In Retrospect (1854-1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 29 December 1854

Written on December 29, 1854 and January 1, 1855
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung Nos. 1 and 5, January 2 and 4, 1855
Printed according to the news paper
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.554-559), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

This article was Marx's first contribution to the German democratic daily newspaper Neue Oder-Zeitung published in Breslau (Wroclaw) from 1849 to 1855. The paper was founded in March 1849 as a result of the split in the editorial board of the Catholic oppositional Allgemeine Oder-Zeitung which had been published since 1846. In the 1850s the Neue Oder-Zeitung was considered the most radical German newspaper and was persecuted by the government.

At that time the bourgeois democrats Temme, Stein and Elsner headed the editorial board. Its publisher, the German journalist Max Friedländer, Ferdinand Lassalle's cousin, invited Marx to contribute at the end of 1854. In 1855 Marx was the paper's London correspondent. He sent two or three articles a week, which were published unsigned, but marked x ". As there was practically no workers' press during the years of reaction, Marx and Engels considered it extremely important to use the bourgeois-democratic press for the struggle against reactionary forces. Marx's contributing to the Neue Oder-Zeitung made it possible to maintain ties with Germany and keep the German readers informed on the vital problems of international and domestic politics, the working-class and democratic movement, and economic development in the capitalist countries, primarily Britain and France. Marx regularly sent articles on military operations in the Crimean war, and often made use of entire reports by Engels for the New York Daily Tribune, translating them into German; he also sent to the Neue Oder-Zeitung abridged versions of Engels' articles, with occasional changes and additions.

This volume contains fifteen articles written by Marx and Engels for the Neue Oder-Zeitung, but most are published in Volume 14 of this edition.

The article "In Retrospect" published in two issues of the Neue Oder-Zeitung presents a retrospective review of the events in the Crimean war in which Marx sums up his own views and those of Engels as set forth in their articles for the New York Daily Tribune.

London, December 29.

"The meeting between Count Buol, M. de Bourqueney and Prince Gorchakov at the home of the Earl of Westmorland, the English Ambassador in Vienna, was solely intended to give the Emperor of Russia the desired information as to the meaning of the Triple Alliance of December 2[1], and as to the conditions under which the three big powers would be ready to open peace negotiations on the basis of the Four Points. Prince Gorchakov immediately reported to Petersburg on the information received. The Tsar must accept or reject the preliminary conditions within the next few days. A decisive turning-point will mark the beginning of the new year."

Thus The Morning Post, Lord Palmerston's private moniteur,

"The Viennese negotiations," says the Tory Press, "are designed to give Austria a new opportunity to postpone its definitive statement to the Western powers on the date fixed in the Agreement of December 2."

It may be a decisive fact that, while politicians are discussing the new Vienna Conference[2] with ponderous political wisdom in the leading articles of both daily and weekly press, businessmen are bluntly calling it a "farce" in the stock-exchange columns of the same papers. Thus, for instance, the businessman in the money article of today's Morning Post. Indeed the event at Vienna seemed to be a matter of such indifference to the London Stock Exchange that its publication gave neither bears nor bulls[3], neither pessimists nor optimists of the stock exchange[4] cause for any action of the least significance. Minor fluctuations in quotations of Government securities during the past three days were connected not with Vienna diplomacy but with the Paris budget. It is supposed that English capitalists will have a share in the new Paris loan of 500 million francs, and will thus bring about a contraction of the money market which, moreover, looks increasingly dubious, as a result of the repercussions of the North American crisis (a crisis more important in dimension than that of 1837), the latest unfavourable business news from East India, the rising prices of grain, and several unexpectedly heavy bankruptcies in London and Liverpool. Illusions of peace prevail, in any case, on the part of the English Ministry, if not of the Tsar of Russia. It was the oligarchy that led the English people into the great war with France which began in the last century. It was the people that forced the English oligarchy into the current war with Russia. The reluctance of the oligarchy to conduct this war, which was forced upon it, is clearly visible in all its diplomatic, military and financial operations. Even the latest measure of the Ministry—the law concerning the recruiting of a foreign legion[5]—was, above all, designed to make the English "dislike" the war. There can be no question of the recruiting pool being exhausted in a country from where more than 100,000 able-bodied men emigrate annually without that emigration having a more than temporary effect on the wage level. And there was just as little question of providing an exceptional and sudden supply of auxiliary troops, since the ministerial measure is not calculated to help either suddenly or by way of exception. The Militia Bill passed in May empowered the Ministry to call up 80,000 soldiers in England and Wales alone, and the result has shown that a full quarter of the volunteers in all regiments called up in the spring opted for active service, yet up to the beginning of this month the Government had mobilised only eighteen militia regiments (approximately 13,500 men). It is well known that Englishmen have always protested against the introduction of foreign mercenaries into Great Britain they have done so at the time of Charles I, under William III, under the early Georges[6], and finally, during the great anti-Jacobin war. But it is new and unheard-of in English history for the use of foreign mercenaries outside English territory to arouse a storm of indignation. This very fact proves how wholly different the character of the present war is from all former English wars, as far as they belong to modern times. The ruling aristocracy is therefore deliberately conjuring up the spectre of the past, the long-standing practice of its agents, whereby soldiers would be bought in the cheapest market. It does this as Sidney Herbert admitted in the House of Commons—without being in any way convinced of the success of the proposed measure[7]. It does this therefore not to wage war, but to prepare for peace. Today, in order to create an adequate English army, the Government would be compelled to increase pay, abolish corporal punishment, hold out the prospect of advancement from the ranks, in brief, to democratise the army and to transform it from its own property into the property of the nation. Up to now, says today's Times,

