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The Struggle in The Crimea[1]

Frederick Engels

Immediately after the battle of the Alma[2], and the march of the Allies on Balaklava, we expressed the opinion that the ultimate result of the Crimean campaign must depend on which of the contending parties should first bring up new forces sufficient to render it superior to its antagonist in numbers and efficiency[a]. The aspect of affairs has, since then, greatly altered, and many illusions have been destroyed; but, throughout the whole time, both the Russians and the Allies have been engaged in a sort of steeple-chase at reenforcements, and, in this effort, we are compelled to say that the Russians have the advantage. In spite of all the boasted improvements in mechanical skill and the means of transport, three or five hundred miles of road are still far easier traversed by an army of Russian barbarians than two thousand miles of sea by an army of highly-civilized French and English—especially when the latter make it a point to neglect all the advantages which their high civilization places at their disposal, and when the Russian barbarians can afford to lose two men to the Allies' one, without impairing their ultimate superiority.

But what can be in store for the Allies when one of their armies—the British—despairing of being destroyed by the Russians, deliberately sets about destroying itself with a systematic consistency, an eagerness, and a success which beat all its former achievements in any line whatever? Yet such is the case. The British force, we are now informed, has ceased to exist as an army. There are a few thousand men left, under arms, out of 54,000, but they themselves are reported "fit for duty" merely because there is no hospital-room for them to die in. Of the French, some 50,000 may be still under arms, out of twice that number; and, at all events, they have managed to keep in a serviceable state at least five times as many, in proportion, as the British. But what are fifty or sixty thousand men to hold the Heracleatic Chersonese the winter through; to keep Sevastopol blockaded on the south side; to defend the trenches, and—what may be left of them—to take the offensive in spring?

For the present, the British have ceased to send reenforcements. In fact Raglan, despairing of his army, does not appear to wish for any, not knowing how to feed, house and employ even what is left to him. The French may be preparing a fresh set of .divisions for embarkation in March, but they have plenty to do to prepare against the eventuality of a great continental spring campaign, and there are ten chances to one that what they send will either be too weak or come too late. To remedy this state of things two steps have been taken, both of which denote the utter helplessness of the Allies to avert the. fate which seems inevitably, though slowly, to approach their armies in the Crimea. First, in order to redress the colossal blunder of having attempted this expedition four months too late, they commit the incommensurably greater blunder of sending to the Crimea, four months after their own arrival, and in the depth of winter, the only remnant of a decent army which Turkey still possesses. That army which was already being ruined and dissolving itself at Shumla under the neglect, incapacity and corruption of the Turkish Government, once landed in the Crimea, will melt away, by cold and hunger, at a ratio which will put to the blush even the achievements of the English War-Office in this branch—that is, if the Russians have the sense to leave the Turks, for a time, to themselves, without attacking them. If the weather permits an attack they will be destroyed at once, though at a greater cost to the Russians, and with hardly any advantage, except a moral one.

