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The Attack on Francis Joseph.
The Milan Riot.
British Politics.
Disraeli's Speech.
Napoleon's Will.

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, February 22, 1853

The electric telegraph brings the following news from Stuhlweissenburg[a]:

"On the 18th inst., at 1 o'clock, the Emperor of Austria, Francis Joseph, was walking on the ramparts of Vienna, when a Hungarian journeyman tailor named jános Libényi, formerly a hussar from Vienna, rushed upon him in a moment and struck him with a poniard. The blow was warded off by an aid-de-camp, the Count O'Donnell. Francis Joseph was wounded below the occiput. The Hungarian, 21 years of age, was struck down by a blow of the aid-de-camp's sword and was arrested immediately."

According to other accounts, the weapon employed was a musket. A very extensive conspiracy for the overthrow of the Austrian rule has just been discovered in Hungary.

The Wiener Zeitung[b] publishes several sentences passed by courts martial on thirty-nine individuals, accused principally of conspiracy with Kossuth and Ruszak, from Hamburg.

Immediately after the revolutionary outbreak in Milan had been crushed, Radetzky gave orders to intercept all communication with Piedmont and Switzerland. You will ere this have received the scanty information that has been allowed to find its way from Italy to England. I call your attention to one characteristic feature in the Milan affair.

Lieutenant-Marshal Count Strassoldo, in his first decree of the 7th inst., although imposing the severest state of siege upon Milan, plainly admits that the bulk of the population took no part whatever in the late insurrection. Radetzky, in his subsequent proclamation of the 9th inst., dated from Verona, subverts the statement of his inferior, and takes advantage of the rebellion to obtain money under false pretenses. He subjects all persons not notoriously belonging to the Austrian party to fines of unlimited extent, for the benefit of the garrison. In his proclamation of the 11th inst. he declares "that the generality of the inhabitants, with a few praiseworthy exceptions, are unwilling to submit to the Imperial rule," and he instructs all judicial authorities, i.e. the courts martial, to sequestrate the property of all the accomplices, explaining this term in the following manner:

"Che tale complicitá consista semplicimente nella omissione della denuncia a cui ognuno è tenuto."[c]

He might as well have confiscated all Milan at once under the pretense that, the insurrection having broken out on the 6th, its inhabitants failed to denounce it on the 5th. Whoever will not become a spy and informer for the Hapsburg shall be liable to become the lawful prey of the Croat[314]. In a word, Radetzky proclaims a new system of wholesale plunder.

The Milan insurrection is significant as a symptom of the approaching revolutionary crisis on the whole European continent. As the heroic act of some few proletarians the sons of Mammon were dancing, and singing, and feasting amid the blood and tears of their debased and crucified nation proletarians who, armed only with knives, marched to attack the citadel of a garrison and surrounding army of forty thousand of the finest troops in Europe, it is admirable. But as the finale of Mazzini's eternal conspiracy, of his bombastic proclamations and his arrogant capucinades against the French people, it is a very poor result. Let us hope that henceforth there will be an end of révolutions improvisées, as the French call them. Has one ever heard of great improvisators being also great poets? They are the same in politics as in poetry. Revolutions are never made to order. After the terrible experience of '48 and '49, it needs something more than paper summonses from distant leaders to evoke national revolutions. Kossuth has seized the opportunity for publicly disavowing the insurrection in general, and the proclamation published in his name in particular[d]. It looks, however, rather suspicious that he claims for himself a post-factum superiority to his friend Mazzini as a politician. The Leader remarks on this subject:

"We deem it necessary to caution our readers that the matter in question lies exclusively between Mr. Kossuth and Mr. Mazzini, the latter of whom is absent from England".[e]

Della Rocco, a friend of Mazzini, says in a letter addressed to The Daily News, with regard to Mr. Kossuth's and Mr. Agostini's disavowals:

"There are persons who will suspect that they were waiting the definitive news of the success or the failure of the insurrection, as ready to share the honor of the former as to repel the responsibility of the latter."[f]

B. Szemere, Ex-Minister of Hungary, protests in a letter addressed to the editor of The Morning Chronicle, "against the illegitimate usurpation of the name of Hungary by Kossuth." He says:

"Let those who are desirous of forming a judgment of him as a statesman, read attentively the history of the last Hungarian Revolution, or of learning his skill as a conspirator, cast a retrospective glance on the unhappy Hamburg expedition of last year."[315]

That the revolution is victorious even in its failures, one may see from the terrors the Milan échauffourée[g] has thrown in the very heart of continental potentates. Look only at the following letter published in the official Frankfurter Oberpostamts-Zeitung[h]

"Berlin, Feb. 13.—The events at Milan have produced a deep impression here. The news reached the King[i] by telegraph on the 9th, just as the court was in the middle of a ball. The King immediately declared that the movement was connected with a deep conspiracy, which had its ramifications everywhere, and that it showed the necessity for the close union of Prussia and Austria in presence of these revolutionary movements.... A high functionary exclaimed: 'We may thus have to defend the Prussian crown on the banks of the Po."'

