Works of Frederick Engels 1890
Source: Time, April and May 1890;
Transcribed: by Tony Brown.
Not only Socialists, but every progressive party in every country of Western Europe , has a double interest in the victory of the Russian Revolutionary Party.
First, because the Empire of the Tsar is the mainstay of European reaction, its last fortified position and its great reserve army at once; because its mere passive existence is a standing threat and danger to us.
Secondly — and this point is not now being sufficiently insisted upon — because by its ceaseless meddling in the affairs of the West, it cripples and disturbs our normal development, and this with the object of conquering geographical positions, which will assure to Russia the mastery over Europe, and thus crush every chance of progress under the iron heel of the Tsar.
It is impossible, in England, to write about Russian foreign policy without at once recalling the name of David Urquhart. For fifty years he worked indefatigably to spread among his countrymen a knowledge of the aims and methods of Russian diplomacy, a subject he thoroughly understood; and yet, all he got for his pains was ridicule and the reputation of an unmitigated bore. Now, the ordinary Philistine does indeed class under that head every one who insists upon unpalatable subjects, be they ever so important. But then, Urquhart, who hated the Philistine without understanding either his nature or his historical unavoidability for the time being, was bound to fail. A Tory of the old school, with the fact before his eyes that in England the Tories alone had hitherto offered effective resistance to Russia, and that the action of English and foreign Liberals, including the whole revolutionary movement on the Continent, had generally led to advantages gained by that power, he held that, to really resist Russian inroads, one must needs be a Tory (or else a Turk), and that every Liberal and Revolutionist was, knowingly or riot, a Russian tool. His constant occupation with Russian diplomacy led him to look upon it as something all-powerful, as indeed the only active agent in modern history, in whose hands all other governments were but passive tools; so that, but for his equally exaggerated estimate of the strength of Turkey, one cannot make out why this omnipotent Russian diplomacy has not got hold of Constantinople long ago. In order thus to reduce all modern history since the French Revolution to a diplomatic game of chess between Russia and Turkey, with the other European States for Russia’s chessmen, Urquhart had to set himself up as a sort of Eastern prophet who taught, instead of simple historic facts, a secret esoteric doctrine in a mysterious hyper-diplomatic language, full of allusions to facts not generally known, but hardly ever plainly stated; and who, as infallible nostrums against the supremacy of Russian over English diplomacy, propounded the renewed impeachment of Ministers and the substitution, for the Cabinet, of the Privy Council. Urquhart was a man of great merit, and a fine Englishman of the old school to boot; but Russian diplomatists might well say: Si M. Urquhart n'existait pas, il faudrait l'inventer.
Among the Russian Revolutionists, too, there still exists a comparatively great ignorance of this side of Russian history. On the one hand, because in Russia itself only the official legend is tolerated; on the other, with a great many, because they hold the Government of the Tsar in too great contempt, believing it incapable of anything rational, incapable, partly from stupidity, partly from corruption. And for Russian internal policy this is right enough; here the impotence of Tsardom is clear as day. But we ought to know not only the weakness but the strength too of the enemy. And its foreign policy is unquestionably the side on which Tsardom is strong — very strong. Russian diplomacy forms, to a certain extent, a modern Order of Jesuits, powerful enough, if need be, to overcome even the whims of a Tsar, and to crush corruption within its own body, only to spread it the more plenteously abroad; an Order of Jesuits originally and by preference recruited from foreigners, Corsicans like Pozzo di Borgo, Germans like Nesselrode, Russo-Germans like Lieven, just as its founder, Catherine II, was a foreigner.
The old Russian aristocracy had still too many worldly, private and family interests; they had not the absolute reliability which the service of this new order demanded. And as the personal poverty and celibacy of the Catholic Jesuit priest could not be forced upon them, they had, for the time, to be relegated to secondary or representative positions, embassies, &c., and thus gradually a school of native diplomats built up. Up to the present time only one thoroughbred Russian, Gortschakoff, has filled the highest post in this order, and his successor Von Giers again bears a foreign name.
It is this secret order, originally recruited from foreign adventurers, which has raised the Russian Empire to its present power. With iron perseverance, gaze fixed resolutely on the goal, shrinking from no breach of faith, no treachery, no assassination, no servility, lavishing bribes in all directions, made arrogant by no victory, discouraged by no defeat, stepping over the corpses of millions of soldiers and of, at least, one Tsar, 14 this band, unscrupulous as talented, has done more than all the Russian armies to extend the frontiers of Russia from the Dnieper and Dwina to beyond the Vistula, to the Pruth, the Danube and the Black Sea; from the Don and Volga beyond the Caucasus and to the sources of the Oxus and Jaxartes; to make Russia great, powerful, and dreaded, and to open for her the road to the sovereignty of the world. But by doing this it has also strengthened the power of Tsardom at home. To the Jingo public the fame of victory, the conquests following on conquests, the might and glamour of Tsardom, far outweigh all sins, all despotism, all injustice, and all wanton oppression; the tall talk of Chauvinism fully compensates for all humiliations at home. And this the more, the less the actual causes and details of these successes are known in Russia, and are replaced by an official legend, such as benevolent governments everywhere (in Prussia and France, e.g.) invent for the good of their subjects, and for the greater encouragement of patriotism. Thus the Russian who is a Chauvinist, will sooner or later fall on his knees before the Tsar, as we have seen in the case of Tichomiroff.
But how could such a band of adventurers manage to acquire this enormous influence in European history? Very simply. They have not created something new out of nothing, they have but made the right use of an existing situation. Russian diplomacy has had a very obvious, material foundation for all its achievements.
Look at Russia in the middle of last century — a colossal territory even at that time, peopled by a peculiarly homogeneous race. A sparse, but rapidly-growing population; therefore an assured growth of power with mere lapse of time. This population, intellectually stagnant, devoid of all initiative, but, within the limits of their traditional mode of existence, fit to be used for, and to be moulded into, anything; tenacious, brave, obedient, contemptuous of hardship and fatigue, unsurpassable stuff for soldiers in the wars of that time where the fighting of compact masses was decisive. The country itself with only one — its Western — side turned towards Europe, and so only attackable on that side; without any centre, the conquest of which might compel a peace; almost absolutely safeguarded against conquest by absence of roads, immenseness of surface, and poverty of resources. Here was a position of impregnable strength, ready for any one who knew how to use it, whence that might be done with impunity, which would have brought war after war upon any other Government in Europe.
Strong to impregnability on the defensive side, Russia was correspondingly weak on the offensive. The mustering, organisation, equipment and movements of her armies in the interior, met with the greatest obstacles, and to all material difficulties was added the boundless corruption of the officials and officers. All attempts to make Russia capable of attack on a large scale have, so far, failed, and probably the latest, present attempts to introduce universal compulsory conscription, will fail as completely. One might say that the difficulties grow as the square of the masses to be organised, quite apart from the impossibility, with such a small town population, of finding the enormous number of officers now required. This weakness has been no secret to Russian diplomacy; hence it has, whenever possible, avoided war, has only accepted it as a last resort, and then only under the most favourable conditions. Those wars alone suit it in which the allies of Russia have to bear the brunt of the burden, to lay bare their territory to devastation as the seat of war, to supply the great mass of combatants, and in which, to the Russian troops, falls the role of reserve forces. In that role they are generally spared in battle, but in decisive engagements, with relatively small sacrifices, they reap the glory of turning the balance of victory; such was their part in the war of 1813-1815. But a war carried on under such favourable conditions is not always to be had; hence Russian diplomacy prefers to use the antagonistic interests and desires of the other powers for its own ends, to set these powers by the ears, and to exploit their enmities for the benefit of the Russian policy of conquest. Only against those who are clearly the weaker — Sweden, Turkey, Persia — does Tsardom fight on its own account, and in these cases it has not to share the spoils with anyone.
But to return to the Russia of 1760. This homogeneous, unattackable country had for neighbours only countries which were actually or apparently effete, approaching disintegration, and thus pure matière à conquêtes. In the north, Sweden, whose power and prestige had been lost just because Charles XII. had attempted to invade Russia, and in doing so had ruined Sweden and made evident the unattackability of Russia. In the south, the Turks, and their tributaries the Crimean Tartars, wrecks of former greatness; the offensive power of the Turks broken for the last 100 years; their power of defence still considerable, but also on the decline; and as best proof of this growing weakness, rebel movements among the subject Christians, the Slavs, Roumanians, and Greeks, who formed the majority of the population in the Balkan Peninsula. These Christians, belonging almost exclusively to the Greek Church, were thus akin to the Russians by faith, and the Slavs among them, the Servians and Bulgarians, were moreover connected with them by race. Russia had therefore only to proclaim her duty to protect the oppressed Greek Church and the downtrodden Slavs, and the field for conquest — under the name of “freeing the oppressed” — was ready to hand. In the same way there were south of the Caucasus small Christian States and Christian Armenians under the suzerainty of Turkey, as whose “saviour” Tsardom could pose. And then, here in the south, a victor’s prize like none other Europe could offer, enticed the lustful conqueror: the old capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, the metropolis of the whole Greco-Catholic world, the town whose Russian name already expresses supremacy over the east and the prestige which invests its possessor in the eyes of Eastern Christendom — Constantinople-Tsaregrad.
