Events in the Crimea (September 1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Friedrich Engels
Written 14 September 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 435, September 18, 1855
Marked with the sign x
The English version was published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 4508, October 1, 1855,
and reprinted in the New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1080, October 2, 1855 as a leading article.
Printed according to the Neue Oder-Zeitung.
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.531-533), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung
Keywords : Crimean War, England, Russia

This article is Marx's adaptation for the Neue Oder-Zeitung of part of Engels' article "Crimean Prospects" published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 4508, October 1, 1855.

London, September 14. "The ringing of bells and the thunder of cannon" is the slogan of the day in England at the moment. The world seems full of happiness and every building of the slightest importance, public or private, is full of Anglo-French flags. The same scene in Manchester as in London, despite the "Manchester School"; in Edinburgh as in Manchester, despite the Scottish philosophy. At the moment, nothing is able to dampen the general enthusiasm, not even the extraordinary list of fatalities flashed to London by the telegraph. The defeat of the British before the Redan bastion and the capture of the decisive point, fort Malakhov, by the French—this contrast alone muffles the clamour of victory and sets some bounds to the boastfulness. Anyone sharing the old prejudice—one owed like so many others to the uncritical confusion of modern and ancient conditions of society—the prejudice that industry and commerce destroy the martial character of a people may now inform himself of the contrary in England, and even in Manchester, its industrial metropolis. It is a very simple matter. In modern society the wealth of a nation, though not the wealth of the individual, increases with increased labour, in ancient society it increased with the increased laziness of the nation. Steuart, the Scottish economist, who published his important work ten years before Adam Smith, had already discovered and developed this point.[1]

But public enthusiasm is vainly seeking nourishment in the latest telegraphic despatches. They are as meagre as the first was rich. Pélissier writes that a "matériel immense" has fallen into the hands of the Allies at Sevastopol[2]. We suspect—a heap of old iron whose price is bound to fall.

The turn that will be taken by events now depends mainly on the motives which induced the Russians to abandon the South Side so suddenly. This much is clear. Purely tactical and strategic reasons played no part in this decision. If Gorchakov had considered the surrender of Karabelnaya and the town to be inseparable from the fall of fort Malakhov, then why the huge mass of defence works within the suburb? In spite of the commanding position of the Malakhov 5-6 weeks could have been won by a stubborn defence, first of the inner defence works of the suburb and then of the town itself. Judging from the best maps, plans and models there are no purely strategic or tactical reasons for the sudden surrender of what has so far been held so tenaciously. There remain only two feasible explanations: the moral self-confidence of the Russian army was broken to a point which made it inadvisable to take a new stand behind the inner defence works of the town. Or the lack of provisions was beginning to make itself felt, not only in the town but also in the camp, or, finally, both these reasons.

The almost unbroken series of defeats suffered by the Russian army from Oltenitza[3] and Chetatea[4] to the battle on the Chernaya[5] and the assault of September 8 can only have had a demoralising effect on the besieged troops, all the more so as a great number of them had witnessed the defeats on the Danube and at Inkerman[6]. Certainly, the Russians possess an obtuse sense of morale and as a result they can endure defeats better than other troops. However, even this is bound to have its limits. Resistance stretched over an unusually long period of time in a besieged location has in itself a demoralising effect. It comprises suffering, exertion, lack of rest, disease and the constant presence, not of acute danger, which steels, but of that chronic danger which breaks men down. The defeat on the Chernaya, where half the reserve army was engaged, precisely those reinforcements which were to rescue the South Side, and the seizure of the Malakhov, the key to the whole position, these two defeats must have consummated the demoralisation. Since the Malakhov commanded the bridge to the other side and the French could destroy it at any moment, all access became problematic and retreat became the last resort of the troops. As for the lack of provisions, there are signs that it was beginning to make itself felt. The interruption of Russian shipping in the Sea of Azov restricted the Russians to a single line of operations and thus shortened their supplies. The enormous difficulty of transporting food, munitions, etc., over a thinly-populated steppe naturally grew as soon as the road from Kherson alone remained open. The means of transport requisitioned and collected from the Ukraine and the Don provinces had to become used up sooner or later, and for the adjacent provinces, since they were exhausted, it became more and more difficult to replace them. This lack of supplies must first of all have revealed itself, not in Sevastopol, where great stocks were heaped up, but in the camp at Inkerman, at Bakhchisarai and along the reinforcements' line of march. This is the only possible explanation why the two infantry divisions which have been on the march for so long and are now said to be at Perekop, did not advance and take part in the battle on the Chernaya, and also, on the other hand, why in spite of the absence of this, the better, half of the replacement troops the battle was risked with a fighting force which was entirely disproportionate to its task. If these points of view arc correct then Gorchakov had indeed no alternative but to use the capture of fort Malakhov as a respectable pretext for saving his garrison.

  1. The reference is to Sir James Steuart's An Inquiry into the Principles of Political Œconomy, published in London in 1767 (the point in question is discussed in Volume I, Book I, Chapter VII) and Adam Smith's An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, published in London in 1776.—Ed.
  2. Pélissier's report of September 10, 1855, Le Moniteur universel, No. 256, September 13, 1855.—Ed.
  3. At Oltenitza (south-east Wallachia) in the Danubian theatre, the Russian and Turkish forces fought one of the first battles of the Crimean War (November 4, 1853). A Russian detachment attacked the Turkish forces which had crossed to the left bank of the Danube. The attack failed, but the Turkish troops were soon compelled to withdraw to the right bank. Engels described the battle in his 'article "The War on the Danube" (see MECW, Vol. 12, pp. 516-22).
  4. The battle of Chetatea, in the Danubian theatre, between the Turkish and Russian armies, took place in the early period of the Crimean War, on January 6, 1854. It resulted from the Turks' attempts to take the offensive in the Kalafat area, at the juncture of Wallachia, Serbia and Bulgaria. After a stiff fight the Russian detachment was compelled to retreat under pressure from considerable Turkish forces (about 18,000 men), but following the arrival of Russian reinforcements the Turks were forced to go over to the defensive and eventually retreated to Kalafat. For a description of these events see Engels' article "The Last Battle in Europe".
  5. The battle of the Chernaya: On August 16, 1855 Russian troops attacked the French and Sardinians on the river Chernaya about twelve kilometres southeast of Sevastopol in an attempt to weaken the Allies' siege of the city. However, the Russians were repulsed and suffered heavy losses due to inadequate preparation of the attack and errors on the part of the Russian command. Engels analysed this important episode of the Crimean War in his article "The Battle of the Chernaya".
  6. In the battle of Inkerman in the Crimea (November 5, 1854) the Anglo-French forces defeated the Russian army, but the Russians' vigorous action compelled the enemy to refrain from storming Sevastopol and instead lay siege to the city. Engels described the battle in detail in his article "The Battle of Inkerman".