The War Question. Doings of Parliament. India.

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Author(s) Karl Marx
Written 19 July 1853

Reproduced from the newspaper
First published in the New York Daily Tribune, No. 3838, August 5, 1853
The first section of this article was published under the title "Russia and the Western Powers" in The Eastern Question.
Source: Marx-Engels Collected Works, Volume 12 (pp.209-216), Progress Publishers, Moscow 1979

London, Tuesday, July 19, 1853

The Czar[1] has not only commenced war, he has already terminated his first campaign. The line of operations is no longer behind the Pruth, but along the Danube. Meanwhile, what are the Western Powers about? They counsel, i.e. compel the Sultan[2] to consider the war as peace. Their answers to the acts of the autocrat are not cannons, but notes. The Emperor is assailed, not by the two fleets, but by no less than four projects of negotiation. One emanating from the English Cabinet, the other from the French, the third presented by Austria, and the fourth improvised by the "brother-in-law" of Potsdam[3]. The Czar, it is hoped, will consent to select from thisembarras de richessesthat which is most suitable to his purposes. The (second) reply of M. Drouyn de Lhuys to the (second) note of M. de Nesselrode[4] takes infinite pains to prove that "it was not England and France who made the first demonstration."[5] Russia only throws out so many notes to the western diplomats, like bones to dogs, in order to set them at an innocent amusement, while she reaps the advantage of further gaining time. England and France, of course, catch the bait. As if the receipt of such a note were not a sufficient degradation, it [the note] received a most pacific comment in theJournal de l'Empirein an article signed by M. de La Guéronnière, but written from notes given by the Emperor and revised by him. That article "would permit to Russia the caprice of negotiating on the right bank rather than on the left bank of the Pruth." It actually converts the second note of Count Nesselrode into an "attempt at reconciliation." This is done in the following style:

"Count Nesselrode now speaks only of a moral guarantee, and he announces that, for it, is substituted provisionally a material guarantee thus making a direct appeal to negotiation. That being the case it is impossible to consider the action of diplomatists exhausted."[6]

The Assemblée nationale, the Russian Moniteur at Paris, ironically congratulates the Journal de l'Empire for its discovery, however late it had come to it, and regrets only that so much noise should have been made to no purpose.[7]

The English press has lost all countenance.

"The Czar cannot comprehend the courtesy which the Western Powers have shown to him.... He is incapable of courteous demeanor in his transactions with other powers."

So says The Morning Advertiser[8]. The Morning Post is exasperated because the Czar takes so little note of the internal embarras of his opponents:

"To have put forward, in the mere wantonness of insolence, a claim that possessed no character of immediate urgency, and to have done so without any reference to the inflammable state of Europe, was an indiscretion almost incredible."[9]

The writer of the Money Market article in The Economist finds out

"that men discover now to their cost, how inconvenient it is that all the most secret interests of the world [i.e., of the Exchange], are dependent upon the vagaries of one man."[10]

Yet in 1848 and '49 you could see the bust of the Emperor of Russia side by side with the veau d'or[11] itself.

Meanwhile the position of the Sultan is becoming every hour more difficult and complicated. His financial embarrassments increase the more, as he bears all the burdens, without reaping any of the good chances of war. Popular enthusiasm turns round upon him for want of being directed against the Czar. The fanaticism of the Mussulman threatens him with palace revolutions, while the fanaticism of the Greek menaces him with popular insurrections. The papers of to-day contain reports of a conspiracy directed against the Sultan's life by Mussulman students belonging to the old Turkish party, who wanted to place Abdul Aziz on the throne.[12]

In the House of Lords, yesterday, Lord Clarendon was asked by Lords Beaumont and Malmesbury to state his intentions, now that the Emperor of France had not hesitated to pronounce his. Lord Clarendon, however, beside a brief avowal that England had indorsed the note of M. Drouyn de Lhuys, concealed himself behind his entrenchment of promises that he would certainly very soon give full information to the House. On the question whether it was true that the Russians had also seized the Civil Government and the Post-Offices of the Principalities, which they had placed under military occupation, Lord Clarendon remained "silent," of course! "He would not believe it, after the proclamation of Prince Gorchakoff."[13] Lord Beaumont replied, he seemed to be very sanguine indeed.

To a question concerning the late Smyrna affray,[14] put by Sir J. Walmsley in the House of Commons, Lord John Russell replied that he had heard indeed of the kidnapping of one Hungarian refugee[15] by the Consul of Austria[16]; but as to Austria having demanded the extradition of all Hungarian and Italian refugees, he had certainly heard nothing of that. Lord John manages interpellations in a style altogether pleasant and not without convenience to himself. Official information he never receives; and in the newspapers he never reads anything that you want him, or expect him to have read.

