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Announcement Concerning The Taking of Sevastopol.—
From The Paris Bourse.—
On The Massacre at Hangö in The House of Lords[214]

Karl Marx

[Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 289, June 25, 1855]

London, June 22. The second act of La Sonnambula[a] had just finished, and the curtain of the Drury Lane Theatre was coming down when suddenly a mighty drum-roll summoned the audience back into the auditorium just as they were thronging out for refreshments. The curtain went up again, the manager stepped forward and, with great melodramatic effect, made the following announcement:

"Ladies and gentlemen! I am very happy to be able to announce a great event to you. The allies have taken Sevastopol."

There were enthusiastic shouts of triumph, people cheered and applauded, bouquets were flying everywhere. The orchestra played and the audience sang "God save the Queen", "Rule Britannia" and "Partant pour la Syrie"[b]. A voice from the upper regions shouted "La Marseillaise!", but it died away without an echo. The manager's improvised speech was based on a telegraphic message which did not, however, report the taking of Sevastopol, but on the contrary that the French in their storming of the Malakhov, and the English in their storming of the Redan, on June 18, had been repulsed, suffering considerable losses[215]. That play actor yesterday evening on the stage at Drury Lane copied another manager who almost a year ago, in the middle of a military spectacular[216], improvised the following unexpected and unforgettable words: "Messieurs, Sevastopol est pris!"[c]

[Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 290, June 26, 1855]

The reason for the incomprehensible obduracy with which Pélissier continues to exhaust the forces of the allied army in one-sided assaults on the southern flank is said to be not military but financial. It is well known that Bonaparte has already drawn bills of exchange for thousands of millions on the prospect of taking Sevastopol and had them discounted by the French nation. lie is on the point of drawing bills for another 800 millions or thereabouts[217] It therefore seemed essential to make an advance payment on the bills already circulating, and if crossing the Chernaya brings real results an assault on the southern flank of Sevastopol promises to produce a dazzling illusion of success. "The fall of Sevastopol" would look well in the prospectus for the new loan, and if a loan can be made for the war, why not a war for the loan? Confronted with that point of view, all the criticism based on military science will have to be silent. There is anyway quite a mysterious link between the war in the Crimea and the Bourse at Paris. It is well known that, just as all roads lead to Rome, so all electric wires converge in the Tuileries, where they end in a "secret closet". It has been noticed that the most important telegrams are published in Paris hours later than in London. During those hours a certain Corsican by the name of Orsi is said to be extremely busy at the Paris Bourse. It is generally known in London that this fellow Orsi was previously the "providential" agent on the London Stock Exchange[d] of the man in exile at the time.[e]

If the dispatches from Admiral Dundas, which have been published by the English Cabinet, did not already prove that there was no abuse of a flag of truce on the part of the officers and crew of the boat dispatched by the Cossack, which could serve as a pretext for the Russian massacre at Hangö[218]; then the story told by the Invalide Russe would dispel any doubt on this point[f]. Evidently the Russians did not suspect that a sailor, John Brown, had escaped with his life and would testify against them. The Invalide therefore considered it superfluous to accuse the English boat of espionage, or of taking soundings, etc., and concocted its tale on the spur of the moment, following Abbé Sieyès in the conviction that "dead men tell no tales"[g]. The matter was raised in the House of Lords yesterday. We cannot, however, agree with The Times that this assembly, otherwise "cold and unimpassioned by habit and by policy"; was on this occasion trembling with the unadulterated expression of true passion[h]. We find affected indignation in the choice of phrase, but in fact affectionate concern for "Russian honour" and an anxious warding off of national revenge. The Tories' spokesman for Foreign Affairs, the Earl of Malmesbury, rose yesterday, set forth the facts briefly and then exclaimed:

"I have ransacked English history, and I cannot find an instance of a similar atrocious act [...]. What course does the Government mean to take under the circumstances? [...] It is a matter of the greatest importance to every officer and every army in Europe that the matter should be noticed and that concdign punishment should be meted out to the perpetrators [...]."

Clarendon, the Whigs' Foreign Secretary, declared that he shared the "indignation" of his colleague. It is an outrage so horrible and unparalleled, so utterly at variance with the usages and the customs of civilised nations, that we are compelled to believe that the perpetrators of it cannot have acted upon the instructions or with the permission of their superiors. It was possible that the person in command of the 500 Russians had not been a commissioned officer[i] (every English officer down to the rank of lieutenant has a commission, not sergeants and other non-commissioned officers, however). It is therefore quite plausible that the Russian Government disapproved of this act. He had therefore instructed the English Envoy at Copenhagen[j] to request the Danish Envoy at St. Petersburg[k] to state to the Russian Government that the British Cabinet waited with extreme anxiety to learn what steps the Russian Government had taken or intended to take to establish their attitude to an act which might possibly have happened in some one of the savage islands of the South Sea without exciting any degree of surprise, but which was not to be expected in civilised Europe, and which, if not severely and appropriately punished by the Russian Government, would deserve the severest of reprisals. Clarendon closed by saying that the British Government was awaiting the Russian statement before determining what course to adopt.

Lord Colchester believes that

"in any such case as this it was the duty of the officer commanding [...] immediately to communicate by a flag of truce with the highest Russian authority he could find, mentioning the circumstances, and demanding that the atrocity should be disclaimed".

