Russia Using Austria. The Meeting at Warsaw

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 17 September 1860

First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 6072, October 10, 1860
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 17 (pp.484-487), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): New York Tribune

Berlin, 17th September, 1860

Of all the countries in Europe, Germany presents, at this moment, the most curious, the most intricate, and the most lamentable spectacle. The real state of German affairs will be best understood from a simple juxtaposition of two facts, the recent meeting of the German National Association at Coburg, and the impending meeting of the principal German princes at Warsaw[1] While the former aspires to the unification of the fatherland, by abandoning German Austria and confiding in Prussia, the Regent of Prussia[2] himself rests his prospects of resistance against French aggression upon the restoration of the Holy Alliance under Russian auspices. Russian foreign policy, as is well known, does not care one straw for principles, in the common meaning of the term. It is neither legitimist nor revolutionary, but improves all opportunities of territorial aggrandizement with the same facility, whether they be obtained by siding with insurgent peoples or with struggling princes. In regard to Germany, it has become the invariable policy of Russia to shift sides. She first combines with France, in order to break the resistance of Austria to her Oriental schemes, and then sides with Germany in order to enfeeble France and draw a bill upon German gratitude, to be discounted on the Vistula or the Danube. In the progress of a European complication, she will always prefer a coalition with the German princes to an alliance with the French upstarts, for the simple reason that her real force consists in her diplomatic superiority, and not in her material power. A war with Germany, her immediate neighbor, springing from an alliance with France, would reveal the real impotency of the Northern Colossus; while in a war with France, Russia must, from her geographical position, always form the reserve, forcing Germany to do the real work, and keeping in store for herself the fruits of the victory. Coalesced empires resemble in this point the different corps of an army. The vanguard and the center have to bear the decisive shock, but the reserve decides the battle and carries the day. German dreamers may flatter themselves with the delusive hope that Russia, while laboring under the high pressure of an internal social struggle, in the emancipation movement, will for once give the lie to Karamzin, the Russian historian's maxim that Russian foreign policy never changes.

It has been presumed that an immense empire, distracted by a struggle of classes, and distressed by a financial crisis, would be but too glad to let Europe alone; but then the real nature of the Russian internal movement has been misunderstood. Whatever may have been his real intentions, it is no more possible for a benevolent Czar[3] to conciliate the abolition of serfdom with the continuance of his own autocracy than it proved for a benevolent Pope[4], in 1848, to reconcile Italian unity with the vital conditions of the Papacy. Simple as the phrase of Russian serf emancipation sounds, it implies meanings the most different and aspirations the most contradictory. The vail that, in the beginning of the movement, was thrown, by a kind of general enthusiasm, over the conflicting tendencies, must necessarily be torn asunder, so soon as steps are taken to proceed from the verbal to the real. Serf emancipation, in the sense of the Czar, amounted to the destruction of the last checks still restraining the Imperial autocracy. On the one hand the relative independence of the nobles, resting upon their uncontrolled sway over the majority of the Russian people, would have been removed; on the other hand, the self-administration of the rural serf communities, based on their common property in the enslaved soil, would have been broken up by the Government scheme which aimed at the abolition of the "communist" principle. Such was serf emancipation as understood by the Central Government. The nobles, in their turn—that is to say, that influential portion of the Russian aristocracy which despaired of maintaining the old state of things—had made up their minds to grant the emancipation of the serfs on two conditions: monetary indemnity, converting the peasants from their serfs into their mortgagees, so that, so far as material interests go, nothing would have been changed, for two or three generations at least, save the form of servitude—its patriarchal form being supplanted by its civilized form. Beside this indemnity to be paid by the serfs, they wanted another indemnity to be paid by the State. For the local power over their serfs, which they declared themselves ready to surrender, they wanted to make up by political power to be wrested from the Central Government, investing them in substance with a constitutional share in the general management of the empire.

