Sunday, 18 July 2021

I Come To Bury Cromwell Not Praise Him

'Cromwell was about 50% saint and about 50% serpent.'

Ronald Hutton,

Cromwell's task consisted of inflicting as shattering a blow as possible upon the absolutist monarchy, the court nobility and the semi-Catholic Church, which had been adjusted to the needs of the monarchy and the nobility. For such a blow, Cromwell, the true representative of the new class, needed the forces and passions of the masses of people.'

Leon Trotsky

'In dispersing parliament after parliament, Cromwell displayed as little reverence towards the fetish of "national" representation as in the execution of Charles I he had displayed insufficient respect for a monarchy by the grace of God. Nonetheless, it was this same Cromwell who paved the way for the parliamentarism and democracy of the two subsequent centuries. In revenge for Cromwell's execution of Charles I, 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.'

Leon Trotsky

If the historian Thomas Carlyle were alive today, he would have sent a strongly worded email to the Bristol University Professor Ronald Hutton asking why he had heaped a further dead dog on top of the great leader of the English bourgeois revolution Oliver Cromwell.

In a recent BBC History magazine article called The dark truth about Oliver Cromwell, Hutton claims that "The victor of the Civil Wars described himself as pious, honest and selfless. But, as all too many victims of his lies and malice would have attested, the reality was often more sinister".[1]

The purpose of his BBC article was not to make an objective assessment of Cromwell but has more to do with the fact that Hutton has a book on Cromwell coming out in August.[2]

The last few decades have seen a veritable production line of studies examining every facet of the main leader of the English bourgeois revolution. In the past three decades alone, he has been the subject of five full-length biographies, three studies of his career as a soldier, and a further three major collections of essays.

Hutton is a capable historian, so why would he adopt the attitude of a Sun Newspaper journalist when assessing Cromwell. One reason is that he can get away with it. It is a rare event today when a historian challenges the work of a fellow historian. History has become far too polite. Long gone are the great debates of the past. Today's historians are far too comfortable and passive.

Hutton's essay has all the hallmarks of a provocation which he knows will go unanswered. A second reason and Hutton is correct to say that so little is known about Cromwell that it is easy to make outlandish comments on his character without too much come back.

Hutton's new book on Cromwell does not appear until August of this year, but it is clear from his previous work on Cromwell that he is unlikely to produce an objective biography of Cromwell based on the previous historiography. Hutton rejects the notion that Cromwell can be best understood from this objective standpoint.

While it is hoped that Hutton's new book does place Cromwell within the complex events that are known as the English Revolution, given that his BBC History Magazine does not, I will not hold my breath.

Hutton knows he cannot just trash the memory of Cromwell. In his essay, he pays lip service to Cromwell's many attributes but adds, "all this is quite familiar to scholars of the period, but my research also revealed less attractive – and less often noticed – aspects of Cromwell's personality. One is his relentless pursuit of self-promotion. He grabbed the attention of the Long Parliament, almost as soon as it was elected, by speaking on behalf of the famous radical Puritan John Lilburne, who had been imprisoned by the royal government. Cromwell had never met the man, but that did not prevent him from using his misfortune as an opportunity to further his career".[3]

The rest of Hutton's article continues trashing Cromwell's reputation. He rehashes previous vitriolic attacks on Cromwell, saying that "Cromwell prepared his soldiers to inflict violence and retribution before the assault by quoting a biblical text which called for the cleansing of the land of idolators, declaring of Catholic images that "they that make them are like unto them" and so should be destroyed with them. His notorious massacre at the Irish town of Drogheda, later in his career, was long presaged".

Buzzing Of The Bees

Despite it going out of fashion, I still find it important to establish what the great English historian E. H Carr said was going on inside a historians head. What if any bees are buzzing around Hutton's head?

The first thing that strikes you about Hutton's work is his underestimation of the damage revisionist historians have done in their Marxist and Whig historiography attacks. In his book Debates in Stuart History, according to Mark Stoyle, "Hutton argues that the 'revisionist' wave of the late 1970 s was the product of specific developments within the culture of academic life over the previous fifteen years: citing, in particular, the expansion of higher education, which prompted a novel disposition among academics 'to establish new work by questioning received views'; the sudden availability of fresh sources; and 'the general distrust of established values which developed during the 1960s."

