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The European War

Frederick Engels

The system of warfare carried on hitherto by the Western Powers against Russia, has completely broken down. It will not do to carry on this year's campaign, if campaign there is to be, upon the plan which has, so far, been followed up. To concentrate the whole forces of France, England, Turkey and Sardinia, against one particular point in the Crimea, a point which, by using indirect means, might have been gained as an accessory; to fight for that point eleven long months, and then to obtain only one half of it; to neglect all other opportunities for dealing effective blows at the enemy to such an extent that Russia could obtain by the conquest of Kars, a counterpart to the loss of the south side of Sevastopol—all that might do for a campaign or two, in a war where the most vulnerable points of the opposing parties were covered by the neutrality of Central Europe. But it will do no longer. The Council of War which has just been sitting in Paris, is the best proof that now we shall have something like war in earnest if the war is to continue at all.[407]

The war, as hitherto carried on, has been a state of official hostilities, mitigated by extreme politeness. We do not here allude to civilities marking the unavoidable intercourse of flags of truce, but to the civilities which the very councils of war of the contending parties displayed to their opponents. That the war arose at all, is the fault of a miscalculation on the part of the Emperor Nicholas. He never expected that France and England would join to oppose his designs upon Turkey; he looked out for a quiet little war of his own with the Sultan[a], which might lead his troops for a second time to the walls of Constantinople[408], arouse European diplomacy when it would be too late, and finally give his own diplomatists a chance of gaining, as usual, twice as much in conferences and congresses as his troops could have gained by the sword. Unfortunately, unexpectedly, unwillingly, Russia and the Western Powers were entangled into war over this business before they were aware of it, and to war they had to go, though none of them liked it. Now, either party had a last means of warfare in perspective which it thought would frighten the other from resorting to extremities. It was expected to be a war of principles, and of a more or less revolutionary character in which Germany and her dependencies, Hungary, Poland, Italy would have to partake. The ultima ratio[b]of the West was to he the setting loose of the oppressed nationalities of Hungary, Poland, Italy, and more or less of Germany also. The ultima ratio of Russia, on the other hand, was the appeal to Panslavism, the realization of the dreams fostered by enthusiasts for the last fifty years, among the Slavonic population of Europe.

But neither the Russian Government, nor that of Louis Bonaparte (not to speak of Palmerston) chose to appeal to such means of action before the last extremity had arrived; and in consequence the war has been carried on with a mutual forbearance and urbanity scarcely habitual between legitimate monarchs of ancient lineage, much less between such upstarts and usurpers as the Romanoffs, the Hanoverians, and the Pseudo-Bonapartes. The Baltic coast of Russia was scarcely touched; no attempts at permanent lodgment were made there. There, as in the White Sea, private property was much more assailed than Government property; and on the coast of Finland, especially, the British fleets seemed to have no other end in view than to reconcile the Fins to the Russian rule. In the Black Sea similar principles were acted upon. The Allied troops sent there appeared to have come for the purpose of making the Turks long for a Russian invasion; for that is the only conclusion to be drawn from their conduct, ever since 1854 till now. The most innocent portion of the time they spent in Turkey was during their stay at Varna, when, incapable of doing good, they did at least no considerable harm except to themselves. When at last they started for the Crimea. They managed to carry on the war in such a way that the Russian Government had every reason to be highly satisfied with them. The Duke of Cambridge has been, lately, distributing plenty of medals to the French troops returned from the Crimea; but no medals, crosses, grand-crosses, stars and ribbons the Russian Government can bestow will adequately express the gratitude it owes to the directors of the campaign of 1854 and '55. Indeed, when the south side of Sevastopol was abandoned by its Russian garrison, it had cost the Allies in dead and invalid 250,000 men, beside millions on millions of money. The Russians, always worsted in battle, had regularly defeated their enemies in resolution, activity, and the skill of their commanding engineer[c]. If Inkermann was an indelible disgrace to the Russians, the building up of the redoubts on Sapun and the Mamelon by the Russians, under the very nose of their opponents, was an indelible disgrace to both English and French. And, after all, it appears that Sevastopol did not so much exhaust the forces of Russia as those of the Allies, for it did not prevent the Russians from taking Kars.

