Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Review : The Girl From The Metropol Hotel-Growing Up in Communist Russia-By Ludmilla Petrushevskaya-Translated by Anna Summers-Illustrated. 149 pp. Penguin Books.

Withhold publication—but don't lose track of the author.”
Novy Mir,

Generally speaking, art is an expression of man's need for a harmonious and complete life, that is to say, his need for those major benefits of which a society of classes has deprived him. That is why a protest against reality, either conscious or unconscious, active or passive, optimistic or pessimistic, always forms part of a really creative piece of work. Every new tendency in art has begun with rebellion.

Leon Trotsky-Art and Politics in Our Epoch (1938)

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya's The Girl from the Metropol Hotel is a powerful memoir of her childhood in Stalinist Russia. In an already overcrowded market of memoirs emanating from the Stalinist betrayal of the October revolution and the rise of a Stalinist totalitarian state, this is one of the better ones. Anna Summers excellently translates the book.

Petrushevskaya's slim memoir is beautifully written, which is all the more surprising given the level of brutality she and her family suffered as“an enemy of the people to our neighbours, to the police, to the janitors, to the passers-by, to every resident of our courtyard of any age. We were not allowed to use the shared bathroom, to wash our clothes, and we didn’t have soap anyway. At the age of 9, I was unfamiliar with shoes, with handkerchiefs, with combs; I did not know what school or discipline was.”

Petrushevskaya's family was no ordinary family for it contained many leading Bolsheviks who were either murdered or left to rot in prison, six of her family were convicted and given 10-year sentences at hard labour, on the order of Joseph Stalin. Petrushevskaya's grandfather, Nikolai Yakovlev, was a world-renowned linguistics scholar. Her grandmother married Yakolev after turning away the romantic assignations of the revolutionary poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. 

Petrushevskaya's great-uncle was a leading organiser of the 1905 revolution a curtain-raiser to the 1917 October Revolution. Her great-grandfather, Dedya, joined the Russian Social-Democratic Workers Party in 1898.

Yakolev is of particular interest because he crossed swords with Stalin over linguistics. Yakolev was an early advocate of Marrism. What should have been a comradely discussion over their differences ended when Stalin sent Yakolev to the Gulag. Stalin justified his differences with the Marrist's in a Pravda article entitled Marxism and questions. He denounced Marrism and accused its adherents of being anti-Marxists. Yakovlev was one of the lucky ones in the sense that he could have been shot straight away.

It is clear from Petrushevskaya work that she is not overtly political and never really understood the political nature of Stalin's purges. Petrushevskaya is fortunate that she lives in a country that produced one of the greatest Marxists scholars who wrote extensively on Stalin's purges. The great Russian historian Vadim Rogovin described why “in the struggle for power and income, the bureaucracy (was) forced to chop off and crush those groups who (were) connected with the past, who know and remember the program of the October Revolution, who are sincerely devoted to the tasks of socialism. The extermination of the Old Bolsheviks and the socialist elements of the middle and younger generations is an important link in the anti-October reaction.” [1]

Petrushevskaya survived the Stalin period but found it impossible to get published during the Brezhnev years. Petrushevskaya had described this as a time when  “Truth was in general forbidden.”Her books which tackled crime, domestic violence, alcoholism, and illness were way too radical for a government whose very anti-working policies caused so much social inequality. Even Novy Mir, the supposed liberal journal refused to publish her stories, saying “withhold publication—but do not lose track of the author.”

During the era of Gorbachev's perestroika, she had a measure of success in that her books were being published. She continued to write about issues that highlighted social inequality in Soviet society. As Sophie Pinkham put it "Her characters were preoccupied, as were citizens under Stalin, with food, housing, and violent death”.[2]

Her exposure of social inequality angered the bureaucracy. Her phone was tapped, and she was under constant surveillance. She was indicted for six months after criticizing Gorbachev's military actions in Latvia and Lithuania.

Ludmilla Petrushevskaya is still alive and long may she continue writing her books. They are worth reading and deserve a wide readership. The issues emanating from her difficult childhood and issues surrounding her family especially the debate over Soviet linguists should provoke further study. It is for that reason that I have added a recommendation for further reading.

Further Reading

N. Ia. Marr and the National Origins of Soviet Ethnogenetics Author(s): Yuri Slezkine Source: Slavic Review, Vol. 55, No. 4 (Winter, 1996), pp. 826-862

Marr, Marrism, and Stalinism-V. M. Alpatov- Russian Studies in History- Volume 34, 1995 - Issue 2

[1] Vadim Z. Rogovin: Stalin's Terror of 1937-1938. Political Genocide in the USSR, Mehring Books 2009, p. 186

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Providence Lost: The Rise and Fall of Cromwell’s Protectorate-Paul Lay-Head of Zeus, 352pp, £19.99

In terms of historical interest, Cromwell's protectorate is a poor relation to the English bourgeois revolution. As Ted Valance points out, the Protectorate“has too often been dismissed as merely a dreary Puritanical prelude to the restoration of monarchy”.

Having said that Providence Lost does go a little way in rectifying this anomaly. The book is a well written and researched and is a solid albeit conservative piece of historical study.

Paul lay is a gifted writer. His book is mostly narrative-driven but does contain some useful insights, but even his skill and experience cannot make the Protectorate as dramatic as the English revolution.

The book covers the years 1653 to 1659. The Protectorate replaced the short-lived English republic and replaced it with the dictatorship of the Major Generals with Cromwell at its head.

