Evgeny Pashukanis

Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law


O revoliutsionnykh momentakh v istorii angliiskogo gosudarstva i angliiskogo prava, Revoliutsiia prava (1927), no.1, pp.200-34.
From Evgeny Pashukanis, Selected Writings on Marxism and Law (eds. p.Beirne & R. Sharlet), London & New York 1980, pp.132-64.
Translated by Peter B. Maggs.
Copyright © Peter B. Maggs. Published here by kind permission of the translator.
Downloaded from home.law.uiuc.edu/~pmaggs/pashukanis.htm
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

Introductory Note

By now the commodity exchange school had become the primary focus of legal scholarship within the USSR. The so-called commodity exchange jurists were represented in several of the important disciplines of law and were in various stages of applying and extending Pashukanis’ theory to their respective specialities. Pashukanis urged his colleagues to undertake research on legal history, that is, on the history of the legal form, and he stimulated studies on the French Revolution, on feudal law and on the history of political and legal thought.

The article Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law was perhaps Pashukanis’ most extensive inquiry into substantitive legal history. In this work his primary method is to analyse specific class struggles, and in so doing he rejects both crude historicism and also the tendency of bourgeois legal historians, such as Maitland, Kareev and Morley, to view essentially radical-democratic demands as utopian. It is quite clear that Pashukanis chose to concentrate his analysis on the Cromwellian period in English history because he regarded populist movements, such as the English Levellers and Diggers and the French Jacobins, as primitive precursors of Bolshevism. These movements were primitive because they articulated their demands chiefly in terms of bourgeois notions of distributive justice, yet they were also precursors of Bolshevism because they attacked existing property relations and recognized the necessity of forging political alliances with the urban workers and rank and file soldiers. In praising the informal nature of the Levellers’ demands, and the democratic nature of their organizations, Pashukanis is drawing an explicit parallel between the Levellers’ organization and the structure of the Soviets of Soldiers’ and Workers’ Deputies of 1917. The Levellers’ failure lay in the fact that they were betrayed by the upper strata of the peasantry, and that they were insufficiently prepared to resist the authoritarian opportunism of Cromwell and his generals. The reader is invited to draw the conclusion that Pashukanis viewed these latter as discrete references to certain tendencies within Bolshevism.


For the Marxist there can be no doubt that the real nature of organizations and legal institutions is most clearly revealed when an old social order is destroyed and replaced by a new one. Consequently, one of the tasks of the Section of Law of the Communist Academy is the study of the most important revolutionary eras. It is impossible, however, to say that this task is in any way enlightened by those special studies of the history of law which bourgeois science has until now provided.

In these works – unlike general historical literature – revolutionary periods occupy a relatively modest place. In all likelihood this is explicable because the elements of acute class struggle not only reveal the real social character of state law, but also reveal the complete unsuitability of the historico-dogmatic and the historico-revolutionary methods which are used almost exclusively by bourgeois legal science.

However that may be, one of the leading historians who dedicated his work to the legislation of the great French Revolution, was forced to remark, in relation to previous writings in this area, that for the majority of jurists the appearance of the new bourgeois legal order was described entirely by the history of the Napoleonic Code, i.e. they calmly bypassed the period when the bourgeois revolution was in fact destroying feudal relationships, and particularly ignored those years when the most revolutionary party of the petit bourgeoisie (the Jacobins) rigorously attempted to disencumber the nation of all feudal remnants. These historians of law are entirely uninterested in the legislative creation of Covenant, concentrating their attention exclusively on the Napoleonic Code which, as is well known, was in many respects a product of a regressive movement. [1]

If this is the situation with the great French Revolution, then even less happy in this respect is the English Revolution of the seventeenth century which executed Charles I. Bourgeois historians of law may also conveniently ignore this because it was not accompanied by the social destruction which took place in France half a century later. The contrast between the social nature of the French Revolution and the purely political nature of the English revolutionary movement of the seventeenth century became a general feature of bourgeois historiography. Here is how this point of view is formulated by one of the most important historians of the Puritan revolution, Gardiner:

Neither the taking of the Bastille nor the execution of Louis XVI, but the night of August 4, when feudal privileges were thrown to the winds, was the central fact of the French Revolution. It was of the essence of the movement that there should cease to be privileged orders. It was a secondary consequence that the King’s authority was restricted or his person misused. In the English Revolution, on the other hand, the essence of the movement was that the authority of the King should be restricted. The Kingship had done too much service in the recent past, and might do much service again, to be absolutely abolished, and there was no widespread desire for any social improvements. The abolition of the House of Lords and the sweeping away of Episcopacy were secondary consequences of the movement. [2]

Gardiner’s conclusions are repeated by the Russian researcher Savin:

The revolution could not make such a deep furrow in England as in France half a century later. It changed the state and the church more than the social organization of labour. “The old order”, which extended even to the other side of the revolutionary boundary, did not disappear but merely suffered changes in appearance. [3]

The conclusion, therefore, is that the Puritan revolution of the seventeenth century must be considered exclusively from the point of view of subsequent English political development. However, if we follow this advice, then in this case the special literature devoted, for instance, to the history of English state institutions and the English Constitution, would be of little use to us.

For the majority of legal historians, the English Revolution, having overthrown Charles Stuart, was a fruitless event even at the political level. In their presentation this was not even a revolution, but a “great rebellion”, which did not have any “legal consequences”. It is not by accident that the statutes of the Long Parliament beginning from the moment of the Civil War, and all Acts of the era of the Republic and the Protectorate are excluded from the official collection of Parliamentary Acts because they are seen as void. To what limits the haughty contempt of the jurists may extend towards such a fact as the temporary overthrow of the monarchy in England, is exemplified by one of the most recent textbooks on constitutional history, belonging to the pen of one of the most outstanding specialists in this area, Maitland. The author does not for a moment allow any doubt of the fact that “when Charles I was murdered, he was immediately succeeded by his son Charles II”. “I put the matter in this way”, explains our historian, “because even now it is the legal view of the matter, and we must not allow our sympathies or antipathies to interfere with our statement of the law.” [4]

Thus now in the twentieth century Maitland fully shares the doctrine of the Restoration according to which the reign of Charles II began, not in 1660 (when he returned to England), but 11 years earlier. The Civil War, the Republic and the Protectorate are simply deleted from English constitutional history

The matter however is not limited by this denial of formal “recognition” of the English Revolution. Often it is essentially evaluated by bourgeois historians as an event which has little effect on the subsequent history of the state institutions of England. “The period of the Republic”, we read in Gneist, “took place entirely removed from the internal life of the state or society. One cannot show even one institution, community office or leading place in local self government, which derived its origin from the era of the republic. “ [5]

In his own way, Gneist, of course, is right. But at the same time this citation is a model of the superficial conclusions which legal historians often flaunt. The significance of the most important social events, such as revolutions, is not restricted to the form of new institutions and new offices. We know now that even reforms of old institutions are often only collateral products of revolutions. Revolutions are junction points in social development which are determined centuries earlier. Revolutions are, in Marx’s well-known expression, the driving forces of history, and their momentum is more significant the deeper the popular masses participate in them. Bourgeois thought typically holds the opposite point of view. The more a given movement embraces all social strata, the greater the striving of bourgeois ideologists to depict it as a blind and worthless rebellion which destroys but creates nothing; the more intensely they strive to isolate the period and depict it as a period of “Irrationality”, which is organically unconnected with subsequent development.

When history moves with the speed of a cart-this is itself rationality and itself regularity. When the popular masses themselves, with all their virgin primitiveness, their simple crude decisiveness, begin to make history, to bring to life directly and immediately “principles and theories”, then the bourgeoisie feels fear. and cries out that “rationality is receding to the background”. (Lenin, VII, p.130)

This approach pursues a clearly defined goal, namely, to kill every revolutionary tradition in embryo, to erase from the consciousness of the popular masses every recollection of the period when new forms of social relationship and new forms of authority were created under the direct pressure of these masses themselves.

