Spree and Mincio

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 23 June 1859


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Written about June 23, 1859
First published in Das Volk, No. 8, June 25, 1859
Published in English for the first Time in MECW.
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 16 (pp.380-383), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1980
Collection(s): Das Volk
Keywords : Italy, France, War, Voltaire

Voltaire, we know, kept four monkeys in Ferney, to which he had given the names of his four literary opponents, Fréron, Beaumelle, Nonnotte and Franc de Pompignan. Not a day passed without the writer's feeding them personally, kicking them liberally, pulling their ears, sticking pins in their noses, stepping on their tails, dressing them in clerical hoods and mistreating them in every possible way. The old man of Ferney needed these monkeys of criticism to draw off his bile, satisfy his hatred, and calm his fear of the weapons of polemics, just as much as Louis Bonaparte needs the monkeys of the revolution in Italy. And Kossuth, Klapka, Vogt and Garibaldi too are fed, given golden collars, kept under lock and key, cajoled or kicked, depending on whether hatred of the revolution or fear of it predominates in the mood of their master. The poor monkeys of the revolution are thus to be its hostages; they are to assure the man of December 2 an armistice on the part of the revolutionary party, so that he may, undisturbed, destroy the arsenals of Orsini-type bombs and fall on the enemy, whom he dreaded so long in the Tuileries, in his own camp, and strangle him.

The Empire must mean peace once more[1], or it will not have been worth the trouble to perpetrate so many outrages, commit so many perjuries and suffer so many humiliations to set it up. An Empire rendered insecure by revolutionary bombs, secret societies, insolent bourgeois and unrestrained soldiers is intolerable. Marchons![2] Here is fame, here are Napoleonic ideas[3], freedom, nationality, independence, anything you want; but marchons, marchons!

The idea of making Italy a mousetrap of the revolution is sophisticated enough; the only thing is that it cannot be put into execution, for the reason that anyone who lets himself be caught in it, at the moment that he nibbles at the bait ceases to be of any significance for the revolutionary party. To want to seal up the crater of the revolution by tossing Messrs. Kossuth, Klapka, Vogt and Garibaldi into it, head over heels, is really childish and only helps to hasten the eruption.

Even if it were possible, with their help, to extinguish an Orsini bomb in Italy, another would go off in France, in Germany, in Russia, or wherever it might be; for the need and the natural necessity of the revolution is as general as the desperation of the downtrodden peoples on whom your throne rests, as the hatred of the despoiled proletarians with whose wretchedness you played such pleasant games. And only after the revolution has become an elemental force, incalculable and unavoidable as the lightning whose thunder you only hear when its deadly bolt has been sent out without recall, only then are you aware of its eruption.

Where and how this eruption may take place is of little importance. The main thing is that it should occur. This time Prussia seems to be called on to express, against its will, the general need for revolution. The Prince Regent[4], who on his own "never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one", is forced by pure love for conservatism to play seriously the revolutionary role with which Louis Bonaparte only flirts out of fear, affectation and caprice.

Prussia's armed mediation, i.e., its alliance with Austria, means revolution.

The general mood of the Berlin press proves that neutrality with mobilisation of the army has been given up as an untenable position. The National-Zeitung, the organ of the liberal trends in the Cabinet, says quite rightly:

"Neutrality may be a suitable role for Belgium, Holland or Switzerland under the present conditions; for Prussia neutrality is death."

If Bonaparte succeeds in carrying out his noble-minded plans for Italy, the outcome would be, according to the same paper, nothing but a French military protectorate over the entire peninsula, even if the war is localised and does not produce any direct acquisition of territory by France. As a result the Russo-French hegemony over the continent of Europe, which has already been so perceptible for the last three years, would be so much strengthened that it could lead at any moment to the division of rule proclaimed in St. Helena[5], The new Empire is said to show the same tendencies as the first Empire and to be in an even more advantageous position, since it is not under external pressure and can therefore choose at discretion the time, place and occasion to isolate its opponents and then annihilate them en détail[6]. In order to thwart this battle plan, which has been conducted with such great skill up to the present, Prussia, the paper says, will be forced to go with Austria, not at all in order to support the policies of the Habsburgs but to fight for its own existence.

This is approximately the content of the article in question, which is regarded as the programme corresponding to the policy of the regency. No one believes that the latest attempt at mediation, entrusted to Herr von Werther, will succeed. If, however, Napoleon consented to a peace that at best would intensify the discontent of his officers and soldiers, it would no longer be necessary to fight him. One could then say of him what Horace Walpole said about the Marquis de Very, a Sardinian diplomat: He is dead but wants it to be kept secret for a few days. He would not succeed for long.

If this mediation, which has hardly been undertaken seriously, should fail, the battles between Napoleonic tyranny and Habsburg despotism would be fought out on the Mincio, but the battles for freedom would be fought on the Oder and the Vistula. Huge bodies of troops have already been massed at Kalisch, two miles from the Prussian border. A Prussian army corps has been announced in Hanover on the march towards the Rhine, another is moving south, and the commanders of the various federal corps have been summoned to a military conference in Berlin. All these steps concern merely the mobilisation of the advance guard. The army that must wage the war against France and Russia is not yet in existence and can only be recruited from the people, not the people that declaims the Teutonic poems of the Teutonic Ludwig[7], but the people that is rising with the entire devastating energy of revolutionary enthusiasm. If this enthusiasm cannot be aroused, then the- mobilisation, armed mediation, declaration of war, warfare, etc., of the Hohenzollerns are no better than the puerile idea of the Gold Coast Negro who thinks that he is dealing a mortal blow at his adversary if he hangs himself on his enemy's doorpost.

  1. An allusion to Louis Bonaparte's words spoken in Bordeaux on October 9, 1852, shortly before the plebiscite and the proclamation of the Second Empire. In an effort to win the people's sympathy he declared demagogically: "L'Empire c'est la paix" ("The Empire is peace").
  2. Onward!—Ed.
  3. An ironical allusion to Louis Bonaparte's book Des idées napoléoniennes which he wrote in England and published in 1839 in Paris and Brussels.
  4. William, Prince of Prussia.—Ed.
  5. An allusion to the book Mémoires pour servir à l'histoire de France sous Napoléon, écrits à Ste Hélène, sous la dictée de l'empereur, published in 1822-25, in which Napoleon I expressed his hostility to England and expounded his views on the necessity of an alliance with Russia.
  6. One by one.—Ed.
  7. The poems of King Ludwig I of Bavaria, popular among German philistines, are examples of meaningless pretentious poetry.