Farsi    Arabic    English   

A Critique of the Crimean Affair.—
From Parliament

Karl Marx

London, May 23. The menacing discontent in the allied Army and Navy outside Sevastopol caused by the recall of the Kerch expedition has found an echo, if only a weak, faint one, in the London press. People are beginning to fear that the unity and artistic course of the war drama in the Crimea are threatened less by the Russians than by the presumptuous and capricious intervention of a deus ex machina[a], the military genius of Napoleon III. The exhibition of this genius in the well-known strategic didactical "essay" in the Moniteur[b] is in fact anything but soothing and reassuring. Until now, however, the distance between the theatre of war and the Tuileries has provided a kind of guarantee against actual interference by the military dilettantism of Paris. Now submarine telegraph has eliminated the distances, and with the distances the guarantee, and John Bull, who is wont to call himself "the most thinking people of the world"[c], is beginning to reflect, to grumble and complain that the British Army and Navy are expected to furnish the corpus vile[d] for the inherited and providentially existing "military genius", to perform his experiments on.

Today's Morning Herald[e] asserts positively that the expedition has been recalled because Bonaparte has revived his dangerous idea of storming Sevastopol from the south side. We do not doubt for a moment that the military genius of the Tuileries is obsessed by this idée fixe, but we cannot persuade ourselves that even a simple sabreur[f] such as Pélissier is capable of carrying out such a senselessly ruinous plan. Hence we believe that it has been decided to attempt a mass crossing of the Chernaya and that it was deemed inadvisable to split the main force by detaching a corps of 12,000 men. In fact, instead of detaching these 12,000 men, just before the army sets out, 15,000-20,000 Turks ought to be embarked in Eupatoria and incorporated into the main army, only leaving behind a garrison of sufficient size to hold the place. As stated in an earlier letter[g], the entire success of the campaign depends on the strength of the army that crosses the Chernaya. However that may be, the recall of the Kerch expedition is fresh evidence of the uncertainty and vacillation and the shilly-shallying bungling that are nowadays passed off as "idées napoléoniennes".[h]

Meanwhile the heroes improvised for the purpose of the coup d'état wear out with incredible rapidity. The array was headed by Espinasse, who after his ignominious campaign in the Dobrudja[160] was forced by the Zouaves to retreat head over heels to Paris. This Espinasse is the same man who, after being entrusted with guarding the building of the National Assembly, handed it over to its enemies[161]. The second in the line of descent was Leroy, alias Saint-Arnaud, the War Minister of December 2. He was followed by Forey, so bold in the persecution of the unfortunate peas-ants of south-east France, and so considerately humane towards the Muscovites. The army's suspicion that he was revealing the secrets of the French Council of War to the Russians made it necessary to remove him from the Crimea to Africa. Finally Canrobert was demoted on account of notorious incompetence. The irony of history has appointed Pélissier as his successor, and thus more or less commander-in-chief of the Anglo-French army—the same Pélissier of whom in 1841 it was asserted over and over again in Parliament, in London officers' clubs and at country-meetings[i], in The Times and in Punch, that no honourable English officer could ever serve alongside "that ferocious monster"[j]. And now the British Army is not only serving alongside him, but under him—the entire British Army! Just after the Whigs and their Foreign Secretary Palmerston had been defeated by the Tories, Palmerston called a meeting of his constituents in Tiverton and proved his right to break the Anglo-French alliance and unite with Russia by the fact that the French government, that Louis Philippe was employing such a "monster" as Pélissier in his service. It must be admitted that while the French Army is paying dearly for its revolt in December, things are not all "roses" for England either, in its alliance with the restored empire.

