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Disraeli's Motion

Karl Marx

London, May 28. The Commons were offered a "rich menu", as the elegant Gladstone put it, in the choice between Disraeli's motion and Baring's amendment to Disraeli's motion, between Sir William Heathcote's sub-amendment to Baring's amendment and Mr. Lowe's counter-sub-amendment against Disraeli, Baring and Sir William Heathcote[a]. Disraeli's motion contains a censure of the ministers and an address on the war to the Crown, the former definite and the latter flexible, both connected by a link accessible to the parliamentary thought process. The feeble form in which the war address was wrapped was soon explained. Disraeli had to apprehend mutiny in his own camp. One Tory, the Marquis of Granby, spoke against it, another, Lord Stanley, spoke for it, but both in a spirit of peace. Baring's amendment was a ministerial one. It suppresses the vote of censure against the Cabinet, and adopts the bellicose part of the motion with Disraeli's own terminology, only prefacing it with the words that the House "has seen with regret that the Conferences of Vienna have not led to a termination of hostilities". He is blowing hot and cold in the same breath. The "regret" for the peace lobby, the "continuation of the war" for the war lobby, no definite obligation on the part of the Cabinet to either lobby—a shell-trap[b] for votes, black and white, a part for the flute and a part for the trumpet. Heathcote's sub-amendment rounds off Baring's two-tongued amendment in a thoroughly idyllic turn of phrase by adding the words: "that the House is still cherishing the hope" ("cherishing"[c] is a thoroughly cosy expression) "that the communications in progress may arrive at a successful issue". Lowe's amendment, on the other hand, declares the peace negotiations closed with the rejection of the Third Point[169] by Russia and thus motivates the war address to the Crown. It can be seen that the eclectic amendment of the Ministry has both sides, which it sought to hush up and neutralise, independently and peacefully confronting each other. Continuation of the Vienna Conferences! cries Heathcote. No Vienna Conference! retorts Lowe. Vienna Conference and warfare! whispers Baring. We shall hear the themes of this terzetto performed in a week's time, and for the moment return to the debate on Disraeli's motion, on whose first night[d] only three principal political personages appeared, Disraeli, Gladstone and Russell, the first pungent and drastic, the second smooth and casuistic, the third banal and blustering.

We do not agree with the objection that in his personal attack on Russell, Disraeli lost sight of the "actual issue". The secrets of the Anglo-Russian war are not to be found on the battlefield but in Downing Street[e]. Russell, Foreign Secretary at the time of the Petersburg Cabinet's secret communications, Russell, envoy extraordinary at the time of the last Vienna Conference, Russell, at the same time Leader[c] of the House of Commons; he is Downing Street personified, he is its secret revealed. Not because he is the soul of the Ministry but because he is its mouth-piece.

Towards the end of 1854, relates Disraeli, Russell gave a blast on the trumpet of war, and among loud cheers[c] told a full House:

"England could not lay down arms until material guarantees are obtained, which, reducing Russia's power to proportions innocuous for Europe, will afford perfect security for the future."

This man was a member of a Cabinet that approved the Vienna Protocol of December 5, 1853, in which the English and French plenipotentiaries stipulated that the war should not lead to a reduction or alteration of the "material conditions" of the Russian Empire[170]. Clarendon, questioned by Lyndhurst about this protocol, declared on behalf of the Ministry:

"It might be the will of Austria and of Prussia, but it was not the will of England and France that a reduction of Russian power in Europe should be brought about."

To the House Russell denounced the conduct of Emperor Nicholas as "false and fraudulent". In July 1854 he flippantly announced the invasion of the Crimea, declaring that the destruction of Sevastopol was a matter of European necessity. He finally brought about the fall of Aberdeen for, in his opinion, conducting the war too feebly. So much for the lionskin, now for the lion. Russell was Foreign Secretary for two or three months in 1853, at the time when England received the "secret and confidential correspondence" from Petersburg in which Nicholas openly demanded the partition of Turkey, to be attained chiefly through his pretended protection of the Christian subjects of Turkey, a protection which, as Nesselrode admits in his last despatch, has never existed. What did Russell do? He addressed a despatch to the British ambassador in Petersburg[f], which literally says:

"The more the Turkish Government adopts the rules of impartial law and equal administration, the less will the Emperor of Russia find it necessary to apply that exceptional 'protection' which he has found so burdensome and inconvenient, though, no doubt, prescribed by duty and sanctified by treaty."

Thus Russell concedes the point at issue from the start. He not only declares the protection legal but obligatory. He traces it back to the Treaty of Kainardji. And what does the "Fourth Point" of the Vienna Conference[g] state? That "the erroneous interpretation of the Treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji was the principal cause of the present war". If we see Russell at the outbreak of war as the advocate of Russian right—now renounced even by Nesselrode—at the end of the first stage of the war, at the Vienna Conference, we observe him as the champion of Russia's honour. As soon as the real business, the discussion of the Third Point[172], began on March 26, the Russian-eater Russell rose and solemnly declared:

"In the eyes of England and of her allies, the best and only admissible conditions of peace would be those which, being the most in harmony with the honour and dignity of Russia, should at the same time be sufficient for the security of Europe, etc.