While Lay's book is not without analysis,but it would be better for the use of work of the  great social historian as Lay calls Christopher Hil. Hill succinctly describes the social, political and economic processes that“ dissolved the Long Parliament forcibly in 1653, nominated a convention of his own adherents (the Barebones Parliament), which revived the social and economic demands of the petty bourgeoisie and had to be hastily dissolved. Cromwell was then proclaimed Protector under a Constitution (the Instrument of Government”), which was rigged to conceal the dictatorship of the Army officers. He called a Parliament under this constitution on a new £200 franchise, by which moneyed men were admitted to vote and the lesser freeholders excluded. But Parliament and Army quarrelled, Parliament was dissolved, and a period of naked military dictatorship followed under the Major-Generals, in which the Cavaliers were finally disarmed. Ultimately Cromwell and his Court circle (representing especially the new civil service), under pressure from the City, came to realise that the Army had done its job and that its maintenance now meant a crushing burden of taxation on the propertied classes, for which no compensating advantages were obtained”[1].

Once Cromwell had crushed all opposition to his and the army's rule, he gave the bourgeoisie free rein to launch their conquests both at home and abroad. The short term failure of the conquests abroad gave Lay his book title. 

The launching of Cromwell's imperial enterprises gave a massive impulse to the early capitalist class. It is, therefore, no accident that perhaps the most dubious and money-grabbing members of the petty bourgeoisie were chosen to lead the attempted overseas conquests. In doing so they marked the end of the “Good Old Cause” leading Edward Burrough, later to lament “where is the good old cause now?...and what is become of it? In whose hands does it lie? [2]

Like many aspects of the English revolution to the Protectorate is open to many interpretations not all historians agree that there was a naked military dictatorship, some like Austin Woolrych[3]  tend to downplay the extent of the dictatorship.

Although not a historian in the strictest sense the Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky took a different view in that “Under Cromwell's leadership the revolution acquired all the breadth vital for it. In such cases as that of the Levellers, where it exceeded the bounds of the requirements of the regenerate bourgeois society, Cromwell ruthlessly put down the “Lunaticks.” Once victorious, Cromwell began to construct a new state law that coupled biblical texts with the lances of the 'holy' soldiers, under which the deciding word always belonged to the pikes. On 19th April 1653, Cromwell broke up the rump of the Long Parliament. In recognition of his historical mission, the Puritan dictator saw dispersed members on the way with biblical denunciations: “Thou drunkard!” he cried to one; “Thou adulterer!” he reminded another. After this Cromwell forms a parliament out of representatives of God-fearing people, that is, an essentially class parliament; the God-fearers were the middle class who completed the work of accumulation with the aid of strict morality and set about the plunder of the whole world with the Holy Scriptures on their lips”[4].

Trotsky had a specific economic and class approach. This type of approach is mostly absent from Lay's book. The book is mainly devoid of economic analysis, especially the economic base of the Major Generals. When he does mention other historians, they are mostly conservative in nature. Christopher Hill is only mentioned once as a footnote. Hill did not write much on this subject, but when he did, it was worth reading, especially his early work.

His study of some of the Russian historians in work such as Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum was groundbreaking. Hill takes a far more historical materialist approach to the Protectorate in that he saw historical developments in class terms as this quote from his essay Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum highlights "There were rifts within classes as well as between them. The squires particularly occupied a double position-they were hostile to the old order but were themselves landlords, interested in enclosing, in keeping the peasantry in their place. This accounts for their re-alliance with the defeated Cavaliers after they had attained their ends: there was a common enemy to fear. Their fear of further social revolution held the squires back from completely finishing with the old landed order and so destroying the economic roots of the monarchy. 1659 marks a series of desperate attempts to conserve the republic without social reforms. But none of the groups that won power could reunite the interests of their class as a whole. Charles II was the most satisfactory heir to Oliver Cromwell if he was prepared to accept the revolution. And that is what the declaration of Breda did by referring all questions to parliament. " Let the king come in," Harrington had said, " and call a parliament of the greatest cavaliers in England, so they be men of estates, and let them sit but seven years and they will all turn commonwealth's men”. [5]

One question Lay's book does not satisfactorily answer is why did so much power end up in so few hands? While Lay would not be caught dead using Leon Trotsky and Hill for political reasons could not, Trotsky is well worth reading for his clear-sighted analysis on the class nature of Cromwell's rule. In his essay Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism he shows that  "Different classes in different conditions and for different tasks find themselves compelled in particular and indeed, the most acute and critical periods in their history, to vest an extraordinary power and authority in much of their leaders as can carry forward their fundamental interests most sharply and fully". Cromwell's Protectorate was one such example. "For one era Oliver Cromwell, and for another, Robespierre expressed the historically progressive tendencies of development of bourgeois society." [6]

Western Design

As Lay points out the foreign policy of Cromwell would set the template for British capitalism imperialist conquests for centuries to come. The future empire, as was the protectorate, would be built on slavery.

A significant part of Cromwell's foreign policy or Western Design” was based on writings of a dubious former Dominican friar, Thomas Gage[7]. Gage himself writes, “I humbly pray your Excellency [Cromwell] . . . direct your noble thoughts to employ the soldiery of this Kingdom upon such just an honorable design in those parts of America. The fact that Cromwell took advice from Gage was a severe miscalculation that would end in disaster and humiliation for the English bourgeoisie. It is perhaps fitting that Cage met his end dying of dysentery upon arrival in Jamaica.

The failure of the western Design” caused significant problems for the Cromwell and his generals. A regime based on military power is only as good as its last victory. The defeat of Cromwell’s army and navy by the Spanish despite having numerical superiority caused Cromwell to increase his power at the expense of the already narrow franchise.  Thus began the Rule of the Major-Generals”.

