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The Committee of Inquiry

Karl Marx

London, March 7. The rumour of an impending dissolution of Parliament, on the pretext that the Committee of Inquiry was compromising the French alliance, seems to be correct. A correspondent of The Morning Advertiser remarks in this connection:

"But who made the committee an open one? Lord Palmerston, who, they say, will dissolve the House [...]. Mr. Roebuck had demanded and compelled an inquest, and he desired secrecy—Lord Palmerston had refused and had been driven to an inquest, and he was for publicity. [...] He compels the Committee to pursue the course most obnoxious to our French Ally. That obnoxiousness then is to enable the Minister to dissolve the House, extinguish the Inquiry, and laugh in his sleeve at both!"[a]

In a leading article on the same subject, The Morning Herald says, inter alia:

"When the allied armies took up their positions before Sebastopol the English contingent was the stronger of the two, and the subsequent destruction of our army was to be attributed entirely to the want of reserves in the Mediterranean and of an organised militia at home; from which causes it became impossible to supply the English army with those reinforcements [...]. The attempt to involve the name of our [...] allies in the discussion is an almost undisguised effort, on the part of desperate and unprincipled men, to screen themselves from that inquiry which they well know must be fatal to their future political existence. [...] Lord Clarendon has unconstitutionally sought an interview with the Emperor of the French, for the sole purpose of extracting from him some declaration of opinion which might be tortured and twisted into a disapproval of an inquiry [...]. Having obtained this, [...] it is the intention of these patriotic Ministers to attempt to intimidate the House of Commons [...] by a threat of dissolution, and an appeal to the country upon a cry that 'the French alliance is in danger!'."[b]

It is obvious that, if this pretext of the English Government serves to get rid of the Committee of Inquiry, it serves no less to jeopardise the French alliance and so to prepare for the very thing which it pretends to be preventing. The conviction that the Committee was being abandoned because it would unearth "delicate and dangerous" mysteries, compromising to the French ally, effectively compromises that ally. The suppression of the Committee would speak more loudly against him than could the Committee itself. Besides, the slightest acquaintance with the tides of public opinion in England must convince anyone that consciousness of so great a concession to a foreign state as suppressing a parliamentary committee, or dissolving Parliament at Bonaparte's alleged request, would lead at the next opportunity to a terrible reaction against French influence in an attempt to redress the balance.

We have compiled General Sir de Lacy Evans'[c] statements from reports on the first two sittings of the Committee of Inquiry. At Malta, whither a commissary had been sent some time before the army, he was surprised that no purchase of mules was made. No adequate preparation was made at Scutari for killing cattle or baking. Some of the Treasury regulations at this time proved very inconvenient. He firmly believed the war was commenced under the delusion that matters would be settled without any explosion of gunpowder, and that there was no necessity for any magazines at all. Though the Commissariat was under the control of the commander, yet it was closely connected also with the Treasury (and therefore with the Prime Minister), and the officers of the Commissariat must have been given to understand that it was extravagant to make the disbursements necessary for a real war. At Varna, hardly any preparations had been made for looking after the wounded. Evidently the predominant impression had been that this would be a war without wounds. Arrangements were not made to enable the army to take the field at once. When the Russians crossed the Danube Omer Pasha applied for assistance, and the answer was that the army had not the means of transport, which ought to have been provided long before. He thought the Government was still waiting for notes and protocols from Vienna, and no great exertions were made to put the army in a condition to move; it was, of course, the Government, not the Commissariat, that was responsible for this sort of delay. The Russians were carrying on the siege of Silistria, and still the army was not in readiness to move. The two departments entrusted with the procurement of food supplies were the Commissariat and the Department of the Quartermaster General. Clashes with the Commissariat were the order of the day. Its officials might have been efficient clerks in the Treasury: in fact, they spent most of their time writing letters to the Treasury. In the field they proved useless. Even eighteen miles from Varna, there was the greatest difficulty in getting provisions. There the Commissariat proved to be so short of staff that he had to lend 100 non-commissioned officers for service in the department. Mortality among troops at Varna was due mainly to low morale, a consequence of their trying and prolonged inactivity.

As to the situation of the troops in the Crimea, de Lacy partly repeats what is already common knowledge—lack of food, of clothing, of wooden huts, etc., etc. As to detail, we merely quote the following statements:

"Filder, as old as the hills, in charge of the Commissariat as far back as the Pyrenean campaign and now Quartermaster General never consulted with him as to the wants of his [Evans] division; it was his duty to do so; he [Evans] wanted him to do it, but Mr. Filder declined. Mr. Filder was under the direct orders of Lord Raglan, but, of course, he carried on a correspondence with the Treasury." "It was very inconvenient that the cavalry and artillery horses should have been employed for the transport of forage. The consequence was that his [Evans] guns were latterly not more than half horsed." "The road from Balaklava harbour to the camp had been frightfully churned up and waterlogged. [...] The work of 1,000 men for ten days would have secured a road from Balaklava [...] but he believed that all the men who could be spared [...] were set to work in the trenches".

Finally, on the melting away of the British army before Sevastopol, Evans declares

"...his conviction that neither the deficiency in the supply of clothes, food, or fuel would have produced the shocking sickness and death in the army, had not the troops been overworked in the trenches. It was the fatigue of the men that was so injurious. From the first the work cut out for them was entirely beyond their numerical strength. The overwork during the nights was decidedly the main cause of the suffering of the army".

Written on March 7, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news paper
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 117, March 10, 1855
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] "The Reported Dissolution", The Morning Advertiser; No. 19878, March 7, 1855.—Ed.

[b] "A more audacious and unconstitutional attempt...", The Morning Herald, No. 22373, March 7, 1855.—Ed.

[c] Published in The Times, No. 21994, March 6, and No. 21995, March 7, 1855.—Ed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.73-75), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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