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The State of The Question.
—Germany Arming[255]

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

London, April 22, 1859

In German universities, after the students have been dislodged, at about 11 o'clock at night, by the academical authorities, from their various beer-houses, the several societies among the fraternity generally assemble on the market-place, if the weather is propitious. There the members of each society or "color" begin a game of "chaff" with those of any other color—the aim of which is to produce one of those frequent and not very dangerous duels which compose one of the chief features of student life. In these preliminary controversies on the market-place, the great art consists in so wording your hits that no actual or formal insult is contained in them, although as much as possible you vex your opponent, and at last make him lose his temper, so that he comes out with that conventional, formal insult which compels you to send him a challenge.

This preliminary game has now for some months been played by Austria and France. France, on the 1st of January last, commenced it, and Austria replied. From words to words, from gesture to gesture, the antagonists drew nearer to a challenge; but diplomatic etiquette requires such a game to be played out to its full extent. Hence proposals and counter-proposals, concessions, conditions, qualifications, tergiversations, without end.

The last form the diplomatic banter had assumed was this: On April 18, Lord Derby declared in the House of Lords[a] that England was making an ultimate effort, on the failure of which she should withdraw her mediation. Only three days later, on April 21, the Moniteur stated[b] that England had made to the four other Great Powers the following propositions: 1. To effectuate, previous to the Congress, a general and simultaneous . disarmament; 2. The disarmament to be regulated by a military or civil commission, independently of the Congress (this commission to be composed of six commissioners, one of them to be a Sardinian); 3. As soon as the commission shall have commenced operations, the Congress shall assemble and proceed to the discussion of political questions; 4. That the representatives of the Italian States should be invited by the Congress, immediately after its assembling, to take their seats with the representatives of the Great Powers, absolutely, as in the Congress of 1821[256]. At the same time, the Moniteur announced that France, Russia and Prussia have given in their adhesion to the proposals of England; and a telegram from Turin[c] comforted the different stock exchanges of Europe with the welcome news that Piedmont had been induced by Louis Napoleon to do the same. So far, things looked uncommonly peaceful, and all obstacles to the Congress seemed in a fair way of removal. In point of fact, the scheme was transparent. France was not yet "in condition" for the fight. Austria was. To leave no doubt as to his real intentions, Louis Napoleon, by his semi-official press, made known that this disarmament could apply to Austria and Piedmont only; for France, not having armed, could not disarm; and at the same time, in his official paper, the Moniteur, worded his articles so as to give no pledge whatever that France was to be included in the "principle of disarmament".[d] His next step would evidently have been to make the semi-official assertion about France not having armed an official one; the question being thus successfully placed upon the indefinite ground of military detail, where it is easy to carry on such a controversy almost interminably by assertions, counter-assertions, challenges of proof, denials, official returns, and other suchlike tricks. In the mean time, Louis Napoleon would have been able to quietly complete his preparations, which, according to his new principle, he may say are not armaments, for his wants do not consist in men (those he may call in any day), but in materials and new formations. He has himself stated that he will not be ready for war until the first of June next[e]. In fact, if his preparations were completed by the 15th of May, he could, with the help of his railways, have his men on furlough called in on that day, and by the first of June they would have joined their colors. There is, however, much reason to believe that from the enormous dilapidations, irregularities, jobberies and embezzlements which have taken place in the French military administration, according to the good example set by the Court, the necessary preparations of material cannot fully be completed even at the period originally fixed upon by him. However that may be, this much is sure, that every week's delay is so much gain to Louis Napoleon, and so much loss to Austria, which, in consequence of the diplomatic interlude, would not only give up the military advantages derived from the start she has got in her war preparations, but would be crushed by the enormous expense at which her present preparations must be maintained.

