Prologue at Lord Palmerston's.—
Course of the Latest Events in The Crimea
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
London, May 24. No sooner had Disraeli's motion presented the prospect of a regular battle between the Ins and Outs[a] in the House of Commons than Palmerston sounded the alarm and, a few hours before the commencement of the sitting, he asked his ministerial retinue along with Peelites, Manchester School and so-called Independents to come to his official residence in Downing Street[b]. Two hundred and three M.P.s turned up, including Mr. Layard who felt incapable of resisting the ministerial siren-call. Palmerston played the diplomat, the penitent, the apologist, the appeaser, the wheedler. Smilingly he bore with the censorious rebukes of Messrs Bright, Lowe and Layard. He left it to Lord Robert Grosvenor and Sir James Graham to mediate with the "agitated". From the moment he saw the malcontents clustering about him in his official residence, mingling with his faithful followers, he knew he had them in his pocket. They were disgruntled but anxious for reconciliation. Thus the result of the sitting in the Commons was anticipated; nothing more remained but the parliamentary performance of the comedy before the public. The crisis was over. We shall be sending a brief account of this comedy as soon as the final act has been played out.
The types of illness peculiar to the spring and summer season in the Crimea have been reactivated by the return of warm, humid weather. Cholera and ague have again made their appearance in the allied camp, not as yet in particularly virulent form but sufficiently so to provide a warning for the future. Also in evidence is the miasma given off by the mass of putrefying animal matter that is buried only a few inches below ground throughout the entire extent of the Chersonese. The morale of the besieging army is also in a very unsatisfactory state. After they had undergone the hardships and dangers of an unparalleled Winter campaign, the soldiers had been kept in something like order and good spirits by the return of Spring and by ever-repeated promises of a speedy and glorious termination of the siege. But day after day passed away without making any progress, while the Russians actually advanced out of their lines and constructed redoubts on the disputed ground between the two parties. The Zouaves became unruly and were consequently led to the slaughter on Mount Sapun on February 23. A little more bustling—it can hardly be called activity—was then shown on the part of the allied commanders; but there was evidently no distinct aim, and no definite plan was followed up consistently.
Again, the spirit of mutiny among the French was kept down by the continued sallies of the Russians which kept them occupied and by the opening of the second bombardment which was this time definitely to end in the grand spectacle of the assault. A deplorable fiasco ensued. Then came engineering operations, slow, difficult and barren of those results which keep up the spirits of soldiers. Soon they got tired again of nightly trench-fighting, where hundreds fell to no visible purpose. Again the assault was demanded, and again Canrobert was compelled to make promises which he knew he could not fulfil. Then Pélissier saved him from a renewal of disorderly scenes by the night attack of the 1st of May; it is stated that Pélissier executed it in spite of a counter-order from Canrobert arriving the moment the troops were put in motion. The success of this affair is said to have revived the courage of the soldiers. Meantime the Piedmontese reserve arrived; the Chersonese became crowded. The soldiers considered that these reinforcements enabled them to go into action immediately. Something had to be done. The expedition to Kerch was resolved upon, and sailed. But before it had reached the offing of that town a dispatch from Paris induced Canrobert to recall it. Raglan of course gave in at once. Brown, and Lyons, the commanders of the British land and sea forces on this expedition, besought their French colleagues to attack the place in spite of the countermand; in vain the expedition had to sail back. Now the exasperation of the troops was no longer to be mastered. Even the English spoke in unmistakable terms; the French were in a state bordering on mutiny. Accordingly there was nothing left for Canrobert but to resign the command of an army over which he had lost all control and influence.
Pélissier was the only possible successor, since the soldiers, long sick of generals who had shot up in the forcing-house of Bonapartism, had been repeatedly calling for a leader of the old African school. Pélissier enjoys the confidence of the soldiers but he is taking command under difficult circumstances. He must act, and act quickly. Since an assault is impossible, there is no other choice than to move into the field against the Russians, not, however, in the manner we have previously described when the entire army would have to march along one single road that had, moreover, been heavily barricaded by the Russians, but by distributing the army over the numerous small upland paths and tracks mostly used only by shepherds and their flocks, which would make it possible to outflank the Russian position. One difficulty arises here. The French have only sufficient means of transport to supply about 30,000 men for a very short distance from the coast. The means of transport of the English would be exhausted if they had to convey a single division no further than Chorgun on the Chernaya. Given this lack of transport it is difficult to see how then is the field to be taken, in case of success the north side of Sevastopol invested, the enemy pursued to Bakshiserai and a junction effected with Omer Pasha? Especially since the Russians in accordance with their custom will take good care to leave nothing but ruins behind them, so that a supply of carts, horses, camels, etc., can only be obtained after the Allies have completely routed their enemy. We shall see how Pélissier will extricate himself from this difficulty.
We have previously drawn attention to a number. of peculiar circumstances connected with Pélissier's appointment[c]. However there is a further aspect to be considered here. When the war began, that Bonapartist general par excellence, S[ain]t-Arnaud, was entrusted with the supreme command. He did his emperor the service of promptly dying. Not one of the Bonapartists of the first rank was appointed in his place, neither Magnan, nor Castellane, nor Roguet, nor Baraguay d'Hilliers. Recourse was had to Canrobert, a man tarred neither so heavily nor so long with the Bonapartist brush, but having greater African experience. Now, with another change of command, the Bonapartists du lendemain[d] have been passed over in the same way as those de la veille[e], and the post awarded to a simple African general of no pronounced political complexion, but with many years of service and a name in the army. Must not this descending line inevitably lead to Changarnier, Lamoricière or Cavaignac, i.e. away from Bonapartism?
"Unfitness for peace no less than for war—such is our situation!" observed a day or two ago a French statesman for whom everything is at stake with the imperial régime. Every action of the restored empire, right up to the appointment of Pélissier, proves that he was right.
Written on May 24, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 243, May 29, 1855
Marked with the sign x
The English version was published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4414, June 12, 1855
and reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1049, June 15, 1855 as a leading article
Marx uses the English words "Ins" and "Outs" (the reference is to the supporters and opponents of the government).—Ed.
10 Downing Street is the official residence of the British Prime Minister. These details are contained in "The Ministry and Its Supporters" published in The Times, No. 22063, May 25, 1855.—Ed.
See this volume, pp. 212-13.—Ed.
Of the day before.—Ed.
The section of this article dealing with the latest events in the Crimea (up to the last but one paragraph, which describes the circumstances of Pélissier's appointment) is an abridged German version of Engels' article "The New French Commander", published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4414, on June 12, 1855 (see this volume, pp. 215-17). The editing and translation were done by Marx.
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).
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14
(pp.218-221), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980