As applied to the first English Revolution, this method found its classical expression in the contrast between the “Great Rebellion” of the 1740s and the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, in Morley’s interpretation a true revolution which finally confirmed the oligarchy of Lords and Commons in the place of the Stuart monarchy. The Bill of Rights of 1689 and the Act of Settlement of 1701 consolidated the position towards which the Long Parliament strived when it began its struggle with Charles I. Thus, the years of the greatest ascent of revolution somehow fall by themselves from the viewpoint of the bourgeois historians of English law and the English Constitution. These events are presented as some annoying violation of a consistent and uninterrupted line of development. However, it is obvious that it was precisely in these years, most clearly, widely and sharply, that the basic question of the liquidation of the remnants of feudalism and of the transition to bourgeois social relationships was defined as the question of property and the question of authority. From this point of view the meanderings of Parliament’s struggle with royal authority must, of course, yield to the explanation of the process by which the order was destroyed and of those class forces which could most radically effect this task. The central significance here is taken, on the one hand, by the agrarian question and the general role of the peasantry and, on the other, by the attempts contemplated in the revolutionary movement of the 1640s to create bodies of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship.


The first English Revolution was not, of course, a purely political movement. As early as 1848 Marx had written, comparing the English and French revolutions:

... the victory of the bourgeoisie was at that time the victory of a new social order, the victory of bourgeois property over feudal property, of nationality over provincialism, of competition over the guild, of the partition of estates over primogeniture, of the owner’s mastery of the land over the land’s mastery of its owner, of enlightenment over superstition, of the family over the family name, of industry over heroic laziness, of civil law over privileges of medieval origin. [6]

However, it is certainly true that feudal relations were not delivered one concentrated blow. Feudalism [in England – eds.] was destroyed but disappeared only gradually. This process extended over many centuries during which certain aspects of the feudal order displayed surprising adaptability and vitality. It is not instructive, even in a brief outline, to follow the basic stages of this process so as to be convinced once more that the path of slow progress and gradual reforms, called forth by the inexorable march of economic development, is expensive for the popular masses.

For example, beginning with the fourteenth century in England, there was the process of the dissolution of the feudal corvée economy, the change from the corvée into a money grant (commutation), and the gradual elimination of the serfs personal dependence. It is characteristic that the withering away of serf relations, in practice facilitating economic development, was not accompanied by corresponding legal changes. The old feudal law did not die out entirely, but was only subdued, and moreover any trauma could once again resurrect it. This is indeed what happened after the Black Death (in the middle of the fourteenth century), when high wages and the acute shortage of labour forced the lords to revive their feudal rights and to make an attempt to return again to the corvée. This feudal reaction was all the more burdensome for the peasantry because it happened under conditions of a developing monetary economy, and was the main cause of the uprising of the English peasants in 1381 (the Watt Tyler Rebellion). Although this rebellion was suppressed and all promises and liberties given earlier were retracted it was, nevertheless, a good lesson for the feudal lords, and served as an extra lever towards the elimination of the crudest forms of personal dependence and forced labour. Moreover, the usual affirmation that serfdom in England had disappeared by the end of the fourteenth century, suffers, as most recent researchers have shown, from a certain inaccuracy. Personal serfdom ceased to be a widespread phenomenon, but serfs (villeins or bondsmen) were identified in historical sources even at the end of the sixteenth century. Savin, in his study The English Village in the Age of the Tudors, adduces a series of examples of how the lords at this time tried to exercise their right to the personality and property of the villeins, even when these villeins were persons of some substance and had a public position (for instance the owner of 60 estates or the mayor of the city of Bristol). In this regard the researcher correctly notes: “it is important that even persons with [such] social positions could be subject to such a danger. In this, but only in this, lies the exceptional nature of these cases. In the fifteenth and sixteenth century persons less rich and influential were often sought out as villeins ...” “The status of villeins in the fifteenth and sixteenth century”, we read further, “was far from always a harmless fiction and a half-forgotten survival.” [7]

There were characteristic ways by which the legal abolition of personal serf dependency was effected in England. The general and basic cause of this phenomenon – the development of a money economy and bourgeois-capitalist relations – acted with elementary force in the most varied directions. However, the political and legal formulation of the new economic relations could come about from various directions which, from the point of view of the classes participating in them, were far from being of equal value. One method was the revolutionary elimination, at one blow, of all former relations of dependence; this was the method attempted by the English peasantry in the civil war of 1381. For the popular masses this was the fastest and least painful method for arriving at the new, i.e. bourgeois, order of social relationships. For the class of feudal lords, this meant the full and immediate loss of all their positions and privileges. The other method, of gradually eliminating serfdom, is a long and most painful way for the popular masses but, however, ensures the representatives of feudal land ownership the possibility of adaptation, of “growth” into capitalism with the preservation of a significant measure of their feudal privileges.

While the first method is unthinkable without a political revolution, without the elimination of the old political superstructure, the second presupposes its preservation; in this case we have a series of legal changes, a series of accumulated precedents, a series of reforms conducted by the forces and methods of the same old political superstructure. Concrete examples from this area are extremely rare.

Thus, one of the most important sources of the private legal capacity of the villein was transactions, primarily credit transactions.

The stability of exchange required the recognition of the villein as an independent subject of rights and duties, not for his own sake, but to ensure the interests of third parties. If the villein has a debtor and the lord enjoys by his rights the written obligation, then the lord may exact money under this obligation only in the name of the villein; if the villein gives up his right to the debt, the lord is bound by this refusal. In exactly the same way, the villein even had the right of suit against the lord if he was executor of a will, and the lord a debtor of the testator, for here the villein appeared with a suit on behalf of the third party. [8]


The peasant uprising of 1381 did not have a clear political programme although its social class nature came out unusually clearly. The English peasants at the end of the fourteenth century acted in the same way as their French brethren in 1789. They energetically burned local archives, all the protocols of manorial courts, the customaries and rentals of civil and spiritual lords, and also various other documents defining the rights of lords to their labour and the products of their labour. [9] The movement, as is well known, embraced not only the countryside but also the urban poor. Of 289 executed leaders of the revolt, 151 were residents of London. Thus, in terms of its class composition, this movement presented the same picture of the combination of a peasant revolution with an uprising of the urban petit bourgeoisie, semi-proletarian and proletarian elements which we observed at the time of the peasant war in Germany, and at the time of the great French Revolution. Before us are indeed those forces which would be capable of dealing with the feudal order in a plebeian way. However, the movement did not embrace a political programme. The revolting mass was promonarchical, was convinced that in dealing with its hated servants and judges, it was punishing “traitors to the king”. Therefore despite the military successes the whole movement fell victim to the most dastardly deception on the part of royal authority.

The peasant uprisings of the sixteenth century in Devonshire and Norfolk (the Robert Keat uprising) bore the same social character. They were permeated with the same implacable hatred toward the landowners. [10] But also here we mainly meet complaints against individual abuses of feudal rights, against increases of rent, the taking of common lands (fencing), the expulsion of peasants from their strips. A struggle against personal serf dependency did not yet play a primary role although the demands presented by Robert Keat in 1549 included a point on the freeing of bondmen (serfs). In general, and as a whole, these uprisings did not offer a clear and broad political programme.

Between the peasant war of 1381 and the revolution of the seventeenth century more than two-and-a-half centuries passed. During this time many changes took place in the socio-economic structure of England, changes which could not fail to influence the position of the social classes, the nature of their demands, the nature of their struggle. During this time we see the final decline of a manorial economy and the development of private farming. Within the peasantry the process of stratification advances and it separates, on one level, the rich farming stratum and, on another, the smallholders and landless peasants, the semi-landless farm labourers and the landless farm labourers; the system of cultivating common land with unfenced fields and compulsory sowing falls into disuse; the common lands were seized and enclosed by the estate owners; later the rich elements of the peasantry began to take part in this division of common land. An increase in manufacturing occurs in the cities; new industrial centres arise; maritime exchange develops; monopolistic trading companies are formed. On the basis of the development of mercantile capital the centralized bureaucratic apparatus of the absolute monarchy was founded.