This “military dictatorship" carried out a campaign of intimidation and brutality that would have been unthinkable even under the Monarchy.Parliament's brutal punishment of the Quaker James Nayler in 1656 (his tongue was bored with a red-hot iron) for imitating Christ's entry in Jerusalem was one such episode. As Rowan Williams writes in his book review, this was one of only many cases of “judicial sadism.”

The debacle at the hands of the Spanish also led to the escalation of attacks by class forces hostile to the Cromwell regime. A spate of Royalist/Leveller plots and assassination attempts were only foiled because of Cromwell's vast spy network under the leadership of John Thurloe.


Lay's book has been reviewed by substantial sections of both big and small media with the majority praising the book. The book is attractive to review because of its conservative historiography. Lay somewhat unusually presents very little in the way of a conclusion at the end of the book.

Despite Lay being a trustee of the Cromwell Museum even a cursory read of the book tells us that Lay only goes so far with his admiration for Oliver Cromwell. He certainly feels ill at ease with the revolutionary nature of the Cromwellian revolution. Lay expresses horror at Cromwell's and other regicides killing of the King and believes the act was illegal.

Lay's hostility to the revolutionary acts carried out by the English bourgeoisie is mirrored by Rowan Williams former Archbishop of Canterbury who in his review of Lay's book said “It is a pattern familiar in revolutionary narratives: the point at which it ought, at last, to be obvious to all that the revolution was right and justified when one could be confident of being on the side of history, keeps slipping over the horizon. Someone must be blamed, and the revolution inexorably descends into factional warfare. In recent decades, analysis by political thinkers such as Raymond Williams and Gillian Rose has stressed the inevitability of “long revolutions”, and the dangers of messianic end-of-history aspirations and the bloodshed that accompanies them. This should remind us of the foolishness of speaking as though history had “sides”,  yet still the left and the right resort to such defaults. Lay’s book sheds light on this process, despite the fact that Cromwell’s must have been, historically, one of the least terror-ridden of revolutions”. [8]

Whether you could call Lay, a Whig historian is open to debate. His book does have a whiff of the Whig interpretation of history. As revolutions go you get the feeling that Lay would be more at home with the “Glorious Revolution” when James II quit his throne and his kingdom overnight, and William of Orange was installed as king. This was the kind of palace revolution that Lay would prefer rather than the 1640 revolution.


To conclude my criticisms of Lay should not put off anyone who would like to know more about the subject. Readers also should not be put off by any of significant criticisms from reviewers of Lay's conservative approach to history.

Lay probably feels the Protectorate was a failure, and with the restoration of the monarchy, not much had really changed. But as Trotsky said “Charles II swung Cromwell's corpse upon the gallows. But pre-Cromwellian society could not be re-established by any restoration. The works of Cromwell could not be liquidated by the thievish legislation of the Restoration because what has been written with the sword cannot be wiped out by the pen”.

[1] ] The English Revolution 1640-
[2] To the Whole English Army(1659)
[3] Commonwealth to Protectorate-by Austin Woolrych
[4] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism-
[5] Soviet Interpretations of the English Interregnum-Christopher Hill-The Economic History Review, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May, 1938), pp. 159-167

[6] Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism
[7] For further information on the life of Cage see
[8] Oliver Cromwell, the man who wouldn’t be king-

Friday, 7 February 2020

Restoration 360: Charles II's England—facts, fiction & fundraising for Mind

links to the event tickets?

Presentations, interviews, raffle & cake! Expert historians & authors explore the Restoration and how return to royal rule shaped a new era.

About this Event

On 29th May 1660, Oliver Cromwell'ss republican parliament was a thing of the past and London welcomed the Stuarts back with jubilation as the abolished monarchy was restored. A return to the old days? Yes and no. The pleasure-seeking King Charles II helped fuel society's urge to move onwards and upwards after civil wars and Puritan rule, and the era developed a character of its own.

Women exploded onto the stage in groundbreaking comedy theatre, while the founding of the Royal Society paved the way for science to achieve great medical and engineering advancements. Before long, fashion was bursting with colour and fresh architecture was altering city skylines as Baroque art and culture came in with a bang.

For all the highs though, this was an age also characterised by its many lows. Some of British history's most influential names could be found in Restoration England, yet uncontrollable forces such as plague and fire perhaps had the biggest impact of all. As the period progressed, the Royal Navy fell to humiliating defeat, the Royal African Company went on to deal in the cruelty of the slave trade and attempts at religious toleration only intensified the old fear of Catholic takeover, a fear that would lead to executions of innocents and set the nation on course for revolution once more.

In 1660, nobody was prepared for what was to come. But 360 years later, we’ll look at Restoration life and times through the eyes of historians and authors with fascinating insights to share. Discover how and why our monarchy came back, how London suffered and rose from devastation, why sex featured large in the spirit of the age and what Charles II had planned to put Greenwich on the map!

Alongside the facts and figures, fiction will not be forgotten. From naval settings to the trials of midwifery, we’ll discuss the process of turning research into a captivating story. How does the mindset of the 1660s and beyond affect character? Do similarities between then and now help the audience connect? Who are the best figures of the day to involve in your plot?

Listen to the talks, see the slides and hear the audio as we revisit the Restoration!

J.D. Davies
Dr Jonathan Healey
Kris Martin
Dr Sara Read
Rebecca Rideal
Andrea Zuvich

More to be announced!

To keep the feel alive further, there’ll be a majestic cake provided by amazing cake designer Charlotte White at Restoration Cake, and why not take part in our themed raffle as we continue fundraising for mental health charity Mind? Instead of numbers on the raffle tickets, you’ll find the names of individuals from Restoration England. Who may bring you luck?

Raffle tickets sold at the event, with all the money going to Mind.
Admission tickets £14.25 [plus Eventbrite fee] and include cake! 60% of admission ticket price [excluding Eventbrite fee] goes to Mind.

