Farsi    Arabic    English   

Napoleon's War Plans[193]

Frederick Engels

The French Government has thought proper again to give to the world through the columns of the Paris Constitutionnel another intimation respecting the manner in which the war is to be carried on for the next couple of months[a]. These exposés are now becoming not only fashionable but periodical, and although they are apt to be inconsistent with each other, they afford for the time a -pretty good idea of what favorable chances are open to the French Government. Take them all in all, they form a collection of all Louis Bonaparte's possible plans of campaign against Russia. As such they deserve some attention, for they involve the destiny of the second Empire and the possibility of French national resurrection.

It seems then that there is to be no "grande guerre" with 500,000 Austrians and 100,000 French on the Vistula and Dnieper. Nor is there to be a general rising of those "oppressed nationalities" which are constantly looking toward the West. No Hungarian, Italian, Polish armies are to appear at the magic call of the man who put down the Roman Republic[194]. All that belongs to the past. Austria has done her duty to the West. So has Prussia. So has all the world. Everybody is satisfied with everybody. This war is no grand war at all. It is not destined to renew the glory of the old struggles of the French with the Russians, though Pélissier accidentally says as much in one of his dispatches. The French troops are not sent to the Crimea to reap a harvest of glory; they are simply there to do police duty. The question pending is a mere local one: the supremacy of the Black Sea—and it will be settled on the very locality concerned. To give the war any larger dimensions would be folly. "Respectfully but firmly" will the Allies knock down every attempt at resistance by the Russians in the Black Sea and on its coasts; and when they have done that—why then of course they or Russia, or both of them will make peace.

Thus another of the Bonapartist self-delusions has been put aside. The dreams of the Rhine as the boundary of France, of the acquisition of Belgium and Savoy, have vanished, and a sober modesty of no common degree has taken their place. We are not fighting to restore France to the position which is due to her in Europe. Far from it. Not even are we fighting for civilization, as we used to say a short time ago. We are too modest to pretend to anything of such magnitude. What we are fighting for is—why, nothing more than the interpretation of the Third Point[195] of the Vienna protocol! Such is the language now held by his Imperial Majesty Napoleon III, by the grace of the army and the toleration of Europe, Emperor of the French.

And what does this all amount to? We are told the war is being carried on for a purely local object, and can be brought to a successful termination by purely local means. Take the actual supremacy of the Black Sea out of the hands of Russia, and the end will be accomplished. Once masters of the Black Sea and its shores, hold what you have got, and Russia will very soon give in. Such is the most recent of all the many plans of campaign issued from headquarters at Paris. We proceed to look at it a little more closely.

We will take matters as they stand at present. From Constantinople to the Danube on the one side, and round by the Circassian coast, Anapa, Kertch, Balaklava, to Eupatoria, the whole coast is taken out of the hands of the Russians. Kaffa and Sevastopol are the only points that hold out, the one hard pressed, the other so situated that it must be abandoned as soon as it is seriously menaced. More than that, the allied fleets sweep the inland sea of Azoff; their light vessels have been up as far as Taganrog, and every place of importance has been assailed by them. No portion of the coast can be said to remain in the hands of the Russians, except the tract from Perekop to the Danube, or about one-fifteenth part of their possessions on that coast. Now we will even suppose that Kaffa and Sevastopol have fallen, and that the Crimea is in the hands of the Allies. What then? That Russia will not make peace in that situation, she has already loudly proclaimed. She would be mad if she did. It would be giving up the battle after your advanced guard has been thrown back, at the very moment your main body is coming up. What then can the Allies do, after having secured these advantages at an immense cost?