In the sixteenth century the Reformation dealt a serious blow to the greatest ideological force of feudal society – the Catholic Church. If for England the Reformation signified primarily the strengthening of absolute royal power which now received for its disposition the apparatus of the Church and the property of the monasteries, then later the ideological weapon which the Reformation gave was used by all social classes and strata ushered in by the new methods of production. Contemporaneously with theology, and forcing it into the background, there began to develop a rationalist natural law ideology – this is the most typical ideology of bourgeois society in the era of its conception. Those prominent in the first English Revolution had already mastered its syllogisms and put them to play in their political arguments. A study of the first draft of the Popular Agreement and Basic Propositions in the camp of Cromwell’s Army in Putney (October 1647) shows us how convenient, for the political activists of that time, were the ideas whose systematic statement we find in the works of Grotius and Hobbes.

Generally, the dissolution of the bases of the feudal order in these two and a half centuries was a great step forward; the contours of the new social relationships appeared much more clearly, and the anti-feudal ideology assumed mature forms. Therefore, in the seventeenth century at the extreme left wing of the revolutionary movement we now find a party (the Levellers) which developed a broad and consistent programme of a bourgeois-democratic nature; the elimination of royal authority and the Upper House, the universal right to vote, the separation of church from state (the abolition of the tithe), the elimination of estate-corporate privileges, freedom of trade, direct income tax, the cessation of the plunder of common lands, and the abolition of all remnants of serfdom in land relations including even copyhold. [11]

It is particularly important to note the demands of the Levellers concerning the radical restructuring both of judicial establishments and of court procedure. The age of mercantile capital, and the absolutism corresponding to it at the political level, was distinguished in the judicial area by the rule of casuistry, procrastination, bribe-taking and arbitrariness. Mercantile capital, developing on the basis of shackling forms of exploitation, is not only congenial to serf and police arbitrariness but is directly involved in it, for it facilitates the exploitation of the small commodity producers. The major monopolistic trading companies are much more interested in having good ties with the throne than in a fast, impartial and scrupulous court, the more so since in their internal affairs they enjoy broad, and even judicial, autonomy. On the contrary, the Levellers-by virtue of the fact that they acted as champions of the most general conditions of development of bourgeois-capitalist relations-had to turn their attention again to judicial reform. John Lilburne in his work, The Fundamental Laws and Liberties, incidentally formulates two classical principles of the bourgeois doctrine of criminal law: no one may be convicted other than on the basis of a law existing at the moment of commission of the act, and the punishment must correspond to the crime according to the principle an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Lilburne himself was of course the first man in England to succeed in being served with an indictment. [12]

The Levellers found their support among the peasants, small rentiers, craftsmen and workers. It is enough to recall the influence which they enjoyed in the London suburbs, in particular in Southwark, which was populated by weavers. However, their main support was the army. Here we encounter a fact imposing a characteristic imprint on the whole course of the first English Revolution: it was not accompanied by any significant agrarian movement. Proceeding from the Levellers, the attempt to transform the political structure of England of that day into a consistent bourgeois democratic condition was never supported by a massive peasant uprising.

For this of course there were fully sufficient reasons. In the first place, by that time serf dependence no longer existed in England. Almost everywhere the corvée had been replaced by money rent. The cause of the greatest discontent had therefore been eliminated. In the second place, the class divisions of the English peasantry, about which we spoke above, had gone rather far by the time of the Great Revolution. A rich upper stratum, separated from the general mass, tried to improve its farming at the expense of the less wealthy strata. Winstanley, the leader and ideologist of the “Diggers”, who attempted to realize something like agrarian communism, thus draws this contradiction between the rich freeholders and the poor: “they (the freeholders) exhaust the common pastures, put an excessive number of sheep and draft animals on them, and as a result the small renter and peasant farmer hardly manage to feed their cows on the grazing ground.” The rich upper strata of the country took an active part in the destruction of the old common system, in particular the enclosure of the common lands. In this instance, it united with the landowners against the rural poor. Here we see, mutatis mutandis, the same alignment of class forces which Stolypin tried to realize among us with the help of his agrarian legislation. It is clear that this destroyed the political power of the peasant movement against the landowners. [13]

It seems to us undoubtedly true that this conjecture predetermined the failure of every radical-democratic movement. In fact, to realize any consistent democratic forms, while leaving the land intact in the ownership of landed estates, was clearly an insoluble task. Similar examples are furnished by the abolition of the tithe, without compromising the rights of the landlord to receive rent, and by the democratization of the court and simplification of laws if these confused feudal laws and judicial delays served as the best means of struggle for the landlords and the best means of profit for the semi-feudal estate of lawyers. But the Short or Barebones Parliament lost out precisely because of these contradictions. In order to be finished with all the remnants of feudalism, it was necessary to be finished with the class which embodied these remnants in itself And only a victorious peasant revolution would have been capable of this. For the bourgeois historians of the English Revolution, who did not stand above the class point of view, such a conclusion was of course entirely unacceptable and unthinkable.

They preferred to consider this aspect of the English Revolution, i.e. the relative passivity of the peasantry, entirely in another context. The characteristic example in this respect is our eminent historian Kareev. In his recently published monograph Two English Revolutions of the Seventeenth Century [14], he touches upon this question with just one swift phrase and, moreover, at the very place where he also speaks with respect of the “restraining principles” which were in effect in the Civil War between the Cavaliers and Roundheads. Having explained that such a basis for the Royalists was a feeling “of honour”, and for the Puritans, “conscience”, our historian immediately adds: “It is interesting that the popular masses themselves were hardly affected by this struggle between the ruling classes and that indeed in this era in England there were no popular uprisings with slaughter, with blood.” Thus, the participation of the popular masses in the revolution is evaluated not from the point of view of the socio-political scope of the latter but from the point of view of slaughter and blood-letting. But from such a point of view – and it typifies, I repeat, the majority of bourgeois historians – it becomes very difficult to explain the failure of the Levellers’ movement. On the one hand, it must be proven that the demands of the Levellers in their radical democratic programme were far from reality and appeared utopian. Gardiner, for example, speaking about the petition presented by the Levellers to the Long Parliament in March 1647, and which contained the routine bourgeois democratic demands, states that “this was a programme more for three centuries than for just one parliament”. [15] Even with respect to Ireton’s Heads of the Proposals, which do not suffer from radicalism, retaining the royal authority, the Upper House, the Episcopalian Church etc., Gardiner notes: “It contained too much that was new, to much in advance of the general intelligence of the times, to obtain that popular support without which the best constitutions are but castles in the air.” [16]