"in war, and in peace, the army is only a Government organ for the advancement of the aristocracy and the support of the Ministry."[8]

And here we come to the crucial point. For the English aristocracy war with Russia is equivalent to the loss of its monopoly of government. Forced since 1830 to conduct its internal policy exclusively in the interests of the industrial and commercial middle classes, the English aristocracy has nevertheless retained possession of all government posts, because it has retained the monopoly of foreign policy and of the army.

This monopoly, however, has remained secure only as long as there was no people's war—and such a war was possible only against Russia—which would make foreign policy the concern of the people. The whole of English diplomacy from 1830 to 1854, therefore, can be reduced to the one principle: to avoid war with Russia at all costs. Hence the continual concessions which have been made to Russia in Turkey, in Persia, in Afghanistan, in Denmark, and, indeed, everywhere in the world, for the past twenty-four years. That the aristocracy has calculated correctly is proved by the actual facts. War with Russia has hardly broken out when even The Times declares:

"The aristocracy is incapable of conducting our wars. The oligarchic state machinery stands in the sharpest contradiction to our social machinery."

II[edit source]

London, January 1.

"Under the pressure of the present war our military departments [...] have completely broken down."[9]

Thus today's Times. Indeed, if one considers the organisation of the military administration, or any other official administration in this country, it would seem as though it had been intended to serve as a concrete example of the so-called principle of the constitutional balance of power. The different authorities have been co-ordinated in such a way that they keep each other completely in check, and the entire machinery is therefore bound to grind to a halt. That is why, during the present war, it was possible for the wounded soldiers to be at Balaklava, the military surgeons at Constantinople and medical supplies at Scutari. Hence-the revolt of the Crimean army against a system which sacrifices it; for must we not call it a revolt when all ranks, from colonel down to private, commit breaches of discipline, writing thousands of letters to the London press every week and appealing to public opinion against their superiors? However, Lord Raglan is unjustly made responsible for a state of affairs which is conditioned by the system. What he is responsible for is military leadership.

Casting a retrospective glance at the Crimean campaign, we find that Lord Raglan made his first mistake during the battle of the Alma by ordering that the Russian army's left wing, which was covered by the sea, should be outflanked instead of its right. By the latter operation, one section of the Russians would have been pushed towards the sea and the other towards the North Fort, whereas now they have, in fact, been flung on Simferopol, i.e. on the line of retreat most favourable to them. While during the battle of the Alma the Allies took the bull by the horns to no purpose whatever, they shrank from taking that step when circumstances demanded it. The famous "outflanking march to Balaklava" was the abandonment of an attack on the northern front of the fortress; this front, however, is the commanding, and therefore the crucial, point; the North Fort is the key to Sevastopol. Thus the Allies gave up the bolder, and therefore in fact the safer, offensive in . order to secure a strong defensive position.

