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The Sevastopol Hoax.—
General News

Karl Marx and Frederick Engels

London, Friday, Oct. 6, 1854

It is impossible to describe the excitement and suspense of the English during the week. On Saturday last the dispatch about the victory of the Alma was proclaimed by the Lord Mayor[a] before the Exchange, with the sound of the trumpet; but the unauthenticated news of the fall of Sevastopol spread all over the country. All the world was taken in. Napoleon announced it to his army at Boulogne, the English and French papers contained leaders on the happy event, the Emperor of Austria congratulated the Emperor and the Queen upon their success, but cautiously did not mention Sevastopol; bonfires were lighted, and the cannon boomed. We soon obtained the dispatch which originated all this joy and exultation; and indeed it proved to proceed from a very suspicious source. A Tartar—that is to say, a Turkish postman—has arrived at Bucharest with dispatches from Constantinople for Omer Pasha, which, as the General was absent, had to be sent to him unopened—therefore we don't know their contents. But the postman related that at his departure from Constantinople the town was illuminated, and that orders were given to continue the illumination for ten days. He concluded, therefore, that Sevastopol was taken, and gave just such details as a Turkish or London postboy could give in a pothouse. He mentioned 18,000 Russians killed, but only 200 guns taken, though the forts contain above 500 guns; 22,000 Russians were of course prisoners, since it was known that the garrison amounted to about 40,000. The fleet was first taken; then again a portion of it was destroyed, and Prince Menchikoff was on the point of blowing himself up with the remainder, &c., &c.

But it remained rather curious that such an important event had not been communicated by Lord Redcliffe to the Consul at Bucharest[b], and that no dispatch had reached the French Government. Still, the news was too good not to be believed, and accordingly it was believed. Next day, it is true, there arrived a report from St. Petersburg mentioning a dispatch of Prince Menchikoff of the 26th, which showed that after the battle of the Alma he was retreating toward Simferopol. Still the papers believed that it was a misprint, and that the real date of the dispatch was the 20th, rather than to give up the agreeable delusion of the fall of Sevastopol at the first onset. To-day, however, has brought the English public to reason; the miraculous capture of a great fortress without a siege proves to have been a cruel hoax, which. will make the papers more cautious in future.

In Spain disturbances have taken place not only in Malaga, where the Republican party, as I remarked in my last letter, is very strong[362], but even in Logroño, where Espartero resided for many years; and in Jaen, the telegraph adds that a Republican conspiracy has been discovered, and that the Infant Don Enrique, the brother of the idiotic husband[c] of the Queen[d], has been exiled to the Balearic Islands. Still the excitement about Sevastopol is so great that nobody pays attention to Spain.

In Denmark the Diet was opened on the 2d. The royal speech from the throne[e] breathes defiance to the Assembly. It was received by hisses and by hearty cheers for the Constitution. The Frankfort Journal[f] reiterates the statement that the allied powers have resolved to reconsider the famous treaty of the 8th of May, 1852[363], by which the succession to the Danish throne was eventually made over to the Emperor of Russia. Urquhart has not ceased to bring this discreditable piece of European diplomacy before the public over and over again, and his endeavors seem now at last to have succeeded[g]. The object of this movement, if there be anything in the rumor, is simply by reopening the question to get Prussia, who dissented from that protocol, to ally herself with the western powers. It is worthy of note that Palmerston called the protocol, like the treaty of 1840, measures against Russia, while its suspension is now to be considered as an act of hostility toward Russia.

Austria is reported to have sent a note to St. Petersburg, offering once more the four conditions as the basis of peace[h], and declaring that the refusal of the Czar to accept them will be taken for a casus belli by Francis Joseph. This is one of the results of the victories in the Crimea.

The following observations on a recent article in The Economist are taken from the trade circular of Messrs. Smith & Charles:

"Of all the announcements or intimations that have appeared since the war began, that put forth on Saturday last by The Economist is by far the most important in a Russo-commercial point of view. It must be borne in mind that this weekly journal is the property of one of the Secretaries to the Treasury (Mr. Wilson) and hence the remarks to which we are about to draw attention may be regarded as semi-official. Having explained the course of exchange in Petersburg, and shown that, as a consequence of our trade with Prussia, British gold must necessarily be furnished by this country to Russia for its belligerent purposes; having stated that this was all foreseen by our Government, but that they considered such a state of things the lesser of two evils, The Economist proceeds to say, that after the fall of Sevastopol 'we shall be in undisturbed possession of the Black Sea and its shores, and masters of the Danube. But in the meantime Russia may take a posture which we can never by our arms reach, in the hope of wearying the patience of England, as in such a posture Russia can only be reached by her trade, and it may become a question whether our national interests will not dictate before long a different policy from that we have hitherto followed. We shall find that we blockade the ports in vain, so long as our produce finds a ready market through neighboring countries; so long as we permit Prussia to profit so much by being the medium through which our blockade of Russian shores can be so easily evaded, &c.... If, therefore, considerations of general policy shall render it needful again to consider the question of the extent to which the blockade shall be enforced and the trade restricted by land as well as by sea,' &c. The Economist concludes with a most solemn warning, saying: 'It will be well for those who are disposed to engage in such hazardous undertakings (as supplying the Russians with capital to purchase goods in the winter, to be forwarded to this country next year) to consider that it may be found needful to pursue a very different policy in the second year of a Russian campaign, from that which was wisest and best in the first.' We need hardly point out that the upshot of all this (and we strongly recommend our friends carefully to consider the entire article) is, that the Allied Powers have determined—as the only way of bringing the war to a close—to prohibit the overland traffic next year; and to prevent capitalists from embarking in a trade which will then be prohibited, the Government has very considerately allowed one of the Secretaries of the Treasury to make known their intentions in sufficient time to prevent the serious consequences to our merchants which would otherwise ensue. On Saturday the tallow market was quiet, at a shade under Friday's prices. It is probable that but for the article in The Economist, to which we have drawn attention, our market would have declined to-day in consequence of the news from Sevastopol, there being an opinion that the fall of this important fortress is likely to bring the Emperor to terms. Our opinion is the very reverse, and that the catastrophe in question is calculated only to excite the exasperation of the Czar, and to lead him to seek revenge in some other direction. It is quite certain that until he is compelled to fly from his own great cities he may consider himself not utterly beaten, and he has too much at stake to give in until he is driven to the utmost extremity. We therefore look on this war as one which may be protracted through many years, unless the course intimated by The Economist as likely to be adopted by the allies is actually put in force."[i]

