Special pages :
Letter to Karl Marx, February 11, 1853
|Written||11 February 1853|
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.
To Marx in London
[Manchester,] 11 February 1853[edit source]
Well, here it is, the grande affaire of Messrs Kossuth and Mazzini. Our news up here is very incomplete but my own view is that tomorrow or on Monday we shall certainly hear that all is over. Milan is first-rate terrain for street-fighting, few straight streets, none connecting with the other, almost everywhere narrow, crooked alleys with tall, massive stone houses, each a fortress in itself, their walls often 3-5 feet or more thick and virtually impossible to breach, the rez-de-chaussée [ground floor] windows provided with iron grills (almost invariably) as here and there in Cologne. But much good will all this do — they don’t stand a chance. After 1849 Radetzky ordered the restoration of the old citadel’s fortifications and, if the work is complete — and there has been time enough for this — Milan will belong to the Austrians so long as they occupy the citadel which is impregnable to insurgents unless abetted by a military insurrection. The fact that no further news is forthcoming from Bellinzona whence, from time immemorial, the Tessinese have inundated the world with lies in support of every Italian movement, argues strongly against the spread of the insurrection in the surrounding region.
I regard the whole business as very mal a propos since its only point d'appui, apart from Austrian tyranny in general, is the commotion in Montenegro where also, aprés tout, Turkish ‘order’ is bound to prevail over Homeric Czernogorzan barbarism. Thus these great dictators, having allowed themselves to be bamboozled, altogether à la Seiler, by the usual diplomatic melodramas, invoke the world-historical importance of the ‘oriental question’! They are obviously counting on some sort of windfall from Louis Napoleon but, unless everything turns out otherwise than expected, he will leave them to stew in their own juice and treat them as anarchists. It would further seem probable that, as with all insurrections organised in advance, the moment of outbreak is liable to be determined far more by the pettiest of local incidents than by crucial events.
Mazzini does at least seem to be on the spot; it could hardly be otherwise. However stupid his bombastic proclamation, it may well prove something of a hit with the grandiloquent Italians. On the other hand we have Kossuth, that man of boundless activity! Celui-là est absolument mort, après cela [after this, he will be completely done for]. Such absurd pretensions cannot be trumpeted with impunity in the year of our Lord 1853. However preposterous Mazzini’s abstract passion for insurrection may appear on this occasion, the man comes off splendidly when compared with the worthy Kossuth, who reassumes the role he played at Vidin and, from the safety of the rear, decrees the liberation of the fatherland from nothing, with nothing, for nothing. The fellow really is a lâche and a misérable.
Now we shall see what the Italian peasants will do; even if, by some unheard of and incredible stroke of luck, père Mazzini, his bourgeois and his aristocrats, should succeed, they might still be in for something very unpleasant at their hands; and should the Austrians find an opportunity to unleash these same peasants against the aristocracy they will not hesitate to do so.
The Austrians must still have 120,000 men in Italy; how, in the face of this, a rebellion can be staged unless there are mutinies among the troops, I cannot conceive. And I refuse to believe that there could be Honved mutinies in Italy, even on Kossuth’s orders, this would demand events of greater magnitude, while 3 years of discipline and peace have enabled the Austrians to flog many an unyielding Honved posterior into tractability.
The whole business is of importance, I think, only as a symptom; a reaction has set in against the state of oppression obtaining since ’49 and, naturally, at the most sensitive spot. The thing has made a great impact here, and the philistines are beginning to agree that this year will not elapse without trouble.
Now for a poor corn and cotton harvest, financial difficulties and all that goes with them, and nous verrons! [we'll see]
Have you had the £3 I sent you last week — on Thursday or Friday?