Marx-Engels Correspondence 1851

Engels to Marx
In London

Source: MECW Volume 38, p. 469;
First published: in Der Briefwechsel zwischen F. Engels und K. Marx, 1913.

[Manchester, 26 September 1851]

Dear Marx,

As regards Techow’s war story, from a military standpoint too, it is tremendously superficial and in parts downright wrong. Apart from the profound verities that only force avails against force and from the absurd discovery that revolution can only be victorious if it is general (i.e. literally if it meets no resistance and, by inference, if it is a bourgeois revolution), apart from the well-meaning intention to suppress those awkward ‘internal politics’, that is, the revolution itself through the agency of a military dictator as yet to be discovered, pace Cavaignac and Willich, and apart from this very significant political formulation of the views on revolution held by these gentlemen, it should, militarily speaking, be noted that:

1. The iron discipline which alone can procure victory is the exact obverse of the ‘postponement of internal politics’ and of military dictatorship. Whence is that discipline to come? The gentlemen really should have gleaned some experience in Baden and the Palatinate. It is a manifest fact that the disorganisation of armies and a total relaxation of discipline have been both precondition and consequence of all successful revolutions hitherto. It took France from 1789 to 1792 to reorganise an army — Dumouriez’s — of only about 60,000-80,000 men, and even that disintegrated again and there was no organised army to speak of in France until the end of 1793. It took Hungary from March 1848 to the middle of 1849 to create a properly organised army. And who brought discipline to the army in the first French Revolution? Not the generals who, at a time of revolution, do not acquire influence and authority in improvised armies until a few victories have been won, but rather the terreur of internal politics, of the civil power.

Armed forces of the Coalition:

1. Russia. The estimate of an effective force of 300,000 men, 200,000 of them under arms in the theatre of war, is on the high side. Passe encore. But they could not be on the Rhine (at most an advance guard on the Lower Rhine, at Cologne), or in Northern Italy in 2 months. In order to act in concert, to co-ordinate their movements adequately with those of Prussia, Austria, etc., etc., they would require 3 months — a Russian army does not cover more than 2-2 1/2 German miles a day, and rests every third. It took them almost 2 months to reach the theatre of war in Hungary.

2. Prussia. Mobilisation: at least 4-6 weeks. The speculation regarding defections, uprisings, etc., etc., very uncertain. At best can make 150,000 men available, at worst maybe less than 50,000. This being so, to count on 1/3 or 1/4 is sheer humbug, since everything depends on chance.

3. Austria. Equally chanceux and even more complex. No possibility here of estimating probabilities a la Techow. At best it could, as Techow supposes, put some 200,000 men into the field against France, at worst it would not succeed in detaching one man, and might at the very outside pit 100,000 men against the French at Trieste.

4. Federal army — of the Bavarian, 1/3 would certainly march against the revolution, and here and there even a bit more. At all events a corps 30,000-50,000 strong could be raised within 3 months, and against revolutionary soldiers this is enough to start off with.

5. Denmark would immediately put 40,000-50,000 good troops into the field and, as in 1813, the Swedes and also the Norwegians would have to accompany it on the great crusade. Techow has overlooked this, as he has overlooked Belgium and Holland.

Armed forces of the revolution:

1. France. Has 430,000 men under arms. Of these, 100,000 in Algiers. 90,000 not présent sous les armes — 1/4 of the remainder. This leaves 240,000 — of whom not more than 100,000 could reach the Belgo-German and 80,000 the Savoyard-Piedmontese frontier in 4-6 weeks, despite the now largely completed railways. This time Sardinia will try, like Belgium in 1848, to be the firm rock in the turbulent sea; hence whether the Piedmontese army, crammed as it is with bigoted Sardinian peasant lads, is — at least in its present form, officered by aristocrats — as committed to the revolution as Techow imagines is highly questionable. Victor Emmanuel has taken Leopold for his model, c'est dangereux.

2. Prussia — ? 3. Austria — ?; i.e. so far as regular organised soldiers are concerned. As regards volunteers, they will turn up in their thousands, useless, of course. If in the first months 50,000-60,000 useful soldiers can be made out of troops who have defected, that’s a great deal. Where are the officers to come from in so short a time?

Judging by all this, it is more likely that since any revolution (even in France) is bound to lack the very thing which enabled Napoleon to muster vast armies rapidly, to wit, good cadres, the revolution, if it takes place next year, will first either have to remain on the defensive or else confine itself to empty proclamations from Paris and highly inadequate, reprehensible and damaging Risquons-Tout expeditions on a larger scale. Unless, of course, the Rhine fortresses come over during the first attack and the Piedmontese army responds to Citizen Techow’s call; or unless the disorganisation of the Prussian and Austrian troops immediately centres on Berlin and Vienna, thus placing Russia on the defensive; or unless something else happens which cannot be foreseen. And to speculate on this and to calculate probabilities à la Techow is both otiose and arbitrary, as I know well enough from my own experience. All that can be said in this connection is that a very great deal depends on the Rhine Province.