Thus, the radical-democratic demands put forth at the time of the great English Revolution are depicted by bourgeois historians as utopian. Morley indeed writes, with respect to the first draft of the Agreement of the People, that this was the “beatific” dream of mankind tortured and subjugated by labour, a dream which “was and will be the same at all times and among all peoples”. [17] But if the demands of the Levellers are a fantasy, a dream and a utopia, then how can we reconcile this with the fact that the principles of the Levellers were soon to be the basis of the socio-political stucture of the American states? It signifies that for its historical period the programme of a radical break with all the remnants of feudalism was by no means utopian. This obvious inconsistency requires a special explanation. However, in the majority of cases it is just this explanation that we do not find. On the contrary, the absence in North America of semi-feudal institutions is reported as a fact in itself Thus, Walsh, who was cited by us describing the history of the development of copyhold from the villein’s holdings, ends his statement with one short phrase: “Copyhold, for obvious reasons, never existed in the United States.” [18] Most clearly, all this helpless historical analysis flows from the absence of the class position and may be found in the same Kareev in his earlier work, The History of Western Europe in the Modern Period. Speaking of the fate of the first English Revolution, he states three consecutive facts: “(1) the weakness of the communist and anarchist movement in England in the 1640s [by “communist and anarchist movement” Kareev means peasant uprisings in the spirit of the German peasant war]; (2) the more serious character of the purely political movement of the Levellers, which, however, suffered failure; and (3) the fact that the democratic principle of the Levellers lay at the basis of the political life of the future United States.” [19] Kareev establishes no connection between these three facts, and obviously sees none. However, it strikes one in the eye. The democratic movement of the Levellers; could be victorious only in connection with a peasant war, i.e. with the same “communist and anarchist” movements whose weakness in England was the basic cause of the preservation of all possible feudal remnants. The socio-political ideals of the Levellers by no means were a utopia from the point of view, say, of comparing them with the level of development of productive forces at that time; but they could only serve as the basis of a state and social order beyond the ocean where there was no basic impediment, where there was no class in whose interest it was to preserve as many feudal privileges as possible. We find this latter conclusion, admittedly in a somewhat unusual form, in Savin. Dealing with the question of why “the successes of democratization in the English-speaking world are much clearer in New South Wales than in the Hampshire countryside or even on the streets of Manchester”, he finds the main explanation in the power of accumulated traditions, inherited relationships and old institutions, which would have to be overcome in the metropolis and which did not exist in the colonies. “In the old society it was necessary to eliminate something pleasant and profitable for a certain social group to be innovative.” [20] In other words, outdated institutions, legal institutions and whole classes do not leave the historical scene, but defend the “pleasant and profitable” upon which the course of social development infringes, and defend it by all possible means. Therefore, the task of truly materialist Marxist research must be to explain by which classes and by which methods the struggle was conducted. Mere references to the inevitable course of historical development are entirely insufficient.

In this instance to eliminate the old “pleasant and profitable” meant to destroy the estate landholding. But the landed class was sufficiently strong, and the peasant movement too weak, and as a result the development of capitalist relations and landholding went along the path which Lenin (speaking of the Stolypin agrarian policy) defined as “the rewarding of the plunder of the common lands by the rich peasants”, as “the destruction of old land relations for the benefit of a handful of rich landlords, at the price of the swift destruction of the mass”, and as “a landlord’s purge of the land for capitalism”. Politically this signified the retardation of bourgeois democracy in England for whole centuries, the rule of parliamentary oligarchy during the whole of the eighteenth and the first third of the nineteenth centuries, and the preservation of such institutions as the monarchy, the Episcopalian Church and the House of Lords.

Thus, the contrast between the Levellers and those movements which sought social revolution and attacked the existing property relations was, so to speak, confirmed. But this was only the case if we are to be satisfied by the consideration of ideological formulae and not the objective meaning of the given revolutionary movement. The ideology of the Levellers was typical bourgeois ideology; and the overwhelming majority of the Levellers acted as defenders of the principle of private property and this by no means contradicts the fact that the victory of the Levellers’ movement should have objectively led to the most decisive infringement on the right of feudal property. Moreover, this success and this victory could not have found its expression other than in the elimination of feudal ownership. Therefore, when the opponents of the Levellers accused them of attacking property, and of favouring communism, this was not merely slander. It was a statement of uncontested fact that for the privileged feudal owners the radical democratic transformation for which the Levellers strove would have presented a most real threat. The affirmations of the leaders of the Levellers, concerning their adherence to the principle of private property, were a very weak consolation. And, on the contrary, the preaching of the communality of ownership and the clouded communist ideology of the extreme left leaders of the German peasant war, was in fact less of a threat to embryonic capitalist social relationships, but was instead the banner of the implacable, most consistent opponents of feudal ownership and all serf and semi-serf relationships. It is here that it seems possible for us to find a series of elements which bring the two movements closer together even though they are so different in their ideological bases.

Let us return now to the Levellers of the 1640s. Their radical-democratic programme threatened, as it were, the most privileged types of property against which the German peasants went to war in 1522-1525, i.e. feudal landholding, privileged city corporations, trade monopolies. From an abstract ideological point of view, they expressed their thought in natural law and refused to stand on the terrain of historical law which, in their opinion, was forced upon the English people by the Norman conquerors. Incidentally, in this they were like the “communist” Diggers who also demanded the elimination of the “repulsive institutions introduced by William the Conqueror”. [21] Ireton, defending the moderate programme of the Independents, tried to show that the Levellers, in denying historical rights and such institutions as the monarchy and the House of Lords, and in demanding the universal right to vote, inevitably reach the elimination of property. “If we eliminate this basic part of the civil constitution (Ireton has in mind the system of representation at that time), we come directly to the point of eliminating all property and all rights which man may have whether this is the right to inherit land or the right to possession or any other right.” [22] Ireton is undoubtedly right to the extent that he refers to property which rests on feudal titles, corporate privileges and monopoly rights. But his opponents have in view something entirely different, namely pure bourgeois freedom and primarily petty ownership which, in their opinion, derives from “natural law” and requires no other basis than the divine commandment “thou shalt not steal”. Therefore Rainborough, one of the left wing, and an ardent champion of universal suffrage, affirms that he by no means wants anarchy and that he recognizes the right of ownership which “God established by law: thou shalt not steal”. At the time, therefore, when Ireton sanctimoniously declares that if God eliminates the king, the lords and ownership, then he, Ireton, will be reconciled to this, the Leveller Petty assuages him: “I hope that we see the authority of the king and lords overthrown and ownership protected.” [23] With respect to universal suffrage, it, in the opinion of the same speaker, is not at all a means of eliminating ownership: “I believe, on the contrary, that it is the sole means of guaranteeing all ownership.” [24] It is clear that in speaking of ownership the disputants do not have the same thing in mind.

The Levellers undoubtedly were a purely bourgeois party and to the extent that commodity-money and bourgeois-capitalist relationships, at that time (i.e. in the 1640s) extended rather deeply into the English countryside, to such an extent demands could not enter into their programme for a general division of land, “an agrarian law” etc. [25] But this did not mean that in practice in the case of victory for Levellers the relationships of land ownership would have remained the same. The makers of the great French Revolution were no less attached to the principle of private property. However, this did not prevent them from at first confiscating church property, then the royal lands and, finally, the lands of emigre noblemen. In England the secularization of monastic holdings happened long before the revolution, in the reign of Henry VIII. These lands were sold cheaply by the Crown and simply plundered by influential people [26]; moreover, this mobilization of land ownership was accompanied, as a rule, by a worsening in the position of the peasants living off the land. All this confiscation of monastic holdings was in general, and as a whole, a step on the road to victory of bourgeois relationships over feudal ones. However, in this case it was at the expense of the destruction of one of the pillars of feudal society while the position of another part of it was strengthened. The landlords, rounding out their holdings by robbing the monasteries, simultaneously retained their feudal privileges with respect to the peasants. As was shown above, they used their feudal privileges to direct the further progress of the development of capitalist relations in the country for the maximum profit for themselves and for the maximum loss for the basic mass of peasantry.