Tsaregrad as the third Russian capital alongside of Moscow and Petersburg: this meant not only moral supremacy over Eastern Christendom, it meant also the decisive step towards supremacy over Europe. It meant sole command of the Black Sea, Asia Minor, the Balkan Peninsula. It meant, whenever the Tsar pleased, the closing of the Black Sea to all merchant vessels and men-of-war except Russian, its transformation into a Russian Naval Port, and a place of manoeuvre exclusively for the Russian fleet, which from this safe refuge could pass through the fortified Bosphorus, and return thither as often as it chose. Then Russia would only need to obtain the same command, directly or indirectly, of the Sound and the Belts, to become unattackable at sea also.
Command of the Balkan Peninsula would bring Russia as far as the Adriatic. And this frontier on the south-west would be untenable, unless the Russian frontier were correspondingly advanced all along the west, and the sphere of her power considerably extended. But here the conditions were, if possible, still more favourable.
First of all, Poland, completely disorganised, a republic of nobles, founded upon the spoliation and oppression of the peasants, with a constitution that made all national action impossible,” and thus made the country an easy prey for its neighbours. Since the beginning of the century it had existed only, as the Poles themselves said, through disorder (Polska nierzadem stoi); the whole country was constantly occupied and traversed by foreign troops, who used it as an eating and drinking-house (karczma zajezdna, said the Poles), in which they usually forgot to pay the bill. Already Peter the Great had systematically ruined Poland — here his successors had but to reach out their hand for it. And to do this they had another pretext — the “Principle of Nationalities.” Poland was not a homogeneous country. At the time when Great Russia came under the Mongolian yoke, White Russia, and Little Russia found protection against the Asiatic invasion, by uniting themselves into the so-called Lithuanian Principality. This Principality later on voluntarily united itself with Poland. Afterwards, in consequence of the higher civilization of the Poles, the White and Little Russian nobility had become largely Polish; and at the time of the Jesuit supremacy in Poland,” in the 16th century, the Greco-Catholic Poles had been forced into union with the Roman Church. This gave the Tsars of Great Russia the welcome pretext to claim the former Lithuanian territory, as a land Russian by nationality but now oppressed by Poland, although the Little Russians at least, according to the greatest living authority on Slavonic languages, Mikiosic, do not speak a mere Russian dialect, but a separate language; and the further pretext for interference as protectors of the Greek faith, for the benefit of the Uniate Greco-Catholics, although these had long since become reconciled to their position with regard to the Roman Church.
Beyond Poland lay another country that seemed to have fallen into hopeless ruin — Germany. Since the Thirty Years’ War, the Holy Roman Empire was only nominally a State. The position of the princes within the Empire was more and more approaching complete sovereignty; their power of defying the Emperor, which in Germany replaced the Polish liberum veto, had been, by the Peace of Westplialia, expressly placed under the guarantee of France and of Sweden; a strengthening of the central power was therefore made dependent on the assent of the foreigner, whose direct interest it was to prevent anything like it. In addition to this, Sweden, thanks to her German conquests, was a member of the German Empire, with seat and vote at the Imperial Diets. In every war the Emperor encountered German Princes of the Empire among the allies of his foreign foes; every war was therefore a civil war. Almost all the larger and secondary Princes of the Empire had been bought by Louis XIV., and the country was so ruined economically that, without the annual influx of French bribe-money, it would have been impossible to keep money at all in the country for use as a circulating medium. [See Gülich. Geschichtliche Darstellung des Handels u. Jena 1830, 2. Band, S. 201-206. — Note by Engels] The Emperor had, therefore, long since sought his strength not within his Empire, which only cost him money and brought him nothing but worry and vexation, but in his Austrian, German, and extra-German dominions. And side by side with the power of Austria as distinct from Germany, the Prussian power was already rising as rival.
Such was the position of things in Germany in the time of Peter the Great. This really great man — great in a quite different way from Frederick “the Great,” the obedient servant of Peter’s successor, Catherine II. — was the first who thoroughly grasped the wonderfully favourable condition of Europe for Russian ends. Not only in respect to Sweden, Turkey, Persia, Poland, did he see clearly — far more clearly than appears from his so-called Testament, which seems the work of an epigone — the main points of Russian policy; he firmly fixed it, and began to carry it out. He did the same in respect to Germany. He concerned himself far more with Germany than any country except Sweden. Sweden he must break; Poland he could have whenever he chose to stretch out his hand; Turkey was still too far away from him; but to set a firm foot in Germany, to obtain the position which France used so fully, and which Sweden was too weak to use, that was his chief task. He did everything to become a German Prince of the Empire, by the acquisition of German territory, but in vain; he could only initiate the system of intermarriage with German Princes, and the diplomatic exploitation of the internal dissensions of Germany.
Since Peter’s time the position of things had become still more favourable to Russia through the rise of Prussia. This gave the German Emperor, within the Empire itself, an antagonist almost his equal, who perpetuated the divisions of Germany and brought them to a head. And at the same time this antagonist was still weak enough to be dependent upon the help of France or of Russia, especially of Russia, so that the more he emancipated himself from his vassalage with regard to the German Empire, the more surely did he sink into the vassalage of Russia.
Thus there remained in Europe only three Powers to be considered: Austria, France, England. And to set these by the ears, or to bribe them with the bait of new territory, was no difficult matter. England and France were still, as ever, rivals on the sea; France was to be got by the prospect of the acquisition of territory in Belgium and Germany; Austria could be bribed by dangling before her eyes advantages to be gained at the expense of France, Prussia, and, since the time of Joseph II., of Bavaria. Here then by the adroit use of conflicting interests, were strong, overwhelmingly strong allies to be had for any diplomatic move of Russia. And now, face to face with these frontier lands in full disruption, face to face with three great Powers, whose traditions, economic conditions, political or dynastic interests, and lust after conquest, involved them in endless disputes and kept them occupied in outwitting one the other, here was the one homogeneous, youthful, rapidly-growing Russia, hardly attackable, and absolutely unconquerable, and at the same time an unworked, almost unresisting, plastic raw material. What an opportunity for people of talent and ambition, for people striving after power, no matter how or where, so long only as the power was real, so long as it provided a real arena for their talent and ambition! And the “enlightened” 18th Century produced such people in numbers: people who in the service of “Humanity” traversed all Europe, visited the Courts of all enlightened Princes — and what Prince then but wished to be “enlightened “, — who settled down wherever they found a favourable spot, a semi-aristocratic, semi-middleclass, denationalized International of “Enlightenment.” This International fell on its knees before the Semiramis of the North, one equally denationalized, Sophia Augusta of Anhalt, called Jekaterina II. of Russia, and it was from the ranks of this International that this same Catherine drew the elements for her Jesuit order of Russian diplomacy.
Let us now see how this order of Jesuits works, how it uses the ever-changing aims of the rival Powers as a means for obtaining its one aim — never changing, never lost sight of — the World-Supremacy of Russia.
Never were things more favourable to the plans for the aggrandisement of Tsardom than in 1762, when, after murdering her husband, the “great whore,” Catherine ascended the throne. All Europe was split up into two camps by the Seven Years’ War. England had broken the power of France, on the high seas, in America, in India, and now left her continental ally, Frederick II. of Prussia, to shift for himself. The latter, in 1762, was on the brink of destruction, when suddenly Peter III. of Russia withdrew from the war against Prussia. Deserted by his last ally, England, with Austria and France permanently hostile, exhausted by a seven years’ struggle for existence, Frederick had no choice but to throw himself at the feet of the newly-crowned Tsarina. This assured him not only a powerful protection, but the promise of that part of Poland that divided Eastern Prussia from the main body of his kingdom, and the conquest of which now became the one aim of his life.
On the 31st March (11th April), 1764, Catherine and Frederick signed a treaty of alliance at Petersburg, the secret article of which bound both to maintain, if need be by force of arms, the existing Polish Constitution — that best means of ruining Poland — against every attempt at reform. With this the future partition of Poland was sealed. A piece of Poland was the bone which the Tsarina threw to the Prussian dog, so that he might quietly submit to be chained up by Russia for a century.
