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The Russo-French Alliance

Karl Marx

London, August 3, 1860

The observations made in my last letter[a] upon the secret connection between the Syrian massacres and the Russo-French alliance, have received unexpected confirmation from the other side of the Channel, in the shape of a pamphlet published at M. Dentu's on Tuesday last, entitled La Syrie et l'Alliance Russe, and ascribed to the penmanship of M. Edmond About. M. Dentu, as you are aware, is the French Government publisher, who has issued all the semi-official pamphlets which from time to time initiated Europe into the "studies"[b] just indulged at the Tuileries. The above-mentioned pamphlet derives a peculiar interest from the circumstance that its publication followed closely on the love-letter addressed by the Man of December to Persigny[324], which was destined to mesmerize John Bull, and of which Lord John Russell, at the very moment he refused to lay it before the House, forwarded a copy to the London Times[c]. The subjoined extracts contain the substance of La Syrie et l'Alliance Russe:

"As at the time of the Crusades, Christian Europe is moved by the horrible crimes of which Syria has just been the scene. Seven hundred thousand Christians are delivered up to the merciless fanaticism of two millions of Mussulmans, and the Turkish Government, by its inexplicable inaction, appears to avow itself their accomplice. Assuredly, France would have forgotten all her traditions had she not immediately claimed the honor of protecting the lives and properties of those who, in former days, were the soldiers of Peter the Hermit and Philip Augustus.... It is, therefore, high time to think of a remedy for a situation which could not last any longer without leading to a great calamity—the total extermination of the Christian subjects of the Porte. The expedition which the Turkish Government talks so much about is totally insufficient to restore order. The Powers which have co-religionists in Syria, and which are justly alarmed for their safety, must be prepared bodily to interfere. If they tarried, it would no longer be time to protect victims; their only duty would be to avenge martyrs.

"Two nations are especially interested in defending the Cross on those distant shores—France and Russia. What would be the probable consequence of the union of their arms, and the result on the ulterior organization of Europe? This is what we are about to investigate.

"At certain periods of history we find that under the impulse of certain laws of attraction and agglomeration peoples form political combinations unknown to the past. We are 'assisting' at one of these critical moments in the life of mankind. The Syrian question is but one of the knots of a very complicated situation. The whole of Europe is in a state of expectation and anxiety, waiting for a vast solution which may settle the basis of a lasting peace both in Europe and in the East. Now that object can only be attained in so far as the organization of our continent shall be in conformity with the wishes and requirements of the present questions of nationalities struggling beneath the yoke. Hostile religious tendencies, incompatibility of tempers, languages radically opposed to each other, keep up in certain European States an undercurrent of agitation, which prevents the restoration of confidence, and hinders the progress of civilization. Peace, that ultimate term of the ambition of all Governments, can only be permanently secured when the permanent causes of disturbance we have just indicated shall have disappeared. We therefore wish to arrive at a double result.

"1. Wherever such a thing is possible, to favor the formation of a homogeneous and national State, the mission of which would be to absorb and concentrate, in a mighty unity, populations having ideas or tendencies in common.

"2. To try and carry out that principle without having recourse to arms.

"At first sight, France and Russia appear to have realized the ideal , of monarchies. Though 400 leagues divide them, these two Powers have arrived by the most different roads at that unity which alone is able to create durable empires, not ephemeral circumscription, the limits of which may be changed any day by the fortune of war.... The Czars, meditating for the last 135 years over the will of Peter the Great[325], have not ceased to cast covetous glances on European Turkey.... Must France continue to protest against the pretensions of the Czars to the decaying Empire of the Sultan? We think not. If Russia lent us her cooperation for the reannexation of the Rhine frontier, it appears to us that a kingdom would not be too high a price for her alliance. Thanks to such a combination, France might resume her real limits, as traced by the geographer Strabo, 18 centuries ago. [Then follows a quotation from Strabo, enumerating the advantages of Gaul as the seat of a powerful empire.] It can easily be understood that France should desire to reconstruct that divine work [I presume the frontiers of Gaul], thwarted for so many centuries by the fraud of man, and this is so much in the nature of things, that at a period when we were not thinking of territorial aggrandizement, Germany was nevertheless subject to periodical fits of uneasiness, and flung at us, as a pledge of defiance, Becker's patriotic song[326].... We know that we are not alone in having plans of aggrandizement. Now, if Russia regards Constantinople in the same way as we look at the Rhine, can one not turn these analogous pretensions to some account, and force upon Europe the acceptance of a combination which would allot Turkey to Russia, to France that Rhine frontier, which Napoleon I considered in 1814 as a sine qua non condition of his existence as a sovereign?

