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The War Debates in Parliament[231]

Karl Marx

London, Tuesday, July 25, 1854

At last Thursday's evening sitting of the House of Commons, in reply to an inquiry of Mr. Disraeli, Lord J. Russell stated that her Majesty had been pleased to order that a message should be sent to the House, in pursuance of which he proposed to move on Monday a vote of credit for £3,000,000. There would be no necessity for a Committee of Ways and Means[a]. To Mr. Disraeli's question whether there would be an autumnal session this year, Lord John gave no reply. Accordingly the vote of credit was accomplished without a division, in the sitting of both Houses which took place yesterday.[b]

In the House of Lords, Lord Aberdeen, in moving the vote, delivered the shortest, dryest, and most common-place speech that ever he has favored us with since his accession to the Premiership. He had to ask for three millions, and he was sure their lordships would have no objection. They might entertain different opinions, but all of them must be unanimous as "to the necessity of adopting all such measures as were best calculated to lead to an early and successful termination of the war." This result was mainly to be produced "by the activity and energy of the efforts of England and France, with the concurrence of the other powers." He did not say whether he meant the efforts to be made by war, or negotiation; nor even exclude Russia from "the other powers" with whom England and France are to concur. Parliament being about to be prorogued, there was so much more reason to provide the Government with money. Possibly some noble lords might prefer to see the money intrusted to other hands than his, but such fanciful wishes ought not to interfere with business. Which business, the business on hand, was to vote three millions of pounds.

The Earl of Ellenborough, who has the particular gift of never speaking to the question, thought this the fittest occasion for recommending the Government "to carry the most searching economy into all those civil departments which have no connection with the war."

The Earl of Hardwicke saw a very great force in the Baltic ready for any emergency, a similar force in the Black Sea, and the greatest army sent out that ever left this country. He did not know what the Government intended to do with them, and, therefore, he appealed to every noble Lord to grant the credit demanded from them.

Earl Fitzwilliam, an out-of-place Whig, protested against "this country being described as being the highest taxed in Europe; it ought to be described as that in which the taxes fall more lightly on the people than in any other section of the European commonwealth." If the noble Lord had spoken of the lords instead of the people, he would have been right. "As to the speech of his noble friend at the head of the Government," there had never been made one on such an occasion "of which it might be more truly said that it conveyed scarcely a single idea to the House addressed," and the noble Lord ought to know better what the wants of the House are in respect to ideas. Earl Fitz-William desired to learn from Lord Aberdeen who were "the other powers," whose concurrence he was anxious to have? Perhaps Austria? He feared they might be induced by that power to consider certain minor objects, as the evacuation of the Principalities, and the free navigation of the Danube, as justifying them in concluding peace. (Ridiculous fear, since Lord Aberdeen will certainly not be induced by any one to demand so much.) He wanted also to know what was to be understood by the integrity of Turkey whether it was that circumscribed by the treaty of Adrianople[232], or something else? Finally, he considered that they found themselves in a very singular position, Parliament having no information whatever of the intentions of the Government. Accordingly he would vote for the credit.

The Marquis of Clanricarde, whose temper is getting sourer each day which separates him further from office, claimed at least some explanation as his due for the unexampled liberality with which he had hitherto treated the ministry an explanation respecting the progress which had been made and the course pursued since the former supplies were asked for; he wanted to know something of the conditions and prospects of the war, and of the state of the country with respect to its allies. There had been successes on the side of the Turks, but not on the side of the British government or the British arms, which should not prevent him, however, from passing a eulogium on the bravery of the sailors in the Baltic and Black Sea. As to the relations with their allies he would fix a day when he would move the production of the recent treaty entered into between Turkey and Austria[c], as well as of other documents likely to throw a light on their present position.

"From general rumor it appeared that through the pressure and persuasion of the British government, the Divan, which was much averse to it, and the Turkish minister[d] recently concluded a convention with Austria, by which the Austrian troops were to enter the Danubian provinces, and occupy a portion of the Turkish empire."

How was it that, at the hour of danger, Austria, instead of hurrying into the field, held back and commenced fresh negotiations? He wanted also to know whether the Vienna Conferences went on[233], and what they were consulting about? On the whole they depended too much on the German Powers.

