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Prospect in France and England[120]

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, April 10, 1855

Allow me once more to resume my long-interrupted correspondence with the Tribune. Yesterday and to-day will most likely be the first two decisive days in the Vienna Conferences[121], as they were to open on the 9th in the presence of Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys, and as, at the same time, the Russian Embassador[a] was expected to have received his instructions relative to the Third and Fourth Points. The journey of Drouyn de Lhuys was at first puffed up on every Stock Exchange as a certain symptom of peace; for such an eminent diplomatist, it was said, surely would not go to take personal part in these debates unless he were sure of success. As to the "eminence" of this diplomatist, it is of a very mythical cast, and exists principally in the paid newspaper articles by which he magnifies himself into a second Talleyrand, as though his long career under Louis Philippe had not long since established his "eminent" mediocrity. But the real reason of his journey is this: Lord John Russell has managed within a few weeks, through his notorious ignorance of the French language, to embroil the Allies in concessions which he never intended to make, and which it will take extraordinary efforts to retrieve. Lord John's French is of the real John Bull species, such as "Milord" speaks in Fra Diavolo[b], and other theatrical pieces formerly popular in France; it begins with "Monsieur l'Aubergiste,"[c] and ends with "Très bien;" and if he understands but one-half of what is said to him, he is revenged in the consciousness that other people understand still less of what he utters. It was for this very reason that his friend and rival, Lord Palmerston, sent him to Vienna, considering that a couple of blunders on that stage would be sufficient finally to demolish poor little John. And so it has turned out. Half the time he could not make out what was going on, and a quick and unexpected interpolation from Gorchakoff or Buol was sure to draw an embarrassed "Très bien" from the unfortunate diplomatic debut-ant. In this way Russia, and to some degree Austria, lay claim that several points are settled, at least so far as England is concerned, which poor Lord John never intended to concede. Palmerston, of course, would have no objection to this, as long as the blame falls exclusively upon his hapless colleague. But Louis Bonaparte cannot afford to be cheated into peace that way. To put a stop to this sort of diplomacy, the French Government at once resolved to bring matters to an issue. They fixed upon an ultimatum, with which Drouyn de Lhuys went to London, got the adhesion of the British Government, and then took it with him to Vienna. Thus, at present, he may be considered the joint representative of France and England, and there is no doubt that he will use his position to the best interest of his master. And as the only, the exclusive interest of Louis Bonaparte is not to conclude peace until he has reaped fresh glory and fresh advantages for France, and until the war has served to the full its purpose, as a "moyen de gouvernement,"[d] Drouyn's mission, far from being peaceful, will turn out, on the contrary, to have for its object to secure a continuance of the war under the most decent pretext available.

With the middle-classes both of France and England this war is decidedly unpopular. With the French bourgeoisie it was so from the beginning, because this class was ever since the 2d of December[e] in full opposition against the government of the "savior of society." In England, the middle-class was divided. The great bulk had transferred their national hatred from the French to the Russians; and although John Bull can do a little annexation business himself now and then in India, he has no idea of allowing other people to do the same in other neighborhoods in an uncomfortable proximity to himself or his possessions. Russia was the country which in this respect had long since attracted his anxious notice. The enormously increasing British trade to the Levant, and through Trebizond to Inner Asia, makes the free navigation of the Dardanelles a point of the highest importance to England. The growing value of the Danubian countries as granaries forbids England to allow their gradual absorption into Russia, and the closing of the navigation of the Danube by the same power. Russian grain forms already a too important item in British consumption, and an annexation of the corn-producing frontier-countries by Russia would make Great Britain entirely dependent upon her and the United States, while it would establish these two countries as the regulators of the corn-market of the world. Besides, there are always some vague and alarming rumors afloat about Russian progress in Central Asia, got up by interested Indian politicians or terrified visionaries, and credited by the general geographical ignorance of the British public. Thus, when Russia began her aggression upon Turkey, the national hatred broke forth in a blaze, and never, perhaps, was a war as popular as this. The peace-party was for a moment interdicted from speaking; even the mass of its own members went along with the popular current. Whoever knew the character of the English must have felt certain that this warlike enthusiasm could be but of short duration, at least so far as the middle-class was concerned; as soon as the effects of the war should become taxable upon their pockets, mercantile sense was sure to overcome national pride, and the loss of immediate individual profits was sure to outweigh the certainty of losing, gradually, great national advantages. The Peelites[122], adverse to the war, not so much out of a real love of peace, as from a narrowness and timidity of mind which holds in horror all great crises and all decisive action, did their best to hasten the great moment when every British merchant and manufacturer could calculate to a farthing what the war would cost him, individually, per annum. Mr. Gladstone, scorning the vulgar idea of a loan, at once doubled the income-tax and stopped financial reform. The result came to light at once. The peace-party raised their heads again. John Bright dared popular feeling with his own well-known spirit and tenacity, until he succeeded in bringing the manufacturing districts round to him. In London the feeling is still more in favor of the war, but the progress of the peace-party is visible, even here; besides, it must be recollected that the peace-society[123] never, at any time, commanded any mentionable influence in the capital. Its agitation, however, is increasing in all parts of the country, and another year of doubled taxation, with a loan for this is now considered to be unavoidable—will break down whatever is left of warlike spirit among the manufacturing and trading classes.