The Kölnische Zeitung in a letter dated Vienna, July 11, contains the following report on the Smyrna affair:

"Chekib Effendi has been sent to Smyrna in order to commence an instruction against the authors of the sedition in which M. de Hackelberg perished. Chekib has also received orders to deliver to Austria the refugees of Austrian or Tuscan origin. Mr. Brown, Chargé d'Affaires of the United States, has had communications on this subject with Reshid Pasha, the result of which was not yet known. I hear at this moment that the assassin of Baron Hackelberg has received from the American Consul at Smyrna a passport that places him out of the reach of the Turkish authorities. This fact proves that the United States intend intervening in European affairs. It is also sure that three American men-of-war are with the Turkish fleet in the Bosphorus, and further, that the American frigate Cumberland has brought 80,000,000 of piasters to the Turkish Government."[17]

Whatever truth there be in this and like reports, they prove one thing, viz.: that American intervention is expected everywhere, and is even looked upon with favor by portions of the English public. The behavior of the American Captain[18] and Consul are loudly praised in popular meetings, and the "Englishman"[19] in The Advertiser of yesterday called the Stars and Stripes to appear in the Mediterranean and to shame the "muddy old Union Jack" into activity.

To sum up the Eastern question in a few words: The Czar, vexed and dissatisfied at seeing his immense Empire confined to one sole port of export, and that even situated in a sea innavigable through one half of the year, and assailable by Englishmen through the other half, is pushing the design of his ancestors, to get access to the Mediterranean; he is separating, one after another, the remotest members of the Ottoman Empire from its main body, till at last Constantinople, the heart, must cease to beat. He repeats his periodical invasions as often as he thinks his designs on Turkey endangered by the apparent consolidation of the Turkish Government, or by the more dangerous symptoms of self-emancipation manifest amongst the Slavonians. Counting on the cowardice and apprehensions of the Western Powers, he bullies Europe, and pushes his demands as far as possible, in order to appear magnanimous afterward, by contenting himself with what he immediately wanted.

The Western Powers, on the other hand, inconsistent, pusillanimous, suspecting each other, commence by encouraging the Sultan to resist the Czar, from fear of the encroachments of Russia, and terminate by compelling the former to yield, from fear of a general war giving rise to a general revolution. Too impotent and too timid to undertake the reconstruction of the Ottoman Empire by the establishment of a Greek Empire, or of a Federal Republic of Slavonic States, all they aim at, is to maintain the status quo, i.e., the state of putrefaction which forbids the Sultan to emancipate himself from the Czar, and the Slavonians to emancipate themselves from the Sultan.

The revolutionary party can only congratulate itself on this state of things. The humiliation of the reactionary western governments, and their manifest impotency to guard the interests of European civilization against Russian encroachment cannot fail to work out a wholesome indignation in the people who have suffered themselves, since 1849, to be subjected to the rule of counter-revolution. The approaching industrial crisis, also, is affected and accelerated quite as much by this semi-Eastern complication, as by the completely Eastern complication of China. While the prices of corn are rising, business in general is suspended, at the same time that the rate of Exchange is setting against England, and gold is beginning to flow to the Continent. The stock of bullion in the Bank of France has fallen off between the 9th of June and the 14th of July, the sum of £2,220,000, which is more than the entire augmentation which had taken place during the preceding three months.

The progress of the India bill through the Committee has little interest. It is significant, that all amendments are thrown out now by the Coalition coalescing with the Tories against their own allies of the Manchester School.

The actual state of India may be illustrated by a few facts. The Home Establishment absorbs 3 per cent. of the net revenue, and the annual interest for Home Debt and Dividends 14 per cent together 17 per cent. If we deduct these annual remittances from India to England, the military charges amount to about two-thirds of the whole expenditure available for India, or to 66 per cent., while the charges for Public Works do not amount to more than 2¾ per cent. of the general revenue, or for Bengal 1 per cent., Agra 7¾, Punjab 1/8, Madras 1/2, and Bombay 1 per cent of their respective revenues. These figures are the official ones of the Company itself.

On the other hand nearly three-fifths of the whole net revenue are derived from the land, about one-seventh from opium, and upward of one-ninth from salt. These resources together yield 85 per cent of the whole receipts.

As to minor items of receipts and charges, it may suffice to state that the Moturpha revenue maintained in the Presidency of Madras, and levied on shops, looms, sheep, cattle, sundry professions, &c., yields somewhat about 00,000, while the yearly dinners of the East India House[20] cost about the same sum.

The great bulk of the revenue is derived from the land. As the various kinds of Indian land-tenure have recently been described in so many places, and in popular style, too, I propose to limit my observations on the subject to a few general remarks on the Zemindari and Ryotwar systems.[21]

The Zemindari and the Ryotwar were both of them agrarian revolutions, effected by British ukases, and opposed to each other, the one aristocratic, the other democratic; the one a caricature of English landlordism, the other of French peasant-proprietorship; but pernicious, both combining the most contradictory character both made not for the people, who cultivate the soil, nor for the holder, who owns it, but for the Government that taxes it.