Cake contains gluten and may contain traces of nuts. List of ingredients available.

Mental health is an age-old issue that affects people today as it always has through the centuries, with sufferers often left vulnerable and excluded. However, Mind is there to change that. This vital charity offers support, advice and assistance to lead people on the road to recovery and give them the respect they deserve.

Canada Water Library and Theatre has full wheelchair access and is perfectly located above Canada Water station, across the road from the station's main entrance. Come and support the Mind charity and enjoy a unique event as we mark the 360th anniversary of the Restoration to see what happened when England went full circle.
Not suitable for under 16s.

Dress up in period costume if you fancy!

Contact through Twitter @RestorationHat, where DMs are welcome, or Facebook Messenger

You can also come and chat on this event's Facebook page where you'll find more info, updates and a bit of fun!

Date And Time
Fri, 29 May 2020
14:00 – 17:30 BST

Meeting Rooms 5-6, Canada Water Library
21 Surrey Quays Road
SE16 7AR

Friday, 31 January 2020

The Peculiar History Of The Sect Known As The Quakers (Bristol radical Pamphleteers) Pamphlet – 2011-by Jim McNeill

"..yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing, and must die, for action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing,"

Gerrard Winstanley

Where is the good old cause now?...and what is become of it? In whose hands does it lie?

Edward Burrough, To the Whole English Army(1659)

Friends, Meddle Not with the Powers of the Earth,

George Fox

Despite being only sixteen pages long, The Peculiar History Of The Sect Known as the Quakers poses a number of questions, who were the Quakers? Why were they persecuted? Why did they stop being radical? How did some of Bristol's Quakers become so rich?

Jim McNeill's excellent pamphlet give partial answers to the above questions and encourages the reader to read around the subject. Even a cursory look at the early history of the Quakers tell us that they were a mass of contradictions. During the English Revolution, the Quakers were closely aligned with other radical groups such as the Levellers and Diggers.

As Alan Cole explains "for nearly thirty years after the defeat of the Levellers at Burford, no political party emerged which could claim the effective support of the English radicals. Throughout this period the main centres of resistance were the Puritan sects and the history of the radical movement of the time, therefore, is closely bound up with the history of religious dissent. It is this fact which lends peculiar interest to the history of the early Quakers. For the rise of the Quakers spans the period from the breach between Cromwell and the radical movement to the emergence of the new Country Party at the end of the 1670's; and conversely, the decline of Quakerism in England may be traced back to the final defeat of the popular movement and the political compromise of 1688. Moreover, the first Quakers had had close connections with the earlier radical movement. Like the Levellers, most of them came from the class of petty traders and handicraftsmen, although it is worth noting that the movement made more headway among the peasantry than the Levellers had done. Over half the early Quaker leaders were directly connected with the land, and throughout the century the movement remained strong in the rural districts of the north and west"[1].

McNeil is one of only a handful of left-wing historians who have examined the Quakers in the context of their role in the English revolution. Christopher Hill’s output on the Quakers was reduced amounted to a lecture at Friends House in London in 1993 and his book The World Turned Upside Down he devoted one chapter which included the Ranters alongside the Quakers. This is not down to a lack of resources. Hill’s limited work on the Quakers contained very little original research.

In many ways, the Quakers are the forgotten radicals of the English revolution. As Jean Hatton[2] points out in her excellent biography, the Quaker leader George Fox is hardly known outside the Quaker movement. If ever a person needed rescuing from the condescension of history, Fox is it.

Mcneill poses an interesting question in his pamphlet? How did an early movement that expressed egalitarian strivings of the more poorer sections of society end up playing such a crucial role in the early development of capitalism? As McNeill points, it was Quakers that founded most of the big banks that now operate like a colossus over the world.

One answer not really explored by McNeill lies in the class nature of the Quakers. While containing some plebian elements, this was essentially a movement in modern terms of what would be the lower middle class. If truth be told, it was mainly the plebian elements that gave the movement its radical edge.

As McNeill points out the early Quaker movement exploded during the English revolution alongside side other radical groups, Seekers, Ranters, Antinomians, Seventh Day Baptists, Soul sleepers, Adamites, Diggers, Levellers, Anabaptists, Mennonites, Behmenists, Muggletonians to name but a few.

In Christopher Hill's The World Turned Upside Down[3] he explains the reasoning behind this explosion of radicalism and a world that was turned upside down, Hill writes: “From, say, 1645 to 1653, there was a great overturning, questioning, revaluing, of everything in England. Old institutions, old beliefs, old values came in question. Men moved easily from one critical group to another, and a Quaker of the early 1650s had far more in common with a Leveller, a Digger, or a Ranter than with a modern member of the Society of Friends”.

It is interesting that Hill's in the book puts the Quakers with the Ranters in his only stand-alone chapter in the book. As Hill points out that Ranters were often confused with Ranters. George Fox leader of the Quakers would spend a large amount of his time trying to distance his movement away from the Ranters.

In 1652 Quakerism was at the height of its power, but from then onwards its radicalism started to wane very badly. As Hill explains the ebbing of the Quaker movement "In time of defeat when the wave of revolution was ebbing, the inner voice became quietist, pacifist. This voice only was recognized by others as God's. God was no longer served by the extravagant gesture, whether Nayler's entry into Bristol or the blasphemy of the Ranters. Once the group decided this way, all the pressures were in the direction of accepting modes of expression not too shocking to the society in which men had to live and earn their living. The radicals were so effectively silenced that we do not know whether many held out in isolation with Milton. We do not even know about Winstanley. But what looked in the Ranter heyday as though it might become a counter-culture became a corner of the bourgeois culture whose occupants asked only to be left alone."