"There are only two millions of Turks in Europe, whereas there are thirteen millions of Greeks, whose spiritual head is the Czar.... The Greek insurrection[d], which lasted nine years, was but the prelude of the movement which the massacres in Syria may act upon as a signal to break out. The Greek Christians are only waiting for an order from their Chief at St. Petersburg[e], or their Patriarch at Constantinople, to rise against the infidels; and there are but few far-sighted politicians who do not anticipate a solution of the Eastern question in a sense favorable to Russia, and that at no distant time. It is not, therefore, surprising, that at the call of their co-religionists, and encouraged by the predictions of Stalezanew, the Russians should be prepared to cross the Pruth at the first moment.

"If we cast an eye on our frontiers, the considerations which justify our tendencies appear to be quite as important as those which actuate Russia. Let us set aside all historical recollections, and all geographical motives, take one by one the provinces inclosed by the Rhine, and examine the reasons that militate in favor of their annexation.

"First we meet with Belgium. In good faith it is difficult to question the striking analogy which has induced some historians to call the Belgians the French of the North. In fact, throughout that country the educated classes use no language but French, and the Flemish dialect is only understood by the lower classes of the population in some few localities. Moreover, Belgium is throughout attached to Catholicism, and it is to France, her sister, by origin, idiom and religion, that she is indebted for her independence. We will not recall the fact that Belgium, conquered by our armies in 1795, formed nine French departments until 1814. Nevertheless, it would appear that our yoke was not so very heavy, as in 1831, Belgium, having been unable to obtain from the Great Powers the permission of being annexed to France, offered, by a vote of the two Chambers, the Belgian Crown to the Duke de Nemours, the son of the King of the French. The refusal of the latter induced them subsequently to offer it to the Duke of Saxe Coburg, now Leopold I; but the precedent we refer to appears to us highly important, and it leads to the presumption that if Belgium were consulted she would not be less generous than Savoy, and would prove once more the attraction of the prestige which the greatness of France causes her to feel. The opposition of a few members of the upper classes would be very soon stifled by popular acclamations.

"Before falling into the sea, the Rhine divides itself into three branches, two of which run in rather northerly directions—the Yssel, which flows into the Zuyderzee, and the Waal, a confluent of the Meuse. If France had once more to trace her limits, might she not take the line of the Rhine, properly so called, instead of that of the Waal or the Yssel, so as to slice off as little as possible of Southern Holland? That is what she would assuredly do. Moreover, it is not on the side of Holland that it is indispensable to rectify our frontier by taking the line of the Rhine as a basis. Belgium, with her present frontiers, would be enough to satisfy the want of extension which of late has been so loudly claimed by public opinion. The line of the Scheldt was, moreover, the frontier conceded to France by the treaty of Luneville in 1801."

Next follows a short passage demonstrating, by similar arguments, the necessity of annexing the Grand Duchy of Luxemburg, "which formed under the Empire the Département des Forêts."[f] The pamphleteer then proceeds to show the necessity for the annexation of Rhenish Prussia:

"Belgium and Luxemburg once in our power, our task is not over.... To complete our frontiers we must not take less than two-thirds of Rhenish Prussia, the whole of Rhenish Bavaria, and about one-third of the Grand Duchy of Hesse. All these territories formed, under the Empire, the departments of Roer of the Rhine, and Moselle of the Sarre, of Mont Tonnerre[g], and the Grand Duchy of Berg. In 1815, they were distributed among several possessors, to render their recovery by us more difficult. A remarkable fact is, that these provinces, annexed to the French Monarchy, were but a few years in direct intercourse with us, and, nevertheless, our temporary stay among them has left the most enduring marks. What sympathy is lavished on the French traveler in those parts, we willingly appeal to those who have traveled there:- For the last 45 years not a single French soldier has garrisoned those towns on the banks of the Rhine, and yet it is marvelous to see the touching reception our uniform meets with there. Catholics like us—like us they are Frenchmen. Was it not at Aix-la Chapelle[h] that our Emperor, Charlemagne, held his Court?... Contiguous to France, the Rhenish Provinces must become the political, as they are the natural dependencies of France."

The writer then returns to Russia, and after showing that the Crimean war forms no barrier to the alliance between France and Russia, as they had not then come to an understanding, gives the following piece of information concerning one of the claims of France to the gratitude of Russia:

"It must be kept in mind that France did not lend herself to the plans of England in the Baltic. We do not know whether an attack on Cronstadt would have succeeded in any case; it was not attempted, thanks, we have reason to believe, to the opposition of France."

