Comments on the Cabinet Crisis (January 1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 26 January 1855

First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 47, January 29, 1855
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.603-604), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, January 26.

When an envoy of Sultan Malik-Shah came to Alamut and called on Hasan-i Sabbah to surrender, the "old man of the mountains", instead of answering, beckoned to one of his fidawis[1], commanding him to kill himself. At once the youth plunged his dagger into his breast and fell to the floor, a lifeless corpse. In the same way the "old man" of the Coalition[2] had ordered his Lord John Russell to commit suicide on his behalf in the House of Commons. Russell, the old parliamentary philanthropist, who always interpreted the commandment "Love thy neighbour as thyself" to mean that every man is his own neighbour, has preferred to kill the "old man" instead. We were not mistaken about Roebuck. His motion was arranged with Russell in order to salvage the "better part"—the Whigs—from the shipwreck.

Indeed! This motion is not directed against the Ministry but against the "departments" that are directly responsible for the conduct of the war, i.e., against the Peelites. Furthermore, it was obvious that at the opening of Parliament he had good reasons for making the declaration that the basis for negotiations was no basis insofar as Russia reserved the right to dispute each of the Four Points—and, that the negotiations were likewise no negotiations insofar as the English Cabinet had still not appointed a negotiator. Scarcely had Roebuck proposed his motion—on Tuesday—when Russell writes the same evening to the "old man" that this motion amounts to a vote of censure against the War Office (the Peelites), and that he must therefore tender his resignation[3]. Aberdeen goes to the Queen at Windsor Castle and advises her to accept his [Russell's] resignation, which is what happens. The courage of the "old man" is understandable when one learns that Palmerston has not handed in his resignation.

At the Thursday sitting the House of Commons is informed of these important events. It adjourns its sitting (and Roebuck his motion) until this evening[4]. Now the whole of the House of Commons rushes into the House of Lords where clarification is expected of Aberdeen, but Aberdeen is clever enough to be absent—reportedly back in Windsor—and the Duke of Newcastle recounts the same tale in the Lords as Palmerston has told in the Commons. In the- meanwhile the Whigs of the Commons are appalled to discover in the House of Lords that their plan has been seen through and their retreat cut off. The Tories, not at all eager to re-install the Whigs, at the expense of the Peelites, in their old privilege as "divinely-appointed tenants of the British Empire", have prevailed on Lord Lyndhurst to propose a motion which, in contrast to Roebuck's motion, does not merely censure—á la Roebuck—individual departments of the Government but puts the entire Government formally in the dock. Lord Lyndhurst's motion reads as follows:

"I shall move on Friday, February 2, that in the opinion of this House the expedition to the Crimea was undertaken by Her Majesty's Government with very inadequate means and without due caution or sufficient inquiry into the nature and extent of the resistance to be expected from the enemy: and that the neglect and mismanagement of the Government in the conduct of the enterprise have led to the most disastrous results."

There is no mistaking it: Lyndhurst's motion is aimed at the Whigs just as Roebuck's is aimed at the Aberdeenites. An incidental observation: Lord John Russell has informed the Commons through Hayter that he will explain the reasons for his resignation at the earliest opportunity, that is tonight. "He who expects nothing will not be disappointed."[5]

  1. Fidawis—literally a man who sacrifices himself for an idea; in Persia, Syria and Lebanon—members of a secret order of Assassins (late eleventh-thirteenth centuries) founded to fight the Seljuk Turks and the Crusaders.
  2. Aberdeen.—Ed.
  3. The Times, No. 21961, January 26, 1855, leader.—Ed.
  4. Speeches of Roebuck, Palmerston and Hayter in the House of Commons and of the Duke of Newcastle and Lord Lyndhurst in the House of Lords on January 25, 1855 were published in The Times, No. 21961, January 26, 1855.—Ed.
  5. On the basis of telegraphic dispatches from London the editors of the Neue Oder-Zeitung added at the end of Marx's article the following paragraph omitted in the present edition:

    "According to telegraphic dispatches from London dated January 26 and 27, Lord John Russell, in connection with the explanation given to Parliament on the causes of his resignation, submitted among other things correspondence exchanged between him and Lord Aberdeen in which he urges a change in the management of the affair. In his view the lamentable situation of the army before Sevastopol cannot be disputed and notwithstanding all his experience in the matter it is impossible for him to establish the causes of the misfortune. Lord Palmerston criticised the motives of John Russell's resignation, but nevertheless admitted that the war must be pursued with the greatest energy. He maintains that all the ships have been used as they should have been: to transport troops, clothing and provisions to the Crimea, and requested a formal vote of confidence or no confidence in the Government. Roebuck's speech was, despite the fact that the speaker was visibly suffering, repeatedly interrupted by applause from all parts of the House. In the Upper House the Earl of Aberdeen stated that the Ministers considered it their duty, despite the resignation of their influential colleague, to oppose the request for the appointment of a commission of inquiry."