Frederick Engels, april 1851
Engels worked on this manuscript in April 1851, without intending to publish it. As he promised Marx in his letter of April 3, 1851, he here gave a detailed analysis, from the military point of view, of the prospects of a war waged by the coalition of counter-revolutionary powers (the resurrected Holy Alliance according to Engels’ terminology) against a revolutionary France. Such an analysis of the military potential of the European powers and the correlation of forces between counter-revolutionary and revolutionary camps in the event of a new revolutionary outbreak was necessary as a basis for criticising the adventurist plans of the democratic refugees, including the sectarian group of Willich and Schapper, who gave a voluntarist and superficial appraisal of the prospects of military dashes in Europe and believed that the victory of the revolutionary army was inevitable (by analogy with the events of the French Revolution) See Heroes of the Exile and Revelations of the Communist Trials in Cologne for Marx’s criticism of this adventurism).
I take it for granted that any victorious Parisian revolution in 1852 will immediately result in a war of the Holy Alliance against France.
This war will be quite different from that of 1792-94, and the events which occurred at that time can in no way serve as a parallel.
The miracles of the Convention in the military defeat of the Coalition are much diminished on closer examination, and Napoleon’s contempt for the fourteen armies of the Convention is comprehensible and in many respects even justified; Napoleon used to say that the chief part was played by the blunders of the Coalition, which is quite correct, and even when on St. Helena he still regarded Carnot as a mediocrity.
In August 1792, 90,000 Prussians and Austrians swooped down on France. The King of Prussia wanted to march directly on Paris, but Brunswick and the Austrian generals did not want to. There was no unity of command; sometimes hesitation, sometimes rapid advance, plans always being changed. After the Allies had passed through the Argonne defiles, they were opposed by Dumouriez at Valmy and St. Menehould. They could have bypassed him and left him where he was; he would have had to follow them to Paris, and with any moderately sensible procedure he would not have been a danger to them even in the rear. But they could also have acted more safely and defeated him in battle, which was not difficult since they had more and better troops, as the French themselves admit. Instead they unleashed the ridiculous cannonade of Valmy, where during the battle, indeed even during the attack by the columns, more than once the generals jumped from a more audacious to a more hesitant attitude. The two attacks themselves were pitiful as regards mass, vigour and spirit. It was not the soldiers who were to blame, but the vacillations in the command; the attacks were hardly worthy of the name, they were at most demonstrations. A resolute advance along the whole line would certainly have overthrown the French volunteers and the demoralised regiments. After the battle, the Allies again remained where they were without knowing what to do, until the soldiers became ill.
In the Jemappes campaign, Dumouriez triumphed because he at first half instinctively counterposed a mass concentration of forces to the Austrian system of cordons and endlessly long fronts (from Ostende to the Maas). In the following spring, however, he committed the same mistake — owing to his whim of wanting to conquer Holland; the Austrians, on the other hand, advanced in concentrated formation; the result was the battle of Neerwinden and the loss of Belgium. At Neerwinden, and particularly also in the smaller engagements of this campaign, it was seen that when the French volunteers, these much vaunted heroes, were not constantly under the eye of Dumouriez they did not fight better than the South German “people’s militia” of 1849.
Then, in addition, Dumouriez defected, Vendée revolted, the army was split and discouraged, and if the 130,000 Austrians and British had marched determinedly on Paris, the revolution would have been bankrupt and Paris conquered — exactly as in the previous year, if such stupidities had not taken place. Instead, these gentlemen laid siege to the fortresses and set about achieving the most minute advantages en détail, one after the other, with the greatest expenditure of strategic pedantry, and frittered away six whole months.
The French army, which still held together after Lafayette’s defection, can be estimated at 120,000 men, and the volunteers of 1792 at 60,000. In March 1793, 300,000 men were conscripted. In August therefore, when the levie en masse was decreed, the French army must have been at least 300,000-350,000 strong. The levée en masse raised it by about 700,000. Taking into account all deductions, in the beginning of 1794 the French put about 750,000 men in the field against the Coalition, considerably more than the Coalition put against France.
From April 1793 until October, the French were beaten everywhere, only the blows had no decisive effect thanks to the Coalition’s systematic delays. From October onwards there were alternating successes. In winter the campaign was suspended, in the spring of 1794 the levées en masse came into the line of battle with full effect; the result was victories in all areas in May, until finally in June the victory of Fleurus decided the fate of the revolution.
Therefore the Convention, and the Ministry of August 10 before it, had time enough for arming. From August 10, 1792, to March 1793 nothing happened — the volunteers hardly count. In March 1793, the 300,000 men were conscripted — from then until the following March the Convention had plenty of time and freedom for arming, a whole year, during ten months of which the revolutionary party was freed from all obstacles by the overthrow of the Girondists. And in a country of 25 million, which had the normal proportion of the population capable of bearing arms, when a whole year was available, it did not require a miracle to mobilise a million soldiers, 750,000 being active combatants (3 per cent of the population), against a foreign foe, however much of a novelty it was at that time.
With the exception of the Vendée, I consider the internal revolts of no account from the military point of view. Except Lyons and Toulon, they were quelled within six weeks without a blow being struck. Lyons was captured by the levées en masse, Toulon owing to Napoleon’s striking incursion by means of a resolute storm and because of the mistakes of the defenders.
The 750,000 men who were led against the Coalition in 1794 included at least 100,000 old soldiers from the time of the monarchy and 150,000 other soldiers, derived partly from the volunteers and partly from the levée of 300,000, who had become accustomed to war in the continual fighting for eighteen or twelve months respectively. In addition, at least half of the 500,000 new recruits had already taken part in the fighting during September, October and November of 1793, and the youngest of them must have been at least three months in the battalions when they were led against the enemy. In his Spanish campaign, Napoleon estimated at 3-4 weeks the time required for training: the école de bataillon. Not counting the subalterns and staff officers, who at that time were on the average certainly better among the Coalition forces, the French army of 1794, thanks to the time allowed it for organisation, and thanks to the Allies’ eternally inconclusive system of combat — a system which demoralises a well-tried, particularly aggressive army, and which disciplines that of the enemy, if it is a young army and on the defensive, and makes it accustomed to war — the French army of 1794 was therefore no raw, noisy, enthusiastic band of volunteers ready “to die for the Republic”, but a very fair army, certainly a match for the enemy. In 1794, the French generals were in any case much superior, although they made blunders enough; but the guillotine ensured unity of command and harmonious operations where the representatives [of the Convention] did not commit stupidities on their own account, which only exceptionally occurred. Le noble Saint-Just en fit plusieurs.
