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The War Prospect in Prussia

Karl Marx

Berlin, March 15, 1859

War is considered at this place inevitable, but the part that Prussia ought to play in the impending contest between France and Austria is a matter of general dispute, neither the government nor the public seeming to have arrived at any settled opinion. One fact must have struck you, viz.: that the only warlike petitions sent up to Berlin came not from Prussia proper, but from Cologne, the capital of Rhenish Prussia. Too much stress, however, ought not to be laid upon those petitions, since they are evidently the work of the Catholic party, which, in Germany, as well as in France and Belgium, naturally identifies itself with Austria. In one respect, an exceptional unanimity of feeling may be said to pervade the whole of Germany. Nobody raises his voice in favor of Louis Napoleon—nobody affects any sympathy for the "liberator," but, on the contrary, a real deluge of hatred and contempt is day by day poured out against him. The Catholic party considers him a rebel against the Pope, and curses, of course, the sacrilegious sword about to be drawn against a power that, by its concordat with Rome, has anew subjected a great part of Europe to the Holy See[226]; the feudal party, while it affects to detest the French usurper, detests, in fact, the French nation, and flatters itself that, by a sound war against it all, the horrid innovations imported from the country of Voltaire and Jean Jacques Rousseau, may be swept away; the commercial and industrial middle class, who used to glorify Louis Bonaparte as the great "savior of order, property, religion and family," now abound in denunciations of the reckless peace-breaker who, instead of contenting himself with keeping down the exuberant forces of France and quenching the socialist desperadoes by wholesome exercise at Lambessa and Cayenne[227], has taken into his head the extravagant idea of sending down the funds, disturbing the even course of business, and awaking anew the revolutionary passions; the great mass of the people, at least, are exceedingly glad, after years of compulsory silence, to be allowed to give vent to their hatred against the man whom they consider the principal cause of the revolutionary failures of 1848-49. Angry recollections of the Napoleonic wars and the lurking suspicion of a war against Austria meaning a simulated move upon Germany, are quite sufficient to impregnate the philippics against Bonaparte, due to so many different motives, with the appearance of one common national feeling. The silly lies in the Moniteur, the frivolous pamphlets indited by the literary condottieri of the Emperor, and the evident signs of vacillation, distress, and even fear, on the part of the fox who is forced to play the lion[a], have done the rest, and turned general hatred to general contempt.

Still, it would be the greatest mistake possible to infer that united Germany sides with Austria, because the whole of Germany is aroused against Bonaparte. In the first instance, I need not remind you of the inveterate and necessary antagonism between. the Austrian and the Prussian Governments—an antagonism which certainly is not likely to be soothed by the recollections of the Congress of Warsaw, the bloodless battle of Bronzell, the Austrian armed promenade to Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein, or even the Russo-Turkish war[228]. You are aware of the cautious lukewarmness pervading the last manifestoes of the Prussian Government[b]. As a European power, they say, in fact, Prussia sees no reason why she should decide for one party or the other, and as a German power she reserves to herself to inquire how far the Austrian pretensions in Italy are in unison with truly German interests. Prussia has even gone further. She has declared that Austria's separate treaties with Parma, Modena, Tuscany and Naples[229], and consequently the mooted abrogation of those treaties, ought to be considered from a European point of view, but did not at all lie within the horizon of the German Confederation. She has openly sided against Austria in the Danubian question; she has recalled from the German Diet at Frankfort a plernpotentlary[c], apparently too decided a partisan of Austrian interests[230]; she has, finally, in order to meet the suspicion of acting unpatriotically, followed in the track of the minor German States, and forbidden the export of horses[d]; but to extract the anti-French sting from this prohibition, she has extended the latter to the whole of the Zollverein[231], so that the prohibition is directed against Austria as well as against France. Prussia is still the very same power which concluded the separate treaty of Basle[232], and, in 1805, sent Haugwitz into the camp of Napoleon with double dispatches, the one set to be presented in case the battle of Austerlitz should go the wrong way, the other containing servile felicitations to the foreign invader. Apart from the traditional family-policy, persisted in by the house of Hohenzollern, it is intimidated by Russia, who, she knows, entertains a secret understanding with Bonaparte, and even pushed him on to his fatal declaration of New-Year's day[233]. If one sees such a paper as the New Prussian Gazette[e] taking up the cudgels for the King of Piedmont against Francis Joseph, no great power of divination is required to guess from which side the wind blows. To leave no doubt, Herr von Manteuffel has published an anonymous pamphlet, recommending a Russo-French alliance against an Austro-English one.[f]

