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Two Crises

Karl Marx

London, February 6.

Public opinion is at present absorbed by two crises: the crisis of the Crimean army and the ministerial crisis. The former occupies the people; the latter, the clubs and drawing-rooms. According to the latest letters from the Crimea, which paint a gloomy picture, the English forces have shrunk from 14,000 to 12,000 men and the early relief of the siege of Sevastopol may be expected. In the meanwhile the drawing-room intrigue is being debated in the House of Commons. Lord [John] Russell and Mr. Gladstone[a] once more fill a whole sitting with lengthy discourses on, for and against the resignation of the great Russell from a Cabinet that has ceased to exist. No new facts are advanced by either side but the old ones are ventilated. Lord John is his own advocate, Gladstone the advocate of the Duke of Newcastle. The profound probings into the fitness of the latter as Secretary of State for War are endowed with new lustre[b] by the circumstance of there being no more army needing to be administered. Even the House of Commons, however, gave vent to its displeasure with its well-known, traditional grunting when at the end of his well-turned speech Gladstone let fall the words: "he wished that the whole misunderstanding (between Russell and Newcastle) could be revoked".

Hence it was not the vote of no confidence in the House, even less the destruction of an English army that caused the ministerial crisis, but it simply amounts to a "misunderstanding" between an old lord and a young duke. The Crimea is merely an excuse for the drawing-room intrigue. The misunderstanding between Ministry and Commons does not even merit the honour of a mention. That was too strong even for this House of Commons. Russell was a flop, Gladstone was a flop, the whole sitting was a flop.

Both Houses were notified that Lord Palmerston had been charged with the formation of a Ministry. But he encountered unexpected obstacles. Lord Grey refused to assume the management of a war of which he disapproved from the outset and still disapproved. A stroke of luck, this, for the army, whose discipline he most surely would have broken, just as he had broken the discipline of the colonies in his time. But Gladstone, Sidney Herbert and Graham also proved to be intractable. They demanded the restoration of the Peelites, lock, stock and barrel. These statesmen are aware that they form only a small clique commanding about 32 votes in the Commons. Only if its "great" talents keep together can this little clique hope to preserve its independence. A section of the leading Peelites in the Cabinet and another outside of it—this would be synonymous with the disappearance of this excellent club for statesmen. In the meantime Palmerston is trying his hardest to dictate to Parliament, in which he has no party, in the same way that he dictated to the Queen. His Cabinet is still not formed and he is already threatening in The Morning Post to appeal from the legislature to the people[c]. He threatens to dissolve the House should it dare "not to bestow on him the esteem which he enjoys outside the Palace of Westminster, amongst the public". This "public" is restricted to the journals half or wholly belonging to him. Wherever the people has recently made itself heard, e.g. at the meeting in Newcastle-upon-Tyne—whence petitions were addressed to Parliament to impeach the Ministry—Palmerston was denounced most vehemently as the secret leader of the late Coalition.

Now some additional information to complete the obituary of the "Cabinet of All the Talents". On November 30, 1853 occurred the incident at Sinope; on December 3 it became known in Constantinople; on December 12 the representatives [of the Four Powers] handed the Porte a note demanding greater concessions to Russia than the notorious Vienna note. On December 14 the British Government telegraphed to Vienna that Sinope should not interrupt the Vienna peace conference. Lord Palmerston attended the Cabinet meeting at which this was decided. He approved this decision but resigned from the Cabinet the following day on the pretext that the Reform Bill proposed by Russell conflicted with his conservative views. The real point was to wash his hands of the Sinope incident in front of the public. As soon as he had achieved this end he readily rejoined the Cabinet.

At the beginning of February 1854 Parliament is re-opened. The diplomatic documents on the Eastern troubles are ostensibly submitted to it. The most important papers are missing. Instead of receiving them from the British Ministers Parliament receives them from Tsar Nicholas via Petersburg[454]. The "Secret and Confidential Correspondence" published there makes it as clear as day to an astonished Parliament that its Ministers have deliberately duped it over foreign policy throughout the entire sessions of 1853 and 1854. It [the Correspondence] compels the Ministers on March 27 to make a declaration of war. On February 6 Palmerston had announced that he would be introducing a Bill' calling up the militia in Scotland and Ireland. But as soon as war is declared he postpones his Bill and does not introduce it until the end of June. On February 13 Russell introduces his Reform Bill, postpones the second reading until the end of April, withdraws it in March sobbing passionately and—hitherto having neither department nor salary—is rewarded for this sacrifice by his colleagues with a ministerial sinecure carrying a salary, being made Lord President of the Council, a minister extraordinary so to speak. On March 6 the great financier Gladstone presents his budget. He contents himself with doubling income tax for six months. He requests "only a sum which would be necessary to bring back the 25,000 men about to leave the British shores".

He has now been relieved of this worry by his colleague Newcastle. By May 8 he is already forced to present a second budget. On April 11 he declares himself opposed to any form of government loan; on April 21 he asks the House to sanction a loan of £6 million to meet the cost of his unfortunate conversion experiment with the national debt[d]. On April 7 Lord Grey makes his speech on the shortcomings of the English war administration. On June 2 the Ministry uses the proposed reform—just as it had used the Reform of India and the Cholera Reform—in order to create a new post. The War Office is separated from the Colonial Office. All else remains as before. The legislative achievements of the Ministry in this session may be summarised in this way: it introduces seven important Bills. It fails with three of them: the Settlement Bill, and the Bills for education in Scotland and for the alteration of the parliamentary oath. It withdraws three of them: the Bills for the prevention of electoral bribes, for the complete re-organisation of the Civil Service, and for the reform of Parliament. One Bill is passed, that for the reform of the University of Oxford, but so plastered with amendments that its original shape is no longer recognisable. The great diplomatic and military feats are fresh in everyone's memory. That was the "Cabinet of All the Talents".

Written on February 6, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 67, February 9, 1855
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in MECW


[a] The speeches of Lord John Russell and Mr. Gladstone in the House of Commons on February 5, 1855 were published in The Times, No. 21970, February 6, 1855.—Ed.

[b] Marx used the English word.—Ed.

[c] The Morning Post, No. 25303, February 6, 1855, leader.—Ed.

[d] The Times, No. 21722, April 22, 1854.—Ed.

[454] This refers to the article published in the Journal de Saint-Pétersbourg of February 18 (March 2), 1854 in connection with Lord Russell's speech in the House of Commons on February 17, 1854 (see this volume, pp. 13, 19 and 24). The article alluded to the existence of a conspiracy between the Russian and British governments on the Turkish question, and proved it from Hamilton Seymour's correspondence of 1853 and the memorandum of 1844.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.645-648), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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