Marginal notes on mass tactics:
- The first crude notion of them arose from the successful manoeuvre at Jemappes, which was the result of instinct rather than military calculation. It arose from the chaotic state of the French army, which needed numerical superiority in order to have any degree of military self-confidence; mass had to take the place of discipline. Carnot’s share in this discovery is not at all clear.
- These mass tactics remained in the crudest of states and in 1794 at Tourcoing and Fleurus, for example, were not applied at all (the French, and Carnot himself, committed the most flagrant blunders), until finally Napoleon in 1796 by the six days’ Piedmont campaign and the actual annihilation en détail of a superior force showed people the goal towards which they were moving without having previously had any clear idea of it.
- As regards Carnot himself, he is a fellow about whom I am increasingly suspicious. Of course, I cannot make a definitive judgment, I do not have his dispatches to the generals. But from what is available his chief merit seems to have consisted in the boundless ignorance and incapacity of his predecessors Pache and Bouchotte, and in the total unfamiliarity with military matters of all the rest of the Comité de salut public. Dans le royaume des aveugles, le borgue est roi. [in the kingdom of the blind the one-eyed man is king] Carnot, an old officer of the Engineers, who himself had been a representative [of the Convention] with the Northern Army, knew what a fortress or an army required in the way of material etc., and particularly what the French lacked. He had necessarily, too, a certain understanding of the way to mobilise the military resources of a country like France, and since, in connection with a revolutionary levée en masse, where in any case there is considerable waste, a certain amount of squandering of resources does not matter as long as the main aim, the speedy mobilisation of these resources, is achieved, it follows that there is no need to ascribe to Carnot any great degree of genius to explain his results. What makes me doubtful pour sa part in the invention of mass warfare that is ascribed to him is, in particular, that his most far-reaching plans of 1793-94 were based on precisely the opposite mode of warfare; he divided the French armies instead of concentrating them, and he operated against the flanks of the enemy in such a way that the latter himself became concentrated. And then there is his later career, his display of knightly virtue under the Consulate, etc., his vaunted defence of Antwerp — the defence of a fortress is on the average the best post in which an officer who is mediocre, methodical but endowed with a certain tenacity can achieve distinction, and after all the siege of Antwerp in 1814 did not last three months, and finally his attempt to force the methods of 1793 on Napoleon in 1815 when confronted by the centralised 1,200,000 soldiers of the Coalition, and that under a totally altered system of warfare, and his philistinism in general; all that does not testify to Carnot’s genius. And then, when has a decent fellow been known to have bluffed his way, as he did, through Thermidor, Fructidor, Brumaire, etc.
Summa summarum. The Convention was saved solely and exclusively because the Coalition was not centralised and therefore the Convention was given a full year in which to arm. It was saved, as old Fritz was saved in the Seven Years’ War, and as Wellington was saved in Spain in 1809, although the French were quantitatively and qualitatively at least three times as strong as all their opponents together, and their colossal power was paralysed only because in Napoleon’s absence the marshals played all kinds of dirty tricks on one another.
By now the Coalition has long ago got over the stupidities of 1793. It is splendidly centralised. It was centralised already in 1813. The Russian campaign of 1812 made Russia the centre of gravity of the entire Holy Alliance for a war on the Continent. Russian troops formed the main mass around which only later the Prussians, Austrians, etc., were grouped, and they continued to be the main mass all the way to Paris. Alexander was in fact the commander-in-chief of all the armies (that is to say, the Russian general staff behind Alexander). But since 1848 the Holy Alliance has been built on an even much more solid basis. The development of the counter-revolution in 1849-51 had reduced the Continent, apart from France, to the same position in relation to Russia as that of the Rhenish Federation and Italy in relation to Napoleon, one of pure vassalage. Nicholas, i.e. Paskevich, is the inevitable dictator of the Holy Alliance en cas de guerre just as Nesselrode is en temps de paix.
Furthermore, as far as the modern art of war is concerned, it has been completely developed by Napoleon. Until certain conditions come into effect, which we shall deal with below, there remains no other course than to imitate Napoleon as far as conditions allow. This modern art of war, however, is universally known. In Prussia it has been drilled into every second lieutenant already before his ensign’s examination, insofar as it can be drilled in. As for the Austrians, they came to know their bad, specifically Austrian, generals in the Hungarian campaign and got rid of them — such as Windischgrätz, Welden, Götz and other old women. On the other hand — since we no longer have any Neue Rheinische Zeitung in which to write, we need no longer harbour any illusions — there are Radetzky’s two campaigns in Italy, the first excellent, the second a masterly one. Who helped him in this connection is of no consequence, in any case the old fellow has bon sens enough to grasp the excellent ideas of other people. His defensive position in 1848 between the four fortresses of Peschiera, Mantua, Legnago and Verona, all four sides of the rectangle well protected, and his defence of this position until help arrived, in the midst of an insurgent country, would be a masterpiece if his ability to hold out had not been tremendously facilitated by the pitiful leadership, disunity and endless vacillation of the Italian generals, the intrigues of Charles Albert and the support of the reactionary aristocrats and clergy in the enemy camp. Nor should it be forgotten that he was sitting in the most fertile country in the world and had no worries over provisions for his army.
For the Austrians, however, the campaign of 1849 was unprecedented. The Piedmontese, instead of barring the road to Turin at Novara and Mortara (a line three miles long) with a concentrated mass of troops, which would have been the best course, or of advancing from there on Milan in two or three columns, took up positions from Sesto to Piacenza — a line of twenty miles — with 70,000 men, only 3,500 men per German mile, and involving 3 to 4 days’ hard march from one wing to the other. A miserable concentric operation against Milan, for which they were everywhere too weak. Radetzky, seeing that the Italians were using the old Austrian system of 1792, operated against them exactly as Napoleon would have done. The Piedmontese line was cut into two pieces by the Po, a glaring blunder. Radetzky broke through the line close to the Po, separated the two southern from the three northern divisions by driving in between them a wedge of 60,000 men, swiftly attacked the three northern divisions (a concentration of scarcely 35,000 men) with his whole force, threw them back into the Alps, and separated the two corps of the Piedmontese army from each other and from Turin. This manoeuvre, which ended the campaign in three days, and was almost literally copied from that conducted by Napoleon in 1809 at Abensberg and Eggmühl, the most brilliant of all Napoleon’s manoeuvres, proves at any rate that the Austrians are far from continuing to act in accordance with the old motto “always slowly forward”. It was precisely speed that decided everything here. The treacherous acts of the aristocrats and Ramorino made things easier, especially owing to accurate information about the position and plans of the Italians, and also because of the meanness of the Savoy brigade at Novara, which did not fight but plundered. But from the military aspect, the pitiful disposition of the Piedmontese forces and Radetzky’s manoeuvre fully suffice to explain the latter’s success. Under all circumstances, these two facts were bound to have this result.
