English Revolution

oliver cromwell

It is said that the people of Britain, unlike the fiery Spaniards, the revolutionary French and other more combustible nations, are not revolutionary by nature. They are moderate, pleasant people who are naturally inclined to achieve progress through small steps, reforms, and above all, compromise. Revolution is something that has never happened in that green and pleasant land, and could never happen because we are genetically disinclined to put up with it.

A very comforting myth – but a myth, nonetheless. What is forgotten is that modern British democracy was born out of a violent revolution that cut off the King’s head, and a bloody Civil War. Our historians do not like to talk about this because it contradicts everything we have been led to believe for decades, and indeed centuries. Now at last, they finally decided to talk about it because the present crisis in Britain has upset all the old comforting illusions.

We are witnessing one of the most turbulent periods in British history. And if we are to seek some point of reference in history for events that are unfolding before our eyes, it is impossible to ignore what occurred in this country in the stormy years of the 17th century. The rulers of Britain are following this process with growing alarm. They look to the future with dread. The fear of revolution still deprives them of their sleep. The ghosts of 1642-49 have never been completely exorcised.

A careful study of the English Revolution is obligatory for every class-conscious worker. As Leon Trotsky wrote in 1925: “The British bourgeoisie has erased the very memory of the 17th-century revolution by dissolving its past in ‘gradualness’. The advanced British workers will have to re-discover the English Revolution and find within its ecclesiastical shell the mighty struggle of social forces.” 

Charles I was determined to enforce his authority in matters of religion and state. His reforms to the church provoked horror and resentment from the people of England, and he exploited loopholes to raise cash through taxes, particularly the hated ship money. Terrible punishment was meted out against anyone who objected. But at the peak of his power, Charles was about to face a fall.

Tune in tomorrow for episode six of Alan Woods' video series on the English Revolution! With parliament suspended, Charles I was determined to enforce his authority in matters of religion and state. His reforms to the church provoked horror and resentment from the people of England, and he exploited loopholes to raise cash through taxes, particularly the hated ship money. Terrible punishment was meted out against anyone who objected. But at the peak of his power, Charles was about to face a fall.

I did not believe that it was possible for the low esteem in which I hold modern academics in general, and bourgeois historians in particular, to sink any lower than it already was. But that belief was misplaced. I have just had the misfortune to watch a three-part series put out by BBC Channel Four with the title: ‘Charles I, Downfall of a King’. I now hold the intellectual qualities of our modern historians at a slightly lower level than those of Mr Bean. At least Mr Bean can be mildly amusing at times, but our self-appointed intellectuals lack even that redeeming virtue.

To mark this year's Bonfire Night in Britain, Alan Woods discusses the historical background behind the infamous Gunpowder Plot of 1605, in which Guy Fawkes attempted to blow up the English Establishment and spark a Catholic insurrection against King James I and the protestant monarchy.

On 17 May 1649, three soldiers were executed on Oliver Cromwell’s orders in Burford churchyard, Oxfordshire, England. They were the leaders of 300 men who belonged to the movement known as the Levellers. They had decided to fight against Cromwell who they considered was betraying the ideals of what the “Civil War”, i.e. the English Revolution, had been about.

Today marks 350 years since the death of Oliver Cromwell, the outstanding leader of the English bourgeois revolution of the 1640s. Without him, with his steadfast courage and determination, the Revolution would have been betrayed by the big bourgeoisie who continually sought an accommodation with the Crown. It is no accident that Cromwell has been described as the Lenin of the English bourgeois revolution.

This year marks the 300th anniversary of The Act of Union between Scotland and England. This was accompanied by the merger of the parliaments into one Westminster Parliament. In January 1707, the Scottish parliament voted 110-67 to ratify The Treaty of Union, which became law four months later.