From Parliament. From The Theatre of War (January 29, 1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 29 January 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 53, February 1, 1855
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.615-619), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, January 29.

Our judgment of the English Parliament[1] has been corroborated today by the English press.

"The Parliament of England," says The Morning Advertiser, "has met, and ... separated on the first night, in laughter more unseemly than the jesting of an idiot over his father's burial."[2]

The Times, too, cannot help remarking:

"There are few, we apprehend, who will rise from the perusal of Friday night's debate without a melancholy feeling, which they may not perhaps be able at once to define or analyse, but which, when examined, resolves itself into a conviction that our legislature, called together on a most urgent occasion to a consideration of the gravest nature, postpones primary to secondary objects, and gives up to party and personal considerations those hours which ought now to be exclusively devoted to the desperate situation of our army in the Crimea."[3]

In this situation, The Times proceeds to recommend making Palmerston prime minister because he is "too old" to be Secretary for War. It was The Times that recommended undertaking the Crimean expedition at such a time of the year and with such forces that almost certainly ensured failure, according to the testimony of Sir Howard Douglas, the greatest military critic of England.

Let us add a brief postscript to the account of Friday's sitting. Although Roebuck was forced by his old chronic ailment to break off his speech after ten minutes and abruptly propose his motion, he did have time to formulate the fatal question: We have sent out 54,000 well-equipped troops to the East. Of these 14,000 still exist. What has become of the 40,000 who are missing? And what was the answer of the Secretary at War, Sidney Herbert, the great patron of the English Pietists, the Tractarians?[4] He said the system was no good[5]. But when the separation of the War Office from the Colonial Office was carried out a few months ago, who resisted every thorough-going reform of the system?[6] Sidney Herbert and his colleagues. Sidney Herbert, not content with hiding behind "the system", accuses the commanders of the brigades and regiments of total incompetence. Anyone who knows the system also knows that these commanders have nothing to do with administration, nor, consequently, with the maladministration which it is admitted has now sacrificed a model army. But the pious Herbert is not satisfied with confessing the sins of other people. The English soldiers, he claims, are inept. They are unable to take care of themselves. They are indeed gallant but stupid.

"At fighting they are respectable,
When it comes to thinking—miserable."[7]

He, Sidney Herbert, and his colleagues are all misunderstood geniuses. Is it any wonder that Herbert's sermon appealed to that eccentric Drummond and put the question in his mouth whether it were not time to suspend the constitution and appoint a dictator for England[8]. Vernon Smith, the former Whig Minister, eventually gave the general confusion a classic expression, declaring that he knew not what the intention of the motion was, nor what he should do himself, nor whether a new ministry was in the making, nor if the old one had ever existed, and therefore he would not vote for the motion[9]. The Times believes, however, that the motion will be passed this evening[10]. On January 26, 1810, as we recall, resistance was mounted in the English Parliament against Lord Porchester's proposal to establish a committee of inquiry into the Walcheren Expedition[11]. Similar resistance occurred on January 26, 1855. On January 29, 1810 the motion was passed, and England is a country of historical precedents.

The mere acceptance of peace negotiations allowed Russia to withdraw as many troops from the observation army on the Austrian border as can be replaced in two months or ten weeks, i.e. at least 60,000-80,000. We now know that the entire former (Russian) Danube army has ceased to exist as such, as the 4th Corps has been in the Crimea since the end of October, the 3rd arrived there in the final days of December and the rest of the 5th Corps, together with the cavalry and reserves, are at present marching thither. The new distribution of these troops, who have to be replaced on the Bug and Dniester by troops from the Western Army (stationed in Poland, Volhynia and Podolia), and the fact that in addition parts of the 2nd Corps and the reserve cavalry are likewise heading for the Crimea, are sufficient explanation, even disregarding all the other secondary diplomatic aims involved, why Russia did not hesitate a moment to resume negotiation on the so-called "basis". A period of two to three months is of decisive importance for her, because her army, spread out on the long line from Kalish to Ismail, is without reinforcements no longer capable of resisting the growing numbers of the Austrian army confronting it. In order to prove this in more detail we present here a survey, emanating from the best possible sources—and overestimating, rather than under-estimating, the strength of the Russian forces—of the strength and position of the large Russian army on active service, which is to operate against the South and West of Europe. Initially it consisted of six army corps, each of 48 battalions, two corps of picked troops (Guards and Grenadiers), each 36 battalions strong, together with a relatively large number of cavalry, regular and irregular, and artillery. The Russian Government then called up reserves in order to form the 4th, 5th and 6th battalions of picked troops, and the 5th and 6th battalions of the other army corps. By raising more new troops it soon afterwards added a 7th battalion and 8th to each regiment, thus doubling the number of battalions in the line corps and more than doubling them for the picked troops.

