiss francs in 1941, approximately 1,100,000,000 by 1943). By the end of the war Switzerland was providing 80 per cent of all the anti-aircraft guns in use throughout the entire Reich. The local Nazi party (the nsdap) was allowed to flourish unmolested—until May 1st 1945. As well as this, Mouroux quotes copiously from the secret circulars issued to the Swiss frontier guards, which reveal an explicit anti-semitic approach throughout the most atrocious periods of the war (clause III of the instructions of September 26 1942 explicitly orders border posts on the frontier with France to exclude Jews from the status of political refugees and refuse them admittance). But the most abominable aspect of all is that at the very time when the Nazis were surreptitiously expelling numbers of Jews from Germany and Austria, the Swiss took the initiative to make this extremely difficult by insisting that the Germans bureaucratize and formalize the operation by affixing a special sign to Jewish passports—to allow them to enter Switzerland! The Germans not surprisingly asked the Swiss to reciprocate.