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Karl Marx

Of all the dogmas of the bigoted politics of our time, none has caused more harm than the one that says "In order to have peace, you must prepare for war". This great truth, whose outstanding feature is that it contains a great lie, is the battle cry that has called all Europe to arms and generated such a belligerent fanaticism that every new peace pact is regarded as a new declaration of war, and greedily exploited. At a time when the states of Europe, have become so many armed camps, whose mercenaries are burning with the desire to rush at one another and cut each others throats for the greater glory of peace, the only consideration before each new outbreak is merely the trifling detail of knowing which side one should be on. As soon as this incidental consideration has been satisfactorily disposed of by the diplomatic parlementaires[a] with the help of the old reliable si vis pacem, Para bellum[b], one of those wars of civilisation begins whose frivolous barbarity belongs to the best times of the robber knights, while their cunning perfidy belongs exclusively to the most modern period of the imperialist bourgeoisie.

Under such circumstances we need not be surprised if the general leaning towards barbarity acquires a certain method, immorality becomes a system, lawlessness gets its lawgivers and club-law its lawbooks. Hence, if people return so often to the idées napoléoniennes, the reason is that these senseless fantasies of the prisoner of Ham[332] have become the Pentateuch of the modern religion of trickery and the Revelation of imperial military and stock-exchange swindling.

Louis Napoleon stated in Ham:

"A great enterprise seldom succeeds at the first attempt."[c]

Convinced of this truth, he understands the art of pulling back in good time and beginning a new approach soon after, and repeating the manoeuvre long enough for his opponents to become careless and the issued mots d'ordre[d] to have become trivial, ridiculous and precisely for that reason dangerous. This art of temporising in order to deceive public opinion, of retiring in order to advance all the more unimpeded, in a word, the secret of ordre, contre-ordre, désordre was his most powerful ally in the coup d'état.

He seems to want to follow the same tactics with respect to the Napoleonic idea of the invasion of England. This phrase, so often disavowed, so often ridiculed, so often drowned in Compiègne champagne, is more and more on the agenda of European gossip, despite all its apparent defeats. Nobody knows where it suddenly comes from, but everyone feels that its mere existence is a still undefeated power. Serious men, such as the 84-year-old Lord Lyndhurst and Ellenborough, who is certainly not lacking in courage, recoil from the mysterious power of this phrase. When a mere phrase is able to make such a powerful impression on government, Parliament and people, that only proves that it is instinctively felt and known that it has an army of 400,000 marching behind it, with whom a battle for life or death must be waged, or else the sinister phrase cannot be got rid of.

The article in the Moniteur, which makes a comparison of the English and French naval budgets in order to depict England as the party responsible for the costly armaments; the irritated tone of His Majesty's introduction and conclusion to this document[e]; the semi-official commentary of the Patrie, which positively contains an impatient threat[f]; the order issued immediately thereafter to put the French armed forces on a peace footing[g]—all these are such characteristic instances of Bonapartist tactics that we can well understand the very serious attention that the English press and public opinion give to the question of invasion. If France "is not arming", as Mr. Walewski, conscious of his misunderstood innocence, assured us emphatically before the outbreak of the Italian war, that gives rise to a three-month freedom campaign; but if it now even disarms the unarmed army, we may reckon with an extraordinary coup.[h]

Undoubtedly, Mr. Bonaparte could not lead his praetorian hordes to any enterprise that would be more popular in France and a large part of the continent of Europe than an invasion of England. When Blücher rode through the streets of London during his visit to England, he cried out in the instinctive joy of .his soldier mentality: "Mein Gott, what a town for to sack!"[i]—a cry whose power of seduction the imperial praetorians will be able to appreciate. But the invasion would also be popular with the ruling bourgeoisie, for precisely the reasons that The Times gives for maintaining the entente cordiale[333], saying:

"We are rather pleased than chagrined to see France powerful. While we are together as the guardians of order and the friends of civilisation, her power is our power, and her prosperity is our strength."[j]

With a fleet of 449 ships, of which 265 are steam warships, with an army of 400,000 men who have tasted blood and glory in Italy, with the St. Helena testament in his pocket and inevitable ruin facing him, Mr. Bonaparte is just the man to stake all on invasion. He must play va banque[k]; sooner or later, but play he must.

Written on July 28, 1859
First published in Das Volk, No. 13, July 30, 1859
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] Negotiators.—Ed.

[b] If you want peace, prepare for war.—Ed.

[c] Louis Napoleon Bonaparte, Fragments historiques 1688 et 1830, Paris, 1841.—Ed.

[d] Slogans.—Ed.

[e] An anonymous article dated Paris, July 25, Le Moniteur universel, No. 207, July 26, 1859.—Ed.

[f] La Patrie, July 28, 1859.—Ed.

[g] Published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 209, July 28, 1859.—Ed.

[h] Le Moniteur universel, No. 64, March 5, 1859.—Ed.

[i] The Times, No. 23370, July 28, 1859 (leading article).—Ed.

[j] Ibid.—Ed.

[k] All or nothing.—Ed.

[332] On "idées napoléoniennes" see Note 301↓.
On Louis Bonaparte's imprisonment in Ham see Note 327↓.

[301] An ironical allusion to Louis Bonaparte's book Des idées napoléoniennes which he wrote in England and published in 1839 in Paris and Brussels.

[327] An allusion to the imprisonment of Louis Bonaparte in the fortress of Ham in. 1840, following the failure of the military putsch in Boulogne; Louis Bonaparte escaped from the fortress in 1846.

[333] The relations established between Britain and France after the July revolution of 1830 and known in history as the entente cordiale were not confirmed by treaty until April 1834, when the so-called Quadruple Alliance was concluded between Britain, France, Spain and Portugal. But at the conclusion of this treaty disagreements between Britain and France became apparent which subsequently led to a worsening of relations between the two countries.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.439-441), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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