With the mass of the people in both countries, the case is entirely different. The peasantry in France have, ever since 1789, been the great supporters of war and warlike glory. They are sure, this time, not to feel much of the pressure of the war; for the conscription, in a country where the land is infinitesimally subdivided among small proprietors, not only frees the agricultural districts from surplus labor, but also gives to some 20,000 young men, every year, the opportunity of earning a round sum of money, by engaging to serve as substitutes. A protracted war only would be severely felt. As to war-taxes, the Emperor cannot impose them upon the peasantry, without risking his crown and his life. His only means of maintaining Bonapartism among them, is to buy them up by freedom from war-taxation; and thus, for some years to come, they may be exempted from this sort of pressure. In England, the case is similar. Agricultural labor is generally over-supplied, and furnishes the mass of the soldiery, which only at a later period of the war receives a strong admixture of the rowdy-class from the towns. Trade being tolerably good, and a good many agricultural improvements being carried out, when the war began, the quota of agricultural recruits was, in this instance, supplied more sparingly than before, and the town-element is decidedly preponderant in the present militia. But even what has been withdrawn has kept wages up, and the sympathy of the villagers is always accompanying soldiers who came from among them, and who are now transformed into heroes. Taxation, in its direct shape, does not touch the small farmers and laborers, and until an increase of indirect imposts can reach them, sensibly, several years of war must have passed. Among these people, the war-enthusiasm is as strong as ever, and there is not a village where is not to be found some new beer-shop with the sign of "The Heroes of the Alma," or some such motto, and where are not, in almost every house, wonderful prints of Alma, Inkermann, the charge at Balaklava[124], portraits of Lord Raglan and others, to adorn the walls. But if in France, the great preponderance of the small farmers (four-fifths of the population), and their peculiar relation to Louis Napoleon, give to their opinions a great deal of importance, in England the one-third of the population forming the countrypeople has scarcely any influence, except as a tail and chorus to the aristocratic landed proprietors.

The industrial working population has, in both countries, almost the same peculiar position with regard to this war. Both British and French proletarians are filled with an honorable national spirit, though they are more or less free from the antiquated national prejudices common, in either country, to the peasantry. They have little immediate interest in the war, save that if the victories of their countrymen flatter their national pride, the conduct of the war, foolhardy and presumptuous as regards France, timid and stupid as regards England, offers them a fair opportunity of agitating against the existing governments and governing classes. But the main point, with them, is this: that this war, coinciding with a commercial crisis, only the first developments of which have, as yet, been seen, conducted by hands and heads unequal to the task, gaining at the same time European dimensions, will and must bring about events which will enable the proletarian class to resume that position which they lost, in France, by the battle of June, 1848,[125] and that not only as far as France is concerned, but for all Central Europe, England included.

In France, indeed, there can be no doubt that every fresh revolutionary storm must bring, sooner or later, the working-class to power; in England, things are fast approaching a similar state. There is an aristocracy willing to carry on the war, but unfit to do so, and completely put to the blush by last winter's mismanagement. There is a middle class, unwilling to carry on that war which cannot be put a stop to, sacrificing everything to peace, and thereby proclaiming their own incapacity to govern England. If events turn out the one, with its different fractions, and do not admit the other, there remain but two classes on which power can devolve: the petty Bourgeoisie, the small trading class, whose want of energy and decision has shown itself on every occasion when it was called upon to come from words to deeds--and the working-class, which has been constantly reproached with showing far too much energy and decision when proceeding to action as a class.

Which of these classes will be the one to carry England through the present struggle, and the complications about to arise from it?

Written on April 10, 1855
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4375, April 27, 1855
Re-printed in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1036, May 1, 1855
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] A. M. Gorchakov.—Ed.

[b] Lord Cokbourg, a character in a comic opera by the French composer D. F. E. Auber (libretto by A. E. Scribe).—Ed.

[c] "Mr. Innkeeper".—Ed.

[d] "Means of government".—Ed.

[e] December 2, 1851, the date of Louis Bonaparte's coup d'état in France.—Ed.

[120] Ünder the heading "Prospect in France and England" this article (minus the first sentence) was included in The Eastern Question.

The opening sentence was presumably contributed by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune in an attempt to provide some sort of explanation for the long absence of articles signed by Marx. At the time, most of Marx's articles were published as editorials. It may be assumed that in this particular case the editors printed the article under Marx's name as they did not want to be identified with the revolutionary proletarian attitude clearly expressed in the article.

[121] The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (see Note 43↓). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

[122] 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.

[123] The Peace Society—see Note 89↓. By "peace party" Marx means the Free Traders or the Manchester School (see Note 7↓).

[124] 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, Vol. 18).

In the battle of Inkerman in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 528-35).

The battle of Balaklava took place on October 25, 1854. Ünits of the Russian army tried to cut off the British and Turkish troops taking part in the siege of Sevastopol from their base in Balaklava. They succeeded in inflicting serious losses on the enemy, especially on the British cavalry, but failed to achieve their main objective. For a description of this battle see Engels' article "The War in the East" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 518-27).

[125] A reference to the heroic uprising of Paris workers in June 1848. It was the first civil war between the proletariat and the bourgeoisie in history. The defeat of the uprising was followed by a counter-revolutionary offensive in many European countries, including France itself.

[43] The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (see Note 34↓) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.

[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.

[89] The Peace Society (the Society for Promoting Permanent and Universal Peace)—an organisation founded by the Quakers in London in 1816. It was strongly supported by the Free Traders, who believed that, given peace, free trade would enable Britain to make full use of her industrial superiority and thus gain economic and political supremacy.

[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.

[34] A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results (see Note 88↓).

[88] The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (see Note 43↑). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.141-145), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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