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The Debate on Layard's Motion.—
The War In The Crimea[202]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

London, June 16. The debate on Layard's motion[203] was not concluded yesterday but adjourned until Monday evening. So we shall also adjourn our account of it for the time being.

One incident in the Commons sitting deserves mention[a]. During the talks about the Vienna Conference Palmerston had intimated that the Peelites had made the stipulation of certain peace terms a condition for their entry into his Cabinet. Russell defended these same terms in Vienna. Yesterday Otway called on Palmerston to state whether he was adhering to peace terms that had originated from the Peelites, in other words from a party confessedly acting in the interests of Russia. Gladstone rose and demanded that the speaker accusing him and his friends of treason should be called to order. The call to order was made. Otway, however, repeated his description of the Peelites and his question to Palmerston. As is his custom, Palmerston refused to reply. The peace terms were naturally dependent on the events of the war. As regards the Peelites, they had in particular stipulated that a "certain" condition, which he could not name, would not be made a conditio sine qua non of peace. In his reply to Palmerston, Gladstone for his part denied ever having had talks with Palmerston about the peace terms. It might be otherwise with his friend Graham. Moreover, he protested against Palmerston's system of affected official reserve on the one side, and the concealed hint,' ambiguous allusion and quasi-statement on the other. Let the ministry speak out frankly or be silent. Gladstone administered this lesson to Palmerston with sanctimonious bitterness.

The French government has issued in the Constitutionnel a new exposé of the conduct of the war in the coming months[b]. These exposés have now become not only fashionable but also regular. Although in profound contradiction with themselves, they are valuable as revelations of "various" plans of campaign devised against Russia by Louis Bonaparte. They are valuable insofar as they document the disappearance of one Bonapartist illusion after the other. The first plan was that of "grand war" by means of the Austrian alliance, with 500,000 Austrians and 100,000 Frenchmen on the Vistula and the Dnieper. The plan would have assigned to the French Army the same numerically subordinate relationship to the Austrians as the English have to the French in the Crimea. It would have conceded the revolutionary initiative to Russia. Austria refused to act. The plan was dropped. The second plan was the "war of nationalities", a general rising of the "oppressed, who are constantly looking to the West". It would have provoked a storm between the Germans, Italians and Hungarians on the one side, and the Slav insurrection on the other. Recoiling on France, it would have threatened the "second" Empire with its end. The imitation "man of iron" shrank back from it. The plan was dropped. All this is now over and done with. Austria has done its duty, Prussia has done its duty, the whole world has done its duty, and Bonaparte has come to the third and most modest plan. "Local war for local aims." The French troops in the Crimea are not fighting for glory, they are merely there on police duty. The question to be settled is a purely local one: predominance in the Black Sea, and it must be cleared up there, on the spot. It would be foolishness to give the war wider dimensions. "Respectfully but firmly" the allies will crush any Russian attempt to resist them in the Black Sea, and then they or the Russians or both will make peace. Nothing is left of the high-sounding phrases, not even the phrase about civilisation, nothing but the fight for the 3rd point[204] of the Vienna Protocol. War with a purely local aim, remarks the imperial oracle, can only be waged with local means. Deprive the Russians simply of their predominance in the Black Sea! In our next letter we shall show[c] that Bonaparte has descended from "grand war" to the "war of the nationalities", and from the "war of nationalities" to "local war serving local purposes and waged with local means", and this final war becomes "preposterous".

Written on June 16, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 279, June 19, 1855
Marked with the sign X
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] The debate in the House of Commons on June-15, 1855 was reported in The "Times, No. 22082, June 16, 1855.—Ed.

[b] 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.

[c] See this volume, pp. 287-89.—Ed.

[202] In this report Marx drew on Engels' article "Napoleon's War Plans" written for the New-York Daily Tribune (see this volume, pp. 267-72).

[203] In his House of Commons speech on June 15, 1855, Layard tabled a resolution stating that the traditional practice of appointing members of influential families to government posts had caused incalculable harm to the country and was discrediting the nation. Layard's motion, discussed on June 15 and 18, was rejected.

[204] 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 (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.277-279), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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