Corn Prices. European Finances and War Preparations. The Oriental Question

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 25 August 1860

First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 6046, September 10, 1860
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.465-470), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

London, Aug. 25, 1860

The state of the weather having not improved during this week, a rise of 6 shillings per sack took place in the value of town-made flour, at Mark Lane yesterday, and orders for the purchase of nearly 1,000,000 quarters of produce were at once forwarded to foreign ports. Importers share now pretty generally the opinion I advanced in a late letter[1] as to the inevitable further rise in the quotations of the grain market. The recent measures taken by France in regard to the corn trade bring that country into direct competition with the British corn merchant. You are aware that there exists in France a sliding scale, regulating the import and export duties on grain, and that this sliding scale varies for the eight different circles which the whole country is divided into with respect to the corn trade. Now, by a decree published in the Moniteur of the 23d inst.[2], this sliding scale has been altogether suspended. The decree enacts that grain and flour imported by land or by sea, in French or foreign vessels, shall, wherever they may come from, only pay, up to the 30th of September, 1861, the minimum of duties fixed by the law of the 15th of April, 1832[3]; also, that vessels laden with grain and flour shall be exempt from tunnage dues; and finally, that vessels so laden leaving any foreign port at any date previous to the said 30th of September, 1861, shall only pay the said minimum, and shall be free from tunnage dues. The minimum referred to, is 25 cents the hectolitre (about 2¾ bushels)[4]. Consequently, while France in the years 1858 and 1859 sent more wheat—2,014,923 quarters—and more flour—4,326,435 cwt. to England than any other country, it will now seriously compete with England in the purchase of grain in the foreign markets—the provisional suspension of the French sliding scale affording the wanted facilities for such competition.

The two main markets of export which both England and France find themselves limited to are the United States and Southern Russia. In regard to the latter country, the news as to the state of the harvest is of the most contradictory character. On the one hand, it is asserted that the harvest is most plentiful; on the other, that heavy rains and high floods having damaged the crops in all parts of the Empire, the roads and corn-fields of the southern provinces had been greatly devastated by locusts, a scourge which made its first appearance in Bessarabia, and whose depredations it was vainly attempted to circumscribe within a limited area by an army of 20,000 men drawing a cordon around them. The ultimate extent of the disaster cannot, of course, be estimated, but at all events it must tend to accelerate the upward movement of food prices. Some London papers fancy that the drain of bullion inseparable from large and sudden corn imports may be counterbalanced in its usual effect upon the money market by the gold supplies from Australia. No notion could be more preposterous. We witnessed, during the crisis of 1857, a lower ebb of the bullion reserves than in any similar epoch before the discovery of Australia and California. On former occasions I have shown by incontrovertible facts and figures that the extraordinary gold imports into England since 1851 have been more than counterbalanced by extraordinary gold exports. There is, moreover, the fact that the bullion reserves in the Bank of England have, since 1857, not only not exceeded the average amount, but were continually falling off. While they amounted in August, 1858, to £17,654,506, they had declined to £16,877,255 in August, 1859, and to £15,680,840 in August, 1860[5]. As the gold drain has not yet set in, this phenomenon may be accounted for by the circumstance that the prospect of a failing harvest is only beginning to operate, while, till now, the rate of interest has continued to be higher at London than at the other principal exchanges of the Continent, viz.: Amsterdam, Frankfort, Hamburg, and Paris.

Continental Europe exhibits at this moment a very curious spectacle. France is known to labor under heavy financial difficulties, but she is creating armaments on a scale as gigantic, with an energy as untiring, as if she owned Aladdin's lamp., Austria totters on the very brink of bankruptcy, but, somehow or other, the money is found for feeding an immense army, and crowding the fortresses of the Quadrilateral[6] with rifle cannon. And Russia, where all the monetary operations of the Government have failed, and the national bankruptcy is talked of as a probable event—where the army grumbles in consequence of arrears not paid, and even the loyalty of the Imperial Guard is put to a severe test, their pay having been withheld for the last five months—Russia, nevertheless, is pouring her troops down to the Black Sea, and holds 200 ships ready at Nicolaieff, in order to embark them for Turkey. The inability of the Russian Government to cope with the slave question, the money question, and the reviving Polish question, seems to have decided it to try war as a last resource of national soporification. The complaints arising from all parts of the Empire, and all ranks of Russian society, are consequently, by Government order, drowned in the fanatical cry of revenge for the poor, down-trodden Christians of Turkey. Day by day the Russian press teems with illustrations and demonstrations as to the necessity of an intervention in Turkey. The following extract from the Invalid[7] may be considered a fair sample[8].

