Works of Karl Marx 1853

David Urquhart

Written: about November 20, 1853
Source: MECW Volume 12, p. 477;
First published: in Die Reform, December 19, 1853.

This article published by Adolph Cluss in the New York newspaper Die Reform is a reproduction of Marx’s comments on Urquhart that he made in the non-extant part of his letter to Cluss written in mid-November. In his letter to Joseph Weydemeyer of December 7, 1853, in which he quotes part of the above-mentioned letter, Cluss wrote: “Marx added some notes on Urquhart because Jones, in a paper I am to receive, characterises him in a tactless way as a Russian ally. Marx writes that he gave Jones a dressing down for this. I have made up a short article out of the ‘Urquhartiade’.” When the article was being prepared for the press Cluss evidently changed the opening sentence. The rest of Marx’s text appears not to be touched by him and is authentic or nearly authentic. For his criticism of Urquhart’s views Marx draws from the book: D.Urquhart, Progress of Russia in the West, North, and South, London, 1853. As far back as June 1853 he planned to write a special article for the New-York Daily Tribune devoted to a critical analysis of this book.

In one of the English newspapers to arrive here recently by steamer we discover to our amazement that Mr. D. Urquhart, often mentioned lately as an agitator for the anti-Russian meetings in England, is described as a tool in the service of Russia. [The reference is to the article “A Russian Movement in England”, in The People’s Paper, November 12, 1853] We can only put this absurdity down to intrigues on the part of “free Slavdom”, for the whole of Europe has so far known Urquhart only as a dyed-in-the-wool, almost maniacal Russophobe and Turkophile. When he was Secretary to the embassy in Constantinople the Russians had even demonstrably tried to poison him. Therefore a few remarks about a man whose name is on everyone’s lips but whose actual significance hardly anyone can account for.

Urquhart systematically rides a fixed idea. For 20 years he has been unsuccessfully denouncing Palmerston and the Russian tricks and dodges, and was, therefore, naturally bound to go half-crazy, as would anybody who had a particular idea that was right, but of which he could not convince the world. The fact that Palmerston has been able to hold on until today with his diplomacy, he puts down to the quarrel between the Whigs and Tories, which is partly, but of course only partly, correct. For the English Parliament of today, which judges every issue not on its own merits but solely according to whether a party is “in office” or “out of office”, he, who is basically conservative, sees no other salvation but strengthening the royal prerogative, on the one hand, and local, municipal self-government, on the other. To put up a front against Russia he wants the West to form as compact and uniform a mass as the Russian. He, therefore, will not hear of parties and is a bitter enemy of all efforts to bring about centralisation. As all the revolutions since 1848 have temporarily been favourable to Russia’s progress, he foolishly attributes this outcome to Russian diplomacy, seeing it as Russia’s original motive. Russia’s agents are, therefore, according to Urquhart, the secret commanders of the revolutions. As Austria is the direct counter-force to Russia within the old conservative system, he shows a preference for Austria and a dislike of anything that could imperil its international power. In contrast to the Russian way of levelling things out, on the one hand, and to the revolutionary way of doing so, on the other, he clings to the individuality and particular characteristics of peoples. In his eyes, therefore, the Jews, the Gypsies, the Spaniards and the Mohammedans, including the Circassians, are the four finest peoples, as they have not been tainted by the vulgarism of Paris and London. From all this it is clear that his conception of history had necessarily to assume a very subjective character. History to him is more or less exclusively the work of diplomacy. As far as the objective, material conception of history is concerned, he thinks it is like making crimes into general laws instead of bringing them to trial.

“He is an honest, obstinate, truth-loving, enthusiastic, totally illogical old man, tormenting himself with his deep-seated prejudices”, as one of his critics says of him.

However, as he has but one cause in life, his campaign against Russia, which he conducts with monomaniacal acumen and a great deal of expert knowledge, none of this does any harm. The knight with one cause in life is bound once more to be “the noble knight of the woeful countenance”, nor is there any lack of Sancho Panzas, here or in Europe. A modified example of this species appears in the guise of “A.P.C.” [F. Pulszky], the London A-B-C scholar from the Tribune.