From the Theatre of War
Karl Marx and Frederick Engels
London, July 20. The debate on Roebuck's motion[a] did not turn out in the way the Ministry was fond of thinking. Even yesterday morning it was prophesying in its semi-official organs that Roebuck's motion would be defeated by five votes to one. Last night it considered itself fortunate in obtaining 289 votes to 182 for the previous question[b], i.e. the refusal of the House to decide on the motion at all. The same House that forced Aberdeen to resign because he refused to set up a Committee of Inquiry, saved Palmerston by refusing to come to a conclusion on the verdict of its own Committee. The adjournment of Parliament adjourns the fate of Palmerston's Cabinet until the new session. That is when its lease of life will end. We shall return later to the sitting itself.
At present there is a lull in the war operations in the Crimea. No more attempted assaults, the cannon are almost silenced; and if it were not for the constant exchange of rifle fire between the two lines of trenches, if the allies were not advancing their position up the Malakhov hill by mining and sapping, and if the Russians did not make the occasional sorties, one might think that all hostilities had been suspended.
That is the calm before the storm. In two or three weeks a battle will begin, man against man, much fiercer than at Inkerman, the Green Mamelon or the assault of June 18. The month of August ought to be decisive up to a certain point; the Russian forces which are now on their way will have arrived, and the allied forces will have been reduced by sickness. The life-and-death battle will then begin, and the allies will have enough to do maintaining their ground on the plateau.
Even the English press has now given up the idea of the south side of Sevastopol being taken this year. They are now reduced to the hope of subduing Sevastopol bit by bit; and if they manage to proceed with the same speed as they have up to now the siege will last as long as that of Troy. There is absolutely no reason to believe that they will speed up their task, for we have been as good as told officially that the deficient system adopted so far will be stubbornly continued. The Crimea correspondent of the Constitutionnel, a man of high rank in the French army (it is said to be General Regnault de Saint-Jean-d'Angély, commander of the guards), has announced to the public that it can spare itself the effort of indulging in speculation about a campaign in the open and the possible blockade of the northside of Sevastopol. He maintains that under the present circumstances this could not happen without first abandoning the siege and surrendering the whole of the plateau to the Russians. It has therefore been decided to hammer away as fiercely as possible at the position which has already been attacked until it has been completely destroyed[c]. The announcements contained in this letter can be regarded as semi-official, as there is every reason to believe that Bonaparte not only approves of them but that he also checks every report from this source before it goes to print. Regnault is one of his special favourites—the Minister of War who, at the time of the Legislative Assembly, gave his signature to the dismissal of Changarnier.
The consequences of all this are not hard to predict. The Russian army in and around Sevastopol consisted of the 3rd and 4th Corps, two divisions of the 5th and one of the 6th Corps, apart from marines, sailors, local troops, Cossacks and cavalry, all in all an army of 180 battalions or 90,000 infantry with 30,000 men of the artillery, cavalry, etc., plus about 40,000 sick and wounded. Even the French Moniteur estimates their effective force under arms to be 110,000 men[d]. Now, the whole of the 2nd Corps (50 battalions, 32 squadrons and 96 cannon) and two divisions of infantry with a division of cavalry (24 battalions, 32 squadrons, 72 cannon) are marching towards or are already near Sevastopol. They represent an additional force of 55,000 infantry, 10,000 cavalry and Cossacks and 5,000 artillery. Thus the Russians will soon have concentrated an army of at least 175,000 men, considerably more than the allies can have after their most recent losses in the sorties and from sickness. It is all the more to be expected that the Russians will be capable of at least holding the territory they have held so far, since they are able constantly to relieve with fresh forces the garrison troops exhausted by their efforts.
The allies on the other hand have no chance of receiving similar reinforcements. They now number 21 divisions of infantry (12 French, 4 English, 3 Turkish, 2 Piedmontese), or approximately 190 battalions, 3 divisions of cavalry (1 French, 1 English, 1 Turkish), or approximately 60 squadrons and a corresponding number of cannon but, since their battalions and particularly their squadrons have been substantially thinned by the losses in the campaign, their total strength will not exceed 110,000 infantry, 7,500 cavalry and 30,000-35,000 artillery, vehicle train and those unfit for active service. If the forces of the two opposing parties were thus almost equally balanced before the arrival of the Russian reinforcements, the scale must clearly tip to the disadvantage of the allies as soon as those reinforcements arrive. What has been sent so far have merely been detachments from the depots, who were to make up the losses suffered by the battalions and squadrons engaged in combat, and they cannot be many in number, if the press reports are reliable. In the meantime it is reported that 3 divisions are marching to Marseilles and Toulon where steamships are being concentrated, whilst in England regiments intended for the Crimea have received orders to be ready for immediate embarkation. They will comprise approximately one division of infantry and one division of cavalry. Thus approximately 33,000 infantry with perhaps 2,500 cavalry and artillery might arrive little by little in the Crimea in August and September. This, however, depends entirely on how quickly they embark. At all events the allies will again find themselves numerically inferior and can be wedged in on the plateau once more, where they were brought to ruin during last year's sad winter.
Whether the Russians will succeed this time in driving them from that fortified hiding-place we dare not say. But it is clear that all the allies can expect to do is to maintain their own ground, unless they were to receive reinforcements on a gigantic scale. Thus the war could be reduced to a series of encounters and hand-to-hand fights, as fruitless as they are bloody, with each side sending forward fresh troops daily to meet the enemy in hand-to-hand fighting, whether it be on the ramparts of the city, on the parapets of the trenches, or on the escarpments round Inkerman and Balaklava. Of all the possibilities it is most likely that matters will take that course. No situation involving two enemy armies could be devised where greater spilling of blood will lead to results of less significance than can be expected from engagements of this kind. And this has been brought about by the mediocrity of the commanders-in-chief on both sides, by impotent dilettantism at Paris and deliberate treachery in London.
Written on July 20, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 337, July 23, 1855
Marked with the sign x
The English version of part of the text was published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4459, August 4, 1855,
and reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1064, August 7, 1855
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 726, August 11, 1855
Published in English in full for the first time in MECW.
See this volume, pp. 337-38, 356-57.—Ed.
The authors use the English words "previous question".—Ed.
"Devant Sébastopol, 26 juin", Le Constitutionnel, No. 192, July 11, 1855.—Ed.
Le Moniteur universel, No. 198, July 17, 1855.—Ed.
Marx's report reproduces in an abridged and altered form Engels' article "War Prospects" written for the New-York Daily Tribune (see this volume, pp. 358-62).
Previous question—(in British parliamentary procedure) the question as to whether a vote shall be taken on a question or issue, debated before the main question is put. A vote on the previous question—whether it was expedient "that this question be now put"—was often taken to avoid a division on some important matter. If the vote was negative the question was postponed, if positive it was put without further debate.
For the battle of Inkerman (November 5, 1854) see Note 35↓.
On the fighting for the Mamelon (the Kamchatka lunette) and other outlying Russian fortifications at Sevastopol in June 1853 see Engels' article "From Sevastopol" (this volume, pp. 313-19).
A reference to the dismissal on January 3, 1851 by President Louis Bonaparte of General Changarnier from the posts of commander of the Paris garrison and chief of the Paris National Guard. The General was a placeman of the Party of Order, which comprised the two monarchist factions—the Legitimists and the Orleanists—in the Legislative Assembly, whose conflict with the Bonapartists was growing increasingly acute. As a pretender to dictatorial power Changarnier was also a personal rival of Louis Bonaparte.
 In the battle of Inkerman in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman" (see present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 528-35).
Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14
(pp.363-366), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980