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The War.—
Debate in Parliament[185]

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, June 27, 1854

The Russian Moniteur of Bucharest[186] officially declares that, in obedience to orders sent from St. Petersburg, the siege of Silistria is raised, Giurgevo evacuated, and the whole Russian army about to recross the Pruth. The Times, in a third edition of yesterday, published a telegraphic dispatch from its Vienna correspondent to a similar effect, viz: that

"the Emperor of Russia accepts the Austrian summons out of high consideration for his ancient ally, and has ordered his troops to recross the Pruth."[187]

Lord John Russell hi last night's House of Commons confirmed the statement with regard to the abandonment of the siege of Silistria, but had received no official information about the answer given by Russia to the Austrian summons.[a]

The result of the Austrian intervention will be to interpose a barrier between the Turks and the Russians, to secure the retreat of the latter from all molestation, to enable them to reenforce the garrison of Sevastopol and the Crimea, and perhaps to reestablish their communications with the army of Woronzoff. Besides the reconstruction of the Holy Alliance between Russia, Austria and Prussia must be looked upon as certain the moment the allied powers refuse to acquiesce in the simple restoration of the status quo ante bellum, with perhaps some slight concessions made by the Czar in favor of Austria.

The whole fabric of this fine "solution," devised, it is said, by Metternich, is now, however, shattered to pieces by the indiscretion of old Aberdeen and the intrigues of Palmerston.

It will be remembered that in the late ministerial reconstruction[b] the endeavor to place Lord Palmerston in the War Office, the cry for the establishment of which was mainly raised by the Palmerstonian press, had failed, and the Peelite Duke of Newcastle supplanted the noble Lord in his contemplated new office. This. failure seems to have reminded Lord Palmerston that it was high time to break up the whole Cabinet, and accordingly he has raised a perfect storm against its chief, the occasion for which was afforded by Lord Aberdeen's inconsiderate speech in reply to Lord Lyndhurst[c]. The whole English press immediately laid hold of that speech. It is, however, important to add, that The Morning Herald denounced the existence of a conspiracy against Lord Aberdeen before the speech was delivered. Mr. Layard rose in the House of Commons on Friday last, and gave notice that on Thursday next he should move a resolution that

"the language held by the first Minister of the Crown was calculated to raise grave doubts in the public mind as to the objects and ends of the war, and to lessen the prospects of an honorable and durable peace.[d]

There are two weak points in this resolution: firstly, its being unconstitutional and apt to be set aside for being in contradiction to the parliamentary rule which forbids the criticism of a speech delivered in the Lords by a member of the Commons; and, secondly, because it pretends to distinguish between the occasional language of the Premier and the whole acts of the coalition Cabinet. Nevertheless, its result was to give such serious apprehensions to Lord Aberdeen that, two hours after the announcement of the above resolution, he rose in his place and gave notice, in an unusually excited tone, that

"on Monday next (thus anticipating Mr. Layard by three days), he should move for a copy of the dispatch he had addressed to Russia, after the treaty of Adrianople, and that he would take the opportunity of alluding to the misconstructions which had been placed on the remarks he had recently addressed to their Lordships on the subject of the war."[e]

So strong was the belief that Mr. Layard's motion would result in the expulsion of Lord Aberdeen from the Cabinet, that The Morning Advertiser, for instance, has published already the list of the Ministry which is to succeed him; a list including the names of Lord John Russell as Premier, and of Lord Palmerston as Minister of War. It may be imagined, then, that the sitting of the Lords of last night attracted an unusual number of the curious and excited intrigants of the aristocracy, anxious to witness in what manner Lord Aberdeen would clear himself from his somewhat difficult and intricate position.

Before giving a resume of the speech of Lord Aberdeen, and of the attack made upon him by the Marquis of Clanricarde, I must recur to the epoch and the circumstances, to which both speakers particularly referred, in the year 1829, when Lord Aberdeen found himself at the head of the British Foreign Office. At that time a Russian fleet under the command of Admiral Heiden was blockading the Dardanelles, the Gulfs of Saros and Enos, as well as those of Adramyti and Smyrna, notwithstanding an agreement concluded between the Cabinets of St. Petersburg and London in 1815, that Russia should not exercise any belligerent rights in the Mediterranean. These blockades, threatening to injure the British commerce in the Levant, aroused the otherwise dull opinion of the English of that time into vehement declamations against Russia and against the Ministry. Interviews, accordingly, took place between the Russian Embassadors Prince Lieven and Count Matusczewicz on the one side, and Wellington and Aberdeen on the other side. In a dispatch under date of London 1st (13th) June 1829, Prince Lieven reports as follows on the character of these interviews:

