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On the History of The French Alliance

Karl Marx

London, March 6. Today's Morning Herald has surprised London by the following announcement:

"We have excellent authority for stating that the French. Emperor has remonstrated against the committee for inquiring into the conduct of the war, and that he has said, that, in the event of its continuing to sit, the armies of the two nations cannot act together, although they may act for the same object. In order [...] to satisfy Louis Napoleon, without affronting the English people, a dissolution of Parliament will [...] take place[a] as soon as possible."

Without attributing too much importance to this paragraph in the Herald, we record it as one of the many symptoms which indicate that secret forces on both sides of the Channel are working to bring about a dissolution of the Anglo-French alliance.

In this context the statements made by ex-minister Sir James Graham should be recalled[b]: under pressure from the' Committee of Inquiry our Admiral[c] would be forced to reveal all the considerations which led to the postponement of the blockade, and the inquiry would include our relations with our great and, powerful ally at a time when it is of the utmost importance that there should not be the least misunderstanding.

Sidney Herbert: He challenged the Committee to get to the bottom of the affair without taking the risk of insulting our army in the Crimea and possibly shaking the confidence of our allies. Unless one of its members were able to check the Committee when it stepped on dangerous ground, great injustice would be done, and even the officers summoned by it might perhaps be sacrificed, since incriminating questions might be put to them, while they would not be permitted to answer because in so doing they might have to make dangerous and delicate revelations. He for one thought it his duty to prevent officers of the British army being placed in a position where they would be made the object of accusations while their hands were tied and they were unable to defend themselves.

Gladstone: Among other things, a committee would have to examine why a road from Balaklava had not been constructed earlier! If the Committee did not investigate this, it would achieve nothing. If however it investigated this question, the reply would be: shortage of labour. If it then asked what caused this shortage of labour, the reply would be that the men were digging trenches and that these were extensive owing to the proportion in which the lines had been distributed between the French and the English. I further declare that an investigation would be empty pretence unless you probed the question of the roads, and, if you probed that, the defence of the accused parties would directly disturb the most intimate relations between England and France.

Understandably these ministerial statements have forced the widely scattered seeds of distrust into abundant growth. National pride had already been severely wounded by the relegation of the British army in the Crimea to guard duty at Balaklava. Then came the semi-official article in the Moniteur with its "imperatorial" remarks on the British Constitution[d]. It called forth caustic replies in the weekly press here. Then came the publication of the Brussels Mémoire, in which Louis Bonaparte is represented as the originator of the Crimean expedition on the one hand, and of the concessions to Austria on the other[e]. By their ruthlessness, the comments on this Mémoire—as, for instance, that in The Morning Advertiser—remind one of the "Letters of an Englishman" on the coup d'état of December 2[f]. The following extract from the Chartist organ, The People's Paper, will illustrate the repercussions of all this in the true popular press[g]:

"He [Bonaparte] it was that lured England to the Crimea. [...] Our army, once in that snare, was placed by him in such a position, that it broke the edge of Russia's strength before that strength could reach his own. [...] At Alma, at Balaklava, at Inkermann, at Sebastopol, the British were played into the post of danger. They had to bear the brunt—they had to suffer the chief loss; [...] England engaged to send only one-third as many men as France. That one-third had to fight nearly the whole of the battles. That one-third had to take more than half the lines before Sebastopol. Our army was destroyed, because they could not get the food and clothes which lay rotting at Balaklava. They could not get them because there was no road from Balaklava to Sebastopol, and there was no road from Balaklava to Sebastopol because Napoleon insisted that the British with less than one-third of the force [...] should do more than half the work in the trenches; and, therefore, they had no men to spare to make the road.[...] This is the secret at which Graham, Sidney Herbert, and Gladstone hinted.... Thus he, Napoleon, has deliberately murdered 44,000 of our soldiers, etc."

All these signs of suspicious vexation with the French ally gain importance because Lord Palmerston is at the head of the government —a man who on each occasion has reached his position by climbing up the ladder of the French alliance, then suddenly turned this alliance into almost unavoidable war between France and England. Thus it was in the Turko-Syrian affair of 1840, and the treaty of July 15[69] with which he crowned his ten-year-old alliance with France. In reference to this, Sir Robert Peel remarked in 1842 that

"he had never clearly understood why the alliance with France of which the noble lord had always pretended to be so proud, had been broken."[h]