The Earl of Malmesbury rises again and declares that on the whole he has no fault to find with the course taken by the Government, but shudders to have heard Clarendon use the word "reprisal". England must not sink to the level of the Russians in this matter. She must take moral revenge on the Tsar[l], have every Court in Europe protest at the St. Petersburg court and thus pronounce an international judgment on Russia. Anything like "revenge" would only serve to increase public "disgust". The nominal president of the English Cabinet[m], Earl Granville, avidly seizes upon the Tory's words and recites like a good Christian: "No retaliation!"

Now, what does this outburst of passion in the Lords, as The Times calls it, show us? Full of moral indignation the Tory asks a question. The Whig outdoes him in indignation, but himself surreptitiously provides the Russian Government with an excuse and shows them the way to get out of the situation, by repudiating and sacrificing a subaltern. He covers his retreat by muttering something about reprisals "as a possibility". Lord Colchester seeks to chastise the Russians for having murderously attacked intermediaries bearing a flag of truce by sending another intermediary under a flag of truce. The Tory rises again and invokes a moral solution rather than reprisals. The Whig, glad to be rid of reprisals, even only as a possibility, joins in the call for "No retaliation!"[n] Pure farce. The House of Lords places itself between the passions of the people and Russia in order to protect Russia. The only peer who did not act the part was Brougham. "If ever the land called for blood," he said, "it is now." As far as English sensitivity to "reprisals" and "jus talionis"[o] is concerned, the Earl of Malmesbury has ransacked English history without finding an Irish page, or an Indian or North American. When was the English oligarchy ever squeamish except in the case - of Russia!

In the report of the Roebuck committee, which was read to the House, oddly enough the final paragraph has been suppressed, a paragraph which Roebuck proposed and which was accepted by the committee after a vote. It runs as follows:

"What was planned and undertaken without sufficient information, was conducted without sufficient care or forethought. This conduct on the part of the Administration was the first and chief cause of the calamities which befell our army in the Crimea."[p]

Written on June 22, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, Nos. 289 and 290, June 25 and 26, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] Opera by the Italian composer Vincenzo Bellini.—Ed.

[b] "Leaving for Syria", a song frequently performed at official festivities during the Second Empire in France. The titles of the English songs are given in English in the original.—Ed.

[c] "Gentlemen, Sevastopol has been taken!"—Ed.

[d] Marx uses the English term.—Ed.

[e] Louis Bonaparte.—Ed.

[f] Marx refers to the reports on the Hangö events published in Russky Invalid, No. 118, June 1, 1855, and The Times, No. 22086, June 21, 1855.—Ed.

[g] La mort sans phrase"—words allegedly uttered by Sieyès when voting in the French Convention on January 17, 1793 for Louis XVI's execution.—Ed.

[h] The Times, No. 22087, June 22, 1855. The debate in the House of Lords on June 21, 1855, was reported in the same issue of The Times.—Ed.

[i] Marx uses the English words "commissioned officer" and, below, "commission".—Ed.

[j] A. Buchanan.—Ed.

[k] O. Plessen.—Ed.

[l] Alexander II.—Ed.

[m] Marx refers here to the Lord President of the Council.—Ed.

[n] Marx uses the English phrase.—Ed.

[o] Right of retaliation.—Ed.

[p] The report, headlined "State of the Army before Sebastopol", was published in The Times, No. 22084, June 19, 1855; the omitted paragraph is quoted here from the article "The Sebastopol Committee", The Times, No. 22087, June 22, 1855.—Ed.

[214] The beginning of Marx's article (the part concerning the false report about the seizure of Sevastopol) appeared in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on June 25 with an editorial note saying that the conclusion would be published in the next morning issue of the paper.

[215] On June 18, 1855, one of the major battles of the Crimean War was fought at Sevastopol, ending in defeat for the Allies. The nearly nine-month-long siege of the city, the destruction caused by the bombardment, and the capture by French and British troops on June 7, 1855 of the outlying fortifications, the Selenghinsk and Volhynsk redoubts and the Kamchatka lunette (which had been erected by the defenders in the course of the siege) induced the Allied command to undertake a full-scale assault on the Southern (Korabelnaya) part of the city. It was launched on the fortieth anniversary of the battle of Waterloo, fought on June 18, 1815. The assault was preceded by massive bombardment of the city from land and sea. Despite the Allies' substantial superiority in numbers, their attack, launched along the whole line of Russian fortifications at dawn on June 18, 1855, was repulsed at every point. The attackers suffered heavy losses. The fighting on June 18 showed the strength of Sevastopol's defences and the staunchness of the Russian troops. Marx gave a detailed account of the battle in his report "The Mishap of June 18.—Reinforcements"; Engels described it in his articles "From Sevastopol" and "The Late Repulse of the Allies" (see this volume, pp. 297-301, 313-19 and 328-32).

[216] During an inspection of troops in Boulogne at the end of September 1854 Napoleon III declared that the Allies had taken Sevastopol. This statement was based on false reports.

[217] A reference to the law on a new internal loan passed by the Legislative Corps on June 20, 1855. The loan was to total 750 to 800 million francs.

[218] On May 26, 1855, the British frigate Cossack stopped off Gange (Hangö) in the Gulf of Finland and sent a boat under a flag of truce to treat with the Russians. Mistaking the envoys for an intelligence party, the Russian commanding officer, an ensign, laid an ambush. In the ensuing clash half the British sailors were killed and the others wounded and taken prisoner. The incident was discussed by the British Parliament. Marx describes the debate in question in his report for the Neue Oder-Zeitung.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.292-296), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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