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The Treaty of Villafranca

Karl Marx

If the war got up by Louis Napoleon on the false pretense of liberating Italy, gave rise to a general confusion of ideas, a shifting of positions, and a prostitution of men and things without parallel in the history of Europe, the peace of Villafranca[a] has broken the fatal spell. Whatever may have been said of Louis Napoleon's astuteness, that peace has destroyed his prestige, and even alienated from him the French people and the French army, whom it was his chief purpose to attach to his dynasty. When he tells that army that he made peace from fear, both of Prussia and the Austrian quadrangle, he tells them what can only awaken disgust in their hearts. And when he tells that people, every one of whom is born a revolutionist, that he was checked in his victorious career only by the fact that the next step in advance must have been taken with Revolution as his ally, he may be sure that they will regard him with far greater distrust and aversion than the bugbear with which he seeks to terrify them. In all the Europe of to-day, there is no other such failure as Louis Bonaparte with his Italian war. The humbug exploded at Villafranca. The speculators of the Stock Exchange exult at it, the chopfallen demagogues stand aghast, the betrayed Italians tremble with rage, the "mediating powers" cut sorry figures, the British and American believers in Louis Bonaparte's democratic mission hide their shame in unmeaning protests and ingenious explanations; but those who dared to oppose a deluge of self-delusion, at the peril even of being accused of Austrian sympathies, are now proved to have been alone in the right.

Consider first the manner in which the treaty was concluded. The two Emperors meet; Francis Joseph surrenders Lombardy to Bonaparte, who makes a present of it to Victor Emmanuel, who, in his turn, although the apparent principal in the war, is not even admitted to the conference which settles the peace. The idea of consulting, even for appearance sake, the voice of the human chattels thus bartered away, is sneered at by the two contractors. Francis Joseph disposes of his property; so does Napoleon III. If the transfer of an estate had been in question, the presence of a law officer, and the fulfillment of some legal formalities, would have been indispensable. No such thing in the transfer of three millions of men. Not even the assent of Victor Emmanuel, the individual upon whom the property was finally settled, is asked for. Such humiliation was too much for a Minister, and Cavour resigned. A King, of course, may say of a country annexed what the Roman Emperor said of money raised: Non olet[b]. There is about it, perhaps, no smell of injury for him.

This, we suppose, is what is called in the vocabulary of the Idées Napoléoniennes[c], the "restoration of nationalities." The Congress of Vienna itself, if its transactions be compared with the Villafranca job, may well be suspected of. revolutionary principles and popular sympathies. Italian nationality is to be inaugurated by the studied insult of a convention which declares in broad characters, that Italy had no part in the war against Austria, and, by a necessary consequence, has no voice to utter in settling the peace with Austria. Garibaldi, with his bold mountaineers; the insurrections of Tuscany, Parma, Modena, and the Romagna; Victor Emmanuel himself with his country invaded, his finances dilapidated, and his army decimated; all this counts for nothing. There was a war between a Hapsburg and a Bonaparte. There was no Italian war. Victor Emmanuel cannot lay claim even to the honors of a subaltern ally. He was no party to the struggle; he was only an instrument, and is, therefore, excluded from those rights which, according to the law of nations, accrue to every co-belligerent, however diminutive. He falls short of the honors granted to the German mediatized princes at the peace of 1815[321]. A modest poor relative, let him devour in silence the crumbs dropped from the table of his rich and powerful cousin.

If we come now to the contents—we mean the official contents—of the treaty of Villafranca, we shall find them quite in keeping with the method of its settlement. Lombardy is to be ceded to Piedmont, but the identical offer, in terms more favorable, and not clogged by drawbacks, Austria had proposed to Charles Albert and Lord Palmerston in 1848[322]. At that time no foreign Power had sequestrated the Italian movement. The cession was to be made to Sardinia, not to France; Venice, too, was to be severed from the Austrian territories and to be constituted into an independent Italian State—not with the Austrian Emperor, but with an Austrian Archduke at its head. These conditions were then scornfully rejected by the magnanimous Palmerston, who stigmatized them as too lame a conclusion for the Italian war for independence. The same Lombardy is now given as a French gift to the Savoy dynasty, while Venice, with the quadrangle of fortresses, those on the Mincio included, is to remain in the clutch of Austria.

The independence of Italy is thus converted into the dependence of Lombardy on Piedmont and the dependence of Piedmont on France. While Austria's pride may be humiliated by the cession of Lombardy, her real power is rather strengthened by this evacuation of a territory which absorbed part of her military forces without being defensible against foreign invasion and without paying the costs of their maintenance. The resources vainly spent in Lombardy may now be turned to good account elsewhere. What Austria keeps is the domineering military position from which, on any favorable occasion, she may pounce on her weak neighbor, who has in fact only gained an increase of weakness—an exposed frontier with turbulent, disaffected and jealous subjects—while he has lost even the pretext of representing the rights of Italy. He has struck a dynastic bargain, but he has resigned his national mission. From an independent State, Sardinia has dwindled down to a State on sufferance which, to. hold its own against its foe in the East, must cringe before its Protector in the West.