"The Oriental question has reached a stage which is certain to keep it before the Powers for a long time to come, and, as it now engrosses the attention of all Europe, it would ill become us to leave it undiscussed in our columns. Those only who are indifferent to the interests of humanity can allow this topic to pass by unnoticed. We, however, are obliged not only to relate the details of Oriental occurrences, but also to allude to the eventualities of the future, especially as it behooves us to show the public what measures must be taken in order to do away with such an unnatural state of things, forming, as it does, the disgrace of our century and civilization.

"Considering what acts of barbarism the Turks are allowed to commit, we are, in deference to truth and justice, compelled to acknowledge that Europe must be held accountable for the origin and consequences of Mussulman fanaticism. We will not hesitate to speak out frankly. What were the motives that prompted Europe to engage in an unjust war against Russia in 1853-4? Europe herself put forward two objects as the grounds of the Crimean campaign[9]: One was, to thwart the power and ambition of Russia; the other to prevent the oppression of Christians by the Turks. Europe, consequently, acknowledged the existence of such oppression, but in order to remove it, declared her determination to maintain the integrity of Turkey as a necessary condition of the balance of power. The war being at an end, diplomacy began to busy itself with the means for the attainment of this double object. The first step was to receive Turkey into the family of European Powers, and to protect her against the overweening interference of any one of their number. This being easy enough of accomplishment, one of the two objects was consequently secured. But how is it with the other? Have any guarantees been given for the protection of Christians against murder and every description of ill usage? Alas! Europe in this respect put her faith in words, papers, and documents, without any solid security being accorded for their fulfillment. As early as the 8th of August, 1854, when the cessation of hostilities was contemplated[10], the Porte was called upon to grant an equal share of religious rights to its Christian and Mussulman subjects[11]. The same demand was raised by the St. Petersburg Cabinet in the memorials of the 28th December, 1854[12]; and finally, the preliminary conditions of peace drawn up at Vienna on the 1st of February, 1856, and afterward embodied in the minutes of the first sitting of the Paris Congress, were made to include the following words: 'The rights of the rayahs will be protected, without prejudice, however, to the independence and sovereign dignity of the Sultan. Austria, France, Great Britain, and the Porte, are of accord respecting the maintenance of the Turkish Christians in the enjoyment of their political and religious rights; and they will request the consent of Russia to this proposition in the instrument of peace.'

"The same object occupied the Congress in various other sittings, as may be seen from the minutes of the 28th of February, and of the 24th and 25th of March. In all this, it was desirous of attaining two objects mutually destructive of each other—to preserve the sovereign rights of the Sultan, and to place those of his Christian subjects under the guardianship of Europe. The Congress altogether forgot that the same rights of the Christians, which it was so desirous of establishing, had been conceded over and over again by the Porte in its previous treaties with Europe—treaties which, moreover, had already abolished the sovereign power of that monarch, who, as Europe now said, ought to be assisted in its maintenance. To establish a little harmony between these two contradictory points, the Sultan, while induced to issue the celebrated Hatti-Humayouni, was acknowledged to have acted from his own free will and sovereign inclination. So he had to promise that he would respect and increase the rights of his Christian subjects, and this promise was received into the treaty of peace, by way of guaranty for its fulfillment as one of its constituent parts. On these conditions, the Congress, in the 9th clause of the treaty, resigned all further interference with the internal affairs of Turkey.

"But has the Congress really obtained any guaranty for the carrying out of the Hatti-Humayouni? Have any effective obligations been entered into by the Sultan? Of this, nothing was provided. For, although the wisdom of the Hatti-Humayouni is much extolled in the treaty, that document, as all Europe predicted, has remained a dead letter. But, worse than this—Europe, in virtue of the new treaty, is deprived of all right of legal interference[13], even though the Hatti-Humayouni may never have been executed, and notwithstanding the perpetration of the most horrible atrocities only four years after its issue. [...] Quite recently, Russia warned all the Cabinets of Europe that the fanaticism of the Turks[14] had diminished neither in zeal nor fierceness; that new outbreaks were soon to be expected, although, indeed, there had never been any interval of relaxation. But even then Europe was satisfied with the promises of the Porte, and indulged herself in the hope that the guilty parties would be punished, and law and order speedily restored. It needed the wholesale slaughter at the hands of these savages to effect a change in her opinions. Then at length Europe resolved to interfere[15], though not without such delay and circumlocution as would justify the belief that she intended to let the guilty ones escape. Everything was made to depend on the letter of the treaty of the 30th March, 1856; and, just as in the case of Italy last year, the sufferings of a people weighed nothing against the text of a diplomatic document.[16]

"But our opinion on all this is very different. The treaty of Europe with Turkey, in our eyes, guarantees the principles of humanity, religion, and civilization. If Turkey violates these principles, she alone brings upon herself the interference of Europe.[17]

