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The War in the East[385]

Karl Marx

London, January 14, 1854

At last, this long-pending "Eastern Question" appears to have reached a step where diplomacy will not much longer be enabled to monopolise this ground for its ever shifting and ever resultless movements. On the 3rd inst. 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. Once before the Czar Nicholas has declared that such a step would be, for him, the signal for a declaration of war. Will he now stand it quietly? There is a report to-day that the combined French and English fleets, together with the first division of the Turkish navy, are transporting 17,000 Turks to Batum. If this be correct, it is as much an act of war as if they made a direct attack upon Sebastopol, and the Czar cannot but declare war at once.

But would Russia stand alone? Which part would Austria and Prussia take in a general war?

It is reported that Louis Bonaparte has notified to the Austrian Government that, if in case of a conflict with Russia, Austria allied with this power, the French Government would avail itself of the elements of insurrection, which, in Italy and Poland, only required a spark to be kindled again into a raging fire, and that then the restoration of Italian and Polish nationality would be attempted by France. The Austrian government, however, we may confidently assume, will be more influenced by its own financial embarrassments than by the threats of Bonaparte.

The state of the Austrian Exchequer may be inferred from the late augmentation of its depreciated notes and from the recent expedient of the government enacting a discount of 15 pct. upon the paper money issued by themselves. This device, working the depreciation of their own paper, perhaps carries tax making ingenuity to its perfection, it is putting a tax on the payment of taxes. According to the German papers, the Austrian budget for 1854 will show a deficit of 45,000,000 firs. on the ordinary service, and 50,000,000 firs. on the extraordinary. For the 100th time Austria is moving towards a loan, but in a manner which promises no success. It is now proposed to raise a loan of 50,000,000 firs. for the ostensible purpose of paying interest due and some other pressing demands.

When the news of the intended entrance of the united squadron into the Black Sea reached Vienna, the money changers had enough to do to change paper currency for silver coin. People with 100 and 200 florins thronged to their counting-houses with a view to secure their endangered treasures. Nevertheless, on the decisive moment, the influence of St. Petersburg at Vienna will be paramount and entangle Austria, on the side of Russia, into the coming struggle. As to Prussia, she is attempting the same game as in 1780, in 1800 and 1805[386], to form a league of neutral Baltic or Northern German States, at the head of which she might play a part of some importance and turn to which side was to offer her the greatest advantages.

That the Turko-European fleets can destroy Sebastopol and the Russian Black Sea fleet, that they can take possession of, and hold the Crimea, occupy Odessa, close the Sea of Azov and let loose the mountaineers of the Caucasus, there is no doubt. The measures to be taken in the Baltic are as self-evident as those in the Black Sea: 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, to menace Petersburg while the fleet bombards Kronstadt.

All will depend on the maritime powers of Europe acting resolutely and vigorously.

The New Prussian Gazette of the 29th ult. confirms the account of the Emperor of Russia having ordered all the forces in his empire to be placed on a war-footing. Not only has he withdrawn his deposits from the banks of England and France, but also ordered voluntary collections to be raised on the part of his nobility, and the railways in progress to be suspended, in order to devote to war all the men and money required for their construction.

On the other hand armaments in France are going on more actively than ever, the second moiety of the contingent of 800,000 men of the class of 1852 having been called out. In France, too, a loan of 200,000,000 frs. (about £8,000,000) has long been contemplated, but the dearth of food, the failure in the wine and silk crops, the prevailing commercial and industrial distress, the great apprehensions entertained about the payments to be made at the end of February, the downward tendency of the funds and railway shares, all these circumstances tend by no means to facilitate such a transaction.

It is the intention of the British Government, as we are informed by The Times, to raise the number of seamen and marines for the current year to 53,000 men, which is an increase of about 8,000 on the number voted for last year, and a further addition to the 5,000 men, raised under the orders of Lord Derby's administration[a]. The total increase in the Navy since 1852 may therefore be stated of about 13,000 men. For the force now to be raised for the service of the fleet 38,000 will be seamen and boys, and 15,000 marines.