The same mistake was made by Omer Pasha when he entrenched himself near Kalafat instead of marching from Oltenitza on Bucharest, breaking through the enemy's extended lines. Then came the siege of Sevastopol, proving, at any rate, that as a result of a long peace the art of war has deteriorated to the same degree as, thanks to industrial development, war materials have improved. Never before has there been a war where simple earthworks have played so important a role. It was at Oltenitza that the Russians first had recourse, albeit unsuccessfully, to the old system of bombarding them for several hours before making an assault. At Kalafat, earthworks which they did not dare attack kept the Russians in check. At Silistria, a half-demolished earthwork frustrated all the efforts of the Russian army, and now, at Sevastopol, a line of earthworks was favoured by more extensive assault batteries and heavy artillery than had ever before been used against a regular fortress. However, even before the siege-train had been set up, the open city had been transformed into a first-rate fortified camp. It is known that in the battle of Balaklava, on October 25, the English cavalry had been sacrificed against all rhyme and reason and contrary to all accepted rules. Finally, we come to the battle of Inkerman, the most important military event of this campaign. Like the Prussians at Jena, British troops before Inkerman were drawn up on a number of hillocks which, at the front, were accessible only through a few defiles. Like the Prussians, the British had neglected to occupy a hillock on their extreme left wing, and it was there that, like Napoleon at Jena[10], Menshikov at Inkerman flung a part of his army, thus establishing himself in the enemy flank before daybreak. The Russians; never given to original ideas, borrowed Napoleon's plan of operation, but, as soon as the strategic movement was completed and the tactical performance had to begin, the mask of Western civilisation was dropped and the Tartar emerged. This magnificent Russian army with its old soldiers—many of them of twenty-five years' standing—these models of parade-ground drill, shows itself so clumsy, so ponderous, so incapable of skirmishing and fighting in small units, that its officers can think of nothing better to do with it than to fling its heavy mass at the enemy in one fell swoop. The sheer brutal pressure of this mass was meant to break the thin ranks of the British, while on the one hand these deep columns of human flesh ensured the unfailing and devastating effect of the English rifles[11] and artillery, and on the other hand, where an overwhelming number of Russians made bayonet attacks, the British received them with the same superiority as Napoleon's squares received the Mamelukes in the battle of the Pyramids[12]. Fourteen thousand Allied soldiers, with a loss of one-third of their total strength, defeated 30,000 Russians, although it is acknowledged that individually the Russians fought valiantly, and that their plan of attack was superior to that of the Allies. Never since the battle of Narva has such a disaster befallen Russian arms. And if we consider the extraordinary difference between the Russians of Narva and the Russians of Inkerman, between the half-savage hordes of 1700 and the well-drilled army of 1854, the day of Narva seems brilliant compared to that of Inkerman. Narva was the first great disaster of a rising nation which knew how to turn even defeats into means of victory. Inkerman appears almost as the certain indication of a decline in that hot-house development which Russia had undergone since Peter the Great. The artificially accelerated growth, and the tremendous effort of maintaining with semi-barbaric means the semblance of a brilliant civilisation seem to have already exhausted the nation and to have inflicted upon it some kind of consumption. The battle of Inkerman is for the Russian infantry what the battle of Rocroi was for the Spanish infantry.[13]

  1. The reference is to a treaty concluded by Britain, France and Austria on December 2, 1854 undertaking to abstain from separate negotiations with Russia and prevent occupation of the Danubian Principalities by the Russians. Negotiations with Russia were to be conducted on the basis of the famous Four Points
  2. After the Four Points had been accepted by the tsarist government in November 1854, negotiations of the representatives of Britain, France, Austria and Russia were resumed in December that year.
  3. The bear—a person who sells stocks and securities for future delivery in expectation of a fall in the market. The bull—a person who endeavours to raise the market price of stocks. The bears and bulls (the Neue Oder-Zeitung erroneously has bulldogs) of the Stock Exchange, whose interest it is, the one to depress, and the other to raise prices, are now said to be so called in allusion to the bear's habit of pulling down, and the bull's of tossing up.
  4. Marx used the English term.—Ed.
  5. The Enlistment of Foreigners Bill was introduced in Parliament by the War Secretary Newcastle with the aim of reinforcing the British army in the Crimea. The Bill was passed on December 22, 1854. However, a foreign legion was not formed because of the rising protest against the use of foreign mercenaries in the war.
  6. George I and George II.—Ed.
  7. Sidney Herbert's speech in the House of Commons on December 19, 1854. The Times, No. 21929, December 20, 1854.—Ed.
  8. The Times, No. 21938, December 30, 1854, leader.—Ed.
  9. The Times, No. 21939, January 1, 1855, leader.—Ed.
  10. This refers to the battle of Jena and Auerstadt fought by the French against Prussia and Saxony on October 14, 1806 during the war between Russia and Prussia on the one hand and France on the other (1806-07).
  11. Marx used the English word.—Ed.
  12. The reference is to an incident during the Egyptian expedition of the French army in 1798-1801.
  13. In the battle of Rocroi (a French fortress near the Belgian frontier) during the Thirty Years' War (1618-48) the Spanish troops besieging the fortress were utterly defeated on May 19, 1643. The defeat of the Spanish infantry hitherto considered invincible marked a turn in the war.