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Eccentricities of Politics

Karl Marx

In his book on the Congrès de Vienne the Abbé de Pradt justly accuses that dancing Congress, as it was called by the Prince de Ligne, of having laid the foundation of Russian supremacy in Europe and given its sanction thereto.[205]

"Thus," he exclaims, "it happens that the European war of independence against France terminates with the subjection of Europe to Russia. It was not worth while to fatigue oneself so much for such a result."[a]

The war against France being at the same time a war against the Revolution, an Anti-Jacobin war, naturally led to a transfer of influence from the West to the East, from France to Russia. The Vienna Congress was the natural offspring of the Anti-Jacobin War, the Treaty of Vienna the legitimate product of the Vienna Congress, and Russian supremacy the natural child of the Treaty of Vienna. The crowd of English, French and German writers cannot therefore be allowed to throw all the blame upon Prussia, because Frederick William III, by his blind devotion to the Emperor Alexander and the categorical orders he gave his Embassadors to side with Russia in all important questions, thwarted that infamous triumvirate, Castlereagh, Metternich and Talleyrand, in their deep-laid schemes to erect safe territorial barriers against Russian encroachments[206] and thus ward off the unpleasant but inevitable consequences of the system they had so zealously imposed upon the Continent. Even to such an un-scrupulous conclave it was not given to falsify the logic of events.

Russia's preponderance in Europe being inseparable from the Treaty of Vienna, any war against that power not proclaiming at the outset the abolition of the Treaty, cannot but prove a mere tissue of shams, delusions and collusions. Now, the present war is undertaken with a view not to supersede but rather to consolidate the Treaty of Vienna by the introduction, in a supplementary way, of Turkey into the protocols of 1815. Then it is expected the conservative millennium will dawn and the aggregate force of the Governments be allowed to direct itself exclusively to the "tranquilization" of the European mind. From the following remarkable passages translated from the Prussian Marshal Knesebeck's pamphlet "relating to the equilibrium of Europe, composed at the meeting of the Vienna Congress,"[b] it will be seen that even at the epoch of that Congress, the principal actors were fully aware of the maintenance of Turkey being as much interwoven with "the system" as the partition of Poland.[207]

"The Turks in Europe! What harm have the Turks done to you? They are a powerful and honest people; quiet for centuries among themselves, if you leave them undisturbed, confidence may be placed in them. Have they ever deceived you? Are they not sincere and frank in their policy? Brave and warlike indeed; but this is wholesome and good for more reasons than one. They are the best bulwark against the encroachment of the Asiatic surplus population, and just because they have a footing in Europe they ward off every encroachment. If they were driven away, they themselves would encroach. Just imagine them away. What would happen? Either Russia or Austria would get possession of those entire countries, or a separate Greek State would be founded there. Do you wish to make Russia still more powerful? to draw down on this side also the colossus on your own heads? Are you not yet content that it has advanced its stride from the Volga to the Niemen, from the Niemen to the Vistula, and will now probably extend it as far as the Wartha? And if this be not the case, do you wish to turn the power of Austria in the direction of Asia, and to make it by that means weak or indifferent to the maintenance of its central position to the encroachments from the West? Recall to yourselves the position of the past times of John Sobieski, of Eugene of Savoy, and of Montecucculi. In what way did France at first gain dominion in Germany, but because the power of Austria was of necessity constantly engaged in opposing the encroachments of Asia? Do you wish to restore this state of things, and to increase it still more by bringing it nearer Asia?

"A separate Grecian" or Byzantine "State is, therefore, to be founded! Would this ameliorate the condition of Europe? In the state of torpidity into which that people" (the Greeks) "have sunk, would not Europe, on the contrary, be obliged to be continually under arms to protect itself against the returning Turks? Would not Greece become merely a Russian colony, in consequence of the influence which Russia would possess over this State through religion, commerce and interest? Rather let the Turks alone where they are, and do not arouse the restless power while it reposes. 'But,' exclaims a well-meaning philanthropist, 'men are maltreated there. The most beautiful part of the world, including the ancient Athens and Sparta, is inhabited by barbarians!'

"It may be all true, my friend: men there are at present, or until lately were, strangled; but they are bastinadoed, beaten, scourged, and sold in other parts. Before you change anything, think whether you could also better at the same moment; whether the bastinado and the rod, with Greek perfidy, would be easier to bear than the silk cord and a firman" with the Turks. "Do away first with those things, and with the slave trade in Europe, and console yourself about the uncivilization of the Turk; his uncivilization has power, his faith gives courage, and we require strength and courage to be able to watch tranquilly the Muscovite pushing himself on as far as the Wartha.

"The Turks are then to be maintained, but the Poles as a nation are to sink! Yes, it cannot be otherwise.

"Whatever has strength to stand, endures; where all is rotten, it must perish. And so it is. Let any one ask himself what would be the result if the Polish nation were maintained independent in its natural character. Drunkenness, gluttony, servility, contempt for all that is better and for every other people, contemptuous derision of all order and custom, extravagance, dissoluteness, venality, cunning, treachery, immorality from the palace to the cottage; that is the element in which the Pole exists. For this he sings his songs, plays on his fiddle and guitar, kisses his mistress and drinks out of her shoe, draws his sword, strokes his moustaches, mounts his horse, marches to battle with Dumouriez and Bonaparte or anybody else on earth, delights in excessive brandy and punch, fights with friend and foe, ill-treats his wife and his serf, sells his property, goes abroad, disturbs half the world, and swears by Kościuszko and Poniatowski Poland shall not die as sure as he is a Pole.

