Ch 08 The English Revolution

Ch.08-The English Revolution

Hits: 1871

CHAPTER VIII: THE ENGLISH REVOLUTION

SECTION 4:THE LEVELLERS

(A ‘level’ playing field?)

FOLLOWING THE DEATH OF CHARLES, THE LEVELLERS HAD FORCED CHANGE. CROMWELL HAD BEEN COMPELLED TO GIVE THE LEFT AND THE PEOPLE CONCESSIONS THEY HAD NEVER PREVIOUSLY ENJOYED.

IN 1648, ‘THE AGREEMENT OF THE PEOPLE’, IN ITS FINAL FORM, IN EFFECT BECAME LAW. WHAT IS REMARKABLE IS THAT IT STOOD THE TEST OF TIME, RIGHT THROUGH TO THE CHARTISTS, TWO CENTURIES LATER, WHO MIRRORED ITS DEMANDS.

1)  ELECTIONS, EVERY TWO YEARS CHOSEN FREELY BY ALL MEN OVER 21, EXCEPT THOSE RECEIVING WAGES.


IMMEDIATELY, THE READER WILL UNDERSTAND THAT LILBURNE’S MOVEMENT WAS ONE FOR THE LOWER MIDDLE CLASSES AND SMALL INDEPENDENT MEN, NOT THE MASSES.

THE ‘AGREEMENT’ WAS IN FACT LESS UNDEMOCRATIC THAN IT SEEMED. THE WAGE EARNING CLASSES, HALF THE POPULATION, HAD NOT YET BEGUN TO BE A POLITICAL FORCE AND WERE STILL CONSIDERED SERVANTS BY THE RICH.

THEIR EXCLUSION WAS NECESSARY TO PREVENT EMPLOYERS FROM HAVING UNDUE INFLUENCE. (CHEATING IN ANY OTHER WORDS.)

THE LEVELLERS WERE CORRECT IN THIS ANALYSIS.

2) COMPLETE RELGIOUS TOLERATION AND DEMOCRATIC CONTROL OF THE ARMY. THE ABOLITION OF TITHES, AND ALL OTHER TAXES, EXCEPT A TAX ON PROPERTY.


THE ACCEPTANCE OF THIS ‘AGREEMENT’ WAS THE HIGH POINT OF THE REVOLUTION AND BECAME THE DEMANDS OF THE CHARTISTS IN THE 19th CENTURY. THEY LOOKED BACK ON THE PEASANT COMMUNISM OF THE MIDDLE AGES FOR INSPIRATION.


HOWEVER, THE LEVELLERS WAS A MOVEMENT OF A DOOMED CLASS. THE YEOMEN FARMERS WERE ALREADY BEING CRUSHED BETWEEN LARGE SCALE CAPITALIST FARMING AND THE WAGE EARNING MASSES. IT CARRIED FORWARD SOCIAL CHANGE BRIEFLY.

CROMWELL AND THE PARLIAMENTARY INDENPENDENTS INTENDED TO ALLOW THE ‘AGREEMENT’ TO REMAIN ON PAPER ONLY, AND A COUNCIL OF STATE WAS FORMED TO REPLACE THE MONARCH.

THE LEVELLERS WITHDREW IN DISGUST.

LILBURNE, OVERTON AND OTHERS WERE ARRESTED. RIOTS BROKE OUT. 10,000 SIGNATURES WERE COLLECTED. A PETITION WAS SUBMITTED DEMANDING THE RELEASE OF ALL. INCREDIBILY, A SECOND PETITION WAS SIGNED AND PRESENTED ENTIRELY BY WOMEN.

THE ARMY REACTED, AND MANY OF THE DISGRUNTLED WERE SENT TO IRELAND. OTHERS MUTINEED. ROBERT LOCKYER WAS COURT MARSHALLED AND SHOT. HIS FUNERAL WAS THE GREATEST DEMONSTRATION EVER SEEN. THE COFFIN WAS BEDECKED IN LEVELLERS’ COLOURS – SEA GREEN.


FROM THE TOWER, LILBURNE WROTE:

“THAT IT IS BOTH TREASON AND MURDER FOR ANY GENERAL OR COUNCIL OF WAR TO EXECUTE ANY SOLDIER IN TIME OF PEACE BY MARTIAL LAW.”


THERE WAS A LARGE SCALE MUTINY. FOUR REGIMENTS ROSE, REFUSED ORDERS AND MARCHED NORTH TO MEET WITH THE OXFORD RISING AT BURFORD.

CROMWELL SENT TROOPS IN PURSUIT. THEY COVERED 90 MILES IN TWO DAYS AND AMBUSHED THE MUTINEERS, WHILE ASLEEP, WHO SCATTERED OR SURRENDERED.


THE DESTRUCTION OF THE LEVELLERS REVEALED CROMWELL AS A PROTECTOR OF PROPERTY, A FRIEND OF ORDER AND A MAN WITH DOUBLE STANDARDS, WHO THEN JOINED THE PRESBYTERIANS, HIS PREVIOUS ENEMY, AND CELEBRATED WITH CITY MERCHANTS.

