The Events in The Crimea
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
London, July 14. Our last report but one[a] treated Lord John Russell's resignation, whether voluntary or under duress, as a fait accompli. It took place yesterday afternoon, and it is in fact a composite resignation, both voluntary and under duress. For the section of the Whigs most eager to obtain posts, headed by Bouverie, were driven by Palmerston into a minor revolt. They stated that they would be obliged to vote for Bulwer's motion[b] unless Lord John resigned. No resistance could be offered to this. Not satisfied with their grand deed, the disloyal Whig mob collected signatures in the lobby of the House of Commons for a petition requesting Palmerston to induce the Queen to accept Russell's resignation which had already been submitted. At any rate Russell may have gained one satisfaction from these base manoeuvres, namely that of having created a party in his own image.
The resignation of a man who, as Urquhart says, is in the habit of clasping his hands behind his back to give himself moral support, would hardly have affected the continued existence of the Cabinet had not the majority of the House of Commons been eager to use any pretext allowing it to postpone the fateful dissolution. And dissolution of the House is the inevitable consequence of passing Bulwer's motion. If Palmerston were to retain his post despite the vote of no-confidence, he would have to dissolve the House, and if he were succeeded by Derby, the latter would likewise have to dissolve it. The House seems hardly inclined to sacrifice itself on the altar of patriotism.
Sir George Grey has set up a commission to investigate the police brutalities. It consists of the Recorders[c] of London, Liverpool and Manchester and will meet next Tuesday.
If in commerce time is money, in warfare time is victory. The greatest blunder that can be committed in warfare is to miss the favourable moment, the moment when superior forces can be hurled against the enemy. The blunder is magnified if it is committed not during defensive operations, when the consequences of neglect can be repaired, but during offensive operations, in a war of invasion, where such carelessness can cause the loss of an army. These are truisms which, as every cadet knows, are self-evident. And yet no other rule of strategy or tactics is transgressed as frequently as this one, and General Pélissier, the impetuous man of action, the "Marshal Forward" of the Crimean army, seems to be destined by his action to illustrate the common disregard of these commonplace rules.
The road to Sevastopol leads through Inkerman to the northern side of the fortress. No one knows this better than Pélissier and his staff. But in order to conquer the northern side, the Allied armies have to take the field with their main forces, beat the Russians, encircle the north side and detach a corps to keep the Russian field army at a distance. The favourable moment to do this came when the Sardinian corps and the Turks under Omer Pasha arrived. The Allies were then considerably stronger than the Russians. But nothing of the sort was undertaken. The expedition to Kerch and the Sea of Azov was launched and one assault after another attempted. Field operations were restricted to reconnoitring and extending the camp up to the entrance to the valley of Baidar. The alleged reason for this inactivity is now at last revealed. Means of transport are said to be lacking, and after a campaign of fifteen months the Allies are just as much confined to the Sea, Kamysh and Balaklava as ever. This is indeed unsurpassable. The Crimea is not a desolate island somewhere near the South pole. It is a country whose food supplies are undoubtedly not inexhaustible, but which is capable of providing large quantities of fodder, draught-animals and carts if one has sufficient skill and daring to take them. Timorous and slow forward and backward movements within a circle of a few English miles around the Chernaya are of course not a suitable means to get hold of them. But even if we leave the camels, ponies and arbas of the Crimea completely out of account, there still remain ample means of transport on the European and Asian shores of the Black Sea which steamers can reach within two days. Why are they not commandeered for use by the Allies? The Russians have certainly given them enough lessons demonstrating how they ought to act. The 3rd, 4th and 5th army corps and several reserve divisions were transported to the Crimea at a time when the Allies had despaired of bringing provisions from Balaklava to the trenches. Some of the troops were moved in carts across the steppe, and they seem to have suffered acutely from lack of food. And yet the country within a radius of 200 miles from Perekop is only thinly populated. But the resources of the more distant provinces were requisitioned, and it is certainly more difficult for the Russians to send carts from Yekaterinoslav, Poltava, Kharkov, etc., to the Crimea, than for the Allies in the Crimea to procure means of transport in Anatolia and Rumelia. In any case, under the pretext of lack of transport, the Allies let the chance to conquer the Crimea up to Simferopol slip. Now the position has changed. The Russians have formed a reserve army for the Crimea located between Odessa and Cherson. The strength of this army can only be estimated by us on the basis of the detachments made from the western army; these consist of the entire 2nd army corps and two infantry divisions. Together this amounts to five infantry divisions (82 battalions), one cavalry division (32 squadrons) and 80 cannon. Infantry and cavalry reserves have to be added to this. Taking into account the losses it suffered during the march, the army destined for the Crimea and assembled between Odessa and Perekop can therefore be assessed at approximately 70,000 to 80,000 men. The vanguard of their columns must by now have already passed through Perekop, and their weight will be felt by the Allies before the end of July.
What can the Allies set against these reinforcements? Their ranks are being thinned again by cholera and fever just as much as by the various attempted assaults. British reinforcements are rather slow in arriving—very few regiments have in fact sailed. The 13,000 men reported by us[d] to have left some time ago have proved to be a government bluff. The French government for its part declares that it does not intend to send fresh divisions but merely detachments from the depots to make good the losses incurred at the theatre of war. These reinforcements, provided they arrive in time, will hardly be sufficient to bring the Allied army up to the strength it had in June, i.e. 200,000 men, including Turks and Sardinians. It will probably amount to no more than 180,000 men, who at the beginning of August will be opposed by at least 200,000 Russians in good positions, in command of the country in their rear and holding the south side of Sevastopol as a bridgehead. If under these circumstances the allied army were again squeezed into the narrow plateau behind the Chernaya, these human masses would by their momentum turn the restricted space into a graveyard.
There is still time to take the offensive. True the most favourable moment has been missed, but nevertheless a bold advance by the allied army would even now ensure an extension of their living space. But there is no indication that they intend to use this opportunity.
Finally, in justification of Pélissier one might mention that public opinion here and in Paris has sought and found the cause of the wretched state of the second Crimean campaign in the intervention of Louis Bonaparte, the general from afar.
Written on July 14, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 327, July 17, 1855
Marked with the sign x
The English version was first published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4452, July 27, 1855,
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1061, July 27, 1855
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 725, August 4, 1855 as a leading article.
Printed according to the Neue Oder-Zeitung.
Published in English in full for the first time in MECW.
See this volume, p. 339.—Ed.
For further details of Bulwer's motion, tabled on July 10, 1855, see this volume, pp. 337-43.—Ed.
Marx and Engels use the English term.—Ed.
See this volume, p. 299.—Ed.
The section of this article relating to the events in the Crimea is a somewhat abridged and altered version of Engels' article "The Great Crimean Blunder" (see this volume, pp. 344-47).
The nickname of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher, the Prussian field marshal, who advocated active offensive tactics during the 1813 campaign against Napoleon. For more on this see the article "Blücher" by Marx and Engels in Volume 18 of the present edition.
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14
(pp.348-351), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980