Further, the enclosure and general destruction of the old common land system was also a violent revolutionary measure. This was also the overthrow, or rather a series of overthrows, with respect to property. Characteristically, and Savin notes this in his research, the pamphlets, i.e. the fighting political literature of the time, are directed exclusively against major enclosures connected with the concentration of holdings and the appropriation of land from the peasants. The struggle of the small peasant to free himself from the constraints of common land is the subject of almost no discussion. On the contrary, in one pamphlet, which contains the fiercest accusations against major enclosures, the just division of common lands is even welcomed. [27] Elimination of the system of open fields and compulsory sowing was a necessary condition of agricultural progress. However, this progress could have been seen entirely differently from a class position. Political, i.e. class, struggle was by no means unilinear progress and regression, but also stasis: either theft of common land by estate owners and the rich upper strata of the peasantry, or “just” division of this land. It is clear that a solution to the question of the latter case would be possible only in the case of a victorious peasant revolution, i.e. if all estate land went together in the division or, at least, a significant part of it. If the peasantry, particularly its poorest stratum, continued to hold to the common land, this is because they saw in it some guarantee against rent increases and payments for access, from which the isolated smallholder was even less protected than the large commune. The dissolution of the common land under conditions when major estate landholdings remained intact, and when a significant element of feudal privileges were retained, would have meant for the majority of peasants, and in particular for the poorest stratum, the gloomiest condition. It is not surprising that they, with all their powers, opposed the destruction of the common land, bringing upon themselves the wrath of the advanced agronomists who were convinced of the advantages of an economy of farmers. Savin adduces a number of curious citations from this type of author. One of them, Tusser, having drawn a picture of chaos in the system of common land, disclaims irritably against the poor peasants who particularly clung to it: “The poor peasants do not want to hear about enclosures for they are convinced that in the divisions they would be directly hurt. As if it is impossible to make a just division!” [28] Tusser here did what is called taking the bull by the horns. “A just division of lands”-if this is translated into political language it is a peasant revolution and the elimination of the state landholdings-means an entirely different type of development of capitalist relationships, a type which Lenin called the American way. [29]

The destruction of the relations of land ownership, which began in the form of the enclosure and the confiscation of monastic holdings, continued during the first revolution. The Long Parliament abolished the Episcopate and instituted a committee for conducting the sale of confiscated church lands. The officers and soldiers of the revolutionary army were later given the right to obtain land parcels from this fund, in exchange for their unpaid salary and at half price. The Civil War between Parliament and the Crown thus had as a result the mass transfer of property (which was partly annulled upon the Restoration). Not less than half of all the movable property and half of the lands, rents and incomes of the noblemen who fought on the side of the Crown fell under sequestration. In order to raise the sequestration it was necessary to pay a composition in the amount of approximately one-fifth of the total value. Such an operation was conducted in 1644 on not less than 3,000 “gentlemen”. The direct profit from this measure was received by the Presbyterian party which then held sway in Parliament, a party whose members became rich buying land cheaply, squeezing out the Royalists who had fallen under sequestration, with money at usurious interest, and finally, releasing sequestration for a bribe. The corruption which developed gave one of the major trump cards to the Independents and their struggle against the parliamentary majority. In the interest of justice it should be noted that after this, when Cromwell’s army triumphed over Parliament, the Independent majority of the “Rump” began to engage in the same dirty business.

However, there was here an instance of partial appropriation of agrarian property and partial destruction of the feudal estate landholding which was an accidental result of political struggle. To the extent that authority nevertheless remained in the hands of the privileged, propertied classes, in the hands of gentlemen, to this extent this redistribution served as a natural weapon for the cliques. The victory of radical-democratic elements, i.e. of the Levellers, undoubtedly would have given this process of the destruction of estate property a more fundamental character. This alone would have already followed from the intensification of the political struggle. The victory of the Levellers would have meant that the Presbyterians and gentlemen of the Independent camp would have shared the fate of the Royalists. On the other hand, the victory of the democratic elements would have forcibly placed upon the agenda the demand which was raised with respect to the common lands, and then in the course of revolution with respect to the confiscated church lands, namely the demand for a “Just division”. The purely political programme of the Levellers, in the event of their success, undoubtedly would have revealed the social content hidden in it. For them, in the area of agricultural relationships, there could have been only a greater or less total authority of free petty land ownership.


In his lectures on the history of the English revolution, Savin notes an insufficiency in the study of the socio-economic basis of the movement. The clash of religious and political doctrines, a study of political parties, the external events of the Civil War, all this occupies first place in the works of historians of this period.

In the historiography of the English Revolution [he complains] there is still an aristocratic and spiritual overlay. The farm labourer, apprentice, tramp, even the yeoman and master still rarely appear on the pages of general or specialized works. Insufficient attention is still given to the common field and the enclosed farm which violated the unity of the common system, to the roadside tavern, where suspicious people gathered at dusk, to the humble home of the urban craftsman and the still more humble structures for students, the shop of the buyer giving out work to these artisans, the simple shed of the young manufacturer, to the London docks which attracted everything else that was made in the troubled land. [30]

But even within the limits of purely political struggle, the attention of the majority of historians has least of all been concentrated on those facts which from the revolutionary position present the greatest interest. We have in mind the activity of the popular masses, the creation by them of their own organizations which were the agencies of revolutionary struggle and, accordingly, which formed agencies of revolutionary authority. These facts, as Lenin pointed out, characterized in the first place specific methods of historical creativity which were natural to revolutionary ages. Moreover, the success of a revolution, as Lenin had repeatedly pointed out in analysing the lessons of 1905, was more closely connected with the transformation of these initially separated, accidental and therefore powerless organizations into coherent, planned and rigorous agencies of revolution. For us, the English Revolution provides a unique and particularly interesting example, in this respect, in the Soldiers’ Councils which arose in Cromwell’s army in the spring of 1647.

Not having in mind the repetition of what has already been said in the above-named works, I will I linger only on those aspects of the soldiers’ movements of 1647-1649 which have not received special clarification in our literature. They are nevertheless striking, particularly if one compares them with the experience of our revolution. It is possible to affirm with full certitude that the practical experience of our three revolutions gives entirely new insights into such facts as seemed to have long been studied and even to have been put into a system. Take the dispute with the Mensheviks – still linked with the period of the first revolution – on the nature of the soviets: [were they] organizations of revolutionary self-government or organizations of revolutionary authority? Does not this argument, in which the Bolsheviks were victorious both in theory and in practice, cast new light on the organization which was created in April 1647 in Fairfax’s army, and is it not possible to expect that in. 1898 Bernstein, when he had already matured as a future herald of opportunism, arrived at this perspective on the advice of English socialism? He, of course, calls them only “a profoundly democratic institution”. [31] About the fact that in all its characteristics this organization should be considered as an embryonic stage of revolutionary dictatorship, there is of course no mention by Bernstein. He, of course, gives their due to the Levellers who, in the understanding of the necessary political measures, often went further than Cromwell; he is ready to agree “that the Levellers were the first among the people and the simple soldier agitators in the army to understand the necessity of energetic opposition for the counter-revolutionary elements of Parliament.” [32] But he has not made the effort to select the facts in a careful way, and there are no small number of them, showing that the advanced elements of soldiers not only understood the necessity of such measures but also carried them through against the resistance and wavering of the officer corps, enforced them by way of the creation of improvised agencies, assumed the functions of authority and openly destroyed the old legality. The totality of these facts also forces us to come to the conclusion that before us is an embryonic government of a revolutionary dictatorship. It is characterized by the fact that it is created exclusively by revolutionary strata of the population outside any laws and norms whatsoever, purely by order of proclamation, taking on the functions of authority, applying coercion with respect to the representatives of the old state apparatus. However, these facts somehow slip from the attention of Bernstein, and when he meets them he does it purely randomly without generalization or conclusions. These facts hold certainly no less, if not more, historical significance than the attempts to formulate democratic demands which we find in the Agreement of the People and other declarative calls and pamphlets of the Levellers. That another point of view was entirely unachievable for Bernstein derives from his general conception of the English Revolution, which did not proceed very far from the views of liberal historians. Evaluating the struggle of the Levellers with Cromwell, Bernstein comes to the following conclusion, pessimistic for left movements: “As long as the revolution struggled with outmoded forces, the Levellers with luck could show it the path and more than once did this. But at the moment when the outmoded forces were beaten and the newly born ones began to reconstruct life, the Levellers had to recede to the background. The time for those classes which they represented had still to come.” [33] Moreover, and we can say this now emphatically, one need not of course expect, from the Menshevik conception of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, that our historian would have shown any interest with respect to the weak embryonic stages of revolutionary-democratic dictatorship noted in that far-off age when, for him, the very thought of such a dictatorship had to appear to be an unthinkable heresy against Marxism.

