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Palmerston.—The Army[5]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

London, February 9. Following their acceptance of new ministerial posts, Palmerston and Sidney Herbert have to submit to the formality of re-election to their parliamentary seats. For this reason both Houses were yesterday adjourned for a week. The statements by Lord Derby and the Marquis of Lansdowne in the House of Lords concerning the secret history of the ministerial crisis merely retold an oft-told tale[a]. The sole item of importance was a remark by Derby which contained the key to Lord Palmerston's position. Palmerston is known to have no parliamentary party behind him, or any clique masquerading under that name. Whigs, Tories and Peelites[6] regard him with equal suspicion. The Manchester School[7] is in open conflict with him. His personal supporters among the Mayfair Radicals[8] (as distinct from the Manchester Radicals) number a dozen at the most. Who and what, then, enables him to impose himself on the Crown and on Parliament? His popularity? No more so than unpopularity prevented Gladstone, Herbert, Graham and Clarendon from again seizing the helm of state. Or is the man who never belonged to a party, served all of them alternately, deserted them all in turn and invariably held the balance between them, is he the natural leader of defunct parties which seek to stem the tide of history by forming a coalition? This fact proves nothing at the present moment, since it was insufficient to put Palmerston rather than Aberdeen at the head of the coalition in 1852.

Derby has supplied the' answer to the riddle. Palmerston is evidently Bonaparte's friend. His premature recognition of the coup d'état in December 1851 was then ostensibly the reason for his expulsion from the Whig Ministry[9]. Bonaparte therefore regards him as persona grata, and a trustworthy man. The alliance with Bonaparte is therefore decisive at the moment. Palmerston has thus used foreign affairs to tip the balance of ministerial groupings and not for the first time, as closer examination of the history of British ministries between 1830 and 1852 would show.

Since at present the situation of the Crimean army can no longer be exploited for the purpose of cabinet intrigues, Lord John Russell went back on his pessimistic opinion in yesterday's sitting in the Commons, allowed the strength of the British army to grow by some 10,000 men and exchanged congratulations with the God-fearing Gladstone[b]. Despite this "parliamentary resurrection" of the British army, there can be no doubt that at the present moment it has ceased to exist as an army. Some few thousand are still listed as "fit for service" because there is no room in the hospitals to receive them. Out of 100,000 the French still number some 50,000, but what are 50,000 or 60,000 men to hold Heracleatic Chersonese through the winter, to blockade the south side of Sevastopol, to defend the trenches and to take the offensive in the spring with those who are left? The French may hold in readiness fresh divisions for embarkation in March, but they are busy preparing for a spring campaign on the continent, and there is every probability that their shipments will be too few or will arrive too late.

That the English and French governments are helpless, indeed have given up the army in the Crimea for lost, is apparent from the two measures to which they have resorted in order to remedy their misfortunes.

In order to make good the error of having undertaken the expedition four months too late, they are committing the incomparably greater error of sending to the Crimea, the only remnants of the Turkish army that are still serviceable, four months after their own arrival and in mid-winter. This army, already broken and in the process of disintegration at Shumla as a consequence of the neglect, incompetence and corruption of the Turkish government, will in the Crimea melt away with cold and hunger to an extent which will even surpass British achievements in this field.

As soon as the Russians have attained their full concentration and the weather permits field operations, they will probably first attack the Turks under Omer Pasha. This is expected by the British and French. Thus conscious are they of the unenviable position they have assigned to them. Thus clearly do they show that the strategic error of now throwing the Turks in on the northern side was committed with open eyes? The Turks would only be able to save themselves from ultimate destruction by the most incomprehensible errors on the part of the Russians.

Secondly, the Anglo-French have hired 15,000 Piedmontese for the purpose of swelling the sparse ranks of the British; they are to be fed by the British Commissariat. In 1848 and 1849 the Piedmontese showed themselves to be brave and good soldiers. For the most part mountain-dwellers, their infantry surpasses even the French in skirmishing, sniping and fighting on broken terrain. The plains of the Po on the other hand have produced a cavalry which bears comparison with the British Horse Guards. Finally, they have had a hard schooling in the most recent revolutionary campaigns. These fleet-footed, mobile, adroit little fellows are fit for anything, but not to be British soldiers, which is what they are to be turned into, nor for the direct, ponderous frontal attacks which are the only tactics Raglan knows. And on top of that, to be fed by a British Commissariat whose only previous experience was of feeding itself! The 15,000 Piedmontese will therefore probably prove to be a further blunder.

British reinforcements have been suspended for the present. Raglan himself appears to be refusing them, as he cannot even cope with the remnants he still has. It is hardly believable that the more the British camp is afflicted with disease, overwork and lack of rest, the more prevalent becomes the admirable practice of corporal punishment. Men who are fit only to be sent to hospital, who for weeks have slept and been on duty in wet clothes and on wet ground and have borne all this with almost superhuman tenacity if these men are caught dozing in the trenches, they are treated to the cat-o'-nine-tails and the birch. "Fifty strokes for every vagabond!"—that is the only strategic order that Lord Raglan occasionally issues. Is it any wonder then that the soldiers of the perpetrator of the famous "flanking-march" to Balaklava follow suit and evade the birch with a "flanking-march" to the Russians? Desertions to the Russian camp are becoming more numerous every day, as The Times correspondent reported.[c]

All the big talk about storming Sevastopol has of course ceased. The Russian army would first have to be beaten in the field. Thus Wellington twice raised the siege of Badajoz to march against a relief army. We have furthermore already seen that the newly-erected Russian defence works make it impossible for the place to be taken by storm[d]. Finally, the most recent Russian sorties prove that the allied army is at present superior to the Russians only in artillery. As long as sorties cannot be prevented, any idea of storming is absurd; besiegers who are incapable of confining the besieged to the area of the actual fortress are even less capable of seizing the fortress in hand-to-hand combat. Thus the besiegers will continue to vegetate, confined to their camp by their own weakness and by the Russian army in the field. They will continue to melt away, whilst the Russians bring up fresh forces. The prelude to the European war being enacted in the Crimea will end with the destruction of the allied troops unless some completely unexpected resources, which cannot be foreseen, are discovered.

