Encyclopedia of Anti-Revisionism On-Line

Michael McCreery

Origins of the British State

First Published: Vanguard, July 1964
Republished: the Workers Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist) 1977
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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1977 Publisher’s Note: Michael McCreery was the founder and secretary of the Marxist-Leninist organisation the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity formed in 1963, and editor of its paper ’Vanguard’. For over a decade he and other communists had struggled to save the Communist Party of Great Britain as the proletarian vanguard party and to defend the revolutionary principles of Marxism-Leninism from the attacks of the modern revisionists – those anti-working class opportunists who were revising Marxism into bourgeois reformism and destroying the Party. But the Party bureaucrats repeatedly refused to publish or discuss his principled criticisms leading him in 1963 to address his ’Appeal to All Communists’ in England, Scotland & Wales to break politically, ideologically and organisationally with the CPGB, unite with the Marxist-Leninists internationally headed by the Albanian and Chinese Parties against Khruschev revisionism and form a new revolutionary leadership. This outstanding Marxist-Leninist died of cancer in 1965 aged 36. In 1966 the Scottish Committee of the CDRCU founded the Workers Party of Scotland (Marxist-Leninist).

This article does not appear to have been continued in any later edition and it may be that comrade McCreery’s ill health prevented its completion.

* * *

A Welshman became King of England and Wales in 1485, and the Act of Union followed in 1536. This union served the interests of the rising capitalist class. The creation of a strong centralised state power, uniting the two countries, was essential for the development of the new capitalist mode of production, which demanded one unified home market. “Capital comes dripping into the world with blood and dirt” wrote Marx in Capital and this is how he describes the birth of the system.

The capitalist era dates from the 16th century. . . . The prelude of the revolution that laid the foundation of the capitalist mode of production was played in the last third of the 15th, and the final decade of the 16th century. A mass of free proletarians was hurled on the labour market by the breaking-up of the bands of feudal retainers; who, as Sir James Steuart well says, ’everywhere uselessly filled house and castle.’ Although the royal power, itself a product of bourgeois development (my italics, M.McC.) in its strife after absolute sovereignty forcibly hastened on the dissolution of these bands of retainers, it was by no means the sole cause of it. In insolent conflict with king and parliament, the great feudal lords created an incomparably larger proletariat by the forcible driving of the peasantry from the land, to which the latter had the same feudal rights as the lord himself, and by the usurpation of the common lands. The rapid rise of the Flemish wool manufacturers, and the corresponding rise of the price of wool in England, gave the direct impulse to these evictions. The old nobility had been devoured by the great feudal wars. The new nobility was the child of its time, for which, money was the power of all powers. (My Italics, M:McC).


The union of England and Wales was a deal struck between the “new nobility” of both countries, for whom “money was the power of all powers,” who produced on their great estates, wool, and other commodities, which were sold in the “market for profit; or alternatively extracted, rents from tenants whose incomes were obtained in the same way. These landlords were the decisive force which broke the back of the old feudal system of production. It was they, who employed “the power of the State, the concentrated and ’organised force’ of society to hasten, hot-house fashion, the process of transformation” of the feudal mode of production into the capitalist mode, and to shorten the transition.” Marx continued “Force is the mid-wife of every society pregnant with a new one. It is itself an economic power.”

The “new nobility” of England and Wales, and the “new nobility” of Scotland came to terms in 1603, when a Scotsman became King of England as well as Scotland. Henceforth Scotland was ruled from Whitehall. But full legislative, and thus economic, union, although proposed by the King and his Chancellor Francis Bacon in 1604, was not finally achieved until 1707, with the Act of Union.

Meanwhile, the Civil War in the 1640s, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, had established the political supremacy of, the rising merchant capitalists over the “new nobility”, the great landlords, who had controlled the state, through the monarchy, since the 16th century. It is important to recognise that these revolutions were not directed against the feudal mode of production, against a feudal nobility. The feudal system, and with it the feudal nobility, had been destroyed, with the Tudor state playing a full part, by the 16th century. The capitalist era had been in existence for a hundred years before the outbreak of the Civil War.

The first stage in the development of capitalism, which Marx called the manufacturing period, lasted “roughly speaking . . . from the middle of the 16th to the last third of the 18th century.” The basis of capitalist production during this period remained handicraft skills. For example, “cloth manufacture, as also a whole series of other manufactures, arise by combining different handicrafts together under the control of a single capitalist.” This mode of production is referred to by most bourgeois historians as the “domestic” or “putting-out system.” The capitalist bought wool in bulk from the landlord, or tenant farmer, and put it out to the spinners, the weavers, etc. [who worked in their own homes, and were paid by the piece], then sold the finished product to merchants, who organised its sale at home and overseas.