Thus, neither Cromwell nor other Independent generals thought of open struggle with Parliament at the time when the latter prepared to render the decisive blow against the left elements by disbanding the army. On the contrary there are indications that Cromwell at that period (Spring 1647) even meant to leave England entirely and travel to the Continent in order to participate in a struggle for the Protestant cause. Until the last moment Cromwell remained a loyal member of Parliament. He left London only on June 3rd when he realized that he was threatened with the danger of arrest, and went to the army. But the decisive events were already then being played out; on May 25th and 27th both Houses adopted resolutions to discharge the army and to send part of the troops to Ireland. An attempt was made to put this decision into practice, and if it had succeeded, the Presbyterian party could have enjoyed victory; but this attempt was unsuccessful because of the decisive resistance of the mass of soldiers led by agitators. Had it not been for this resistance the subsequent course of events would have been very different.

One can have doubts about the degree to which Cromwell and the other leaders of the Independents truly wished to remain loyal to the Presbyterian majority in Parliament. But there is no doubt that the soldiers’ organizations never entered into their calculations for the purpose of their struggle with Parliament. It is one thing to put pressure on Parliament by relying upon a disciplined armed force subordinate to oneself, but entirely another thing to create an illegal organization embracing the mass of soldiers and awakening their independent activity, an organization which immediately and inevitably had to bring forth socio-political demands extending far beyond the ideas of the moderate Independents.

In general, deciding political questions by the use of armed force, and by disregarding legality, does not exhaust the concepts of revolution even at the purely political level. Here it is necessary to remember the difference which Lenin emphasized: either a revolution is conducted by the popular masses, who unite in the very process of the struggle bringing forth from the bottom their self-created agencies of revolt – this is a popular revolution; or, this revolution remains the affair of a minority, a minority constituting part of the privileged propertied classes that used an existing organization, for instance the army. The popular mass does not play an active independent role in this situation. It is dominated in advance by the disposition of the leading upper stratum and condemned to the role of a blind weapon. Lenin instantiated such a non-popular revolution, the Young Turks revolt. Pokrovsky notes the same outlines in the movement of the Decembrists, to the extent that the leaders of the latter (this particularly relates to the Northern Society) avoided allowing soldiers in on their plans and even directed more propaganda at them.

In the English revolutionary movement of the seventeenth century we observed the struggle of these two movements, a struggle the more fierce because of the high degree of consciousness and political activity among the soldiers of Cromwell’s army. To transform them into submissive weapons of his moderate gentry-bourgeois policy was not an easy task. It is necessary to add still another fact to this. The officer corps of Cromwell’s army included a certain number of democratic elements (Pride, a former horse-cab driver; Rainborough, barge captain; Colonel Joyce, a former tailor etc.); moreover, many of them were convinced supporters of the extreme left movements. On the one hand, the presence of allies among the officers helped the soldiers in their debates, but on the other hand it also helped Cromwell’s task. Between the mass of soldiers and the generals there was thus created a bridge; the faith of the soldiers was not finally destroyed even in the hardest moments. Therefore Cromwell – relying at the same time on his prestige as a military leader, on his services in the period of the Civil War with Charles I, when owing to his energy the conciliation of the Presbyterian leaders was paralysed, and the war was brought to an end by the destruction of the Royalist forces – could affect the soldiers not only by strength but also by guile, not only by repression but also by persuasion and promises.

In any case it is possible to say with full confidence: creation of the institution of soldiers’ deputies or agitators happened on the elemental initiative of the mass of ordinary soldiers themselves, combined with a very reserved relationship with the officers. At the meeting of May 15th and 16th, 1647, when the demands of the army were considered, we find a protest by one of the officers, Colonel Sheffield, against the presence of ordinary soldiers. “If the soldiers wish to come themselves”, he stated, “then it is not useful for us to be present and to give the opinion of the troops. [34] The officer corps thus tried to consider itself as a natural representative of the ordinary soldiers. However, this protest did not have any results, and primarily because by that time the entire mass of the ordinary troops of Cromwell’s army was already organized. Between the 8th and 10th of April, cavalry regiments had elected two representatives each for the drafting and transmission of the soldiers’ petition. This petition was first considered by the regiments and then at a meeting of delegates. After Parliamentary commissioners had visited the army, at Saffron Walden, the same type of organization arose in the infantry regiments. The infantry regiments elected two representatives from each company and sent them to confer with the deputies of the cavalry troops. Moreover, according to a report by Reshford, which Professor Fers cites, the infantry conducted a collection of money for organizational expenses: “Every soldier gave fourpence to cover the expenses of holding the meeting.” [35] The agitators in the cavalry regiments led the movements. They sent letters to other organizations, established a connection with the Northern Army which was under the command of the Presbyterian General Poyntz, convincing it to join the New Model Army. In these letters the agitators state the material demands of the soldiers, draw a picture of how Parliament on the basis of unverified information declared the petitioners to be enemies of the state, underline the legality of the demands and of the ways which they have selected for their defence. [36] This work was not without result: Poyntz’s Northern Army, upon which the Presbyterian party naturally could count, remained dispersed at the decisive moment. Poyntz was arrested on July 8th by his own soldiers, but the agitators of his regiment returned with a letter to Fairfax stating their desire to be under his command. [37]

The agitators had good communications with London, receiving all the political news from there. Each decision adopted by Parliament immediately became known to the agitators who adopted the necessary counter-manoeuvres. This organization was created upon the basis of defending the purely economic demands of the mass of soldiers. The first petition says enough about this, the petition in which the soldiers demand payment for time served, security for widows and orphans, discharge grants and indemnity. However, from the very beginning the leaders of the movements clearly recognized the political significance and political purposes of the struggle and tried to prepare the organizational premises for it.

The open disobedience of the army and the capture of the King destroyed all the plans of the Presbyterians. Their attempts to rely upon the London militia quickly ended in a sad collapse. In August, the army entered London and became master of the situation. However, even earlier Parliament had to drink deep from the cup of humility. Under the influence of the frightening news of the approach of the army to London, the respected members of the House of Commons began to feel the terror of self-preservation; they retracted their resolution of March 30th which at that time so upset the army, issued decrees about removing the tax on bread and meat, and – shamelessly – adopted a resolution in which they decreed that none of the members of Parliament should in the future profit from his office, accept gifts, or gain wealth from sequestration, i.e. they proposed to their own members not to take bribes in the future. Under the pressure of external force the Presbyterian majority began to melt and dissipate. Parliamentary decisions took on an accidental and often contradictory nature. It is these moments which Hallam decries as the most shameful age in the history of the English Parliament, and which are clear evidence of a lack of political courage. [38] All the later blows which the Long Parliament had to suffer – the exclusion of 11 members, Pride’s purge in 1649 and the final dispersal by Cromwell – were predetermined by this fall: the ruling clique was compelled under the influence of the armed popular mass openly to recognize its humble position; the institution which until this time had formally led the revolution, revealed itself as a collection of people occupied with the theft of the common wealth of the state.

