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The Fall of Kars[419]

Karl Marx

The papers relating to the fall of Kars, as laid before the British House of Commons, have been described by our London correspondent as arranged with a view to conceal, rather than disclose the truth; and a careful examination of the Blue Book in which they are contained[a] evinces the correctness of that judgment. Hardly less remarkable and significant than the papers themselves, are the comments they have elicited from the leading press of London. The Times, for instance, has devoted three consecutive articles to the subject[b], selecting, however, as the special marks of its flourishes, invectives and arguments, the dispatches covering the interval from August 2, 1854, the day of General Williams's appointment as British Commissioner at the head-quarters of the Turkish army in Asia, to the latter part of January, 1855, when his personal quarrels with Lord Stratford de Redcliffe had, at last, died away. The real aim of The Times, in giving this exaggerated importance to that portion of the documents which do not even touch on the epoch of actual warfare, is transparent. On the one hand, public attention was to be diverted from the darkest pages in this most melancholy Blue Book; and on the other, Lord Redcliffe is to be made the scapegoat of the Government at home. The rest of the daily London press, with the exception of The Morning Herald, are but too happy to follow in the track beaten by The Times.

To become initiated in the mysteries of that disastrous Asiatic campaign, we must start from a quite different point, and commence by inquiring into the action of the Allied Governments during the decisive epoch, beginning with the first advance of the Russians from Gumri, in May, and ending with the capitulation of Kars, on November 24, 1855[420]. Carefully concocted as it is, mutilated by omissions, falsified by extracts, beautified by patches and plasters, even this Government publication, if put to the critical rack, may be forced to speak truth.

Toward the end of May, 1855, Gen. Williams reports to Lord Redcliffe, who reports to Lord Clarendon, that a large Russian force, consisting of 28,000 infantry, 7,500 cavalry, and 64 pieces of artillery was assembled around Gumri; that the Mushir[c] had received information of their intention to attack Kars, and that their own (Turkish) force concentrated in the intrenched camp consisted of 13,900 infantry, 1,500 cavalry, 1,500 artillerymen, and 42 field-pieces. When Redcliffe received this letter from Williams, and Clarendon from Redcliffe, both already held in their hands another letter from Williams, in which he makes the following statement:

"I left Erzeroum yesterday (2d June) en route for Kars, which place the enemy has announced, in an order of the day, his intention to attack.... I have now four months' provision in that garrison" (viz.: at Kars), "and [...] trust the central Government and the Allies will soon prove to this remnant of an army that it is not absolutely forgotten by them."

The English Government, then, was informed that if Kars should be cut off from Erzeroum, and a blockade be established by the Russians, the fortress could not hold out much longer than Oct. 3, 1855. If it did fall rather more than a month after, it was because the garrison were Turks, and not beef-eaters.

On the receipt of the dispatches from General Williams, Redcliffe makes urgent recommendations to the Porte that reenforcements with fresh supplies and money should be sent forthwith to the army of Kars. He even invites the Seraskier[d], now that Circassia is cleared of the Russians, to unite the army of Batoum with that of Kars. Why the Porte objected to this proposal, the following dispatch from Gen. Williams explains:

Fragment of the first page of Marx's notes for his articles on the fall of Kars

"Kars, June 28, 1855.—Mustapha Pasha of Batoum has [...] recently written to me to say that he had only 3,772 regular troops, and was pressed by the enemy."

On June 28, Lord Redcliffe reports to Lord Clarendon that:

"It is some consolation to him [...] that even at this eleventh hour the Porte has recognized the necessity of listening to his advice, and sending out reenforcements without further delay."

The only difficulty avowed by Redcliffe himself was to decide where those reenforcements were to conic from.

"How are they to be provided with the necessary supplies? [...] Nothing can with prudence or consistency be detached from the army under Omer Pasha in the Crimea. At Batoum, Sukum Kaleh, and other neighboring stations on the coast, it would be extremely difficult to muster more than 11,000 men. [...] The other parts of the Empire afford no additional reserves, with the exception of Bosnia, where it is still possible that a few thousand men might be detached. I speak of regulars. Bashi-Bazouks may be procured, but your lordship knows what little dependence is to be placed on such undisciplined hordes. There remains the half-formed corps of Gen. Vivian, and the irregular cavalry collected by Gen. Beatson and his officers. [...] In Bulgaria I question the existence of more than 50,000 men, including garrisons.... Austria, it is true, has declared her intention of considering the passage of the Danube by Russia a cases belli, and she also stands pledged to the exclusion of that power from the Danubian Principalities; but the resolution which in such an emergency would enable the Porte to take its line upon those assurances, and to overlook the awkwardness of leaving an important position inadequately defended, is more fit to be admired than to be embraced."