And thus, once again, in 1847, on the occasion of the Spanish marriages[70]. At the time, it was asserted by Palmerston— who, in 1846, was allowed to resume his post only after he had paid his respects to Louis Philippe, become reconciled to him with great ostentation, and flattered the Frenchman in a speech in the House of Commons—that it was Louis Philippe who had dissolved the alliance because the Treaty of Utrecht[71] had been violated (a treaty lapsed in 1793 and never renewed since that time) and because he had committed an "act of perfidy" against the English Crown. As to the "act of perfidy" it was really committed, but, as the documents subsequently published proved, Palmerston had manoeuvred the French Court into this act of perfidy in the most cunning manner so as to obtain a pretext for the break. While the wily Louis Philippe thought he was outwitting him, he simply fell into the carefully laid trap of the "facetious" viscount. The February revolution alone prevented the outbreak of war between England and France at that time.

Written on March 6, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 115, March 9, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] "England and France. Probable Dissolution of Parliament", The Morning Herald, No. 22372, March 6, 1855.—Ed.

[b] The speeches of Graham, Herbert and Gladstone in the House of Commons on February 23 were reported in The Times, No. 21986, February 24, 1855.—Ed.

[c] J. W. D. Dundas.—Ed.

[d] Le Moniteur universel, No. 48, February 17, 1855.—Ed.

[e] The reference is to the anonymous pamphlet De la conduite de la guerre d'Orient..., published in Brussels in 1855, which criticised the conduct of the Crimean campaign. The pamphlet was attributed, among other writers, to Prince Napoleon (Jérôme Bonaparte, Jr.).—Ed.

[f] The comparison is between the article "Secret History of the Crimean Expedition" (The Morning Advertiser, No. 19875, March 3, 1855) and the anonymous "Letters of an Englishman" by A. Richards, which were published in The Times between December 1851 and November 1852 and appeared in book form in 1852.—Ed.

[g] The extract is from the speech delivered by Ernest Jones at St Martin's Hall on February 27, 1855. Marx quotes from a report published in The People's Paper, No. 148, March 3, 1855.—Ed.

[h] From Peel's speech in the House of Commons on August 10, 1842. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, third series, Vol. LXV, col. 1281-82, London, 1842.—Ed.

[69] A reference to the aggravation of Anglo-French differences in the Middle East during the Turko-Egyptian war of 1839-41. The conclusion, without French participation, of the London Convention of July 15, 1840 (see Note 20↓) on aid by the Western Powers to the Sultan in his struggle against the Egyptian ruler Mehemet Ali created the danger of war breaking out between Britain and France. Fearing the formation of an anti-French coalition, France was forced to discontinue its support for Egypt.

[70] In 1846 the Guizot Government managed to arrange the marriage of the Spanish infanta Maria Luisa Fernanda to Louis Philippe's youngest son, the Duke of Montpensier, and thwart Britain's plans to marry Leopold of Coburg to Queen Isabella II of Spain. The tension between the British and French governments over these marriage projects became very acute and after the failure of British diplomacy Palmerston sought a pretext to take revenge.

[71] The Treaty of Utrecht of 1713 was one of a series of peace treaties concluding the war of the Spanish succession, which had been waged from 1701 between France and Spain, on the one hand, and the countries of the anti-French coalition (Britain, the Netherlands, Portugal, Prussia, Savoy and Habsburg Austria), on the other. Austria did not sign the treaty and made peace with France at Rastatt in 1714. Ünder the terms of the treaty, Philip V, the Bourbon King of Spain and Louis XIV's grandson, retained the Spanish crown. The King of France was to renounce his right and that of his successors from the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish crown. Several French and Spanish possessions in the West Indies and North America, as well as Gibraltar, passed into Britain's hands.

When he accused France in 1846 of violating the treaty of Utrecht, Palmerston had in mind Louis Philippe's plans for uniting the two monarchies through the marriage of his youngest son and the Spanish infanta.

[20] The Afghanistan campaigns—during the first Anglo-Afghan war (1838-42) in which Britain strove to establish colonial rule in Afghanistan, British troops invaded Afghan territory twice (in 1838 and 1842). Both invasions failed to achieve their purpose.

At the insistence of the British government, Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia signed a convention in London on July 15, 1840, on military assistance to Turkey in its war against Egypt (1839-41). In the autumn of 1840 British and Austrian warships bombarded Beirut, Saint-Jean-d'Acre and other for-tresses on the Syrian coast, which had been captured by Mehemet Ali, the ruler of Egypt, between 1831 and 1833. Eventually Mehemet Ali was forced to relinquish his possessions outside Egypt and submit to the supreme authority of the Sultan.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.69-72), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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