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The European War[371]

Frederick Engels

At last, the long-pending question of Turkey appears to have reached a stage where diplomacy will not much longer be able to monopolize the ground for its ever-shifting, ever-cowardly, and ever-resultless movements. The French and British fleets have entered the Black Sea in order to prevent the Russian Navy from doing harm either to the Turkish fleet or the Turkish coast. The Czar Nicholas long since declared that such a step would be, for him, the signal for a declaration of war. Will he now stand it quietly?

It is not to be expected that the combined fleets will at once attack and destroy either the Russian squadron or the fortifications and navy-yards of Sebastopol. On the contrary, we may rest assured that the instructions which diplomacy has provided for the two Admirals[a] are so contrived as to evade, as much as possible, the chance of a collision. But naval and military movements, once ordered, are subject not to the desires and plans of diplomacy, but to laws of their own which cannot be violated without endangering the safety of the whole expedition. Diplomacy never intended the Russians to be beaten at Oltenitza; but a little latitude once given to Omer Pasha, and military movements once begun, the action of the two hostile commanders was carried on in a sphere which was to a great extent uncontrollable by the Ambassadors at Constantinople. Thus, the fleets once removed from their moorings in the Beikoz roads, there is no telling how soon they may find themselves in a position from which Lord Aberdeen's prayers for peace, or Lord Palmerston's collusion with Russia cannot draw them, and where they will have to choose between an infamous retreat or a resolute struggle. A narrow land-locked sea like the Euxine, where the opposing navies can hardly contrive to get out of sight of each other, is precisely the locality in which conflicts under such circumstances, may become necessary almost daily. And it is not to be expected that the Czar will allow, without opposition, his fleet to be blockaded in Sebastopol.

If, then, a European war is to follow from this step, it will be in all likelihood a war between Russia on one hand, and England, France and Turkey on the other. The event is probable enough to warrant us in comparing the chances of success and striking the balance of active strength on each side, so far as we can do so.

But will Russia stand alone? What part will Austria, Prussia and the German and Italian States, their dependants, take in a general war? It is reported that Louis Bonaparte has notified the Austrian Government that if in case of a conflict with Russia, Austria should side with that power, the French Government would avail itself of the elements of insurrection which in Italy and Hungary only require a spark to be kindled again into a raging fire, and that then the restoration of Italian and Hungarian nationality would be attempted by France. Such a threat may have its effect upon Austria; it may contribute to keep her neutral as long as possible, but it is not to be expected that Austria will long be enabled to keep aloof from such a struggle, should it come to pass. The very fact of the threat having been uttered, may call forth partial insurrectionary movements in Italy, which could not but make Austria a still more dependant and still more subservient vassal of Russia. And then, after all, has not this Napoleonic game[372] been played once already? Is it to be expected that the man who restored the Pope[b] to his temporal throne[373], and who has a candidate cut-and-dried for the Neapolitan monarchy[c], will give to the Italians what they want as much as independence from Austria— unity? Is it to be expected that the Italian people will rush headlong into such a snare? No doubt they are sorely oppressed by Austrian rule, but they will not be very anxious to contribute to the glory of an Empire, which is already tottering in its native soil of France, and of a man who was the first to combat their own revolution. The Austrian Government knows all this, and therefore we may assume that it will be more influenced by its own financial embarrassments than by these Bonapartistic threats; we may also be certain that. at the decisive moment, the influence of the Czar will be paramount at Vienna, and will entangle Austria on the side of Russia.

Prussia is attempting the same game which she played in 1780, 1800 and 1805[374]. Her plan is to form a league of neutral Baltic, or North German, States, at the head of which she can perform a part of some importance, and turn to whichever side offers her the greatest advantages. The almost comical uniformity with which all these attempts have ended by throwing the greedy, vacillating and pusillanimous Prussian Government into the arms of Russia, belongs to history. It is not to be expected that Prussia will now escape her habitual fate. She will put out feelers in every direction, offer herself at public auction, intrigue in both camps, swallow camels and strain at gnats, lose whatever character may perchance yet be left to her, get beaten, and at last be knocked down to the lowest bidder, who, in this and in every other instance, will be Russia. She will not be an ally, but an encumbrance to Russia, for she will take care to have her army destroyed beforehand, for her own account and gratification.