But the real question does not so much concern the intentions of the Government as the sympathies of the people. Now, I must tell you that, save the Catholic party, the feudal party, and some stupid relics of the Teutonic brawlers of 1813-15, the German people generally, and the population of Northern Germany in particular, feel themselves planted on the horns of a dilemma. While decidedly taking part for Italy against Austria, they cannot but take part for Austria against Bonaparte. Of course, if one were to receive his cue from the Augsburg Allgemeine Zeitung, the conviction would grow upon one's mind that Austria was the idol of every German heart. Let me expose, in a few words, the theory started by that paper. Every race in Europe, except the German, is breaking down. France is decaying; Italy must feel exceedingly blessed at being converted into a German barrack; the Slavic races lack the ethical qualities necessary to govern themselves; and England is corrupted by commerce. So there remains only solid Germany—and Austria is the European representative of Germany. With one hand it keeps Italy, with the other the Slavonians and Magyars under the ennobling influence of German Sittlichkeit (it is impossible to translate the word[g]). While securing the Fatherland from Russian invasion by its hold upon Galicia, Hungary, the Dalmatian coast, Moravia, and the prospective occupation of the Danubian Principalities, Austria defends Germany, that heart of human civilization, from the sullying contagion of French demoralization, frivolity and ambition, by its hold of Italy. Now, I need not tell you that this theory has, without the frontiers of Austria, never been embraced by anybody, save some Bavarian Krautjunkers[h], whose claim to represent German civilization is about as well grounded as that of the ancient Boeotians[234] to represent Greek genius. But there has been, and there is at this very moment, another more prosaic view of the case, started from the same quarter. It is said that the Rhine must be defended on the Po, and that the Austrian positions on the Po, the Adige and the Mincio, form the natural military frontiers of Germany against French invasion. Propounded in 1848 in the German National Assembly at Frankfort by Gen. Radowitz, this doctrine carried the day and led the Assembly to side with Austria against Italy[i], but the judgment of that so-called revolutionary parliament, which could go the length of investing an Austrian Archduke with the powers of the executive[235], has long since been judged. The Germans begin to understand that they have been led astray by quid pro quo, that military positions needed for the defense of Austria are not at all wanted for the defense of Germany, and that the French can, with the same, and even a better right, claim the Rhine as their natural military frontier, than the Germans can claim the Po, the Mincio and the Adige.

Written on March 15, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5598, March 31, 1859


[a] Aesop, "The Fox and the Lion".—Ed.

[b] A. Schleinitz, "Rundschreiben der preussischen Regierung vom 12. Februar 1859", Königlich privilegirte Berlinische Zeitung, No. 53, March 4, 1859; speech in the Prussian Chamber of Deputies, March 9, 1859.—Ed.

[c] Otto Bismarck.—Ed.

[d] "Bekanntmachung vom 7. März 1859—betreffend das Verbot der Ausfuhr von Pferden über die äussere Zollgrenze (gegen das Zollvereins-Ausland)", Königlich Preussischer Staats-Anzeiger, No. 60, March 10, 1859.—Ed.

[e] Neue Preussische Zeitung.—Ed.

[f] Preussen und die italienische Frage. The pamphlet is supposed to be written by Constantin Rössler.—Ed.

[g] It may mean "respectability" or "morality".—Ed.

[h] Cabbage junkers.—Ed.

[i] See this volume, p. 216.—Ed.

[226] The concordat of 1855 between Austria and Pius IX restored to the Catholic Church a number of privileges abolished during the 1848-49 revolution.

[227] Lambessa (Lambèse)—a French penal colony founded on the ruins of the ancient Roman town of Lambessa in Northern Africa; from 1851 to 1860 it was a place of exile for political prisoners.
Cayenne—see Note 34↓.

[228] On the Warsaw Conferences and the battle of Bronzell see Note 198↓. The Schleswig-Holstein question was one of the causes that aggravated Austro-Prussian relations in 1848-50. From March 1848 these duchies were the scene of a national liberation struggle against Denmark with Prussia taking part on the side of the insurgents. Austria and other European powers supported the Danish monarchy and brought pressure to bear upon Prussia by compelling it to sign a treaty with Denmark in July 1850. In the winter of 1851 the forces of the German Confederation, which included Austrian units, undertook a punitive expedition against the insurgents and forced them to surrender.

