The European War (January 1855)

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This article by Marx and Engels was initially a part of "The War Debate in Parliament" sent by Marx to New York on April 4, 1854. The editors of the Tribune extracted three paragraphs of this article and published them separately as a leader. The editors' interference with the original text of Marx and Engels can be easily traced:

The beginning of the article, up to the words "but this report our well-informed London correspondent pronounces a mere stock-jobbing invention", belongs to the editors. The greater part of the first paragraph, from the words "In fact, it seems perfectly clear..." up to the end, was written by Engels; textually it coincides with Engels' letter to Marx of April 3, 1854. The rest of the paragraph was written by Marx.

The editors similarly dealt with Marx's second paragraph as can be seen by comparing it with the fourth and fifth paragraphs of "The War Debate in Parliament"; it is more difficult to establish the degree of their interference here, though it is almost beyond doubt in the sentence: "Had these terms been openly proffered sooner they might have greatly diminished the chances of the war, as there is no doubt that the allies mean to procure just such an emancipation." The last sentence "on that head we shall doubtless have full information by the next steamer" also belongs to the editors.

The contents of the third paragraph in the main coincide with Marx's articles "The Greek Insurrection", "Declaration of War. On the History of the Eastern Question" and also "Greece and Turkey. Turkey and the Western Powers.Falling Off in Wheat Sales in England" written later.

The most important feature of the news from Europe, brought by the Arctic which arrived yesterday morning, is the certainty that the Russians have crossed the Lower Danube, some 50,000 strong, in three corps under the immediate command of Prince Gorchakoff, Gen. Lüders and Gen. Oushakoff, and have occupied a part of the Turkish district of Dobrodja. This district belongs to the province of Bulgaria, and is a narrow plain inclosed on the west and north by the Danube, which bends northwardly at Chernavoda, and makes a large detour before reaching its mouth, and on the east by the Euxine. A large part of the district is marshy and liable to be overflowed; it contains several fortresses, such as those of Babadagh, Isaktsha, Matchin and Tultcha, which it is stated have been captured by the Russians, but this report our well-informed London correspondent pronounces a mere stock-jobbing invention. Between the plain of the Dobrodja and the interior of Turkey the Balkan stretches its protecting chain. The Russians are no nearer Constantinople than they were previous to this movement, and have gained by it no new advantage over the Turks. In fact, it seems perfectly clear that it is merely a defensive movement, indicating simply their intention to withdraw from the most western portions of Wallachia. Their entire force in Wallachia mustered seven divisions of infantry, one reserve division at Ismail, and further back the corps of Cheodayeff, numbering three divisions, which is now supposed to have reached Jassy. The eight divisions, together with the cavalry, are hardly above 110,000 strong. Considering the possibility of the landing of an Anglo-French corps on the north-western shores of the Black Sea, menacing the Russian rear, it is plain that the object [of the] occupation of the Dobrodja is to secure the Russian flank with the smallest possible sacrifice of ground. There were but two means of securing a position which would guard them against the danger of being cut off, either a direct retreat upon the Sereth, making the Lower Danube their line of defence, with Fokshani, Galatch and Ismail as supporting points; or to dash at the Dobrodja, with their front leaning upon Kustendje, Hirsova, Oltenitza and Bucharest; the wall of Trajan, the Danube and the Argish to be the first, Buseo the second and the Sereth the third line of defence. The latter plan was decidedly the best, as for the terrain abandoned on the one side a new one is gained on the opposite flank, which gives to the retreat the character of an advance, and saves the military point d'honneur of the Russians. The possession of the Dobrodja shortens the Russian front, allowing them, in the worst case, to retire upon Chotin on the Dniester, even if a landing should take place at Akerman or Odessa. For the details of the maneuvers by which this change in the Russian position has been effected, we have yet to wait.

Next in interest is the moral certainty that the Greek insurrection will be supported by what influence belongs to the monarchy of Greece, the King and Queen[1] both having gone to the frontier to encourage the insurgents. In this emergency, war between Greece and Turkey, backed by the allies, is nearly inevitable, adding to the complications if not seriously increasing the dangers of the general conflict. On the other hand we have the news of another proposal of peace from the Czar himself, communicated by way of Prussia[2]. Nicholas offers to settle the quarrel if the allies will obtain from Turkey an act of complete emancipation for all her Christian subjects. In that case he will evacuate the Principalities when the allied fleet passes the Dardanelles. Had these terms been openly proffered sooner they might have greatly diminished the chances of the war, as there is no doubt that the allies mean to procure just such an emancipation, and refusal to admit at least a part of it has already led to the dismissal by the Sultan[3] of two important members of his government[4] But the offer cannot probably now prevent the war; for to the allied fleet a French and English army is now added, while Sir Charles Napier will have probably attacked and taken Aland before new orders could be sent out and reach him. Still this proposal may have a greater importance than we are inclined to attribute to it; on that head we shall doubtless have full information by the next steamer.

Amid all this confusion and uncertainty, one thing alone seems clear, and that is the extinction of the Moslem power as a distinct polity in Europe. The emancipation of the Christians of Turkey, whether effected by peaceful concession or by violence, degrades Islamism from a political authority to a religious sect, and utterly uproots the old foundations of the Ottoman Empire. It not only perfectly recognizes the truth of the Czar's statement that the Ottoman Porte is labouring under a dangerous malady, but cuts the patients' throat by way of medication. After that operation the Sultan may possibly be retained as a political fiction upon the throne of his fathers, but the real rulers of the country must be looked for elsewhere. It is clear why in such a case the Russian autocrat should be willing to settle quietly with his western antagonists. They will have effected in Turkey the most complete revolution conceivable, and effected it wholly in his interest. After such a dissolution of the present ruling authority, his relations to the Greek Church' in the country, and to the Slavonians, will really endow him with the supreme power over it; he will then have the oyster while the western governments are obliged to content themselves with the 'shells. Such a consummation, though now improbable, is not impossible. But we may be sure there are plenty of elements, not yet developed, which will presently rush in to exercise a powerful influence on the progress of this great struggle. Among these how far the long-slumbering European Revolution is to play a leading part is a question which the statesmen of that hemisphere affect to ignore, but of which they may soon be unpleasantly reminded.

  1. Otto I and Amalie.—Ed.
  2. In March 1854 Frederick William IV of Prussia requested Nicholas Ito withdraw his troops from the Danubian Principalities to avoid a conflict. Nicholas I consented on condition that the Western powers would guarantee emancipation of the Christians in Turkey and withdraw their fleets from the Black Sea. Marx got the information about these negotiations from material published in The Times, No. 21706, April 4, 1854. p. 130
  3. This refers to the dissensions among the Turkish ruling circles caused by the treaty of March 12, 1854 (*). Sheik ul-Islam Arif Hikmet Bey and the President of the State Council of Justice, Rifaat Pasha, opposed any compromise on the status of Christians in Turkey and were dismissed from their posts.

    (*) On March 12, 1854 a treaty was concluded in Constantinople between France, Britain and Turkey. The Allies pledged to help Turkey with their naval and land forces, and Turkey pledged not to enter into peace negotiations with Russia and to conclude no peace without the consent of Britain and France.
  4. Rifaat Pasha and Arif Hikmet Bey.—Ed.