According, then, to the avowal of Redcliffe himself, he urges the Porte to send to Kars "reenforcements of every description," while the is quite aware that there exist none of any description whatever.

On June 30 there took place at the Grand-Vizier's[e] house, on the Bosphorus, a meeting between the Grand-Vizier, the Seraskier, and Fuad Pasha on the one side, and Redcliffe, attended by Brigadier Mansfield, on the other. The Turkish Ministers pro-posed, as they had done before, to collect an army at Redout Kaleh, which was to advance to Kutais, and to make from there an excursion into Georgia. They proposed that the expeditionary force should be composed as follows:

Vivian 's Contingent20,000
Batoum garrison12,000
To be drawn fm Bulgaria5,000
Egyptian Cavalry800
Tunis Horse600

The Turkish Ministers expressed their readiness to intrust the direction of the expedition to a British commander, and to accept General Vivian in that capacity. Gen. Vivian at once raised difficulties as to the means disposable for this plan, and considered the employment of his contingent as premature and interfering with the arrangements for its organization. Two weeks later Redcliffe communicated to his Government that—

"Preparations for the said expedition are in progress, and that it might save much valuable time if he was informed at once by telegraph whether Government was prepared to sanction a powerful diversion, by Redout Kaleh and Kutais into Georgia."

On July 13th, 1855, Lord Clarendon sends a dispatch wherein he first repeats the objections raised by General Vivian, and then adds his own:

"Her Majesty's government are of opinion that the wiser course would be to send reenforcements to the rear of the Turkish army, instead of sending an expedition to the rear of the Russian army. The reenforcements might go to Trebizond, and be directed from thence upon Erzeroum. The distance from Trebizond to Erzeroum is less than from Redout Kaleh to Tiflis, and the march is through a friendly instead of through a hostile country; and at Erzeroum the army would meet supporting friends instead of opposing enemies, and supplies instead of famine.

"If the army of Kars cannot maintain that position against the Russians, it should fall back upon Erzeroum, and the whole Turkish force should be concentrated there. If the Russians are to be defeated" (are they?), "it will be easier to defeat them by the whole force collected than by divided portions of that force: and a defeat would be the more decisive the further it took place within the Turkish frontier."

On the following day, July 14, Clarendon also addresses the following telegraphic answer to Lord Redcliffe's telegraphic question:

"The plan for reenforcing the army at Kars, contained in your dispatches of the 30th June and 1st inst., is disapproved. The reasons will be sent by the messenger to-day against employing the Turkish contingent until it is fit for service. Trebizond ought to be the base of operations, and if the Turkish army of Kars and Erzeroum cannot hold out at the latter place against the Russians, it might fall back on Trebizond, where it would easily be reenforced."

It is very curious that this telegraphic dispatch, dated London, July 14, had not arrived at Constantinople on July 19, on which day we find Redcliffe writing again to Clarendon:

"An appeal has [...] been made by means of the electric telegraph to her Majesty's Government, who were entreated to lose no time in making known their pleasure as to the proposed diversion."

In fact, this answer from London only reached Constantinople on the 30th of July, six days after the arrival there of the London mail of the 14th of July. On July 15 the Seraskier informs Lord Redcliffe, through Gen. Mansfield, that:

"The 15,000 men in Bulgaria destined to form part of the expedition were in readiness to march to the coast with sufficient means of transport, and that, in general, his preparations were so advanced as only to require the assent of Her Majesty's Government to carry them into effect."

Meanwhile, appeals from Gen. Williams for assistance followed upon appeals. On June 23 he announces that—

"The enemy [...] has pushed forward large bodies of cavalry, [...] and urgently recommends the immediate landing of troops at Trebizond, and if the season admit of it, strong demonstrations from Redout Kaleh."