A most important event of an organizational nature was the moment when the army openly opposed Parliament. The political representation of the army was assigned to the General Council of the Army, which included the agitators, the representatives of the officers and the whole general staff Lukin in his study correctly emphasizes the significance of this merger, evoking the parallel which must be drawn with the political soviets of soldiers’ deputies of 1917:

In this organization, which we now call “the Soviet of soldiers and officers deputies”, the higher officer corps was overrepresented. In fact the soldiers were represented equally with the young officers, while the high command was represented in full. Thus, in the era of the English Revolution there was the same sort of attempt to create a council of soldiers and officers deputies as among us in 1917; but among us this project was not realized because the mass of soldiers by class instinct felt the danger which would have been created as a result of joining the officer corps, a majority of which had come from among the bourgeoisie, and the bourgeois intelligentsia. Therefore, they emanated hostility to the socio-political demands of the workers and peasants dressed in soldiers’ greatcoats. Being in a minority, the officer corps tried to group the most backward elements around it from among the soldiers’ deputies. The soldiers in Cromwell’s army did not consider this a danger and went into the “General Council of the Army”. [39]

The creation of the Council of the Army, where the agitators sat next to the officers and the generals, was realized on Cromwell’s insistence.

The soldiers’ dissatisfaction with Cromwell’s talks with the Crown took on the form of deep political disagreements, as soon as the army made the attempts to develop its political programme.

The appearance of two platforms – the moderate, which was set forth in Ireton’s Heads of the Proposals, and the radical, formulated in the two documents Case for Truly Standing Army and Agreement of the People – and thereafter the consideration of these platforms at the sessions of the Council of the Army in Putney between October-November 1647, marked the culmination point of this struggle between the two factions. The nature of both platforms and the essence of the Putney debates have been stated in insufficient detail, so it is especially necessary to dwell again on this.

I would like to emphasize two characteristic elements of this stage of the English Revolution. The first is the renewal of the composition of the soldiers’ deputies which in fact took place before the crisis in the army matured. A number of agitators elected in the spring were deprived of their authority and, instead of them, more decisive and firm Levellers were sent to the Council. At the session of the Council of the Army of November 1st 1647, it was reported that two cavalry agitators of General Lambert’s regiment had persuaded these soldiers to send new agitators based upon the fact that the officers had violated the conditions of the agreement. [40] Such a re-election was conducted in five regiments during October 1647. In one of these documents coming from the soldiers we find a curious statement of the motives of this recall: “Since according to various reports it seems that our prior elected representatives are more worried about their own career than about social matters, we were compelled, around October 19th, to elect the new agitators from the regiment.” [41] This new, purely Leveller composition of agitators worked out both the above-mentioned appeals, the Case of the Army and the Agreement of the People. This episode with all its seeming insignificance is full of deep meaning, if one looks at it from the point of view of our modern revolutionary experience. The soldiers of Cromwell’s army in the seventeenth century applied in practice the same system of representation [1*] which found its theoretical basis in the age of the first proletarian revolution. It embodied the accountability of the deputy for the voters and the right of the latter to recall him and replace him at any time.

The second thing which must be noted is participation in the Council of the Army by “civilians”, i.e. of representatives of the London Levellers – Wildman and Petty. This is the first and, to be honest, the most timid step toward the transformation of the army council into a revolutionary agency which would unite the advance elements of the army with the urban population.

These representatives of the extreme radical party spoke in the Council as political leaders of the leftist agitators and of the mass of soldiers following them. They formulated their demands; they were the authors of both of the above-mentioned documents; they were the main speakers in the debates, and successfully spoke against the eloquence of Ireton’s lawyers. At this moment the Levellers acquired the possibility of a direct and broadly organized influence on the mass of the soldiers. Later, in 1648, in the period of the second Civil War, the Independent command, pushing to support good relations with the Levellers, arranged joint commissions with them to develop a constitutional compromise. This was Cromwell’s favourite method. But these commissions were unconnected with the organization of the lower ranks of the soldiers for the simple reason that this organization did not yet exist.

The emasculation of the soldiers’ organization was the result of the first open conflict between Cromwell and the Levellers on November 15th 1647, in Carkbushfield near Ware. The attempt to have a mutiny under the banner of the People’s Contract was too weak and was smothered at birth. Therefore it might have seemed that this event did not have decisive significance, that the Levellers had not suffered a final defeat. On the contrary the second Civil War, which began after this, forced Cromwell to support a peace with the leftist elements in the army and, as we have seen, to try for an agreement with Lilburne and other leaders of the Levellers.

Certain of the historians, for example Konrady, are therefore inclined to consider that the Levellers’ movement in general did not suffer any losses at Ware. Cromwell, in Konrady’s opinion, made in principle certain concessions to their demands. On the other hand, the soldiers understood the necessity of preserving discipline and thus obeyed Cromwell. [42] Konrady forgets the most important thing: after the unsuccessful mutiny at Ware, the soldiers’ organization was eliminated and was not thereafter renewed. Formally there is a basis for speaking of the existence of the Council of the Army until January 1648, when it was officially dismissed; however, its revolutionary significance is completely absent at that time. And Savin is entirely right when, in summarizing the results of the events which occurred at the meeting of November 15th, he states, “with this, in fact, the preponderance of the Levellers in the army was finished and at the same time the Council of the Army ended its existence.” [43] The restoration of discipline signified that the army, in the sense of its orders and administration, was now entirely subordinate to the military council and the officers. Several weeks later, even the very system of representation established by the agreement of June 5th was abolished and was never resurrected. “Thus ended”, writes the English historian Fairs, “the system of representation, established before the realization of the agreement of June 5th, the widest of all those which later spoke in the name of the army. All later councils no longer included representatives from the ordinary soldiers.” [44]

In April-May 1647, the army, feeling a threat from the Presbyterian Parliament, created a cohesive political organization, and upon the first attempt to dissolve it (the army) into parts it answered with resistance and concentration of all its powers for the calling of the general army meeting. Then Cromwell and the higher command allowed the course of events to distract them, and partially even supported such a direction of affairs. Now, on the contrary, in October-November 1647, when the army threatened to get out of hand, the generals set themselves a most deliberate goal: to divide the army in order to restore to themselves the freedom to divide it into separate parts, not allowing general army meetings, destroying the united centre. This constituted the real goal. of their struggle, this decided the question, but by no means the adoption at the mixed convention of one or another draft of the constitution. Cromwell’s victory over the November mutiny was preordained when he somehow succeeded in destroying the proposal of the agitators demanding the calling of a general army meeting and in carrying out instead the plan to call three separate meetings. At the same time, on the eve of this meeting, November 8th, the agitators and deputies from the lower officer corps received orders to return to their units. Thus, the united centre was beaten beforehand.

It is hard to say why the agitators did not disrupt this clever plan. That they had certain suspicions is shown by the harsh polemic which arose between them and Ireton with respect to the right of quarters. Already, in the Case of the Army, the soldiers had complained that although the army should not be dispersed before its demands were satisfied, in fact certain units were being dissolved, others were being dispersed to various areas. Because of this the army was splintered. At the time of the Putney debates, Ireton vented a most irate attack in this respect upon the agitators, arguing in the first place that the quartering and dislocation of the army was not its dismissal, and in the second place that this was entirely within the competence of its leadership. [45] The heated tone of his speech shows that the matter had very great significance. Since only very fragmentary reports have reached us about the meeting of November 8th, it is difficult to say how the generals succeeded in not permitting the general army meeting. But this ensured them of success in advance. The attempt of the two most revolutionary regiments (Harrison and Robert Lilburne) to wreck this plan by an uninvited appearance at the first meeting – to which of course the most law-abiding regiments were called – ended in failure. This resulted in the full destruction of the soldiers’ organization. Cromwell received freedom of action. He could now effect all possible reshuffling and reorganization in the army directed at the weakening and distancing of disobedient and unreliable elements. For Cromwell and his supporters it was thereby easier to secure victory over the left with the minimum application of repression, because at the beginning of the second Civil War the need to act against the Royalists and the Scots somewhat ironed out the contradiction between the Levellers and the generals. Sometime later, at a prayer meeting of December 22nd 1647, an official reconciliation was even achieved. However, having lost their organizational support in the army, the Levellers lost the decisive position, which they did not succeed in regaining. The attempts to co-operate with the generals on the basis of developing the constitutional draft could not of course distil anything other than the most bitter disillusionment. From the example of the mixed commission at the end of 1648, the Levellers were convinced of a wonderful method – to lead its political component by the nose. For after consent was finally given to the draft of the Agreement of the People, Ireton could only petition its reconsideration in the officers’ council for “amendments”. Afterwards, in what was now most unacceptable for “Honest John”, they sent this draft to the same Long Parliament whose dismissal had already been pressed by the Levellers since the winter of 1647. In January 1649 the Levellers left the commission. In the army, ferment was strengthened and a new crisis evolved. And then the military council at once took the sharpest measures against political activity and political organization by the mass of soldiers. Soldiers were forbidden either to submit petitions to Parliament and generally to anyone other than their own command, or to conduct correspondence on political affairs with private parties. It was also decreed to ask Parliament for the right to courtmaritial anyone who should incite the army to mutiny. In April, movements began in the army which in May produced an open uprising against the command of Captain Thompson. The mutineers struggled under the banner of the Agreement of the People and demanded the renewal of the General Council of the Army. But now the revolutionary soldiers had to wage their struggle under conditions when all the advantages were on the side of the enemy. Despite the heroic courage of the mutineers, the uprising was suppressed most expeditiously and moreover, as always, Cromwell put his guile into motion with a vengeance. His ambassadors deceived the gullible soldiers, affirming that the general was in agreement with their demands, thus enabling Cromwell to take them by surprise.