This taking of Kars is, in fact, the most disgraceful thing which could have happened to the Allies. With the enormous naval armaments at their disposal, with a number of troops superior, ever since June, 1855, to the Russians in the field, they never attacked the weakest points of Russia, the Transcaucasian provinces. Nay, they even allowed the Russians to organize in that part an independent base of operations, a sort of vice-royalty, capable of holding out some time against a superior attack, though the communications with the mother country might be interrupted. Not satisfied with that, not forewarned by the continuous defeats the Asiatic-Turkish army had suffered in 1853 and '54, they prevented the Turkish army of Omer Pasha from doing any good in Asia, by keeping it in the Crimea, and in the Crimea they gave it nothing to do except hewing wood and drawing water for its Allies. Thus, after the whole coast from the straits of Kertch to Batoum had been carefully cleared of all Russian settlements, after thereby a line had been gained on which ten or fifteen points could be chosen as capital bases for any operations against Caucasia or Transcaucasia—the weakest part of Russia as we have often shown[d]—nothing was done, until at last Kars being hard pushed, and the army at Erzeroum being fit for nothing, Omer Pasha was allowed to undertake his unfortunate expedition to Mingrelia—too late to do any good.

This obstinacy in concentrating the pith of the war in a Peninsula about the size of Long Island, has certainly served to keep aside all unpleasant questions. No nationalities, no Panslavism, no trouble with Central Europe, no necessities for conquest, no great decisive results which might embarrass ulterior negotiations by implying the necessity of imposing real sacrifices on any party, have appeared upon the scene. But to the men engaged in the actual campaign this is not agreeable. To them, at least from the Sergeant-Major downward, the war has been a matter of stern, stubborn fact. Never, as long as there have been wars, has such brilliant bravery been thrown away for such inadequate results as in this Crimean campaign. Never have such numbers of first-rate soldiers been sacrificed, and in such a short time, too, to produce such indecisive successes. It is evident that such sufferings cannot be imposed again upon the armies. There must be some more palpable gain than barren "glory." You cannot go on fighting at the rate of two great battles and four or five general assaults per annum, and yet remain always on the same spot. No army stands that in the long run. No fleet will stand a third campaign of the modest nature of the two last, in the Baltic and Black Seas. If the war is to continue, we hear, accordingly, of the invasion of Finland, of Esthonia, of Bessarabia; we are promised Swedish auxiliaries, and Austrian demonstrations. But at the same time we are informed that Russia has accepted the Austrian proposals as a basis for negotiation[409], and while this is far from settling the question of peace, it opens a possibility of that consummation.

There is, then, a chance that there may not be another campaign; but if one does come, we may presume that it must be much more extensive and fruitful than those that have preceded it.

Written about January 18, 1856
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4616, February 4, 1856
as a leading article.


[a] Abdul Mejid.—Ed.

[b] Final argument or last resort.—Ed.

[c] Todtleben.—Ed.

[d] See Engels' article "The Progress of the Turkish War" (present edition, Vol. 12, pp. 450-56) and the article by Marx and Engels, "State of the Russian War" (present edition, Vol. 13, pp. 246-52.—Ed.

[407] A reference to the secret meetings of the military representatives and diplomats of Britain, France and Sardinia held under Louis Bonaparte's chairmanship in Paris in January 1856. According to press reports, they discussed co-ordinated action by the Allies in the event of another military campaign against Russia.

[408] An allusion to an episode in the Russo-Turkish war of 1828-29: the march of advance units of the Russian army towards Constantinople in the summer of 1829.

[409] A reference to the Five Points, the terms for peace talks presented to Russia by Austria on behalf of the Allied Powers in December 1855. An elaboration of the earlier Four Points (see Note 43↓), they called for replacement of the Russian protectorate over the Danubian Principalities by a protectorate of all the contracting parties, a revision of the Bessarabian border involving the relinquishing by Russia of the territory along the Danube, the neutralisation of the Black Sea, the closure of the Straits to warships, a ban on the maintenance of arsenals and navies in the Black Sea by Russia and Turkey; and collective protection of the Christian subjects of Turkey by the Great Powers. Presented in the form of an ultimatum, these terms were accepted by the Tsarist Government and provided the basis for the Paris peace talks.

[43] The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (see Note 34↓) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.

[34] A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results (see Note 88↓).

[88] The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (see Note 43↑). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.595-598), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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