At last the murder is out, as regards the affair of Sinope. The statements published of the relative strength of Russia and Turkey at that place, show that the Russians had 3 steam two-deckers, one three-decker and 680 guns on their side more than the Turkish forces. So considered the event of Sinope has added nothing to Russia's power, and taken nothing from that of Turkey, but the reverse. Here we have seen a fact without parallel even in our own annals frigates laying themselves alongside line-of-battle ships, and commanders casting the torch into the powder magazine and offering themselves up for holocaust on their country's shrine. The real maritime force of Turkey is untouched; not a line-of-battle ship, not a steamer having been sacrificed. This is not all. According to the last intelligence received, one of the finest three-deckers of the Russian fleet, the Rostislav, 120-gun ship, has been sunk by the Turks. This fact, kept back hitherto under the specious pretext that the Rostislav did not sink during the action, but immediately afterwards, is now admitted by the Russians, and forms a good set-off against the destroyed Turkish ships[387]. If one three-decker was actually sunk, we may expect that the other Russian vessels received very serious harm indeed during the action, and after all the victory of Sinope may have more disabled the Russian than the Turkish fleet. When the Pasha of Egypt[b] heard of the disaster at Sinope, he ordered the immediate armament of 6 frigates, 5 corvettes and 3 brigs, destined to fill up the chasm which has been produced in the material of the Turkish fleet.

The Egyptian steam-frigate Pervaz-Bahri disabled and taken after nearly five hours' struggle by the far larger Russian steam-frigate Vladimir, was so riddled with shot that she could hardly be brought into Sebastopol, and when there, sank at once. The Pervaz-Bahri was only carried into the harbour of Sebastopol by the aid of its chief engineer, Mr. Bell, an Englishman, who was promised on the part of Admiral Korniloff, if he succeeded in taking her there in safety, to be set immediately at liberty. When arrived at Sebastopol, instead of being released, Mr. Bell and his sub-engineers and stokers were put into close confinement, with the miserable allowance of 3d. a-day for their maintenance and given to understand that they would have to march 80 miles on foot, at this inclement season, into the interior. Prince Menchikoff, who commands at Sebastopol, was approved by the Czar and his Ministers, who turned a deaf ear to the representations of our Consul at Odessa[c] and the British Ambassador at St. Petersburg[d]. It was already known that at the battle of Sinope two English merchant men, following private trade, were headlessly and ruthlessly involved in the general destruction. The following is the simple narrative of the destruction of one of those vessels as given by a French paper:

"On the 30th November the brigantine Howard, belonging to Bideford, a seaport in the South of England, had finished the discharge of a cargo of coals to the Austrian Consul, Mr. Pirentz, at Sinope, and was then at anchor taking in ballast with a view of sailing to Fatsah for a cargo of corn, which she had engaged to carry to England, when the Russian fleet suddenly came in sight, and without giving any notice whatever, or affording any opportunity for foreign vessels to remove out of danger, commenced a heavy fire of shot and shells on the Turkish fleet lying at anchor and in a few minutes entirely destroyed the Howard and other merchant vessels in the harbour."[e]

This atrocious infraction of international law is paraded in the Odessa bulletin, while the Russian journals simultaneously announced in insulting language that, while the English fleets dared not enter the Black Sea, the English Government dared not refuse the use of its dockyards to repair a Russian man-of-war.