Finally, by the very nature of their army, the Russians are compelled to adopt a system of warfare which comes very close to the modern one. The main strength of their army consists of massed, semi-barbaric, and therefore clumsy, infantry, and a numerous force of semi-barbaric, light, irregular cavalry (Cossacks). In decisive encounters, in large-scale battles, the Russians have never operated with other than massed forces; Suvorov understood that already when storming Ismail and Ochakov. The mobility they lack is partly made up for by the irregular cavalry, which swarms around them on all sides and masks any movement of the army. But it is precisely this ponderous massive character of the Russian army that makes it pre-eminently suited to form the core and backbone, the pivot, of a coalition army, the operations of which are always bound to be slower than those of a national army. This role the Russians played with distinction in 1813 and 1814 and in those years hardly any battle plan occurs in which the massive Russian columns do not at once stand out from all others by their depth and density.
Since 1812 the French can hardly be regarded as the pre-eminent bearers of the Napoleonic tradition. This tradition has more or less passed to all the big European armies; in each of them, for the most part already in the last years of the Empire, it has resulted in a revolution; each of these armies in its strategy and tactics has adopted the Napoleonic system, insofar as this is in harmony with the character of the army. The levelling influence of the bourgeois epoch is also apparent here; the old national peculiarities are disappearing in the armies as well, and the French, Austrian and Prussian armies, and even to a great extent the British army, are more or less equally well-organised machines for carrying out Napoleonic manoeuvres. This does not prevent them from having very diverse qualities in regard to fighting, and so on. Of all the (big) European armies, however, only the Russian, semi-barbaric, army is capable of having its own tactics and strategy, for it alone is not yet ripe for the completely developed modern system of warfare.
As for the French, owing to the little war in Algeria they have interrupted even the continuity of the Napoleonic tradition of large-scale war. It remains to be seen whether in this predatory war the disadvantageous consequences for discipline are outweighed by the advantages of inuredness to war, whether the war accustoms men to hardship or breaks them by over-exertion; and finally, whether it does not also ruin the generals’ coup d’oeil [sure-sightedness] in a large-scale war. In any case, the French cavalry is being ruined in Algeria, it is forgetting what constitutes its force, the compact choc [onslaught], and it is becoming accustomed to a system of harassment in which the Cossacks, Hungarians, and Poles will always remain superior to it. Among the generals, Oudinot made a fool of himself before Rome, and only Cavaignac distinguished himself in June — but all that still does not amount to any grandes épreuves. [great tests]
On the whole, therefore, the chances of superiority in strategy and tactics are at least as much in favour of the Coalition as in favour of the revolution.
But will not a new revolution which brings to power an entirely new class give rise, like the first one, to new means and ways of waging war, compared with which the present Napoleonic ones will appear just as obsolete and ineffective as those of the Seven Years’ War compared with those of the first Revolution?
The modern warfare is the necessary product of the French Revolution. Its precondition is the social and political emancipation of the bourgeoisie and small peasants. The bourgeoisie provides the money, the small peasants supply the soldiers. The emancipation of both classes from feudal and guild fetters is required in order to provide the colossal armies of the present day; and the degree of wealth and education connected with this stage of social development is equally required in order to provide the material in the way of weapons, munitions, provisions, and so on, necessary for modern armies, and in order to provide the required number of trained officers and to give the soldier himself the required degree of intelligence.
I deal with the modern system of war as fully developed by Napoleon. Its two pivots are: the mass character of means of attack in men, horses and guns, and the mobility of these means of attack. Mobility is the essential consequence of massiveness. Modern armies cannot, like the small armies of the Seven Years’ War, march to and fro for months on an area of twenty miles. They cannot bring in their train stores containing their total food requirements. They must swoop down on a region like a swarm of locusts, ravage all its food supplies within reach of the cavalry, and must depart when everything has been devoured. The stores are adequate if they suffice only for unforeseen contingencies; they are continually depleted and replenished., they have to follow the rapid march of the army and therefore seldom suffice to cover the needs of the army even for a single month. The modern system of war is, therefore, impossible for a long period in a poor, semi-barbaric, thinly populated country. Owing to this impossibility, the French perished slowly in Spain and rapidly in Russia. On the other hand, however, the Spaniards were also ruined owing to the French, their country was very largely sucked dry. Even in Poland the Russians cannot make use of their own clumsy system of mass warfare for a long period, and in Russia itself they cannot make use of it at all as long as they have no railways. The defensive at the Dnieper and the Dvina would spell ruin for Russia.
But this degree of mobility requires also a certain degree of education of the soldier, who in many cases must know how to look after himself. The considerable extension of patrol and foraging expeditions, outpost duties, etc., the greater activity demanded of every soldier, the more frequent recurrence of cases in which the soldier has to act on his own and has to rely on his own intellectual resources, and, finally, the great importance of skirmish engagements in the fighting, the success of which depends on the intelligence, the coup d’oeil and the energy of each individual soldier — all this presupposes a greater degree of education of the non-commissioned officer and rank-and-file soldier than was the case under old Fritz. A barbaric or semi-barbaric nation, however, is unable to offer a degree of education of the masses such that 500,000-600,000 men recruited at random could, on the one hand, become disciplined and trained to act like machines, and at the same time acquire or retain this coup d’oeil for small-scale warfare. The barbarians, e.g. the Cossacks, are by nature gifted with this coup d’oeil of the robber; but on the other hand, they are as much incapable of regular military duties as the Russian serf infantrymen, on the contrary, are proper skirmishing.
