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Truth Testified

Karl Marx

Clausewitz remarks somewhere in his work on the Italian campaign of 1796 and '97 that, after all, war is not so theatrical an affair as people are apt to fancy, and that victories and defeats, if contemplated with the eye of science, look rather the reverse of the picture of them reflected on the brains of the political gossip[a]. The knowledge of this truth has enabled us to bear with some equanimity the fussy anger which our appreciation of the military events of the recent war has from time to time called forth from various zealous, if not intelligent, Bonapartist organs in this country, whether printed in the French or the English language. We now have the satisfaction' of finding our judgment of these events confirmed much sooner than we could have expected, and by the principal belligerents themselves, by Francis Joseph and Louis Napoleon.

Leaving aside questions of mere detail, what was the pith- of our criticism? On the one hand we traced the defeats of the Austrians not to any genius displayed on the part of the Allies—not to the fabulous effects of the rifled cannon—not to the imaginary defections of the Hungarian regiments—not to the vaunted dash of the French soldiers, but simply to the strategical faults committed by the Austrian generals, whom Francis Joseph and his personal advisers had put in the place of such men as Gen. Hess. It was this faulty strategy which not only contrived to oppose numerical minorities to the foe at every point, but, on the battle-field itself, was able to arrange the disposable forces in the most absurd manner. On the other hand, the stubborn resistance exhibited even under such circumstances by the Austrian army; battles almost equally contested, notwithstanding the disproportion of the forces to each other; the strategical blunders committed by the French, and the unpardonable laziness, which paralyzed victory and almost abandoned its fruits by neglecting the opportunities of pursuit—all these things warranted us in stating that by the transfer of the supreme command of the Austrian army from incompetent into able hands, the positions of the belligerents were likely to be reversed. The second point, and the most important one, upon which we insisted, even before the outbreak of the war, was this: that from the moment the Austrians turned from the offensive to the defensive, the war would be divided into two parts; the melodramatic, carried on in Lombardy, and the serious, commencing behind the line of the Mincio, within the terrible network of the four fortresses. All the victories of the French, we said, weighed as nothing, when compared with the trials they still had to encounter, in a position which it had cost even the real Napoleon nine months to overcome, though in his time Verona, Legnago, and Peschiera were ciphers in a military sense, and Mantua alone had to bear the whole brunt of the attack. Gen. Hess, who, of course, was better acquainted than we with the status quo of Austrian generalship, had, as we now ascertain from the journals of Vienna, proposed in the outset of the war not to invade Piedmont, but rather to evacuate Lombardy and accept battle only behind the Mincio. Let us now hear what Francis Joseph and Louis Bonaparte say in their apologies—the one for having abandoned part of a province, and the other for having falsified the programme he put forth in beginning the war.

Francis Joseph states two facts in regard to the war in which he is not contradicted by the Moniteur. In his appeal to his army[b], he says that the Austrian forces were always opposed to superior numbers. The Moniteur dares not controvert this statement[c], which, when rightly considered, lays the greatest blame on the Austrian Emperor's own shoulders. However that may be, we may claim the merit of having, from the most contradictory statements of "own correspondents," from French lies and Austrian exaggerations, disengaged the real state of things, and, with the spare and uncertain means at our disposal, of having ascertained the relative forces of the contending parties in our critical reviews of the single battles, from Montebello to Solferino[d], Francis Joseph lays great stress upon another point which must sound rather strange to a certain. class of newspaper writers. We give his very words:

"It is likewise a fact allowing of no doubt, that our enemies, in spite of their utmost exertions and the full employment of their superabundant resources, which had been long prepared for the intended conflict, have not been able, even at the price of immense sacrifices, to gain a decisive victory. All they have been able to gain in the field were secondary advantages. Austria's army, at the same time, with unshaken strength and fortitude, maintained a position, the possession of which offered a fair chance of success in all future attempts to regain lost ground."

What Francis Joseph dares not proclaim in his manifestoes, namely, that he and his camarilla have made a mess of the whole war by the intrusion of their pets and their crotchets upon its direction, and by the imbecile obstructions they laid in the way of plebeian, but competent generals, even this sin is now openly confessed, if not in words, at least by deeds. Gen. Hess, whose advice was neglected during the whole campaign, and who was debarred from the position which his antecedents, his age, and even his rank in the Austrian rank list ought to have secured to him, is now appointed Field Marshal; the supreme command of the Italian forces is made over to him, and the first thing Francis Joseph did on his arrival at Vienna, was to pay an ostentatious visit to the old General's wife. In one word, the whole attitude now assumed by the Hapsburg autocrat toward the man who, by his plebeian birth, his liberal sympathies, his rude frankness, and his military genius, offended the pretensions of the aristocratic circles at Schönbrunn[331], implies a confession humiliating to men of all stations, but most so to the hereditary proprietors of mankind.

Let us now look at the counterpart of the Austrian manifesto, at Bonaparte's apology[e], Does he share the silly delusion of his admirers, that he has won decisive battles? Does he think that future reverses were out of the question? Does he even intimate that a decisive point was gained, and that perseverance was the only thing required to push his victories to a crowning result? Quite the contrary. He owns that the melodramatic part of the struggle had come to an end; that the war was about inevitably to change its aspect; that reverses were in store for him; that he was frightened, not only by the menacing Revolution, but by the power of "the enemy in front, intrenched behind great fortresses." He saw nothing before him but a "long and barren war." His words are these:

"Arrived beneath the walls of Verona, the struggle was, inevitably about to change its nature, as well in a military as in a political aspect. Obliged to attack the enemy in front, who was intrenched behind great- fortresses, and protected on his flanks by the neutrality of the surrounding territory, and about to begin a long and barren war, I found myself in face of Europe in arms, ready either to dispute our successes, or to aggravate our reverses."

In other words, Louis Napoleon not only made peace because he was afraid of Prussia and Germany, and of Revolution, but because he was afraid of the four great fortresses. To lay siege to Verona, he would have required, as we are told by a semi-official article in the Indépendance belge[f], a reenforcement of 60,000 men; and these he could not bring from France and leave there the strength necessary for the northern army under Pélissier; and after he had done with Verona, Legnago and Mantua would remain to be disposed of. In fine, Napoleon III and Francis Joseph fully confirm, after the war, what we have said before it and during its progress, both as to the military resources of the two countries and the characteristics of the campaign. We cite these two witnesses as involuntarily vindicating common sense and historical truth against that swash of insane exaggeration and silly delusion, which for the last two months has obtained a currency, which it will not be likely soon again to enjoy.

Written on July 22, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5704, August 4, 1859 as a leading article


[a] The reference is to C. Clausewitz, Vom Kriege, Bd. I, Kapitel I.—Ed.

[b] Francis Joseph's manifesto of July 15, 1859, The Times, No. 23364, July 21, 1859 ("Austria").—Ed.

[c] Le Moniteur universel, No. 201, July 20, 1859 (Napoleon III's speech at a reception for members of the State Council, the Senate and the Corps législatif in the Palace of Saint-Cloud on July 19, 1859).—Ed.

[d] See this volume, pp. 332-37, 338-40, 349-53, 360-63, 368-71.—Ed.

[e] The reference is to Napoleon III's speech at a reception for members of the State Council, the Senate and the Corps législatif in the Palace of Saint-Cloud on July 19, 1859, Le Moniteur universel, No. 201, July 20, 1859.—Ed.

[f] L'Indépendance belge, No. 202, July 21, 1859.—Ed.

[331] Schönbrunn—a palace in Vienna, the Emperor's summer residence.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.435-438), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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