The Ministry suffered a defeat in the Commons yesterday, which proves nothing except that Parliament occasionally avenges itself on the Ministers for the scorn it enjoys "out of doors"[k]. A certain Mr. Wise tabled the motion, that

"it is the opinion of this House that complete revision of our diplomatic establishments recommended in the report of the Select Committee of 1850 on official Salaries should be carried into effect".[l]

Mr. Wise is a friend of Palmerston. His motion has been drifting about on the agenda of the House for about two years without coming up for discussion. Chance yesterday cast it before the discontented Commons. Wise made his speech, thinking that, after a few remarks by Palmerston, he would be able to play the usual game and withdraw his motion. But in contravention of the agreement Mr. Baillie picked up the motion that Wise had dropped and it was carried, despite Wise and Palmerston, by a majority of 112 to 57. This defeat did not in the least worry an old experienced tactician like Palmerston for he knows that in order to preserve an appearance of independence the House must occasionally condemn a ministerial motion to death and promote an anti-ministerial motion to life. Disraeli's motion, on the other hand, had the effect of an electric shock on the ministerial benches[162]. Palmerston himself, a master at parliamentary play-acting, congratulated "the writers and actors of this unforgettable scene". This was not irony. It was the involuntary tribute of an artist to his rival when the latter beats him at his own game. In the Monday sitting[m] Palmerston had toyed so skilfully with Milner Gibson and Gladstone and Herbert and Bright and Lord Vane that it seemed certain that all debates on foreign policy would be postponed until after Whitsun, the Ministry and House being obliged to proceed in a particular manner, and that the noble Viscount could be sure of a dictatorship of several weeks' duration. The only day still available for debate, Thursday[n], was reserved for Layard's reform motion. So no one could prevent Palmerston from concluding peace over Whitsun and, as he has done more than once, surprising the House when it re-assembled with one of his notorious treaties. The House, for its own part, might not have been unwilling to submit to this fate of surprise. Peace made behind its back, even peace a tout prix, was acceptable with a few post festum gestures of protest for decency's sake. But the moment the House and the Ministry were obliged to declare their views before the adjournment, the latter could no longer spring any surprises, nor the former let itself be taken unawares. Hence the consternation when Disraeli got up and tabled his motion and Layard relinquished his day to Disraeli. This "conspiracy between Layard and Disraeli", as the Post called the affair, thus brought to naught all the skilful manoeuvring since the "end" of the Vienna Conference, which has not yet been concluded.[163]

Written on May 23, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 241, May 26, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] Literally "a god from a machine" (in the ancient Greek and Roman .theatre, actors playing gods appeared on the stage with the help of machinery); in a figurative sense, a person or event that appears suddenly and solves a difficult situation.—Ed.

[b] This refers to the leading article "Paris, le 10 avril. Expédition d'Orient", published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 101, April 11, 1855. The article contained Napoleon III's instructions to Marshal Saint-Arnaud. For a critique of it see this volume, pp. 146-50.—Ed.

[c] Marx uses the English words.—Ed.

[d] Literally "worthless body".—Ed.

[e] "Siege of Sebastopol", The Morning Herald No. 22438, May 23, 1855.—Ed.

[f] War-horse.—Ed.

[g] See this volume, p. 137.—Ed.

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

[i] Marx uses the English words "country-meetings".—Ed.

[j] Marx uses the English phrase.—Ed.

[k] Marx uses the English words.—Ed.

[l] Wise's motion in the House of Commons and the following debate were reported in The Times, No. 22061, May 23, 1855.—Ed.

[m] May 21, 1855.—Ed.

[n] May 24, 1855.—Ed.

[160] In July 1854, a French force commanded by Espinasse invaded the Dobruja. The expedition was a total failure. Many French soldiers died of cholera and other diseases.

[161] On the night of December 1, 1851, a battalion of the regiment commanded by Espinasse was on guard duty at the National Assembly. On December 2 Espinasse, bribed by the Bonapartists, ordered his troops to occupy the Assembly building, thereby contributing to the success of Louis Bonaparte's coup d'état.

[162] A reference to Disraeli's statement in the House of Commons on May 22, 1855, that he would shortly submit for discussion a draft message to the Queen censuring the Palmerston government's vacillating policy on the issue of war and peace. A motion to this effect was in fact tabled on May 24 and evoked a lively debate in Parliament. Marx described this debate in a number of his articles (see this volume, pp. 227-36, 245-48 and 257-59).

[163] See Notes 88 and 137.

[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.

[137] A reference to the adjournment of the Vienna Conference caused by disagreement between the participants on the Third Point of the terms presented to Russia. It was adjourned on April 26, 1855, following Russia's rejection of the Western Powers' demand that it should limit its naval forces in the Black Sea. It met for the last time on June 4, 1855.

[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.

[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.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.211-214), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0897en.html