The suppression of the May uprising of 1649 rendered the final blow to the Leveller movement. In Cromwell’s army was concentrated the most active and politically conscious part of both the peasantry, urban craftsmen and workers. There the Levellers had the basic mass of their adherents. The destruction of the Levellers in the army, therefore, signified the destruction of radical elements in the entire country. After this the revolutionary energy of the democratic strata was not directed along the lines of mass political struggle. It found its outlet partly in attempts at terrorist struggle in which, among others, Edward Sexby, one of the first agitators, was beheaded; partly in the religious movement of the Quakers among whom the Levellers’ leader John Lilburne ended his life. But neither of these directions presented any danger for the rich and the powerful.




1. Cf P. Sagnac, La legislation civile de la Revolution francaise (1898), Librairie Hachette, Paris.

2. S.R. Gardiner, The Constitutional Documents of the Puritan Revolution 1628-1660, Clarendon Press, Oxford.

3. A.N. Savin, Lectures on the History of the English Revolution (1924), Leningrad, p.87.

4. Cf. F.W. Maitland, The Constitutional History of England (1920), Cambridge, p.282.

5. R. Gneist, The History of English State Institutions (1885), Moscow, pp.671-72.

6. K. Marx, The Bourgeoisie and the Counter-Revolution (Dec. 11, 1848), in D. Fernbach (ed.), Karl Marx: Political Writings (1973), Random House, New York, vol.1, pp.192-193.

7. A.N. Savin, The English Village in the Age of the Tudors (1903), Moscow, p.37.

8. ibid., p.24.

9. D.M. Petrushevsky, The Wat Tyler Rebellion (1914), Moscow, p.523.

10. “It would be good if there were as many gentlemen in Norfolk as there are white bulls” – a statement by one of the leaders of the 1540 rebellion.

11. The most systematic views of the Levellers are stated in Agreement of the People of May 1st 1649, written by John Lilburne and other Levellers’ leaders. See also Lilburne’s work The Fundamental Laws and Liberties of England Claimed and Asserted.

12. A couple of changes were made during Cromwell’s rule to judicial procedure and, moreover, the correspondence of these reforms to the needs of bourgeois development was so indisputable that they were not repealed even at the Restoration. Thus, for example, the introduction of the English language into pleas was progress for which England was obliged to the Republic. It is interesting that in Cromwell’s time the court personnel were of such good quality, from the point of view of the administration of justice, that the majority remained in office upon the return of the Stuarts, despite the intense political reaction. Cf Gneist (1885), op. cit., p.672.

13. “The craving of the rich peasantry for the improvement of their farming, by separation from common land, partly explains the weakness of the agrarian movement during the course of the English Revolution.” N.M. Lukin, From the History of the Revolutionary Armies (1923), Moscow, p.8.

14. N.I. Kareev, Two English Revolutions of the Seventeenth Century (1924), Leningrad, vol.1, p.106.

15. S.R. Gardiner, History of the Great Civil War (1898-1901), Longmans, Green & Co., vol.3, p.256.

16. S.R. Gardiner (1889), op. cit., p.41.

17. I.M. Morley, A New Biography of Oliver Cromwell (1901), St. Petersburg, p.118.

18. W.T. Walsh, Outlines of the History of English and American Law (1923), New York, p.68.

19. See N. I. Kareev, History of Western Europe in the Modern Ages (n.d.), vol.2, p.507.

20. A. Savin (1903), op. cit., p.344.

21. See Winstanley’s letter to the Military Council, Clarke Papers, vol.2, pp.217-221; and E. Bernstein, Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution (1919), 3rd German edition, p.124.

22. Clarke Papers, vol.1, p.303.

23. ibid., vol.1, p.312.

24. ibid., vol.1, p.312.

25. Incidentally, even the Diggers did not advance a programme for the division of all land but claimed only, empty common lands. In his letter to the Military Council Winstanley states: “You, noblemen, have the right, to your enclosed land. We demand the right to communal lands.” ibid., vol.2, pp.217-221.

26. In particular by the representatives of the central state apparatus. See on this A. Savin, English Secularization (1907), Moscow.

27. See, in Savin, the pamphlet of the priest, Trigg, Humble Petition Against Enclosures. A Savin (1903), op. cit., p.450.

28. Tusser, 63 Comparisons Betweene Champion Countrie and Severall. The first edition came out in 1557. Cited, according to A. Savin (1903), op. cit., p.456.

29. The elimination of serfdom is possible by way of the gradual transformation of peasant estate farms into junker-bourgeois farms, the transformation of the mass of the peasants into landless peasants, the forced maintenance of a low level of life for the masses, the separation of small handfuls of Grossbauers, bourgeois rich peasants, the creation of unavoidable capitalism in the peasant milieu. Another way we call the American way. It also requires a violent rupture ... But this necessary and inevitable rupture is possible in the interests of the peasant mass and not of the landlord gang. The basis of the development of capitalism may become the free mass of farmers, without any estate farming, because, as a whole, this farming is economically reactionary, and the elements of private farming are created in the peasantry by the previous economic history of the country (V.I. Lenin, Sochinenii, vol.9, p.615).

30. A. Savin (1924), op. cit., p.43.

31. E. Bernstein, Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution (1919), 3rd German edition, p.78. – See also E. Bernstein, Cromwell and Communism: Socialism and Democracy in the Great English Revolution (1930), Allen and Unwin, London [eds.]

32. ibid., p.207.

33. ibid., p.111.

34. Clarke Papers, vol.1, p.40.

35. ibid., vol.1, pp.87-89.

36. ibid., vol.1, pp.87-89.

37. ibid., vol.1, p.165.

38. See H. Hallam, The Constitutional History of England (1862), Sheldon, New York, vol.2, p.205.

39. N.M Lukin (1923), op. cit., p.54.

40. Clarke Papers, vol.1, p.367.

41. ibid., vol.1, xlvii.

42. A. Konrady, Geschichte der Revolutionen vom niederlandischen Aufstand bis zum Vorabend der franzosischen Revolution (n.d.), Berlin, vols.1-2, p.339.

43. A Savin (1924), op. cit., p.341.

44. Clarke Papers, vol.1, p.lix.

45. ibid., vol.1, p.348.



1*. The Russian text has “predatel’stva” (treachery), apparently a misprint for “predstavitel’stva” (representation) – Translator’s note.

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