Letter to Wilhelm Liebknecht, February 11, 1878

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 11 February 1878


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First published in: W. Liebknecht, Zur orientalischen Frage, 2. Aufl., Leipzig, 1878 and in full in Gestamtausgabe

Extract published: Marx and Engels Correspondence; International Publishers (1968);

Published in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 45

To Wilhelm Liebknecht in Leipzig

[London,] February 11, 1878[edit source]

The Russians have achieved one good thing; they have exploded England's “great Liberal Party” and made it incapable of governing for a long time to come, whilst the trouble of committing suicide has been officially accomplished for the Tory Party through the traitors Derby and Salisbury (the latter the real driving force of Russia in the Cabinet).

The English working class had been gradually more and more deeply demoralised by the period of corruption since 1848 and had at last got to the point when they were nothing more than the tail of the great Liberal Party, i.e., henchmen of the capitalists. Their direction had gone completely over into the hands of the corrupt trade union leaders and professional agitators. These fellows shouted and howled behind Gladstone, Bright, Mundella, Morley and the whole gang of factory owners etc., in majorem gloriam [to the greater glory] of the Tsar as emancipator of nations, while they never raised a finger for their own brothers in South Wales, condemned to die of starvation by the mineowners. Wretches! To crown the whole affair worthily, in the last divisions in the House of Commons (on February 7 and 8, when the majority of the great dignitaries of the “great Liberal Party” – Forster, Lowe, Harcourt, Goschen, Hartington and even [on Feb. 7] the great John Bright himself – left their army in the lurch and bolted away from the division in order not to compromise themselves too much altogether by voting) – the only workers' representatives in the House of Commons and moreover, horribile dictu [horrible to relate] direct representatives of the miners, and themselves originally miners – Burt and the miserable Macdonald – voted with the rump of the “great Liberal Party,” the enthusiasts for the Tsar.

But the rapid development of Russia's plans suddenly broke the spell and shattered the “mechanical agitation” (fivepound notes were the main springs of the machinery); at the moment it would be “physically dangerous” for Mottershead, Howell, John Hales, Shipton, Osborne and the whole gang to let their voices be heard in a public meeting of workers; even their “corner and ticket meetings” are forcibly broken up and dispersed by the masses.

But it will take your ponderous ‘Anglo-Saxon’ too long to wake up—in time, at any rate, for the next events...

Russian diplomacy is very far from sharing the fatuous ‘Christian’ prejudices against the ‘Crescent’. Turkey, reduced in Europe to Constantinople and a small part of Rumelia, but with a compact hinterland in Asia Minor, Arabia, etc., is to be shackled to Russia by means of an offensive and defensive alliance.

During the last campaign the 120,000 Poles in the Russian army rendered sterling service; now the Poles are to be joined by Turks—and the Russians will have under their flag the two bravest races of Europe, who have to avenge themselves on Europe for their humiliation—not a bad idea!

In 1829 Prussia—but at that time she was still no more than the biggest of Europe’s small states and the self-confessed protégée of Russia—acted just as she is doing now.

The desperate situation in which the Russian army found itself after Diebitsch had led it over the Balkans (July 1829) has been well described by Moltke[1]. Only diplomacy could have saved it. The second campaign was on the point of turning out as badly as the first—and then finis Russiae—it would be all up with Russia. That is why Nicholas, the Tsar, went to Berlin on 10 June 1829, allegedly in order to attend the wedding of Prince William of Prussia (the present German emperor). He asked Frederick William III (he ‘of the conqueror’s crown[2]) to prevail upon the Porte to send him plenipotentiaries so as to open peace negotiations. At that time Diebitsch had not yet crossed the Balkans, the greater part of his army being pinned down outside Silistria and Shumla.[3] In concert with Nicholas, Frederick William III officially ordered Baron Muffling to Constantinople as envoy extraordinary, the intention being, however, that he should act as Russia’s agent there. Muffling was of pure Russian stock, as he himself relates in Aus meinem Leben: he had drafted the Russian campaign plan in 1827 and indeed insisted that Diebitsch should march over the Balkans coûte que coûte (whatever the cost), while he, as peace mediator, conducted intrigues in Constantinople. He himself says that the Sultan,[4] alarmed by such a march, would appeal to him as a friend’.[5]

Under the pretext of assuring the peace of Europe, he succeeded in getting France and England to eat out of his hand—in particular the latter country, by exerting influence through the Russophil English ambassador, Robert Gordon, on the latter’s brother, the EARL OF Aberdeen, and through him on Wellington—who was later bitterly to rue it.

After Diebitsch had crossed the Balkans, he was gratified to receive a letter from Reshid Pasha dated 25 July (1829) inviting him to open the peace negotiations. On that same day, Muffling had his first discussion with Reis Effendi (Turkish Minister of the Exterior)[6] whom he intimidated by the vehemence of his address (à la Prince Reuss[7]); he also invoked Gordon, etc. The Sultan gave way to the pressure of the Prussian ambassador (who was supported by Gordon, the English, and Guilleminot, the French ambassador, both of whom had been briefed by Muffling) and accepted the following 5 peace terms: 1. Integrity of the Ottoman Empire; 2. retention of the former treaties between the Porte and Russia; 3. adherence of the Porte to the Treaty of London (concluded 6 July 1827) between France, England and Russia for the regulation of Greek affairsiSa; 4. firm undertakings as regards the freedom of shipping in the Black Sea; 5. further negotiations between Turkish and Russian chargés d’affaires relating to indemnification and any other claim either party might make.