I shall not go into the details of the first partition of Poland. But it is characteristic that it was carried out, against the wish of the old-fashioned Maria Theresa, by the three great pillars of European “enlightenment,” Catherine, Frederick, and Joseph. The two latter, proud of the superior statesmanship with which they trampled upon the superstition of a traditional law of nations, were yet stupid enough not to see how, by sharing in the Polish booty, they had signed themselves over, body and soul, to Russian Tsardom.
Nothing could have been more useful to Catherine than these enlightened” princely neighbours of hers. “Progress” and “enlightenment” were the parrot-cry of Russian Tsardom in Europe during the eighteenth century, just as the deliverance of enslaved nations is in the nineteenth.
No spoliation, no violence, no oppression on the part of Tsardom, but has been perpetrated under pretext of “progress,” “enlightenment,” “Liberalism,” “the deliverance of the oppressed.” And the childish Liberals of Western Europe — down to Mr. Gladstone — believe it to this day, while the equally stupid Conservatives believe as firmly in the bunkum about the defence of legitimacy, the upholding of order, religion, the balance of power, and the sanctity of treaties — all of which are at one and the same time in the mouth of official Russia. Russian diplomacy has succeeded in soft-soaping the two great Bourgeois parties of Europe. To be Legitimist and Revolutionist, Conservative and Liberal, orthodox and “advanced,” all in one breath, is permitted to Russia, and to Russia alone. Imagine the contempt with which such a Russian diplomatist looks down upon the “cultured” Occident.
After Poland it was the turn of Germany. Austria and Prussia came to loggerheads in the Bavarian Succession War, 1778, and again to the advantage of no one but Catherine. Russia had grown too big to speculate any longer, as Peter had done , upon entering the German Empire by acquiring some small German principality. She now aimed at obtaining the position she already held in Poland, and which France possessed in the German Empire — that of guarantee of German anarchy against every attempt at reform. And this position she attained. At the Peace of Teschen, 1779, Russia, together with France, undertook the guarantee of this Treaty, and of all former Treaties of Peace therein confirmed, more especially the Peace of Westphalia of 1648. With this the impotence of Germany was signed and scaled, and she was marked out for future partition between France and Russia.
Turkey was not forgotten. Russian wars with Turkey always occur in those times when there is peace on Russia’s western frontier, and, if possible, when Europe is occupied elsewhere. Catherine waged two such wars. The first resulted in conquests by the Sea of Azov, and in the independence of the Crimea; four years later, that country was transformed into a Russian Province. The second extended the Russian frontier from the Bug to the Dniester. During both these wars Russian agents had egged on the Greeks to rebel against Turkey. Of course, the rebels were eventually left in the lurch by the Russian Government.
During the American War of Independence, Catherine for the first time formulated, for herself and her allies, what was called the Northern “armed neutrality” (1780), the demand for the limitation of the rights claimed by England in time of war for her navy on the high seas. These demands have remained ever since the constant aim of Russian policy; they were, in the main, conceded by Europe, and consented to by England herself, in the Peace of Paris of 1856. The United States of America alone will none of it.
The outbreak of the French Revolution was another windfall for Catherine. Far from fearing the revolutionary ideas might spread to Russia, she saw in the Revolution only a new opportunity of setting the other European States by the ears, so that Russia might have a free hand. After the death of her two “enlightened” friends and neighbours, Frederick William II. in Prussia and Leopold in Austria tried an independent policy. The Revolution gave Catherine the best possible opportunity — on a pretext of combating Republican France — of again chaining both of them to Russia, and at the same time, while they were busy on the French frontier, of making fresh inroads upon Poland. Both Austria and Prussia walked into the trap. And although Prussia — which from 1787-1791 had played the part of ally of Poland against Catherine — just in the nick of time thought better of it, and on this occasion claimed a larger share in the Polish spoil, and although Austria, too, had to be squared with a slice of Poland, yet Catherine was again able to lay hands on the greatest part of the plunder; almost the whole of White Russia and of Little Russia were united to Great Russia.
But this time there was a reverse side to the medal. While the plundering of Poland took up, in 1792-94, part of the strength of the Coalition, it weakened their power to attack France, until France was strong enough, single-handed, to achieve victory.
Poland fell, but her resistance had saved the French Revolution, and the French Revolution started a movement against which even Tsardom is powerless. And for this, we, in the West, shall never forget Poland. Nor is this — as we shall see -the only occasion on which the Poles have saved the European Revolution.
In the policy of Catherine we find all the chief points of the Russian policy of to-day sharply defined: the annexation of Poland, even though for a time part of the plunder must be handed over to her neighbours; the marking out of Germany for the next spoil; Constantinople, the great, never-to-be-forgotten, slowly-to-be-attained, final goal; the conquest of Finland as a protection to Petersburg; Sweden to be indemnified by Norway, which Catherine offered to Gustavus III, at Fredrikshamn; the weakening of British supremacy on the seas, by international treaty-limitations; the stirring up revolt among the Christian and Rayah in Turkey; finally, the ample provision of both Liberal and Legitimist phraseology to be used as occasion required as dust for the eyes of those believers in phrases, the occidental “cultured” Philistine and his so-called public opinion.
At the death of Catherine, Russia already possessed more than the wildest national Chauvinism could have asked for. All who bore the Russian name, barring only the few Austrian Little Russians, were under the sceptre of her successor, who had now a perfect right to call himself Autocrat of all the Russians.
Not only had the approach to the sea been gained; on the Baltic as on the Black Sea Russia possessed a broad litteral and numerous harbours. Not only Finns, Tartars, and Mongolians, but Lithuanians, Swedes, Poles, and Germans were under Russian dominion. What more do you desire?
To any other nation this would have sufficed. For Russian diplomacy — the nation was not consulted — this was only the stepping-stone to other conquests.
The French Revolution had worn itself out, and had brought forth its own dictator — a Napoleon. Thereby it had to all appearance justified the superior wisdom of Russian diplomacy, which had not allowed itself to be intimidated by the huge revolt. The rise of Napoleon now gave it the opportunity for new successes.
Germany was nearing the fate of Poland. But Catherine’s successor, Paul, was obstinate, capricious, unreliable; he was constantly thwarting the action of Russian diplomacy; he became unbearable, he had to be got rid of. It was easy enough to find the necessary officers of the Guards to do this: the heir to the Crown, Alexander, was in the plot, and served as cloak to it. Paul was strangled, and immediately a fresh campaign was begun to the greater honour and glory of the new Tsar, who through the manner of his accession had become the life-long slave of the diplomatic band of Jesuits.
They left it to Napoleon to completely break up the German Empire, and to push to a crisis the confusion existing there. But when it came to the settling of accounts Russia again stepped in.
The peace of Luneville (1801) had given France the whole left bank of the Rhine, on condition that the German Princes thus dispossessed should be indemnified on the right bank out of the possessions of the spiritual members of the Empire, Bishopries,
Abbeys, etc. Now Russia insisted upon her position of guarantee, won at Teschen in 1779: in the parcelling out of this indemnity she and France, the two guarantees of German Imperial disunion and decay, clearly had a weighty word to say. And the dissension, greed, and general infamy b of the German Princes took care that this word of Russia and of France should be decisive. Thus it came about that Russia and France drew up a plan for the division of the spiritual princes’ lands among the dispossessed potentates, and that this plan, drawn up by the foreigner, in the interest of the foreigner, was, in all essentials made part and parcel of the German Imperial 18 constitution by the Reichs-Deputations-Hauptschluss, 1803.
The German Empire was practically dissolved; Austria and Prussia acted as independent European states, and, like Russia and France, looked upon the small German States simply as a field for conquest. What was to become of these small States? Prussia was still too small and too young to lay claim to supremacy over them, and Austria had just lost the last trace of such supremacy. But both Russia and France put in a claim for the inheritance of the German Empire. France had destroyed the old Empire by force of arms; she pressed upon the small States by her immediate neighbourhood all along the Rhine; the fame of the victories of Napoleon and the French armies did the rest towards throwing the small German Princes at her feet. And Russia? Now that the end for which she had been striving just a hundred years was almost within reach, now that Germany lay completely disintegrated, exhausted unto death, helpless, impotent, should Russia just at this moment let her prey be snatched from under her very nose by the Corsican upstart?
Russian diplomacy at once entered upon a campaign for the conquest of supremacy over the small German States. That this was impossible without a victory over Napoleon was self-evident. It was therefore necessary to win over the German Princes, and the so-called public opinion of Germany — so far as it could then be said to exist. The Princes were worked upon by diplomatic, the Philistine by literary means. While cajolery, threats, lies and bribery were soon broadcast at the Courts, the public was deluged with mysterious pamphlets, in which Russia was belauded as the only Power that could save Germany and give her effective protection, and whose right and duty it moreover was to do this by virtue of the Treaty of Teschen of 1779. And when the war of 1805 broke out, it must have been clear to anyone whose eyes were at all open, that the only question was whether the small States should form a French or a Russian Confederacy of the Rhine.