It is no coincidence that its move away from its early radicalism coincided with the rise of capitalism which it played an extremely important part. During the early part of the 18th century and 9th century, Quakers went on to be an indispensable tool in the development of capitalism. They were especially important in the field of technological innovations.  Industrial capitalism would rely heavily on Quaker's inventions. 

As Steven Davison points out "They build many of the key industries, establish many of the most important companies, build its financial infrastructure, develop new modes of organization, and pioneer humane treatment of workers. At the same time that they are engaging the world of business, industry and commerce with incredible energy and invention, they are withdrawing from engagement with the world in virtually every other area of life. Friends maintain this double culture for two hundred years. In England, they become fabulously wealthy; in America, they do pretty well[4].

[1] The Quakers and the English Revolution: Alan Cole -Past & Present, No. 10 (Nov. 1956), pp. 39-54
[2] George Fox: A Biography of the Founder of the Quakers Paperback – 1 Sep 2007-by Jean Hatton
[3] The World Turned Upside Down: Radical Ideas During the English Revolution (Penguin History) Paperback – 12 Dec 1991
[4] Quakers & Capitalism: A Brief Recap-

Sunday, 26 January 2020

Does the17th Century English Bourgeois Revolution need a reset

"Every sociological definition is at bottom a historical prognosis". Leon Trotsky

A social order that was essentially feudal was destroyed by violence, a new and capitalist social order created in its place" Christopher Hill

'a battleground which has been heavily fought over...beset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way'. Lawrence Stone


The last three decades have witnessed a non-stop onslaught by revisionist historians against the conception that England during the seventeenth- century witnessed a bourgeois revolution. The purpose of this essay is to reset the conception of a bourgeois revolution and reestablish it as part of our understanding of those unprecedented events that took place nearly four hundred years ago.

The historian most connected with the English bourgeois revolution was, of course, Christopher Hill. Hill was a member of the Communist Party until 1956 and was the author of the groundbreaking essay The English Revolution 1640[1].

In his introduction, Hill wrote "the object of this essay is to suggest an interpretation of the events of the seventeenth century different from that which most of us were taught at school. To summarise it briefly, this interpretation is that the English Revolution of 1640-60 was a great social movement like the French Revolution of 1789. The state power protecting an old order that was essentially feudal was violently overthrown, power passed into the hands of a new class, and so the freer development of capitalism was made possible. The Civil War was a class war, in which the despotism of Charles I was defended by the reactionary forces of the established Church and conservative landlords. Parliament beat the King because it could appeal to the enthusiastic support of the trading and industrial classes in town and countryside, to the yeomen and progressive gentry, and to wider masses of the population whenever they were able by free discussion to understand what the struggle was really about. The rest of this essay will try to prove and illustrate these generalisations".

Hill knew that defending and proving his thesis would be easier said than done. He would be attacked both inside and outside the Communist party. He would spend most of his academic career seeking to defend and then re-define what he meant by a bourgeois revolution. 

In his 1940 essay he acknowledges how difficult it was to offer a precise definition of a bourgeois revolution, he writes"The Marxist conception of a bourgeois revolution, which I find the most helpful model for understanding the English Revolution, does not mean a revolution made by the bourgeoisie'. There was no self-conscious bourgeoisie which planned and willed the revolution. However, the English Revolution was a bourgeois revolution because of its outcome, though glimpsed by few of its participants, 'was the establishment of conditions far more favourable to the development of capitalism than those which prevailed before 1640'.[2]

The 1940 essay was a breathtaking piece of work that deserved to be labelled groundbreaking. Although Hill was unsatisfied with what he wrote describing the essay, the work of “a very angry young man, believing he was going to be killed in a world war.”

Hill is correct when he says that the 1640 "bourgeois revolution was not consciously willed by the bourgeoisie", but he was as Ann Talbot explains "sensitive enough to his historical sources to detect the social currents that brought people of diverse social backgrounds into struggle against the king and well-grounded enough in history to identify new and revolutionary ideas in the curious and archaic guise in which they appeared—as the ideologists of the revolution ransacked the Bible and half-understood historical precedent for some theory to explain what they were doing."[3]

Despite Hill's belief that the bourgeoisie did not know what they were doing Talbot believed that Hill was"sufficiently astute to realise that when the people execute their king after a solemn trial and much deliberation, it is not the result of a misunderstanding but has a profound revolutionary significance entailing a complete break with the feudal past. Although the monarchy was later restored and the triumphant bourgeoisie was soon eager to pretend that the whole thing had been a ghastly mistake, no monarch sat quickly on the throne after that event until quite late in Victoria's reign".

Not everyone in the Communist Party welcomed Hill’s groundbreaking work on the English Revolution. The CP's Labour Monthly carried several articles attacking Hill’s conception of the English bourgeois revolution.

A certain P.F wrote "When the king and the bourgeoisie began to realise that the system of government which up to then had worked rather satisfactorily would have to be changed somehow, the king looked for allies. The king was, as we have said, not simply a helpless instrument in the hands of the bourgeoisie but had a certain independent power corresponding to the stage or transition between the classes. In order to keep this power and to extend it, the king turned for support to the feudal remnants and to the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie. With the help of these groups, he tried to reign against the majority of the bourgeoisie, especially the industrial and merchant bourgeoisie. Out of this conflict developed the Great Rebellion, the Civil War. The Great Rebellion, therefore, is, in my opinion, not the war of liberation of a suppressed bourgeoisie against feudalism - as was the Revolution of 1789. It represents rather a new and very important step forward in the progress of bourgeois society, a fight for the abolition of absolute monarchy, against the remnants of feudalism, against the reactionary sections of the bourgeoisie, against every element which might retard the vigorous development of bourgeois capitalist society”[4].