So great was the alarm created in the first moment, that about twenty inhabitants of Berlin were arrested without any other cause than the "deep impression." The Neue Preussische Zeitung, the ultra Royalist paper, was confiscated for publishing the document purporting to be from Kossuth. On the 13th the Minister of Westphalia presented to the first chamber a hasty bill for empowering the Government to seize all papers or pamphlets published outside the frontiers of Prussia. Arrests and domiciliar visits are the order of the day at Vienna. Negotiations immediately took place between Russia, Prussia and Austria, for a joint remonstrance to be addressed to the British Government on the subject of political refugees. So weak, so powerless are the so-called "powers." They feel the thrones of Europe vibrate to their foundations at the first forebodings of the revolutionary earthquake. In the midst of their armies, their gallows and their dungeons, they are trembling at what they call "the subversive attempts of a few paid miscreants."

"Quiet is restored." It is. The ominous and dreadful quiet that intervenes between the first burst of the tempest and its returning roar.

From the agitated scenes of the Continent I pass to quiet England. It would seem as if the spirit of little Finality-John[316] had obtained the whole of the official sphere for its dominion; as though the nation throughout had become as paralytic as the men who now govern it. Even The Times exclaims with despair:

"It may be the calm before a storm; it may be the smoke before the fire.... For the present it is dullness."[j]

Business has been resumed in Parliament, but till now the three times repeated bowing of Lord Aberdeen has been the most dramatic, and the only conspicuous act of the Coalition Ministry[k]. The impression Lord John's programme has made on his enemies has been best described by the professions of his friends:

"Lord John Russell," says The Times, "has made a speech with rather less spirit than an ordinary auctioneer would put into his preliminary remarks before a sale of old furniture, damaged goods, or shop fittings.... Lord John Russell creates mighty little enthusiasm."

You know that the new Reform Bill has been postponed under the presence of more urgent practical reforms calling upon the more immediate attention of legislators. Now an instance has already been given of what nature these reforms must turn out to be, while the instrument of reforming, viz., Parliament, remains itself unreformed.

On Feb. 14, Lord Cranworth laid his programme of legal reform before the House of Lords. By far the greater part of his prolix, tedious, and indecisive speech consisted in the enumeration of the many things he was expected, but not at all prepared to do. He excused himself with being only seven weeks on the woolsack, but, as The Times observes, "Lord Cranworth has been 63 years in this world, and 37 at the Bar"[l]. In the true spirit of Whiggery, he infers from the comparatively great results obtained by the small legal reforms hitherto made, that it would be an infraction of' the laws of modesty to go on reforming in the same strain. In the true spirit of Aristocracy, he abstains from dealing with Ecclesiastical Law, as "It would interfere too much with vested interests." Interests vested in what? In public nuisances. The only measures of any importance prepared by Lord Cranworth are the following two: Firstly, a "Bill to facilitate the transfer of land," the principal features of which are, that it renders the transfer of land only more difficult, by increasing the expenses thereon, and augmenting the technical obstructions, without shortening the length, or diminishing the complexity of conveyances. Second, a proposition to form a commission for digesting the statute law[317], the whole merit of which will be restricted to the compilation of an index for the 40 quarto volumes of statutes at large. Lord Cranworth certainly may defend his measures against the most inveterate opponents to law-reform with the same excuse which was offered by the poor girl to her Confessor, namely: that, though it was true that she had had a child, it was but a very little one.

Up to this day the only interesting debate in the House of Commons was that in which Mr. Disraeli, on the 18th inst., interpellated the Ministers on the relations of the country with France. Disraeli began with Poitiers and Azincourt[318], and ended with the hustings at Carlisle, and the Cloth-Hall at Halifax, his object being to denounce Sir James Graham and Sir Charles Wood[m] for irreverent remarks made on the character of Napoleon III. Disraeli could not have rendered the utter decay of the old Tory party more evident, than by his throwing himself up as the apologist of the Bonapartes, the hereditary enemies of the very political class whose chief he himself is. He could not have opened his opposition career in a more inappropriate manner, than by this justification of the actual regime in France. The weakness of this part of his speech may be seen from a short analysis of it.