This universal average degree of education which the modern system of war requires in every soldier is to be found only in the most developed countries: in Britain, where the soldier, however raw a yokel he was, goes through the civilising school of the towns; in France, where the emancipated small peasants and the astute mob of the towns (remplaçants) constitute the army; in North Germany, where feudalism likewise has either been destroyed or has assumed plus ou moins bourgeois forms, and where the towns provide a considerable contingent for the army; finally, after the last wars, it seems to exist also in at least that part of the Austrian army which is recruited from the least feudal areas. Apart from Britain, small peasant farming is everywhere the basis of the army, and the army is the more fitted for the modern system of war the closer the position of the small peasant comes to that of the free owner.
But the mobility of the masses, as well as that of the individual soldier, presupposes the degree of civilisation of the bourgeois epoch. The sluggishness of the pre-revolutionary armies is closely bound up with feudalism. The mass of officers’ conveyances was by itself a hindrance to all movement. The armies crawled along just as slowly as all movement. The rising bureaucracy of the absolute monarchies introduced rather more order into the management of army materials, but at the same time its alliance with haute finance led to organised fraud en gros, and where the bureaucracy was of some benefit to the armies it did them twice as much harm by infecting them with a spirit of schematism and pedantry. Witness the All Highest old Fritz himself. Even now Russia is suffering from all these evils; the Russian army, which is everywhere cheated and fleeced, is starving, and on the march the men die like flies. Only a bourgeois state feeds its troops tolerably and therefore can count on the mobility of its army.
As regards mobility, therefore, this is in every respect a characteristic of the bourgeois armies. But mobility is not only the necessary complement to the mass character of the army, it often replaces it (Napoleon in Piedmont, 1796).
Mass character, however, is just as much a special characteristic of modern civilised armies as is mobility.
However diverse the methods of recruitment may be — conscription, the Prussian army reserve, the Swiss militia, the levée en masse — the experience of the last sixty years proves that under the regime of the bourgeoisie and free small peasants not more than 7 per cent of the population can be put under arms in any people’s war; hence about 5 per cent can he actively utilised. Accordingly France in the autumn of 1793, with an estimated population of 25 million, could have mustered 1,750,000 soldiers and 1,250,000 active combatants. At that time, these 1,250,000 were more or less present at the frontiers, before Toulon, and in the Vendée, taking both sides into account here. In Prussia — with at present 16 million inhabitants — 7 per cent and 5 per cent would amount to 1,120,000 and 800,000 men respectively. But the entire Prussian forces, regular army and army reserve, hardly amount to 600,000 men. This example shows how much even 5 per cent involves for a nation.
Eh bien — whereas France and Prussia can easily call under arms 5 per cent of their population, and in case of need even 7 per cent, Austria in the most extreme case can call up at most 5 per cent, and Russia hardly 3 per cent. For Austria, 5 per cent would be 1,750,000, out of an estimated 35 million. In 1849, Austria strained itself to the utmost. It had about 550,000 men. The Hungarians, whose forces had been doubled as the result of the Kossuth notes, had perhaps 350,000. I calculate in addition 50,000 Lombards who had escaped conscription or were serving in the Piedmontese army — making a total of 950,000 men, consequently not even 2 1/3 per cent of the population; at the same time the Croat borderers, who lived under exceptional conditions, furnished at least 15 per cent of their population. Russia, at a low estimate, has 72 million inhabitants; therefore at 5 per cent it should be able to raise 3,600,000 men. Instead of this, it has never been able to muster more than 1,500,000, including both regular and irregular troops, and in its own country it has been able to lead at most 1,000,000 of these against the enemy, i.e. its total force was never above 2 1/12 per cent, and its active force never above 1 7/18 or 1.39 per cent. The sparse population over an enormous area, the lack of communications and the small national production explain this easily enough.
Like mobility, the mass character of means of attack is necessarily the result of a higher stage of civilisation, and, in particular, the modern proportion of the armed mass to the total population is incompatible with any state of society inferior to that of the emancipated bourgeoisie.
Hence modern warfare presupposes the emancipation of the bourgeois and peasants; it is the military expression of this emancipation.
The emancipation of the proletariat, too, will have its particular military expression, it will give rise to a specific, new method of warfare. Cela est clair. It is even possible already to determine the kind of material basis this new warfare will have.
But just as the mere conquest of political power by the present ill-defined French and German proletariat, which partly forms the tail-end of other classes, is a long way from the real emancipation of the proletariat, which consists in the abolition of all class contradictions, so the initial warfare in the coming revolution is equally far removed from the warfare of the truly emancipated proletariat.
The real emancipation of the proletariat, the complete abolition of all class distinctions and the complete concentration of all the means of production, in Germany and France presupposes the co-operation of Britain and at least a doubling of the means of production now existing in Germany and France. But precisely that is the precondition also for a new form of warfare.
Napoleon’s magnificent discoveries in the science of war cannot be wiped out by a miracle. The new science of war must be just as much a necessary product of the new social relations as the science of war created by the revolution and Napoleon was the necessary result of the new relations brought about by the revolution. But just as in the proletarian revolution the question for industry is not one of abolishing steam machines but of multiplying them, so for warfare it is a question not of diminishing but of intensifying the mass character and mobility of armies.
Increased productive forces were the precondition for the Napoleonic warfare; new productive forces must likewise be the precondition for every new perfection in warfare. The railways and the electric telegraph will already today provide a talented general or Minister of War with an occasion for quite new combinations in a European war. The gradual increase of the productive forces, and of the population along with them, has likewise provided the opportunity for greater accumulation of masses. In France, with 36 instead of 25 million inhabitants, 5 per cent yields now not 1,250,000 but 1,800,000 men. In both cases the power of the civilised countries has increased compared with that of the barbaric countries. The former alone have large railway networks and their population has grown twice as fast as that of Russia, for example.
All these calculations prove, incidentally, that a lasting subjection of Western Europe to Russia is quite impossible and becomes more impossible every day.
The power of the new kind of warfare that will result from the abolition of classes cannot, however lie in the fact that with the growth of the population the available 5 per cent constitute ever more considerable masses. It must lie in the fact that it will become possible to call under arms not 5 per cent or 7 per cent of the population, but 12-16 per cent, i.e. half or two-thirds of the male adults — healthy persons of from 18 to 30, or eventually 40 years of age. But just as Russia cannot increase its available force from 2-3 per cent to 5 per cent without a complete revolution of its entire internal social and political organisation, and, above all, of its production, so Germany and France cannot raise their available force from 5 per cent to 12 per cent without revolutionising their production and more than doubling it. Only if, by means of machinery, etc., the labour of each individual on the average becomes worth twice as much as at present, can the number of those who can be spared from production be doubled — even for a short time, for no country has ever kept the 5 per cent afoot for a long time.
