Austria and the War (1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written August 1855


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Written in the second half of August 1855
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 4493, September 13, 1855.
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 4502, September 14, 1855 as a leading article;
the German version of the second half of this article was published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 383, August 18, 1855,
marked with the sign x. Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune.
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.495-500), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980

In the second half of this article Marx included a large section of his report "On the Critique of Austrian Policy in the Crimean Campaign" published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung on August 18. The first paragraph of the article contains changes made by the editors of the New York Daily Tribune, who may, in particular, have added the reference to the report on Emperor Francis Joseph's inspection tour. The article was published in The Eastern Question under the heading "Austria and England". In a footnote to the first sentence the compilers—Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling—suggest that the report of the Austrian officer mentioned in it was sent to the Tribune by Marx in his own translation. However, no evidence to support this has come to light.

We communicate to our readers on another page an account-by an Austrian officer of a tour of inspection of the Galician Army recently made by the Emperor Francis Joseph. The writer, in narrating the events of this tour, and in stating the dislocation of the Imperial forces, confirms the opinion we have on former occasions taken care to explain, that in the preparations she last year made for war Austria was by no means engaged in a comedy for the delusion of the Western Powers. Certainly she could never have made such sacrifices merely to throw dust in the eyes of the world.

It is true that the utmost necessity alone induced her to arm against Russia; and indeed, as long as it was possible to procrastinate, Austria clung to the cobweb thread of a prospective peace which Russian diplomacy held out for a bait. At last, however, her patience was exhausted, and St. Petersburg learned with surprise, not unmingled with terror, that the Austrian columns were drawn up along the Galician frontier. This was before the bare possibility of such an armament had been admitted; and to concentrate an army of equal strength on the Russian side, within an equally short time, was altogether out of the question. The arts of diplomacy had therefore again to be resorted to. In what manner, and with what success this was done, need not be repeated. The whole of the immense army lately gathered on the Galician frontiers was dissolved at once, and the apprehensions of Russia in that quarter were partly allayed[1]. We say partly, because two important elements have risen with that army which are not dissolved along with it. These are the fortifications and railways erected, renewed, or completed, during the stay of the army in Galicia.

While in all other parts of the Empire the Government was guided by the principle of abandoning railway enterprise to private speculators, while the Western Railway, intended to connect Vienna with Munich, was even strikingly neglected, Baron Hess, the commander-in-chief in Galicia, was employing thousands of soldiers in the construction of a line of which however great the strategical value the commercial advantages are questionable, at least for the present—a line, too, which otherwise might have remained in the desks of private engineers for thirty years to come. To Russia nothing could have been more disagreeable than the construction of these railways, by which Austria is now able to reconcentrate the army just dissolved within less than a fifth part of the time required by Russia to bring up a similar army. Whoever will take the pains to inquire into the statistics of Austrian railway enterprise, and compare what has been done in the east to meet purely political views with the little attention paid to the interests of commerce in the west, he cannot fail to disbelieve that these Galician railways were thus hurried into premature existence for the mere deception of the world. Indeed, it is plain that such a purpose would have been much better answered by the speedy completion of the western lines connecting Austria with Bavaria.

Our opinion is also confirmed in a still higher degree by the recent extensive improvements and additions in the fortifications of the eastern provinces of Austria. I f railways may or may not be constructed from strategical considerations, the erection and completion of a system of fortifications, and the unproductive outlay occasioned by such works, certainly admit of no explanation beyond the immediate necessities of the case. What we have said about the comparative extent of railway-works in the east and west of Austria applies with much greater force to these fortifications. Of the thirty-six fortresses of the Austrian Empire seven belong directly, and nine indirectly, to the eastern line of defense, most of them having only recently been raised to a high perfection—as for instance Cracow, Przemysl and Zaleszczyki. The two former, together with Lemberg, which on account of its situation cannot be made of great strength, command the road to Warsaw; the latter is at the easternmost extremity of Galicia, opposite the important Russian fortress of Chotin. Cracow has been made a fortress of the first order, and all the works of this, as well as of the other Galician fortifications, have been put in complete readiness for war. It was once the custom in the Austrian army to give the command of fortresses to old worn-out generals, as a sort of honorable retirement; and such places were looked upon as a sort of exile for officers in disgrace at the Court; but we now find in the whole east and north-east really efficient men, generals of merit and distinguished staff-officers in command of fortresses. Cracow is commanded by Field-Marshal Wolter; Przemysl by Major-General Ebner; Zaleszczyki by Major-General Gläser; Carlsburg, in Transylvania, by Field-Marshal Sedlmayer; and Olmütz, on the north-western flank, by General von Böhm. At the same time the state of things in the west is the very reverse—men and things all but ruins tranquilly made over to further decay. How different would be the aspect there if the Western Powers could even pretend to call Austria's policy ambiguous! How the Austrian authorities would hasten to restore Linz with its forty Maximilian towers, now scarcely treated as a fortress—and Salzburg, once a stronghold of the first order! Instead of this, what do we behold?—dead quiet and perfect absence of all military preparations. The very soldiers returning from the East, where they expected to reap their laurels, are invalided as fast as they approach the Bavarian frontier.

These being facts which speak for themselves, there remains only one question to be settled: namely, through whose fault was the policy of Austria baffled and that country saddled with an enormous additional debt, without any immediate advantage either to itself or to its ostensible allies? We know it to be an opinion current at Vienna and reechoed throughout Germany, that Austria shrank back for fear of creating a second adversary in Prussia, and because a war undertaken without the aid of Germany, offered no guaranty of as speedy a termination as the exceptional position of the empire requires. We must however insist upon the contrary view. It is our judgment that if Austria had boldly attacked the Russian army, Prussia and the rest of Germany would have been compelled to follow, more or less slowly and reluctantly, in her track.

