European War Inevitable (1849)

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Author(s) Friedrich Engels
Written 2 March 1849

Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 8, p. 456;
First published: in the special supplement to Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 235, March 2, 1849.
Collection(s): Neue Rheinische Zeitung

Cologne, March 2. The second sitting of the Second Chamber has produced two not uninteresting results: firstly, that the Right has so far been 21 votes stronger than the Left, not ten as we were informed yesterday; and secondly, the official announcement of the termination of the armistice of Malmö.[1] The latter event naturally leads to a thousand — and — one diplomatic speculations. Thus, the Russian Cabinet is said to have concluded conditionally a mutual defensive and offensive alliance with Denmark; a Russian courier is said to have brought to Berlin the order to resist all possible demands of the Chamber absolutely etc. We shall report tomorrow what is substantiated of these rumours.

We learn from Italy: in Turin Gioberti is definitely dismissed and Chiodo definitely Prime Minister. The Chamber has sanctioned the change of ministry and in agreement with the Ministers has decided on the immediate resumption of the war against Austria.[2] The Austrian expedition to Ferrara gives ample cause for this.

In Tuscany it seems that Laugier’s attempt at reaction is failing completely.[3] The Grand Duke, despairing of his luck, is said to have set sail to his Holy Father in Gaeta.

Apart from the alleged retreat of the Austrians from Ferrara (already reported yesterday by the Wiener Zeitung) there is nothing new from the Roman Republic.

According to the Moniteur du soir, Sicily has proclaimed a republic.[4]

Favourable news beyond all expectation has reached us from Hungary. According to imperial as well as Magyar reports the Magyars have reached Hatvan, three stages from Pest. This victorious advance is the first result of Görgey’s collaboration with the main Magyar army. The Austrians are sending all their troops post-haste towards Hatvan. In a few days a decisive battle will be fought there.[5]

This is the condensed content of the news which arrived this evening. War in Denmark, war in Italy, and more war than ever in Hungary-involvements every one of which would suffice in these times, calamitous for all the existing powers, to engender a European war. That war will come, it must come. It will divide Europe into two armed camps, not according to nations or national sympathies, but according to the level of civilisation. On the one side the revolution, on the other the coalition of all outmoded estate-classes and interests; on the one side civilisation, on the other barbarism. The victory may be tardy but it cannot be in doubt.

  1. Taking advantage of the forthcoming expiration of the seven months’ armistice signed by Denmark and Prussia at Malmö The reference is to the armistice between Denmark and Prussia concluded in the Swedish city of Ma]m5 on August 26, 1848. Though the Prussian ruling circles waged the war against Denmark over Schleswig and Holstein in the name of the German Confederation, they sacrificed general German interests to dynastic and counter-revolutionary interests when they concluded the armistice. They were moved by the desire to release troops for the suppression of the revolution in Prussia, and also by pressure from Russia and Britain, which supported Denmark. Besides a cease-fire between Prussia and Denmark, the armistice provided for the replacement of the provisional authorities in Schleswig with a new government, to be formed by the two, contracting parties (representatives of the Danish monarchy were dominant in it), separation of the Schleswig and Holstein armed forces and other harsh terms for the national liberation movement in the duchies. The revolutionary-democratic reforms which had been introduced were now virtually eliminated. The Malmö armistice and its ratification by the Frankfurt National Assembly caused popular dissatisfaction and protests in Germany. The Prussian ruling circles refused to prolong it with a view to raising the prestige of the Prussian monarchy by waging the war, which was very popular in Germany, and realising their aggressive plans. Military operations were resumed in March 1849 and proceeded with varying success. Eventually, under pressure from the Great Powers, Prussia signed a peace treaty with Denmark in Berlin on July 2, 1850, temporarily renouncing its claims to Schleswig and Holstein and treacherously leaving the population of these duchies to continue the war alone. The Schleswig-Holstein troops were defeated and compelled to cease resistance. As a result both duchies remained within the Kingdom of Denmark
  2. The moderate liberal Gioberti who headed the Piedmont Government strove to use the movement which had spread in Italian states for an all-Italy Constituent Assembly and unification of the country in a democratic way in order to carry out the plan of establishing a federation of Italian states which was in the interests of the Savoy dynasty. After the proclamation of a republic in Rome on February 9, 1849, and the beginning of a campaign for a republic in Tuscany, Gioberti made efforts to restore the power of Pius IX and Grand Duke Leopold 11 with military aid from Piedmont. Such a policy and his refusal to carry out progressive reforms in Piedmont made Gioberti extremely unpopular and led to his resignation on February 21, 1849. Under mass pressure and apprehensive over the future of the Savoy dynasty in the impending crisis in Italy, the Piedmont ruling circles were compelled to declare on March 12, 1849, the resumption of the war against Austria. However, the Piedmont army, which was poorly prepared for the war and led by monarchist generals who were afraid to impart a really popular character to the war, was soon routed by the Austrians. On March 26 the new King of Sardinia, Victor Emmanuel, was compelled to sign an armistice with Austria on more onerous terms than in August 1848
  3. The reference is to the failure of the counter-revolutionary General Laugier, supported by the Piedmont ruling circles and the Austrians, to interfere with the development of revolutionary events in Tuscany and prevent the abdication of Grand Duke Leopold If and the proclamation of a Tuscan republic. On January 30, 1849, the Grand Duke fled to Siena, and later to Gaeta, the residence of Pius IX. On February 18, a republic was proclaimed at a popular meeting (official introduction of the republican system was postponed till the convocation of a Constituent Assembly, which never took place due to sabotage by the moderate wing of the movement)
  4. The information reproduced by Engels from a French newspaper was not entirely correct. However, the events which marked the beginning of the culminating stage of the struggle between the revolutionary movement in Sicily and the Government of King Ferdinand of Naples provided a basis for rumours about the proclamation of a Sicilian republic. On February 25, 1849, Ferdinand sent the Sicilians an ultimatum. Though promising to sanction the restoration of the 18 1 2 Constitution he demanded disarmament and consent to occupation of the major parts of the island by Neapolitan troops. The refusal of the Sicilians to accept the ultimatum led to fierce fighting; although the Neapolitan forces were superior in numbers and arms, the Sicilians offered resistance until the beginning of May 1849
  5. The thoughts expressed here show Engels’ keen insight into future military developments in Hungary. Indeed, the general counter-offensive of the Hungarian revolutionary army was launched in the mentioned region at the beginning of April 1849. On April 2, the revolutionary army won a major victory at Hatvan, followed by a series of strong blows at the enemy. Thus, Engels’ forecast did not come true so far as the time of the offensive was concerned, but was quite correct in respect of the place of concentration of the main Hungarian forces for a decisive blow and its direction