In order to prove that Austria "ought" to be the best possible ally, Lord Clarendon showed how she was circumscribed and threatened by Russia in all parts of her dominions. The Austro-Turkish treaty could not have been laid before the House, no ratified copy of it having been received as yet. He thought he might assure them that the time was not far distant when they should have Austria cooperating with them; he "answered, however, for nothing." Still, from the general character of Austria, and from his own administration of the Foreign Office, their lordships were satisfied to draw the most cheering conclusions. Having twice been convicted of the most unblushing falsehoods, Lord Clarendon naturally expects implicit belief in his assurance

"that there is no intention of returning to the status quo, and that there is no intention of listening to a patched-up peace, which could only be a hollow truce, and which would render a return to war inevitable."

After this brilliant display of their own highly educated minds, the Lords naturally turned to the subject of national education, and we will leave them there.

During the discussion in the Lords the Commons were occupied upon several indifferent subjects, until the speech of Lord Aberdeen was communicated to them, which produced "a disagreeable sensation." Lord John Russell perceived at once that it was necessary to produce a counter sensation.

When the first extraordinary grant was about to be asked, the Government dispatched the "magnificent" Baltic fleet; on the occasion of the second one, the famous bombardment of Odessa had to serve as a catcher; now the watchword selected was Sevastopol.

Lord John began by certifying to the "patriotic" spirit of the House in having given its aid so liberally when asked for the first grants, and thanked the House for having hitherto so judiciously abstained from putting any embarrassing questions to the Government. Great, very great things had been achieved thereby, namely, a very great number of ships and men had been procured. Of first, second and third-rate steamers they had now 17, against only one on the 1st of January, 1853; of sailing line-of-battle ships 17 against 11; and a marine force of 57,200 against 33,910. They had also placed on the Turkish shores a force of above 30,000 soldiers, "a great part of which was lately at Varna." So much for the material of war. As to the operations of war, they had

"but just commenced, and all he could say was, that the Turkish army had performed deeds of valor. Nobody would now say that it required only a fillip from the Emperor of Russia to overthrow the whole Ottoman Power. Beside the chivalrous deeds of the Turks, the glories of this war consisted in the perfect union and harmony between the French and English armies."

Now, with respect to the vote he asked for, he could not tell them what the money was exactly required for. Some two millions might be absorbed by the Commissariat, ordnance, and transports; besides, a large body of Turkish troops might be joined with the British army and receive pay from the British Government. On the whole, he asked the money not on the ground of detailed estimates, but for the use of the Government, "as it might have occasion for it."

Austria, said the noble Lord, had a greater interest in protecting Turkey than even France or England. The Czar would have the complete command of the Government of Austria as soon as he domineered over the Principalities, with a predominant influence in Turkey. However, to judge Austria justly, it should be borne in mind with what difficulties she was beset. On more than one side Russian armies could approach to within no great distance of the Austrian capital, and on the other hand, some of the kingdoms submitted to her were so disturbed as to make it a perilous thing for her to enter into hostilities. It had, therefore, been her policy to attempt, as long as possible, to obtain the settlement of these questions by negotiation. But recently she had dispatched a message to the Emperor of Russia, whose answer could not be termed evasive.

"Firstly, Russia does not profess herself ready to fix any time for the evacuation of the Principalities. She states, now that war has been declared, and now that England and France are engaged in that war, and are superior to her in the Black Sea and the Baltic, while her fleets do not leave her ports, that there remains only the seat of war in the Principalities, and the navigation of the Danube, where she can hope to restore the balance, and by the successes of her arms to obtain a victory for herself. She therefore declines on those terms the evacuation of the Principalities."

Russia was ready to adopt the principles contained in the protocol of the 9th of April[234], except the admission of Turkey into the European concert. With regard to the future conduct of Austria, Lord John considers on the one side that she is mistaken in her present policy, but on the other he cannot believe that she will forfeit the engagements into which she has entered. By those engagements with the western powers and with Turkey, she was bound to take part in the attempt to drive back Russia. It was possible that she might attempt again to obtain from St. Petersburg some better assurance. They, of course, had no control over the councils of Austria, and Austria had no control over the King of Prussia. All the powers were, accordingly, in the most favorable position for jointly counteracting Russia.