On 28 August Sadek Effendi[8] and Abdul Kader Bey, the two Turkish plenipotentiaries, accompanied by Küster (attaché at the Prussian Embassy in Constantinople), arrived at Adrianople[9] where the Russians had set up their general headquarters about a week previously. Diebitsch opened negotiations on 1 September without waiting for the arrival of the Russian plenipotentiaries (Alexei Orlov and Pahlen), who had got no further than Burgas.

But while negotiations were in progress, Diebitsch’s troops continued their advance on Constantinople. Insolent and overbearing (despite or rather because of the rottenness of his position), he gave the Turkish plenipotentiaries a week’s deadline by which to assent to the following points:

The fortresses of Braila, Giurgevo[10] and Calafat to be razed and the places themselves to be incorporated into Wallachia. Anapa and Poti, on the Black Sea, to be ceded to Russia; also the Pashalik of Akhaltsikhe; reparations amounting to 700,000 ‘purses’ (some 120 million francs), payment to be guaranteed by handing over Silistria and the Danubian principalities[11] as a pledge to Russia. Indemnification of Russian merchants to the tune of some 15 million francs for losses sustained, payable on three appointed dates after each of which the Russian army would withdraw, first to the foot of the Balkans, then to the north of those mountains and, finally, across the Danube.

The Porte objected to these terms which were so greatly at variance with the Tsar’s[12] assurances of moderation. The new Prussian ambassador Royer (Muffling had absconded on 5 September, after completing his fell assignment—he, the ‘friend to the Porte’ and the angel of peace), in company with General Guilleminot, Müffling’s dupe, and Sir Robert Gordon, supported the protests of the Porte, for insolence such as this ran counter to the agreement and was even too much for him ‘of the conqueror’s crown’. Diebitsch knew that militarily speaking he was in a tight corner and made bogus concessions: in the public peace treaty, the article concerning the amount of war reparations would be withdrawn; the first instalment of the indemnification of Russian merchants was reduced for, as the Turkish envoys said: ‘The most ignorant must know that the Porte could not pay.’ Peace was finally concluded on 5 September.

Great sensation in Europe, great indignation in England; Wellington fumed; even Aberdeen drew attention in a despatch to the danger lurking in every single clause of the treaty, and endeavoured to bring about a general alliance whereby all the great powers (including Russia) would guarantee peace in the Orient. Austria was willing; but Prussia frustrated the project, and saved Russia from the dangers a European congress would present to her. (France, where Charles X was preparing his coup d’état, entered into a secret understanding with Russia; a secret treaty was also concluded, whereby France was to receive the Rhine Provinces.

Under these circumstances there was no need for Nesselrode to beat about the bush; he sent an insolent and contemptuous despatch to the English Cabinet, i.e. a despatch addressed to Count Lieven (the Russian ambassador) in London.

This is what Prussia did at the time and has now done again on a grander scale. Fine Hohenstaufens—these Hohenzollerns! Statesmanship presented no difficulties to Bismarck in the Austrian and French affair; against Austria, he had Bonaparte’s protection and the Italians, and against France, the whole of Europe. Moreover, the goal to which he aspired had been determined by the circumstances, which had paved the way to its attainment.

Now that circumstances have become more complex, he is a genius no longer.[13]

  1. [H. K. B.] von Moltke. Der russisch-türkische Feldzug in der europäischen Türkei 1828 und 1829.
  2. In the original 'im Siegerkranz'. 'Heil dir im Siegerkranz'—the initial words of the Prussian National Anthem written by Balthasar Gerhard Schumacher on the basis of Heinrich Harries' poem Lied für den dänischen Unterihan.
  3. Bulgarian names: Silistra and Shumen (now Kolarovgrad).
  4. Mahmud II
  5. F. C. F. Muffling, Aus meinem Leben, Berlin, 1851, p. 303.
  6. Pertev Reis Effendi
  7. Heinrich VII of Reuss
  8. Mehmed Sadek
  9. Turkish name: Edirne.
  10. Romanian name: Giurgiu.
  11. Moldavia and Wallachia
  12. Nicholas I
  13. In Liebknecht’s pamphlet, there follows a passage of which it has not been established whether it is part of Marx’s letter or is by Liebknecht himself. It reads: ‘Inside Russia the situation is confused.
    The gentle Alexander intends to build a penal establishment in Novaya Zemlya to which political offenders will be banished, and that means la mort sans phrase—death, pure and simple. It would be a good thing if peace were to reign for the next year or two. In particular this would be conducive to internal decay in Russia. The government’s first move there (following the example of Prussia after 1815) would be to persecute pan-Slav agitators. In so far as it was necessary, they have been exploited; the day of reckoning will come when the turmoil of war has ceased.’