These forces may be approximately estimated as follows: Guards and Grenadiers the first four battalions of each regiment=96 battalions of 900 men=86,400 men, ditto the last four battalions of each regiment, ditto of 700 men=67,200 men. The 1st and 2nd Corps (not yet engaged) the first four battalions of each regiment=96 battalions of 900 men=86,400 men. The last four battalions of each regiment=96 battalions of 700 men=67,200 men. The 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Corps the first four battalions of each regiment=192 battalions of 500 men=96,000 men; the last four battalions of each regiment=192 battalions of 700 men=134,400 men. The Finland Corps—14,400 men. [Total]=784 battalions comprising 552,000 men. Cavalry (regular) 80,000 men. Cavalry (irregular)—46,000 men. Artillery—80,000 men. Total 758,000 men. Casualties have hitherto affected only the 96 active battalions of the 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th Corps.

After deducting the 1st Division of the 5th Corps, which is at the Caucasus, there remain 750,000 men, that are now distributed as follows: On the shores of the Baltic Sea the Baltic Army under General Sievers, consisting of the Finnish Corps and the reserves of the Guards, Grenadiers and the 6th Corps, together with cavalry, etc., approximately 135,000 men, of which a proportion are raw recruits and recently organised battalions. In Poland and on the Galician border, from Kalish to Kamenez, the Guards, the Grenadiers, the 1st Corps, the 2nd Division of the 6th Corps, some of the reserves of the Grenadiers and of the 1st Corps, plus cavalry and artillery, approximately 235,000 men. The crack troops of the Russian Army are commanded by Gorchakov. In Bessarabia and between the Dniester and the Bug, there are two divisions of the 2nd Corps and a part of the reserves, approximately 60,000 men. These formed a part of the army of the West. But when the Danube army was sent to the Crimea they were detached from the Western army in order to take the place of the Danube army and, under the command of General Panyutin, they are now confronting the Austrian army in the Principalities. Intended for the defence of the Crimea: the 3rd and 4th Corps, two divisions of the 6th Corps and reserves, as well as one division of both the 2nd and 5th Army Corps on the march, together with cavalry they amount to some 170,000 men under Menshikov. The rest of the reserves and newly formed battalions, particularly of the 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th Corps, are being reorganised as the great reserve army under General Cheodayev. This reserve army, numbering about 150,000 is concentrated in the interior of Russia. How many of them are marching towards Poland or southward is unknown.

Thus while at the end of last summer Russia could muster less than 500,000 men on the western borders of her empire, from Finland to the Crimea, she now has 600,000 men, besides a reserve army of 150,000. Nevertheless she is weaker vis-à-vis Austria than at that time. Then, in August and September, there were 270,000 Russians in Poland and Podolia, while the army on the Pruth, Dniester and Danube amounted to roughly 80,000 men, making a total of 350,000 men capable of operating together against Austria. Now—there remain only 295,000 men, while Austria has 320,000 directly confronting them and can support them with another 70,000-80,000 in Bohemia and Moravia. Therefore Russia cannot risk an offensive operation at the present moment. In an open country like Poland, without any big river lines between the two armies, this is synonymous with the necessity of retiring to a tenable position. If Austria attacked now the Russian army would have to split up into two halves, one withdrawing towards Warsaw, the other towards Kiev, separated by the inaccessible marshlands of Polesye, which extend from the Bug to the Dnieper. Therefore at the present moment it is essential for Russia to gain time. Hence her "diplomatic considerations".

  1. See The Opening of Parliament —Ed.
  2. The Morning Advertiser, No. 19846, January 29, 1855, leader.—Ed.
  3. The Times, No. 21963, January 29, 1855, leader.—Ed.
  4. Tractarianism (Puseyism)—a system of High Anglican principles set forth in a series of ninety pamphlets issued at Oxford between 1833 and 1841 and called Tracts for the Times. Marx refers to Gladstone who adhered to Puseyism—a trend in the Anglican Church from the 1830s to the 1860s named after one of its founders, Edward Pusey, an Oxford University theologian. He advocated the restoration of Catholic rites and certain dogmas in the Anglican Church. Stressing Gladstone's sanctimoniousness and hypocrisy, Marx often called him "unctuous" (see, for instance : Riot at Constantinople. German Table Moving. The Budget). Below Marx quotes Gladstone according to Pakington (The Times of March 31, 1854).
  5. S. Herbert's speech in the House of Commons on January 26, 1855. The Times, No. 21962, January 27, 1855.—Ed.
  6. See The Formation of a Special Ministry of War in Britain. The War on the Danube. The Economic Situation.—Ed.
  7. Paraphrase of a couplet from Goethe's Sprichwortlich.—Ed.
  8. H. Drummond's speech in the House of Commons on January 26, 1855. The Times, No. 21962, January 27, 1855.—Ed.
  9. V. Smith's speech in the House of Commons on January 26, 1855. The Times, No. 21962, January 27, 1855.—Ed.
  10. The Times, No. 21963, January 29, 1855, leader.—Ed.
  11. The reference is to the expedition of the English fleet to the Scheldt estuary in 1809 during the war of the fifth coalition against Napoleonic France. Though the English captured the isle of Walcheren, they did not develop military operations and were obliged to abandon the island after losing about ten thousand men out of the forty-thousand-strong force through famine and disease.