Lord John then came to a great and enthusiastic exposition of what they England and France proposed to do. The integrity of Turkey was not compatible with a return to the status quo in the Principalities. He said:

"But, Sir, there is another mode in which the position of Russia is menacing to the independence and integrity of Turkey. I mean the establishment of a great fortress, prepared with all the combinations of art, made as impregnable as it is possible for art to make it, and containing within its port a very large fleet of line-of-battle ships, ready at any time to come down with a favorable wind to the Bosphorus. I say that that is a position so menacing to Turkey, that no treaty of peace could be considered wise which left the Emperor of Russia in that same position of menace. (Enormous cheering.) We shall be ready, as we have been ready, to communicate with the Government of France upon that subject, and I have every reason to believe, that the views of the Government of the Emperor of the French coincide with our own in that respect." (Cheers.)

With respect to Mr. Disraeli's proposition of an autumnal session, Lord John "declined to accept at the hand of members of this House restrictions on freedom of ministers."

It would be as tedious as it is superfluous to report the saying of the Humes, Bankes, Knights, Alcoxes, and tutti quanti, on this occasion.

Mr. Cobden, believing in the words of Lord John, and thinking that he had turned the House into a council of war, very anxiously labored to show why Sevastopol and the Crimea should on no account be taken. A point of more interest was raised by him through means of the question whether this country was in alliance with the sovereignties against the nationalities. A great delusion prevailed with the people who fancied that the war had been undertaken in favor of any oppressed nationalities. It had, on the contrary, been conducted with a view of riveting still closer the chains by which Hungary and Italy were bound in the grasp of Austria. There were honorable and deluded gentlemen in the House who

"had been crying out that the Government were not carrying on the war as they ought to do, that they ought to have some other man at the head of the War Department; nay, sometimes they had even said, at the head of the Government. They had called out for Lord Palmerston. And this was all done for the interest of Hungary and the Italians. He had heard it from the lips of two of the greatest chiefs of Hungary and of Italy[e] declared, that so far from their hopes and aspirations resting upon that noble Lord, they knew that when the noble Lord had an opportunity of giving them a moral support, he would not so much as lift up his finger in their favor. If there was any member in the present Government at this moment, upon whom these leaders would be less disposed to rely than upon another, it was that noble Lord. He did not believe that the noble Lord was aware of the great imposture practiced in his name, but the delusion had happily exploded."

Mr. Layard and Lord Dudley Stuart did nothing but repeat their old speeches, with this variation, that Lord Dudley's opinion of the magic force of the name "Palmerston" was "more exalted than ever."

It was reserved for Mr. Disraeli to blow up by one single breath the whole bubble speech of Lord John. Having briefly justified his proposition of an autumnal session by an allusion to Sinope[235] and other exploits that occurred during the last autumnal vacation, he confessed himself to be surprised, bewildered, alarmed at the announcement of the impending destruction of Sevastopol and the conquest of the Crimea. Lord John here expressed dissent, but did not rise; Mr. Disraeli, however, sitting down on his part, forced Lord John to an explanation. In a voice of humility and confusion he came forward, at last:

"I may as well state that what I said was, that I thought Russia could not be allowed to maintain the menacing attitude she has done by keeping so large a fleet at Sevastopol."

Having elicited this confession from Lord John, Mr. Disraeli delivered one of his most savage and sarcastic speeches on record, which would well repay a perusal in extenso, (it is copied at length below among the news from Great Britain[236],) and which ended with the following words:

"Really, after what we have heard there seems great unfairness in the painful distinction which is made at times between the policy of Lord Aberdeen and the policy of some of his colleagues. I am no admirer or supporter of Lord Aberdeen, but I am no admirer either of the parliamentary policy which would exonerate members of a Cabinet at the expense of their colleagues. It does not at all appear to me, after the statement which the noble Lord opposite has made of what it was he says he said, that his policy as to Russia, substantially differs from that of Lord Aberdeen, and this, after all, is some satisfaction to the people of England. We have not, then, a divided Cabinet; the session at last closes upon Ministers in unison upon this subject; and, so far as conducting the war with small purposes goes, so far as having from great objects of policy mean and insignificant results, the Coalition Government appear to be unanimous."