One staggering point about Hill's original article is the fact that it was allowed to be published by such an ossified Stalinist party. P.F's comment was essentially reformist and was merely trumpeting Joseph Stalin’s Menshevik two-stage political position[5].

Hill's ability to write against the CP'ss party line on historical questions are explained by Talbot who said there was "something Jesuitical about the relationship of these historians to Marxism. They seem to have been capable of partitioning their minds and pursuing a scientific Marxist approach to history up to the point where the Stalinist bureaucracy drew the line, like the Jesuit scientists who would pursue their investigations as far as the Church authorities permitted, but no further. It was an approach that was further encouraged by the extreme specialisation of academic life that enabled them to concentrate on very narrow areas of history that never brought them into direct collision with the bureaucracy on political questions.

It has been said that as Hill began to write on different aspects of the revolution, this meant he had abandoned the concept of the bourgeois revolution. One essay, in particular, has been cited as marking a change in Hill's stance on the revolution. Published in Three British Revolutions, 1641, 1688, 1776 Ed J A Pocock (Princeton U.P 1980) some historians believe it contained a change and repudiated his previous theory of the bourgeois revolution.

While it is correct to say that Hill did in his early career concentrate on economic questions in this 1980s essay: A Bourgeois revolution, he said that" a revolution embraces all social life and activities.

Hill started to pay attention to the radicals of the English revolution. Groups such as the Levellers and Diggers were given far more prominence in his writings. Even his writings on these groups were influenced by his time in the CP. He owes a tremendous debt to the unfortunately underused historians of the former USSR. Hill was constrained to use only the ones cleared by the Russian CP.

One outstanding writer not cleared by the CP was Evgeny Pashukanis. Whether Hill studied Evgeny Pashukanis is an open point. Pashukanis makes this point on the Levellers “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.

He continues"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.

"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".[6] Pashukanis was denounced as an "enemy of the people" then denounced as a "Trotskyite saboteur" and was executed in September 1937.

Hill defended his study of the radicals saying that " some will think that I overemphasize the importance of the defeated radicals at the expense of the mainstream achievements of the English revolution. However, without the pressure of the Radicals, the civil war might not have transformed into a revolution: some compromise could have been botched up between the gentry on the two sides- a Prussian path”. Regicide and republic were no part of the intentions of the original leaders of the Long Parliament: they were forced on the men of 1649 by the logic of the revolution which they were trying to control.”[7]

While it is rare for any historian today to come to the defence of Hill’s writing on the radicals of the English Revolution or any subject for that matter covered by Hill, it is to Justin Champion's credit that he did so in his lecture Heaven Taken by Storm. Champion writes “Hill handled ideas in his three significant books Intellectual Origins of the English Revolution, Some Intellectual Consequences of the English Revolution, and The World Turned Upside Down. Alongside those broader historical landscapes, Hill also offered profound studies of significant literary figures such as John Milton and John Bunyan. These works collectively ought to prompt discussion about what type of Marxism Hill subscribed too. His historical writing allowed space to consider the role of ideas, assessments of the individuals who produced them, and the consequent agency or outcomes of those moments of intellectual intervention. Hill did not employ the deterministic treatment of ideas as mere epiphenomena of economic infrastructure or class affiliation so frequently evident in the hostile caricature of his work. Much of the crude assault on the value of Hill’s history has been shaped by the distinct lack of conceptual engagement with the published evidence of his Marxist methodology. The best way to remedy this occlusion is to examine those under-read contributions by the man himself.[8]

As Champion points out in his essay if there was one constant feature of Hill's work, it was that he understood the relationship between base and superstructure. As Karl Marx was the leading proponent of this theory, it is worth seeing what he wrote. If there is one major criticism is that Hill did not quote enough of Marx in his books.

Marx wrote in his 1859 essay[9] "In the social production of their existence, men inevitably enter into definite relations, which are independent of their will, namely relations of production appropriate to a given stage in the development of their material forces of production. The totality of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which arises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social consciousness. The mode of production of material life conditions the general process of social, political and intellectual life. It is not the consciousness of men that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness. At a certain stage of development, the material productive forces of society come into conflict with the existing relations of production or – this merely expresses the same thing in legal terms – with the property relations within the framework of which they have operated hitherto. From forms of development of the productive forces, these relations turn into their fetters. Then begins an era of social revolution. The changes in the economic foundation lead sooner or later to the transformation of the whole immense superstructure”.

It is clear from the Pocock essay that later in his career, Hill concentrated more on superstructure than he did on base. This shift must be said coincided with his leaving of the Communist Party in 1956. Perhaps his last great book on economic questions was Economic Problems of the Church written in 1956 although he would later return to the subject from time to time. The book A Century of Revolution published in 1961 was one such time.

Hill'ss essay The English Revolution was, in many ways, a piece of classical Marxism. Not the last word on the subject but he did defend in the teeth of Stalinist opposition several fundamental Marxist conceptions. It is hard to fathom how much Hill read of the great Russian Marxist Leon Trotsky but his understanding of qualitative changes in history mirrors that of Trotsky.

As Trotsky explains "Quality is an aspect of something by which it is what it is and not something else; quality reflects that which is stable amidst change. Quantity is an aspect of something which may change (become more or less) without the thing thereby becoming something else; quantity reflects that which is constantly changing in the world (“the more things change, the more they remain the same”). The quality of an object pertains to the whole, not one or another part of an object, since without that quality it would not be what it is, whereas an object can lose a “part” and still be what it is, minus the part. Quantity, on the other hand, is an aspect of a thing by which it can (mentally or really) be broken up into its parts (or degrees) and be re-assembled again. Thus, if something changes in such a way that has become something of a different kind, this is a “qualitative change”, whereas a change in something by which it still the same thing, though more or less, bigger or smaller, is a “quantitative change”. In Hegel’s Logic, quantity and quality belong to being”[10]

One unfortunate by-product of Hill concentration on social or political aspects rather than the economics of the revolution was his adoption of the genre “Peoples history”. This particular bad piece of Stalinist baggage was taken by Hill when he left the CP. His approach to this type of history was directly influenced by the politics of the bureaucracy.