On April 17 the Russian envoys therefore refused to take the initiative in making proposals for the Third Point, being convinced after Russell's statement that the conditions offered by the allied envoys would be conceived more in the Russian spirit than any that Russia herself could devise. But was the limitation of Russian naval forces "most in harmony with Russia's honour"? In his latest circular Nesselrode therefore adhered firmly to Russell's concessions of March 26. He quotes Russell. He asks him whether the proposals of April 19 are "the best and only admissible ones". Russell appears as the patron of Russia on the threshold of war. He appears as her patron at the end of the first stage of the war, at the green table in Count Buol's palace.

Thus far Disraeli against Russell. He then traced both the disasters at the front and the discord in the country itself back to the contradictory actions of the Ministry, which is working for war in the Crimea and peace in Vienna, combining warlike diplomacy with diplomatic warfare.

Disraeli exclaimed:

"I deny that all you have to do to make war is to levy taxes and to fit out expeditions. [...] You must keep up the spirit of the people. You cannot do this if you are perpetually impressing on the country that peace is impending and [...] that the point of difference between ourselves and our opponents is, [...] after all, [...] comparatively speaking, of a very petty character. Men will endure great sacrifices if they think they are encountering an enemy of colossal power [...]. A nation will not count the sacrifices which it makes if it supposes that it is engaged in a struggle for its fame, its existence, and its power; but when you come to a doubled and tripled income tax, when you come to draw men away from their homes for military service, when you darken the hearts[h] of England with ensanguined calamities—when you do all this, men must not be told that this is merely a question of whether [...] Russia shall have four frigates or eight in the Black Sea.... If you would carry on war, it is necessary not merely to keep up the spirit of the nation, but also to keep up the spirit of foreign Powers; but you may rest assured that so long as you appeal to a foreign Power as a mediator that foreign Power will never be your ally.... Lord Palmerston told us that he was not going to make an ignominious peace [...]. The noble lord is witness for himself, but who will be witness for the noble lord?...

"...You cannot, however, extricate yourselves from these difficulties by conferences at Vienna. You will only increase your difficulties and augment your dangers if you trust to diplomacy. Your position is one that is entirely deceptive; and you never can carry on war with success unless [...] you are supported by an enthusiastic people, and unless [...] you can count upon allies [...] who know that you are determined to support them.

"...I want this House by its decision tonight to put an end to that vicious double system by which we have so long carried on [...] war and diplomacy. I want it to say openly and in distinct language that the time for negotiations has passed. No man, I think, will be inclined to deny that proposition who has read Nesselrode's circular."

Written on May 28, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 247, May 31, 1855
Marked with the sign x


[a] Disraeli's motion and the amendments to it, and his speech in the House of Commons on May 24, 1855, were reported in The Times, No. 22063, May 25, 1855; the amendments and the speech by Lowe in the Commons on May 25, 1855 were published in The Times, No. 22064, May 26, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Marx uses the English expression.—Ed.

[c] Marx uses the English word.—Ed.

[d] May 24, 1855.—Ed.

[e] The Prime Minister's official residence.—Ed.

[f] G. H. Seymour.—Ed.

[g] In this paragraph the Neue Oder-Zeitung has "Vienna Congress" instead of "Vienna Conference".—Ed.

[h] In Disraeli's speech: "hearths".—Ed.

[169] A reference to the third of the Four Points put forward by the Allies as terms for peace talks with Russia (see Note 172↓). It was interpreted by Western diplomats as calling for a limitation of the Russian naval forces in the Black Sea and was rejected by Russia's representatives at the Vienna Conference (see Notes 88↓ and 137↓).

[170] On December 5, 1853, the British, French and Prussian representatives at the Vienna Conference and the Austrian Foreign Minister Buol signed a protocol under which Notes were sent to Turkey and Russia offering Western mediation in settling the Russo-Turkish dispute. The following terms were stipulated as a basis for negotiations: evacuation by Russia of Moldavia and Wallachia, renewal of the former Russo-Turkish treaties, a guarantee of the rights of Christians by all European powers, and reform of Turkey's administrative system.

[171] The Kuchuk-Kainarji peace treaty was concluded by Russia and Turkey on July 21, 1774, following the former's victories in the Russo-Turkish war of 1768-74. Russia obtained part of the Northern shore of the Black Sea between the South Bug and the Dnieper with the fortress of Kinburn; she also got Azov, Kerch and Yenikale and compelled Turkey to recognise the independence of the Crimea, which facilitated its eventual incorporation into Russia. The Sultan undertook to grant a number of privileges to the Greek Orthodox Church. Article 14, in particular, provided for the building of an Orthodox church in Constantinople.

[172] 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.

[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 172↑). 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 (see Note 88↑). 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.

[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↑).

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.227-230), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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