Lord Palmerston's jokes were of no use. After the speech of Mr. Disraeli, and a number of other members having risen to protest that they had been entirely deluded by Lord John's first speech, the motion for the supply was indeed voted, but only on the condition that the debates should be resumed to-night, Lord Dudley Stuart announcing at the same time his intention to move an address to the Queen,

"praying that she would be graciously pleased not to prorogue Parliament until she might be enabled to afford the House more full information with respect to the relations existing with foreign powers, and of her views and prospects in the contest in which her Majesty was engaged."

Written on July 25, 1854
First published in the New-York Daily Tribune, No. 4150, August 7;
reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 960, August 8
and the New-York Weekly Tribune, No. 674, August 12, 1854
Signed: Karl Marx
Reproduced from the New-York Daily Tribune


[a] See Debates in Parliament in The Times, No. 21799, July 21, 1854.—Ed.

[b] The debate on the budget in Parliament on July 24, 1854 is given according to The Times, No. 21802, July 25, 1854.—Ed.

[c] See this volume, pp. 269-71.—Ed.

[d] Reshid Pasha.—Ed.

[e] Kossuth and Mazzini.—Ed.

[231] This article is entered in the Notebook as "Dienstag. 25 July. Debatte". It was reprinted by Eleanor Marx in The Eastern Question under the title "Another War Debate".

[232] The peace treaty of Adrianople was concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 1829, at the end of the war of 1828-29. Under it Russia obtained the islands in the mouth of the Danube and a considerable part of the eastern coast of the Black Sea south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was obliged to recognise the autonomy of the Danubian Principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia and grant them the right to elect hospodars (rulers) independently. Russia was to guarantee this autonomy, which was tantamount to establishing a Russian protectorate over the Principalities. The Turkish Government also pledged to guarantee the autonomy of Greece and Serbia.

[233] See notes 3↓, 106↓ and 158↓.

[234] See Note 106↓.

[235] This refers to the battle of Sinope, between Russian and Turkish naval squadrons on November 30 (18), 1853, during the Crimean war. It ended in a defeat for the Turks.

[236] The words in parentheses were inserted by the Tribune editors. The text of Disraeli's speech was printed on p. 7 of the same issue of the Tribune in the section "Great Britain. The War Debate in the Commons".

[3] In 1853 and 1854 the Ambassadors of Britain, France and Prussia and the Austrian Foreign Minister Buol held a number of conferences in Vienna. The first, in July 1853, to which the Russian Ambassador was also invited but which he refused to attend, was officially aimed at mediation between Russia and Turkey in view of the worsening relations between them. The words "first Vienna Note" refer to the draft agreement between Russia and Turkey drawn up by Buol and concluded at the end of July 1853. It obliged the Sultan to abide by the Kuchuk-Kainardji (1774) (see Note 17↓) and the Adrianople (1829) (see Note 176↓) treaties on the rights and privileges of the Orthodox Church in the Ottoman Empire. The Turkish Sultan Abdul Mejid agreed to sign the Note but demanded a number of changes and reservations, which the Russian Government found unacceptable.

[106] The reference is to one of the stages in the work of the Vienna conferences. The conferences dealt with in this article ended with the signing of a protocol between England, France, Austria and Prussia on April 9, 1854. It

[158] The reference is to the protocol of the current Vienna conference signed on May 23, 1854.

[17] The treaty of Kuchuk-Kainardji was concluded between Russia and Turkey on July 21, 1774. Russia got territories on the northern shore of the Black Sea between the South Bug and the Dnieper with the fortress of Kinburn, and also Azov, Kerch and Yenikale and secured recognition of the Crimea's independence. Russian merchantmen were granted the right of free passage through the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles. The treaty obliged the Sultan to grant a number of privileges to the Orthodox Church; Article 14 in particular provided for the building of an Orthodox Church in Constantinople.

[176] The peace treaty of Adrianople was concluded by Turkey and Russia in September 1829, at the end of the war of 1828-29. Under it Russia obtained the islands in the mouth of the Danube and a considerable part of the eastern coast of the Black Sea south of the Kuban estuary. Turkey was obliged to recognise the autonomy of the Danubian Principalities, Moldavia and Wallachia and grant them the right to elect hospodars (rulers) independently. Russia was to guarantee this autonomy, which was tantamount to establishing a Russian protectorate over the Principalities. The Turkish Government also pledged to guarantee the autonomy of Greece and Serbia.

Source: Marx and Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.316-322), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
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