Karl Marx 1867

Poland’s European Mission

Speech delivered in London, probably to a meeting of the International’s General Council and the Polish Workers Society on 22 January 1867, text published in Le Socialisme, 15 March 1908; Odbudowa Polski (Warsaw, 1910), pp 119-23; Mysl Socjalistyczna, May 1908. From Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Russian Menace to Europe, edited by Paul Blackstock and Bert Hoselitz, and published by George Allen and Unwin, London, 1953, pp 104-08. Scanned and prepared for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

When the last Ukases on the abolition of Poland became known in this country, the organ of the leading stock-exchanges exhorted the Poles to become Muscovites. Why not, if it was a means of adding to the security of the six million pounds sterling recently lent to the Tsar by the English capitalists? [1]

About thirty years ago a revolution broke out in France. It was an event unforeseen by the Providence of St Petersburg, which had just concluded a secret treaty with Charles X to improve the administration and geographic arrangement of Europe. As soon as the sad news arrived the Tsar Nicholas called together the officers of his guard and delivered to them a short warlike harangue, summing up with the words, ‘To your horses, Gentlemen!’ It was not a vain threat. Paskievitch was sent to Berlin, from which point he was to direct the invasion of France. A few months later everything was ready. The Prussians were supposed to deploy their concentration on the Rhine, the Polish army to enter Prussia and the Muscovites to follow in the rear. But then, as Lafayette said in the Chamber of Deputies, ‘the advance guard turned on the mass of the army’ – the Warsaw uprising saved Europe from a second anti-Jacobin war.

Eighteen years later there was another eruption of the revolutionary volcano, or rather an earthquake which shook the entire continent. Even Germany began to stir, in spite of the maternal apron-strings on which Russia had held her since the so-called war of independence. And what was even more astonishing, of all the German cities, Vienna was the first to try its hand at the raising of street-barricades, and with success! This time, perhaps for the first time in history, the Russian lost his nerve. Tsar Nicholas lost no time in haranguing his guards. He published a Manifesto to his people, saying that the French plague had infested even Germany, that it was approaching the frontiers of the Empire and that the Revolution, in its delirium was casting crazed glances at Holy Russia. Nothing astonishing in this, he cried. For years this same Germany had been a ferment of infidelity. The cancer of a sacrilegious philosophy had cut into the vital organs of this people, so healthy in its outward aspect. And he concluded with this message to the Germans: ‘God is with us! Now hear this, infidels, and yield to us, for God is with us!’ Shortly afterwards, by the instrument of his faithful servant, Nesselrode, he sent the Germans another message, but this one was overflowing with tenderness for this pagan people. Whence came this change?

The reason is that the people of Berlin had not only made a revolution, they had proclaimed the restoration of Poland, and the Poles in Prussia, deceived by the popular enthusiasm, were in the process of setting up military camps in Posen. Hence the amiability of the Tsar. Once again it was Poland, the immortal knight of Europe, who kept the Mongol in awe! It was only after the betrayal of the Poles by the Germans, particularly by the German National Assembly in Frankfort, that Russia recovered its force and became strong enough to stab the Revolution of 1848 and its last refuge, Hungary. And even there, the last man to lead a campaign against Russia was a Pole, General Bem.

Now there are many people who are naive enough to believe that all that has changed, that Poland has ceased to be ‘a necessary nation’, as a French writer called it, and is now only a sentimental memory. And you know that sentiments and memories are not listed on the stock exchange.

But I ask you, what is there that has changed? Has the danger diminished? No, only the intellectual blindness of the ruling classes of Europe has reached its zenith. [2]

In the first place the policy of Russia is changeless, according to the admission of its official historian, the Muscovite Karamsin. Its methods, its tactics, its manoeuvres may change, but the polar star of its policy – world domination – is a fixed star. In our times only a civilised government ruling over barbarian masses can hatch out such a plan and execute it. As the greatest Russian diplomat of modern times, Pozzo di Borgo, wrote to Alexander I at the time of the Congress of Vienna, Poland is the great instrument for the execution of Russian designs on the world, but it is also an invincible obstacle to them, until such time as the Poles, worn out by the accumulated betrayals of Europe, become a whip in the hand of the Muscovite.

Well, except for the dispositions of the Polish people, has anything intervened to thwart the Russian plans or paralyse its action? I do not need to tell you that the progress of its conquests in Asia has been continuous. I do not need to tell you that the so-called war of England and France against Russia delivered to the latter the mountain fortresses of the Caucasus, control of the Black Sea and maritime rights which Catherine II, Paul and Alexander I had tried in vain to wrest from England. Railroads are uniting and concentrating its forces, scattered over a vast expanse. Its material resources in Congress Poland, where it has entrenched itself in Europe, have increased enormously. The fortifications of Warsaw, Modlin, Ivangorod – points chosen by the first Napoleon – command the entire course of the Vistula, and constitute a formidable base for attacks to the North, West and South. Panslavist propaganda has had the satisfactory result of weakening Austria and Turkey. And as to the meaning of this Panslavist propaganda, you had a foretaste of it in 1848-49, when Hungary was invaded, Vienna was devastated and Italy crushed by the Slavs fighting under the flags of Jellachich, Windischgraetz and Radetzky. And, in addition to all that, the crimes of England against the Irish have raised a new and powerful ally of Russia on the other side of the Atlantic.

