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The Future of Italy[375]

Karl Marx

The famous article on Italian affairs, in the Moniteur of the 9th of September, supposed to come directly from Louis Napoleon himself[a], and which has been the occasion of so much comment, may be considered as including three principal topics. The first of these topics is an apology for the treaty of Villafranca[376], and especially for that part of it which provided for the restoration of the expelled Archdukes. The second topic is a confession that the treaty, and the expensive war which preceded it, have wholly failed to bring about any settlement of Italian affairs, and an attempt to shift the blame of that failure from the treaty itself to the shoulders of those who have stood in the way of the stipulated restoration of the expelled sovereigns. The third topic is a warning to the Italians, that since they are unwilling to conform to the arrangements which the French Emperor saw fit to make for them, they have nothing more to expect from him, and that they must prepare themselves to see Austria resume her old position, without any further interference on the part of France, of the oppressor of the Italians under her immediate rule, and the jealous, bitter, and ever watchful enemy of Italian nationality, impending over Italy with a great army and keeping it in a constant state of unquiet and distrust.

The excuse given for treating at all, and for leaving Austria by that treaty in the possession of an important part of Italy, contrary to the programme with which the war commenced, is—first, the strength of Austria herself, notwithstanding her defeats with forces still numerically superior, and now backed by formidable fortresses; and, secondly and principally, the impending danger of an interference on the part of Germany, which would have compelled the Emperor Napoleon to transfer his military efforts to the banks of the Rhine, thus seriously risking the loss of the advantages already gained in Italy. In excuse for the agreement that the banished Archdukes should be restored, Napoleon pleads that it was only by this concession that he could induce the Emperor of Austria[b] to come into the proposed Italian Confederation, and in so doing to recognize Italian nationality, and voluntarily to abandon the supremacy and control which she had acquired over the Italian peninsula, and which had been the occasion of the late war. He also sets forth as another reason for his consent to the restoration of the Archdukes, a counter-stipulation on the part of Austria, now heard of for the first time, to give Venetia a government of its own, distinct from the general administration of the Austrian Empire—in fact, to convert it from an Austrian Province, held by the hand of a conqueror with military force, into an Italian Principality, with a distinct local administration, and, as a member of the Italian Confederation, participating in the advantages of Italian nationality. He sets up also this further excuse for a stipulation which seemed like betraying and abandoning those whom he had stimulated to act, and by which his Italian popularity has so severely suffered, that it was by no means intended to bring back the Archdukes by the assistance of foreign troops, but to effect their return with the consent of the people, and with guaranties as to the future.

The article proceeds to draw a glowing picture of what might have been expected had the arrangements agreed upon for Italy by the two Emperors been frankly adopted by the people of Italy and carried into effect. Austria, from the dread and terror of Italy, would have been at once converted into a friendly or at least a harmless power. The Italian Confederation, in giving to Italian nationality a practical existence, would have, as its most influential member, Sardinia, the representative of the cause of Italy. But greatly to the chagrin of the Imperial penman of the Moniteur all these hopes have been dashed, by the narrow-mindedness and selfishness, as he alleges, of those who have stood and still stand in the way of the restoration of the banished Archdukes; and by reason of their conduct he pronounces the war and the treaty to be a complete failure. Since this part of the treaty has failed of its effect, he declares Austria to be released from her stipulations on behalf of Venetia, and as to the Italian Confederation. She is now at liberty, as to both those points, to pursue her old policy—to make the armaments kept up on the south bank of the Po a reason for maintaining her own forces on the opposite bank upon a war footing, and, in fact, to assume, as to all the rest of Italy, the very same position which was made the occasion of the late war, and which cannot fail in the end to lead to fresh troubles and disasters.

The statement that it was not intended at Villafranca that an armed force should be employed for the restoration of the expelled Archdukes, seems to be understood in Italy as amounting to a declaration on the part of Napoleon that he will not allow a foreign armed force to be employed for that purpose, and in that point of view this Moniteur article has been received there with satisfaction. But it does not admit of any such construction. The most that it amounts to is, that Napoleon did not pledge himself to interfere by force for the carrying out of that provision of the treaty, and that he does not intend to do so. But there is not the least intimation that should Austria see fit to cross the Po, for which she might easily find pretenses, he considers himself bound to interfere. On the other hand he can only be understood as giving notice that he has played out his game of Italian intervention, and as washing his hands of any responsibility for what may hereafter take place in Italy. In referring to the proposed European Congress on Italian affairs, he even suggests that nothing can be got from Austria without compensation. At least the only other alternative is war. In that respect France has done all she intends, and the Italians will look in vain for anybody else willing to go to war for them.

In truth, this article appears to hold out this alternative to the Italians, either to submit to the restoration of the Archdukes, or to abandon all hopes of further French interference, and to prepare themselves to deal with Austria as they may. In truth, from the complimentary tone in which the article alludes to the Emperor of Austria, and his readiness, for the sake of a good understanding with France, to make the sacrifices he did at the peace of Villafranca, there certainly would seem just now not the least disposition to engage in a new quarrel with him. On the other hand, the main object of this manifesto would seem to be to give notice to Austria that so far as France is concerned she is at liberty to deal with Italy as she may deem fit. Having spent a hundred millions of dollars and used up 50,000 men to establish an Italian Confederation, which proves a chimera, the French Emperor proposes to withdraw from all further special concern in Italian affairs.

Written about September 12, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5752, September 29, 1859 as a leading article


[a] Le Moniteur universel, No. 252, September 9, 1859.—Ed.

[b] Francis Joseph.—Ed.

[375] The authorship of this article has been established by comparing its content with that of Marx's other articles on Italian affairs written in 1859 (see this volume, pp. 354-59, 380-83, 407-09, 416-20, 482-86) and on the basis of his correspondence which makes it possible to assert that in September 1859 Marx continued to write about Italy for the New-York Daily Tribune. The Tribune editors made some changes in the article.

[376] 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.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.504-507), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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