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The Local War.—
Debate on Administrative Reform.—
Report of The Roebuck Committee, etc.[210]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

London, June 20. The local war proclaimed by Bonaparte in the Constitutionnel[a] is a war in the Black Sea, and its purpose is the destruction of the alleged Russian supremacy in the Black Sea—a supremacy, moreover, that has never stood the test at sea, not even against the Turks. What is the state of affairs at the moment? The whole coast, from Constantinople to the Danube on one side and right round the Circassian shores to Balaklava and Eupatoria, has been snatched out of the hands of the Russians. Only Kaffa and Sevastopol are still holding out, with the former hard-pressed and the latter so situated that it will have to surrender as soon as it is seriously threatened. And more. The fleets are carrying out mopping-up operations in the inland sea of Azov, their light ships penetrate as far as Taganrog and every important place is bombarded by them. No part of the coast remains in Russian hands except the stretch from Perekop to the Danube, approximately 1/15 of their possessions on this coast. Supposing Kaffa and Sevastopol also fall, and the Crimea is under the control of the allies, then what? Russia will not conclude peace, as it has already proclaimed. It would be madness. It would be tantamount to giving up a battle after the vanguard has been repulsed, at the very moment that the main force is entering the battlefield. What remains for the allies to do? We are told they can destroy Odessa, Kherson, Nikolayev. They can go ahead and land a strong army at Odessa, fortifying it against any number of Russians and then acting according to circumstances. In addition, they can send a detachment of troops to the Caucasus, wiping out the Russian army in Georgia and the other trans-Caucasian possessions (under General Muraviev) and cutting off the Russian Empire from its south Asian possessions. And if Russia still refuses to make peace? Russia cannot make peace as long as the enemy remains on its soil. It has not lost through any peace it has concluded in the last 150 years. Even at Tilsit[211] it acquired additional territory, and that peace was made before a single Frenchman had set foot on Russian soil. Having only recently succeeded to the throne, Alexander II dare not even attempt something that would have been perilous even for Nicholas. He cannot suddenly break with the imperial tradition. Supposing the Crimea has been captured and garrisoned with 50,000 allied troops; that the Caucasus and all the possessions in the south have been cleared of Russians; that an allied army is holding the Russians in check at the Kuban and the Terek; that Odessa has been taken and turned into a fortified camp with an army of 100,000 men; that Nikolayev, Kherson and Ismail have been destroyed or occupied by the allies—will the allies then limit themselves to maintaining their positions and count on wearing out the Russians? Their troops in the Crimea and the Caucasus will dwindle from disease faster than they can be replaced. Their main army at Odessa would have to be supplied by the fleets, as the land produces nothing for hundreds of miles around Odessa. Wherever they dared emerge from the camp they would be exposed to the harassment of the Russians, particularly the Cossacks. To force the latter to stand and fight would be impossible. It would always be to their advantage to entice the allies into the interior of the country. They would respond to all allied advances with a slow retreat. Moreover, large armies cannot be kept idle in a fortified camp for long. Disease and the gradual breakdown of discipline and morale would compel the allies to take a decisive step. It is therefore not feasible to occupy the main points of the coast and wait until the Russians find themselves constrained to give in. It would also be a military blunder. To control a coast it is not sufficient to hold the main points. Only possession of the country's interior guarantees possession of the coast. With the allied forces established on the south coast of Russia, conditions would arise which would compel them to advance into the interior. But this is where the difficulties begin. All the way to the borders of the gubernias of Podolia, Kiev, Poltava and Kharkov the terrain is mostly uncultivated steppe, very poorly watered and yielding nothing but grass, and not even that when the heat of the sun has dried it out. Taking Odessa, Nikolayev and Kherson as their base of operations, where is the object at which the allies are supposed to direct their efforts? There appears to be none except Moscow, 700 miles away and requiring 500,000 men to march on it. But all this presupposes not merely the strict neutrality of Austria but even her moral support. And where is it? In 1854 Prussia and Austria declared t he advance of the Russians across the Balkans to be a casus belli. Why not, then, a French advance on Moscow or even Kharkov in 1856? One must never for a moment forget that any army marching from the Black Sea towards the interior of Russia exposes its flank to Austria just as much as a Russian army advancing from the Danube into Turkey, and therefore, at a given distance, renders its lines of communication and its base of operations, i.e. its very existence, dependent on Austria. Should the allied armies pursue the Russians on a wild goose chase into the interior under these circumstances? It is nonsense, sheer nonsense, but it is the inevitable consequence of Bonaparte's latest plan of "local warfare". On all counts an inexorable dialectic drives the "local war" beyond the appointed local boundaries, turning it into a "grand" war, but without the prerequisites, conditions and resources of a grand war. Nevertheless, Bonaparte's latest "plan" remains important. It constitutes an admission that other powers must step on to the stage to continue the war against Russia, and that the restored Empire finds itself condemned to the impotence of waging war on Russia on a local scale when it can only be done on a European scale. All the grotesque metamorphoses undergone by the "idées napoléoniennes"[b] under the restored Empire have been surpassed by the transformation of the Napoleonic war against Russia into a "local war".

In the debate on administrative reform, to be resumed this evening, the amendment moved by Bulwer on behalf of the Tories gave the government the opportunity of defeating the "administratives" by a majority of 7 to 1[212]. What characterised the whole debate was its junior civil-servant nature, which it failed to transcend for a moment. Details of favouritism and nepotism, investigations as to the "best type of examination", resentment at merit neglected—verything was petty and pusillanimous. One seemed to be listening to a written complaint from an assistant gamekeeper to a government board. Aberdeen, too, had a reform of the bureaucracy in petto[c], Gladstone asserted. Derby too, asserted Disraeli. Not less my Ministry, asserted Palmerston[d]. So the city gentlemen need not swing into action to reform, inform and re-organise our Departments. Too kind!

