On the Critique of Austrian Policy in the Crimean Campaign

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 15 August 1855

First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 383, August 18, 1855
Marked with the sign x
An enlarged English version was published as a leading article in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 4493, September 13, 1855 and
reprinted in the New York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 1075, September 14, 1855
This version is published in English for the first time in MECW.
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.481-483), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung
Keywords : Austria, Crimean War, France

Later Marx sent an enlarged English version of this article to the New York Daily Tribune. It appeared as a leading article under the heading "Austria and the War" on September 13, 1855.

London, August 15. Bratiano recently addressed a letter to The Daily News in which he depicts the suffering of the inhabitants of the Danubian principalities under the Austrian army of occupation, alludes to the equivocal attitude of the French and English consuls and then puts this question:

"Is Austria acting as an ally or even as a neutral party when she maintains an army of 80,000 in the principalities thereby, as the official despatches prove, preventing the Turks entering Bessarabia and also the formation of a Romanian army which could have taken an active part in the war, while withdrawing 200,000 men from Galicia thus enabling Russia to send a similar number to the Crimea?"

Austria's ambiguous position arose the moment when neither neutral nor an ally, she set herself up as a mediator. The following extract from a despatch of Lord Clarendon to the Viennese Cabinet, dated June 14, 1853, seems to prove that England in part forced her into this role:

"If the Russian army proceeded beyond the Principalities, and other provinces of Turkey were invaded, a general rising of the Christian population would ensue, not in favour of Russia, nor in support of the Sultan[1], but for their own independence; and it would be needless to add that such a revolt would not be long in extending itself to the Danubian Provinces of Austria but it would be for the Austrian Government to judge of the effect it might produce in Hungary and in Italy, and the encouragement it must give to the promoters of disorder throughout Europe whom Austria has reason to fear, and who even now would appear to think that the moment is at hand for the realisation of their projects. It was these considerations, I said, that rendered Her Majesty's[2] Government most anxious to unite with Austria for an object so essential to the best interests of society, and to endeavour with her to discover some mode by which the just claims of Russia may be reconciled with the sovereign rights of the Sultan."

Another question concerning Austrian policy remains as unanswered at the conclusion of the parliamentary session as at the start. What was Austria's position with regard to the Crimean expedition? On July 23 this year Disraeli asked Lord John Russell on what authority he had declared that "one of the principal causes of the Crimean expedition was the refusal of Austria to cross the river Pruth".[3]

Lord John Russell could not remember—i.e., he said "his authority was a vague recollection, a general recollection". Disraeli then addressed the same question to Palmerston, who said

"he would not answer questions taken piecemeal from a long course of negotiations between Her Majesty's Government and the Government of one of the Sovereigns[4] who was to a certain degree in alliance with Her Majesty."

With this apparently evasive answer Palmerston was evidently only indirectly confirming Russell's claim, pleading delicacy with regard to the "ally to a certain degree". Let us now move from the House of Commons to the House of Lords. On June 26 this year Lord Lyndhurst delivered his philippic against Austria:

"Early in June" (1854) "Austria resolved on making a demand upon Russia to evacuate the principalities. That demand was made in very strong terms with something like an intimation that if it were not complied with Austria would resort to forcible means to secure this object."

After some historical remarks Lyndhurst continues:

"Well, did Austria then immediately carry into effect any attack upon Russia? Did she attempt to enter the principalities? Far from it. She abstained from doing anything for a period of several weeks, and it was only when the siege of Silistria had been raised and the Russian army was in retreat, and when Russia herself had served a notice that she would within a certain time leave the principalities and retire behind the Pruth [...]—that Austria again remembered her engagements."[5]

In reply to this speech Lord Clarendon declared:

"When Austria entered into these successive engagements with England and France and when she made those extensive and costly preparations for war, when, moreover she urgently proposed that military commissioners should be sent by France and England to the head-quarters of General Hess, I have no doubt she intended and expected war. But she also expected that long before the season for military operations began the allied armies would have obtained decisive victories in the Crimea, that they would be free, and would be able to undertake other operations in concert with her own forces. That, unfortunately, was not the case; and if Austria had at our invitation declared war, she would in all probability have had to wage that war single-handed."

Still more astonishing is Ellenborough's later statement in the House of Lords, which to this moment has lot been challenged by any minister:

"Before the expedition to the Crimea was despatched, Austria proposed to communicate with the allied Powers on the subject of future military operations; acting, however, upon preconceived opinions, the allies sent that expedition, and then Austria at once said that she could not meet the Russians single-handed, and that the expedition to the Crimea rendered it necessary for her to adopt a different course of action. At a subsequent period, just at the commencement of the conference at Vienna, when it was of the greatest possible importance that Austria should act with us—at that time, still looking to nothing but the success of your operations in the Crimea, you withdrew from the immediate vicinity of Austria 50,000 good Turkish troops, thus depriving Austria of the only assistance on which she could rely in the event of a military expedition against Russia. It is clear, therefore, my lords, and also from the recent statements of the noble earl, Clarendon, that it is our ill-advised expedition to the Crimea which has paralysed the policy of Austria, and which has reduced her to her present difficult position. Before that expedition sailed to the Crimea I warned the Government. [...] I warned them of the effect which that expedition would produce upon the policy of Austria."

Here then we have a direct contradiction between the statement of Clarendon, the Foreign Secretary, between his statement and the statement of Lord John Russell and the statement of Lord Ellenborough. Russell says: the Crimean expedition sailed because Austria refused to cross the Pruth, i.e., to take sides against Russia with arms in hand. No, says Clarendon. Austria could not take sides against Russia because the Crimean expedition did not have the desired result. Finally, Lord Ellenborough: the Crimean expedition was undertaken against the will of Austria, and forced her to abstain from the war with Russia. These contradictions—however one may interpret them—prove in any case that the ambiguity was not merely to be found on the side of the Austrians.

  1. Abdul Mejid.—Ed.
  2. Queen Victoria's.—Ed.
  3. Disraeli's questions and the replies by Russell and Palmerston were published in The Times, No. 22114, July 24, 1855. Disraeli quotes from Russell's speech in the House se of Commons on July 19, 1855.—Ed.
  4. Presumably Francis Joseph.—Ed.
  5. The speeches of Lyndhurst and others who took part in the debate in the House of Lords on June 26, 1855, were published in The Times, No. 22091, June 27, 1855.—Ed.