The Moniteur of the 5th October announces that Barbès, for the last three years a prisoner at Belle-île, has been set at liberty without condition by order of Bonaparte on account of a letter in which he expresses anxious feelings of hope for the success of Decembrist civilization against Muscovite civilization[364], the former of which, by the way, has recently manifested itself at Athens by reproducing the days of June, 1849[365]—the French Soldateska there seizing an "obnoxious" newspaper editor, burning his books and letters, and throwing him into prison. From this moment Barbès has ceased to be one of the revolutionary chiefs of France. By declaring his sympathies for the French arms in whatever cause, and under whatever command they may be employed, he has irretrievably associated himself with the Muscovites themselves, sharing their indifference as to the object of their campaigns. Barbès and Blanqui have long shared the real supremacy of revolutionary France. Barbès never ceased to calumniate and throw suspicion upon Blanqui as in connivance with the Government. The fact of his letter and of Bonaparte's order decides the question as to who is the man of the Revolution and who not.

Written on October 5 and 6, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4215, October 21, 1854
Reproduced from the newspaper


[a] Sidney.—Ed.

[b] Colquhoun.—Ed.

[c] Francisco de Asis.—Ed.

[d] Isabella II.—Ed.

[e] Reference to the speech made by Frederick VII.—Ed.

[f] Frankfurter Journal.—Ed.

[g] The reference is to Chapter IV ("Treaty of the 8th of May, 1852") in: D. Urquhart, Progress of Russia.—Ed.

[h] See this volume, pp. 579-84.—Ed.

[i] "Money Market and City News", The Morning Post, No. 25195, October 3, 1854.—Ed.

[362] Events in Malaga are not mentioned in Marx's article published in the Tribune. Marx presumably refers to his article written on September 8, 1854 which was not published by the Tribune editors (see Note 346↓). If this material was contained in some other article, the Tribune editors omitted it.

[363] The reference is to the London Protocol of May 8, 1852 recognising the integrity of the Danish monarchy, signed by Austria, Britain, France, Denmark, Prussia, Russia and Sweden. It established the indivisibility of the lands belonging to the Danish Crown, including the Duchy of Schleswig-Holstein. The Protocol mentioned the Russian Emperor among the lawful claimants to the Danish throne (as a descendant of Duke Charles Peter Ulrich of Holstein-Gottorp, who reigned in Russia as Peter III), who waived their rights in favour of Duke Christian of Glücksburg-Gottorp, who was proclaimed successor to King Frederick VII.

[364] The reference is to Napoleon III's order of October 3, 1854, by which Armand Barbès, sentenced to life imprisonment for participation in revolutionary actions of the Paris workers on May 15, 1848, was released from prison unconditionally. This order followed the interception of a private letter written by Barbès on September 18, 1854, in which he welcomed the war with Russia and wished the French troops success in "the name of civilisation The order and an excerpt from the letter were published in Le Moniteur universel on October 5, 1854. After his release, on October 11, Barbès wrote a letter to the editors of the Moniteur acknowledging the authenticity of the letter and stating that "the greatness of France had always been his religion" but that he had always been and remained an enemy of the Bonapartist regime. The letter was published in the democratic press; on October 18, 1854 it appeared in the weekly L'Homme. Journal de la démocratie universelle published in 1853-55 in Jersey, and subsequently in London by the petty-bourgeois emigrants.

[365] Marx has in mind the events of June 13, 1849 when a peaceful anti-government demonstration organised by the Montagnards was dispersed; the editorial offices of democratic and socialist papers were raided and the principal ones among them were banned.

[346] This presumably refers to Marx's article, not yet found, which was entered in the Notebook as "Freitag. 8 September. Turkey. Russians Refusal. Prussia. Spain". Part of the material from Marx's article, particularly that concerning Spain, may have been included by the Tribune editors in Pulszky's report published in the newspaper on September 22, 1854.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.488-491), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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