Stoyle says that  "Hutton's argument that revisionism was not so much a specifically right-wing attack on the left, as is sometimes claimed, but was rather a rebellion by young historians of widely differing political views against those senior academics — almost all from comfortable backgrounds, but of far-left inclinations — who represented the historical establishment. The fact that the young Turks — mostly political liberals, who 'included no Marxists or radical socialists' — were so quickly labelled as 'revisionists' by their opponents was indicative of how some senior left-wing academics saw the battle, for, as Hutton notes, the term 'revisionist' had 'commonly been employed during the … 1970 s by Marxists across the world to describe those who adulterated and betrayed true doctrine'.

What the revisionists eventually succeeded in doing was to demolish the 'socialist modernisation of the Victorian historiographical achievement' which had been crafted by historians such as Christopher Hill over the previous 30 years. But, partly because of their differences in emphasis, partly because of the sheer complexity of the picture which they had uncovered, the revisionists failed to establish a new consensus of their own".[4]

It is no accident that Stoyles praises Hutton's latest book as both seem to adopt a lot of the right-wing wing revisionists hostility to Marxist historiography. While  Hutton does note somewhat perceptively that those right-wing revisionist historians who sought to demolish Marxist historiography had nothing but hot air in which to replace it. Hutton's complacent attitude towards these historians further legitimises their anti-Marxism.

To conclude, I will review Hutton's new book at a later date. Those who want a more objective assessment of Oliver |Cromwell would do well to examine t the work of the great Marxist revolutionary Leon Trotsky, who said of Cromwell," In this way, Cromwell built not merely an army but also a party -- his army was to some extent an armed party and herein precisely lay its strength. In 1644 Cromwell's "holy" squadrons won a brilliant victory over the King's horsemen and won the nickname of "Ironsides." It is always useful for a revolution to have iron sides. On this score British workers can learn much from Cromwell".[5]




[1] BBC History Magazine-8 Jul 2021-Ronald Hutton.

[2] The Making of Oliver Cromwell-Ronald Hutton.

[3] BBC History Magazine-8 Jul 2021-Ronald Hutton.

[4] Debates in Stuart History by Ronald Hutton

[5] Leon Trotsky's Writings On Britain-Two traditions: the seventeenth-century revolution and Chartism-

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Heaven: A Novel by Mieko Kawakami-Translator: Sam Bett and David Boyd-New York. Europa Editions. 2021. 192 pages.

"Whom do I hate most among the rabble of today? The socialist rabble, the chandala apostles, who undermine the instinct, the pleasure, the worker's sense of satisfaction with his small existence—who make him envious, who teach him revenge. The  source of wrong is never unequal rights but the claim of "equal" rights"—Nietzsche's The Anti-Christ, 1888

"I was always quite a philosophical child, asking odd questions and in a hurry to grow up". Mieko Kawakami

"'Progress' is a modern idea, which is to say it is a false idea."—Nietzsche's The Anti-Christ, 1888

Mieko Kawakami latest novel, excellently translated by Sam Bett and David Boyd, is a brutal examination of adolescence in Japanese society. The book is drawn from her childhood in Osaka, Japan. By all accounts, it was a pretty bad experience. Her father was never home. Forced into being the main breadwinner at a tender age to support her family gave her the ability to write this "novel of ideas"  ". As Kawakami says, "I was always quite a philosophical child, asking odd questions and in a hurry to grow up".

Kawakami started to write at a very early age. She explains that "I try to write from the child's perspective—how they see the world. Coming to the realisation you are alive is such a shock. One day, we are thrown into life without warning."

In an interview with The Japan Times, Kawakami says, "I wanted to create a story that examines how religion, ethics and friendship influence human relationships," she says. "Do we live our lives under the guidance of something bigger, like spiritual or ethical beliefs, or do we live as individuals?".[1]

As Elaine Margolin perceptively writes, "Kawakami is captivated by that precious time of life when one is on the cusp of adulthood but still really a child. The author's ability to mimic the rhythmic disturbances of a teenage mind is mesmerising; she is a master of the interior voice. She instinctively grasps how one can feel silly and light one moment and be in the throes of anguish the next. In one of her earlier novels, Ms Ice Sandwich, she describes a lonely boy whose family is in disarray, finding solace by visiting a supermarket worker each day who kindly gives him an egg sandwich".[2]

The book's theme of childhood bullying is a universal one. " Kawakami explains that the nature of bullying has changed. "In the old days, there were just two places for relationships — home or school — but now, with social media, there is nowhere to hide, and the pressure is constant. Victims of bullying think the whole world knows they are being bullied. It is even crueller today with the way it can be spread."

