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Fair Professions

Karl Marx

The circular of Louis Napoleon of the 27th of April, addressed, through his diplomatic agents, to the Governments of Europe[a], also his address of the 3d of May to his Corps Législatif[b], show the Emperor fully conscious of and exceedingly anxious to allay the suspicions so generally entertained as to the motives and ultimate objects of his intervention in the affairs of Italy. In the circular he endeavors to make out that in the matter of this intervention he has all along moved only in conjunction with England, Prussia and Russia, all of whom he represents as equally dissatisfied with himself at the condition of Italian affairs, equally convinced of the dangers arising from the discontent and underhand agitation prevailing there, and equally intent upon preventing, by a prudent precaution, an inevitable crisis. But when he refers, as proof, to Lord Cowley's mission to Vienna[267], the Russian proposal of a Congress, and the support given by Prussia to these movements, he seems to forget that, instead of having Italy for their primary object, what those measures looked to and what originated them was, the threatened breach between Austria and France, compared with which, Italian discontent and agitation sank into insignificance.

It was only the sudden development of a peculiar interest on the part of Napoleon in Italian affairs that gave the Italian question any pressing importance in the eyes of the other European Powers. Though Austria has been the first to commence hostilities, the fact still remains that but for encouragement given by Napoleon to Sardinia, in which neither Prussia nor England concurred, and the steps taken by her in consequence, there is no reason whatever to suppose that hostilities would have commenced. So far from merely offering the cooperation of France to settle amicably in conjunction with the other Powers the matters in dispute between Austria and Sardinia, the fact cannot be got rid of that it was not till France had made herself substantially a party to that quarrel that the other Powers felt themselves called upon to take any deep interest in it, and then not as an Italian but as a European question. The very circumstance that France alone feels called upon to protect Sardinia against Austrian attack, contradicts the position which it is attempted to establish, that upon this question of Italian affairs France has only been acting in cooperation with the other Powers. Both in this dispatch, and in his address to the Legislative Corps, the French Emperor disclaims with great earnestness all personal ambition, all desires of conquest, any wish to establish a French influence in Italy. He would have it believed that he devotes himself exclusively to the establishment of Italian independence, and to the reestablishment of that balance of power disturbed by the preponderance of Austria. Those who remember the professions which the Emperor made and the oaths which he took as President of the French Republic, will hardly be inclined to place implicit confidence in his mere declarations; and even these very attempts of his to quiet the fears and dispel the suspicions of Europe contain suggestions well calculated to have a contrary effect.

That Louis Napoleon is at this moment sincerely desirous to prevent, on the part of England and Germany, any interference with his war against Austria, nobody can doubt; but that is very far from proving that he looks no further than to a mere settlement of Italian affairs. Suppose him to aim at European supremacy, he would, of course, prefer to fight the different Powers one at a time. He is astonished at the excitement which prevails in some of the States of Germany, although that excitement originates in the very same reasons by which he explains his own haste to rush to the aid of Sardinia.

If France is conterminous to Sardinia, bound to her by ancient remembrances, community of origin, and recent alliances, the relations of Germany with Austria are the same, and still closer; and, if Napoleon is unwilling to wait till he finds himself in the face of an accomplished fact, to wit, the triumph of Austria over Sardinia, neither do the Germans incline to wait for the accomplished fact of a triumph of France over Austria. That Louis Napoleon looks to the humiliation of Austria, at least to the extent of her expulsion from Italy, he does not deny. It is true, he disclaims any intention to acquire Italian territory or influence, professing that the object of the war is to restore Italy to herself, not to impose upon her a change of masters. But suppose the Italian Governments, whose independence, as against Austria, it is thus proposed to vindicate, should find themselves troubled, as in all probability they would, by those whom Louis Napoleon describes as "the abettors of disorder, and the incorrigible members of old factions"? What then?

"France," says Louis Napoleon, "has shown her hatred of anarchy."

It was this very hatred of anarchy to which he professes to owe his present power. In that hatred of anarchy he found his warrant for dispersing the Republican Chamber, breaking his own oaths, overturning the republican Government by military force, crushing out all freedom of the press, and driving into exile or shipping off to Cayenne all opposers of his sole dictatorship. Might not the suppression of anarchy serve his turn quite as well in Italy? If "the suppression of the abettors of disorder and the incorrigible members of old factions" justified the destruction of French liberty, might it not furnish quite as fair a pretext for the overthrow of Italian independence?

Written about May 6, 1859
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 5639, May 18, 1859 as a leading article;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1459, May 20, 1859
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See A. Walewski's circular to the French diplomatic representatives abroad of April 27, 1859, Le Moniteur universel, No. 121, May 1, 1859.—Ed.

[b] This refers to Napoleon III's "Proclamation. L'empereur au peuple français", Le Moniteur universel, special edition, May 3, 1859.—Ed.

[267] In mid-February 1859 the Derby government in Britain offered to mediate in settling the Franco-Austrian conflict. With this aim in view Lord Cowley was sent, with Napoleon III's consent, to Vienna at the end of February for talks with Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria. His mission, however, failed.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.307-309), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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