The fates favoured Germany. The Russians and Austrians were beaten at Austerlitz, and the new Confederacy of the Rhine was formed, but anyhow, it was not an outpost of Tsardom .39 The French yoke, at least, was a modern one; at all events it forced the disgraceful German Princes to do away with the most crying infamies of their former political system.
After Austerlitz came the Prusso-Russian alliance, Jena, Eylau, Friedland, and the Peace of Tilsit in 1807 .40 Here again was shown what an immense advantage Russia has in her strategically safe position. Defeated in two campaigns, she gained new territory at the expense of her former ally, and the alliance with Napoleon for the sharing of the world: for Napoleon the West, for Alexander the East!
The first fruit of this alliance was the conquest of Finland. Without any declaration of war, but with the assent of Napoleon, the Russians advanced; the incapacity, discord, and corruption of the Swedish generals secured an easy victory; the daring march of Russian troops across the frozen Baltic compelled a violent change of dynasty at Stockholm, and the surrender of Finland to Russia.
But when three years later the breach between Alexander and Napoleon was impending, the Tsar summoned Marshal Bernadotte, the newly-elected Crown Prince of Sweden, to Abo, and promised him Norway if he would join the league of England and was, as ever, Constantinople. At Tilsit and at Erfurt, Moldavia and Wallachia had been unconditionally promised him by Napoleon, and the prospect held out of a partition of Turkey, from which, however, Constantinople was to be excluded. Since 1806 Russia had been at war with Turkey, and this time not only the Greeks, but the Servians too had rebelled. But what has been said erroneously with regard to Poland, is true of Turkey.
Disorganisation saved it. The sturdy common soldier, the son of the sturdy Turkish peasant, found in this very disorganisation a means of making good the evil done by the corrupt Pashas. The Turks could be beaten but not subdued, and the Russian army advanced but slowly on its way towards the Bosphorus.
The price, however, for this “free hand” in the East was the acceptance of Napoleon’s Continental System, the suspension of all trade with England. And this meant, to the Russia of that time, commercial ruin. This was the time when Eugene Onegin (in Pushkin’s epic) learnt from Adam Smith how a nation grows wealthy, and how it has no need of money so long as it possesses plenty of the produce of labour. While, on the other hand, his father could not see it, and had to mortgage one estate after another.
Russia could only get money by maritime commerce, and by the export of her national products to England, then the chief market; and Russia was now far too much occidentalised to do without money. The commercial blockade became unbearable. Political Economy proved more powerful than Diplomacy and the Tsar put together; intercourse with England was quietly resumed, the terms of the Tilsit Treaty were broken, and the war broke out in 1812.
Napoleon, with the combined armies of the whole of the West, crossed the Russian frontier. The Poles, who were in a position to know, advised him to halt by the Dwina and the Dnieper, to organise Poland, and there to await the Russian attack. A general of the calibre of Napoleon must have known that this was the right plan. But Napoleon, standing on that giddy height with its insecure foundation, could no longer venture on a protracted campaign. Immediate successes, dazzling victories, treaties of peace taken by assault, were indispensable to him. He cast the Polish advice to the winds, went to Moscow, and so brought the Russians to Paris.
The destruction of the great armies of Napoleon, on the retreat from Moscow, gave the signal for a universal uprising against the French supremacy in the West. In Prussia the whole nation rose, and forced coward Frederick William III. into war with Napoleon. As soon as Austria had completed her armaments she joined Russia and Prussia. After the battle of Leipzig the Rhenish Confederacy deserted Napoleon, and, barely eighteen months after Napoleon’s entry into Moscow, Alexander entered Paris, the lord and master of Europe.
Turkey, betrayed by France, had signed a peace at Bucharest in 1812, and sacrificed Bessarabia to Russia. The Congress of Vienna gave Russia the kingdom of Poland, so that now almost nine-tenths of what had been Polish territory were annexed to Russia. But more important than all this was the position which the Tsar now occupied in Europe. He had now no rival on the Continent. He had Austria and Prussia in tow. The French Bourbon dynasty had been re-installed by him, and was therefore equally obedient. Sweden had received Norway from him as reward, for her friendly Policy; even the Spanish dynasty owed its restoration far more to the victories of the Russians, Prussians, and Austrians, than to those of Wellington, which, after all, never could have overthrown the French Empire. Never before had Russia held so commanding a position. But she had taken another step beyond her natural frontiers. If Russian Chauvinism has some — I will not say justification — but some sort of excuse for the conquests of Catherine , there can be nothing of the kind with regard to those of Alexander. Finland is Finnish and Swedish, Bessarabia Roumanian, the kingdom of Poland Polish. Here there is no longer any question of the union of scattered and kindred races, all bearing the name of Russians; here we see nothing but barefaced conquest of alien territory by brute force, nothing but simple theft.
The downfall of Napoleon meant the victory of the European monarchies over the French Revolution, whose last phase had been the Napoleonic Empire. This victory was celebrated by the restoration of “Legitimacy.” Talleyrand fancied he was taking in the Tsar Alexander with this phrase, coined expressly for the purpose; but in reality it was Russian Diplomacy that by means of it led all Europe by the nose. Under the pretext of defending Legitimacy, Russian Diplomacy founded the “Holy Alliance,” that expansion of the Russo-Austro-Prussian League into a conspiracy of all European sovereigns against their peoples, under the presidency of Russia. The other princes believed in it; what the Tsar and his diplomatists thought of it we shall see directly.
Their next move was to take advantage of their newly-acquired supremacy, by advancing a step nearer Constantinople. To this end they could employ three levers; the Roumanians, the Servians, the Greeks. The Greeks were the most promising element. They were a commercial people, and the merchants suffered most from the oppression of Turkish Pashas. The Christian peasant under Turkish rule was materially better off than anywhere else. He had retained his pre-Turkish institutions, and complete self-government; so long as he paid his taxes, the Turk, as a rule, took no notice of him; he was but seldom exposed to acts of violence, such as the peasant of Western Europe had had to bear in the Middle Ages at the hands of the nobles. It was a degraded kind of existence, a life on sufferance, but materially anything but wretched, and, on the whole, not unsuited to the state of civilisation of these peoples; it took therefore a long time before these Slav Rajahs discovered that this existence was intolerable. On the other hand, the commerce of the Greeks, since Turkish rule had freed them from the crushing competition of Venetians and Genoese, had rapidly thriven, and had become so considerable that it could now bear Turkish rule no longer. In point of fact, Turkish, like all Oriental rule, is incompatible with Capitalist Society; the appropriated surplus-value is not safe from the hands of rapacious Satraps and Pashas; the first fundamental condition of profitable trading is wanting — security for the person and property of the merchant. No wonder, then, that the Greeks, who had twice revolted since 1774, should now rise again.
The Greek rebellion then furnished the handle; but in order to enable Russian Diplomacy to apply the necessary pressure, the West must be prevented from interfering, and must therefore be provided with other work at home. And here the phrase of “Legitimacy” had brilliantly prepared the way. The “Legitimate” rulers had made themselves heartily hated everywhere. Their attempts to reinstate pre-revolutionary conditions had stirred up the Bourgeoisie throughout the whole of the West; in France and Germany, things were in a ferment; in Spain and Italy, open rebellion broke out. Russian Diplomacy had a finger in the pie in all these conspiracies and rebellions. Not that it had made them, or even materially aided in their momentary successes. But what it could do, through its officious agents, to sow discontent and disaffection among the subjects of its Legitimist allies, that it did.
And it openly protected the rebel elements in the West, whenever and wherever they appeared under the mask of sympathy with Greece; the Philhellenes who collected funds, sent volunteers and fully armed corps to Greece, what were they but the Carbonari and other Liberals of the West?
All of which did not prevent the enlightened Tsar Alexander at the Congresses of Aix-la-Chapelle, Troppau, Laibach, Verona, from urging his Legitimist allies to act energetically against their rebellious subjects, and from sending the Austrians in 1821 to Italy, and the French in 1823 to Spain, to suppress the revolution there 53 ; and from even apparently condemning the Greek rebellion, while at the same time he kept stirring it up, and encouraging the Philhellenes of the West to redoubled efforts. Once again stupid Europe was befooled in an incredible fashion. To the Princes and the Reactionaries, Tsardom preached Legitimacy and the maintaining of the status quo; to the Liberal Philistine, the deliverance of oppressed nations — and both believed it.
