The International Workingmen's Association, 1867

Poland and the Russian Menace

Speech by Marx to a general meeting commemorating the 4th anniversary of the Polish Uprising of 1863 held at Cambridge Hall, London, January 22, 1867;
Transcribed and printed: in Polish periodical Glos Wolny, February 10, 1867. Marx's daughter Laura produced an English transcription which would serve as the basis for a French version published in Le Socialisme, March 15 1908;
Transcribed: by

More than 30 years ago, a revolution broke out in France [1830 July Revolution]. This was an event not foreseen by St. Petersburg, for shortly before that it had concluded a secret treaty with Charles X for the improvement of Europe's administration and geographic order. Upon the arrival of the news of the revolution, which frustrated all plans, Czar Nicholas assembled the officers of his Guard and delivered to them a brief, warlike speech which ended with the words: To horse, gentlemen! This was no empty threat. Paskevich was sent to Berlin, there to prepare the plan for the invasion of France. Within a few months, the plans were ready. The Prussians were to concentrate on the Rhine and the Muscovites were to follow them. But then "the vanguard turned against the main army", as Lafayette said in the Chamber of Deputies. The uprising in Warsaw saved Europe from a second anti-Jacobin war.

Eighteen years later, a new revolutionary eruption, or rather, earthquake, shook the whole Continent [the 1847-48 Revolutions]. Even Germany began to move, although it had been kept constantly at Russia's apron strings since the so-called War of Independence. Ever more astonishing was the fact that, of all German cities, Vienna was the first to set up barricades, and to do so with success. This time, for the first time in history, Russia lost its composure. Czar Nicholas no longer turned to the Guard, but published a manifesto to his people in which he complained that the French pestilence had infected even Germany, that it was nearing the borders of the Empire, and that the Revolution in its madness was turning its feverish eyes on Holy Russia. No wonder! he cried out. This Germany, after all, has been for years the refuge of unbelief. The cancer of an infamous philosophy has affected the vital parts of a people that appeared to be so healthy. And he concluded his proclamation with the following appeal to the Germans: "God is with us! Bear it in mind, you heathens, and submit, for God is with us!"

Shortly thereafter, he had his faithful servants Nesselrode send a further message to the Germans which dripped with tenderness for this heathenish people [July 6, 1848]. Why this turn? Now the Berliners had not only made a revolution, they had also proclaimed the restoration of Poland, and the Prussian Poles, deceived by the enthusiasm of the people, began to construct military camps in Posen. Hence the flatteries of the Czar. Once again, it was the Polish nation, the immortal knight of Europe, that forced the Mongols to retreat! Only after the Germans, especially the Frankfurt National Assembly, betrayed the Poles did Russia begin to breathe again and gather enough strength to deliver the final blow to the Revolution of 1848 in its last refuge, Hungary. And even there, the last knight to oppose Russia was a Pole -- General Bem.

Today, there are still naive people who believe that everything would have been different if Poland had ceased to be "a necessary nation", as a French writer put it, yea, even if Poland were only a mere sentimental memory. You know, however, that neither sentiment nor memory is a salable commodity on the exchange. When the last Russian ukase on the insurrection in the Polish kingdom became known in England, the organ of the leading moneybags [the London Times] advised the Poles to become Muscovites. And why should they not, if only to insure the repayment of the 6 million pounds sterling which the English capitalists had just granted to the Czar? At worst, should Russia seize Constantinople, the Times wrote, England would be allowed to seize Egypt in order to secure the route to the great Indian market! In other words: England may leave Constantinople to Russia only if she receives permission from Russia to dispute France's claim to Egypt. The Muscovites, the Times writes, gladly floats loans in England and pays well. He loves English money. He does indeed. How well he like the English themselves is best described in the Gazette de Moscou [Moscovskye Vedomosti, news daily of ruling classes, from 1756 to 1917] of December, 1851: "No, the turn of perfidious Albion will finally come and we will conclude a treaty with that people only in Calcutta."

I ask you, what has changed? Has the danger from the Russia side been lessoned? No. Rather, the delusion of the ruling classes of Europe has reached its pinnacle. Above all, nothing has changed in Russia's policy, as her official historian Karamsin admits. Her methods, her tactics, her maneuvers may change, but the pole star -- world domination -- is immutable. Only a crafty government, ruling over a mass of barbarians, could devise such a plan nowadays. Pozzo di Borgo, the greatest Russian diplomat of modern times, wrote to Alexander I during the Congress of Vienna that Poland was the most important instrument in carrying out Russian intentions for world domination; but it is also an insurmountable obstacle, if the Pole, tired of its unceasing betrayal by Europe, does not become a fearful whip in the hands of the Muscovites. Now, without speaking of the mood of the Polish people, I ask: Has anything taken place that would frustrate Russia's plans or paralyze her actions?