"The conversation with Lord Aberdeen which took place some hour later,"

than that with the Duke of Wellington, which had not been altogether very satisfactory to the Russian diplomatist

"was not less remarkable. As he was acquainted only imperfectly with our conversation with the first Minister, he labored, when he learned the details of it, to soften the disagreeable impressions that might have been left upon us by his language at the commencement of it, by the reiterated assurance that at no period had it entered into the intentions of England to seek a quarrel with Russia; that if the ministry had sought to induce us not to insist on the blockade of Enos, it was in the full desire to prevent importunate reclamations, and to cement the good intelligence between the two cabinets, that we should have to congratulate ourselves more than perhaps we were aware on the benefits we received from that happy and constant concurrence. He was flattered that he could place the maintenance of that harmony higher than the momentary advantages that the blockade of the Gulf of Enos would have offered us; but he feared that the position of the English Ministry was not well understood at St. Petersburg. They attributed to malevolent intentions, and to hostile views, the difficulties that he sometimes raised, as in the matter that had just been terminated, while these intentions and these arrières pensées[f] were very far from his spirit and from his policy. But, on the other hand, he found himself in a delicate situation. Public opinion was always ready to burst forth against Russia. The British Government could not constantly brave it, and it would be dangerous to excite it on questions (of maritime law) that touched so nearly the national prejudices. On the other side we could reckon upon the well-disposed and friendly dispositions of the English Ministry which struggled against them (the national prejudices).

"I know, I replied, the weight of public opinion in England, and I have seen it change in a few days. It is against us in our war because it thinks us aggressors, while we have been attacked; because it imputes to us the idea of overthrowing the Ottoman Empire, while we declare that such is not our object; because, finally, it believes that we pursue an ambitious policy against which we ourselves protest. To enlighten it on this point would be the surest way to correct it.

"Lord Aberdeen replied to me, that the matter was not exactly as I represented; public opinion was pronounced against us, because generally in England it took with ardor the side of the Whigs—but au reste[g], the British Cabinet was far from not wishing us success; on the contrary, it wished us success, prompt and decisive, because it knew that it was the only means of terminating the war, which could not be regarded except as a great misfortune, since it was impossible to foresee its results! In conclusion, the English Minister entered into long deductions to demonstrate that we lent to him intentions that he could not have, and ended by saying that the Cabinet of London desired that the war should be terminated to the honor and advantage of Russia."[188]

It is strange that none of the opponents of Lord Aberdeen have thought proper to recur to this dispatch, so conclusive against his conduct at the time before the treaty of Adrianople, that it would have been impossible to attach any importance to anything contained in a secret dispatch of his Lordship, written after the conclusion of that treaty. The production of the above dispatch would have demolished at one stroke the only argument of defense which Lord Aberdeen could bring forward in his speech of yesterday. His true defense would have been an open recrimination against Lord Palmerston, since the whole "row" was exclusively between these two old rival servants of Russia.

Lord Aberdeen began by saying that he had nothing either to retract or to contradict, but only to "explain"[h]. He had been falsely accused of having claimed the honor of having framed the treaty of Adrianople. Instead of having framed it, he had protested against it, as their lordships would see from the dispatch for the production of which he now made a motion. Such had been the alarm produced on his mind, and on his colleagues' mind, by that treaty, that the whole policy of the Government had been changed in a most material point in consequence of its existence. Which was this change of policy? Before the treaty of Adrianople was signed, he, Lord Aberdeen and the Duke of Wellington, therein following the policy of Canning, had never contemplated constituting Greece an independent kingdom, but only as a vassal state under the suzeraineté of the Porte, somewhat similar to Wallachia and Moldavia. After the treaty of Adrianople had been signed, the condition of the Turkish Empire appeared to them so perilous, and its existence so precarious, that they proposed to convert Greece from a vassal state into an independent kingdom. In other words, it was resolved, since the treaty of Adrianople did so much to weaken Turkey, to counteract its perilous consequences by dismembering whole provinces from it. This was the "change."

