Engels in Neue Rheinische Zeitung March 1849

The War in Italy and Hungary

Source: MECW Volume 9, p. 148;
Written: by Engels on March 27, 1849;
First published in the Neue Rheinische Zeitung No. 257, March 28, 1849.

Cologne, March 27. The war in Italy has begun.[145] By this war the Habsburg monarchy has assumed a burden beneath which it will probably succumb.

As long as Hungary was not in a state of open war against the monarchy as a whole, but was only in a fluctuating state of war against the Southern Slavs, it was no great feat for Austria to get the better of the Italians, who were only half revolutionised, and were split up and crippled by the triple treachery of the sovereigns. Nevertheless, what an effort it involved! Before Radetzky could win his victories at the Mincio,[146] the Pope and the Grand Duke of Tuscany had first to withdraw their troops — directly or indirectly — from the Venetian region, Charles Albert and his partly incompetent, partly venal generals had first actually to betray the Italian cause and above all at times the Magyars and at times the Southern Slavs had to be induced by a policy of duplicity and seeming concessions to send their troops to take up positions in Italy. It is known that only the mass transfer of the South-Slav border regiments to Italy rendered the disorganised Austrian army capable of fighting again.

Furthermore, as long as the armistice with Piedmont continued, as long as Austria had merely to maintain its army in Italy in its former strength without having to increase it excessively, Austria could throw the main body of its 600,000 soldiers against Hungary, it could push back the Magyars from one position to another and, by means of the daily arriving reinforcements, could in the end even succeed in crushing Hungary’s armed power. In the long run, Kossuth, like Napoleon, would have had to suffer defeat owing to the superiority of force.

But the war in Italy considerably changes the situation. From the moment when the termination of the armistice became certain, Austria had to double the number of its troops sent to Italy, it had to divide its newly enrolled recruits between Windischgrätz and Radetzky. Thus it is to be expected that neither of them gets enough.

Whereas for the Magyars and Italians, therefore, it is only a question of gaining time — time for the purchase and manufacture of arms, time for training the Landsturm and national guards to be soldiers fit for service in the field, time for revolutionising the country — Austria, compared with its opponents, becomes weaker every day.

While the war itself draws Rome, Tuscany and even Piedmont ever more deeply into the revolution compelling them day by day to display greater revolutionary energy, and while they can wait for the rapidly approaching crisis in France, meanwhile in Austria the third disorganising element, the Slav opposition is daily gaining ground and improving its organisation. The imposed Constitution[147] which, in gratitude for the Slavs having saved Austria, is throwing them back to their condition before the March events, the many insults suffered by the Slavs through bureaucratic and military excesses — these are facts that have occurred and cannot be altered in any way.

It is understandable that in these circumstances the Kölnische Zeitung is in the greatest possible hurry to make the imperial forces finish off the unpleasant war with Hungary. Accordingly, it announced yesterday that they crossed the Theiss in three columns — a report made all the more credible by not being confirmed up to now by any communique. Other sources, however, report that, on the contrary, the Magyar army is advancing on Pest by forced marches and evidently intends to raise the siege of Komorn. In spite of being heavily bombarded, Komorn is holding out courageously. During the bombardment the defenders of Komorn did not fire a shot, but when the Austrians tried to take it by storm they were thrown back with heavy losses by a deadly hail of grape-shot. It is said that the Duke of Coburg’s regiment of Polish Uhlans went over to the side of the Magyars at the moment when Dembinski, calmly waiting for the attack, ordered the tune of “Poland is not yet lost” to be played.

This is all the news we can give today about the Hungarian theatre of war. The post from Vienna of March 23 has failed to arrive.

Let us now turn to the Italian theatre of war. Here the Piedmontese army is drawn up in a long arc along the Ticino and the Po. Its front line stretches from Arona via Novara, Vigevano, Voghera to Castel San Giovanni facing Piacenza. Its reserves are situated a few miles farther back, on the rivers Sesia and Bormida at Vercelli, Trino and Alessandria. On the extreme right wing at Sarzana on the Tuscany-Modena frontier a separate corps under the command of La Marmora is stationed, ready to attack Parma and Modena through the Lunigiani passes, to link up on the left with the right wing of the main army, and on the right with the Tuscan and Roman armies, to cross the Po and the Adige if circumstances permit and conduct operations in the Venetian region.

On the opposite side, on the left bank of the Ticino and Po, stands Radetzky. It is known that his army is divided into two corps, of which one has occupied Lombardy and the other the Venetian region. While no news at all about troop dispositions has come from the Venetian region, we hear on all sides that in Lombardy Radetzky is concentrating his whole army on the Ticino. He has withdrawn all his troops from Parma, and in Modena he has left only a few hundred men in the fortress. Varese, Como, Val d'Intelvi and Valtellina have been entirely denuded of troops, even the frontier customs guards have disappeared.

The entire fighting force at Radetzky’s disposal, 50,000 strong, occupies positions from Magenta to Pavia along the Ticino and from Pavia to Piacenza along the Po.

Radetzky himself is said to have had the foolhardy plan of immediately crossing the Ticino with this army and, protected by the inevitable confusion of the Italians, of marching directly on Turin. People still remember from last year that Radetzky more than once entertained similar Napoleonic desires[148] and how he fared then. This time, however, the entire War Council opposed him, and it was decided to retreat, without any decisive battle, towards the Adda, Oglio, and, if needs be, even the Chiese, in order to obtain there reinforcements from the Venetian region and Illyria.

It will depend on the manoeuvres of the Piedmontese and the eagerness for war of the Lombards whether this retreat will take place without losses and whether the Austrians will succeed in holding up the Piedmontese for long. For the southern slopes of the Alps, namely the Como, Brienz and Bergamo Alps, Veltlin (Valtellina) and the Brescia region, now already for the most part abandoned by the Austrians, are highly suitable for national partisan warfare. The Austrians concentrated in the plain have to leave the mountains free. Here by a swift advance with light troops on the Austrian right wing, the Piedmontese can quickly organise guerilla detachments, which will threaten the flank and, in the event of the defeat of a single corps, also the retreat of the imperial troops, cut off their supplies and extend the insurrection as far as the Tritentine Alps. Garibaldi would be in his element here. But presumably he has not the least intention of once more entering the service of the traitor Charles Albert. [149]

The Tuscan-Roman army, supported by La Marmora, will have to occupy the line of the Po from Piacenza to Ferrara, cross the Po as quickly as possible, and after that the Adige, cut off Radetzky from the Austro-Venetian corps and operate on his left flank, or in his rear. However, this army is unlikely to arrive sufficiently quickly to have any influence on the first military operations.

But more decisive than all this is the attitude of the Piedmontese. Their army is good and bellicose; but if it is betrayed again as it was last year it is bound to be beaten. The Lombards are demanding weapons in order to fight against their oppressors; but if again, as last year, a vacillating bourgeois Government paralyses a mass uprising, Radetzky can once again enter Milan.

There is only one means to counter the treachery and cowardice of the Government: revolution. And perhaps it is precisely a new breach of his word by Charles Albert, and a new act of perfidy by the Lombard nobility and bourgeoisie, that are required for the Italian revolution to be carried through and, simultaneously with it, the Italian war for independence. But then woe to the traitors!