The French Minister at Verona, the romanticist Chateaubriand, was completely captivated by the Tsar, who seduced the French by the prospect of recovering the left bank of the Rhine, if only they would be obedient and stick to Russia. With this hope, subsequently strengthened by binding pledges under Charles X., Russian Diplomacy kept France in leading strings, and with few interruptions directed her Eastern Policy till 1830.
In spite of all this, the world looked with distrust, or at best with indifference upon the humanitarian policy of the Tsar, who under the pretext of freeing the Greek Christians from the Mohammedan yoke, strove to put himself in the place of the Mohammedan. For, as the Russian Ambassador in London, Prince Lieven, says, (Dispatch of 18-30th October, 1825):
“All Europe looks with terror upon the Russian Colossus, whose giant strength waits but for a sign to be directed against her. Her interest is, therefore, to support Turkey, the natural enemy of our Empire.”
Hence, the failure of all Russian attempts to invade the Danubian Provinces with the tacit consent of Europe, and thus to force Turkey to capitulate, just then, in 1825, help came to Turkey from Egypt; the Greeks were everywhere beaten and the revolt almost suppressed. Russian policy was face to face with either a defeat, or else a bold resolve.
The Chancellor, Nesselrode, took council with his Ambassadors. Pozzo di Borgo in Paris (Dispatch of 4-16th October, 1825), and Lieven in London (Dispatch of 18-30th October, 1825), declared unreservedly for a bold move; the Danubian Provinces must at once, and without any regard to Europe, be occupied, even at the risk of a European war. This was evidently the universal opinion of Russian Diplomacy. But Alexander was limp, capricious, blasé, mystico-romantic; he had of the Grec du Bas Empire (as Napoleon called him) not only the cunning and deceit, but also the irresolution and want of energy. He began to take Legitimacy seriously, and seemed to have had enough of Greek rebellion. During this critical period, he travelled about in the South, near Taganrog, inactive and at that time, before railways, almost inaccessible. Suddenly the news came that be was dead. There were whispers of poison. Had Diplomacy got rid of the son as it had of the father? At any rate, he could not have died more opportunely.
With Nicolas a Tsar came to the throne, than whom no better could have been desired by Diplomacy — a conceited mediocrity, whose horizon never exceeded that of a company officer, a man who mistook brutality for energy, and obstinacy in caprice for strength of will, who prized beyond everything the mere show of power, and who, therefore, by the mere show of it, could be got to do anything. Now more energetic measures were resorted to, and the war against Turkey brought about. Europe did not interfere. England, by means of Liberal talk, France, by means of the promises already mentioned, had been induced to combine their Mediterranean fleets with the Russian, and, on the 20th October, 1827, in the midst of peace, to attack and destroy the Turco-Egyptian fleet, at Navarino. And if England soon drew back, Bourbon France remained faithful. While the Tsar declared war upon Turkey, and his troops crossed the Pruth on the 6th of May, 1828, 15,000 French troops were getting ready to embark for Greece, where they landed in August and September. This was sufficient warning for Austria, not to fall upon the flank of the Russian advance on Constantinople: a war with France would have been the result, and the Russo-French bond — Constantinople for the one, the left bank of the Rhine for the other — would then have come into effect.
At the head of the Russian army, Diebitsch advanced as far as Adrianople, but there found himself in such a position that he would have had to re-cross the Balkan if the Turks could have held out another fortnight. He had only 20,000 men, of whom a fourth were down with the plague. Then the Prussian Embassy at Constantinople managed to negotiate a peace by lying reports as to a threatening, but really quite impossible, Russian advance. The Russian General was, in Moltke’s words,
“saved from a position which perhaps needed only to be prolonged a few days to hurl him from the height of victory to the abyss of destruction.” (Moltke, Der Russisch-Turkische Feldzug, p. 390.)
Anyhow, the Peace gave Russia the mouths of the Danube, a slice of territory in Armenia, and ever new pretexts for meddling in the affairs of the Danubian Provinces. These now became, till the Crimean War, the karczma zajezdna (eating-house) for Russian troops, from whom, during this period, they were scarcely ever free.
Before these advantages could be further turned to account, the Revolution of July broke out. Now the Liberal phrase-mongering of the Russian agents was, for a while, pocketed; it was only a question now of safeguarding “Legitimacy,.” A campaign of the Holy Alliance against France was being prepared when the Polish Insurrection broke out, and for a year held Russia in check. Thus, for the second time, did Poland, by her own self-immolation, save the European Revolution.”
I pass over the Russo-Turkish relations during the years of 1830-1848. They were important, inasmuch as they enabled Russia, for once, to appear in the part of defender of Turkey against her rebel vassal, Mehemet Ali of Egypt, to send 30,000 men to the Bosphorus for the defence of Constantinople, and by means of the Treaty of Hunkiar Iskelessi to place Turkey for some years practically under Russian supremacy,; inasmuch as Russia succeeded in 1840, through the treachery of Palmerston, in transforming, in one night, a European coalition threatening Russia, into a coalition against France”; and as, finally, she could prepare the Danubian Principalities for annexation by continued occupation, by quartering her soldiers upon the peasants, and by bribing the Boyards with the “Règlement organique” [A rural code which placed at the disposal of the Boyards — the landed aristocracy of the country — the greater portion of the peasants’ working-time, and that without any remuneration whatever. For further particulars see Karl Marx, “Capital,” Ch. X., pp. 218-222 of the English edition. — Note by Engels]
In the main, however, this period was devoted to the conquest and Russification of the Caucasus, a task accomplished only after a struggle of twenty years.
A severe mishap, however, befell the diplomacy of Tsardom. When the Grand Duke Constantine, on the 29th November, 1830, had to fly from Warsaw before the Polish insurgents, the whole of his diplomatic archives fell into their hands; the despatches of the Foreign Minister, and official copies of all the important despatches of the Ambassadors. The whole machinery of Russian diplomacy, and all the intrigues woven by it from 1825 to 1830, were laid bare. The Polish Government sent Count Zamoyski with these despatches to England and France in 1835. On the instigation of William IV. they were published by David Urquhart in the “Portfolio.” This “Portfolio” is still one of the chief sources, and certainly the most incontestible one, for the history of the intrigues by which Tsarish diplomacy seeks to arouse quarrels among the nations of the West, and by means of these dissensions to make tools of them all.
Russian diplomacy had by this time weathered so many Western-European revolutions, not only without loss, but with actual gain, that she was in a position to hail the outbreak of the Revolution of February, 1848, as a fresh piece of good luck. That the revolution spread to Vienna, and thus not only removed Russia’s chief opponent, Metternich, but also roused up from their slumber the Austrian Slavs, presumptive allies of Tsardom; that it seized Berlin, and so cured the impotent weakling, Frederick William IV., of his hankering after independence from Russia — what could be more welcome.? Russia was safe from all infection, and Poland was so strongly garrisoned that she could not move. And when now the revolution actually spread as far as the Danubian Principalities, Russian diplomacy had what it wanted a pretext for a new invasion of Moldavia and Wallachia, there to re-establish order and consolidate Russian rule.
But this was not enough. Austria — the most stubborn, the most dogged opponent of Russia on the side of the Balkan Peninsula — Austria had been brought to the verge of ruin by the Hungarian and Viennese insurrections. The victory of Hungary was, however, synonymous with a renewed outbreak of the European Revolution, and the numerous Poles in the Hungarian army were so many pledges that this revolution should not again halt at the Russian frontier. Then Nicolas played the magnanimous. He sent his armies to overrun Hungary; he crushed the Hungarian forces by superior numbers, and thus scaled the defeat of the European Revolution. And as Prussia was still making efforts to use the revolution for setting aside the German Confederation, and for bringing at least the smaller North German States under her supremacy, Nicolas summoned Prussia and Austria before his judgment-seat at Warsaw, and decided in favour of Austria. Prussia, as a reward for her long years of subserviency to Russia, was ignominiously humiliated, because, for a moment, she had shown feeble velleities of resistance. The Schleswig-Holstein question Nicolas also decided against Germany, and after assuring himself of his adaptability to the ends of Tsardom, appointed the Glücksburger Christian as heir to the throne of Denmark. Not only Hungary, the whole of Europe, lay at the feet of the Tsar, and that it lay there was a direct consequence of the Revolution. Was not Russian diplomacy right, then, if it secretly rejoiced over revolutions in the West?