Although their alarm for the consequences of that treaty had been exaggerated, Lord Aberdeen was far from not considering it as in the highest degree disastrous and prejudicial. He had said that "Russia had not acquired great territorial acquisitions by that treaty," and even now he contended that the Russian empire had not greatly increased in Europe within the last fifty years, as Lord Lyndhurst had asserted. (Bessarabia, Finland, and the Kingdom of Poland, appear not to be any significant acquisitions in the view of the noble Lord.) But, as he had stated in his dispatch of December, 1829, if the territorial acquisitions of Russia had been small, they had been important in their character the one giving Russia "exclusive authority over the navigation of the Danube, and the other ports in Asia which, though small in extent, yet had the character of high political importance." (The vast territory acquired in the Caucasus is again not present to Lord Aberdeen's mind.) Starting from this point of view, he asserts that the treaty of Adrianople was the commencement of a change of policy on the part of Russia, which, since the time of that treaty, had looked to an extension of political influence rather than to the acquisition of territory. This change of policy had not been a change of intention. "Satan had only grown wiser than in days of yore." The fact that Russia concerted a plan with Charles X for the acquisition of Turkey not through alarming conquests, but through a series of treaties is passed over in silence. Nor did Lord Aberdeen think fit to mention that even before the treaty of Adrianople and the treaty of Unkiar-Skelessi[189], which he quotes in proof of the change in Russian policy, Russia had bound herself to France and England already, in 1827, not to seek to derive any further territory from the war against Turkey, and that, but for the permission of England, she would never have been able to advance an army upon Constantinople in 1833.

Lord Aberdeen next stated that his expression that "if we could obtain a peace which should last twenty-five years, as had been the case by the treaty of Adrianople, we should not have done amiss," had been falsely construed into the meaning that he would return to a treaty similar to that of Adrianople. He had only meant to say that

"if by any treaty which the fortune of war might enable them to make, they could secure a peace for twenty-five years, considering the instability of human affairs they would not have done amiss. He had never recommended a return to the status quo, nor did he not object to the status quo. Before the declaration of war the status quo had been all they hoped for or desired, and all that they attempted to attain, and it was that which the Turkish Government consented to give, and it was much more than they had a right to expect. But, from the instant war had been declared, the whole question was changed entirely, and everything depended upon the war itself.... How far they might ultimately deviate from the status quo no man could say, as it depended on events not in their power absolutely to control. This he would say, that the independence and integrity of the Ottoman Empire must be secured, effectually secured."

How it is to be secured Lord Aberdeen could not say, as this, again, depended on the events of the war.

He had been understood to express some doubt or disbelief as to the danger of Russian aggression, but, in fact, he had the greatest alarm at Russian aggression on Turkey, although he did not feel great alarm with respect to the danger of Russian aggression on Europe, and "he was inclined to feel less so every (lay." He considered France more powerful than Russia and Austria put together. The noble Lord then complained of the "extraordinary absurdity and malignity of the personal imputations to which he had been exposed." It was true that there was no greater peacemonger in the country than himself, but his very love of peace peculiarly fitted him to carry on the war in the mot vigorous manner.

"His colleagues would admit that he personally had been more urgent than perhaps any other man in exhorting a speedy advance and concentration of the allied forces beyond the Balkans, in order to support the gallant army of Omer Pasha, and to extend a hand to Austria, in order to enable her to take a more active part in the operations of the war."

This was the course he invariably urged. On the interpellation of Lord Beaumont[i] he declared that

"intimate as he formerly was with Prince Metternich, since he had been in office, for the last eighteen months, he had not communicated with him, directly or indirectly, until a few days ago, when a friend told him she was about to write to Metternich, and asked him whether he had anything to say to the Prince; whereupon he said: 'Pray, make my best remembrances to him.'"

Aberdeen's speech was on the whole favorably received by the House; but it is a curious fact that the acrimonious answer that he met with from the Marquis of Clanricarde —a disappointed place-hunter, and Lord Palmerston's old Embassador at St. Petersburg was not replied to by any member of the Cabinet, and that none of them came forward to certify to his having been the foremost in urging a vigorous war.

The Marquis of Clanricarde[j] principally dwelt upon Aberdeen's participation in the treaty of Adrianople; the general character of his political past, and on the shortcomings of his present administration. He said that Lord Aberdeen had produced now, for his own personal convenience and from a merely personal motive, a dispatch which he had some months ago refused to other members of either House. It was, however, quite different from what the noble lord had written to St. Petersburg in December, 1829, when the treaty of Adrianople had been signed in September. The real question was what instructions he had given to their Embassador[k] at that time, and what steps he had taken to prevent the signing of the treaty. The Russian general commanding at Adrianople[l] had not had above 15,000 men, and that amount had to be diminished by some 5,000 or 6,000 who, either from disease or wounds, were literally hors de combat[m]. The Turkish general[n], on the other hand, was within a short distance with 25,000 Albanians. The Russian general gave a very short respite to Turkey to sign or not to sign, for he knew that his real position might be discovered if he gave a long one. Consequently he did not give beyond five or eight days. At Constantinople the Minister of Turkey summoned to his council the French and English Embassadors and the Prussian Minister, and asked for their advice[190]. The English Embassador, under instructions from Lord Aberdeen, tendered the advice to sign as soon as possible t hat treaty which the noble lord now told them was so disastrous.

