From Parliament (May 29, 1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 29 May 1855


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First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 249, June 1, 1855
Marked with the sign x
Printed according to the news-paper
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.231-236), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, May 29. Gladstone's kind of eloquence has never been given more complete and exhaustive expression than in his "speech"[1] on Thursday evening[2]. Polished blandness, empty profundity, unction not without poisonous ingredients, the velvet paw not without the claws, scholastic distinctions both grandiose and petty, quaestiones and quaestiuniculae[3], the entire arsenal of probabilism[4] with its casuistic scruples and unscrupulous reservations, its unhesitating motives and motivated hesitation, its humble pretensions of superiority, virtuous intrigue, intricate simplicity, Byzantium and Liverpool. Gladstone's speech revolved not so much around the question of war or peace between England and Russia as the examination of why Gladstone, who until a short while ago had been a member of a Ministry engaged in war, had now become the Gladstone of the peace-at-any-price party. He analysed, he scrutinised the limits of his own conscience in all directions with all manner of subtleties, and with characteristic modesty demanded that the British Empire move within the limits of the Gladstonian conscience. His speech thus had a diplomaticcum-psychological colouring which may have brought conscience into diplomacy, but even more definitely brought diplomacy into conscience.

The war against Russia was originally a just one, but we have now reached the point where its continuation would be sinful. Since the start of the Eastern troubles we have gradually raised our demands. We have followed an ascending line with our conditions, while Russia has been moving down from the heights of her intransigence. At first Russia claimed not only a spiritual, but also a temporal protection over the Greek Christians of Turkey. She was unwilling to give up any of the old treaties, and would agree to evacuate the Danubian provinces only under certain conditions. She refused to attend any congress of the powers at Vienna, and summoned the Turkish ambassador to St. Petersburg or to the Russian headquarters. That was Russia's language up to February 2, 1854. What a distance between the demands of the Western powers at that time, and the Four Points[5]! And as late as August 26, 1854, Russia declared that she would never accept the Four Points except after a long, desperate and calamitous struggle. Again, what a distance between Russia's language in August 1854 and her language of December 1854, when she promised to accept the Four Points "unreservedly"! These Four Points are the nodal point to which our demands can rise, and Russia's concessions descend. Whatever lies beyond the Four Points lies outside the pale of Christian morality. Well! Russia has accepted the 1st point; she has accepted the 2nd point, and has not rejected the 4th point, for it has not been discussed. That only leaves the 3rd point, i.e. only a quarter, and not even the whole of the 3rd point but only a half of it, thus a difference of only one-eighth. For the 3rd point consists of two parts: No. 1, the guarantee of Turkish territory; No. 2, the reduction of Russian power in the Black Sea. Russia has stated that she is more or less willing to accept No. 1. So that only leaves the second half of the 3rd point. And even here Russia has not said that she objects to the limitation of her superiority at sea; she has merely declared her opposition to our methods of carrying it out. The Western powers have suggested one method, while Russia suggests not merely one but two alternative methods, thus here again she is ahead of the Western powers. As regards the method proposed by the Western powers, it is an affront to the honour of the Russian Empire. But one must not affront the honour of an empire without reducing its power. On the other hand, one must not reduce its power because one is thereby affronting its honour. These are different views on "method", a difference of one-eighth of a point, and as it is a matter of "method" it can be regarded as 1/32 of a point—and for that another half a million men is to be sacrificed? On the contrary, it must be stated that we have attained the aims of the war. Should we therefore continue it for pure prestige, for military glory? Our soldiers have covered themselves with glory. If England has nevertheless fallen into discredit on the Continent,

"For God's sake," cried the honourable gentleman, "don't let us seek to avenge that discredit—don't let us wipe it out by human blood, but rather by sending abroad more correct information".