As Ann Talbot eloquently states "The Communist Party sponsored a form of People'ss History”, which is typified by A.L. Morton's Peoples History of England in which the class character of earlier rebels, revolutionaries and popular leaders was obscured by regarding them all as representatives of a national revolutionary tradition. This historical approach reflected the nationalism of the bureaucracy, their hostility to internationalism and their attempts to form an unprincipled alliance with the supposedly democratic capitalists against the fascist Axis countries. People’s history was an attempt to give some historical foundation to the policies of Popular Front—the subordination of the working class to supposedly progressive sections of the bourgeoisie and the limiting of political action to the defence of bourgeois democracy—which provided a democratic facade to the systematic murder of thousands of genuine revolutionaries, including Trotsky. It was the approach that Christopher Hill was trained in, along with E.P. Thompson, Rodney Hilton and Eric Hobsbawm, who were part of the Marxist Historians Group and came under the influence of Maurice Dobb and Dona Torr.
 Stone- Manning

Hill's concept was not without its admirers or supporters. One such supporter in the early days of Hill's career was the American historian Lawrence Stone. Stone it is said described the history of the 17th century as 'a battleground which has been heavily fought over...beset with mines, booby-traps and ambushes manned by ferocious scholars prepared to fight every inch of the way'.

Stone took a position similar to the Christian Socialist historian R.H. Tawney, which sought to explain the cause of the English Civil War from the standpoint of a growing and politically influential section of the gentry. The growth of this gentry had over the preceding years led to a destabilising of the English State. The historian Hugh Trevor-Roper "inverted this theory, arguing that in fact the Civil War was caused in part by court gentry who had fallen on bad times”.

In his book, The Causes of the English Revolution Stone does present a convincing case for the defence of the English revolution. It is broken down into two parts with four chapters; the fourth is an update on Stone’s previous position written in 1985. Part one is titled Historiography sub titled Theories of revolution. Stone does work through a number of sociological and Marxist theories as to the revolutionary nature of the English Civil war. Stone's enquiry on the nature of the English Revolution was prompted by his time at Princeton University in America. While teaching at Princeton he came under extensive attack by his students for his leanings towards a social/economic read Marxist interpretation of the Civil War.

Stone may have considered himself a young Marxist, but he was nothing of the kind. Stone had a major problem in that he never really understood the difference between genuine Marxism and a crude form of economic determinism.

As Nick Beams points out in his outstanding essay Imperialism and the political economy of the Holocaust “One of the most frequently employed caricatures of Marxism is the claim that it argues that ideology is just a cover for the real economic motivations of social actors. Accordingly, Marxism is disproved by the discovery that individuals act, not according to economic motives but on the basis of powerful ideologies. For example, the right-wing British historian Niall Ferguson maintains that since no business interests on either side of the conflict desired World War I—it served the immediate economic interests of neither—its origins cannot be said to lie within the capitalist economic system. It should be noted, in this regard, that no business or financial interests want recession either. However, recessions nevertheless occur, and they arise from the contradictions of the capitalist economy. Marxism does not deny that historical actors are motivated and driven into action by their ideological conceptions, and it does not claim that these ideologies are simply a rationalisation for the real economic motivations. However, it does insist that it is necessary to examine the motives behind the motives—the real, underlying, driving forces of the historical process—and to make clear the social interests served by a given ideology—a relationship that may or may not is consciously grasped by the individual involved.[11]

Stone, after he wrote this book, moved away from any association with Marxist historiography and in his own words became as he put it in an interview in 1987, "an old Whig.” The problem is that Stone tried to drag Hill into the same pit, stating that “Hill and I are thus now in agreement that the English Revolution was not caused by a clear conflict between feudal and bourgeois ideologies and classes; that the alignment of forces among the rural elites did not correlate with attitudes towards ruthless enclosure; that the Parliamentarian gentry had no conscious intention of destroying feudalism; but that the result, first of the royal defeat and second of the consolidation of that defeat in the Glorious Revolution forty years later, was decisive. Together they made possible the seizure of political power by landed, mercantile and banking elites, which in turn opened the way to England's advance into* the age of the Bank of England, the stock-market, aggressive economic liberalism, economic and affective individualism, and an agricultural entrepreneurship among the landed elite to whose unique characteristics.”.This was Stone's epitaph not Hill's

Brian Manning

Brain Manning was made of sterner stuff. Manning studied under Hill and was profoundly influenced by him. He started his academic career politically tied to the Labour Party later in life he was politically attached to the radical left group the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). This was a handicap that was to hamper his work for the rest of his relatively short life.

To what extent you could call Manning a Marxist historian” is open to debate. Usually, these labels are given by people who are too intellectually lazy to explain what they mean by that term.

In history, accuracy matters. For too long historians have thrown around terms like Marxist without any real understanding of what they mean. Whether conscious or not, they do a disservice to any student studying the English revolution.

Manning first meaningful involvement in politics was through the Labour Party, but it was not until the 1980s that Manning rejected the Labour Party and joined the International Socialists forerunner of the Socialist Workers Party(SWP). The SWP was attractive to Manning as they fitted into his schemer of history from below. The Communist Party historians heavily influenced the SWP.

