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A Radical View of the Peace

Karl Marx

Paris, Oct. 20, 1859

The treaty of peace concluded at Zurich between the Plenipotentiaries of France and Austria, appears, in its main features, a simple reproduction of the articles stipulated at Villafranca[397]. The negotiations for the definitive peace consuming about twice as much time as the operations of the war that stopped short before the walls of Mantua, there were a great many sanguine people ready to account for the slow-coach progress of the peacemakers by a deep-laid scheme on the part of Louis Bonaparte, who, they said, wanted to give to the Italians full scope for taking their affairs in their own hands, so that, Italian unity having once consolidated itself, the French liberator might, with good grace, back out of the awkward concessions made to Francis Joseph, and, from the word of his bond, appeal to the superior force of a fait accompli. Political contracts are not exempt from the casualties besetting civil contracts, which, according to the Code Napoléon, get nullified by the interference of a force majeure[398] The people arguing in this way have again betrayed their woful ignorance, not only of their pet hero's character, but of the traditional diplomacy of France, from the Red Cardinal[a] down to the Man of December, and from the profligates of the Directory down to the Blues of 1848[399]. The first article of that traditional diplomacy proclaims it the first duty of France to prevent the formation on her confines of mighty States, and, consequently, under all circumstances, to keep up the anti-Unitarian Constitutions of Italy and Germany. It is the same policy that dictated the peace of Münster, and the peace of Campoformio[400]. The real purpose aimed at by the time-killing Zurich transactions has now become as plain as daylight. If, in the beginning of July, Louis Bonaparte had tried to enforce the Villafranca stipulations, at a time when his own army was flushed with victory, when popular passion ran high in Italy, and when France was soothing her wounded pride by the fanciful dream that she bore with slavery at home in order to impart freedom abroad, the Dutch usurper would have let loose upon himself fierce antagonistic powers more difficult to be grappled with than even the stubborn quadrilateral between the Mincio and the Adige. He could not have relied upon his own army, he would have roused Italy to action, and he might have given the signal for an insurrection in Paris. From melodramatic sublimity, got up for the occasion, to pass over to the matter-of-fact vulgarity of an imposture preconcerted, nothing was wanted but time. There is still a French army quartered on Italian soil, but from an army of liberation, it has turned into an army of occupation, whose everyday intercourse with the natives is anything but amiable—familiarity having, as usual, bred contempt. France, on her part, has awoke from her short-lived dream, shuddering at the danger of a European coalition, pondering over an old army lost and a new public debt created, and more distrustful than ever of the idées Napoléoniennes. As to Italy herself, we must judge her state from facts, not from proclamations. There is Garibaldi unable to get the money to be laid out in arms for the army of volunteers[401], and there is this very army whose force appears almost ludicrous if one compares it to the numbers flocking to the standards in Prussia, during the war of independence[402], at a time when Prussia had become of more diminutive dimensions than Lombardy.

Mazzini himself, in his appeal to Victor Emmanuel[b], confesses that the national stream of enthusiasm is rapidly congealing in provincial ponds, and that the conditions of a return to the old state of things, are in the finest way of maturing[403]. It is true that the dreary intermezzo between the treaty of Villafranca and the peace of Zurich was filled up, in the Duchies and the Romagna, by some great state actions[404], under the management of Piedmontese stage directors; but, despite the noisy plaudits from all the galleries of Europe, those political tricksters played only into the hands of their secret foes. The Tuscanese, Modenese, Parmesans and Romagnoles, were welcome to establish Provisional Governments, to depose their absentee Princes from their diminutive thrones, and to proclaim Victor Emmanuel the Re eletto[c]; but, at the same time, they were strictly enjoined to content themselves with these formalities, keep quiet, and leave the rest to the French providence just about to settle their destinies at Zurich, and peculiarly averse to freaks of enthusiasm, outbreaks of popular passions, and allures révolutionnaires[d] in general. They were to expect everything, not from the vigor of their exertions, but from the modesty of their behavior—not from their own power, but from a foreign despot's grace. A landed estate could not be more calmly transferred from one proprietor to another than Central Italy was to pass from the foreign yoke to national self-government. Nothing was changed in the internal administration, all popular agitation was hushed, the liberty of the press itself stifled, and, for the first time perhaps in the history of Europe, the fruits of a revolution seemed to be gathered without the trials of a revolution being undergone. With all this the political atmosphere of Italy had sufficiently cooled down to allow Louis Bonaparte to come out with his foregone conclusions and leave the Italians to their own angry impotence. With a French army at Rome, another French army in Lombardy, one Austrian army frowning down from the Tyrol, another Austrian army holding the quadrilateral, and, above all, with the extinguisher so successfully put upon popular enthusiasm by its Piedmontese managers. there remains at present but small hope for Italy. As to the peace of Zurich itself, we call particular attention to two articles[e] not to be found in the first edition of the treaty[405]. By one of the articles Sardinia is saddled with a debt of 250,000,000 frs., partly to be paid to Francis Joseph, partly accruing from the responsibility thrown upon her for three-fifths of the liabilities of the Lombardo-Venetian bank. With this new debt of 250,000,000 frs. added to the debts contracted during the Crimean expedition and the last Italian war, beside a little bill[406] for his armed patronage which Louis Bonaparte presented a few days since, Sardinia will soon find herself on a level of financial prosperity with her hated antagonist. The other article alluded to stipulates that

"the territorial limits of the Independent States of Italy, which did not take part in the last war, can be changed only with the assent of the other Powers of Europe, which took part in forming and guaranteeing the existence of these States." At the same time, "the rights of the Princes of Tuscany, Modena, and Parma, are expressly reserved by the high contracting Powers."