They can, we are told, destroy Odessa, Cherson, Nikolaieff; they can even land a strong army at Odessa, fortify themselves there so as to hold out against any number of Russians, and then act according to circumstances. They can, besides, detach troops to the Caucasus and all but destroy the Russian army which, under General Muravieff, now holds Georgia and the other trans-Caucasian countries. But suppose all these things to be accomplished: and again we ask, what then, if Russia, as she certainly will do, refuse to make peace under these circumstances? Let it not be forgotten that Russia is not placed in the same position as France or England. England can afford to conclude a shabby peace. In fact, as soon as John Bull has had enough of excitement and war-taxes, he will be but too eager to creep out of the mess and leave his dear allies to shift for themselves. England's real power and source of strength do not exactly lie in that direction. Louis Bonaparte may, too, find himself placed in a position where an unseemly peace will be preferable, for him, to a war to the knife; for it must not be forgotten that with such an adventurer, in a desperate case, the chance of prolonging his dominion for another six months outweighs every other consideration. Turkey and Sardinia are sure to be left to their own puny resources in the decisive moment. So much, at least, is certain. But Russia cannot make peace, any more than ancient Rome could, while the enemy is on her territory. Russia, for a hundred and fifty years past, has never made a peace by which she lost ground. Even Tilsit[196] gave her an increase of territory, and Tilsit was concluded before a single Frenchman had put his foot on Russian soil. To make peace while a large and advancing army is on Russian soil, a peace involving a sacrifice of territory, or at least a restriction of the Czar's sovereignty in his own dominions, would be to break at once with the traditions of a century and a half. Such a step could not be thought of by a Czar new to the throne[b], new to the people, and anxiously watched by a powerful national party. Such a peace could not be concluded until all the resources offensive and (above all) defensive of Russia had been brought into play, and found wanting. That day will doubtless come, and the necessity of minding her own business will be imposed upon Russia, but by other enemies than Louis Bonaparte and Palmerston, and after struggles far more decisive than the "local" execution put in force on her Black Sea dominions. But let us suppose the Crimea conquered and garrisoned by 50,000 Allies—the Caucasus and everything to the South of it cleared of Russian troops, and an allied army checking the Russians on the Kuban and Terek—Odessa taken, and converted into an intrenched camp, holding say 100,000 Anglo-French troops; Nikolaieff, Cherson, Ismail, destroyed or occupied by the Allies. We will even suppose that beside these "local" exploits, something of some importance may have been accomplished in the Baltic, although with the information at our command it is hard to say what that may be. What then?

Will the Allies confine themselves to holding their positions and tiring out the Russians? Their men in the Crimea and the Caucasus will vanish faster under the effects of disease than they can be replaced. Their main army, say at Odessa, will have to be fed by the fleets, for the country for hundreds of miles around Odessa produces nothing. The Russian army, surrounded by Cossack scouts—nowhere more useful than in these steppes—will harass them whenever they show themselves out of their intrenchments, if it cannot take up a permanent position somewhere in the neighborhood of the town. It is impossible under such circumstances to force the Russians to give battle; their great advantage will always be to draw the Allies into the interior of the country. To every advance of the Allies, they will respond by a slow retreat. Yet a large army cannot be confined for any length of time in an intrenched camp without giving it something to do. The gradual progress of disorder and demoralization would force the Allies to some decided movement. Sickness, too, would make the place too hot for them. In a word, to occupy the principal points on the coast and there to await the moment when Russia finds it necessary to give in is a game that will never do at all. There are three chances to one that the Allies would be tired of it first, and that the graves of their soldiers on the shores of the Black Sea would soon be counted by hundreds of thousands.

It would be a military blunder, too. To command a coast, it is not sufficient to possess its principal points. It is the possession of the inner country which alone gives the possession of the coast. As we have seen, the very circumstances arising from an establishment on the coast of South Russia would all but force the Allies to march into the interior. And here it is that the difficulties begin. Up to the frontiers of the Governments of Podolia, Kieff, Poltava, Charkoff, the country is an almost uncultivated plain, very scantily watered, furnishing nothing but grass, and not even that after the heats of Summer. Supposing Odessa, Nikolaieff, Cherson to be taken for a base of operations, where would be the object against which the Allies could direct their efforts? The towns are few and far between, and there are none of sufficient importance to give, if occupied, a decisive character to the operation. There is no decisive point nearer than Moscow, and that is 700 miles off! Five hundred thousand men would be required for a march on Moscow, and where are they to come from? Surely, the case is such that in this way the "local" war can never lead to any decisive result; and we defy Louis Bonaparte with all his exuberance of strategic imagination to find another.

