Parliamentary and Military Affairs (1855)

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Friedrich Engels
Written 20 February 1855


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Printed according to the news paper
First published in the Neue Oder-Zeitung, No. 91, February 23, 1855
Published in English for the first time in Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 14 (pp.40-42), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Marked with the sign x
Collection(s): Neue Oder-Zeitung

London, February 20. Although the House of Commons sat yesterday from 4 p. m. to 2 a. m. and voted away some £7.5 million sterling for the army, the debates lacked anything interesting enough to report. Therefore, we shall only note that Palmerston disconcerted his liberal opponents both by the deliberate triviality of his replies and by the provocatively confident insolence with which he delivered these trivialities[1]. Having declaimed about the battle of Balaklava[2] in the manner of Astley's Amphitheatre, he attacked Layard for "vulgar declamation against the aristocracy", for it was not the aristocracy that was dug-in in the Commissariat, in Transport and in the Medical department. He forgot that its lackeys are dug-in there. Layard rightly emphasised that the commissions invented by Palmerston are good for nothing but stirring up conflicts of competence in the expeditionary army. "What!" cried Palmerston (he saw himself again in the place of Richard II and Parliament in the role of Wat Tyler's mob). "You want to set up a parliamentary committee good for nothing but producing Blue Books[3], and you take exception to my commissions, which 'have to work'!" Palmerston treated Parliament with such superciliousness that for once he even found it superfluous to make his own jokes. He borrowed them from the ministerial morning papers which the Members of Parliament had in front of them on the table. They were spared neither the "Committee of Public Safety" of The Morning Chronicle[4] nor the jibe of The Morning Post about transporting the inquisitorious Members to the Crimea—and leaving them there. Only a parliament constituted like this one could have stood for this. So, while in Parliament Palmerston out-Aberdeens Old Aberdeen, he lets it be known—not directly, through his own papers, but through the gullible newspaper of the united victuallers[5], that he is not a free agent but bound in chains by the Court, etc.

As a peace congress[6] is soon to meet in Vienna, it is time to speak of the war and to estimate the military forces at the disposal of the powers which have so far appeared—more or less—on the battlefield. This is not a question only of the numerical strength of the armies, but of that part of them which can be used in offensive operations. We shall give details only of the infantry, as the other arms must be proportionate.[7]

England possesses, in all, 99 regiments, or 106 battalions of infantry. Of these, at least 35 battalions are on Colonial service. Of the remainder, the first five divisions sent to the Crimea took up 40 battalions more; and at least eight battalions have been sent since as reinforcements. There remain about 23 battalions, hardly one of which could be spared for service abroad. The militia, embodied to the number of over 50,000, are allowed to volunteer for foreign service. They are to occupy Gibraltar, Malta, Corfu, and thus to relieve about twelve battalions, which then may be sent to the Crimea. A foreign legion, as Palmerston stated in the House of Commons yesterday, will not be set up. Finally, on the 13th February, orders were issued to create second battalions for 93 regiments—43 of 1,000 men and 50 of 1,200 men each. This would give an addition of 103,000 men, besides about 17,000 more men for the cavalry and artillery. But not one of these 120,000 men has as yet been enlisted, and afterwards they have to be drilled and officered.

The admirable organisation existing at present has contrived to employ almost the whole of the infantry—with the exception of depot companies and a few depot battalions—between the Crimea and the colonies, and moreover not only the men but, though this seems incredible, the cadres as well. Now, there are plenty of half-pay generals, colonels and majors on the British army list and they can be employed for this new force. But there are hardly any captains on half-pay, and no lieutenants and non-commissioned officers at all. But it is well known that the non-commissioned officers form the cornerstone of every army. According to General Sir William Napier, the historian of the Peninsular war[8], the best authority in this field, it takes fully three years to drill the "tag-rag" and "bobtail"[9] (the lumpen proletariat) of Old England into "the best blood of England", "the first soldiers of the world". If that is the case when the cadres are at hand and need only to be replenished, how long will it therefore take to manufacture heroes out of these 120,000 men? During the next twelvemonth, the utmost the British Government can do is to keep up a "heroic little band" of fifty thousand men before the enemy. That number could be exceeded for short periods, but only at the cost of considerably upsetting all preparation for future reinforcements.

The departure of the mail compels us to break off at this point.

  1. An account of Palmerston's speech was published in The Times, No. 21982, February 20, 1855.—Ed.
  2. The battle of Balaklava took place on October 25, 1854. Ünits of the Russian army tried to cut off the British and Turkish troops taking part in the siege of Sevastopol from their base in Balaklava. They succeeded in inflicting serious losses on the enemy, especially on the British cavalry, but failed to achieve their main objective. For a description of this battle see Engels' article "The War in the East".
  3. Blue Books—periodically published collections of documents of the British Parliament and Foreign Office. Their publication began in the seventeenth century.
  4. The Morning Chronicle, No. 27504, February 19, 1855.—Ed.
  5. The Morning Advertiser, which had published the articles "A Minister must be ambitious..." (No. 19863, February 17, 1855) and "Faithful are the wounds of a friend...", No. 19864, February 19, 1855.—Ed.
  6. The Vienna Conference was to work out the terms for peace between the participants in the Crimean War. It was attended by Russia, Britain, France, Austria and Turkey and lasted, with intervals, from March 15 to June 4, 1855. The negotiations centred on the Four Points (*). While agreeing, with certain reservations, to Points 1, 2 and 4, Russia emphatically rejected Point 3 which, as interpreted by the Western Powers, called for a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea. Britain and France insisted on its acceptance and turned down Austria's compromise proposal that Russia and Turkey should be allowed to agree between themselves on the size of their naval forces in the Black Sea. The Conference ended without adopting any decisions.

    (*) The Four Points—demands made by the Western Powers on Russia as preliminary conditions for peace talks in their Note of August 8, 1854. Russia was required to renounce her protectorate over Moldavia, Wallachia and Serbia, which was to be replaced by an all-European guarantee; to grant freedom of navigation on the Danube; to agree to a revision of the London Convention of 1841 on the closure of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to the warships of all nations in peacetime, and to renounce its protection of Christians in Turkey. The Tsarist government at first rejected the Four Points but in November 1854 was forced to accept them as the basis for future peace talks. The Four Points were discussed at the Vienna conferences of Ambassadors (**) but the attempts of the Western Powers to link the question of the Straits with demands for 'a reduction of the Russian Navy in the Black Sea caused the Russian Ambassador in Vienna, A. M. Gorchakov, to walk out of the talks.

    (**) A reference to the talks between the British, French and Russian Ambassadors and Austrian Foreign Minister Buol sponsored by Emperor Francis Joseph, which opened in December 1854. Their official purpose was to work out a basis for peace negotiations between the belligerents in the Crimean War. They were a sequel to an earlier round of talks between diplomats of the Western Powers, the Prussian Ambassador and the Austrian Minister (the Russian Ambassador refused to participate) held in Vienna in 1853-54 by way of mediation in the Russo-Turkish conflict. The second round failed to resolve the differences between the belligerents in the Crimean War. In mid-March 1855 representatives of Austria, Britain, France, Turkey and Russia met at a higher level at the Vienna Conference (Britain was represented by Special Envoy Lord John Russell, France by Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys). That conference also produced no results.
  7. The following paragraphs are largely based on Engels' article "The War That Looms on Europe", which was published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 4332, March 8, 1855.—Ed.
  8. This refers to W. F. P. Napier's History of the War in the Peninsula and in the South of France from the Year 1807 to the Year 1814, Vols. I-VI.—Ed.
  9. The words in quotation marks are given in English in the original.—Ed.