But the Revolution of February was, after all, the first death-knell of Tsardom. The meagre soul of the narrow-minded Nicolas could not sustain such undeserved good fortune; he could not carry corn; he was in too great a hurry to set out for Constantinople. The Crimean war broke out: England and France came to the rescue of Turkey; Austria was burning to “étonner le monde par la grandeur de son ingratitude . For Austria knew that in return for the help in the Hungarian war, and for the Warsaw judgment, she was expected to remain neutral, or even to facilitate Russian conquests on the Danube, conquests which meant the hemming in of Austria by Russia, on the north, the east, and the south, from Cracow to Orsova and Semlin. And this time, for once in a way, Austria had the courage of her opinion.
The Crimean War was one colossal Comedy of Errors, in which one constantly asks oneself: Qui trompe-t-on ici, which is the dupe? But this comedy cost countless treasures and over a million human lives. Hardly had the first allied detachments reached Bulgaria when the Austrians moved forward into the Danubian Provinces, and the Russians retired beyond the Pruth. By this means Austria had, on the Danube, slipped in between the two belligerents; a continuance of the war on this side was only possible with her consent. But Austria was to be had for the purpose of a war on the western frontier of Russia. Austria knew Russia would never forgive her brutal ingratitude; Austria was therefore ready to join the Allies, but only for a real war, which should restore Poland, and considerably push back the western frontier of Russia. Such a war must also make impossible the neutrality of Prussia, through whose territory Russia received her supplies; a European Coalition would have blockaded Russia by land as well as by sea, and would have attacked her with such superior forces that victory was certain.
But this was by no means the intention of England and France. Both, on the contrary, were glad to be freed from ‘the danger of a serious and real war by Austria’s action. What Russia wished, that the Allies should go to the Crimea and get themselves stuck fast there, Palmerston proposed and Louis Napoleon eagerly jumped at. To push forward into the interior of Russia from the Crimea, would have been strategical madness. So the war was happily turned into a sham war, to the intense satisfaction of the parties most interested. But the Tsar Nicolas could not, in the long run, put up with foreign troops settling down even on the frontier of his Empire, on Russian territory; for him the mock war soon became a war in earnest. Now, what was his most favourable ground for a mock war, was, for a real war, the most dangerous. The strength of Russia in defence, the immense extent of her territory, thinly populated, impassable, poor in resources, recoiled upon Russia as soon as Nicolas concentrated all forces on Sebastopol, upon one single point of the periphery. The South Russian Steppes that should have been the grave of the invaders, became the grave of the Russian armies, which Nicolas, with his own brutally stupid imperiousness, drove one after the other, the last in the midst of winter, to the Crimea. And when the last, hastily collected, poorly equipped, wretchedly provided army had lost some two-thirds of its men on the march — whole battalions perished in snow-storms — and the survivors were too weak even for a serious attack on the enemy, then the inflated, empty-headed Nicolas collapsed miserably, and escaped the consequences of his Caesarian madness by taking poison.
The terms of peace which his successor now hastened to sign, were anything but harsh. Far more incisive, however, were the consequences of the war within Russia. To rule absolutely at home, the Tsar must be more than unconquerable abroad; he must be uninterruptedly victorious, must be in a position to reward unconditional obedience by the intoxication of Chauvinist triumph, by conquests following upon conquests. And now Tsardom had miserably broken down, and that too in its outwardly most imposing representative; it had laid bare the weakness of Russia to the world, and thus its own weakness to Russia. An immense sobering down followed. The Russian people had been too deeply stirred by the colossal sacrifices of the war, their devotion had been appealed to far too unsparingly by the Tsar, for them to return there and then to the old passive state of unthinking obedience. For gradually Russia, too, had developed economically and intellectually; alongside of the nobility there were now springing up the elements of a second educated class, the Bourgeoisie. In short, the new Tsar had to play the Liberal, but this time at home. This meant the beginning of an internal history of Russia, of an intellectual movement within the nation itself, and of the reflex of this movement: a public opinion, feeble at first, but perceptible more and more, and to be despised less and less. And herewith arose the foe before whom Russian diplomacy must ultimately succumb. For this sort of diplomacy is possible only in a country where, and so long as, the people remain absolutely passive, have no will other than that of the Government, no mission but to furnish soldiers and taxes for carrying out the objects of the diplomats. As soon as Russia has an internal development, and with that, internal party struggles, the attainment of a constitutional form under which these party struggles may be fought out without violent convulsions, is only a question of time. But then the traditional Russian policy of conquest is a thing of the past; the unchanging identity of the aims of Russian diplomacy is lost in the struggle of parties for power; the absolute command over the forces of the nation is gone — Russia will remain difficult to attack, and relatively as weak in attack, but will become, in all other respects, a European country like the rest, and the peculiar strength of its diplomacy will be broken for ever.
“La Russie ne boude pas, elle se recueille,” said Chancellor Gortchakoff after the war. He himself did not know how truly he spoke. He was speaking only of diplomatic Russia. But non-official Russia was also recovering herself. And this recueillement was encouraged by the government itself. The war had proved that Russia needed railways, steam engines, modern industry, even on purely military grounds. And thus the government set about breeding a Russian capitalist class. But such a class cannot exist without a proletariat, a class of wage-workers, and in order to procure the elements for this, the so-called emancipation of the peasants had to be taken in hand; his personal freedom the peasant paid for by the transference of the better part of his landed property to the nobility. What of it was left to him was too much for dying, too little for living. While the Russian peasant Obshtchina [The self-governing Commune of the Russian peasants. — Note by Engels] was attacked thus at the very root, the new development of the bourgeoisie was artificially forced as in a hot-house, by means of railway concessions, protective duties, and other privileges; and thus a complete social revolution was initiated in town and country, which would not allow the spirits once set in motion to return to rest again. The new bourgeoisie was reflected in a Liberal-constitutional movement, the just-arising proletariat in the movement which is usually called Nihilism. These were the real results of Russia’s recueillement.
Meanwhile diplomacy did not yet seem to see what an opponent had arisen at home. On the contrary, abroad it seemed to be gaining victory on victory. At the Paris Congress, in 1856, Orlow was the centre figure, and played the leading part; instead of making sacrifices, Russia won new successes; the maritime rights claimed by England, and disputed by Russia ever since the time of Catherine, were definitely abrogated, and the foundations laid of a Russo-French alliance against Austria. This alliance came into effect in 1859, when Louis Napoleon lent himself to the avenging of Russia upon Austria. The consequences of the Russo-French conventions, which Mazzini exposed at the time, and according to which, in the event of Austria’s prolonged resistance, a Russian Grand Duke was to be brought forward as candidate to the throne of an independent Hungary, — these consequences Austria escaped by quickly signing a peace. But since 1848 the people have been spoiling the handicraft of diplomacy. Italy became independent and united, against the will of the Tsar and of Louis Napoleon.
The war of 1859 had alarmed Prussia also. She had nearly doubled her army, and had placed a man at the helm, who in one respect, at least, was a match for Russian diplomatists — in his utter indifference as to what means he employed. This man was Bismarck. During the Polish insurrection of 1863, he, with theatrical ostentation, sided with Russia against Austria, France, and England, and did everything to help her to victory. This secured him, in 1864, the defection of the Tsar from his traditional policy in the Schleswig-Holstein Question; these Duchies were, with the permission of the Tsar, torn from Denmark. Then came the Prusso-Austrian war of 1866; and here again the Tsar rejoiced over the renewed chastisement of Austria, and the growing power of Prussia — the only faithful vassal, faithful even after the kickings of 1849-50. The war of 1866 brought in its wake the Franco-German war of 1870, and again the Tsar sided with his Prussian “Dyadya Molodetz,” ["Uncle’s a brick,” habitual exclamation of Alexander II. on receiving William’s telegraphic announcements of victories. — Note by Engels]
kept Austria directly in check, and thus deprived France of the only ally that could have saved her from complete defeat. But like Louis Napoleon in 1866, Alexander was taken in by the rapid successes of the German armies in 1870. Instead of a protracted war, exhausting both combatants to death, there came the swift repetition of blow upon blow, which in five weeks overthrew the Bonapartist Empire, and led its armies captive into Germany.