Perfectly understanding this state of things, Austria has not only refused the English proposal for a Congress upon the same conditions as that at Laibach, but has sounded the first note of war. In her name, General Gyulay has caused an ultimatum, insisting upon disarmament and the dismissal of the volunteers, to-be presented to the Court of Turin, allowing Piedmont three days only for decision, after which respite war is to be declared[f]. At the same time, two more divisions of the Austrian army, of 30,000 men, have been ordered to the Ticino. Diplomatically, then, Napoleon has driven Austria to the wall, because he has compelled her first to utter the sacramental word, the declaration of war. Yet, if Austria, through threatening notes from London and St. Petersburg, be not induced to rescind her steps, the diplomatic victory of Bonaparte may cost him his throne.

In the mean time the war-fever has seized other States. The smaller Powers of Germany, justly considering themselves menaced by Louis Napoleon's preparations, have given vent to expressions of national feeling, such as had not been heard in Germany since 1813 and '14. They are acting up to that feeling. Bavaria and the neighboring States are organizing new formations, calling in reserves and Landwehr. The 7th and 8th corps of the German Federal army (formed by these States) which would number, according to the official status, 66,000 men for the field, and 33,000 men in reserve, bid fair to figure in the war, with 100,000 men in the field and 40,000 in reserve. Hanover and the other North German States forming the 10th Federal corps, are arming in a similar proportion, and at the same time are fortifying their coasts against naval attacks. Prussia, whose war material has been brought to a higher state of efficiency than at any former period by the preparations accompanying and succeeding the mobilization of 1850[257], has been for some time past getting quietly ready for a mobilization of her army, is arming her infantry more and more with the needle-gun, and has just given 12-pounders to the whole of her foot artillery, while her fortresses on the Rhine are being placed on a war footing. She has ordered three corps d'armée to be got ready for hostilities. At the same time, her action in the federal military commission at Frankfort is a clear proof that she is pretty well aware of the dangers with which Louis Napoleon's policy menaces her. And if her Government were still hesitating, public opinion is fully on the alert. There is no doubt that Louis Napoleon will find Germany more unanimously and more heartily opposed to France than it ever was at any former period; and that at a time when there is less enmity than ever between the Germans and the French.

Written on April 21-22, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5631, May 9, 1859;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1456, May 10, 1859
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 922, May 14, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] The Times, No. 23284, April 19, 1859.—Ed.

[b] Le Moniteur universel, No. 111, April 21, 1859.—Ed.

[c] The Times, No. 23284, April 19, 1859.—Ed.

[d] Le Moniteur universel, No. 109, April 19, 1859.—Ed.

[e] See Louis Boniface's article dated Paris, January 29, Le Constitutionnel, No. 30, January 30, 1859. See this volume, p. 171.—Ed.

[f] The reference is to "Copie d'une lettre de M. le Comte Buol-Schauenstein à M. le Comte de Cavour en date de Vienne le 19 avril 1859", Allgemeine Zeitung, No. 116 (supplement), April 26, 1859.—Ed.

[255] As is evident from Marx's letter to Engels of April 22, 1859, this article written by Engels was edited and enlarged by Marx as new material had been received.

[256] The reference is to the Laibach Congress of the Holy Alliance held in 1821. It proclaimed the principle of intervention by the powers of the Holy Alliance in the internal affairs of other states in support of feudal-monarchist regimes there. Accordingly, the Laibach Congress decided to send Austrian troops to Italy to crush the revolutionary and national liberation movement there. Representatives of the monarchist circles in the Italian states attended the congress in accordance with the restrictive clause inserted in the 1818 protocol of Aix-la-Chapelle on the insistence of the British Foreign Secretary Castlereagh. It stipulated that intervention in the home affairs of other states should be practised only "on the wish" of those states, which were also to be given the right to take part in the talks.

[257] In November 1850 Prussia declared a general mobilisation in view of the worsening of the Austro-Prussian relations caused by the struggle for mastery in Germany. The mobilisation revealed serious shortcomings in the Prussian military system and insufficient equipment of the army; this made the government take vigorous measures to eliminate these shortcomings.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.295-298), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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