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What Has Italy Gained?

Karl Marx

The Italian war is finished. Napoleon has ended it as suddenly and unexpectedly as the Austrians began it[315]. Though brief, it has been costly. It has concentrated into a few weeks not only the exploits, the invasions and counterinvasions, the marches, the battles, the conquests and the losses, but also the expenditures, both in life and money, of many much longer wars. Some of the results of it are palpable enough. Austria has lost territory; her reputation for military prowess has been seriously damaged; her pride has been deeply wounded. But the lessons she has learned, if any, are, we apprehend, rather military than political, and any changes she may be led to make in consequence of this war, will be changes in drill, discipline and arms, rather than in her political system or her methods of administration. She may have been made a convert to the efficacy of rifled cannon. She may perhaps introduce into her service some imitation of the French Zouaves. This is much more likely than that she will essentially modify the government of what remains to her of her Italian provinces.

Austria has lost, too, at least for the present, that guardianship over Italy her persistence in which, in spite of the remonstrances and complaints of Sardinia, was made the occasion of the late war. But, though Austria has been obliged for the present to relinquish this office, the office itself does not appear to be vacant. It is a very significant fact that the new settlement of the affairs of Italy was decided at a short interview between the Emperors of France and Austria, both strangers, each at the head of an army of strangers, and that this settlement was made not only without the formality of even seeming to consult the parties who were the subjects of it, but without the knowledge on their part that they were thus being bargained away and disposed of. Two armies from beyond the Alps meet and fight in the plains of Lombardy. After a six weeks' struggle, the foreign sovereigns of these foreign armies undertake to settle and arrange the affairs of Italy without taking a single Italian into their councils. The King of Sardinia, who in a military point of view had been placed on the level of a French general, seems to have had no more share or voice in the final arrangement than if he had been, in fact, merely a French general.

It was the ground of the complaints so loudly urged by Sardinia against Austria, not merely that she claimed a general superintendence of Italian affairs, but that she was the advocate of all existing abuses; that it was her policy to keep things as they were, interfering with the internal administration of her Italian neighbors, and claiming the right to suppress by force of arms any attempt on the part of the inhabitants of those countries to modify or improve their political condition. And what more respect is paid to Italian sentiment and wishes, or to that right of revolution of which Sardinia was the patron, under the new arrangement than under the old one? The Italian duchies south of the Po, though their proffered aid in the war was accepted, are, it would seem, under the treaty of peace to be handed back to their expelled princes. In no part of Italy has misgovernment been more complained of than in the States of the Church[a]. The maladministration of those States and the countenance and support given by Austria to that maladministration, have been prominently set forth as one of the worst features, if not the very worst feature, in the late condition of Italian affairs. But, though Austria has been obliged to relinquish her armed protectorate of the States of the Church, the unfortunate inhabitants of those Territories have gained nothing by the change. France supports the temporal authority of the Holy See to full as great an extent as Austria ever did; and since the abuses of the Roman Government are regarded by the Italian patriots as inseparable from its sacerdotal character, there seems to be no hope of improvement. France, in the position which she now holds of sole protector of the Pope, makes herself in fact more responsible for the abuses of the Roman Government than Austria ever was.

With respect to the Italian Confederation which forms a part of the new arrangement, there is this to be observed: Either that Confederation will be a political reality possessing a certain degree of power and influence, or else a mere sham. If it be the latter, Italian union, liberty, and development can gain nothing by it. If it be a reality, considering the elements of which it is composed, what can be expected from it? Austria (sitting in it for the Province or Kingdom of Venice), the Pope and the King of Naples[b] combined in the interests of despotism, will easily carry the day against Sardinia, even if the other smaller States should side with her. Austria may even avail herself of this new standing ground to secure a control over the other Italian States quite as objectionable, to say the least, as that which she lately claimed to exercise under special treaties with them.[316]

Written about July 12, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5697, July 27, 1859 as a leading article;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1479, July 29, 1859
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 933, July 30, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] The Papal States. See this volume, pp. 148 and 357.—Ed.

[b] Francis II.—Ed.

[315] On July 8, 1859 the emperors of France and Austria held a separate meeting—without the King of Piedmont—in Villafranca, at which they reached an agreement on an armistice. The meeting was initiated by Napoleon III, who feared that the protracted war might give a fresh impulse to the revolutionary and national liberation movements in Italy and other European states. On July 11 France and Austria signed a preliminary peace under which Austria was to cede to France its rights to Lombardy and France was to transfer this territory to Piedmont. Venice was to remain under the supreme power of Austria and the rulers of the states of Central Italy were to be restored to their thrones. It was intended to create a confederation of Italian states under the honorary chairmanship of the Pope.

The Villafranca preliminaries formed the basis of the peace treaty concluded in Zurich on November 10, 1859 between France, Austria and Piedmont.

[316] 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.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.407-409), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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