If the necessary conditions for it are fulfilled, if national production has been sufficiently increased and centralised, if classes have been abolished, which is absolutely essential — owing to his social, aristocratic position, the Prussian one-year volunteer, as long as he is not an N. C. O. or officer of the army reserve, will never be a useful soldier alongside the peasants and workers — then the only restriction to the actual levy is the number of the population capable of bearing arms, that is to say, in an extreme emergency for a short time 15-20 per cent of the population can be armed and 12-15 per cent actually led against the enemy. These enormous masses, however, presuppose a degree of mobility quite different even from that of the present-day armies. Without a complete railway network, they can be neither concentrated nor fed, nor can they be kept supplied with munitions, or able to move. And without the electric telegraph it is quite impossible to direct them; and since in the case of such masses it is impossible for the strategist and the tactician (who is in command on the battlefield) to be one and the same person, division of labour comes into effect here. Strategic operations, the co-operation of the various corps, have to be directed from the central point of the telegraph lines; tactical operations have to be directed by the individual generals. It is clear that under these conditions, wars can and must be decided in a much shorter time than they were even by Napoleon. The expense factor requires it, the necessary decisive effect of each blow with such masses makes it inevitable.
In mass and strategic mobility, therefore, these armies must be quite unprecedentedly formidable. With such soldiers, tactical mobility (in patrolling, skirmishing, and on the battlefield) must likewise be considerably greater, they are more robust, agile and intelligent than anything that present-day society can offer.
Unfortunately, however, all this can be put into effect only after a long period of years and at a time when, owing to lack of an adequate enemy, such wars on a mass scale can no longer occur. The primary conditions for all this do not exist in the first period of the proletarian revolution, least of all in the year 1852.
The proletariat in France at present is certainly barely double the percentage of the population that it was in 1789. At that time — at least between 1792 and 1794 — the proletariat was in such a state of ferment and tension as will only recur in the near future. At that time it already became evident that in revolutionary wars with violent internal convulsions the mass of the proletariat is needed for use within the country. The same thing will now be the case once again and probably more so than ever, since the chances of the immediate outbreak of civil wars increase as the Allies advance. Hence the proletariat will be able to send only a small contingent to the active army; the main source of the levy remains the mob and the peasants. That is to say, the revolution will have to wage war with the means and by the methods of the general modern warfare.
Only an ideological theorist could ask whether it would not be possible with these means, i.e. with an active army of 4-5 per cent of the population, to devise new combinations and discover new surprising methods of application. Just as it is impossible to increase the output of the loom fourfold without replacing the motive power, hand labour, by steam, without discovering a new means of production that has little in common with the old hand loom, so it is impossible in the art of war to produce new results by the old means. Only the production of new, more powerful means makes it possible to achieve new, more magnificent results. Every great general who marks an epoch in the history of war owing to new combinations, either himself invents new material means or first discovers the correct use of new material means invented before him. Between Turenne and the old Fritz lies the revolution in the use of infantry, the supersession of the pike and matchlock by the bayonet and flintlock — and old Fritz’s epoch-making achievement in the science of war lies in the fact that in general, within the limits of the warfare of that time, he transformed and developed the old tactics in conformity with the new instruments. Just as Napoleon’s epochmaking achievement lies in the fact that he found the sole correct tactical and strategic application for the more colossal army masses made possible by the revolution, and moreover developed this application so completely that on the whole modern generals, far from being able to go further than he did, in their most brilliant and cleverest operations only try to copy him.
Summa summarum, the revolution will have to fight with modern means of war and the modern art of war against modern means of war and the modern art of war. The chances of military talent are at least as great for the Coalition as they are for France: Ce seront alors les gros bataillons qui 1’emporteront. [Then the big battalions will win]
Let us now see what battalions can be brought into the battle line, and how they can be used.
- Russia. The Russian army on a peace footing consists nominally of 1,100,000 men; in reality about 750,000. Since 1848 the government has continually worked to attain a force of 1,500,000 men on a war footing, and Nicholas and Paskevich have themselves carried out a revision as far as possible throughout. At a low estimate, therefore, Russia has now actually attained its full peace time effective of 1,100,000 men. From this must be deducted, on a high estimate:
For the Caucasus 100,000 men
“ Russia proper 150,000
“ the Polish provinces 150,000
“ the sick, detached, etc 150,000
There remain 550,000 men available for active service against external enemies. That is an estimate hardly greater than the number Russia actually sent across the frontiers in 1813.
- Prussia. The splendid army, if the entire army reserve of the first and the second call-up, the supernumeraries, and everything are called up, amounts to a least 650,000 men. At the present moment, however, the government can mobilise at most 550,000 men. I put the figure at only 500,000. These need to detach only a little in excess of the second call-up (150,000 men) for garrisons, etc., since everywhere the gradual calling up of supernumeraries and of the new conscripts for next year — which Nicholas will already be taking steps to ensure — as well as the Russian troops continually on the march through the country, would form a sufficient reserve against any internal attempt at an uprising. Moreover, the Prussians have fewer sick, since they are concentrated in their own country and have a lesser distance to march to the Rhine than the Russians. Nevertheless, as in the case of the Russians, I deduct half, leaving available the other half, amounting to 250,000 men.
- Austria At a low estimate, Austria has under arms and on leave, the latter being as quickly available for the army as the Prussian army reserve, 600,000 men. Here, too, I deduct half, since for at least two-thirds of the monarchy, until the formation of new reserves, the advancing Russians serve as a reserve within the country and keep the hotbeds of insurrection in check. There remain 300,000 men available for use against the enemy.
- The German Confederation. Since the gentlemen live close to the Rhine and the whole Coalition marches through their territory, they hardly require any garrison against the interior, all the less because with the first successes of the Coalition against France the reserve armies would take their stand right across Germany, from north to south. The German Confederation provides at least 120,000 men.
- The forces of the Italian governments, the Danes, Belgians, Dutch, Swedes, etc., I put for the time being at 80,000 men.