But this is not all. By the terms of the treaty Italy, after the pattern of the German Confederation, is to be constituted into an Italian. Confederation, under the honorary presidency of the Pope[d]. There now Seems to be some difficulty in realizing this Napoleonic Idea, and we have yet to learn how Napoleon III will deal with the hindrances that are rising in the way of his hobby. For, whatever be the event, there is no doubt that such a Confederacy, with the Pope at its head, is his hobby. But the overthrow of the papal power at Rome has always been considered as the conditio sine qua of Italian emancipation. Machiavelli, in his history of Florence[e], long ago, traced in the papal dominion the source of Italian degradation. Now, in the purpose of Louis Napoleon, instead of the Romagna being freed, the whole of Italy is to be subjected to the nominal sway of the Pope. In fact, if the Confederacy should ever be organized, the papal tiara will be but the emblem of Austrian domination. What did Austria aim at by her private treaties with Naples, Rome, Tuscany, Parma, Modena? At a confederation of Italian princes under Austrian leadership. The treaty of Villafranca with the Italian Confederation, in which the Pope, Austria, and the restored Dukes—if, indeed, they can get restored—will form one party, and Piedmont the other, exceeds the boldest hopes of Austria. She has desired, since 1815, to form a Confederacy of Italian Princes against Piedmont. She may now subject Piedmont itself. She may extinguish the vital principle of that little state in a Confederacy of which the Pope, who has excommunicated Sardinia[323], will be nominal head, and of which Sardinia's unforgiving enemy will be the real leader. It is, therefore, not Italy that has been emancipated, but Piedmont that has been crushed. Face to face with Austria, Piedmont is set to play the part of Prussia, but without the resources that have enabled the latter State to paralyze her rival in the German Diet. France, on her part, may flatter herself with having assumed toward Italy the position which Russia holds with regard to the German Confederation, but, then, the Russian influence in Germany is based upon the balance of power between the Hapsburgs and the Hohenzollerns. The only way in which Piedmont can restore her prestige is clearly traced for her by her protector. In his proclamation to his soldiers, Louis Napoleon says:

"The union of Lombardy With Piedmont creates for us (the Bonaparte family) a powerful ally who will owe to us its independence;"[f]

thus declaring that independent Piedmont has given place to a Napoleonic satrapy. To extricate himself from this degrading position, Victor Emmanuel is without resources. He can only appeal to Italy, of which he has betrayed the confidence, or to Austria, with whose spoils he has been fed. Very possibly, however, an Italian Revolution may intervene to change the aspect of the whole peninsula, and to bring Mazzini and the Republicans once more upon the scene.

Written on July 19, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5704, August 4, 1859 as a leading article;
reproduced in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1481, August 5, 1859
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 934, August 6, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] "Préliminaires de paix convenus entre l'Autriche et la France, a Villafranca le 11 juillet 1859."—Ed.

[b] Does not smell (the words said by the Roman Emperor Vespasian in connection with the tax on public conveniences).—Ed.

[c] Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Des idées napoléoniennes, Chapitre IV, Question étrangère.—Ed.

[d] Pius IX.—Ed.

[e] N. Machiavelli, Istorie fiorentine, Libro I, IX.—Ed.

[f] Napoleon III, "Armée d'Italie. Proclamation. Valeggio, le 12 juillet 1859", Le Moniteur universel, No. 195, July 14, 1859.—Ed.

[321] The reference is to the petty German princes who lost their power and saw their possessions annexed by larger German states as a result of the reshaping of the political map of Germany during the Napoleonic wars and at the Vienna Congress (1814-15).

[322] In 1848 Palmerston wanted Lombardy to be annexed to the Kingdom of Piedmont in order to check the spread of the revolutionary movement in Italy and to meet the interests of the traditional British policy of "European equilibrium". Frightened by the revolutionary events in Austria and the national liberation struggle in Italy, the Austrian Government was forced to agree, in its memorandum of May 24, to the cession of Lombardy and the separation of Venetia into an independent state under the Archduke of Austria, but after Piedmont's defeat Austria retracted its agreement

[323] In view of the growing movement in Northern Italy and the Papal States for incorporation with Piedmont, Pius IX issued an encyclic in June 1859 threatening to excommunicate those who encroached on the Pope's temporal power, referring above all to Victor Emmanuel II.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.416-420), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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