Manning was a student under Hill in the early 1950s and admired the great historian. In an obituary he wrote “The undoubted dominance of Christopher Hill in the history of the English Revolution may be attributed to his prolific record of books and articles, and his continuous engagement in debate with other historians; to the breadth of his learning, embracing the history of literature, the law, science, as well as religion and economics; to the fact that his work set the agenda and the standard to which all historians of the period had to address themselves, whether in support of or opposition to his methods and interpretations; but above all to the inspiration he drew from Marxism. The English Revolution took place in a culture dominated by religious ideas and religious language, and Christopher Hill recognised that he had to uncover the social context of religion in order to find the key to understanding the English Revolution, and as a Marxist to ascertain the interrelationships between the intellectual and social aspects of the period”.[12]

Manning developed close links with the Communist Party when he left Balliol College, Oxford. Having his first teaching post at Kings College London, then Manchester University finally ending up at University of Ulster. A critical development in Manning's historical trajectory was when he served on the editorial board of the Magazine Past and Present, which was close to the Communist Party Historians. While opposing what he called “Soviet Communism” during his time on the editorial board he was not opposed to collaborating with British Communists historians.

Much of Manning work concentrated more of the radical groups in the English Revolution such as the Levellers, diggers etc. According to Alex Calinicos “At the end of the 1980s, Brian started to attend and speak at the Marxism week of discussion organised by the Socialist Workers Party every July in London. What drew us together was a shared commitment to the Marxist theory of history and an enthusiasm for the English Revolution. (Some of us - John Rees, for example - have always found it hard to distinguish between the two: there was a plan in 1994, as far as I remember never executed, to take a minibus to the battlefield of Naseby to gloat over the destruction of Stuart power by the New Model Army 350 years earlier.) Not the best epitaph a historian would want.

Norah Carlin is a little bit scathing of Manning’s defence of the English revolution, Manning’s work had “alarming absence of explicitly Marxist explanation. Manning, for example, states his position on the nature of the class struggle in the Civil War in nine lines of his preface, and in a form which makes it almost impossible to recognise it as Marxist. Left-wing historians seem more concerned to establish their fair use of evidence than to engage in the development of a Marxist understanding of the class struggle”.

Revisionist revolt

While the development of revisionist historians attacking Hill and the concept of the English bourgeois revolution was an objective occurrence, it must be said that Hill did very little to counter this phenomenon. He was after all a better historian than he was a political thinker.

Hill'ss complacency was expressed in this statement “we should not take these fashions too seriously: they go in cycles, and it is no doubt my age that makes me a little sceptical of latter-day “revisionist” historians who try to convince us that there was no revolution in 17th century England, or that if there was it had no long-term causes or consequences.’ 

As Norah Carlin explains The New History which has grown up especially in the last twenty years makes no bones about its hostility to Marxism. In the 1950s, the most vicious attacks on the Marxist interpretation of the Civil War (by Hugh Trevor-Roper, as right-wing politically and as nasty personally as you could hope or fear to find) nevertheless offered an alternative explanation in terms of social conflict, namely the struggle of the impoverished gentry against the overgrown Renaissance state. But from the mid-1960s it became right-wing orthodoxy to deny that the Civil War was a class conflict at all. By 1973, the introduction to a widely-used textbook by Conrad Russell could claim that ‘For the time being ... social change explanations of the English Civil War must be regarded as having broken down.’ Lest anyone should think that that places the burden of providing an alternative explanation on the shoulders of right-wing historians, the task of explanation is either postponed until we have enough new biographies of seventeenth-century politicians and studies of day-to-day debates in Parliament; or cynically denied altogether. One historian has even taken Marxists to task for over-explaining the phenomena of the past’. We must allow, he says, for the role of sheer muddle and misunderstanding in history.’13]

Carlin had a far greater understanding of the dangers of revisionism than Hill. You would have thought that her own Party(SWP) would have taken on board her warnings regarding the rise of this anti-Marxism.

While publishing her two significant essays on the English revolution, they nonetheless stayed with Hill baggage and all. Perhaps one day Carlin will write about her time in the SWP and its relationship with Hill. As Carlin states “Ironically, the left organisation I belonged to for many years regarded me as a heretic because I did not agree with every last word written by Christopher Hill, including his claims that the gentry were 'the natural rulers of the English countryside' and that 'the Bible caused the death of Charles I'. As I said in the 2019 memorial lecture, I value Hill's contribution to the historiography of the English Revolution very highly indeed, but his writings are not the last word on everything! It is only when there is no more debate that history ceases to be interesting”.[14] Or as Ann Talbot said of Hill “He may be bettered, but never dismissed, and only bettered by those who have studied him closely.”

[1] The English Revolution 1640-
[2] The English Revolution 1640-
[3] "These the times ... this the man": an appraisal of historian Christopher Hill by Ann Talbot 25 March 
[4] The Peasant's Revolt: A Reply and a Rejoinder-
[5] See- Trotsky, Leon, The Permanent Revolution (1928) and Results and Prospects (1906), New Park Publications, London, (1962)
[6] Evgeny Pashukanis-Revolutionary Elements in the History of the English State and Law
[7] Three British Revolutions: 1641, 1688, 1776-By John Greville Agard Pocock
[8] Heaven Taken by Storm: Christopher Hill, Andrew Marvell and the Dissenting Tradition-
[9] Karl Marx 1859-A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy-
[10] The ABC of Materialist Dialectics-(December 1939)
[11] Imperialism and the political economy of the Holocaust-
[12] Brian Manning-Turning Point in History-(March 2003)
[13] Norah Carlin-Marxism and the English Civil War-(Autumn 1980)
[14]Interview with Historian Norah Carlin-