Both the landlords, who produced the raw materials which were demanded by the manufacturers and the merchants who disposed of the finished products, were part and parcel of the same capitalist mode of production, members of the same exploiting class. During the 16th century it was the landlords who were the decisive force making for economic avarice as they broke up the old feudal order, and laid the basis for capitalist production. But as the 17th century advanced, they and the monarchy which represented their interests began to act as a retarding force upon the further development of capitalism. The Crown’s policies favoured the great landlords at the expense of trade and industry. In a variety of ways the state prevented capital accumulated by the merchants and manufacturers from being reinvested in commerce and manufacture.


Oliver Cromwell, who led the revolutionary forces which overthrew the political power of the great landlords, came himself from the radical faction of the Gentry, or smaller landowners, whose own interests had been hard hit by economic depression and the policies of the Crown. But the decisive backing for Cromwell came from that section of the capitalist class whose wealth derived mainly from trade and manufacture and in particular the great merchants concerned with overseas trade and centred on London and other ports. It was necessary for It wide section of the people to mobilised in order to break the political power of the landlords. Cromwell appealed to the petty-bourgeois – small traders, artisans, and yeoman farmers-who provided the back bone of his armies. But immediately victory over the “new nobility” had been achieved Cromwell turned upon the Levellers, who represented the interests of the petty-bourgeoisie, and smashed them in battle. He returned to be feasted by the merchants of the City of London.

These great merchants were the real victors of the Civil War. Even Cromwell was too radical for their liking, once his task was done. The Restoration of a tamed monarchy in 1660, and the ousting of another who attempted to put back the clock, in the “Glorious” Revolution of 1688 confirmed them in their political supremacy. Parliament replaced the monarchy as the decisive institution of state. The politics of state and the laws were adjusted to meet the needs of the new rulers of Britain. An aggressive imperial policy led to a series of wars against foreign rivals from which the British capitalists emerged, in the main, victorious; and by the late 18th century Britain’s mercantile empire was the largest in the world. The merchants of London, Bristol, Liverpool, and Glasgow, waxed fat on the huge profits obtained from colonial trade and looting throughout the world. The African slave trade, the trade with the American plantations, based on slavery, and producing raw materials and foodstuffs for the British market’s and for re-export, the trade with, and outright looting of India, and other Asian countries, left a trail of suffering and death among the peoples of Asia, Africa, and America, and accumulated vast quantities of capital for the British ruling class. The Navigation Acts, and others, protected this colonial trade and loot from all foreign rivals.


Scottish armies had played a part, in the early stages of the Civil War, in smashing the absolute power of the monarch. But those Scottish merchants and landowners who were prepared to do a deal with Cromwell and the English capitalist at the expense of their own country and people were too weak enforce their will upon Scotland unaided. Between 1648 and 1650 Cromwell’s English troops smashed three Scottish armies and occupied Scotland, as they did Wales and Ireland. The economic union Cromwell imposed upon the country benefited the Scottish merchant who could now share in England’s looting of other lands, but was bitterly opposed by the people as a whole. It was ended with the Restoration of 1660. Not until 1707, with the Act of Union, were the merchant capitalists of Scotland, and those landowners who produced for the British market, able finally to achieve their goal of full economic union with England and Wales. There was bitter opposition from the people, as before. There were uprisings in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Three regiments had to be called in to restore order in the capital, and the people held Glasgow for more than a month. But the opposition to this betrayal was not united, and the dominant sections of Scottish capital achieved their aim. Henceforth the English capitalists and their Scottish “partners” could develop the capitalist mode of production within one, united British market. With the abandonment of protection most Scottish manufacturing industries were ruined, and great suffering was inflicted on the people, as English goods flooded into the country but the Scottish merchant prospered on their share of the colonial loot. They had earned their 30 pieces of silver.

The way in which the British state was used to speed the development of capitalism in the Scottish Highlands is described by Marx in Capital. The peasants were ’cleared’ from their lands in tens of thousands during the 18th and early 19th centuries, so that the clan chiefs could turn the land of the clans into great capitalist estates producing for the British market. “The hunted out Gaels were forbidden to emigrate from the country, with a view to driving them by force to Glasgow, and other manufacturing towns.” This conquest of the Highlands by capitalism completed the task initiated under the Tudor monarchy to the late 15th century. Throughout England, Scotland and Wales money was now “the power of all powers”.

[To be continued]