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The Press and The Military System

Karl Marx

London, January 3.

A correspondent of The Times writes from the encampment at Sevastopol:

"It is said that the Emperor Nicholas engages to send all that are left of us in the spring away in a single line-of-battle ship."[a]

There follows a graphic description of the mortality, distress, disorder and disintegration prevailing in the English camp. Today this state of affairs provides almost the exclusive subject for the leading articles in London's daily press.

"The British army," says The Times, "is found to be no army at all in the general military sense of the word. It is a mob of brave men, not more than a mob, and rather less, inasmuch as it is evidently commanded by those who should not command it, and so deprived of its rude natural efficiency.... The command of the British army before Sevastopol is worse than a mere name... it is deliberately asserted by officers of distinction that the army might just as well be commanded by its sergeants as by the men who pretend to command it. We are aware that it is a painful act to supersede brave and loyal men, full of honours and years."[b]

However, à la guerre comme à la guerre.

"If there ever was a Ministry that had its path open for such a measure it is the present."


"Because it put off the war as long as it could," that is why the "Government surely has the game in its own hands, and is bound by no respect of persons."

Well roared, lion![c] It is because the present Ministry is conducting the war with Russia against its own will that mistakes in the conduct of the war cannot be ascribed to it, but must be blamed on the commanding general, and the public must understand that it is not the Ministry that stands in Lord Raglan's way, but Lord Raglan who stands in the way of the Ministry.

While The Times thus attacks Lord Raglan in order to shield the Ministry, The Morning Chronicle, the Peelite organ, attacks The Times, ostensibly to defend Lord Raglan, but really so as gratefully to accept The Times admission of the Ministry's innocence, to exploit it, and, at the same time, to create a diversion by a sham fight between two ministerial organs.

According to the worthy Chronicle:

"The despondency which has enveloped public opinion for the last few days, must, we regret to write it, be attributed to the sole influence of The Times. Events have been blackened, disasters exaggerated, the well-earned reputations of our general officers aspersed, and the Briton's proverbial generosity towards the absent disdained, with the sole view of causing a sensation—of creating an effect. It is, however, on the head of Field-Marshal Lord Raglan that the rancour and venom of these attacks have been accumulated.... The distress to which the army in the Crimea was reduced from the commencement of December until the last accounts, which are more favourable, must chiefly be attributed to the terrible hurricane of the 13th of November...."[d]

And the Ministry is magnanimous enough not to blame Lord Raglan for the hurricane of November 13. So all that is left is the claptrap of The Times.

Now we come to that section of the London press which represents certain special interests within the Ministry, that is, The Daily News, for some time Palmerston's secret organ, and The Morning Post which, for years, has been his official organ.

"Our administrative systems," says The Daily News, "are nearly as unchangeable as if they had been contrived by the Medes and Persians. [...] let an unforeseen crisis impend—and they utterly and disastrously break down. Yet in face of the most appalling sacrifices of life and property they are seldom so changed or modified as to enable them to meet similar catastrophes in future.... It is nearly the same now with the War Department. It was hoped that, when a Minister of War[e] was appointed, all the active business of the army would be concentrated under his responsible management.... Up to this day not a single abuse has it reformed, not [...] a particle of improvement has it effected.... Shall we blame the Duke of Newcastle? or shall we not rather strike at a deeper root, and aim the axe of Reform at the paralysing system, [...] a system that confines the functions of the state to the [...] 'cold shade of aristocracy'? ... In truth, whatever the merits of the Duke of Newcastle may be, he is not the official Hercules to be able to extinguish the system... but what he cannot do, the [...] people of England will insist upon having done."[f]

The Daily News is still new in its ministerial role. Besides, it has to take into account its bourgeois public. Nevertheless, one realises at first sight that the point of the article is the "official Hercules" who is needed. And who is this official Hercules? And how is one to come by him? The Morning Post provides the answer. It says:

