Parliamentary Debates of February 22. Pozzo di Borgo's Dispatch. The Policy of the Western Powers.

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 24 February 1854


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Reproduced from the New York Daily Tribune
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 4025, March 13;
Reprinted in the New-York Semi-Weekly Tribune, No. 918, March 14
and the New York Weekly Tribune, No. 653, March 18, 1854
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 13 (pp.26-34), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980

This article is dated February 24, 1854 which coincides with the date of its dispatch from London to New York as entered in the Notebook ("Freitag, 24. Februar. Pozzo di Borgo"). It was included in abridged form by Eleanor Marx in The Eastern Question under the title "Kossuth.—Disraeli and Hume.—United States.-France and England.—Greece".

London, Friday, Feb. 24, 1854

A good deal of idle talk about Kossuth's "warlike preparations" and probable "movements" has infested the public press. Now I happen to know from a Polish officer, who is setting out for Constantinople, and consulted the ex-Governor about the course he should take, that Kossuth dissuaded him from leaving London, and expressed himself by no means favourable to the participation of Hungarian and Polish officers in the present Turkish war, because they must either enlist themselves under the banner of Czartoryski or abjure their Christian faith, the one step being contradictory to his policy and the other to his principles.[1] So deep was the impression produced by Mr. Disraeli's masterly exposure of the Ministerial policy[2] that the Cabinet of all the talents[3] thought fit to make a posthumous attempt to burke him in a little comedy arranged between themselves and Mr. Hume, and performed in Wednesday morning's sitting of the Commons[4]. Lord Palmerston had concluded his lame reply to Mr. Disraeli's epigrammatic alternative of a morbid "credulity" or a treacherous "connivance" by appealing from faction to the impartial judgment of the country, and Mr. Hume was the man chosen to answer in the name of the country, just as Snug, the joiner, was chosen to play the lion's part in "the most cruel death of Pyramus and Thisbe"[5]. Mr. Hume's whole parliamentary life has been spent in making opposition pleasant, moving amendments, in order to withdraw them afterward constituting, in fact, the so-called independent opposition, the rear-guard of every Whig Ministry, sure of coming forward to rescue it from danger whenever its own registered partisans may show any signs of vacillation. He is the great Parliamentary "extinguisher" par excellence. He is not only the oldest member of Parliament, but an independent member; and not only an independent, but a radical; and not only a radical, but the pedantic and notorious Cerberus of the public purse, with the mission of making pounds slip unnoticed by while picking quarrels about the fractional part of a farthing.

For the first time in his Parliamentary life, as he himself emphatically stated, Mr. Hume rose not to condemn, but to express his approval of the "Estimates." This extraordinary event, as he did not fail to remark himself, was the most incontestable proof that the Ministry had not in vain appealed to the sound judgment of the country from the unmerited slanders of faction, but had received a solemn acquittal from the charge of credulity and connivance. His arguments were characteristic. In order to rescue the Ministers from the alternative of credulity or connivance, he proved the credulity of the Ministers in their transactions with Russia. He had, then, understood the true sense of Lord Palmerston's appeal. The entire Ministry asked for was the discharge from intentional treason. As to credulity, had not that excellent Sir James Graham already declared that "a generous mind is slow, to suspect"?[2] Because the impending war was brought about by the Ministry's own diplomatic mismanagement, certainly it was a war of their own, and they, therefore, were, of all men, as Mr. Hume thought, the very men to carry it cunningly. The relative littleness of the proposed war estimates was, in Mr. Hume's opinion the most convincing proof of the greatness of the war intended. Lord Palmerston, of course, thanked Mr. Hume for the sentence Mr. Hume had pronounced in the name of the country, and, in compensation, favoured his audience with his own doctrine of state papers, which papers, according to him, must never be laid before the House and the country, until matters are sufficiently embroiled to deprive their publication of any use whatever. Such was all the after-wit the coalition had to dispose of after due deliberation. Lord Palmerston, their manager, had not only to weaken the impression of their antagonist's 'speech, but to annihilate also his own theatrical appeal from the House to the country.

On Tuesday night[6], Mr. Horsfall, the Member for Liverpool, asked the question:

"Whether the treaties with foreign nations or the steps which Her Majesty's Government were prepared to take in the event of war were such as would effectually prevent privateers being fitted out in neutral ports to interfere with British shipping?"

The answer given by Lord Palmerston was:

"That the honorable gentleman and the House must feel that this was a question to which, in the present state of things, no explanatory answer could be given."