The latest mails have brought us more supplementary news with regard to the military events which lately took place in Asia. It appears that the Turks have been compelled entirely to evacuate the Russo-Armenian territory, but the precise result of the engagements, which determined this retreat, is not vet known[f]. One Turkish corps had penetrated on the direct road to Akhalzikh from Ardahan, while another body took the more southern road from Kars by Alexandropol (in Georgian, Gümri) to Tiflis. Both these corps, it appears, were met by the Russians. According to the Russian accounts the Turks were routed on either line and lost about 40 pieces of cannon; as to the Turkish accounts, we have nothing official, but in private correspondence the retreat is explained by the necessity of going into winter quarters. Certain it is, that the Turks have evacuated the Russian territory with the exception of Fort St. Nicholas, that the Russians followed them, and that their advanced guard even ventured to within a mile of Kars, where it was repulsed. We know, besides, that the Turkish army of Anatolia, recruited as it is from the Asiatic provinces, the seat of old Moslem barbarism, and counting in its ranks a great number of irregulars, unreliable though generally brave soldiers of adventure, fancy warriors, and filibusters of Kurdistan that this army of Anatolia, is nothing like the staid, disciplined and drilled army of Rumelia, where the commander knows how many and what men he has from day to day under his command, and where the thirst for independent adventure and private plunder is held under check by articles of war and courts martial. We know that the Russians, very hard up for troops in the beginning of the Asiatic campaign, have been reinforced by the 13th division of infantry (16,000 men) under Lieut.-General Obrucheff II, and by a body of Cossacks from the Don; we know that they have been able to keep the mountaineers in bounds, to maintain their communication as well across the Caucasus by Vladikavkaz as by sea to Odessa and Sebastopol. Under these circumstances, and considering that the Turkish commander Abdi Pasha was either a traitor or a dunce (he has been recalled since and Ahmed Pasha has been sent in his stead), we should not wonder at all if the Turks had been worsted, although there can be no doubt of the exaggeration prevailing in the Russian bulletins.

On the Danube, the Russians have some time ago attacked Matchin, a fort situated on an arm of the Danube. A steamer came up with two gunboats; they were met by a hot fire; the gunboats, it is said, were sunk, and the steamer so far damaged that it had to make the best of its way home. Three or four skirmishes occurred, partly between the outposts at Kalafat, partly between the Russian posts on the Danube and small Turkish parties who crossed the river in order to surprise them. The Turks ascribe to themselves the advantage in all the encounters. It is to be regretted that the Turkish irregulars, fit more for this duty than for any other, have not long since been ordered to carry on this war on a small scale with the greatest activity. They would have proved more than a match for the Cossacks, disorganized the necessarily faulty system of outposts of the enemy, faulty because extending over a line 300 miles in length; they would have disturbed the Russian plans, obtained a perfect knowledge of the enemy's movements and might with proper caution and boldness have been victorious in every encounter.

From telegraphic news, received this moment, it appears that

"on the 6th of this month, a Turkish division, 15,000 strong, with 15 pieces of artillery, attacked the entrenched position of Chetatea, not far from Kalafat, and took it with storm; that the Russians lost 2,500 men, and that a reinforcement of 18,000 Russians marching from Karaul, was forced to retire with a loss of 250 men."[g]

According to another report, the great majority of the population of Lesser Wallachia has risen against, and Krajova been placed in a state of siege by, the Russians.

Meanwhile Russia exhausted herself in efforts to seduce or alarm in all quarters of the world, on our Indian frontiers, in Persia, Servia, Sweden, Denmark, &c. In Persia the British minister had had a difference with the Government of the Shah, who was on the point of yielding, when the Russian Ambassador interposed not only to exasperate the Shah against England, but to drive him into active hostility too, and a declaration of war against the Porte. This intrigue, however, is said to have been baffled by the British Chargé d'Affaires, Mr. Thompson's menace of withdrawing from Teheran, by the dread of an immediate explosion from the dislike of the Persian people for Russia, and by the arrival of an Afghan Embassy, threatening, if Persia formed an alliance with Russia, an invasion of the Persian territory by the Afghans.