"To begin by attacking Lord Raglan is certainly commencing at the wrong end, [...] Lord Raglan is" above the attacks of The Times.... But, "there can be no doubt about the shortcomings of the Government at home.... Take simply the War Department, is it to be conducted throughout in the spirit and after the model of the last nine months?... Let it be remembered that the army abroad is entirely at the mercy of the Administration at home.... Of what terrible importance is it, then, that the head of this department have a master mind, and work like a master.... The old system, it is said, stands in the way. But the master mind would, ere this, have kicked the system to the winds on his own responsibility.... The secret is, that the head of the Government is a dead weight upon Departmental exertion. The slow movement of the Aberdeen pulse communicates itself to every member of the Administration and gives its tone and time to the whole system.... The whole be re-cast, and a real and vigorous head put upon its shoulders."[g]

In other words: make Palmerston Prime Minister. He is the official Hercules of whom The Daily News has been dreaming, the same Palmerston whom Lord Melbourne, at the suggestion of the Russian Princess Lieven, appointed Foreign Secretary in 1830; who, in the Afghan war[408], had sacrificed a British army in so mysterious a manner that Sir Robert Peel, in a public session of the House of Commons, threatened him with "revelations"[h] if he [Lord Palmerston] continued to provoke him with his boasting: the same Palmerston who was able to steer the offensive alliance against Russia proposed by France in 1839 and apparently already operative so adroitly that one fine day in 1840 it had been transformed into an Anglo-Russian alliance against France[409]. Although Palmerston is the most influential member of the present Administration, who acts, and must act, as its champion in all parliamentary circles, he continually summons up all his diploma-tic skill to appear in the press as the determined opponent of Aberdeen and thus to preserve his popularity should the Coalition be wrecked. At the same time, the opposition is kept from taking decisive steps and kept in a state of futile tension about the internal quarrels of the Ministry. For instance, today, for the hundredth time the Tory Morning Herald has fallen into the trap by declaring the breaking up of the Coalition to be final and talking at great length about the patriotic indignation of Palmerston and Russell against Aberdeen, Newcastle and Gladstone[i]. Ad vocem[j] Gladstone, it should be noted that, according to a leading article about the French loan in today's Chronicle[k], Gladstone does not intend resorting to loans, but is determined to conduct the war through direct taxation, that is to say, in the most unpopular, oppressive and uneconomical form.

Written on January 3, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 9, January 6, 1855
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] Letter of a British army officer from the encampment at Sevastopol dated December 12, 1854. The Times, No. 21941, January 3, 1855.—Ed.

[b] The Times, No. 21941, January 3, 1855, leader.—Ed.

[c] Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act V, Scene 1.—Ed.

[d] The Morning Chronicle, No. 27464, January 3, 1855, leader.—Ed.

[e] The Duke of Newcastle.—Ed.

[f] The Daily News, No. 2691, January 3, 1855.—Ed.

[g] The Morning Post, No. 25274, January 3, 1855, leader.—Ed.

[h] Sir Peel's speech in the House of Commons on August 10, 1842. Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, third series, Vol. 65, London, 1842, pp. 1268-90.—Ed.

[i] The Morning Herald, No. 22319, January 3, 1855, leader.—Ed.

[j] With regard to.—Ed.

[k] The Morning Chronicle, No. 27464, January 3, 1855, leader.—Ed.

[408] The reference is to the Anglo-Afghan war of 1838-42 in which the British forces were utterly defeated.

[409] The reference is to the London Convention of July 15, 1840 between Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia on supporting the Turkish Sultan against the Egyptian ruler Mehemet Ali (see Note 28↓). France, who supported Mehemet Ali, did not participate. The threat of an anti-French coalition made France give up her support of the Egyptian ruler.

[28] In 1839 war broke out between Turkey and Egypt, aggravating the Eastern problem and the conflict between the Great Powers. The Western states were afraid that Russia would intervene separately in the Turko-Egyptian war and sent a collective note to the Sultan suggesting their collaboration. However, the struggle between Britain and France for spheres of influence in the Middle East, in Egypt in particular, led to the signing of the London Convention of July 15, 1840 on measures of military aid to the Sultan by Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia without France. The last-named, relying on Mehemet Ali, was soon compelled to yield and leave Egypt to its fate. On July 13, 1841 the London Convention on the Black Sea Straits was signed by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Prussia, on the one hand, and Turkey, on the other. The convention laid down that in peacetime the Bosphorus and Dardanelles would be closed to warships of all powers. Marx called this convention the treaty of the Dardanelles.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.560-563), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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