In quoting this answer of its master, The Morning Post, Palmerston's private Moniteur[7], remarks:

"The noble Lord could have given no other answer (whatever knowledge the Government may possess on the subject) without entering upon the discussion of a most delicate and difficult topic, which may, at the present moment, form the subject of negotiations, and which, to be brought to a satisfactory issue, should be left to the spontaneous sense of justice of those powers who have no desire to revive in this civilized age a system of legalized piracy."[8]

On the one hand, the Palmerston organ declares the "difficult topic" to form the subject of pending negotiations, and on the other, the necessity of leaving it to the "spontaneous sense of justice" of the interested powers. If the much boasted treaty of neutrality with Denmark and Sweden[9] was not dictated by the St. Petersburg Cabinet, it must, of course, have forbidden privateers being fitted out in their ports; but, in fact, the whole question can only be understood to refer to the United States of America, as the Baltic is to be occupied by English line-of-battle ships, and Holland, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and the Italian ports on the Mediterranean, are completely in the hands of England and France. Now, what is the opinion of the St. Petersburg Cabinet as to the part to be performed by the United States in the case the Turkish war should lead to a war between England and Russia? We may answer this question authentically from a dispatch addressed by Pozzo di Borgo to Count Nesselrode in the autumn of 1825[10]. At that time Russia had resolved upon invading Turkey. As now she proposed to begin by a pacific occupation of the Principalities.

"In supposing the adoption of this plan," says Pozzo di Borgo, "it would be requisite to enter into explanations with the Porte in the most measured terms, and to assure it that if it did not wish to precipitate itself into a war, the Emperor was willing to terminate these differences by conciliation."

After having enumerated all the steps they would be obliged to take, Pozzo di Borgo continues as follows:

"It would be advisable to communicate all these acts to the United States of America as an evidence of the regard of the Imperial Cabinet, and of the importance which it attaches to enlightening its opinion and even obtaining its suffrage."

In case of England's siding with Turkey and undertaking a war with Russia, Pozzo di Borgo remarks that

"in blockading our ports they (England) would exercise their pretended maritime rights in respect to neutrals. This the United States would not suffer! thence would arise bitter dissensions and dangerous situations."

Now, as the Russian historian Karamzin justly remarks that "nothing changes in our (Russian) external policy"[11], we are justified in presuming that, at the present moment, and perhaps as long ago as February, 1853, Russia has "communicated all her acts to the United States," and done her best to cajole the Washington Cabinet into at least a neutral attitude. At the same time, in the case of a war with England, she bases her hopes upon eventual quarrels about the "maritime rights of the neutrals" producing "bitter dissensions and dangerous situations", and involving the United States in a more or less avowed alliance with St. Petersburg.

As I am quoting the most celebrated of Pozzo di Borgo's dispatches, I may as well cite the passage respecting Austria, the contents of which have certainly lost nothing of their actuality by the events that have passed since 1825, in Galicia, Italy, and Hungary.

"Our policy," says Pozzo, "commands that we shall show ourselves to this State under a terrible aspect, and by our preparations persuade it that, if it makes movements against us, the fiercest of storms that it has yet to bear, will burst upon its head... Either Prince Metternich will declare to the Turks that our entry into the Principalities is a resolution that they themselves have provoked, or he will throw himself on other provinces of the Ottoman Empire more to his convenience. In the first case we will be agreed, in the second we will become so. The only chance that we have to run is that of an open declaration against us.... If Prince Metternich is wise he will avoid war; if he is violent, he will be punished. With a ministry placed in a situation such as his, a cabinet such as ours will find in events a thousand ways of terminating differences."

Lord John's stump-oratory, the beating of big drums about English honour, the show of great moral indignation at Russian perfidy, the vision of England's floating batteries defiling along the walls of Sevastopol and Kronstadt, the tumult of arms and the ostentatious embarkation of troops, all these dramatic incidents quite bewilder the public understanding, and raise a mist before its eyes, which allowed it to see nothing save its own delusions. Can there exist a greater delusion than believing this Ministry, after the revelations made by the Blue Books, to have been all at once transformed not only into a warlike Ministry, but into a Ministry that could undertake any .war against Russia except a simulated one, or one carried on in the very interest of the enemy against whom it is ostensibly, directed? Let us look at the circumstances under which the warlike preparations are made.

No formal declaration of war is made against Russia. The very object of the war the Ministry is not able to avow. Troops are embarked without the place of their destination being distinctly described. The estimates asked for are too small for a great war and too great for a small one. The coalition, who have grown notorious for ingenuity displayed in hatching pretexts for not keeping their most solemn promises and reasons for delaying the most urgent reforms, all at once feel themselves bound by over scrupulous adherence to pledges rashly given to complicate this momentous crisis by surprising the country with a new reform bill, deemed inopportune by the most ardent reformers, imposed by no pressure from without, and received on all sides with the utmost indifference and suspicion. What then can be their plan but to divert public attention from their external policy by getting up a subject of overwhelming domestic interest?