Written on February 9, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 71, February 12, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the newspaper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] Derby's and Lansdowne's speeches in the House of Lords on February 8, 1855 were reported in The Times, No. 21973, February 9, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Lord John Russell's speech in the House of Commons on February 8, 1855. The Times, No. 21973, February 9, 1855.—Ed.

[c] Report by W. H. Russell in The Times, No. 21971, February 3, 1855.—Ed.

[d] A reference to Engels' article "Critical Observations on the Siege of Sevastopol" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 593-95).—Ed.

[5] This article belongs to the series written by Marx for the Neue Oder-Zeitung, which gave a systematic coverage of the home- and foreign-policy debates in the British Parliament in 1855. It includes material from Engels' review "The Struggle in the Crimea" written for the New-York Daily Tribune. The series began with the article "The Opening of Parliament" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 600-02).

The Neue Oder-Zeitung was a democratic daily published in Breslau (Wroclaw) from 1849 to 1855. In the autumn of 1854 Marx was invited to contribute to it by Ferdinand Lassalle, whose cousin, Max Friedländer, published the newspaper. Originally Marx was very critical of the Neue Oder-Zeitung. During the revolution of 1848-49 he criticised the Breslau democrats grouped round it for their vacillations and conciliatory policy, and the "Address of the Central Authority to the League" (March 1850) stressed the hostility of the Neue Oder-Zeitung towards the working-class movement (see present edition, Vol. 10, pp. 277-87). However, Marx's attitude to the newspaper changed in later years, when it became the most radical opposition organ in Germany and was persecuted by the censorship and the Prussian government. At that time, the editorial board was headed by the bourgeois democrats Temme, Stein and Elsner. In September 1855 Elsner became Editor-in-Chief.

In a letter to Elsner of November 8, 1855, Marx noted that the Neue Oder-Zeitung was publishing "the maximum of what is possible under the present condition of the press". In these circumstances he considered it necessary to give the newspaper every possible support. When its financial position deteriorated in the autumn of 1855, he offered to write for it without payment.

Marx began to contribute to the Neue Oder-Zeitung as its London correspondent at the end of December 1854, sending two or three reports a week. His articles were marked with the sign x. Given the almost total absence of a working-class press in Germany during the years of reaction Marx and Engels thought it important to use the bourgeois-democratic press for the struggle against reaction. Marx's work for the Neue Oder-Zeitung enabled him to keep in touch with Germany and familiarise German readers with key issues of foreign and domestic policy, the working-class and democratic movement and the economic development of capitalist countries, above all Britain and France. He regularly sent reports on the progress of the Crimean War. Sometimes he used for this purpose Engels' military reviews written for the New-York Daily Tribune, translating them into German (in the present edition both Marx and Engels are given as their authors). Sometimes Marx abridged Engels' articles or introduced changes and additions. In October 1855 the Neue Oder-Zeitung found itself almost without means to pay its correspondents. At the end of the year the paper closed down. The last article definitely known to have been written by Marx appeared in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on November 16, 1855.—Ed.

[6] The Peelites were a group of moderate Tories supporting Robert Peel, who advocated economic concessions to the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie as a means of maintaining the political rule of the big landowners and financiers. In 1846, he secured the repeal of the Corn Laws (see Note 14↓). This move, favouring the industrial bourgeoisie, was bitterly resented by the Protectionist Tories and led to a split in the Tory party and the emergence of the Peelites as an independent group. The Peelites were represented in Aberdeen's coalition government (1852-55) and joined the Liberal party in the late 1850s and early 1860s.

[7] The Manchester School—a trend in political economy reflecting the interests of the industrial bourgeoisie. It favoured free trade and non-interference by the state in the economy. The Free Traders' stronghold was Manchester, where the movement was led by Cobden and Bright, two textile manufacturers who founded the Anti-Corn Law League in 1838. In the 1840s and 1850s the Free Traders were an independent political group which later formed the Left wing of the Liberal Party.

[8] The Mayfair Radicals were a group of aristocratic politicians (Molesworth, Bernal Osborne and others) who flirted with democratic circles. The name derives from Mayfair, an aristocratic district on the edge of Hyde Park in London.

[9] Palmerston's resignation from the post of Foreign Secretary in Russell's Whig Cabinet occurred on December 19, 1851, and was caused by his approving, in a conversation with the French Ambassador, of the Bonapartist coup d'état of December 2, 1851, without consulting other Cabinet members. On the whole, however, the British government shared Palmerston's attitude and was the first in Europe to recognise the Bonapartist regime.

[14] The Corn Laws, the first of which were passed as early as the fifteenth century, imposed high import duties on agricultural products in order to maintain high prices for these products on the domestic market. The Corn Laws served the interests of the big landowners. The struggle between the industrial bourgeoisie and the landed aristocracy over the Corn Laws ended in their repeal in June 1846.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.8-11), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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