Attempting to explain the causes of the uneasiness felt by the public on the state of England's present relations with France, he was compelled to admit that the principal motive was just derived from the large armaments, which were commenced under his own administration. Nevertheless he endeavored to prove, that the increasing and completing of the defenses of Great Britain had their only reason in the great changes occasioned by the modern application of science to the art of war. Competent authorities, he says, had ere this recognized the necessity of such measures. In 1840, under the Ministry of M. Thiers, there had been made some efforts by the Government of Sir Robert Peel, at least to commence a new system with regard to the public defenses. But in vain. Again, at the outbreak of the Continental revolutions in 1848, an opportunity had been offered to the Government of the day to lead popular opinion in the direction which it desired, as far as the defense of the country was concerned. But again without result. The question of national defenses had not become ripe before he and his colleagues were placed at the head of the Government. The measures adopted by them were as follows:

  1. A Militia was established.
  2. The Artillery was placed in an efficient state.
  3. Measures were introduced which will completely fortify the Arsenals of the country, and some important strong posts upon the coast.
  4. A proposition was made by which will be added to the Navy 5,000 sailors and 1,500 marines.
  5. Arrangements were made for the establishment of the ancient force in the form of a Channel Fleet of 15 or 20 sail of the line with an adequate number of frigates and smaller ships.

Now, from all these statements, it is evident that Disraeli established exactly the contrary of what he wanted to prove. The Government was unable to effect an increase of armaments, when the Syrian and Tahitian questions menaced the entente cordiale with Louis Philippe[319]; it was equally unable to do so when Revolution spread all over the Continent and seemed to threaten British interests at their very root. Why, then, has it become possible to do so now, and why was it done by Mr. Disraeli's Government? Exactly because Napoleon III has raised more fears for the security of England than have existed at any time since 1815. And further, as Mr. Cobden justly observed :

"The proposed increase in the naval force was not an increase of steam machinery, but one of men, and the transition from the use of sailing vessels to that of steamers did not imply the necessity of a larger number of sailors, but quite the contrary."[n]

Disraeli said:[o]

"Another cause for the belief in an impending rupture with France is the existence in France of a military government. But when armies are anxious for conquests it is because their position at home is uneasy; and France is now governed by the army, not in consequence of the military ambition of the troops, but in consequence of the disquietude of the citizens."

Mr. Disraeli seems entirely to overlook that the question is just, how long the army will feel easy at home, and how long the entire Nation will bow, out of deference to the egotistical disquietude of a small class of citizens, to the actual terrors of a military despotism, which after all is but the instrument of exclusive class interests.

The third cause alleged by Mr. Disraeli was:

"The considerable prejudice in this country against the present ruler of France.... It is understood that in acceding to power he has terminated what we esteem a Parliamentary Constitution, and that he has abrogated the liberty of the press."

There is, however, but little which Mr. Disraeli knew of to oppose to that prejudice. He said "it was extremely difficult to form an opinion on French politics."

It is simply common sense which tells the English people, although less deeply initiated into the mysteries of French politics than Mr. Disraeli, that the reckless adventurer, being neither controlled by a Parliament nor a press, is the very man to make a piratical descent upon England, after his own exchequer has become exhausted by extravagance and dissipation.

Mr. Disraeli then records some instances, in which the cordial understanding between Bonaparte and the late Administration had greatly contributed toward the maintenance of peace, as in the case of an impending conflict between France and Switzerland, in the opening of the South America rivers, in the case of Prussia and Neuchâtel, in pressing upon the United States the Tripartite renunciation of Cuba, in the common action in the Levant with regard to the Tanzimat in Egypt, in the revision of the Greek Succession Treaty, in the cordial co-operation with regard to the Regency of Tunis, &c[320]. Now this reminds me of a certain member of the French party of order, who made a speech at the end of November, 1851, on the cordial understanding between Bonaparte and the Majority of the Assembly which had enabled the latter so easily to dispose of the Suffrage, the Association, and the Press questions. Two days later the coup d'état had been carried out.

