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Commentary on The Parliamentary Proceedings

Karl Marx

London, August 8. The financial report on the British Empire in Asia presented by Vernon Smith (at present Great Mogul and Manu in one person) and Bright's motion to bring this important subject before the Commons at a "debatable" time in the future prompted yesterday's Commons debate on India[a], which we shall leave to one side for the time being since we intend to provide a detailed sketch of conditions in India[333] during the parliamentary recess.

Lord John Russell will hardly allow the impending conclusion of this Parliamentary session to pass off without an attempt to make political capital out of his awkward situation. He is no longer in the Government, and not yet a member of the opposition—this constitutes his awkward situation. The position of leader in the Tory opposition is already occupied, and Russell has nothing to gain from this side. In the liberal opposition Gladstone is pressing to the fore. In his latest and, from his point of view, exemplary speech—on the occasion of the Turkish loan—Gladstone skilfully advocated peace with Russia, by showing the war to be a war at the expense of Turkey and the fighting nationalities, especially Italy[b]. Russell senses that dreadful misfortunes will occur during the recess, implying a great clamour for peace when Parliament reassembles. He senses that this peace must be demanded on liberal pretexts, all the more so since the Tories have run themselves into the position of the war party par excellence. Italy—the pretext for making peace with Russia! Russell envies Gladstone this brainwave and since he is unable to anticipate him with this plausible position, he has decided to absorb him by translating Gladstone's speech from the sublime style into the trivial. The circumstance that he is no longer in the Government as Palmerston is, and not yet, like Gladstone, in the opposition, promises to make the plagiarism profitable. Thus Russell rose yesterday evening and began by assuring the House that he did "not wish either to diminish or to aggravate the responsibility [...] of the Government". This responsibility was great, however. This year alone £49,000,000 had been voted for war expenses, and it would soon be time to account for this enormous sum. In the Baltic the fleet had done nothing and would probably do still less. The prospects in the Black Sea were no more promising. Austria's change of policy permitted Russia to send its armies from Poland, etc., to the Crimea. On the Asiatic coast catastrophes were impending for the Turkish army. The prospect of sending a foreign legion of twenty to thirty thousand men there as a replacement had disappeared. He regretted that his Viennese despatches had not been laid before Parliament. The Turkish ambassador[c] had completely agreed with him concerning the acceptability of a peace on the basis of the latest Austrian proposals. Should the war be pursued any further against the will of Turkey then in future it would no longer be a question of underwriting loans but of subsidies. Piedmont had joined the Western Powers, but for this it was demanding, and rightly so, a change in the conditions of Italy. Rome was occupied by the French, the Papal States by the Austrians, an occupation which maintained despotism there and in the two Sicilies and prevented the people of Italy from following the example of Spain. Russia's occupation of the Danubian principalities was the excuse for the present. war. How to square with this the Franco-Austrian occupation of Italy? The independence of the Pope[d] and thus the balance of Europe was endangered. Could an understanding not be reached with Austria and France concerning changes in the Papal form of government which would permit the evacuation of the Papal States? Finally the hackneyed advice: the Ministers should not conclude a dishonourable peace, but should also let no opportunity for peace negotiations slip through their hands.

Palmerston replied that "he was not like other people who took upon themselves the responsibility of declaring a war and then shrank back before the responsibility of conducting it. He was not such a man as that". (He indeed knows what "responsibility" involves.) Conditions for peace depended upon the results of war, and the results of war depended upon all sorts of circumstances, i.e., upon chance. (Thus chance is responsible for the results of war and the results of war are responsible for the conditions of peace.) As far as he (Palmerston) knew, Turkey was in complete agreement with the views of France and England. Even if this were not so, Turkey was merely a means, not an end in the struggle against Russia. The "enlightened" Western Powers must know better what was advantageous than the decaying Eastern Power. (This is a splendid commentary on the declaration of war against Russia, in which the war is described as a purely "defensive war" on Turkey's behalf; on the notorious Vienna Note which the "enlightened" Western Powers wished to force upon Turkey, etc.) As for Italy, that was a ticklish question. A dreadful state of affairs reigned in Naples, but why? Because it was the ally of Russia, a despotic state. As for the condition of Italy occupied by Austria and France (not despotic states?), "the governments there are not, to be sure, in accordance with the feelings of the people", but the occupation was necessary to maintain "order". Besides, France had reduced the number of troops in Rome and Austria had evacuated Tuscany completely. Finally Palmerston congratulated England upon the alliance with France, which was now so intimate that actually only "one Cabinet" was governing on both sides of the Channel. And he had just been denouncing Naples for its alliance with a despotic state! And now he congratulated England on the same thing! The point of Palmerston's speech was that he used military' tirades to conclude a session he had been able to keep so free of military deeds.

Using Italy as a false pretext for peace, in the same way as he had used Poland and Hungary as a false pretext for war after his return from Vienna, was naturally a matter of no consequence to Russell. It did not embarrass him to forget that as premier in 1847-1852 he had allowed Palmerston, first to help stir up Italy with false promises, only to abandon it later on to Bonaparte and King Ferdinand, to the Pope and the Emperor[e][334]. That did not matter to him. What mattered to him was snatching the "Italian pretext" from Gladstone and making it his own.

Written on August 8, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 371, August 11, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] The speeches of Smith, Bright, Russell and Palmerston in the House of Commons on August 7, 1855, were published in The Times, No. 22127, August 8, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Gladstone's speech in the House of Commons on July 20, 1855. The Times, No. 22112, July 21, 1855.—Ed.

[c] Arif Bey.—Ed.

[d] Pius IX.—Ed.

[e] Francis Joseph I.—Ed.

[333] No articles on India by Marx appeared in any subsequent issues of the Neue Oder-Zeitung.

The Parliamentary recess lasted from August 14, 1855 to January 31, 1856.

[334] A reference to Palmerston's flirting with the Italian liberal movement on the eve of and during the revolution of 1848-49. In an attempt to avert a revolutionary crisis in Italy he sent Lord Minto to Rome and Naples in the autumn of 1847 to try and persuade Italy's rulers to make certain concessions to the Liberals and introduce some moderate reforms. During the revolution Palmerston's ambiguous attitude gave the Italian Liberals, and even Republicans, grounds to expect diplomatic and military support from Britain. Actually, however, Britain supported the Austro-French invasion of the Roman Republic, thereby greatly contributing to the victory of the counter-revolutionary forces in Italy.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.472-475), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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