"Here you behold what you would support when you say Poland shall be restored.

"Is such a nation worthy to exist? Is such a people fit for a Constitution? A Constitution presupposes an idea of order, [...] for it does nothing but regulate, and points out to each member of the community the place to which he belongs, for which reason it determines the ranks of which the State is to be composed, and to each rank its place, condition, order, rights and duties, as well as the course of the State machine and the principal traits of its government. What! Rule a people when no one will have order? A Polish King (Stefan Batory) once exclaimed: 'Poles—not order—you know none; not government—you respect none; to a mere chance you owe your continued existence!'

"And thus it is still. Disorder, immorality, is the Poles' element. No; let this people undergo the bastinado. Providence wills it. Heaven knows what is profitable for mankind.

"For the present, therefore, no more Poles!"

Old Marshal Knesebeck's views are then to be realized by the present war—a war undertaken for the extension and consolidation of the Vienna Treaty of 1815. During the whole period of the Restoration and the Monarchy of July there was the delusion afloat in France that Napoleonism meant the abolition of the Treaty of Vienna, which had placed Europe under the official tutelage of Russia, and France under the "surveillance publique" of Europe. Now the present imitator of his uncle, haunted , by the inexorable irony of his fatal position, is proving to the world that Napoleonism means war, not to emancipate France from, but to subject Turkey to, the Treaty of Vienna. War in the interest of the Treaty of Vienna and under the pretext of checking the power of Russia!

This is the true "Idée Napoléonienne,"[c] as interpreted by the resurrection-man at Paris. The English being the proud allies of the second Napoleon, feel themselves, of course, authorized to deal with the sayings of the old Napoleon as his nephew does with his ideas. We are then not to be astonished at reading in a recent English author (Dunlop)[d] that Napoleon foretold that the next struggle with Russia would involve the great question of whether Europe should be "Constitutional or Cossack." Before the days of the Lower Empire[208] Napoleon was supposed to have said "Republican or Cossack."[e] However, the world lives and learns.

—And it is for failing to appreciate the glories of the Treaty of Vienna and of the European "system" based upon it, that the Tribune is charged with infidelity to the cause of human rights and of Freedom![209]

Written on June 19, 1855
Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4437, July 10, 1855
as a leading article


[a] Dominique Dufour de Pradt, Du Congrès de Vienne, t. I, p. 262.—Ed.

[b] K. F. Knesebeck, Denkschrift, betreffend die Gleichgewichts-Lage Europa's, Min Zusammentritte des Wiener Congresses verfasst. The excerpts quoted below (with omissions and explanatory addenda) are from pp. 11-14.—Ed.

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

[d] This presumably refers to A. G. Dunlop's book Cossack Rule, and Russian Influence in Europe, and over Germany.—Ed.

[e] A reference to Napoleon's statement on St. Helena that Europe was bound to become "Republican or Cossack" (quoted by E. Las Cases in his Memorial de Sainte-Helene..., t. 3, p. 111).—Ed.

[205] The Vienna Congress of European monarchs and their Ministers (September 1814 to June 1815) concluded the wars of the European coalition against Napoleonic France. It was attended by representatives of all European states, except Turkey. The congress revealed sharp differences between the principal participants: Russia and Prussia, on the one hand, and Austria, Britain and France, on the other. The extremely protracted negotiations were accompanied by endless balls, masquerades and theatrical events. The decisions of the congress (further in the text Marx calls them the Vienna treaty, meaning the sum total of international acts, including the Final Act of June 9, 1815) helped re-install several royal dynasties overthrown during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, sealed the political disunity of Germany and Italy, sanctioned the annexation of Belgium by Holland and the partition of Poland, and outlined measures to combat the revolutionary and national liberation movement, thereby preparing the ground for the Holy Alliance, a counter-revolutionary union of European monarchs.

[206] Marx is referring to the secret treaty of alliance against Russia and Prussia signed by France, Austria and Britain in the Austrian capital on January 3, 1815, during the Congress of Vienna. Along with Chancellor Metternich of Austria and British Foreign Secretary Castlereagh, an important part in preparing the treaty was played by Talleyrand-Périgord, the French representative at the Congress, who sought to exploit the differences between the members of the former anti-Napoleonic coalition. The formation of the Anglo-Austro-French alliance forced Prussia to reduce her claims on the Kingdom of Saxony and with regard to the Polish lands.

[207] The treaties signed by Russia, Prussia and Austria in Vienna on May 3, 1815, and the Final Act of the Congress of Vienna, signed on June 9, 1815, sanctioned the abolition of the Duchy of Warsaw, set up by Napoleon in 1807, and a new partition of the Polish lands between Austria, Prussia and Russia.

[208] 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.

[209] The last paragraph of this article was presumably added by the New-York Daily Tribune editors.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.283-286), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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