Weak and inconsistent as was this part of Disraeli's speech, his attacks on the Coalition Ministry formed a brilliant conclusion:

"There is one other reason," he concluded, "why I am bound to pursue this inquiry at the present moment, and I find that reason in the present state of parties in this House. It is a peculiar state of things. We have at this moment a Conservative Ministry, and we have a Conservative Opposition. [Cheers.] Where the great Liberal party is, I pretend not to know. [Cheers.] Where are the Whigs, with their great traditions? ...There is no one to answer. [Renewed cheering.] Where, I ask, are the youthful energies of Radicalism? Its buoyant expectations—its expanded hopes? Awakened, I fear, from the dreams of that ardent inexperience which attend sometimes the career of youth, it finds itself at the same moment used and discarded. [Cheers.] Used without compunction, and not discarded with too much decency. [Cheers.] Where are the Radicals? Is there a man in the House who declares himself to be a Radical? [Hear, hear!] No, not one. He would be afraid of being caught and turned into a Conservative Minister. [Roars of laughter.] Well, how has this curious state of things been brought about? Where is the machinery by which it has been effected, this portentous political calamity? I believe I must go to that inexhaustible magazine of political devices, the First Lord of the Admiralty (Graham), to explain the present state of affairs. The House may recollect that some two years ago the First Lord of the Admiralty afforded us, as is his wont, one of those political creeds in which his speeches abound. He said: `I take my stand on progress.' Well, Sir, I thought at the time that progress was an odd thing to take one's stand upon. [Much laughter and cheering.] I thought at the time that this was a piece of oratorical slip-slop. But I apologize for the momentary suspicion. I find that it was a system perfectly matured, and now brought into action. For we have now a Ministry of progress, and every one stands still. [Cheers.] We never hear the word `reform' now; it is no longer a Ministry of reform; it is a Ministry of progress, every member of which resolves to do nothing. All difficult questions are suspended. All questions which cannot be agreed upon are open questions."

The opponents of Disraeli had but little to say in reply to him, with the exception of that very "inexhaustible magazine of political devices," Sir James Graham, who, at least, conserved his dignity in not wholly retracting the offensive words against Louis Napoleon, of which he had been accused.

Lord John Russell charged Mr. Disraeli with making a party question of the country's foreign policy, and assured the Opposition:

"That after the contentions and struggles of last year the country would gladly see a short time at least of peaceable progress, without any of these great convulsive struggles of parties."

The result of the debate is, that the whole of the navy estimates will be voted by the House, but to the comfort of Louis Napoleon, not from a warlike but only a scientific view of the matter. Suaviter in modo, fortiter in re.[p] On Thursday morning last, the Queen's Advocate, appearing before Sir J. Dodson, in the Prerogative Court, requested, on behalf of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, that the original will and codicil of Napoleon Bonaparte should be delivered up by the Register to the French Government; which desire was complied with. Should Louis Bonaparte proceed to open and endeavor to execute this testament, it might prove the modern box of Pandora.

Written on February 22, 1853
Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3710,
March 7 (evening edition) and March 8 (morning edition), 1853
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] The Hungarian name is Székesfehérvár.—Ed.

[b] Issue No. 35 of February 10, 1853.—Ed.

[c] "And that complicity consists in the simple failure to denounce, to which everybody is obliged.—Ed.

[d] See this volume, p. 508.—Ed.

[e] "Kossuth and the Milan Revolt", The Leader, February 19, 1853.—Ed.

[f] Della Rocco, "Mazzini's Proclamation", The Daily News, February 21, 1853.—Ed.

[g] Affrays.—Ed.

[h] Frankfurter Postzeitung.—Ed.

[i] Frederick William IV.—Ed.

[j] This quotation and one that follows are from the leading article in The Times, No. 21350, February 12, 1853.—Ed.

[k] See this volume, p. 510.—Ed.

[l] Quoted from the leading article in The Times, No. 21352, February 15, 1853.—Ed.

[m] Graham was deputy from Carlisle and Wood from Halifax.—Ed.

[n] Richard Cobden, Speech in the House of Commons on February 18, 1853, The Times, No. 21356, February 19, 1853.—Ed.

[o] Here and below Disraeli's speech in the House of Commons on February 18, 1853 is quoted from The Times, No. 21356, February 19, 1853. His opponents' statements are also quoted from the same newspaper.—Ed.

[p] Literally: suavely in manner, strongly in matter; gently but firmly—an expression from the treatise Industriae ad curandos animae morbos by Claudio Acquaviva, General of the Society of Jesus.—Ed.

[314] The reference is to the Croatian border regiments stationed in the Military Border Area, a special militarily organised region of the Austrian Empire along the frontier with Turkey. They were used by the Austrian command to suppress the national liberation movements in the provinces, in Northern Italy in particular.