Transparent efforts are now made to misguide the public as to the situation of England in respect to foreign States. No binding treaty has yet been concluded with France, but a substitute has been provided by "notes exchanged." Now, such notes were exchanged in 1839, with the cabinet of Louis Philippe, by virtue of which the allied fleets were to enter the Dardanelles, and to arrest the intervention of Russia in the affairs of the East, either singly or collectively with other powers, and we all know what came out of the notes exchanged then—a Holy Alliance against France and the. Treaty of the Dardanelles[12]. The sincerity and the earnestness of the Anglo-French alliance may be inferred from a Parliamentary incident in yesterday's sitting of the Commons. Bonaparte, as you have seen in the Moniteur, threatens the Greek insurrectionists[13], and has sent a similar remonstrance to the Government of King Otto. Sir J. Walsh having interrogated the Ministry on this point, Lord John Russell declared that

"he was aware of no understanding between the French and English Governments in the matter alluded to, and had not been able to see the Minister of Foreign Affairs on the subject. His impression was, however, that no such remonstrance had been sent by the Government of France, and certainly not with the consent of, or in concert with, the Government of this country. "[14]

If the British Government intends a real war with Russia why do they anxiously eschew the international forms of declaring war? If they intend a real alliance with France, why do they studiously shun the legalized forms of international alliances? As to the German powers, Sir James Graham declares that they have entered an alliance with England, and Lord John Russell on the same evening contradicts him, stating that the relations with those powers are in fact the same as at the beginning of the Eastern complication[15]. According to the very statement of the ministers, they are just now about coming to terms with Turkey and proposing a treaty with her. They are embarking troops, with a view to occupying Constantinople, without having beforehand concluded a treaty with Turkey. We are, then, not to be surprised at learning from a Constantinople letter that a secret agent of the Porte has been sent from Vienna to St. Petersburg to propose to the Czar a private settlement.

"It would be rational," says the correspondent, "that the Turks, after discovering the treachery and folly of their pretended friends, should seek to avenge themselves by contracting an alliance with a wise enemy. The terms of settlement, the former are endeavoring to settle on Turkey, are ten times more ruinous than the Menchikoff claims."[16]

The prospect of what the embarked troops are intended to do, at least in the opinion of the English Ministry, may be justly inferred from what the united squadrons have done and are doing at the present moment. Twenty days after having entered the Black Sea they return to the Bosphorus. A few days previous, we are informed,

"the Ministers of the Porte, out of deference for the remonstrance of the British Embassador, had to put in prison the editor of the Greek journal, The Telegraph of the Bosphorus[17], for having said in his paper that both the English and French fleets would shortly return from the Euxine to the Bosphorus. The Editor of the Journal de Constantinople was authorized to declare that both fleets were to continue their stay in the Euxine."

In order to show his deference for the intimation received from the British and French Admirals[18], the Russian Admiral on the 19th ult. sent out two steamers to bombard the Turks at Shefketil, and Russian steamers cruise in sight of Trebizond, while no vessels belonging to the united squadrons are in the Black Sea, except an English and a French steamer, off Sevastopol; Sinope, then, and the bombardment of Shefketil by Russian steamers, are the only feats the united squadrons have to boast of. The quarrel between the Embassadors and the Admirals all relations between whom have come to a dead stand Lord Stratford de Redcliffe refusing to receive Admiral Dundas and Baraguay d'Hilliers excluding from a state ball the French Admiral and his officers this quarrel is of minor importance, as the diplomatic triflers being compromised by the publication of their dispatches at London and Paris, may strive to rescue, at any risk of ships and crews, their lost reputation.

But the serious side of the question is, that the public instructions given to the Embassadors were countermanded by a set of secret instructions forwarded to the Admirals, and that the latter are really incapable of executing instructions which are self-contradictory—and how could they be otherwise, no declaration of war having preceded them? On the one hand they are ordered to attack Russian ships in order to enforce their withdrawal from the Euxine to Sevastopol, and on the other, not to swerve from the mere defensive. Lastly, if a serious war be intended, how could the British Embassador at Constantinople have regarded it as an important triumph to have got the leader of the war party in the Turkish ministry Mehemet Ali Pasha turned out of his office as war Minister, having him replaced by the peace-mongering Riza Pasha, while he intrusted Mehemet Pasha, a creature of Reshid Pasha, with the office of Grand Admiral?