In their earlier agitation the English bourgeoisie took the ruling caste by surprise and drew the masses behind them as a chorus, by vastly overstating their real purpose in their programme. This time the programme does not even venture to rise to the height of the real purpose. One after the other you assure us that you do not seek the fall of the aristocracy but simply want to patch up the government machine in friendship with us! Very well![e] Friendship for friendship! We are willing to reform the administration for you—within its traditional limits, of course. "Administrative reform" is not a matter of conflict between the classes as you assert. It is simply a question of the "issue", of "well-intentioned" reforms. As initial evidence of your good intentions we ask you to leave the details to us, and it is only a matter of details. We ourselves must know best how far we can go without jeopardising our class, without administrative reform inadvertently becoming a matter of conflict between the classes and forfeiting its philanthropic character. The reforming bourgeoisie are obliged to acquiesce in this ironic language of aristocratic bonhomie because they themselves speak a fraudulent language to the masses. The aristocracy, ministry and opposition, Whigs and Tories were never mistaken about the relationship of the Administrative Reformers to the masses. They knew that the agitation had failed before it had even had a chance to be produced in Parliament. And how could they have been mistaken? Although the Reform Association admitted selected guests only to its Drury Lane meeting, although its audience was sifted twice and thrice, their fear of a popular motion, or even simply an unorthodox speech, was so excessive that the chairman[f] declared at the opening of the meeting that the audience was only there to "listen to the addresses of the speakers announced in the programme", no "resolutions" would be put to the vote, therefore "no amendments could be moved", and "no addition could be made to the list of set speakers". Agitation like this is definitely not suitable to impress the tough English oligarchy and wring concessions from it.

The report of the Roebuck committee which was read out in the Commons the day before yesterday envelops its points in a broad, feeble gush of words[g]. It contains timidly formulated criticism of t he various departments, such as Ordnance, the Commissariat, the Medical Department, etc. It condemns Palmerston for his management of the militia, and the entire coalition ministry for the heedless frivolity with which it undertook the Sevastopol expedition. As during the examination of witnesses the committee scrupulously avoided inquiring into the fundamental reasons for the stupendous calamities, it is only natural that in the report, too, it is obliged to keep the balance between quite general criticism of the political heads and petty, detailed faulting of the administrative machinery. On the whole the committee has fulfilled its purpose of acting as a safety-valve for the pressure of public passions.

The daily papers have let out a cry of indignation at the "dastardly murders" by the Russians at Hangö[213]. The fact that ships sailing under flags of truce have been misused by the British for taking soundings with a plummet and spying out Russian positions, e.g. at Sevastopol and Odessa, is, however, admitted by The Morning Chronicle.[h]

Written on June 20, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 287, June 23, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] A reference 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] An allusion to Louis Bonaparte's book Des idées napoléoniennes, which was published in Paris in 1839.—Ed.

[c] Up his sleeve.—Ed.

[d] Gladstone's speech was made on June 15, 1855 and the speeches by Disraeli and Palmerston on June 18. The Times, Nos. 22082 and 22084, June 16 and 19, 1855.—Ed.

[e] Marx uses the English phrase.—Ed.

[f] S. Morley. For a description of the meeting see this volume, p. 274.—Ed.

[g] "State of the Army before Sebastopol", The Times, No. 22084, June 19, 1855.—Ed.

[h] This refers to a Letter to the Editor signed R.G.A. published in The Morning Chronicle, No. 27607, June 20, 1855.—Ed.

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

[211] 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.

[212] Speaking in the House of Commons on June 15, 1855, Edward George Bulwer-Lytton tabled a proposal (in the form of an amendment to a proposal by Layard) urging stricter regulations for the filling of government posts and a number of other administrative reforms. The proposal, largely aimed at depriving the Administrative Reform Association (see Note 139↓) of its raison d'être, was discussed by the House on June 15 and 18 and adopted on June 20.

[213] On May 26, 1855, the British frigate Cossack stopped off Gange (Hangö) in the Gulf of Finland and sent a boat under a flag of truce to treat with the Russians. Mistaking the envoys for an intelligence party, the Russian commanding officer, an ensign, laid an ambush. In the ensuing clash half the British sailors were killed and the others wounded and taken prisoner. The incident was discussed by the British Parliament. Marx describes the debate in question in his next report for the Neue Oder-Zeitung (see this volume, pp. 292-96).

[139] The Association for Administrative Reform was set up in London in May 1855 on the initiative of liberal circles in the City. Taking advantage of the outcry caused in the country by press reports and the findings of the Parliamentary Committee of Inquiry on the plight of the British army in the Crimea, the Association hoped by means of mass rallies to bring pressure to bear on Parliament and win broader access for members of the commercial and finance bourgeoisie to government posts, monopolised by the aristocracy. In their campaign the Association's leaders sought to obtain the support of the Chartists. However, at rallies organised by the Association and at their own rallies the Chartists refused to back the moderate bourgeois demands for administrative reform and instead urged a Parliamentary reform based on the People's Charter (see Note 46↓). The administrative reform campaign was a failure, and the Association soon ceased to exist. In his subsequent reports Marx frequently touched on the Association's activities and relations with the Chartists.

[46] The People's Charter, which contained the demands of the Chartists, was published in the form of a Parliamentary Bill on May 8, 1838. It contained six points: universal suffrage (for men of 21 and over), annual parliaments, vote by ballot, equal electoral districts, abolition of the property qualification of MPs and payment of MPs. Petitions urging the adoption of the People's Charter were turned down by Parliament in 1839, 1842 and 1848.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.287-291), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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