After an excursion to the Italian campaign, the writer does not doubt that in the end Prussia will join the Franco-Russian alliance:

"But to attach the Cabinet of Berlin to our policy, it must be withdrawn from the influence of England. How can this be brought about? By so contriving that Prussia shall cease to be our neighbor on the Rhine, and by promising to support her legitimate pretensions to preponderance in Germany. The exchange of these Rhenish Provinces causes Bavaria and Prussia to take their compensations from Austria. The English alliance can only secure to Prussia the status quo—the French alliance throws open to her a boundless horizon.

"The alliance between France, Russia, and Prussia loyally concluded, as we have reason to hope it will be, the consequences that flow from it are most natural.... We have demonstrated above what 1,800 years ago Strabo had laid down as beyond question—that the Rhine was the natural frontier of Northern France. Now, Prussia is the greatest sufferer from this extension of territory. For the last 45 years she has kept the Rhine as the dragon used to keep watch over the garden of the Hesperides. Let this cause of hostility between France and Prussia disappear; let the left hand of the Rhine become French once more; in exchange for her good offices, Prussia would find a compensation in Austria—that Power would be punished for her bad faith and clumsiness. Let all be organized for a durable peace.

"Let the populations be consulted, so that no violent annexation should take place. With Russia at Constantinople, France on the Rhine, Austria diminished, and Prussia preponderating in Germany, where can any cause for disturbance or revolution be found in Europe? Would England dare to contend single-handed against Russia, Prussia, and France? We cannot admit such a thing. If, however, it did happen, if Great Britain should venture to commit such an imprudence, she might receive a severe lesson. Gibraltar, Malta, the Ionian Islands are a security for her keeping quiet; those are the weak points of her armor. But though she will be reduced to a sterile agitation in her island, and be compelled to be a passive spectator of what takes place on the continent, she will barely be permitted to offer her opinion, thanks to the five or six thousand men she will send to Syria.

"The moment has arrived when our policy must be clearly defined. It is in Syria that France must pacifically conquer the frontier of the Rhine, by cementing the alliance of Russia. But we must take care not to give Russia an unlimited extension. The provinces north of the Bosphorus must suffice for her ambition. Asia Minor must remain neutral ground. Were it, indeed, possible to look at a practical subject in a poetical and practical light, we would say our choice is made; a man has just come forward who seems the incarnation of the idea we should wish to see represented in Syria—Abd-el-Kader. He is sufficiently orthodox as a Moslem to conciliate the Mussulman population; he is sufficiently civilized to distribute justice equally to all; he is attached to France by ties of gratitude; he would protect the Christians, and reduce to obedience the turbulent tribes ever ready to disturb the repose of Asia Minor. To make of Abd-el-Kader the Syrian Emir would be a noble reward for our prisoner's services."

The critical remarks on Edmond About's pamphlet were written on August 3, 1860
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 6025, August 16, 1860


[a] See this volume, pp. 429-32.—Ed.

[b] Marx is evidently alluding to Carl Vogt's work Studien zur gegenwärtigen Lage Europas, Geneva and Berne, 1859.—Ed.

[c] Issue No. 23687, August 1, 1860.—Ed.

[d] The reference is to the 1821-29 national uprising in Greece.—Ed.

[e] A probable reference to the Russian Tsar.—Ed.

[f] Forestry Department.—Ed.

[g] Ruhr-Rhine, Moselle-Saar, Donnersberg.—Ed.

[h] Aachen.—Ed.

[324] In a letter to Persigny, the French Ambassador in London, written on July 25, 1860, and published in French papers (Le Constitutionnel, "Paris le le août", No. 215, August 2, 1860), Napoleon III denied a hostile attitude to Britain and sought to dispel suspicion and distrust, prevalent in Britain at the time, of his foreign policy (see this volume, p. 446).

[325] The will of Peter the Great—a spurious document circulated by enemies of Russia. The idea of the existence of the "will" was advanced in the West as early as 1797. In 1812 Ch. L. Lesur described the contents of this pseudo-will in his book Des progrès de la puissance russe, depuis son origine jusqu'au commencement du XIXe siècle, and in 1836 it was reproduced as a document in T. F. Gaillardet's book Mémoires du Chevalier d'Eon. In Marx's and Engels' lifetime many people in Western Europe regarded this document as authentic.

[326] A reference to the Rhine-song ("Der deutsche Rhein")—a poem by Nicolaus Becker which was widely used by nationalists in their own interests. It was written in 1840 and set to music by several composers.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.439-443), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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