Now look at another most important point. The embarkation of the British and French troops is only proceeded with after the news of a Greek insurrection having broken out in Albania, and being spread over Thessaly and Macedonia[19], has reached London and Paris. This insurrection was from the first anxiously waited for on the part of the English Cabinet, as is proved by the dispatches of Russell, Clarendon and Lord Stratford de Redcliffe[20]. It gives them the best occasion to interfere between the Sultan and his own Christian subjects on the plea of interfering between the Russians and the Turks. From the moment that the Latins interfere with the Greeks (I use this word here only in the religious sense) you may be sure of a concert becoming established between 11,000,000 inhabitants of European Turkey and the Czar, who will then really appear as their religious protector. There exists no polemical schism between the Mussulmans and their Greek subjects, but the religious animosity against the Latins may be said to form the only common bond between the different races inhabiting Turkey and professing the Greek creed. In this respect things have not changed since the period when Mohammed II laid siege to Constantinople, when the Greek Admiral Lucas Notaras, the most influential man in the Byzantine Empire, publicly declared that he would prefer seeing the Turkish turban triumphant in the capital rather than the Latin hat, while on the other hand there was a Hungarian prophecy afloat that the Christians would never be fortunate till the damned heretical Greeks should be extirpated and Constantinople destroyed by the Turks. Any interference, then, on the part of the Western powers, between the Sultan and his Greek subjects, must favor the plans of the, Czar. A similar result will be brought about should Austria, as - she did in 1791[21], undertake to occupy Servia on the pretext of thwarting the treasonable designs of the Russian party in that Principality. Let me add that it is rumored at London that the insurged Epirates were supported and joined by Greeks from the Ionian Islands, who had not been checked by the English authorities, and that the news of the Greek insurrection was announced by The Times, the coalition organ, in Saturday's number, as a most opportune event.[22]

I, for my part, have no doubt at all that treachery lurks behind the clamorous war preparations of the coalition. Bonaparte is of course in good earnest in embarking in the war. He has no alternative left but revolution at home or war abroad. He cannot any longer continue, as he does, to couple the cruel despotism of Napoleon I with the corrupt peace policy of Louis Philippe. He must stop sending new batches of prisoners to Cayenne, if he dare not simultaneously send French armies beyond the frontiers. But the conflict between the avowed intentions of Bonaparte and the secret plans of the coalition can only contribute to further embroil matters. What I conclude from all this is, not that there will be no war, but, on the contrary, that it will assume such terrible and revolutionary dimensions as are not even suspected by the little men of the coalition. Their very perfidy is the means of transforming a local conflict into a European conflagration.

Even if the British Ministry were as sincere as they are false, their intervention could not but accelerate the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. They cannot interfere without demanding pledges for the Christian subjects of the Porte, and these pledges they cannot wrest from it without dooming it to ruin. Even the Constantinople correspondent I quoted before, and who is an avowed Turkophile, cannot but own that

"the proposal of the Western Powers to put all the subjects of the Porte on a perfect footing of civil and religious equality, will lead at once to anarchy, intestine warfare, and a final and speedy overthrow of the, empire."

  1. The Crimean war aroused hopes among European emigrants for a new upsurge of revolutionary liberation activity in Poland, Italy and. Hungary. Preparations for such action were made by Mazzini, Garibaldi and Kossuth. In the winter of 1853-54, Kossuth negotiated—unsuccessfully—with the USA and France for aid in arms and money for the Hungarian emigrants who wished to fight against Tsarist Russia on the side of Turkey. Kossuth hoped to organise a Hungarian Legion expecting that its arrival at the Danubian theatre of war would spark off an uprising against Austrian rule in Hungary, where, on the basis of information received from his agents, he reckoned on the support of 130,000 Honveds. In the summer of 1853, Kossuth addressed a memorandum on the subject to the Turkish Government, but the latter, not wishing to enter into conflict with Austria, disapproved of all Kossuth's attempts to form a Hungarian Legion and only separate individuals got permission to enlist in the Turkish army on condition that they would embrace Islam. On January 7, 1854 Kossuth wrote to Gil, his agent in Constantinople, that Turkey had rejected the Hungarian proposal on the grounds that "as long as Turkey was on friendly terms with Austria contacts with the Hungarian emigrants were out of the question".

