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Russell's Dismissal

Karl Marx

London, July 17. Whether voluntary or under duress, Russell's dismissal has served to parry Bulwer's motion[a] just as Bulwer parried Roebuck's motion. This view, which we expressed in our report of July 11[a], was confirmed beyond any shadow of doubt by yesterday's sitting in the Commons[b]. It is an old Whig axiom that "parties are like snails—the tails move the heads". The present Whig Cabinet, however, seems to be polypoid; it appears to thrive on amputation. It survives the loss of its limbs, its head, anything except its tail. Although Russell was not the head of the Cabinet, he was the brains of the party which forms the Cabinet and which is represented by it. Bouverie, the Vice-President of the Board of Trade[c], represents the tail of the Whig polyp. He discovered that the Whig body would have to be decapitated to keep the Whig rump alive, and he made this discovery known to Palmerston in the name of and on behalf of the Whig tail. Russell yesterday assured that tail of his "contempt". Disraeli tormented Bouverie with a "physiology of friendship" and a biological description of the various types in which the species being known as "friend" is distinguishable. Finally, Bouverie's attempt to justify the action by saying that he and the tail had discarded Russell in order to save him, completes the genre picture of this party of office-hunters.

The natural head of the Whig party being amputated in this way, its usurped head, Lord Palmerston, has become all the more firmly attached to the rump. After the fall of Aberdeen and Newcastle he used Gladstone, Graham and Herbert to take possession of the inheritance of the Coalition Cabinet. After the departure of Gladstone, Graham and Herbert he used Lord John Russell, to help him form a purely Whig Cabinet. Finally he used the Whig tail to whisk Russell away and thus to become sole ruler in the Cabinet. All those metamorphoses were just so many steps on the way to the formation of a purely Palmerston Cabinet. Russell's statements show that he repeatedly tendered Palmerston his resignation, but was persuaded each time by him to withdraw it. In exactly the same way Palmerston persuaded Aberdeen's, Cabinet to resist Roebuck's Committee of Inquiry to the utmost. On both occasions with the same degree of success and to the same end.

He linked Bulwer's motion so closely to Russell that it fell through of its own accord as soon as the corpus delicti, Russell, vanished from the Cabinet. Bulwer was therefore obliged to declare that he was withdrawing his motion. However, he could not resist the temptation of actually delivering the speech which was to have supported his motion. He forgot that the motion on which his speech was based no longer existed. Palmerston exploited this unfortunate situation. He immediately assumed the pose of a gladiator after the battle had been called off. He was rude, blustering and boastful, but in this way he incurred chastisement at the hands .of Disraeli, which, as the expression on his face revealed, caused even this accomplished play-actor to lose his usual cynical composure. However, the most important part of Disraeli's reply was the following statement:

"I have reason to believe that the views which Lord Russell brought from Vienna[250] were favourably received, not merely by a majority, but by the whole of his colleagues, and that nothing but circumstances which they did not anticipate [...] prevented the plan of the noble Lord being cordially and unanimously accepted. I do not make that statement without due authority. I make it with the same conviction that I spoke six weeks ago of the ambiguous language and uncertain conduct of the Government, the truth of which subsequent events have already justified. I make it with the conviction that, even before this Session of Parliament terminates, evidence confirming that statement will be in the possession of the House."

The "circumstances" to which Disraeli refers were, as he explains in the course of his speech, "the difficulties presented by the French". Disraeli indicates that Clarendon's correspondence, which was intended for use in Parliament, contradicts the secret instructions issued by the Ministry. He concluded his speech with the following words:

"A belief exists in the land that there is guilt in the management of our affairs. A foreign document appears" (Buol's circular), "the people are agitated, they think, they talk, their representatives in this House ask questions. What happens? The foremost of our statesmen dare not meet the controversy which such questions bring forward. He mysteriously disappears. [...] But who dares meet with it? The First Minister of the Crown, who has addressed this House tonight in accents and in language utterly unworthy of his position, and utterly unworthy of the occasion, which have convinced me that if the honour and interests of the country be any longer intrusted to his care, the first will be degraded, and the latter, [...] will be betrayed."

Roebuck surpassed Disraeli in the intensity of his language. "I want to know who are the traitors who are now in the Cabinet?" First Aberdeen and Newcastle. Then Graham and Gladstone and Herbert. Then Russell. Who is next?

In the meantime the position of the man who secretly ruled over the coalition, as he now officially rules the Ministry, is quite secure. If another vote of no-confidence were to take place before the end of the session, which is not likely, he will dissolve Parliament. At all events he has six months before him in which to conduct Britain's foreign policy without restriction, not even disturbed by the noise and mock battles of the Commons.

Written on July 17, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 333, July 20, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Published in English for the first time in MECW.


[a] See this volume, pp. 337-39.—Ed.

[b] A report of the House of Commons debate of July 16, 1855 was published in The Times, No. 22108, July 17, 1855.—Ed.

[c] Marx uses the English term.—Ed.

[250] I.e. from the sittings of the Vienna Conference (see Note 88↓).

[88] The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (see Note 43↓). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

[43] The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (see Note 34↓) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.

[34] A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.352-354), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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