At this time there was but one place in Europe where the position was rightly. understood, and that was in the General Council of the International Working Men’s Association. On the 9th of September, 1870, it issued a manifesto which said: —
“As in 1865 promises were exchanged between Louis Bonaparte and Bismarck, so in 1870 promises have been exchanged between Gortschakoff and Bismarck. As Louis Bonaparte flattered himself that the war of 1866, resulting in the common exhaustion of Austria and Prussia, would make him the supreme arbiter of Germany, so Alexander flattered himself that the war of 1870, resulting in the common exhaustion of Germany and France, would make him the supreme arbiter of the Western Continent. As the Second Empire thought the North German Confederation incompatible with its existence, so autocratic Russia must consider herself endangered by a German Empire under Prussian leadership. Such is the law of the old political system. Within its pale the gain of one State is the loss of the other. The Tsar’s paramount influence over Europe roots in his traditional hold on Germany. At a moment when in Russia herself volcanic social agencies threaten to shake the very base of autocracy, could the Tsar afford to bear with such a loss of foreign prestige? Already the Muscovite journals repeat the language of the Bonapartist journals after the war of 1866. Do the Teuton patriots really believe that liberty and peace will be guaranteed to Germany by forcing France into the arms of Russia? If the fortune of arms, the arrogance of success, and dynastic intrigue lead Germany to a spoliation of French territory, there will then only remain two courses open to her. Either she must at all risks become the avowed tool of Russian aggrandisement, or, after some short respite, make again ready for another ‘defensive’ war, not one of those new-fangled ‘localised’ wars, but a war of races, a war with the combined Slavonian and Roman races.”
The new German Empire did Russia the service to wrest Alsace-Lorraine from France and thereby to throw France into Russia’s arms. The diplomacy of the Tsar was now in the enviable position of having both France and Germany, now deadly foes by virtue of this dismemberment, dependent upon Russia. This advantageous position seemed to favour a step further towards Constantinople; the Turkish War of 1877 was declared. After long struggles the Russian troops, in 1878, got as far as the gates of the Turkish capital, when four English men-o'-war appeared in the Bosphorus, and forced Russia, in sight of the towers of the Church of St. Sophia, to halt, and to submit her proposed Treaty of Peace of San Stefano to a European Congress for revision.
And yet an immense success had — apparently — been obtained. Roumania, Servia, Montenegro, enlarged and made independent by Russia, and therefore in her debt; the quadrilateral between the Danube and the Balkan, the strongest bulwark of Turkey, dismantled; the last rampart of Constantinople, the Balkan, torn from Turkey and disarmed; Bulgaria and Eastern Roumelia, nominally Turkish, actually Russian, vassal states; the territory lost in 1856 in Bessarabia, recovered; new and important positions conquered in Armenia; Austria, by the occupation of Bosnia, made an accomplice in the partition of Turkey, and, moreover, an eternal opponent of all Servian efforts for unity and independence; finally, Turkey, by loss of territory, exhaustion, and an exorbitant war indemnity, reduced to absolute dependence upon Russia, to a position in which, as Russian diplomacy knows only too well she only holds, for the time being the Dardanelles — and the Bosphorus in trust for Russia. And thus it seemed as if Russia had but herself to choose the moment when to take possession of her great ultimate object, Constantinople, “la clef de notre maison.” In reality, however, things were quite otherwise. If Alsace-Lorraine had thrown France into the arms of Russia, the advance on Constantinople and the Berlin Peace threw Austria into the arms of Bismarck. And with that the whole situation again changed. The great military powers of the Continent divided themselves into two huge camps, threatening each other: Russia and France here; Germany and Austria there. Around these two the smaller states have to group themselves. But this means that Russia b cannot take the last great step, cannot really take possession of Constantinople without a universal war, with fairly evenly balanced chances, whose final issue will probably depend, not upon the original belligerent parties, but upon England. For a war of Austria and Germany against Russia and France cuts off the whole of the West from the Russian supply of corn. All the western countries exist only by means of corn imported from abroad. This then could only be supplied by sea, and the naval superiority of England would allow her to cut off this supply either from France or from Germany, and thus starve out either one or the other, according to the side which she might take.
[The maritime rights, so long claimed by England, and at last abandoned by the Declaration of Paris, 1856, would not be missed by her in an ordinary war with one or two Continental Powers. The latter would, in this age of railroads, even if blockaded by sea, always be supplied, by land, with any quantity of imports by, conterminous neutrals; this was, indeed, the chief service rendered to Russia, during the Crimean War, by Prussia. But in a European war, such as now threatens us, the whole Continent would be cut up into hostile groups; neutrality would become, in the long run, impossible; international commerce by land would be almost, if not altogether, suspended. Under such circumstances England might regret giving up her maritime rights. But then, such a war would also display the full force and effect of England’s naval superiority, and it may be questioned whether anything more would he at all required. — Note by Engels]
But to fight for Constantinople in a general war, in which England would turn the scales — that is exactly what Russian diplomacy has worked 150 years to avoid. It would in itself mean a defeat.
The importance of checkmating England’s probable resistance to Russia’s final installation on the Bosphorus has not been overlooked by the diplomatists of St. Petersburg. After the Crimean war, and especially after the Indian mutiny of 1857, the conquest of Turkestan, attempted already in 1840, became urgent. In 1865, a foothold was gained on the Jaxartes by the occupation of Tashkent; in 1868 Samarkand, in 1875 Khokand was annexed, and the Khanates of Bokhara and Khiva brought under Russian vassalage. Then began the weary advance upon Merv from the south-east corner of the Caspian; in 1881, Geok Tepé, the first important advanced post in the desert was taken, in 1884 Merv surrendered, and now the Transcaspian Railway bridges over the gap in the Russian line of communications between Mikhailowsk on the Caspian and Tchardjui on the Oxus. The present Russian position in Turkestan is as yet far from offering a safe and sufficient basis for an attack upon India. But it constitutes, at all events, a very significant menace of future invasion and a cause of constant agitation amongst the natives. While the English raj in India had no possible rival, even the mutiny of 1857 and its deterrent suppression might be looked upon as events fortifying, in the long run, the dominion of England. But with a European first-rate military power settling down in Turkestan, forcing or coaxing Persia and Afghanistan into vassalage, and slowly but irresistibly advancing towards the Hindukush and Suleiman ranges, things are very different. The English raj ceases to be an unalterable doom imposed upon India; a second alternative opens up before the natives; what force has made force may undo; and whenever England now attempts to cross Russia’s path on the Black Sea, Russia will try to find unpleasant work for England in India. But in spite of all this, England’s maritime power is such that she still can hurt Russia far more than Russia can hurt her, in a general war such as now seems impending.
Moreover, the alliance with a republican France, whose rulers are subject to constant change, is by no means safe for Tsardom, and still less in accordance with its heart’s desire. Only a restored French monarchy could offer satisfactory guarantees as ally in a war so terrible as that which is now alone possible. Hence, too, for the last five years Tsardom has taken the Orleans under its special protection; they have had to intermarry with it, by marrying into the Danish Royal Family — that Russian advanced post on the Sound. And to prepare the restoration, in France, of the Orleans, now equally promoted into a Russian advanced post, General Boulanger was made use of. His own followers in France boast that the secret source whence money was so lavishly provided them, was no other than the Russian government, which had found them 15 million francs for their campaign. Thus is Russia again meddling in the internal affairs of the Western countries, this time undisguisedly as the mainstay of reaction, and is playing off the impatient Chauvinism of the French bourgeois against the revolutionary spirit of the French workmen.
Altogether it is since 1878 that we begin to really see how much the position of Russian diplomacy has changed for the worse since the people are more and more permitting themselves to put in a word, and that with success. Even in the Balkan Peninsula, the territory where Russia appears ex professo as the champion of nationalities, nothing seems to succeed now. The Roumanians, as a reward for having made victory possible to the Russians at Plevna, have been compelled to give up their portion of Bessarabia, and will hardly allow themselves to be taken in by drafts on the future with respect to Transsylvania and the Banat. The Bulgarians are heartily sick of the Tsar’s method of liberation, thanks to the Tsar’s agents sent into their country. Only the Servians, and possibly the Greeks — both outside the direct line of fire on Constantinople — are not yet recalcitrant. The Austrian Slavs, whom the Tsar felt called upon to deliver from German bondage, have since, in the Cisleithan Provinces of the Empire at least, played the part of the ruling race. The phrase of the emancipation of oppressed Christian nations by the almighty Tsar is played out, and can, at most, be applied to Crete and Armenia only, and that will no longer draw in Europe, not even with sanctimonious English Liberals; for the sake of Crete and Armenia, not even Tsar-worshipping Mr. Gladstone will risk a European war, after the exposure, by Mr. Kerman of the infamous brutality with which the Tsar suppresses every attempt at opposition in his own dominions, after the notoriety given to the flogging to death of Madame Sihida and other Russian “atrocities.”
And here we come to the very kernel of the matter. The internal development of Russia since 1856, furthered by the Government itself, has done its work. The social revolution has made giant strides; Russia is daily becoming more and more Occidentalised; modern manufactures, steam railways, the transformation of all payments in kind into money payments, and with this the crumbling of the old foundations of society are developing with ever accelerated speed. But in the same degree is also evolving the incompatibility of despotic Tsardom with the new society in course of formation. Opposition parties are forming — constitutional and revolutionary — which the Government can only master by means of increased brutality. And Russian diplomacy sees with horror the day approaching, on which the Russian people will demand to be heard, and when the settlement of their own internal affairs will leave them neither time nor wish to concern themselves with such puerilities as the conquest of Constantinople, of India, and of the supremacy of the world. The Revolution that in 1848 halted on the Polish frontier, is now knocking at the door of Russia and it now has, within, plenty of allies who only wait the right moment to throw open that door to it.