    General Zamoiski was permitted to form the Polish Legion at the beginning of 1854. It included supporters of Prince Czartoryski; General Wysocki, protected by Joseph Charles Paul Bonaparte (1822-1891), tried to form a legion of Polish democratic emigrants. But by the summer of 1854 it became clear that his plan had failed and Wysocki left Istanbul. During the Crimean war the Polish emigrants also fought in the ranks of the Cossack formations of Sadyk Pasha (Chaikovsky).
  2. 2.0 2.1 See Debates in Parliament (February 21, 1854).—Ed.
  3. The reference is to John Aberdeen's Coalition Ministry of 1852-55 (the Cabinet of All the Talents), which consisted of Whigs, Peelites and representatives of a faction of Irish Members.
  4. February 22, 1854. Speeches in the House of Commons were reported in The Times, No. 21672, February 23, 1854.—Ed.
  5. Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act I, Scene 2.—Ed.
  6. February 21, 1854. Mr. Horsfall's question and Lord Palmerston's reply are quoted according to The Times, No. 2167 , February 22, 1854.—Ed.
  7. Official organ.—Ed.
  8. The Morning Post, No. 25016, February 23, 1854, leader.—Ed.
  9. This refers to the secret agreement between Denmark and Sweden to observe neutrality in the event of a war in Europe. King Oskar of Sweden informed his Parliament of this on December 27, 1853. The text of the treaty was brought to the knowledge of the European governments by a special note.
  10. This refers to the dispatch of the Russian Ambassador in France Pozzo di Borgo to Chancellor Count Nesselrode dated October 16 (4), 1825 in reply to the latter's circular of August 18 (6), 1825 drawn up on instructions from Alexander I. The circular asked for the opinion of Russian Ambassadors abroad concerning the attitude of the Western powers to Russia in connection with the Eastern question and about the policy to be followed by Russia. Pozzo di Borgo recommended that Russia should resort to direct military action against Turkey. The dispatch was included in Recueil des documents pour la plupart secrets et inédits et d'autres pièces historiques utiles à consulter dans la crise actuelle (juillet 1853) published in Paris. Marx used the second edition of this book (1854).
  11. Karamzin, The History of the Russian State, Vol. XI, St. Petersburg, 1824, p. 28. Where Marx took this quotation from is not established.
  12. In 1839 war broke out between Turkey and Egypt, aggravating the Eastern problem and the conflict between the Great Powers. The Western states were afraid that Russia would intervene separately in the Turko-Egyptian war and sent a collective note to the Sultan suggesting their collaboration. However, the struggle between Britain and France for spheres of influence in the Middle East, in Egypt in particular, led to the signing of the London Convention of July 15, 1840 on measures of military aid to the Sultan by Britain, Russia, Austria and Prussia without France. The last-named, relying on Mehemet Ali, was soon compelled to yield and leave Egypt to its fate. On July 13, 1841 the London Convention on the Black Sea Straits was signed by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Prussia, on the one hand, and Turkey, on the other. The convention laid down that in peacetime the Bosphorus and Dardanelles would be closed to warships of all powers. Marx called this convention the treaty of the Dardanelles.
  13. Review of Current Events. February 21. Le Moniteur universel, No. 53, February 22, 1854.—Ed.
  14. Lord John Russell's speech in the House of Commons of February 23, 1854. The Times, No. 21673, February 24, 1854.—Ed.
  15. Marx has in mind the following passages from Jams Graham's speech in the House of Commons on February 17, 1854: "We have also succeeded in combining Austria and Prussia with us in many most important transactions" and from Lord John Russell's speech on the same occasion: "My belief is, therefore, although we have no engagement with them,—and I state it plainly to the House, that they are not bound to us to resist in any manner the acts of aggression on the part of Russia..." (The Times, No. 21668, February 18, 1854).
  16. Probably Marx heard about this letter from David Urquhart with whom he had a meeting at the time (see Marx's letter to Engels of February 9, 1854).
  17. Télégraphe du Bosphore.—Ed.
  18. Dundas and Hamelin.—Ed.
  19. The insurrection of the Greek population of the Ottoman Empire which started in January 1854 with the support of the Greek troops was suppressed by the Turkish Government with the aid of Britain and France in June of the same year.
  20. When Marx wrote this article, he obtained his information on the contents of these dispatches from Cobden's speech in the House of Commons on February 20, 1854, ,published in The Times on February 21, 1854. In March 1854 Marx acquainted himself with the authentic documents relating to the origin of the Eastern conflict of 1853 and devoted two special articles to their analysis (see The Documents on the Partition of Turkey).
  21. During the Austro-Turkish war of 1788-90 Austrian troops occupied Serbia (1789). In 1791, under pressure from Britain and Prussia, Austria concluded a peace treaty with Turkey on condition of restoring the status quo ante bellum. Austria got only Old Orsova without the right to fortify it.
  22. The Times, No. 21668, February 18, 1854, leader.—Ed.