Who, then, is to be held responsible for the present Austrian policy?—England, under the guidance of that brilliant boggler and loquacious humbug, Lord Palmerston. To prove this proposition it is necessary to leave the military camp and to enter the diplomatic labyrinth. On the 23d of July Mr. Disraeli asked Lord John Russell the authority for his statement that "one of the principal causes of the expedition to the Crimea was the refusal of Austria to cross the River Pruth."[2] Lord John could not recollect—that is he said his "authority was his general recollection." Mr. Disraeli then put the question to Lord Palmerston, who

"would not answer questions like these, picked out piecemeal from a long course of negotiations between her Majesty's Government and the Government of one of the Sovereigns[3] in alliance to a certain degree with her Majesty. All he could say with regard to himself was, that he had always thought the Crimea was the place where the most effective blow could be struck at the preponderance of Russia in the Black Sea; and if there had been no other reason [...] that would, in his mind, be amply sufficient for the expedition." "My opinion," he declared, "was that the expedition to the Crimea was the best step to take."

Thus we learn from Lord Palmerston that the Crimean campaign originated not with Austria, not with Bonaparte, but with himself. On June 26 Lord Lyndhurst, making a fierce . onslaught on Austria, stated that

"early in June [1854] she resolved on making a demand upon Russia to evacuate the Principalities. That demand was made in very strong terms, with something like an intimation that if it were not complied with Austria would resort to forcible means to secure this object."

After some historical observations, the learned lord went on to say:

"Did Austria then immediately carry into effect any attack upon Russia? Did she attempt to enter the Principalities?—Far from it. She abstained from doing anything for a period of several weeks, till the moment when the siege of Silistria had been raised and the Russian army was in retreat, and when Russia herself had served a notice that she would within a certain time leave the Principalities and retire behind the Pruth."[4]

Lord Lyndhurst thus reproaches Austria for saying one thing and doing another. He was followed in the debate by Lord Clarendon, and from him we may get some idea of the genius which transformed the Austria of May and June into the Austria of July and August. He says that

"when Austria entered into those successive engagements with England and France, and when she made those extensive and costly preparations for war—when, moreover, she urgently proposed that military commissions should be sent by France and England to the headquarters of Gen. Hess, I have no doubt she intended and expected war. But she also expected that long before the season for military operations began the allied armies would have obtained decisive victories in the Crimea—that they would be free, and would be able to undertake other operations in concert with her own forces. That unfortunately was not the case; and if Austria had at our invitation declared war, she would in all probability have had to wage that war single-handed."

The explanation of Lord John Russell is thus in direct opposition to the statement of Lord Clarendon. Lord John stated that the Crimean expedition sailed because Austria refused to cross the Pruth—that is, to take part against Russia. Lord Clarendon tells us that Austria could not take part against Russia because of the expedition to the Crimea.

Next, we may consult with profit an uncontradicted statement of Lord Ellenborough:

"Before the expedition to the Crimea was dispatched, Austria proposed to communicate with the allied Powers on the subject of future military operations; acting, however, upon preconceived opinions, the Allies sent that expedition, and then Austria at once said that she could not meet the Russians single-handed, and that the expedition to the Crimea rendered it necessary for her to adopt a different course of action. At a subsequent period, just at the commencement of the Conferences at Vienna, when it was of the greatest possible importance that Austria should act with us—at that time, still looking to nothing but the success of your operations in the Crimea, you withdrew from the immediate vicinity of Austria 50,000 good Turkish troops, thus depriving Austria of the only assistance on which she could rely in the event of a military expedition against Russia. It is clear, therefore, my lords, and also from the statements of the noble earl [Clarendon], that it is our ill-advised expedition to the Crimea which has paralyzed the policy of Austria, and which has reduced her to a position of such difficulty as to prevent her at once adopting a course which is essential for her honor, her dignity, and her interest. Before that expedition sailed to the Crimea I ventured to counsel the Government as to what the necessary consequences of it would be. I counseled them as to the effect which that expedition would produce upon the policy of Austria."

The advice of Lord Ellenborough was not heeded. Palmerston sent off the Sevastopol expedition at the very moment when its sailing was best calculated to prevent and avert Austrian hostilities against Russia. It almost looks as if he had meant to render aid to the great enemy of England, and as if he had purposely entrapped Austria into her present ambiguous position in the Principalities, delivered her over to Russian diplomacy, and crowded her still nearer to the brink of that abyss into which she must ultimately sink. In this matter, as in so many others during his long and inglorious career, Palmerston has brilliantly succeeded, whatever may have been his real purpose, in serving the interest of Russia alone.

  1. The concentration of Austrian troops on the Austro-Russian border began in May 1854 and was accompanied by large-scale conscription. Prior to this, on April 20, 1854, Austria concluded a defensive and offensive treaty with Prussia. Austria's military preparations were a major factor behind Russia's decision to withdraw its troops from the Danubian Principalities. However, on June 24, 1855 a reduction of the Austrian troops concentrated along the Galician frontier began on the orders of the Austrian Emperor. This was tantamount to an open refusal by Austria to enter the war on the side of the Allies.
  2. The House of Commons debate (Disraeli's questions and the replies by Russell and Palmerston) was reported in The Times, No. 22114, July 24, 1855. Russell's statement quoted by Disraeli is from the former's speech in the House of Commons on July 19, 1855.—Ed.
  3. Presumably Francis Joseph.—Ed.
  4. The House of Lords debate of June 26, 1855 was reported in The Times, No. 22091, June 27, 1855.—Ed.