On June 26, he writes that the Turkish. army in Kars was surrounded by the Russians, who had established themselves on the high road between that fortress and Erzeroum, and cut off a portion of the provisions collected for the army. On June 27, he states that the Russian army was master of the surrounding country. On June 28, that the enemy was master of all beyond the reach of their guns, and that the troops at Kars were twenty-three, twenty-seven and twenty-eight months respectively in arrear of their pay; and on July 7, that the united forces of the Russians were ready either to assault or to more closely invest Kars, by cutting off their only remaining communication with Erzeroum via Olti. It is true that these latter dispatches did not arrive in London till July 26; still the use of the telegraph occurred to the British Government only on August 9—not indeed to advise what should be done in consequence of this news, but only to raise fresh difficulties against what the Porte was preparing to do. On the same day on which Lord Clarendon addressed Lord Redcliffe by telegraph, Lord Panmure addressed General Vivian as follows:

"War Department, July 14, 1855.

"Sir: I transmit herewith, for your information, a copy of a dispatch which the Earl of Clarendon has addressed to her Majesty's Embassador at Constantinople, on the subject of the plan proposed by the Porte for the relief of the Turkish army at Kars, and I have to acquaint you that I entirely concur in all that is said in that dispatch as to the objectionable character of the plan proposed by the Porte. I place such full reliance on your professional ability that I feel no anxiety lest you should undertake any expedition of a nature so wild and indigested as that contemplated by the Porte. While it is your duty to give every aid in your power, not simply as commanding the Contingent, but as a British officer enjoying the confidence of her Majesty's Government, to our allies, the Turks, it is at the same time necessary that you should be cautious in not risking the honor of the British name and your own reputation by undertaking military operations for which proper bases have not been laid down, communications opened, supplies arranged, and transport provided. A coup de main by means of suddenly throwing an army on the coast to threaten, or even to attack an enemy's stronghold, is one thing; but a deliberate expedition to invade an enemy's country, and on his own territory to make war against him, is quite another. In the first case something may be hazarded; but in the other every preparation must precede action. Moreover, from all the information which has reached me, I have every reason to believe the army of Batoum to be in a deplorable state. I know the Contingent to be scarcely organized; of the Bulgarian troops you can have no knowledge; and I presume that Beatson's troops are as little reduced to control and discipline as your own troops. In short, I am assured that it would be madness to attempt to succor Brigadier-General Williams in this way. It is too late to regret the policy which has left that gallant officer and his army exposed to such straits; but it would only be opening the way to fresh failure to follow out such schemes as have been proposed for the purpose of relieving him. You must, as I have no doubt you feel, lose no time in getting your force into order for service, which will be sure to await you somewhere as soon as you are ready for it; but organization is as necessary for an army as endurance and valor, and without the former the latter qualities are utterly unavailing.


The plan proposed by the Porte was, in its general conception, bold and strategically correct; it amounted, in fact, to the adoption of an eccentric position with respect to the invading army, menacing Tiflis, the center of the Russian power in Asia, and thus, by threatening to cut off Muravieff's basis and line of operations, forcing him to retreat from before Kars. A Mingrelian expedition held out fair prospects not only of relieving Kars, but of affording ample opportunity to gain the great point in all warfare, viz.: throwing the enemy on the defensive. But, the urgency of the danger being admitted, such an expedition could hardly be undertaken save on the condition of its being pushed on with rapidity, with a numerically sufficient force, and with an abundance of supplies and means of transport. Now, the army proposed by the Porte for this service, apart from its motley composition and the unfinished drill of certain portions, was to muster 43,000, or, as Redcliffe computes them, only 36,000 men. It was with about the same force that Omer Pasha afterward undertook the expedition; still, when he arrived at the Rioni (Phasis), his army had dwindled down to 18,000 or 20,000 men. Muravieff had, in his immediate rear, Gumri, as his nearest support, a fortress expressly calculated for the offensive against the Turkish territory; he was therefore enabled to keep his position till informed of the advance on Tiflis being near its accomplishment. However, for the expedition to assume this dangerous turn, there was required the descent of at least 55,000 to 60,000 men on the Circassian coast, the capture of Kutais, and the forcing of the pass of Gori. The Turks not having that force at their disposition, there remained but the alternative of marching via Trebizond on Erzeroum, thence to relieve, reenforce and provision Kars and limit themselves to the defensive. An army of 20,000 men was, at all events, more useful at Erzeroum than one of only 40,000 in Mingrelia. There were also difficulties in the way of that operation; the roads being extremely bad, a considerable force with its artillery and ammunition could hardly reach Erzeroum in less than three months, and thus the crisis might have been over long before the army could arrive on the scene of action. If, on the other hand, a small force were sent, it might succeed in reestablishing the communication between Erzeroum and Kars, but would be insufficient to guard Erzeroum if Kars had fallen. It is clear, then, that the Turks had hit on the best plan for the relief of Kars; but that the Allies, by locking up in the Crimea the only Turkish army capable of carrying it out, prevented its execution.