It is true, that whoever reads Russian newspapers, might suppose that all Russia enthusiastically applauds the Tsar’s policy of conquest; in them there is nothing but Jingoism, Panslavism, the deliverance of Christians from the Turkish, of Slavs from the German and Magyar, yoke. But, firstly, every one knows in what chains the Russian press lies bound; secondly, the Government itself has for years fostered this Jingoism and Panslavism in all schools; and thirdly, these newspapers express — so far as they express any sort of independent opinion, only the opinion of the town population, i.e. of the newly-created Bourgeoisie, naturally interested in new conquests as extensions of the Russian home market. But this town population is a vanishing minority throughout the country. As soon as a National Assembly gives the immense majority of the Russian people — the rural population — an opportunity of making itself heard, we shall see quite another state of things. The experiences of the Government with regard to the Zemstvos (County Councils)a and which forced it to take away again all power from the Zemstvos prove that a Russian National Assembly, in order to settle only the most pressing internal difficulties, would at once have to put a decided stop to all hankering after new conquests.
The European situation to-day is governed by three facts: (1) the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine to Germany; (2) the impending advance of Russian Tsardom upon Constantinople; (3) the struggle in all countries, ever growing fiercer, between the Proletariat and the Bourgeoisie, the working-class and the middle-class, a struggle whose thermometer is the everywhere advancing Socialist movement.
The two first necessitate the grouping of Europe, to-day, into two large camps. The German annexation makes France the ally of Russia against Germany; the threatening of Constantinople by Tsardom makes Austria and even Italy the allies of Germany. Both camps are preparing for a decisive battle, for a war, such as the world has not yet seen, in which 10 to 15 million armed combatants will stand face to face. Only two circumstances have thus far prevented the outbreak of this fearful war: first, the incredibly rapid improvements in firearms, in consequence of which every newly-invented arm is already superseded by a new invention, before it can be introduced into even one army; and, secondly, the absolute impossibility of calculating the chances, the complete uncertainty as to who will finally come out victor from this gigantic struggle.
All this danger of a general war will disappear on the day when a change of things in Russia will allow the Russian people to blot out, at a stroke, the traditional policy of conquest of its Tsars, and to turn its attention to its own internal vital interests, now seriously menaced, instead of dreaming about universal supremacy.
On that day the German Empire a will lose all its allies against France, whom the danger from Russia has driven into its arms. Neither Austria nor Italy will then have even the smallest interest in pulling the German Emperor’s chestnuts out of the fire of a colossal European war. The German Empire will fall back to that isolated position, in which, as Moltke says, everyone fears and no one loves it, the unavoidable result of its policy. Then, too, the mutual sympathy between Russia striving after freedom and Republican France, will be as suitable to the state of both countries, as it will be free of danger to Europe generally; and then Bismarck, or whoever succeeds him, will think thrice before he forces on a war with France, in which neither Russia against Austria, nor Austria against Russia covers his flank, in which both these countries would rejoice at any defeat he might suffer, and in which it is very doubtful whether he could, single-handed, overcome the French. Then all sympathies would be on the side of France, and she would, at worst, be safe from further spoliation. Instead, therefore, of steering towards a war, the German Empire would probably soon find its isolated condition so intolerable that it would seek a sincere reconciliation with France, and thus all the terrible danger of war would be removed. Europe could disarm, and Germany would have gained most of all.
On the same day Austria will lose her only historical raison d'être, the only justification for her existence, that of barrier against a Russian advance on Constantinople. When the Bosphorus is no longer threatened by Russia, Europe will lose all interest in the maintenance of this motley hodge-podge of many peoples. Equally indifferent then will be the whole of the so-called Eastern question, the continuation of Turkish supremacy in Slav, Greek, and Albanian regions, and the dispute about the possession of the entrance to the Black Sea, which no one will then be able to monopolise against the rest of Europe. Magyars, Roumanians, Servians, Bulgarians, Arnauts, Greeks, Armenians, and Turks, will then, at last, be in a position to settle their mutual differences without the interference of foreign Powers, to establish among themselves the boundaries of each national territory, to order their internal affairs according to their own necessities and wishes. It will at once be seen that the great hindrance to the autonomy and free grouping of the nations and fragments of nations between the Carpathians and the Aegean Sea was no other than that same Tsardom which used the pretended emancipation of these nations as a cloak for its plans of world-supremacy.
France will be freed from the unnatural, compulsory position into which her alliance with the Tsar has forced her. If the alliance with the Republic is repugnant to the Tsar, far more repugnant to the revolutionary French people is this league with the despot, the executioner of both Poland and Russia. In a war by the side of the Tsar, France would be forbidden, in the event of a defeat, to make use of her great, her only effective means of preservation, her salvation in 1793: the Revolution, the calling out of all the strength of the people by terror, and the revolutionist propaganda in the country of the enemy; in such an event the Tsar would at once join hands with the enemies of France, for times have changed since 1848, and the Tsar, in the meantime, has learnt to know from personal experience what the Terror is. The alliance with the Tsar, then, is no strengthening of France; on the contrary, at the moment of greatest danger Tsardom will keep sheathed the sword of France. But if in Russia, in the place of the almighty Tsar, there is a National Assembly, then the friendship of newly-freed Russia for the French Republic will be self-understood and natural; then it will further instead of impeding the revolutionary movement in France, then it will be a gain to the European Proletariat fighting for its emancipation. So France, too, must gain by the overthrow of the omnipotence of the Tsar.
Then will also disappear the excuse for the mad armaments which are turning Europe into one large camp, and which make war itself seem almost a relief. Even the German Reichstag would then find itself obliged to refuse the ever-increasing demands for war supplies.
And with this, Western Europe would be in a position to occupy itself, undisturbed by foreign diversions and interference, with its own immediate historical task, with the conflict between Proletariat and Bourgeoisie, and the solution of the economic problems connected with it.
The overthrow of the Tsar’s despotic rule in Russia would also directly help on this process. On the day when Tsardom falls — this last stronghold of the whole European Reaction — on that day a quite different wind will blow across Europe. For the gentlemen in Berlin and Vienna know perfectly well, in spite of all differences with the Tsar about Constantinople, etc., that the time may come when they will throw into his maw Constantinople, the Bosphorus, the Dardanelles, anything he wants, if only he will protect them against Revolution. On the day, therefore, when this chief stronghold itself, when Russia passes into the hands of the Revolution, the last remnant of confidence and security of the reactionary governments of Europe is gone; they will be thrown upon their own resources, and will soon learn how little they are worth then. The German Emperor might perhaps be tempted into sending an army to restore the authority of the Tsar — than which there could be no better way to destroy his own authority.
For there can be no doubt that Germany — quite independent of any possible action of Russia or France — is rapidly approaching a revolution. The last general election shows that the German Socialists are doubling their strength every three years; that to-day, of all single parties in the empire, they are the strongest, counting 1,437,000 votes out of a total of seven millions; and that all penal and coercive legislation was utterly powerless to stop their advance. But the German Socialists, while willing to accept, on account, any economic concessions the young Emperor may make to the working class, are determined, and after ten years’ coercion more determined than ever, to recover the political liberty conquered in 1848 on the Berlin barricades, but lost again to a great extent under Manteuffel and Bismarck. They know that this political liberty will alone give them the means of attaining the economic emancipation of the working class. In spite of any appearances to the contrary, a struggle is imminent between the German Socialists and the Emperor, the representative of personal and paternal government. In this struggle, the Emperor must ultimately be beaten. The electoral returns prove that the Socialists are making headway rapidly even in the country districts, while the large towns already as good as belong to them; and, in a country where every able-bodied adult male is a soldier, this means the gradual conversion of the army to Socialism. Now let a sudden change of system take place in Russia, and the effect upon Germany must be tremendous; it must hasten the crisis and double the chances of the Socialists.
These are the points why Western Europe in general, and especially its working class, is interested, very deeply interested, in the triumph of the Russian Revolutionary Party, and in the overthrow of the Tsar’s absolutism. Europe is gliding down an inclined plane with increasing swiftness towards the abyss of a general war, a war of hitherto unheard-of extent and ferocity. Only one thing can stop it — a change of system in Russia. That this must come about in a few years there can be no doubt. May it come to pass in good time before the otherwise inevitable occurs.