Until at least one of the German Powers is involved in a European war, the conflict can only rage in Turkey, on the Black Sea and in the Baltic. The naval struggle must, during this period, be the most important. That the allied fleets can destroy Sebastopol and the Russian Black Sea fleet; that they can take and hold the Crimea, occupy Odessa, close the Sea of Azov, and let loose the mountaineers of the Caucasus, there is no doubt. With rapid and energetic action nothing is more easy. Supposing this to occupy the first month of active operations, another month might bring the steamers of the combined fleets to the British Channel, leaving the sailing vessels to follow; for the Turkish fleet would then be capable of doing all the work which might be required in the Black Sea. To coal in the Channel and make other preparations, might take another fortnight; and then, united to the Atlantic and Channel fleets of France and Britain, they might appear before the end of May in the roads of Kronstadt in such a force as to assure the success of an attack. The measures to be taken in the Baltic are as self-evident as those in the Black Sea. They consist in an alliance, at any price, with Sweden; an act of intimidation against Denmark, if necessary; an insurrection in Finland, which would break out upon landing a sufficient number of troops and a guarantee that no peace would be concluded except upon the condition of this province being reunited to Sweden. The troops landed in Finland would menace Petersburg, while the fleets should bombard Kronstadt. This place is certainly very strong by its position. The channel of deep water leading up to the roads will hardly admit of two men-of-war abreast presenting their broadsides to the batteries, which are established not only on the main island, but on smaller rocks, banks and islands about it. A certain sacrifice, not only of men, but of ships, is unavoidable. But if this be taken into account in the very plan of the attack, if it be once resolved that such and such a ship must be sacrificed, and if the plan be carried out vigorously and unflinchingly, Kronstadt must fall. The masonry of its battlements cannot for any length of time withstand the concentrated fire of heavy Paixhans guns[375], that most destructive of all arms when employed against stone walls. Large screw-steamers, with a full complement of such guns amid ships, would very soon produce an irresistible effect, though of course they would in the attempt risk their own existence. But what are three or four screw-ships of the line in comparison with Kronstadt, the key of the Russian Empire, whose possession would leave St. Petersburg without defense.

Without Odessa, Kronstadt, Riga, Sebastopol, with Finland emancipated, and a hostile army at the gates of the capital, with all her rivers and harbors closed up, what would Russia be? A giant without arms, without eyes, with no other resource than trying to crush her opponents under the weight of her clumsy torso, thrown here and there at random wherever a hostile battle-cry was heard. If the maritime powers of Europe should act thus resolutely and vigorously, then Prussia and Austria might so far be relieved from the control of Russia that they might even join the allies. For both the German powers, if secure at home, would be ready to profit by the embarrassments of Russia. But it is not to be expected that Lord Aberdeen and M. Drouyn de Lhuys should attempt such energetic steps. The powers that be are not for striking their blows home, and if a general war breaks out, the energy of the commanders will be shackled so as to render them innocuous. If nevertheless, decisive victories occur, care will be taken that it is by mere chance, and that their consequences are as harmless as possible for the enemy.

The war on the Asiatic shore of the Black Sea might at once be put an end to by the fleets; that on the European side would go on comparatively uninterrupted. The Russians, beaten out of the Black Sea, deprived of Odessa and Sebastopol, could not cross the Danube without great risk. (except in the direction of Servia, for insurrectionary purposes), but they might very well hold the Principalities, until superior forces and the risk of large bodies of troops being landed on their flank and rear should drive them out of Wallachia. Moldavia they need not evacuate without a general action, for flank and rear demonstrations would there be of little importance, as long as Chotin and Kishinev offered them a safe communication with Russia.