Then the Allies have taken into their pay—for that is the only way to express it—fifteen to twenty thousand Piedmontese[3], who are to fill up the thinned ranks of the British army, and to be fed by the British Commissariat. The Piedmontese showed themselves brave and good soldiers in 1848 and '49. Being mostly mountaineers, they possess an infantry which, for skirmishing and fighting in broken ground, is naturally adapted in even a higher degree than the French, while the plains of the Po furnish cavalry soldiers whose tall, well-proportioned stature reminds one of the crack regiments of British horse. They have, besides, not passed through the severe campaigns of the revolution without profit. There is no doubt that these two Piedmontese divisions will turn out as good a "foreign legion" as will figure in this war. But what are these light-footed, agile, handy little fellows to do under the command of an old British martinet[b], who has no idea of maneuvering, and who expects nothing from his soldiers but the dogged stubbornness which is the glory and at the same time the only military quality of the British soldier? They will be placed in positions unsuited to their mode of fighting; they will be prevented from doing what they are fit for, while they will be expected to do things which no sensible man would ever set them to. To lead a British army in that senseless, point-blank, stupid way to the slaughter-house, as was done at the Alma, may be the shortest way to make them settle the business before them. The old Duke[c] generally took matters quite as easy. German troops may be made to do the same thing, although the high military education of German officers will not stand such want of generalship in the long run. But to attempt such things with a French, Italian or Spanish army—with troops essentially fitted for light-infantry duty, for maneuvering, for taking advantage of the ground—with troops whose efficiency, in a great measure, is made up by the agility and quick glance of every individual soldier—such a clumsy system of warfare will never do. The poor Piedmontese, however, will probably be spared the trial of fighting in the English way. They are to be fed by that notorious body, the British Commissariat, which could never feed anybody but themselves. Thus they will share the fate of the fresh arrivals of British troops. Like them, they will die at the rate of a hundred a week, and furnish three times that number to the hospitals. If Lord Raglan thinks that the Piedmontese will stand his and his Commissaries' incapacity as quietly as the British troops, he will find himself sadly mistaken. There are none but British and Russians who would remain in submission under such circumstances; and, we must say, it is not to the credit of their national character.

The probable development of this melancholy campaign—as melancholy and bleak as the muddy plateau of Sevastopol—will be this: The Russians, when fully concentrated, and when the weather permits, will probably attack the Turks of Omer Pasha first. This is expected by British, French and Turks, so well aware are they of the unenviable position assigned to the latter; it shows, at all events, that the Turks are sent to the North with open eyes; and no better proof of the desperate condition of the Allies can be conceived than is contained in this involuntary admission of their own Generals. That the Turks will be beaten may be taken for certain. Then what will be the fate of the allied and Piedmontese armies? The bluster about an assault on Sevastopol is now pretty much abandoned. On this head we find in the London Times of Feb. 6, a letter from Col. E. Napier, to the effect that if the Allies attack the south side of Sevastopol, they will most likely get into it; but they will be pounded into dust by the overwhelming fire of the north forts and batteries, and at the same time besieged by the Russian army in the field. That army, he says, should first have been defeated, and then both the north and south sides of the place invested. As an instance in point, he recalls the fact that the Duke of Wellington twice raised the siege of Badajoz, in order to march against a relieving army[4]. Col. Napier is quite right, and the Tribune said quite as much, at the time of the famous flank march to Balaklava[d]. As to the Allies getting into Sevastopol, however, he appears to overlook the peculiar nature of the Russian defenses, which make it impossible to carry the place at one single assault. There are first, outworks, then the main rampart, and behind this the buildings of the town converted into redoubts; streets barricaded, squares of houses loopholed; and, finally, the loopholed rear walls of the strand-forts, every one of which, in succession, will require a separate attack—perhaps a separate siege, and even mining operations. But beside all this, the successful sorties of the Russians of late have sufficiently proved that the town has been approached to a point where the forces of the opponents are fully balanced, and the attack deprived of any superiority except in point of artillery. As long as sorties cannot be made impossible, all idea of an assault is preposterous; the besieger who cannot confine the besieged to the space of the actual fortress, is much less able to take that fortress by a hand-to-hand encounter.

Thus, the besiegers will continue to vegetate in their camp. Confined to it by weakness and the Russian army in the field, they will continue to melt away, while the Russians are bringing up fresh forces; and unless the new British Ministry brings into play some quite unexpected resources, the day must come when British, French, Piedmontese and Turks are swept from Crimean soil.

Written about February 9, 1855. Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4323, February 26, 1855 as a leading article


[a] See Engels' article "The Battle of the Alma" (present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 492-97).—Ed.

[b] Raglan.—Ed.

[c] Wellington.—Ed.

[d] Presumably a reference to Engels' article "The Siege of Sevastopol" published in the New-York Daily Tribune on November 15, 1854 (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 505-09).—Ed.

[1] "The Struggle in the Crimea" is one of the many articles on the Crimean War written by Engels at Marx's request for the New-York Daily Tribune.