A crowd of Russian agents was simultaneously overrunning Servia seeking out and applying themselves to the places and persons formerly known by their attachment to the banished family of the Obrenović speaking to some of the young Prince Michael to others of his old father Miloš now making them hope, through the protection of Russia, for the extension of the limits of Servia the formation of a new kingdom of Illyria, which should unite all those who spoke the Servian language actually under the domination of Turkey and Austria, and now announcing to them, in case of resistance, innumerable armies and utter subjugation. Notwithstanding these intrigues, in opposite senses, that Russia ceased not to carry on, she has not succeeded in breaking the bonds between the Servians and the Sultan[h], but, on the contrary, two firmans were expected from Constantinople at Bel-grade, the one suppressing all the relations existing between Servia and Russia, and the other confirming all the privileges conceded, at different epochs, to the Servian people. Then, the Russian Government has actively pursued negotiations at Stockholm and Copenhagen, for the purpose of inducing the governments of Sweden and Denmark to side with her in the approaching European struggle; the great object she has in securing their alliance being to obtain the closing of the passages of the Sound and Belts against the Western Powers. All she has effected till now, is the conclusion of a treaty between Sweden, Denmark and Prussia concerning an armed neutrality, and preparations of armaments, ostensibly directed against herself. Private letters from Sweden exult in the possibility of the Duchy of Finland, so shamefully seized by Russia without a declaration of war, being restored to the Scandinavian Kingdom. As to Denmark, the attitude, not of the people, but of the Court, is more equivocal. It is even rumoured that the present Danish Minister of Foreign Affairs[i] will resign and be replaced by Count Reventlow-Criminil, a man known to be intimately connected with the Court of St. Petersburg. In France the "fusion" of the Orleanists and Legitimists[388] owes to Russia the sort of success it has met with, while that same power is stirring up heaven and earth to destroy the entente cordiale existing between the Governments of England and France and to sow distrust between them. Attempts are being made by some of the Paris journals, in the pay of Mr. Kisseleff, to create a belief that the English Government is not sincere, and we see that in England a journal, in the pay of Mr. de Brunnow, in return casts doubts on the sincerity of the French Government. Another blow, principally aimed against the Western powers, is the Russian prohibition relative to the exportation of Polish corn.

In the meantime the movements of Western diplomacy were by no means hostile to Russia, but exhibited, on the contrary, rather too anxious a tendency to temporise with justice and to compromise with crime. It is now obvious to everyone that their course has been a mistaken and a mischievous one. The resurrection of the Vienna conference and the protocol drawn up by them on the 5th ult., the letter of the French and British Ambassadors at Constantinople to Reshid Pasha[389], the collective note of the 4 Great Powers presented to the Porte on the 15th, and accepted by the Sultan on the 31st ult., the circular of Mr. Drouyn de Lhuys, announcing the entrance of the united fleets into the Black Sea, to the French diplomatic agents, dated 30th ult., such are the principal events of the diplomatic history of the last 6 weeks[j]. As to the protocol of the Vienna conference, your readers will have been informed of its contents before now. Can there be anything more ludicrous than its assertion that

"the assurances given on several occasions by the Emperor of Russia exclude the idea that that august Sovereign entertains any wish to interfere with the integrity of the Ottoman Empire,"[k]

and anything more mischievous than its urging on Turkey the propriety of consenting to a month's armistice? Two days after the news of the disgraceful butchery at Sinope had reached Constantinople on the 5th ult., Reshid Pasha addressed a letter to Lord Stratford de Redcliffe and General Baraguay D'Hilliers, communicating the news from Sinope and asking that the fleets might enter the Black Sea. On the 12th, a week after the date of Reshid Pasha's note, he received a very indifferent answer on the part of the two Ambassadors, intimating to him that

"the presence of the United Squadron had 'a political signification', consequently no military one, and that it was a 'moral support', consequently no naval one."