And, indeed, why not "correct" the foreign newspapers? Further successes on the part of the allied forces—where do they lead to? They force Russia to resist more stubbornly. Allied defeats? They make the Londoners and Parisians excited and force them to make bolder attacks. What is the result of waging war for war's sake? Originally Prussia, Austria, France and England were united in their demands on Russia. Prussia has already withdrawn. If we go on, Austria, too, will withdraw. England would be isolated except for France.

If England continues the war for reasons shared by no other power but France, "the moral authority of its position is greatly weakened and undermined". But on the other hand a peace with Russia, if it forfeits the prestige that is of this world, will strengthen its "moral authority", which neither moth nor rust doth corrupt[6]. Moreover, what do the people want who do not accept Russia's method of carrying out the second half of the 3rd point? Do they intend to dismember the Russian Empire? Impossible without provoking a "war of the nationalities". Will Austria, can France support a war of the nationalities? If England undertakes a "war of nationalities" it must undertake it alone, i.e. "it will not undertake it at all". So nothing is possible except to demand nothing that Russia has not already conceded.

That was Gladstone's speech in spirit, if not in letter. Russia has changed her language: proof that she has backed down in substance. For the honourable Puseyite[7] the language is the only issue. He too has changed his language. He is now uttering jeremiads over the war; he is overwhelmed by the suffering of all mankind. He uttered apologias when he inveighed against the Committee of Inquiry and found it quite in order to abandon an English army to all the sufferings of death from starvation and the plague. Of course! Then the army was being sacrificed for peace. The sin begins when it is sacrificed for war. He is, however, fortunate in demonstrating that the British government was never in earnest in the war against Russia, fortunate in demonstrating that neither the present British government nor the present French government would be able or willing to wage serious war on Russia, fortunate in demonstrating that the pretexts for the war are not worth a single bullet. But he forgets that these "pretexts" belong to him and his former colleagues, the "war" itself however was forced on them by the British people. The leadership of the war was for them simply a pretext for paralysing it and maintaining their positions. And from the history and metamorphoses of the false pretexts under which they waged war he successfully concludes that they could make peace under equally false pretexts. He finds himself at variance with his old colleagues only on one point. He is Out, they are In[8]. A false pretext good enough for the ex-minister is not a false pretext good enough for the minister, although what's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

Gladstone's terrible confusion of ideas gave Russell the long-awaited signal. He got up and painted Russia black where Gladstone had painted her white. But Gladstone was "Out" and Russell was "In". After blustering forth all the familiar, and despite their triviality, true platitudes about Russia's plans for world conquest, he came to the point, to Russell's point. Never, he declared, had such a great national issue been so totally degraded as this had been by Disraeli. True enough: can one degrade a national issue, indeed a matter of world history, further than by identifying it with little[9] Johnny, with Johnny Russell? But it was in fact not Disraeli's fault that Europe versus Russia at the beginning and end of this first stage of the war appeared as Russell versus Nesselrode. The little man performed some odd contortions when he came to the Four Points. On the one hand, he had to show that his peace terms were related to the Russian horrors he had just exposed. On the other hand, he had to show that true to his voluntary, unprovoked promise to Titov and Gorchakov, he had proposed terms "which harmonised best with the honour of Russia". Hence he proved, on the one hand, that Russia exists only nominally as a naval power, and so can well afford a limitation of this merely imaginary power. On the other hand, he proved that the navy, scuttled by Russia herself, is a terrible thing for Turkey and hence for European equilibrium, i.e. "the second half of the 3rd point" formed one great whole. Many a man is caught by his opponent between the two horns of a dilemma. Russell impaled himself on both horns. He gave new samples of his diplomatic talent. Nothing could be expected of Austria's active alliance because a battle lost would bring the Russians to Vienna. This is the way he encourages an ally.

"We say," he continued, "that Russia intends to get possession of Constantinople, and to rule there, as Turkey is obviously in a state of decay; and I do not doubt that Russia harbours the same opinion of the intentions of England and France in the case of the break-up of that country."