Thus the provisional Italian Governments, having played the part cut out for them, are most scornfully ignored, and the populations, whom they have contrived to keep in such a normal state of passiveness, may, if they like, go a-begging at the doors of the framers of the treaty of Vienna.

Written on October 20, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5786
and the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1508, November 8, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] Richelieu.—Ed.

[b] G. Mazzini, A Vittorio Emanuele lettera.—Ed.

[c] Elected King.—Ed.

[d] Revolutionary ways.—Ed.

[e] The reference is to Articles 7 and 8 of the treaty.—Ed.

[397] On October 16, 1859 Austria, France and Sardinia met in conference in Zurich to work out the terms for a final peace treaty. Signed on November 10, the Zurich Peace Treaty was based, with certain changes, on the terms of the Villafranca preliminary peace treaty (see Note 315↓) and consisted of three separate diplomatic documents: the Austro-French treaty, the Franco-Sardinian treaty on the transfer of Lombardy to Sardinia, and a general Austro-Franco-Sardinian treaty.

[398] Force majeure—circumstances beyond control, unforeseen circumstances; from Article 1148 of the Napoleonic code which reads: "There are no grounds for damages and interests when, as a result of circumstances beyond control or a chance happening, the debtor is prevented from giving or doing what he was obliged to, or has done what he was forbidden to do."

[399] The Directory (consisting of five directors, one of whom was reelected every year)—the leading executive body in France instituted in accordance with the 1795 Constitution which was adopted after the fall of the revolutionary Jacobin dictatorship in 1794. Until the 1799 Bonapartist coup d'état the Directory was the government of France. It maintained a regime of terror against democratic forces and defended the interests of the big bourgeoisie.

The "blues" of 1848—the name given in France to bourgeois republicans as distinct from the "reds" (petty-bourgeois republicans and socialists, the so-called Montagne party) and the "whites" (monarchists, united in the Party of Order). The dictatorship of the "blues", headed by Cavaignac, was established during the suppression of the uprising of the Paris proletariat in June 1848 and lasted until the presidential elections in December of the same year.

[400] The Münster Peace Treaty of October 24, 1648—one of the treaties known in history under the general title of the Treaty of Westphalia which ended the European Thirty Years' War (1618-48). Under this treaty concluded between the representatives of the German Empire and the German princes on the one hand and France on the other, France received Alsace (without Strasbourg) and had its rights to the three bishoprics of Metz, Toul and Verdun confirmed; the German princes were acknowledged as sovereigns with the right to conclude political treaties and agreements with other countries independently of the German Emperor. The Münster Treaty led to a further weakening of the German Empire and consolidated France's dominant position in Central and Western Europe.
On the Treaty of Campoformio see Note 295↓.

[401] Fearing the growth of the revolutionary movement in the country, Victor Emmanuel II did all he could during the war with Austria to restrict the actions of the Garibaldi volunteer corps which was supported by the people by submitting it to the most unfavourable conditions. After the conclusion of the Villafranca Treaty between France and Austria Garibaldi proposed continuing the struggle against the Austrians, but the volunteer corps was disbanded on Victor Emmanuel's insistence in November 1859.

[402] The reference is to Prussia's national liberation war against Napoleonic France in 1813-15.

[403] In this letter Mazzini suggested that the King should lead the struggle for the liberation and unification of Italy, arouse the South of Italy to the struggle with Garibaldi's help and organise a march on Rome. No action was taken on Mazzini's letter.

[404] The reference is presumably to Haupt- und Staatsaktionen ("principal and spectacular actions"). The term has a double meaning. First, in the seventeenth and the first half of the eighteenth century, it denoted plays performed by German touring companies. The plays were rather formless historical tragedies, bombastic and at the same time coarse and farcical.

Second, this term can denote major political events. It was used in this sense by a trend in German historical science known as "objective historiography". Leopold Ranke was one of its chief representatives. He regarded Haupt- und Staatsaktionen as history's main subject-matter.

[405] The reference is to the Villafranca preliminary peace treaty.

[406] Article 4 of the Franco-Sardinian treaty on the transfer of Lombardy to Sardinia stipulated that Sardinia would pay France 60 million francs "so as to diminish the expenses France contracted on the occasion of the last war".

[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.

[295] The Treaty of Campoformio, signed on October 17, 1797, concluded the victorious war of the French Republic against Austria, a member of the first anti-French coalition. Under this treaty part of the Venetian Republic's territory, including Venice and Istria and Dalmatia, was given to Austria in exchange for concessions on the Rhine frontier. Another part went to the Cisalpine Republic formed by Napoleon I in the summer of 1797 out of lands he had captured in Northern Italy. The Ionian Islands and the Venetian Republic's possessions on the Albanian coast were also annexed to France.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.532-535), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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