Thus the Porte was coerced into the acceptance of the joint Note of the 4 Powers presented to her on the 15th December. This note grants the Porte not only no compensation whatever for the losses she has undergone consequent upon the piratical acts of the Autocrat; it insists not only upon the renewal of all the ancient treaties of Kainardji, Adrianople, Unkiar-Skelessi, etc., which have furnished, for a century and a half, the arsenal from which Russia has drawn her weapons of fraud, interference, progress and incorporation; but it allows the Czar to carry the point of the religious protectorate and administrative dictation over Turkey by stipulating that

"the communication of the firmans relative to the spiritual privileges octroyed by the Sublime Porte to all its subjects not Mussulmen, should be made to all the Powers, and accompanied by suitable assurances given to each of them,"

and that the Porte shall declare on its part its firm resolution to develop more efficaciously its administrative system and internal reforms.

These new propositions, while in their letter investing the 5 Powers of Europe with a joint protectorate over the Christian subjects of Turkey, give in reality the protectorate to Russia alone. The arrangement is to be, that France and Austria being Roman Catholic countries, are to have the protectorate over the Roman Catholic Christians in Turkey, and England and Prussia being Protestant countries, are to have the protectorate over the Protestant subjects of the Sultan, while Russia is to have the protectorate over those professing the Greek faith. Now, as the Roman Catholics do not number 800,000, nor the Protestants 200,000, while those who profess the Greek religion amount to nearly 10,000,000, it is plain that the Czar would indeed acquire the protectorate over the Christian subjects in Turkey. These proposals of the 4 Powers were not accepted by the Porte till on the 19th ult., when Riza Pasha and Halil Pasha had entered the Ministry, the success of the Peace or Russian party having been thus assured.

On the 21st ult., when it became known that the Council of Ministers had notified to the four Ambassadors the adoption of the propositions, they had suggested, the Saftas (students) assembled to present a petition against the resolution taken by the government, and the outbreak of disturbances was only prevented by the arrest of the ringleaders. So great was the exasperation which prevailed at Constantinople, that the Sultan did not venture to repair on the following day to the Divan, nor proceed, as usual, amidst the thunder of the cannon, and the hurrahs of the foreign war crew, to the mosque of Tophana; and that Reshid Pasha fled for refuge from his own palace in Stambul to the palace contiguous to the residence of the Sultan. On the following day the public mind was somewhat calmed by a proclamation on the part of the Sultan, that no stop should be put to the military operations.

These tortuous, pusillanimous and inexplicable movements of the Western diplomacy, which, throughout the dreary history of the last 9 months, almost exhausted public patience, have thrown doubts upon the sincerity of the British Government, and, as the public feel themselves at a loss to understand the motives that may have caused the long endurance on the part of the Western Powers, secret influences are spoken of, and rumours are industriously spread, that Prince Albert, the husband of the Queen[l], is interfering in the affairs of the Executive; that he is not only attending on his Sovereign Lady at the meetings of her Council, but is using his influence to control the advice of the responsible advisers; that, while exercising his opportunity to be present at the meeting of the Queen with her Ministers, he is in constant and direct communication with foreign courts, including the Russian one, but except that of France. Another tale is, that the "fusion" of the Orléans and elder Bourbon branches of the late royal family of France receives almost as much countenance from our Court as it does from that of Russia, and the visit of the Duke of Nemours at the Court of Queen Victoria, fresh from the meeting with "Henry the Fifth"[m], is pointed at as a proof.

A fourth report, that the negotiations in the Eastern question, have, with the assent of Russia, been delegated to the sole intermediation of Count Buol-Schauenstein, brother-in-law of Count Meyendorff, is cited as evidence that this government has never desired independent or effective negotiations, but has, from the first, sought to aid the designs of Russia and her allies, while seeming to oppose her. Mr. Roebuck, it is confidently stated, will bring the whole question of Coburg influence before the House of 'Commons, while Lord Brougham is said to intend bringing it before the House of Lords. There is no doubt that the Coburg influences form, as this moment, the almost exclusive topic of conversation in the metropolis. Parliament will reassemble on the 31st instant.

