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The Proposed Peace Congress

Karl Marx

Paris, April 14, 1859

The British Government has at last thought fit to initiate the public into the official history of the European Congress, that deus ex machina introduced on the stage by the Russian and French managers when they became aware how much they were lagging behind Austria in their preparations for war. It may first be remarked that the note from Count Buol to M. de Balabine, the Russian Embassador, dated Vienna, March 23, 1859, and the other note of the Austrian Minister, addressed to Lord A. Loftus, the British Ambassador at the Court of Vienna, under date of Vienna, March 31[a], had been confidentially communicated by the Austrian Government to the Vienna newspapers on April 8, while John Bull did not become acquainted with them before the 13th of April. But this is not all. The note of Count Buol to M. de Balabine, as communicated by the English Ministry to the London Times, contains only part of the Austrian note, and omits some highly important passages, which I shall take care to insert in this letter, so as to enable John Bull to learn, via New York, the diplomatic news which his Ministry thinks it unsafe to trust to his sagacious mind.

On first view it will be seen from Buol's note to M. de Balabine, that the proposal of the Congress proceeded from Russia, or, in other words, that it is a move concerted by the allied chess-players of St. Petersburg and Paris—a fact hardly calculated to fill us with a peculiar admiration for the sagacity or the sincerity of the tenants of Downing street, who, even in parliament, had not refrained from claiming a patent for that invention. From the note itself it becomes evident that Austria (and this point was carefully concealed in the announcement of the French Moniteur[b] of Austria's accession to the proposal of a general Congress) agreed to meet the other great Powers in Congress conditionally only.

"If," says Count Buol, "beside this question" (viz.: the putting down of the "political system of Sardinia"), "it should enter into the intentions of the Powers to bring forward others for discussion, it would be necessary that they should be exactly stated beforehand, and, inasmuch as they should touch upon the internal régime of other sovereign States, the undersigned could not dispense with insisting, above all things, that the mode of proceeding in this case should be conformable to the rules formulated by the Protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle, under date of the 15th of November, 1818."

Austria consequently accepted the Russian proposal of a general Congress upon the four conditions: First, that it should be the principal aim of the Congress to put down Sardinia and act in the Austrian interest; secondly, that the protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle[254] should be recognized as the basis of the conference; thirdly, that, "previously to all conference, Sardinia must disarm"; and, finally, that the points to be brought under discussion "should be exactly stated beforehand." The first point needs no comment. To leave no doubt as to its significance, Count Buol adds expressly that he considers it "as the only one essentially important for the moral pacification of Italy."

The second point, the recognition of the protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle, would, on the part of France, involve a direct recognition of the treaties of 1815 and of the Austrian special treaties with the Italian States. Now, what Bonaparte wants is exactly the abrogation of the treaties of 1815, upon which Austria's hold of the Lombardo-Venetian kingdom rests, and of the separate treaties which secure to her a paramount influence over Naples, Tuscany, Parma, Modena and Rome. The third condition, the previous disarming of Sardinia, is the anticipation of an advantage which a successful campaign alone could win for Austria; and the last condition, the preliminary statement of the questions to be debated, would cut off Bonaparte from the main result which, beside the delay necessary for his war preparations, he flatters himself that he will gain from the Congress, viz.: to take Austria by surprise, and, having once entangled her in the meshes of diplomatic conferences, compromise her before public opinion in Europe by forcing her to give the signal for the breaking off of peace negotiations by an unceremonious denial of demands suddenly put upon her by France and Russia.

The conditions upon which Austria, in her note to the Russian Embassador, consented to accede to a General Congress may, then, be summed up as follows: Austria will take part in a European Conference settling the Italian question, if, before the meeting of that Conference, the- European Powers agree to stand for Austria against Sardinia, to force Sardinia to disarm, to acknowledge the treaty of Vienna, and the subsidiary treaties based upon it; and, lastly, if every pretext for breaking the peace is taken away from Bonaparte. In other words, Austria will enter upon a Congress, if the Congress, even before meeting, binds itself to concede everything to Austria which she now declares herself prepared to enforce at the sword's point. If one considers that Austria was. fully aware that the Congress was only an ambush laid for her by foes decided upon war, nobody can censure her for treating the Russo-French proposition in this ironical manner.

The passages of the Austrian document which I have commented upon, are those which the British Ministry thought fit to publish. The following sentences, which include Buol's dispatch, are suppressed in the Malmesbury edition of the Austrian note:

"Austria will disarm as soon as Piedmont has disarmed. Austria is anxious to keep the peace, because it wants peace, and knows how to value it, but it wishes for a sincere and permanent peace, which it justly believes it is able to secure without damaging its own power and honor. Many sacrifices it has already made in order to maintain the tranquility of Italy. Yet, until the preliminaries alluded to be formulated and settled, Austria may moderate its war preparations, but cannot stay them. Its troops will continue to march to Italy."