By the Zemindari system, the people of the Presidency of Bengal were depossessed at once of their hereditary claims to the soil, in favor of the native tax gatherers called Zemindars. By the Ryotwar system introduced into the Presidencies of Madras and Bombay, the native nobility, with their territorial claims, merassees, jagheers, &c., were reduced with the common people to the holding of minute fields, cultivated by themselves in favor of the Collector of the East India Company![22] But a curious sort of English landlord was the Zemindar, receiving only one-tenth of the rent, while he had to make over nine-tenths of it to the Government. A curious sort of French peasant was the Ryot, without any permanent title in the soil, and with the taxation changing every year in proportion to his harvest. The original class of Zemindars, notwithstanding their unmitigated and uncontrolled rapacity against the depossessed mass of the ex-hereditary landholders, soon melted away under the pressure of the Company, in order to be replaced by mercantile speculators who now hold all the land of Bengal, with exception of the estates returned under the direct management of the Government. These speculators have introduced a variety of the Zemindari tenure called patnee. Not content to be placed with regard to the British Government in the situation of middlemen, they have created in their turn a class of "hereditary" middlemen called patnetas, who created again their sub-patnetas, &c., so that a perfect scale of hierarchy of middlemen has sprung up, which presses with its entire weight on the unfortunate cultivator. As to the Ryots in Madras and Bombay, the system soon degenerated into one of forced cultivation, and the land lost all its value.

"The land," says Mr. Campbell, "would be sold for balances by the Collector, as in Bengal, but generally is not, for a very good reason, viz.: that nobody will buy it."[23]

Thus, in Bengal, we have a combination of English landlordism, of the Irish middlemen system, of the Austrian system, transforming the landlord into the tax-gatherer, and of the Asiatic system making the State the real landlord. In Madras and Bombay we have a French peasant proprietor who is at the same time a serf, and a métayer of the State. The drawbacks of all these various systems accumulate upon him without his enjoying any of their redeeming features. The Ryot is subject, like the French peasant, to the extortion of the private usurer; but he has no hereditary, no permanent title in his land, like the French peasant. Like the serf he is forced to cultivation, but he is not secured against want like the serf. Like the métayer he has to divide his produce with the State, but the State is not obliged, with regard to him, to advance the funds and the stock, as it is obliged to do with regard to the métayer. In Bengal, as in Madras and Bombay, under the Zemindari as under the Ryotwar, the Ryots and they form 11-12ths of the whole Indian population have been wretchedly pauperized; and if they are, morally speaking, not sunk as low as the Irish cottiers, they owe it to their climate, the men of the South being possessed of less wants, and of more imagination than the men of the North.

Conjointly with the land-tax we have to consider the salt-tax. Notoriously the Company retain the monopoly of that article which they sell at three times its mercantile value and this in a country where it is furnished by the sea, by the lakes, by the mountains and the earth itself. The practical working of this monopoly was described by the Earl of Albemarle in the following words:

"A great proportion of the salt for inland consumption throughout the country is purchased from the Company by large wholesale merchants at less than 4 rupees per maund[24]; these mix a fixed proportion of sand, chiefly got a few miles to the south-east of Dacca, and send the mixture to a second, or, counting the Government as the first, to a third monopolist at about 5 or 6 rupees. This dealer adds more earth or ashes, and thus passing through more hands, from the large towns to villages, the price is still raised from 8 to 10 rupees and the proportion of adulteration from 25 to 40 per cent. [...] It appears then that the people [...] pay from £21, 17s. 2d. to £27, 6s. 2d. for their salt, or in other words, from 30 to 36 times as much as the wealthy people of Great Britain."[25]

As an instance of English bourgeois morals, I may allege, that Mr. Campbell defends the Opium monopoly because it prevents the Chinese from consuming too much of the drug, and that he defends the Brandy monopoly (licenses for spirit-selling in India) because it has wonderfully increased the consumption of Brandy in India.

The Zemindar tenure, the Ryotwar, and the salt tax, combined with the Indian climate, were the hotbeds of the cholera India's ravages upon the Western World —a striking and severe example of the solidarity of human woes and wrongs.