Accordingly the total mass of the Coalition troops amounts to 1,300,000 men, who are either already under arms or can be immediately called up. All the estimates are intentionally put too low. The deductions for the sick alone are so considerable that merely from the convalescent, etc., two months after the beginning of operations a second army of 350,000 men can be formed at the French frontier. But as nowadays, no government is so imprudent as to begin a war without at the same time as it deploys the active army raising new levies, as strong as possible, and sending them in the wake of the first army, this second army should prove to be considerably stronger than the above figure.
The concentration of the first army (the 1,300,000 men) can be completed in about two months, as follows. That the Prussians and Austrians can have their above-mentioned contingents available within two months is no longer open to doubt after the arming carried out last November. As regards the Russians, their three definitive concentration points are, in the first place, Berlin, Breslau and Cracow or Vienna (see below). From St. Petersburg to Berlin is approximately 45 days’ march, and from Berlin to the Rhine 16 days, making a total of 61 days’ march, at 5 German miles per day. From Moscow to Breslau is 48 days’ march, from Breslau to Mainz 20, together 68 days. Kiev to Vienna requires 40 days, Vienna to Basle 22, together 62 days. Add to this the rest-days, which in the case of the Russian troops and the above strenuous marches must on no account be omitted, it is clear that even the troops stationed in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Kiev can comfortably reach the Rhine in three months, even supposing that the troops move exclusively on foot and that no use is made of railways or vehicles. But such means can be used in Germany almost everywhere, and in Russia and Poland at least partially, which would in total certainly shorten the transport of the troops by 15-20 days. The main mass of the Russian troops, however, are at present already concentrated in the Polish provinces, and as soon as the political conditions make a crisis probable, more troops will be sent there, so that the starting points of the line of march will not be St. Petersburg, Moscow and Kiev, but Riga, Vilna, Minsk, Dubno and Kamieniec, which me ns that the line of march will be shortened by about 60 miles — 12 days’march plus 4 rest-days. Moreover, a large part of the infantry — especially that coming from the more remote stations — can be conveyed a distance of five miles on every third or rest-day at least, so that for this part of the infantry the rest-days will count as march-days. The railways would then be kept free for artillery material, munitions and stores, while the artillery gun-crews and servicing personnel would either march or be conveyed, and thus in any case would arrive earlier than in the way hitherto adopted.
In view of all the above, it seems to me that there is nothing to prevent the concentration of the Coalition army on the Rhine taking place two months after the outbreak of the revolution, as follows:
- First line on the Rhine and before Piedmont:
Prussians, Austrians, etc 750,000 men
Russians 300,000 men 1,050,000 men
- Second line, reserve,
10 days’ march behind, Russians 250,000 men
Total 1,300,000 men (as above)
- Reserve of the smaller Coalition members, Prussians, Austrians, etc., included in the concentration 200,000 men
- Russian reserve on the march, 20 days’ march behind 150,000 men 350,000 men
Total of both armies 1,650,000 men
Basically, under present conditions hardly 5-6 weeks are needed to bring 300,000 Russians to the Rhine, and in the same period Prussia, Austria and the smaller Allies can bring their contingents as above mentioned to the Rhine; but in order to take due account of the unforeseen obstacles which occur in every coalition, I assume a full two months. At the moment when Napoleon came from Elba, the disposition of the Allied troops in relation to a march towards France was hardly as favourable as the present one, yet the Russians were at the Rhine when Napoleon was fighting the British and Prussians at Waterloo.
What resources has France to oppose to those of the Allies?
- The troops of the line amount to about 450,000 men, 50,000 of whom cannot be spared from Algeria. From the remaining 400,000 must be deducted the sick, the minimum necessary to garrison fortresses, and smaller detachments for doubtful areas of the interior, leaving available at most 250,000 men.
- The favourite means adopted by the present reds, viz. to recall to the colours soldiers who have served their time, can successfully be applied by force to at most six age classes, i.e. from 27 to 32 years of age. Each age group on conscription amounts to 80,000 men. The ravages of the Algerian war and climate, the normal death-rate during twelve years, the deduction of those who have become unfit or have emigrated, and those who in one way or another have succeeded in evading re-enlistment at a time when in any case the administration gets into a state of disorder, will reduce the 480,000 former recruits of these six age classes to at most 300,000 re-enlisting. From these must be deducted 150,000 to garrison fortresses, who will be drawn mainly from this class of older, mostly married men, leaving 150,000 men. Given any degree of skilled direction, these could be mobilised without difficulty in two months.
- The people’s militia, volunteers, levée en masse, or whatever other term is used to denote this subordinate cannon-fodder. With the exception of about 10,000 of the Garde Mobile who can be assembled, none of the above are more acquainted with weapons than any member of the German civic militia. The French are quicker at learning to handle weapons, but two months is a very short time, and if Napoleon could ensure that his recruits passed through the battalion school in four weeks, he achieved that only with outstanding cadres, whereas the first result of the coming revolution will be the disorganisation of the cadres in the line. Moreover, our French revolutionaries are known to follow tradition and their first cry will be: Levée en masse! Deux millions d’hommes aux frontières! The two million men would be all very well if one could again expect from the Coalition such stupidities as those of 1792 and 1793 and if one had time for gradually training these two million men. But there is no question of that. One must be prepared to encounter a million active enemy soldiers on the frontier within two months, and it is a matter of opposing this million with a chance of success.
If the French comport themselves again as traditional imitators of 1793, they will be undertaking to repeat the experience with the two million, which means that they will undertake so much that the actual result in the short time available will come to nil. The training and organisation of 2,500,000 men in eight weeks without skilled cadres amounts in practice to a senseless squandering of all resources without strengthening the army by even a single usable battalion.
If, on the other hand, the French have a good Minister of War who has some knowledge of revolutionary warfare and the methods of creating an army rapidly, and if no stupid obstacles due to ignorance and a craze for popularity are put in the way, then he will keep within the limits of the possible and can do a great deal. The outcome will have to be something more or less in accordance with the following plan:
The armed forces consist, to begin with, of two components: 1. The proletarian guard in the towns, the peasant guard in the countryside, insofar as the latter can be relied upon for service in the interior; 2. the regular army against invasion.
Fortress duty is performed by the proletarian and peasant guard; the army provides only the most essential detachments. Paris, Strasbourg, Lyons, Metz, Lille, Valenciennes, the most important fortresses, which are at the same time large towns, will require for their defence, besides their own guard and a few peasant detachments from the environs, only a few troops of the line. The proletarian guard available in the interior, insofar as they consist of unemployed workers, will be assembled in a training camp and trained by old officers and N.C.O.s who are unfit for service in the field, to fill gaps in the ranks of the active army. The camp could be situated near Orleans, where at the same time it would be a threat to the Legitimist areas.