Lastly, the serfs themselves preferred the simplest formula of the emancipation question. What they understood by it was the old state of things, minus their old landlords. In this mutual strife, where the Government, despite menaces and cajoling, split upon the opposition of the nobles and the peasants—the aristocracy upon the opposition of the Government and of their human chattels, the peasantry upon the combined opposition of their central lord and their local lords—an understanding, as is usual in such transactions, has been arrived at between the existing powers at the cost of the oppressed class. The Government and the aristocracy have agreed together to shelve the emancipation question for the present, and to again try their hands at foreign adventures. Hence the secret understanding with Louis Bonaparte in 1859[5], and the official congress at Warsaw with the German princes in 1860. The Italian war had sufficiently broken the self-reliance of Austria to transform her from an obstacle into a tool of the Russian schemes of foreign policy, and Prussia, which had made a fool of herself by combining, during the continuance of the war, the airs of ambitious perfidy with an utter nullity of action, cannot, threatened as she is by France on her Rhenish frontiers, but follow in the wake of Austria. It was one of the great delusions of the Gotha party[6] to fancy that the blows Austria was likely to receive on the part of France would dissolve her into her constituent parts, so that Austrian Germany, disconnected from its ties with Italy, Poland, and Hungary, might easily enter into the formation of one great German empire. A long historical experience has shown us that every war which Austria may have to wage with France or Russia would not free Germany from her weight, but only make her subservient to the schemes of France or Russia. To break her up into her constituent parts by one great blow, would be bad policy on the part of those Powers, if they were possessed of the force to strike the blow; but to enfeeble Austria, in order to turn its remaining influence to their own account, was and must always be the main object of their diplomatic and military operations. Nothing but a German revolution, with one of its centers at Vienna and the other at Berlin, could shatter to pieces the Hapsburg empire, without endangering the integrity of Germany, and without subjecting its non-German dominions to French or Russian control.

The impending Warsaw Congress would immensely strengthen Louis Bonaparte's position in France, if the prospect of a conflict in Italy between the truly national party and the French party did not spoil his opportunity. As it is, one must hope that the Warsaw Congress will at last open the eyes of Germany, and teach her that either to withstand encroachments from without or realize unity and liberty at home, she must clear her own house of its dynastic landlords.

  1. The Patriots was a republican society of German refugees in London in the 1850s and 60s. Its members included Blind, Freiligrath and Hollinger.

    The National Association (Deutscher National Verein) was a party of the German liberal bourgeoisie which advocated the unification of Germany (without Austria) in a strong centralised state under the aegis of the Prussian monarchy. Its inaugural congress was held in Frankfurt in September 1859.

    The open letter of the Patriots to the National Association was published in a number of German newspapers in November 1859. It contained a vaguely formulated plan for the dynastic unification of Germany under Prussia's aegis.

    The meeting of the Russian and Austrian emperors and the Prince Regent of Prussia took place in Warsaw. The attempted rapprochement between Austria, Prussia and Russia was motivated by a desire to prevent the unification of Italy and counteract the foreign policy of Napoleon III, who supported Victor Emmanuel II of Sardinia.
  2. William, Prince of Prussia.—Ed.
  3. Alexander II.—Ed.
  4. Pius IX.—Ed.
  5. On March 3 (February 19), 1859, Russia and France concluded in Paris a secret, agreement under which Russia undertook to adopt a "political and military stand which most easily proves its favourable neutrality towards France" (Article 1) and to make no objection to the Kingdom of Sardinia being enlarged in the event of a war between France and Sardinia on the one hand and Austria on the other. France undertook to raise the question of revising those articles of the Paris Peace Treaty of 1856 which restricted Russia's rights in the. Black Sea area and robbed her of a part of Bessarabia.
  6. On June 26, 1849, the liberal deputies of the Frankfurt National Assembly, who had walked out after the Prussian King's refusal to accept the Imperial Crown, met in Gotha for a three-day conference which resulted in the formation of the Gotha party. It expressed the interests of the pro-Prussian German bourgeoisie and supported the policy of Prussian ruling circles aimed at uniting Germany under the hegemony of Hohenzollern Prussia.