IN AUGUST, LILBURN WAS TRIED ON A CHARGE OF TREASON, BUT HE WAS A SUBERB AGITATOR AND ORATOR, WHO WAS ALSO COMPLETELY FEARLESS AND ASSURED OF JUSTICE. HE BROWBEAT THE JUDGES, AND THE JURY RETURNED A ‘NOT GUILTY’ VERDICT. IN 1652, HE WAS BANISHED BY ‘SPECIAL ACT’ BUT WAS FOR A SECOND TIME WAS AQUITTED AND RETURNED TO REJOICING CROWDS.

DISILLUSIONED, HE BECAME A PACIFIST QUAKER AND BELIEVED IN A NAÏVE UTOPIAN COMMUNISM.


OVERTON ALONE, ONE OF THE FIRST ENGLISH FREE THINKERS, CARRIED ON THE STRUGGLE TO THE END, BEING IMPRISONED IN 1659 AND AGAIN AFTER THE ‘REFORMATION’ OF THE MONARCHY IN 1663.


THE DIGGERS WERE A SMALL GROUP WHO PREACHED AND PRACTICED A PRIMITIVE COMMUNISM, BASED ON THE CLAIM THAT THE LAND BELONGED TO THE WHOLE PEOPLE OF ENGLAND.

THIS CLAIM WAS SUPPORTED BY AN INTERESTING HISTORICAL ARGUMENT THAT REFERRED TO WILLIAM THE CONQUEROR:

“TURNED THE ENGLISH OUT OF THEIR BIRTH RIGHTS; AND COMPELLED THEM FOR NECESSITY TO BE SERVANTS TO HIM AND HIS NORMAN SOLDIERS… THAT THE CIVIL WAR WAS A RECONQUEST OF ENGLAND BY THE ENGLISH PEOPLE.”

IN THE THEOLOGICAL LANGUAGE OF THE TIME, WINSTANLEY URGED THAT THIS POLITICAL RECONQUEST NEEDED A SOCIAL REVOLUTION TO COMPLETE IT; OTHERWISE, THE ESSENTIAL QUALITY OF THE MONARCHY REMAINED.


’THE LAW OF FREEDOM IN A PLATFORM’ STATES:


“FOR YOU MUST EITHER ESTABLISH COMMONWEALTH’S FREEDOM IN POWER MAKING PROVISION FOR EVERYONE’S PEACE, WHICH IS RIGHTEOUSNESS, OR ELSE FOR ONE KING TO REIGN OR FOR MANY TO REIGN BY KINGLY PROMOTION, AND IF EITHER ONE KING'S PRINCIPLES, MUCH MURMURING, GRUDGES, TROUBLE AND QUARRELS MAY AND WILL ARISE AMONG THE OPPRESSED PEOPLES ON EVERY GAINED OPPORTUNITY.”

CROMWELL'S ALLEGED COMMENT ON SUCH REASONING:

“WHAT IS THE PURPORT OF THE LEVELLING PRINCIPLE BUT TO MAKE THE TENANT AS LIBERAL IN FORTUNE AS THE LANDLORD. I WAS BY BIRTH A GENTLEMAN. YOU MUST CUT THESE PEOPLE TO PIECES, OR THEY WILL CUT YOU TO PIECES”

SO MUCH FOR CROMWELL’S FLIRTATION WITH THE LEFT.

THE DIGGERS TRIED TO SET UP COMMUNITIES IN 1649 BUT WERE EJECTED FROM COMMON LAND. THEY WERE THE BACKWARD TURNING FACE OF THE LEVELLERS MOVEMENT. THEIR PACIFISM WAS A CAUSE OF HESTITATION AND INACTIVITY IN A MOMENT OF CRISIS.

SUPPRESSION OF THE LEVELLERS LEFT CROMWELL WITH POWER OVER THE TWO OPPOSING PARTIES. IT WAS A VICTORY FOR THE CENTRE BUT COSTLY, AS IT WEAKENED THE MASSES WHO HAD BROUGHT IT ABOUT.

THERE WERE SOLID GAINS IN WAGES AND CONDITIONS. PRICES REMAINED STABLE DUE TO IMPROVED AGRICULTURAL TECHNIQUES.

SO FAR AS THE ARMY WAS CONCERNED, IT WAS DEALT A DEATH BLOW WHEN CROMWELL TOOK IT TO IRELAND, WHERE MANY MUTINEERS PERISHED OR SETTLED.


THE WAR IN IRELAND WAS EFFECTIVE FOR CROMWELL SINCE IT REMOVED ONE SET OF OPPONENTS AND GAVE HIM THE MEANS TO CONCILIATE THE OTHER, WHO PROFITED BY HUGE CONFISCATIONS OF LAND, WHICH FOLLOWED THE DEFEAT OF THE ROYALISTS IN IRELAND.

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