All this, however, presupposes not only the strict neutrality but even the moral support of Austria. And where is that power at the present moment? Austria and Prussia have declared they would consider an advance of the Russian army towards the Balkan, in 1854, as a casus Belli against Russia[197]. Where is the guarantee that in 1856 they will not consider a French advance on Moscow or even Charkoff as a cause of war against the Western Powers? We need not forget that every army advancing from the Black Sea toward the interior of Russia as much offers its flank to Austria as a Russian army advancing into Turkey from the Danube; and at a given distance, therefore, its communication with its base of operations, that is to say its very existence, is at the mercy of Austria. To keep Austria quiet, even for a time, she will have to be bought off by the surrender of Bessarabia to her troops. Once on the Dniester, her army commands Odessa as completely as if that town were garrisoned by Austrians. And under such circumstances could an allied army venture on a wild-goose chase after the Russians into the interior of the country? Nonsense! But this nonsense, let us remember, is the logical consequence of Louis Bonaparte's latest plan of "local warfare."

The first plan for the campaign was the "grande guerre," by means of the Austrian alliance. It would have placed the French army in the same numerical inferiority and virtual dependence with respect to the Austrian army as the English army is now with regard to the French. It would have given the revolutionary initiative to Russia. Louis Bonaparte could do neither. Austria refused to act; the subject dropped. The second was, the "war of nationalities." This would have roused a storm between the Germans, Italians, Hungarians on one hand, and the Slavonian insurrection on the other, which must have reacted upon France at once and overturned Louis Bonaparte's Lower Empire[198] in less time than it took to set it up. The counterfeit "iron man," passing himself off as a Napoleon, shrunk back. The third and most modest of all is the "local war for local objects." It reduces itself at once to an absurdity. We are again obliged to ask: What next? After all, it is far easier to be made Emperor of the French, with every circumstance to favor the design, than to act as such, even when long study before the looking-glass has made his Majesty perfectly familiar with all the theatrical portion of the business.

Written about June 15, 1855
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4431, July 2, 1855;
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1054, July 3, 1855;
an abridged and altered German version was first published as part of Marx's report
in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, Nos. 279 and 287, June 19 and 23, 1855, marked with the sign x


[a] This refers to A. de Cesena's article on the aims and prospects of the Crimean war published in the semi-official Constitutionnel, No. 169, June 18, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Alexander II.—Ed.

[193] The text of this article by Engels was translated by Marx into German and included, with a certain amount of editing, in two reports for the Neue Oder-Zeitung: "The Debate on Layard's Motion.—The War in the Crimea", dated June 16 and published June 19, 1855 and "The Local War.—Debate on Administrative Reform.— Report of the Roebuck Committee, etc.", dated June 20 and published ' June 23, 1855. The two reports are therefore published here as written jointly by Marx and Engels (see this volume, pp. 277-79 and 287-91).

[194] A reference to the French intervention against the Roman Republic which led to the latter's fall (July 1849) and the restoration of the temporal power of the Pope. Louis Napoleon, as President of the French Republic, was one of the organisers of the intervention.

[195] 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.

[196] The Treaties of Tilsit—the peace treaties concluded on July 7 and 9, 1807 by Napoleonic France with Russia and Prussia, members of the Fourth anti-French coalition which was defeated in the campaigns of 1806 and 1807. In an attempt to divide the defeated powers, Napoleon made no territorial claims on Russia and even managed to have part of Prussia's Eastern possessions (the Bialystok region) transferred to it. At the same time, harsh terms were imposed on Prussia, who lost nearly half its territory to the German states dependent on France, was obliged to pay an indemnity, had its army limited, etc. However, Russia, as well as Prussia, had to sever its alliance with Britain and, to its own disadvantage, join the Continental System. Napoleon formed the vassal Duchy of Warsaw on Polish territory seized by Prussia during the partitions of Poland in the late eighteenth century, and planned to use the duchy as a bridgehead in the event of war with Russia. The further aggravation of Russo-French differences led to Napoleon's campaign against Russia in 1812.

[197] A reference to the Austro-Prussian treaty of April 20, 1854, obliging the two states to take joint action against Russia in the event of her refusing to evacuate the Danubian Principalities or of the Russian troops' advancing further in the Balkans.

[198] Lower Empire (Bas Empire)—the name given in historical literature to the Eastern Roman Empire (Byzantine Empire); also used with reference to states at the stage of decline or disintegration. Here an allusion to the Second Empire in France.

[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. 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.267-272), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
MarxEngles.public-archive.net #ME0910en.html