The noble Marquis did not like to allude to the circumstance, that it was exactly the vehement denunciation which his friend Palmerston, then in opposition, directed against Lord Aberdeen, when he charged him with being yet too anti-Russian, which induced the latter to give the order for the signing of the treaty.

The Marquis proceeded to reproach the Premier with having been always the most zealous, the most constant, and the most powerful supporter of the arbitrary governments of Europe, in proof of which he reviewed the history of Portugal, Belgium, and Spain, alluding to Aberdeen's opposition to the famous Quadruple Alliance of 1834[191]. It certainly wanted all the cool impudence of an old Whig Lord to exult, at this moment, in the glory of Belgium, the constitutionalism in Portugal and Spain, and the general blessings Europe derives from the Quadruple Alliance which Palmerston, in his defense, falsely stated to have been devised not by himself but by Talleyrand.

As to the operations of the present war, Clanricarde said that the plan of the campaign had been drawn up by the highest military authorities in Russia, in December last, and that the British Government had been informed of that plan, aiming not at the mere occupation of the Principalities, but at crossing the Danube, seizing Silistria, masking Shumla, and marching on the Balkans. The noble Lord, with such information in his possession, had come down to this House talking of peace, and neglecting to give those orders which were at the time given by the Cabinet to the Ministry of War until the end of February or the beginning of March.

If Lord Clanricarde had chosen to remember the answers given by Lord Palmerston[o] to Mr. Disraeli in the Commons and by Lord Clarendon[p] to himself in the Lords, he would have abstained from t the ridicule of charging with those neglects of duty only Lord Aberdeen, and exempting his Whig friends from a blame equally attaching to the whole Cabinet.

"If," exclaimed the Marquis— "if a proper, he would almost say an honest, course had been taken by the Government fifteen months ago, there never would have been a war."

Now, these are the very same words which Mr. Disraeli addressed to Lord John Russell.

Finally, the Marquis has the absurdity to charge also Lord Aberdeen, individually and exclusively, with all the failures of the coalition, and their continuous defeat in Parliament on all important questions. It does not occur to his memory that at the very formation of the Cabinet it was declared by every judicious man, that it could not hold together for six weeks except it left all legislation an open question, and abstained from politics.

After a silly speech from Lord Brougham[q], who expressed himself very much contented with Lord Aberdeen's first speech, but still more so with his second one, the subject dropped.

The serious result of this whole incident is the baffling of the secret protocol drawn up at Vienna, and consequently the continuance of hostilities, and of a war, the speedy cessation of which was so confidently anticipated that consols rose 3 per cent. notwithstanding heavy loans in the market, and that any bets were taken at the military clubs against the prolongation of war beyond four weeks.

Written on June 27, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No, 4126, July 10;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 952, July 11
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 670, July 15, 1854
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune
Signed: Karl Marx


[a] Lord John Russell's speech in the House of Commons on June 26, 1854. The Times, No. 21778, June 27, 1854.—Ed.

[b] See this volume, p. 220.—Ed.

[c] Lord Aberdeen's speech in the House of Lords on June 19, 1854. The Times, No. 21772, June 20, 1854.—Ed.

[d] Mr. Layard's speech in the House of Commons on June 23, 1854. The Times, No. 21776, June 24, 1854.—Ed.

[e] Lord Aberdeen's speech in the House of Lords on June 23, 1854. The Times, No. 21776, June 24, 1854.—Ed.

[f] Ulterior motives.—Ed.

[g] Nevertheless.—Ed.

[h] Lord Aberdeen's speech in the House of Lords on June 26, 1854. The Times, No. 21778, June 27, 1854.—Ed.

[i] Lord Beaumont's interpellation to the House of Commons on June 26, 1854. The Times, No. 21778, June 27, 1854.—Ed.

[j] The Marquis of Clanricarde's speech in the House of Lords on June 26, 1854. The Times, No. 21778, June 27, 1854.—Ed.