The troops of the line, insofar as they are in France, must he tripled, being brought from 400,000 to 1,100,000 men. This is done as follows: each battalion is converted into a regiment — the unavoidable general promotion will be not less effective than the guillotine and courts martial in inspiring respect for the revolution among the officers and N.C.O.s. The unavoidable extension of cadres is at the same time carried out as gradually as possible and what can be gained as regards officers is gained. This is very important in view of the fact that it is impossible to produce officers by magic in two months. Moreover, so much national sentiment still prevails among the middle and lower grades of the French army that with a certain amount of promotion, energetic management of the war departments and some chance of success, these men at the start will turn out quite well, especially if a few examples are made of mutineers and deserters. The pupils of the military schools and the officials of the ponts-et-chaussèes make excellent artillery and engineer officers, and after a few actions those talented men among the lower ranks, so frequent among the French, who are capable of leading a company once they have been under fire, will begin to develop.
As regards the soldiers themselves, there will be:
the line 400,000 men
those recalled to the army 300,000 men
those still to be called up and trained 500,000 men
Total 1,200,000 men
deduct for the sick 100,000 men
there remain 1, 100,000 men
Of these are available for active service:
the line 250,000 men
those recalled to the army 150,000 men
recruits 400,000 men
What can be achieved with these will be seen. But the training within two months of 400,000-500,000 men as recruits for the army of the line, men who will be fused with the already existing and recalled soldiers in the regiments and battalions, is not so excessively difficult if the work is taken in hand speedily, le lendemain de la révolution [on the morrow of the revolution]. All these reinforcements would accrue to the infantry and artillery; in two months it is certainly possible to train an infantryman, or an artilleryman capable at least of simple gun duties, but not a cavalryman. Hence the increase of the cavalry would be very weak.
The whole plan for developing the army presupposes that there will he a good Minister of War, who is able to assess the political conditions, possesses strategic, tactical and detailed knowledge of all weapons, has the appropriate degree of energy, speed and decisiveness, and is given a free hand by the asses who will rule along with him. But where has the “Red” party in France such a man? The odds are in favour of the opposite, that as usual an ignorant fellow, who is thought and thinks himself, of course, to be a bon démocrate competent to fill any part, will try to play the Carnot, decree mass levies, completely disorganise everything, and very soon be at his wit’s end, whereupon he will leave everything to the routine of the old subordinate officials and allow the enemy armies to come right up to Paris. Nowadays, however, to be able to withstand a European coalition, one would have to be, not Pache or Bouchotte, or even Carnot, but Napoleon, or to have terribly stupid enemies and a terribly large measure of luck.
It should not be overlooked that all these calculations of the armed forces of the Coalition assume a minimum figure for the total force and a maximum figure for the deductions so that with merely tolerably good leadership, the available mass of troops will be greater, and the time required for their concentration less than the estimates given here. In the case of France, on the other hand, the opposite assumptions have been made; the time available has been assumed as long as possible, the total force that can possibly be organised has been put very high, and the deductions low, and therefore the available mass of troops is estimated at the highest possible figure. In short, leaving out of account unforeseen events and great blunders on the part of the Allies, all these calculations present the most favourable case possible for the revolution.
In addition, it is assumed that the revolution and invasion will not immediately give rise to a civil war in the interior of the country. At present, sixty years after the last civil war in France, it is impossible to determine to what extent the fanaticism of the Legitimists is capable of a more than ephemeral insurrection; it is clear, however, that in proportion as the Allies advance, the chances of an uprising like that of 1793 in Lyons, Toulon, etc., of a temporary alliance of all politically overthrown classes and factions, will also increase. Here, too, however, let us assume the most favourable case for the revolution, namely, that the revolutionary proletarian and peasant guard is capable of successfully disarming the rebellious départements and classes.
We shall deal presently with the prospects which the revolution could be given by uprisings in Germany, Italy, etc.
We come now to the actual conduct of the war.
If one places one leg of a pair of compasses on the map on Paris and describes a circle round the city with the distance from Paris to Strasbourg as the radius, then in the south the circumference of this circle touches the French frontier between Grenoble and Chambéry at Pont de Beauvoisin, follows it in a northerly direction through Geneva, the Jura, Basle, Strasbourg and Hagenau, and then follows the course of the Rhine down to its estuary. If it is at a distance from the Rhine at some points, this distance never exceeds the length of two days’ march. If the Rhine were France’s frontier, then from the point where the Alps cease to protect this frontier right up to the North Sea Paris would be at an equal distance from this frontier. The military system of France, with Paris at the centre, would have satisfied all the geographical conditions for it. This simple arc from Chambéry to Rotterdam, which reduces all points of France’s only open frontier, and moreover of the frontier nearest to the capital, to an equal distance of about 70 German miles — 14 days’ march — from Paris, and at the same time protects the frontier by a broad river, this is the real military basis of the assertion that the Rhine is France’s natural frontier.
The same peculiar configuration of its course, however, makes the Rhine also the starting point of all concentric operations against Paris, for in order that the various armies may arrive simultaneously in front of Paris and simultaneously threaten it from various sides, they must set out simultaneously from points equally distant from it. The operations of any counter-revolutionary coalition army against France must be concentric, however dangerous all concentric operations are in which the concentration point lies within the territory of the enemy or even forms the latter’s basis of operations: 1. because with Paris the whole of France is conquered; 2. because no part of the frontier lying within the sphere of operations of French armies can be allowed to be exposed, as otherwise the French, by sending armed forces, could provoke insurrections in the territory of the Coalition, in the rear of the latter’s armies; 3. because the mass forces which any coalition is bound to hurl against France require multiple lines of operation for their food supply.
For both armies, the frontier which has to be covered runs from Chambéry to Rotterdam. For the time being, the Spanish frontier can be disregarded. The Italian frontier from Var to the Isère is protected by the Alps and goes farther and farther away from Paris since it forms the tangent to the above-mentioned circle. It can only come into consideration: 1. if the fortified defiles of the Savoy Alps, particularly of Mont Cenis, are in the hands of the French; 2. if it is desired to make a diversion on the coast, for which there would have to be special reasons; 3. if the French armies, after the frontier has been safeguarded at all other points, want to launch an offensive as Napoleon did in 1796. In all other cases it is too far away.