I still remember my childhood bully. His name was Desmond Kavanagh. His reign of terror did not last too long. Unlike Kawamaki's character, who does not fight back, one person in my school had enough of Kavanagh's bullying and kicked the crap out of him. The bizarre thing is that Kavanagh tried to befriend me on Friends Reunited a few years later.

Novel of Ideas

Heaven has been described as a novel about ideas. Writing a "novel of Ideas" is a complicated business. Kawakami draws heavily on the work of philosophers like Frederich Nietzsche and Kant. A blog that she started to promote her singing career, "Critique of Pure Sadness," displayed an unhealthy fascination with Kant. Her latest book leans heavily on Nietzsche's Thus Spoke Zarathustra. This is a very unfortunate choice, especially for such a young writer. Nietzsche's hostility towards the working class and socialism and his disdain for objective truth made him a favourite writer of the Nazi movement.

As Stefan Steinberg states, "Apologists for Nietzsche seek to distance him from the policy and activities of the Nazis. But is Nietzsche's position here so remote from Adolph Hitler's entreaty, in an internal NSDAP memo of 1922, for the: "most uncompromising and brutal determination to destroy and liquidate Marxism"? Adolph Hitler was certainly no philosopher, just as Nietzsche was not merely a political ideologue. But who can reasonably doubt that the former had little difficulty in seamlessly incorporating the latter's thoroughly backwards-looking programme of biological racism, hatred of socialism and the concept of social equality—together with his advocacy of militarism and war—into the eclectic baggage of ideas which constituted the programme of National Socialism"?.[3]

The strength of the novel is Kawamaki's examination of ideas as a way of writing a novel. As Merve Emre writes, "dreamlike expression of their fledgling ideas has an artistic value that flies in the face of critics like Northrop Frye, who believed that an "interest in ideas and theoretical statements is alien to the genius of the novel proper, where the technical problem is to dissolve all theory into personal relationships." But "Heaven" also models a rigorous and elegant process of inquiry that can transcend its pared-down fictional world. It agitates against the enduring idea that the best novels concern themselves with the singular minds and manners of people, offering no resources for the political and moral demands of "real life." The narrator's persecutor Ninomiya energetically parrots this argument".[4]

Kawakami, ability to write from a child's perspective is astonishing at times and avoids what one writer says are "puffed-up platitudes about the inherent cruelty and sympathy of children".

If I am generous, I would say that Kawakami also avoids Nietzsche's social and political pessimism and presents the world of children accurately. One major criticism is that, unlike many great Japanese writers, such as Yukio Mishima and Kazuo Ishiguro, she does not place her characters in this book in a social or political context. The reader would not know that while "Heaven" takes place in Japan, bullying is rife in Japanese society so much that classroom harassment forced a government to bring in national legislation because of a growing number of student suicides.

To conclude, Kawakami's work is well worth reading. Her fiction deals with the problems of everyday life for working-class people in Japan. That is one of the reasons behind her popularity. She examines critical social issues that permeate Japanese society. These include broken families, absent fathers and children struggling to find themselves in a increasingly cruel world. It is hoped that she does not spend too much time absorbing Nietzsche's works and instead let herself be influenced by some more healthy writers such as Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse. She has a bright future, and I look forward to her next novel.

 About the Author

Mieko Kawakami is the author of the novel Breasts and Eggs, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and one of TIME's Best 10 Books of 2020. She was born in Osaka. Kawakami made her writing debut as a poet in 2006 and published her first novella, My Ego, My Teeth, and the World, in 2007. Her writing is deeply imbued with poetic qualities. Her work concentrates on the plight of women in Japanese society. Her works have been translated into many languages and are available all over the world. She has received numerous prestigious literary awards in Japan for her work, including the Akutagawa Prize, the Tanizaki Prize, and the Murasaki Shikibu Prize.