  1. Nicholas I.—Ed.
  2. Abdul Mejid.—Ed.
  3. Frederick William IV.—Ed.
  4. Nesselrode's Note of July 2, 1853 and the reply of the French Foreign Minister Drouyn de Lhuys sent on July 15, 1853 (see below a↓) contained mutual accusations of the French and Russian governments of provoking a conflict. Nesselrode asserted that Britain and France had been the first to demonstrate hostility by sending their squadrons to the Straits before the Russian army entered the Danubian Principalities. Drouyn de Lhuys' Note laid the whole responsibility for the conflict on Russia.

    a) A reference to Nesselrode's circular letter to Russian diplomats abroad of July 2, 1853. (Below Marx cites the date as June 20, 1853, according to the old style accepted in Russia.) The text of it was published in The Times, No. 21418, July 12, 1853. Written in the spirit of the previous Note of June 11, 1853 (see below b↓), it supported the Tsarist Government's demands on Turkey and criticised the policy of the Western powers. In referring to the French Minister's reply to the Note, Marx made a slight error, which was due to the lack of clarity in the text of the telegram from Paris published in The Morning Post. He quoted from Drouyn de Lhuys' reply to Nesselrode's first Note of June 11, 1853, the text of which together with the text of the French Government's reply of June 25, 1853 was published in the official newspaper Le Moniteur universel, No. 195, on July 14, 1853. Nesselrode's Note of July 2 and Drouyn de Lhuys' reply to it of July 15 were published in Le Moniteur universel, No. 198 for July 17, 1853, after Marx had written his article. In the second Note, the French Government likewise expressed its disapproval of the Tsar's position in the Eastern question and professed to stand for a peaceful solution of the conflict.

    b) A reference to Nesselrode's Note (a circular letter of June 11, 1853) to Russian diplomats abroad. The Note criticised the Porte's actions and gave grounds for presenting a new ultimatum to Turkey demanding that the Russian Tsar be recognised as the protector of the Christian subjects of the Sultan and threatening to resort to "decisive measures" if these demands were rejected. This ultimatum, which Marx calls below an "ultimatissimum", was presented to the Porte on June 16, 1853.
  5. Quoted from Le Moniteur universel, No. 198, July 17, 1853.—Ed.
  6. Le Pays, No. 197, July 16, 1853.—Ed.
  7. See A. Letellier's article in L'Assemblée nationale, No. 198, July 17, 1853.—Ed.
  8. The Morning Advertiser, July 18, 1853.—Ed.
  9. "The Question Between Russia and Turkey...", The Morning Post, No. 24827, July 18, 1853.—Ed.
  10. The Economist, No. 516, July 16, 1853.—Ed.
  11. Golden calf.—Ed.
  12. A reference to the conspiracy against the Sultan Abdul Mejid organised by opponents of the policy of reforms (tansimat). The foundation of this policy was laid by Abdul Mejid's rescript of 1839, which proclaimed the introduction of certain changes, e.g. reform of the taxation system, a guarantee of the inviolability of life and property, and some others. Despite the highly limited nature of these reforms, they were violently opposed by reactionaries grouped around the Sultan's brother Abdul Aziz.
  13. A reference to the proclamation issued by Gorchakov, the commander of the Russian army on the Danube, to the inhabitants of Moldavia and Wallachia in the summer of 1853 and published in The Times, No. 21477, July 11, 1853. The proclamation declared that the object of the Russian army's entry into the Danubian Principalities was not to change the political institutions and the order guaranteed for the Principalities by former treaties.
  14. See The Russo-Turkish Difficulty. Ducking and Dodging of The British Cabinet. Nesselrode's Last Note. The East India Question.—Ed.
  15. M. Koszta.—Ed.
  16. Weckbecker.—Ed.
  17. Kölnische Zeitung, No. 193, July 14, 1853.—Ed.
  18. D. N. Ingraham.—Ed.
  19. A. Richards.—Ed.
  20. Residence of the Court of Directors of the East India Company in Leadenhall Street in London.—Ed.
  21. The Zemindari and Ryotwari systems—two systems of land taxation introduced by the British colonial authorities. The Zemindari system was introduced in Bengal and then in other provinces in North-Eastern and Central India at the end of the eighteenth century. The Ryotwari system was established in the Madras Presidency (first in two districts in 1792, and then throughout the region in 1818-23) and in the Presidency of Bombay (1818-28). In both cases the colonial power was recognised as the supreme owner of the land. Under the Zemindari system the tax from the agricultural population was collected, in return for a certain share, by zemindars, hereditary tax-collectors, who formed a new stratum of feudal landowners. To help them perform this function they enlisted the services of agricultural middlemen of lower rank. Under the Ryotwari system the Indian peasants, the ryots, were directly dependent on the East India Company, to whom they paid tax. The tax was collected by company officials and its rate depended on the harvest.
  22. Collector—the British chief officiai of a district in India who acted as a magistrate and collected taxes.
  23. G. Campbell, Modern India: a Sketch of the System of Civil Government, p. 359.—Ed.
  24. Asiatic measure of weight of varying value (Indian standard equals ca 82 2/7 lb.).—Ed.
  25. Marx gives a rendering of George Albemarle's speech in the House of Lords on July 1, 1853, published in The Times, No. 21470, July 2, 1853.—Ed.