"Until the year 1856, the Powers of Europe, in virtue of several treaties concluded with the Porte, owned a legal right of remonstrance respecting the position of the Christian rayahs. To-day, however, it may be questioned whether or not this right has been abrogated by the treaty of the 30th March, 1856. Has Europe resigned the privileges of protecting its co-religionists? It has if it ever reckoned upon the execution of the Hatti-Humayouni, of the 18th February; if it ever believed that reforms promised are one and the same with reforms carried out; if it ever hoped that the customs, passions, and laws of the Mussulmans[18] are capable of a change. But, of course, Europe never was, never could be, of that opinion. Carried away by the belief that the integrity of the Ottoman Empire is a sine qua non for the balance of power, she allowed the Sultan to enter into her family of States. But this was only accorded on the condition that Turkey, dissevering herself from Mussulman traditions, should become European in her institutions; that a sword should no longer be the only law-giver between believers and unbelievers; that the Christians should no longer be the slaves of their masters and the property of the royal rayahs cease to form the common plundering-ground of Mussulmans. This, indeed, was the leading idea of Europe in 1856. With all its wrath against Russia, the natural consequence of a sanguinary and unjust war, it did not release the Porte from its previous obligations; but, on the contrary, demanded a progressive improvement in the situation of the Christians. To secure the attainment of this object was the only purpose of the common protectorate of Europe over the Porte and for this price alone Europe guaranteed the integrity of the Sultan's dominions. Without this, neither the war nor the peace would have been justifiable. Without this, Turkey would never have been received into the family of Powers, nor protected in the integrity of her possessions. The two conditions are so intimately connected that they cannot be separated; every one can see that, who wishes to see at all.

"The form of the condition, it is true, might have been less effective than it is; if the letter of the treaty ruled supreme. Europe, in virtue of the 9th clause, has formally resigned her right of interference[19] in the internal affairs of Turkey; but even in this clause mention is made of the Hatti-Humayouni of the 18th February, in accordance with which the Christians are to be placed on an equal footing of right with the Mussulmans. It is but in harmony with the laws of sound logic to infer, that if the Hatti-Humayouni has been disregarded, the 9th clause falls to the ground.

"In vain Turkey now affects to quell the latest outbreak[20] in Syria. That outbreak was unavoidable, considering that the situation of the Christians has not been ameliorated, but on the contrary, rendered worse than before. In vain England strives to prevent the interference[r] of Europe; it is just possible she has her own policy, and is swayed by political and commercial motives, the justice and importance of which we do not care to consider; but she cannot base her objections on the 9th clause of the Paris Treaty. [...] In vain Europe seeks to conceal the fact of her interference, under the plea that it has been undertaken in consequence of a wish of the Sultan. We say that all this is in vain; and although Ilion did not belie '4 in the prophecies of Cassandra, we have at least the satisfaction of knowing that Ilion was destroyed."

  1. See The Crops in Europe (August 1860).—Ed.
  2. Le Moniteur universel, No. 235.—Ed.
  3. "Loi relative à l'importation et a l'exportation des céréales [le 15 avril 1832]", Le Moniteur universel, No. 109, April 18, 1832.—Ed.
  4. "Foreign correspondence", The Economist, No. 887, August 25, 1860, p. 931.—Ed.
  5. "Bank Returns and Money Market", The Economist, No. 887, August 25, 1860, p. 934.—Ed.
  6. Mantua, Peschiera, Verona and Legnago (on this see Engels, "Po and Rhine").—Ed.
  7. Russky Invalid.—Ed.
  8. Marx is quoting from "The Oriental Question", an article published in the Russky Invalid, Nos. 164 and 165 on July 31 and August 2, 1860, making some changes in the text of the journal. Apparently, he was using a version of this article printed in the European press. The most important divergences are indicated in the footnotes.
  9. The words "as the grounds of the Crimean campaign" do not occur in the Russky Invalid.—Ed.
  10. The Russky Invalid has here "and the famous Four Points drawn up".—Ed.
  11. The Russky Invalid reads "the Porte was called upon to preserve the religious rights of all the Christians".—Ed.
  12. The Russky Invalid has "The same demand was raised in the memorials of the 28th December, 1854, submitted to the St. Petersburg Cabinet."—Ed.
  13. The Russky Invalid has "mediation" instead of "legal interference".—Ed.
  14. The Russky Invalid has "Mussulmans".—Ed.
  15. The Russky Invalid has "mediate".—Ed.
  16. The Russky Invalid has "against the letter of the Vienna treaties".—Ed.
  17. The Russky Invalid has "the mediation and its consequences".—Ed.
  18. The Russky Invalid has "laws of the Koran".—Ed.
  19. The Russky Invalid has "mediation".—Ed.
  20. The Russky Invalid has "In vain Turkey now vigorously opposes mediation".—Ed.