Let us now come to the objections raised by the British Government. Lord Clarendon commences his attack, not upon the weak points, but on the strategically correct points of the Turkish plan. He thinks it wiser for an army to strengthen its defensive basis in its own rear than to undertake offensive operations in the rear of the enemy. We will leave him to settle this point with old Napoleon or Jomini, while we can quite understand his anxiety for a safe retreat. He thinks it better for an army to march through a friendly country than through a hostile one, if march it must. In his first dispatch he says that if the Turkish army could not maintain its position at Kars, it should fall back on Erzeroum. Did he not know Kars was the key of Erzeroum, and that but for the prolonged defense of Kars, Erzeroum in its then state of defense would have fallen in the same year? But, as his Lordship entertains peculiar views as to the offensive and the marching of armies, so he holds opinions of his own with regard to defensive warfare. A defeat of the Russians, he says, would be the more decisive, the nearer it took place to the gates of Constantinople. In his telegraphic dispatch of July 14, he goes a step further, and coolly recommends the Porte to withdraw its army not only from Kars, but also from Erzeroum, falling back on Trebizond, "where it could easily be reenforced." He would have the Turkish army come to its reenforcements, if the reenforcements would not come to it. Not choosing to recollect, before the fall of Kars, the importance of Erzeroum as the center not only of the commercial but also of the military resources of Anatolia, he discovers, after the fall of Kars (when writing to Lord Cowley in December, 1855), that that alone was sufficient

"to bring about the worst consequences, if prompt and decisive measures are not taken. Masters of that strong fortress, threatening Erzeroum, and commanding all the mountain passes, the Russians might be able to force the whole of Kurdistan and the Armenian population to assist them against the Sultan[f]; and the Allies might in a few months learn that far greater dangers threatened the Ottoman Empire on the side of Asia than on that of Europe."

From the same telegraphic dispatch (14th July) we also see that the Turkish contingent was formed for no other purpose than to remove from the control of the Porte the only reenforcements of its armies.

This much would seem to result from the dispatches of Clarendon, namely: that it was a settled point with the British Government as early as July, 1855, that Kars and Erzeroum should fall into the hands of the Russians. This strange and indeed almost impossible view of the case is further confirmed by the dispatch of Lord Panmure to General Vivian. Nothing could be more curious than the distinction drawn by this English Minister between his own Crimean expedition and the Mingrelian expedition intended by the Porte. Because the civilized Governments of the West had ventured upon a headlong coup de main against Sevastopol, the barbarians of the East must not undertake a "deliberate" expedition against Georgia. The forces enumerated in the Turkish plan he scatters to the winds, and laughs at the notion that Turkey possessed any army fit for operations, except the one pent up in the Crimea. What, then, after all, was the meaning of the hectoring and bullying instructions as to reenforcements with which the British Government worried the poor Porte? Was it to read well in a Blue Book on "The fall of Kars?"

Written about March 25, 1856
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4671, April 8, 1856
as a leading article


[a] Papers Relative to Military Affairs in Asiatic Turkey, and the Defence and Capitulation of Kars. London, 1856. Below Marx quotes documents included in this collection.—Ed.

[b] This refers to the series of articles published under the heading "The Capitulation of Kars" in The Times, Nos. 22320, 22322 and 22323 on March 20, 22 and 24, 1856. The last, fourth, instalment in this series appeared in The Times, No. 22325 on March 26, after Marx had written this article.—Ed.

[c] Vassif Pasha.—Ed.

[d] The Turkish War Minister, Rushdi Pasha (Mehemet).—Ed.

[e] Ali Mehemet Pasha.—Ed.

[f] Abdul Mejid.—Ed.

[419] This article, written for the New-York Daily Tribune in connection with the publication of a number of documents relating to the fall of Kars, was Marx's first public reaction to this event. Soon after that he wrote a serialised pamphlet under the same heading for the Chartist People's Paper (see this volume, pp. 621-54). In it he used some of the formulations and developed the content of the present article, virtually the first version of the exposé. As the text of the article differs substantially from that of the pamphlet, the article is reproduced in full in the present edition.

The first paragraph contains insertions made by the editors of the New-York Daily Tribune.

[420] The decision to enter into negotiations with the Russians on the terms of capitulation was taken by the commanding officers of the Kars garrison on November 24, 1855. The fortress surrendered on November 28.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.605-614), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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