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International Socialism, Summer 1965


P. Mansell

A Heritage


From International Socialism, No.21, Summer 1965, p.29.
Transcribed & marked up by by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Cromwell and Communism
Eduard Bernstein
Cass, 42s.

This is a reprint of a pioneer work on the ‘Levellers’ – the radical wing of the Parliamentary host in the English revolution and of the even more revolutionary groups standing on their left. (The title is a bit misleading; most of the people and movements discussed were not communist.)

Previously historians had concentrated almost exclusively on the ‘official’ Parliamentarian leaders such as Cromwell and Ireton. The Levellers and other leftists got at best a passing mention as a bunch of eccentric individuals, easily crushed by a handful of Cromwell’s troopers. Bernstein demonstrates how far removed from reality this superficial view is. The Levellers are full of interest both as the first modern democratic movement in this country with anything like a mass base (the first to turn out a spate of pamphlets and news-sheets and to organise local groups and monster demonstrations) and as creative political thinkers, determined to push democracy as far as – and in some cases beyond – the limits imposed by contemporary economic and social realities. They deserve to be remembered not least for their successful establishment of Army democracy. A popularly elected soldier’s Council argued about the Army’s political programme on level terms with the Generals, until the Grandees decided things had gone far enough and the Council was allowed to lapse.

Bernstein gives a short but clear account of the main events of the period as a framework into which his more detailed discussion of various thinkers and men of action of the time is fitted. As with all revolutionary periods there was a great upsurge of ideas in other fields as well as politics. Men began to question accepted ideas in religion, in science, in education. The first tentative steps were taken towards the study of economics. All sorts of ideas were disseminated – and in the case of the Diggers, practised – about new social organisations. By letting these men of the seventeenth century speak for themselves through extensive .quotations from their published works, Bernstein enables us to judge them for ourselves. Highly recommended as a starting point for anyone starting out on a study of the period. Follow up with Christopher Hill and Brailsford.

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