But as long as the war is confined to the Western Powers and Turkey on the one hand, and Russia on the other, it will not be a European war such as we have seen since 1792. However, let it once commence, and the indolence of the Western Powers and the activity of Russia will soon compel Austria and Prussia to decide for the Autocrat. Prussia will probably be of no great account, as it is more than likely that her army, whatever its capacities may be, will be wasted by presumption at some second Jena[376]. Austria, notwithstanding her bankrupt condition, notwithstanding the insurrections that may occur in Italy and Hungary, will be no contemptible opponent. Russia herself obliged to keep up her army in the Principalities, and on the Caucasian frontier, to occupy Poland, to have an army for the defense of the Baltic coast, and especially of St. Petersburg and Finland, will have very few troops to spare for offensive operations. If Austria, Russia and Prussia (always supposing the latter not yet put to rout), can muster five or six hundred thousand men on the Rhine and the Alps, it will be more than can be reasonably expected. And for five hundred thousand allies, the French alone are a match, supposing them to be led by Generals not inferior to those of their opponents, among whom the Austrians alone possess commanders worthy of the name. The Russian Generals are not formidable, and as to the Prussians, they have no Generals at all; their officers are hereditary subalterns.

But we must not 'forget that there is a sixth power in Europe, which at given moments asserts its supremacy over the whole of the five so-called "Great" Powers and makes them tremble, every one of them. That power is the Revolution. Long silent and retired, it is now again called to action by the commercial crisis, and by the scarcity of food. From Manchester to Rome, from Paris to Warsaw and Pesth, it is omnipresent, lifting up its head and awaking from its slumbers. Manifold are the symptoms of its returning life, everywhere visible in the agitation and disquietude which have seized the proletarian class. A signal only is wanted, and this sixth and greatest European power will come forward, in shining armor, and sword in hand, like Minerva from the head of the Olympian. This signal the impending European war will give, and then all calculations as to the balance of power will be upset by the addition of a new element which, ever buoyant and youthful, will as much baffle the plans of the old European Powers, and their Generals, as it did from 1792 to 1800.

First published simultaneously in English in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 3992, February 2, 1854, as a leader,
and in German in Die Reform, February 3 and 4, 1854


[a] J. W. Dundas and F. Hamelin.—Ed.

[b] Pius IX.—Ed.

[c] Napoléon Lucien Charles Murat, son of Joachim Murat, Marshal of France and King of Naples.—Ed.

[371] This article was published in The Eastern Question.

[372] During his Italian campaigns of 1795-96 and 1800, Napoleon Bonaparte took advantage of the Italian republican and national liberation movement against Austrian feudal-absolutist rule in order to establish French supremacy in some of the Italian states; some Italian regions were annexed to France.

[373] A reference to the abolition of the Roman Republic and the restoration of the secular power of the Pope in July 1849, as a result of French military intervention initiated by Louis Bonaparte after he had been elected President of the French Republic.

[374] During the war of the Bavarian succession (1778-79), waged between Austria and the allied Prussia and Saxony, the Prussian Government made attempts to gain Tsarist Russia's support, and this enabled the latter to play the role of arbiter during the Teschen peace negotiations. However, Prussia's plans were frustrated by the defence alliance concluded in 1780 between Russia and Austria.

In 1800, during the war of France against the second anti-French coalition, Prussia tried to act as the mediator between the belligerent powers, but as a result was itself isolated.

In 1805, during the war of the third coalition (Austria, Britain, Sweden and Russia) against Napoleonic France, Prussia took a neutral stand, waiting to see how the situation developed. After Austria's defeat and withdrawal from the war, Prussia joined the allies, who formed a fourth anti-French coalition in September 1806, but in October was routed by Napoleon's troops.

[375] The Paixhans guns were used in the navy. They were invented by the French General Paixhans in 1822 to fire hollow explosive shells. They are described by Engels in his article "Navy" (see present edition, Vol. 18).

[376] In the battle of Jena on October 14, 1806 the Prussian troops were defeated by Napoleon's army. This resulted in Prussia's capitulation.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.553-558), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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