Marx contributed to this newspaper from August 1851 to March 1862, but not until August 1852 did he begin sending articles of his own. His first were written in German and translated into English by his friends, mostly Engels. By late January 1853, his knowledge of English had improved sufficiently for him to begin writing them in English.

Marx's and Engels' articles in the New-York Daily Tribune dealt with key issues of foreign and domestic policy, the working-class movement, the economic development of European countries, colonial expansion and the national liberation movement in colonial and dependent countries. They immediately attracted attention by their profundity, political insight and literary merits. The New-York Daily Tribune editors publicly acknowledged their high quality. For instance, in a leading article on April 7, 1853, they saw fit to "pay a tribute to the remarkable ability of the correspondent... Mr. Marx has very decided opinions of his own, with some of which we are far from agreeing; but those who do not read his letters neglect one of the most instructive sources of information on the great questions of current European politics." In a letter to Jenny Marx of July 1, 1853, Charles Dana, one of the editors, wrote that the owners of the Tribune and the reading public had a high opinion of her husband's articles.

Many articles by Marx and Engels were reprinted in the Tribune's special issues—the New-York Weekly Tribune and New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, and some were reproduced in the Chartist People's Paper. Other newspapers, including the New-York Times, quoted from them. Their articles reached Europe too. For example, in his speech in the House of Commons on July 1, 1853, John Bright, leader of the Free Traders, specially noted Marx's article on Gladstone's budget published in the Tribune (see present edition, Volume 12, p. 176).

The Tribune editors sometimes took liberties with the articles, printing them unsigned, in the form of editorials, especially from September 1854 onwards. In some cases they tampered with the text, making insertions, some of which were in direct contradiction to the content of the articles. Marx repeatedly protested against these practices. In the autumn of 1857 he was forced to reduce the number of his contributions in view of the Tribune's weak financial position, the result of the economic crisis in the U.S.A. He ceased contributing to the paper altogether after the outbreak of the American Civil War, mainly because the Tribune had come under the sway of people advocating a compromise with the slave-owning states.

"The Struggle in the Crimea" is one of the series of reviews of the Crimean War of 1853-56 which Engels began to write for the New-York Daily Tribune in the autumn of 1853 and the Neue Oder-Zeitung in January 1855 (in the latter case the reviews were either German versions of articles written for the Tribune or special reports included by Marx in his articles for the Neue Oder-Zeitung). The New-York Daily Tribune published these reviews as leading articles without giving the name of the author (see present edition, Vols. 12 and 13).

[2] The battle of the Alma took place on September 20, 1854. The Russian forces were commanded by A. S. Menshikov, and the numerically superior forces of the French, British and Turks by Saint-Arnaud and Raglan. It was the first battle after the Allies' landing in the Crimea (at Eupatoria) on September 14. The defeat and withdrawal of the Russian troops opened up the way to Sevastopol for the Allies. Later Engels also described this battle in his article "Alma" written for the New Americana (see present edition, Volume 18).

[3] Piedmont (the Kingdom of Sardinia) joined the anti-Russian coalition at Napoleon III's insistence in January 1855 and sent a corps of 15,000 troops to the Crimea. Count Camillo Cavour, the head of the Piedmontese government, who wanted to unite Italy under the aegis of the Savoy dynasty that ruled Piedmont, hoped thus to win France's support in the future struggle of the Kingdom of Sardinia for the North Italian provinces of Lombardy and Venice, which had been captured by Austria. This support was to help him avenge Piedmont's defeat in the war against Austria in 1848-49.

[4] On May 4, 1811, in the course of the Peninsular War (1808-14) British, Spanish and Portuguese forces commanded by Wellington laid siege to the French-held fortress of Badajoz (south-western Spain). However, on May 14 Wellington was forced to lift the siege in order to engage the French army sent to relieve the besieged garrison. The siege was resumed on May 25, but lifted again for the same reason on June 17. The fortress was captured by Wellington's troops on April 6, 1812, after a new siege which began on March 16.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.3-8), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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