Active operations, therefore, both for the Coalition and for France, are restricted to the line from Chambéry or the Isère up to the North Sea, and to the region lying between this line and Paris. And precisely this part of France offers a terrain which is, as it were, created for defence, and possesses a mountain and river system which from a military point of view could hardly be improved upon.
From the Rhône to the Moselle, the frontier is protected by a long mountain range which is crossed with difficulty and only at certain points — the Jura, adjoining which are the Vosges, which in turn have their prolongation in the Hochwald and Idarwald. Both mountain ranges run parallel to the frontier and, in. addition, the Vosges are protected by the Rhine. Between the Moselle and the Maas, the route to Paris is covered by the Ardennes, and on the other side of the Maas by the Argonnes. Only the region from the Sambre to the sea lies open, but here the position of any advancing army becomes more dangerous with every step forward — in the event of at all skilful operations by a strong French army, the enemy army risks being cut off from Belgium and driven into the sea. Furthermore, the whole line from the Rhône to the North Sea is dotted with fortresses, some of which, e.g. Strasbourg, command whole provinces.
From the junction of the Jura and the Vosges, in a south-westerly direction towards Auvergne, runs a mountain range forming the watershed between the North Sea and the ocean, on the one hand, and the Mediterranean, on the other. From it flows to the south the Saône, and to the north, parallel to one another, the Moselle, the Maas, the Marne, the Seine, and the Yonne. Between each two of these rivers, as between the Yonne and the Loire, long mountain chains branch off, separating the individual river valleys from one another and traversed by only a few roads. It is true that this whole mountainous territory for the most part is practicable for all arms, but it is very infertile and no great army can maintain itself long on it.
If these mountains, too, have been surmounted, as well as the equally infertile mountainous zones of Champagne which separate the region of the Maas from that of the Seine, the enemy army enters the Seine region. And it is only here that the striking military advantages of the position of Paris become fully evident.
The Seine basin downstream to the mouth of the Oise is formed by a number of rivers running in almost parallel arcs in a north-westerly direction — the Yonne, the Seine, the Marne, the Oise and the Aisne — each of which also has tributaries running in a similar direction. All these arc-shaped valleys join fairly closely with one another, and at the centre of these junctions is Paris. The main roads to Paris from all land frontiers between the Mediterranean Sea and the Scheldt run through these river valleys and join up with them concentrically in Paris. Hence the army which defends Paris can always be concentrated and moved from one threatened point to another in a shorter time than the attacking army, because of two concentric circles the inner one has the smaller circumference. Admirable utilisation of these advantages, tireless movement along the circumference of the inner circle, enabled Napoleon in his brilliant campaign of 1814 to hold the entire Coalition in check in the Seine region with a handful of soldiers for two whole months.
[The manuscript breaks off here]
Footnotes from MECW
391 At Jemappes (Belgium) on November 6, 1792, the French army under General Dumouriez won a major victory over the Austrian troops.
392 At Neerwinden (Belgium) on March 18, 1793, the French army under General Dumouriez suffered a defeat from troops commanded by the Austrian field marshal, Duke of Coburg.
393 At Fleurus (Belgium) on June 26, 1794, the French troops defeated the Austrian army under the Duke of Coburg. This victory enabled the French revolutionary army to enter and occupy Belgium.
394 The reference is to the Girondist Ministry formed after the popular insurrection of August 10, 1792, triumphed and the monarchy was overthrown; it remained in power until June 2, 1793, when the Jacobin dictatorship was established.
395 At Tourcoing (France) on May 18, 1794, French troops under General Moreau defeated those of the Duke of Coburg.
396 An allusion to the initial stage of the Italian campaign undertaken by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796-97. In April 1796 Bonaparte’s army began its offensive from Nice and moved through mountain passes into Northern Italy. Between April 12 and 15, by bold manoeuvring of large military contingents, Bonaparte succeeded first in defeating the isolated groups of Austrians and then (on April 22) in routing their allies, the Piedmontese. By threatening to march on Turin, Bonaparte forced the Kingdom of Sardinia to dissociate itself from the anti-French coalition (April 28).
398 Ninth Thermidor (July 27-28, 1794) — counter-revolutionary coup d’état that overthrew the Jacobin government and established the rule of the big bourgeoisie. Carnot took an active part in preparing this coup.
Eighteenth Fructidor (September 4, 1797) — coup d’état effected by the Directory, with the support of Napoleon Bonaparte, to thwart the restoration of the monarchy. Carnot, discredited by his association with royalist conspirators, fled from France.
Eighteenth Brumaire (November 9, 1799) — Napoleon Bonaparte’s coup d’état that led to his dictatorship (first he was proclaimed First Consul and then, in 1804-Emperor). Carnot approved of the coup d’état, though on several occasions he made timid attempts to oppose Napoleon.
399 The Seven Years’ War (1 756-63) — a European war, in which England and Prussia fought against the coalition of Austria, France. Russia, Saxony and Sweden. In 1756-57, the Prussian troops of Frederick If won a number of victories over the Austrian and French armies; however, the success of the Russian forces in Prussia (1757-60) put Frederick II in a critical position, bringing the results of his victories to nought. The war ended with France having to cede some of her colonies (including Canada and almost all of her possessions in East India) to Britain, while Prussia, Austria and Saxony had to recognise the pre-war frontiers.
400 The Rhenish Federation — a confederation of the states of Western and Southern Germany founded in 1806 under the protectorate of Napoleon. These states officially broke with the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation, which shortly ceased to exist. When Napoleon lost the military campaign of 1813 the confederation fell apart.
402 In April 1809 the battle between Napoleon’s army and Austrian troops raged for five days in the district of Regensburg in Bavaria. The engagements at Abensberg and Eggmühl were stages in this major battle, in which the Austrian army was defeated and had to retreat.
403 During the Russo-Turkish war (1787-91) Russian troops, under Alexander Suvorov, captured the fortress of Ochakov on December 17, 1788. The success of this operation was prepared by the utter defeat of the Turkish landing force at Kinburn on October 12, 1787. Suvorov himself took part in storming the fortress of Ismail, which was taken on December 22, 1790.
406 In Prussia, young educated people who could afford to buy uniform and weapons could be enlisted as volunteers and, after one year’s service, could claim promotion to the rank of an officer in the army reserve.