All that was lacking was for him to add: "She is wrong, however. Not England and France, but England alone must take possession of Constantinople." In this way the great diplomat encouraged Austria to take sides; thus he betrayed to Turkey the "obvious" opinion of her saviours and supporters. He has, however, improved as a parliamentary tactician on one count. In July 1854, when he was bragging about the seizure of the Crimea, he let himself be so startled by Disraeli that he ate his heroic words before the House divided. This time he postponed this process of self-consumption—the retraction of his proclaimed world struggle against Russia until after the vote had been taken. A great improvement!

His speech also contained two historical illustrations, his extremely comical account of the negotiations with Emperor Nicholas over the Treaty of Kainardji[l76], and a sketch of German conditions. Both deserve a mention in extract. As the reader will remember, Russell had conceded Russia's protection at the outset, based on the Treaty of Kainardji. The British ambassador in Petersburg, Sir Hamilton Seymour, turned out to be more awkward and more sceptical. He made inquiries of the Russian government, the story of which Russell is naive enough to recount as follows:

"Sir Hamilton Seymour asked the late Emperor of Russia to have the goodness to point out the part of the Treaty [...] upon which the right he claimed was founded. His Imperial Majesty said [...] 'I would not point out to you the particular article in the treaty on which my claim " (to protection) "is based. You may go to Count Nesselrode and he will show you the article.' Hamilton Seymour did go to Count Nesselrode [...]. Count Nesselrode replied he was not very conversant with the articles of the treaty and told Hamilton to go to Baron Brunnow or refer his government to him and the Baron would tell him what part of the treaty it is which gives the Emperor the right he claims.' I believe Baron Brunnow never attempted to point out any such article in the treaty."

About Germany the noble Lord related:

"In Germany she [Russia] is connected with many of the smaller Princes by marriage. Many of the Princes of Germany, I am sorry to say, live in great fear of what they think the revolutionary disposition of their subjects, and rely on their armed forces for protection. But what are those armed forces? The officers of those forces are seduced and corrupted by the Russian Court. That Court distributes rewards, orders and distinctions among them, and in some cases Russia regularly supplies them with money to pay their debts so that Germany which ought to be in a state of independence—Germany which should stand forward for the protection of Europe against Russian domination—has for years been corrupted, and has been undermined in its vital strength and independence, by Russian arts and Russian means."

And in order to precede Germany like a column of fire and rouse it to the "categorical imperative"[10], duty, Russell declared himself at the Vienna Conference the champion of the "honour and dignity of Russia" and let Germany hear the proud language of the free and independent Englishman.

  1. Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  2. The speeches of Gladstone and Russell in the debate on Disraeli's motion in the House of Commons on May 24, 1855 were published in The Times, No. 22063, May 25, 1855.—Ed.
  3. Minor questions.—Ed.
  4. Probabilism—a theory that, truth being unattainable, all knowledge can only be probable. According to it, any action is permissible since some kind of plausible justification can always be found for it.
  5. The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (*) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.
    (*) A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results.
    The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points. While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.
  6. Matthew 6:20.—Ed.
  7. Exeter Hall—a building in London, meeting place of religious and philanthropic societies.

    Puseyism—a trend within the Anglican Church between the 1830s and 1860s. It was named after the Oxford theologian E. B. Pusey, who called for the restoration of certain Catholic rites and dogmas. The Puseyites represented the interests of the aristocracy, which strove to retain its influence in opposition to the industrial bourgeoisie, which was on the whole Protestant. In particular, the Puseyites upheld the Catholic view of the Eucharist as the "transubstantiation" of bread and wine into the true body and blood of Christ. In contrast to this, the other Anglican and Protestant trends regarded the bread and wine merely as symbols of the "true presence" of Christ's body and blood.
  8. Marx uses the English words "Out" and "In" (the reference is to the opposition and the government).—Ed.
  9. Marx uses the English word.—Ed.
  10. Categorical imperative—the basic concept of the ethics of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). It denotes the moral obligation of the individual to act according to rules that could serve as principles of universal legislation.