So stern a winter as the present one has not been known since 1809. The intensity of the cold has been by no means the most trying incident; the incessant changes both of temperature and of the character of the weather have been far worse. The trains run on the railway with the greatest difficulty; in some parts transit appears to be quite cut off, and in the means of communication England is thrown back to times forgotten. The electric telegraph has been used to mitigate the inconvenience of commercial documents intercepted by snow drifts, and to prevent the noting of bills for unexplained non-payment. Nevertheless the noting of more than 500 bills in London illustrates the social anarchy occasioned by the uncommon inclemency of the season. The papers are filled with records of the fearful shipwrecks caused by the snow storms and gales, particularly on the Eastern coast. Although the recently published tables of trade, navigation and revenue[n] show a continuance of the prosperity with which 1853 began, the severity of the season, coupled with the rising prices of the first necessaries, principally of corn, coals and tallow, acts as a hard pressure upon the condition of the lower classes. Numerous cases of starvation have occurred. Bread riots in the West are now forming an accompaniment to the lock-outs in the North.

Time, however, compels to defer a detailed account of trade and commerce to a following letter.

Written on January 14, 1854
Reproduced from the newspaper, checked with the Dutch.
First published in the Zuid Afrikaan, March 6, 1854, in English and Dutch


[a] The Times, No. 21631, January 6, 1854.—Ed.

[b] Abbas Pasha.—Ed.

[c] J. James.—Ed.

[d] G. H. Seymour.—Ed.

[e] "Londres, 5 janvier", Journal des Débats, January 7, 1854.—Ed.

[f] The description of the engagement. at Akhalzikh of November 26, 1853 is given above, on pp. 550-52 of this volume.—Ed.

[g] Marx quotes from the report in The Times, No. 21638, January 14, 1954.—Ed.

[h] Abdul Mejid.—Ed.

[i] Ch. A. Bluhme.—Ed.

[j] On the note of the four powers and Drouyn de Lhuys' circular see this volume, pp. 560-61.—Ed.

[k] Quoted from The Times, No. 21615, December 19, 1853.—Ed.

[l] Victoria.—Ed.

[m] Comte de Chambord.—Ed.

[n] "Accounts Relating to Trade and Navigation for the Eleven Months Ended December 5, 1853", The Economist, No. 541, January 7, 1854.—Ed.

[385] This article was written by Marx for the newspaper Zuid Afrikaan published in Capetown simultaneously in English and Dutch. In December 1853 Marx received an invitation to contribute to this paper through the husband of his younger sister Louise, the Dutch businessman J. K. Juta. Only one of the three articles Marx sent to Zuid Afrikaan was published.

[386] 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.

[387] The report on the sinking of the Russian battleship Rostislav published in The Times, No. 21631, on January 9, 1854 was incorrect. According to Russian official documents, after the battle of Sinope the Rostislav returned safely to Sevastopol for repairs.

[388] A reference to the meeting of Count Chambord, the pretender to the French throne, with the Orleanist Duke Louis de Nemours, which took place at the end of 1853, and also Chambord's visit to Louis Philippe's widow at the beginning of 1854. However, this fresh attempt at merging the junior and senior branches of the Bourbon dynasty was unsuccessful.

[389] A reference to the Protocol signed on December 5, 1853 at the conference in Vienna by the representatives of Britain, France and Prussia and the Austrian Foreign Minister Buol. In this Protocol as in the subsequent Notes the four powers offered their mediation in the conflict between Russia and Turkey.

The letter of December 12, 1853, from the. French and British ambassadors to Constantinople, Baraguay d'Hilliers and Stratford de Redcliffe, to the Turkish Foreign Minister Reshid Pasha, stated that the presence of the French and British fleets in the Bosporus testified to the friendly intentions of the British and French governments towards Turkey and that in the event of the Tsarist Government landing its troops on Turkish territory their fleets would aid the Ottoman Empire.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.568-578), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979
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