[315] In November 1851 Kossuth sent his emissary Mihály Pataki Piringer from London to Hungary via Hamburg, where he established contact with the Hungarian émigré Ignác Ruscsák who was in touch with the Hungarian soldiers of the Austrian regiments stationed in Holstein. The soldiers spread Kossuth's appeals and manifestos. In Hamburg both Piringer and Ruscsák were arrested, and arrests among the soldiers followed. Piringer and Ruscsák were sentenced to death. Piringer was executed on February 5, 1852, but Ruscsák's death sentence was commuted to 18-year hard labour; the arrested soldiers were sentenced to hard labour (from three to eight years) or imprisonment in a fortress. The sentences were published in the Wiener Zeitung, No. 35, February 10, 1853.

[316] An allusion to the nickname "Finality-John" which was given by the radicals to John Russell, the leader of the Whig Party in England, after his speech in 1837 in which he characterised the Parliamentary Reform of 1832 as the final point of constitutional development in England

[317] The Statute Law —English law based on Acts of Parliament.

[318] This refers to two major battles in the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) between England and France: in 1358 at Poitiers and in 1415 at Azincourt (Agincourt) the English bowmen routed the French knights' cavalry.

[319] The Turko-Egyptian conflict over Syria, which was occupied by the Egyptian troops in 1833, recommenced in 1839. French aid to the Egyptian Pasha Muhammed Ali aggravated Anglo-French relations in the Middle East at the time. In an effort to prevent France from spreading its influence in this important region on the approaches to its Asian colonies, Britain rendered military assistance to Turkey against Egypt and, supported by Russia, Austria and Turkey, brought diplomatic pressure to bear upon France, forcing it to refuse aid to Egypt.

In 1844 a new aggravation of Anglo-French relations occurred in connection with the expulsion in March of a British agent from Tahiti, which shortly before had been proclaimed a French protectorate. The Tahiti incident resulted from increased Anglo-French rivalry in the Pacific.

[320] On the conflict between France and Switzerland see Note 68.

During the 1841 war with Uruguay, Argentina closed the Parana and Uruguay rivers. Demanding the opening of these rivers to their merchant ships, Britain and France brought diplomatic and military pressure to bear upon the Argentine Government and in 1845 they declared war on Argentina. As a result of a long blockade of the coast by the British and French navies, Argentina had to yield and in 1853 signed a treaty opening the above-mentioned rivers to foreign ships.

Neuchatel, a Swiss canton, was at the same time in vassalage to Prussia. In February 1848 a bourgeois revolution in Neuchâtel put an end to Prussian rule and a republic was proclaimed there. Diplomatic interference by the European powers, including Britain and France, prevented Prussia from using force. It was not until 1857 that. Prussia finally relinquished her claims to Neuchâtel.

In 1852 the British and French governments suggested to the US Government that they sign a tripartite convention renouncing any claim to Cuba, as they feared that the United States might seize this island belonging to Spain. The convention was not signed because the United States refused.

In 1851, under the pretext of spreading the Tanzimat to Egypt (Tanzimat reform policy carried out in Turkey from 1839 to strengthen the monarchy by a compromise with the nascent bourgeoisie), Turkey suggested that Egypt's governor should carry out a number of "reforms" which would bring Egypt back under Turkish rule. Under pressure from Britain and France, Egypt was forced to accept some of the Turkish demands,

In November 1852 a protocol was signed in London between Britain, France, Russia, Bavaria and Greece under which Adalbert of Bavaria was appointed heir to his childless elder brother King Otto of Greece instead of another prince of Bavaria who had refused to adopt the Orthodox faith.

In the 1840s and 1850s Britain and France raising obstacles to Tunisia's independence interfered in its foreign policy and helped Turkey in its claim to rule in Tunisia.

[68] At Marengo (North Italy) Napoleon Bonaparte's army, which had crossed the Alps at the St. Bernard Pass, defeated the army of the Austrian General Melas on June 14, 1800.

"A company of gendarmes to be sent across the Jura"—Marx refers here to the conflict between France and Switzerland in December 1851-January 1852 over Louis Bonaparte's demand for the deportation of French republican refugees from Switzerland. The Jura—a mountain range on the French-Swiss border.

Order of St. Andrew—the highest order of the Russian Empire. Marx apparently refers to the need for Louis Bonaparte to be recognised by the Russian Tsar Nicholas I.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 11 (pp.513-521), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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