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Some Observations on The History of The French Alliance

Karl Marx

London, March 24. The Press, the organ of Disraeli, last week raised a storm in a teacup by maintaining that "Emperor Louis" was the only obstacle to the conclusion of peace and had tied Austria to himself by a secret "agreement" of which Austria was endeavouring to rid itself. Until now the Tories had maintained that the Anglo-French alliance was their own handiwork. Had not their Lord Malmesbury sealed the union with Bonaparte[105]? Had not Disraeli in Parliament showered sarcasms on Graham and Wood, who had wickedly calumniated the coup of December 2 before their electors? Had not the Tories for two years, in speeches and in the press, been the loudest heralds of war? And now, suddenly, without transition, entirely without any mitigating circumstances, insinuations are made against the French Alliance, and caustic remarks about "Emperor Louis" and the homily on peace? The Morning Herald, the senile organ of the High Tories, uninitiated into the secret of the Party leaders, shook its head doubtfully, and murmured violent protests against the, to it, incomprehensible hallucinations of The Press[a]. The latter nevertheless returns today to the fateful subject. The following announcement appears in bold letters at its top:

"Important circumstances have transpired. When we last wrote there was a prospect of the Congress breaking up 're infecta'[b], and of Lord John Russell returning abruptly to England. [...] The altered tone adopted to Russia by Austria since the death of the Emperor Nicholas [...] and especially the declaration of the Austrian Emperor[c] to Alexander II, have doubtless mainly contributed to this result. We have reason to believe that the Emperor of the French has removed the obstacles which existed to a general pacification, and that France will consent to the complete evacuation of the Crimea without any conditions as to the demolition or diminution of any of the fortresses of that province."[d]

To elucidate the meaning of the oracle The Press refers to the "authentic details of its leading article". Oddly enough, these very details refute the conclusion allegedly based on them and stated beforehand.

According to the leading article "...the situation of affairs in Vienna is becoming every hour less rational and satisfactory; and it is of importance that enlightened opinion on both sides of the Channel should exercise its influence to prevent results which may become alike mortifying and deplorable. [...] Had the Anglo-French alliance been sincere on the part of our Ministers in 1853, we should, probably, never have had occasion to embark in war; but, had such an appeal proved necessary, its conduct, in all probability, would have been triumphant and effective. Instead of acting cordially with France [...] a year was wasted by the British Government in obtaining what they styled 'the adhesion of the great German Powers'. [...]. Nothing could justify a war with Russia but a determination, on the part of the Western Powers, materially to reduce its empire in the South. This is the only solution of the Eastern question. The occasion in 1853 was favourable, it has been lost. Time, treasure, armies, reputation, have been alike squandered. Had we acted cordially with France in 1853 the German Powers must have followed in our wake. What has now happened? The Emperor of Austria has assured the Emperor Alexander of Russia, 'That Austria seeks neither to diminish the limit of his empire, nor to inflict on his territory any dishonor'. There is only one meaning which can be attributed to these words. With reference to an allusion, which we made earlier, to the secret engagements entered into between France and Austria, we are assured, on high authority, that 'while those engagements [...] indicate a [...] probably permanent union between the two empires there is nothing in those engagements that would necessarily lead to an invasion of Russia on the part of Austria'. [...] The Emperor of Russia is prepared to submit to terms of peace, which, though they offer no solution of 'the Eastern question', are, unquestionably, an admission of baffled aggression, and, in some degree, an atonement for the outrage. We believe that the opportunity for the higher policy has been lost, and that the combination of circumstances which [...] might have secured the independence of Europe, will not speedily recur; but a peace, on the whole, advantageous to Europe, beneficial to Turkey, and not discreditable to the Western Powers, may still be obtained. [...] We have reason to fear that such a peace will not be negotiated. What is the obstacle? The Emperor of the French. If the Emperor of the French, notwithstanding the [...] adverse circumstances [...], were still of opinion that the solution of the Eastern question ought to be attempted, we are not prepared to say that England should falter, but it reaches us that the views of his Imperial Majesty are of a very different order [...]. Between the reduction of the Russian limits and the negotiation of the projected peace, the Emperor of the French has devised a mezzo termine[e], which is perilous, and may be fatal. There is to be a campaign of brilliant achievement, which is to restore the prestige, and then conclude with a peace, which will not affect the present territorial arrangement of Europe or Asia one whit more than the Austro-Russian propositions to which [...] her Majesty's Plenipotentiary Extraordinary at Vienna[f] was prepared to accede. We will not dwell on that part of this scheme which would sacrifice many thousands of human lives to the mere restoration of prestige.... We hold that the impolicy of this project is as flagrant as its immorality. Suppose the campaign of prestige do not succeed? In addition to the obstacles presented by the Russian army in the Crimea pestilence is as likely to be at hand as war. [...] If the campaign of prestige fail, where will be France and England? On whose side will then be arrayed the great German Powers? The vista is no less than the decline and fall of Europe. Even if the odds were not against us, are we justified in running such a chance—not even in favour of a policy, but of a demonstration? It may be mortifying to the ruler of France that a great opportunity has been lost: [...] it is not less mortifying to the people of England. But statesmen must deal with the circumstances before them. Neither France, nor England, nor Russia, in 1855, are in the position they respectively occupied in the year 1853. Woe to the men who have betrayed the highest interests of Europe! May they meet the doom they deserve! The ruler of France and the Queen of England[g] are guiltless; but they must not, like bewildered gamesters, persist in backing their ill luck in a frenzy of disappointment, or in a paroxysm of despair".

The same paper refers to Girardin's pamphlet La Paix, in which the simultaneous disarming of Sevastopol and Gibraltar is extolled as the true solution for peace.

"Remember," The Press exclaims, "this pamphlet, or rather its sale, is authorised by the French Government, and its author is the dear and intimate friend, adviser and companion, of the heir presumptive to the Throne Imperial."[h]

Here we shall only allude to the fact that the Derbyites, whose organ The Press is, are working for a coalition with the (peaceable) Manchester School and that the Ministry for its part is also trying to win round the Manchester School by the newspaper stamp Bill (to which we shall return[i]). The idea of a campaign designed to be a mere display of force, of a European war not to endanger the hostile power but to save one's own prestige, of a war resembling a spectacular show, must certainly disconcert every sober Englishman. Query: is this not one of the idées napoléoniennes[j] as understood and bound to be understood by the restored empire?

Written on March 24, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 145, March 27, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] This refers to an item published in The Morning Herald, No. 22385, March 21, 1855, in reply to the statement of The Press cited above.—Ed.

[b] Without achieving its purpose.—Ed.

[c] Francis Joseph I.—Ed.

[d] Quoted from The Press, No. 99, March 24, 1855. The long quotation below is from the leading article in the same issue.—Ed.

[e] Middle road.—Ed.

[f] Lord John Russell.—Ed.

[g] Victoria.—Ed.

[h] Prince Jérôme Bonaparte, Jr.—Ed.

[i] See this volume, 121-23.—Ed.

[j] An allusion to Louis Bonaparte's book Des idées napoléoniennes published in 1839.—Ed.

[105] Marx is presumably referring to the visit of Lord Malmesbury, the former Foreign Secretary in Derby's Tory Cabinet, to Paris in March 1853 during which he was invited to dinner by Napoleon III and had a confidential talk with him on strengthening Anglo-French relations.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.118-120), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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