[k] Gordon.—Ed.

[l] General Diebich.—Ed.

[m] Out of action.—Ed.

[n] Apparently Mustapha Pasha.—Ed.

[o] Lord Palmerston's speech in the House of Commons on February 20, 1854. The Times, No. 21670, February 21, 1854.—Ed.

[p] Lord Clarendon's speech in the House of Lords on February 6, 1854. The Times, No. 21658, February 7, 1854.—Ed.

[q] Lord Brougham and Vaux's speech in the House of Lords on June 26, 1854. The Times, No. 21778, June 27, 1854.—Ed.

[185] The date oh which this article was written is corroborated by the entry in the Notebook ("Dienstag, 27. Juni") and Marx's letter to Engels of June 27, 1854. Eleanor Marx published an abridged version of this article in The Eastern Question.

[186] Presumably a misprint. Marx had in mind the following report in Le Moniteur universel, No. 177, June 26, 1854.

"Report from Belgrade, June 25, noon. According to a telegraphic dispatch of June 23 from Bucharest, the siege of Silistria has been lifted by order of superior command, the Russians have evacuated Giurgevo and the whole army of the Muscovites will withdraw beyond the Pruth."

[187] The third edition of The Times is not available; the material from it was partly published on the next day in the morning issue of the newspaper (No. 21778, June 27, 1854).

[188] Marx quotes this document according to a copy of a dispatch from Prince Lieven and Count Matusczewicz to Count Nesselrode, dated London 1st (13th) June, 1829, published by David Urquhart in: The Portfolio. Diplomatic Review. New Series, London, 1843, Vol. I, No. 1.

[189] On the Adrianople treaty, see Note 176↓.
The Unkiar-Skelessi treaty of defensive alliance was concluded by Russia and Turkey on July 8 (June 26), 1833. It provided for mutual aid in the event of war with a third power. A secret article of the treaty freed Turkey from the obligation to give military aid to Russia in return for an undertaking to close the Straits to all foreign warships on Russia's demand.

[190] The reference is to the conference of the Turkish Foreign Minister Pertev Pasha, the English Ambassador Gordon, the French Ambassador Guilleminot and the Prussian envoy Royer on September 7, 1829. They discussed the Russian project of a treaty and drew up Turkish proposals. The Ambassadors promised Pertev Pasha to mediate in the negotiations with the Russians.

[191] The reference is to the Quadruple Alliance concluded in April 1834 between Britain, France, Spain and Portugal (see Note 36↓). Even at the time the treaty was concluded conflicts of interests appeared between Britain and France which later aggravated relations between the two countries. This treaty was formally directed against the absolutist "Northern powers" (Russia, Prussia and Austria), but in actual fact allowed Britain to strengthen her position in Spain and Portugal, under the pretext of rendering military assistance to both governments in their struggle against the pretenders to the throne, Don Carlos in Spain and Dom Miguel in Portugal (see notes 227↓ and 253↓).

[176] The peace treaty of Adrianople was concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 1829, at the end of the war of 1828-29. Under it Russia obtained the islands in the mouth of the Danube and a considerable part of the eastern coast of the Black Sea south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was obliged to recognise the autonomy of the Danubian Principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia and grant them the right to elect hospodars (rulers) independently. Russia was to guarantee this autonomy, which was tantamount to establishing a Russian protectorate over the Principalities. The Turkish Government also pledged to guarantee the autonomy of Greece and Serbia.

[36] Marx used Bonaparte's opening speech at a joint sitting of the Corps Legislatif and the Senate on March 2, 1854 as published in Le Moniteur universel, March 3, 1854.

[227] The Carlists—a reactionary clerico-absolutist group in Spain consisting of adherents of the pretender to the Spanish throne Don Carlos, the brother of Ferdinand VII. Relying on the military and the Catholic clergy, and also making use of the support of the backward peasants in some regions of Spain, the Carlists launched in 1833 a civil war which in fact turned into a struggle between the feudal-Catholic and liberal-bourgeois elements and led to the third bourgeois revolution (1834-43).

[253] On the Carlist war, see Note 227↑.
On August 31, 1839 an agreement was signed in Vergara between the Carlist General Maroto and Espartero, the commander of the royal army, ending the civil war in Spain. The Carlist forces were disbanded and Don Carlos emigrated to France on September 14, 1839. General Cabrera's attempt to continue the struggle ended in the utter defeat of the Carlists in July 1840.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.258-266), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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