I do not have to tell you that her conquests in Asia are making constant progress. I do not have to tell you that the so-called Anglo-French war against Russia delivered the mountain fortress in the Caucasus to the latter and gave her domination over the Black Sea and maritime rights -- something that Catherine II, Paul, and Alexander II had vainly tired to wrest from England. Railroads untie and concentrate her forces once scattered over a wide area. Her material resources in Congress Poland [that chunk of the Kingdom of Poland which went to Russia during the Congress of Vienna, 1814-15], which constitutes her fortified camp in Europe, have increased colossally. The fortresses of Warsaw, Modlin, Ivangorod, points once selected by Napoleon I, dominate the whole length of the Vistula and comprise a formidable base for attacks on the north, west, and south. Pan-Slavic propaganda progresses to the extent that Austria and Turkey have become weakened. And what Pan-Slavic propaganda means you can see from 1848-49, when Hungary was invaded, Vienna ravaged, and Italy pulverized by the Slavs who fought under Jallachich, Windischgratz, and Radetzky. And as if this were not enough, England's crime against Ireland created for Russia a powerful new ally on the other side of the Atlantic.

The plan of Russian policy remains unchanged; its means of action have grown considerably since 1848, and until now only one thing has remained beyond its reach -- and Peter the Great touched on this weak point when he said that for conquering the world, the Muscovites lack nothing except souls. The invigorating spirit that Moscow needs will be acquired only with the engorging of the Poles. What will they then have to throw into the scales? This question is being answered from many points of view. A continental European would perhaps answer me that with the emancipation of the peasants, Russia can belong to the family of civilized nations, that German power, recently concentrated in the hand of Prussia, can defy all Asiatic attacks, and that, finally, the social revolution in Western Europe would put an end to the danger of "international conflicts". But an Englishman, who reads only the Times, could answer me that, at worst, if Russia conquers Constantinople, England would annex Egypt and thus secure for itself the route to the great Indian market.

In regard to the first -- that is, in the emancipation of the serfs -- the government has freed itself from the obstacles that the nobility could have put in the way of its centralization. It created a wide field for the recruiting of its army, dissolved the community property of the peasants, isolated them, and strengthened their faith in the Czar as a Little Father. It did not free them from Asiatic barbarism, for it takes centuries to build civilization. Every attempt to elevate the moral level of the peasants is considered a crime and punished as such. I only remind you of the temperance unions, which aimed to save the Muscovite from what Feuerbach calls the substance of his religion, namely, alcohol. Whatever one may expect of the peasant emancipation in the future, it is clear in any case that, for the time being, it has enlarged the powers at the disposal of the Czar.

We now come to Prussia. Once a vassal of Poland, it has become, under the aegis of Russia and because of the partition of Poland, a power of the first rank. If it lost its Polish booty tomorrow, it would merge into Germany, instead of swallowing it. In order to maintain itself as a separate power in Germany, it has to depend on the Muscovite. The most recent extension of its rule has not loosened this tie at all, but rather made it indissoluble and strengthened its antagonism to France and Austria. At the same time, Russia is the pillar on which the unrestrained role of the Hohenzollern dynasty and its feudal vassals rests. Russia is Prussia's shield against the anger of the people. Hence Prussia is no wall against Russia, but the latter's tool, destined to invade France and conquer Germany.

And the social revolution -- what else is it but a class conflict? It is possible that the conflict between workers and capitalists will be less cruel and bloody than the conflict between feudal lords and capitalists in England and France. Let us hope so. But in any case, such a social crisis, even if it could enhance the energies of the people of the West, would, like any other inner conflict, call forth aggression from outside. Thus Russia would again play the role she did during the anti-Jacobin war and the Holy Alliance -- the role of a savior of Order chosen by Providence. It would enlist in its ranks all the privileged classes of Europe. Already, during the February Revolution, it was not only Count Montalembert who had his ear to the ground to hear the hoof beats of the approaching Cossack horses. The Prussian bumpkin-Junkers were not the only ones who, in the representative corporate bodies of Germany, proclaimed the Czar the "Father and Protector". On all the European exchanges shares rose with every Russian victory and fell with every Russian defeat.

Thus Europe faces only one alternative: Either Asian barbarism, under the leadership of the Muscovites, will come down on Europe like an avalanche, or Europe must restore Poland and thereby protect itself against Asia with a wall of 20 million heroes, to win time for the consummation of its social transformation.