After the Russo-French dodge had thus been exploded, England, goaded by her august ally on the other side of the Channel, stepped in to urge Austria to accept the proposal of a Congress of the Great Powers, which should take into consideration the Italian complications, and expressed her desire to see the Imperial Government acquiesce in the preliminary propositions hatched in Downing street. There is, perhaps, in the annals of diplomatic history, no document more outrageously ironical than Count Buol's reply to the English Embassador at Vienna. In the first instance, Buol repeats his demand that, previous to any Congress, Sardinia shall lay down her arms, and thus place herself at the mercy of Austria.

"Austria," he says, "could not present herself at the Congress until Sardinia shall have completed her disarmament, and shall have proceeded to the disbandment of the Corps Francs[c].These conditions fulfilled and executed, the Imperial Government declares itself ready to give, in the most formal manner, the assurance that Austria will not attack Sardinia pending the duration of the Congress, as long as the latter shall respect the Imperial territory and that of its ally."

Thus, if Sardinia will disarm, Austria will only bind herself not to attack disarmed Sardinia pending the duration of the Congress. Buol's reply to England's proposals is written in the true Juvenal vein. As to the British proposition that "territorial arrangements and the treaties of 1815 shall not be touched," Buol exclaims, "Perfectly agreed!" only adding that, also, "the treaties concluded in execution of the treaties of 1815 shall not be touched." As to the English wish to find means to assure the maintenance of peace between Austria and Sardinia, Buol interprets it in the sense that "the Congress shall examine the means of bringing back Sardinia to the fulfillment of her international duties." As to the proposed "evacuation of the Roman States and consideration of the reforms in the Italian States," Buol will allow Europe to "discuss" and "debate" these points, but reserves "the definitive adoption of the advice" tendered "to the decisions of the States directly interested." As to the British "combination to be substituted for the special treaties between Austria and the Italian States," Buol maintains "the validity of the treaties," but will consent to a revision, if Sardinia and France will consent to have debated their respective possessions of "Genoa" and "Corsica." In point of fact, Austria gave to the English propositions the same answer which she had already given to the Russian dispatch. Upon this second disappointment Russia and France moved poor Lord Malmesbury to propose to Austria, as a preliminary step, a general disarmament[d]. At the Tuileries, of course, it was presumed that Austria, having got the start over all her rivals in the arming business, would give a pointblank denial to such a proposal, but again Bonaparte had reckoned without his host. Austria- knows that Bonaparte cannot disarm without disencumbering himself of the troublesome weight of the Imperial crown. Austria consequently assented to a proposal which was offered only to be rejected. Hence great perplexity at the Tuileries, which, after twenty-four hours' consideration, has enriched the world with the discovery that "a simultaneous disarming of the great Powers cannot mean anything beyond the disarmament of Austria." Read only the following scurrilous lucubration of the Patrie, a paper directly inspired by Napoleon III:

"In any case the proposition of a disarmament need only affect two powers, Austria and Piedmont—Austria who has concentrated beyond all precedent her military forces in Italy; and Piedmont who, in presence of the Austrian army in Lombardy, is compelled to respond to the menaces of war by the preparations for her defense. The question of disarmament proposed by Austria is a question which must first be settled; when she shall have recalled her army from Italy, Piedmont cannot but recognize the example which shall have been given to her.

"As to France, she has no occasion to disarm (elle n'a pas à désarmer), for the simple reason that she has no extraordinary armament; that she has marched no troops to her frontiers; that she has not even desired to use her right to respond to the threats of Austria—threats directed against Piedmont and against the peace of Europe. On the part of France, it cannot be a question either of reducing a single effective soldier in her army, or of taking a single additional cannon into her arsenals. The disarmament can only extend, so far as she is concerned, to an engagement not to arm.

"We cannot believe that Austria makes any pretension to this extent; this would be to nullify the pledge which, doubtless in a more pleasant mood (mieux inspirée), she desired to give for the peace of Europe, by proposing a disarmament of which she well knows that she must take the initiative."[e]

Written on April 14, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5624, April 30, 1859


[a] The Times, No. 23280, April 14, 1859.—Ed.

[b] Le Moniteur universel, No. 84, March 25, 1859.—Ed.

[c] Volunteer detachments.—Ed.

[d] The British Government made this proposal to France, Prussia and Russia on April 18, 1859, The Times, No. 23287, April 22, 1859.—Ed.

[e] The content of the article from La Patrie of April 13 is in L'Indépendance belge, No. 105, April 15, 1859.—Ed.

[254] The protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle (Aachen) (Protocole signé à Aix-la-Chapelle le 15 novembre 1818 par les plénipotentiaires des cours d'Autriche, de France, de la Grande-Bretagne, de Prusse et de Russie) of November 15, 1818 was signed by Britain, Austria, Prussia, Russia and France at the first congress of the Holy Alliance. It confirmed the state structure of Europe as established at the Vienna Congress of 1815.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.290-294), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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