The plan of Russian policy remains changeless; its means of action have considerably increased since 1848, but up to now, one thing remains beyond her reach, and Peter the Great touched this weak point when he wrote that in order to conquer the world, the Muscovites needed only souls. Well, the vivifying spirit which Russia needs will be infused into its carcass at the moment when the Poles become Russian subjects. What will you then have to throw into the other tray of the balance? [3]

A continental European will perhaps reply that by the emancipation of the serfs, Russia has entered the family of civilised nations, that German power, recently concentrated in Prussian hands, can resist all Asiatic shocks, and finally, that the social revolution in Western Europe will end the danger of international conflicts. An Englishman who reads only The Times will be able to say that, supposing the worst, that is, if Russia seizes Constantinople, England will take possession of Egypt and will thus secure the path to its great market in India. [4]

As concerns the first point, the emancipation of the serfs freed the supreme government from obstacles which the nobles were in a position to place in the way of its centralised action. It created a vast reservoir for the recruitment for its army, dissolved the communal property of the Russian peasants, isolated them, and, above all, strengthened their faith in their Autocrat and Pope. It has not disinfected them from their Asiatic barbarity, the creeping heritage of centuries. Any attempt to raise their moral level is punished as a crime. I need remind you only of the official provocations against the temperance societies which tried to wean the Muscovite from what Feuerbach calls the material substance of his religion, namely, vodka. Whatever the future effects may be, for the present the emancipation of the serfs has increased the forces at the Tsar’s disposition.

Let us pass on to Prussia. Formerly a vassal of Poland, it grew to be a first-rate power only under the auspices of Russia and through the partition of Poland. If Prussia should lose its Polish prey tomorrow, it would sink back into Germany instead of absorbing it. In order to maintain itself as a power distinct from Germany it must lean for support on the Muscovite. Its recent increase of power, far from relaxing the bonds, has made them indissoluble. Besides this increase of power has increased Prussia’s antagonism with France and Austria. At the same time Russia is the pillar on which the arbitrary rule of the Hohenzollern dynasty and its feudal tenants rests. It is its safeguard against popular disaffection. Consequently Prussia is not a bulwark against Russia, but its predestined instrument for the invasion of France and the digestion of Germany.

As for the social revolution, what does this word mean if not class struggle. It is possible that the struggle between the workers and capitalists will be less fierce and bloody than the struggles between the feudal lords and the capitalists in England and France. Let us hope so. But in any case, although a social crisis of this sort may increase the energies of the Western peoples, it will also, like every internal conflict, call for aggression from without. Once more this conflict will clothe Russia anew with the role it had during the anti-Jacobin war and since the Holy Alliance, that of the pre-destined saviour of order. It will enlist in Russia’s ranks all the privileged classes of Europe. Already, during the February Revolution, the Count of Montalembert was not the only one who put his ear to the ground to listen for the distant sound of the hoofs of Cossack horses. The Prussian country bumpkins were not the only ones in the German representative bodies who proclaimed the Tsar their ‘Father Protector’. All the stock exchanges of Europe rose with each Russian victory over the Magyars and fell with each Russian defeat.

Finally, as to what The Times says – let Russia take Constantinople if it does not prevent England from establishing itself in Egypt – what does that mean? It means that England will hand over Constantinople to Russia if Russia will permit England to contest France’s claim to Egypt. This is the agreeable perspective opened to us by The Times. As for the Russian love of England, fond as it is of British pounds, shillings and pence, it is enough to quote the words of the Moscow Gazette of December 1851: ‘No, perfidious Albion’s turn must come, and before long we need not make any more treaties with this people except in Calcutta.’ [5]

There is but one alternative for Europe. Either Asiatic barbarism, under Muscovite direction, will burst around its head like an avalanche, or else it must re-establish Poland, thus putting twenty million heroes between itself and Asia and gaining a breathing spell for the accomplishment of its social regeneration.


1. The preceding paragraph was crossed out in Marx’s manuscript.

2. The preceding paragraph was crossed out in Marx’s manuscript.

3. The preceding paragraph was crossed out in Marx’s manuscript.

4. The preceding paragraph was crossed out in Marx’s manuscript.

5. The preceding paragraph was crossed out in Marx’s manuscript.