During the Crimean war (1853-56) Prussia, manoeuvring between Russia and the Western powers, was forced, in 1854, by Austria, Britain and France to join Austria in demanding the evacuation of the Danubian Principalities by the Russians. At the end of the war Prussia was also to support the Austrian ultimatum to Russia which impelled the Tsarist Government to accept the Allies' terms as the basis for peace negotiations.

[229] The reference is apparently to the treaties of alliance imposed by Austria on Modena and Parma in 1847 and 1848, the 1850 treaty on the maintenance of Austrian forces in Tuscany, and the 1814 treaty between Austria and Naples.

[230] Marx refers to Prussia's anti-Austrian position at the Paris Conference of Britain, France, Russia, Austria, Turkey, Prussia and Sardinia (May to August 1858) at which Prussia, contrary to the will of Austria, supported the proposal to unite Moldavia and Wallachia (see Note 212↓).

By the German Diet Marx means the Federal Diet (Bundestag), the central body of the German Confederation (see Note 147), which consisted of representatives of German states and sat in Frankfurt am Main. It served as an instrument of the reactionary policy of the German governments.

Prussia's plenipotentiary in the Federal Diet from 1851 onwards was Otto Bismarck. At the beginning of his career he sought an alliance with Austria but later adopted a pronounced anti-Austrian stand. In early 1859 he was replaced by Usedom.

[231] The Zollverein (Customs Union), a union of German states which established a common customs frontier, was set up in 1834 under the aegis of Prussia. Owing its existence to the need for an all-German market, the Customs Union subsequently embraced all the German states except Austria and a few of the smaller ones.

[232] The peace of Basle was concluded on April 5, 1795 separately between France and Prussia, the latter being a member of the first anti-French coalition. The treaty was the consequence of the French victories as well as of the differences between the members of the coalition, in particular between Prussia and Austria.

At the battle of Jena on October 14, 1806 the Prussians were routed by Napoleon I and this led to the capitulation of Prussia.

The battle of Austerlitz on December 2 (November 20), 1805 between the Russian and Austrian forces (the third coalition) and the French ended in a victory for Napoleon I.

At the battle of Wagram on July 5-6, 1809 Napoleon I won a decisive victory over the Austrians.

[233] At a reception of the diplomatic corps in the Tuileries on January 1, 1859, Napoleon III said to the Austrian Ambassador J. A. Hübner: "I regret that our relations with your Government are not as good as formerly." This statement led to a diplomatic conflict with Austria, war against which had long ago been decided on: in July 1858, in Plombières, a secret agreement had been reached between France and Piedmont, under which France was promised Savoy and Nice in exchange for participation in the forthcoming war against Austria.

[234] Boeotians were inhabitants of Boeotia, an economically and culturally backward region in Ancient Greece.

[235] Archduke John of Austria was proclaimed Regent of Germany by the Frankfurt National Assembly in June 1848. He was invested with executive power until an Imperial Constitution was introduced. Being Regent up to December 1849 he was the vehicle of the counter-revolutionary policy of the German princes.

[34] Cayenne—the reference is to French Guiana where political prisoners were sent for penal servitude.

[198] By the autumn of 1808, when Napoleon I arrived in Erfurt to negotiate with the Russian Tsar Alexander I, almost the whole of Germany had been subjected to France. The German Princes assembled in Erfurt confirmed their loyalty to Napoleon.

In May and October 1850 Warsaw was the scene of conferences in which representatives of Russia, Austria and Prussia took part. They were convened on the initiative of the Russian Tsar in view of the intensification of the struggle between Austria and Prussia for mastery in Germany. The Russian Tsar acted as arbiter in the dispute between Austria and Prussia and used his influence to make Prussia abandon its attempts to form a political confederation of German states under its own aegis.

The battle of Bronzell was an unimportant skirmish between Prussian and Austrian detachments on November 8, 1850, during an uprising in Kurhessen. Prussia and Austria a contended for the right to interfere in the internal affairs of Kurhessen to suppress the uprising. In this conflict with Prussia Austria again received diplomatic support from Russia and Prussia had to yield.

[212] The French diplomats made use of the strivings of the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia to merge in a single state in order to strengthen France's influence in the Balkans. With the assistance of France and Russia Colonel Alexandru Cuza was elected hospodar (ruler) of Moldavia (in January 1859) and of Wallachia (in early February 1859). A united Rumanian state was set up in 1862.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.267-270), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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