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Centrist Dictatorship - a Necessary Stage in Every Political Revolution

a. Internal politics

1. After revolution reaches its highest stage, it starts to recede. Beginning of this recess typically takes the form of a dictatorship of one person, someone who used to be one of the chief military leaders of the revolution. Thus, if we throw our glance at the ancient Roman history, we see the phenomenon of "caesarism"; in the English revolution, we see the "protectorate of Cromwell"; in the French revolution, it is "Bonapartism"; in the Russian, we talk about "Stalinism"; in the Chinese revolution, we see the rule of Mao; and, perhaps the freshest example of this tendency is the rule of Fidel Castro on Cuba (thus, all those who sing the praise to the Cuban leader do not understand what his personal rule represents).


The character of such dictatorship is centrist. That means that such a leader uses the state machine to repress, on the one hand, the extreme revolutionaries, such as “the levelers”, in the English revolution, the conspiracy of Babeuf, in the French revolution. On the other hand, he represses the extreme right. For example, Cromwell represses the royalist rebellions, Napoleon shoots his cannons at royalists on the streets of Paris. Such dictatorship takes shape in the course of the civil war (which is a necessary element of every revolution); however, it takes its final form at the conclusion of the civil war. Here, it is necessary to build a new society surrounded by hostile regimes similar, to the one which has been just overthrown. Hence, there is more leaning towards the right than to the left, as it is necessary to find some sort of accommodation with the outside world.

2. Let's take a look at the dialectic of the class struggle in the English revolution. First Parliament, as one party, starts fighting with the regime of Charles I, the principal point in question being the control of the militia, and as a result civil war starts. But immediately differences emerge in the revolutionary camp about methods of conducting this war, and hence about its ultimate goals. Presbyterians desire to find a compromise with the king, while Independents desire a republican form of government. The essence of any civil war is in the struggle which takes place in the revolutionary camp, or even within one revolutionary (the example of Faust of Marlowe). Presbyterians are squeezed from commanding positions in the "New Model Army", which makes it possible for Cromwell to defeat the king's army completely. At the same time, we find out that the army itself is not homogenous, but there are elements more radical than Independents. These elements, called "levelers" and "true levelers" desire political and social equality. So, the Independents attempt to form a block with the king against the Presbyterians and the levelers. Severe repressions are used against the levelers, up to shootings and hangings. However, the king maneuvers towards the Presbyterians, and so Independents are forced to go to the end in their struggle against the royal party. At the same time, they purge the Parliament from Presbyterians and take the power. Now, they need only to destroy the revolutionary currents in the army. They decide to do so with the help of war in Ireland.

3. A typical maneuver for a shaky regime is a fast, victorious war. The goal of such war is to consolidate its grip on power at home. One example of such a war is the war started by the French emperor Napoleon III against the regime of Bismarck in 1870. Another example is the war in the Persian Gulf in 1991, started by of American President George Bush Senior. Both wars attempted to increase "rating" at home by a fast victory over the external "aggressor". Napoleon was mistaken against Bismark (surrender of his troops at Sedan), and I think Bush was mistaken against Hussein (victory of democrats, headed by Bill Clinton at the next elections).

4. What was happening in Ireland? The local population has risen to a revolutionary war against the Englishmen, who colonized the land. English radical historian, A.L. Morton, in his “A People’s History of England”, writes: “As early as 1641 the financial magnates in the City had begun to buy up yet unconquered lands of the rebels as a speculation, estates being sold at the rate of L100 for 1000 acres in Ulster and 600 acres in Munster”. War in Ireland has been, and still remains, the weakest link in the chain of the British Empire. Cromwell used to say that he would prefer to be defeated by Cavaliers than Scots (i.e. Presbyterians), and he would rather be defeated by the Scots than the Irish. The future revolution should start its offensive against Great Britain in Ireland.

5. In the spring of 1649 the Independents cooperate with Presbyterians and send English soldiers to Ireland. However, the soldiers refuse to cooperate and rebel. They demand government that would be in line with levelers' principles. At the head of the rebellious troops is Captain Thompson. Under the leadership of Fairfax and Cromwell, parts of the army loyal to parliament defeat the rebellious detachment in a battle on 19 May 1649.

6. After victory over the rebels Cromwell returns to London, where he is greeted with a triumph by leaders of the City. Just the other day they hated him as a "regicide", but now he's treated to gold and silver cups.

7. A wave of political repressions rolls over the country. Representatives of levelers and cavaliers are removed from political posts. All printing presses are closed, except the government's. Levelers and cavaliers attempt to form a political alliance: the levelers desire money from cavaliers, and cavaliers desire to destroy the independents with the hands of levelers. Cromwell rises over the parties as a supreme judge. Compare the characteristic of Cromwell, given by British historian John Morril, with characteristic of Mao, given by Jack Gray. Morril writes: “While Cromwell lived, the army (who had the immediate military muscle) and the country gentry (who had the ultimate social position) were kept in creative tension. Cromwell was a unique blend of country gentleman and professional soldier, of religious radical and social conservative.” Gray writes about Mao: “In the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution (1966-69) he mobilized youth into the Red Guard to attack the party establishment. After much rioting and the near destruction of the party, he allowed the army to restore order and the party to be rebuilt … Made supreme commander of China in 1970, he sought a balance between his own radical followers and the moderate, pragmatic establishment, but their relationship remained uneasy.” In both cases, we see the political leader seeking a balance between the revolutionary and conservative forces of society.

8. Cromwell attempts to satisfy some demands of the army, such as payment of pensions to the widows. But on 6th September 1649 there is a new rebellion of levelers, started in Oxford. The soldiers put their officers into jail, and they have expected reinforcements from other counties. However, soon the officers assumed the command over the soldiers who were guarding them, and soon over the entire regiment. The failure of the two levelers' rebellions proves that a Republic of Independents (i.e. well-to-do squires, such as Oliver Cromwell was) was the maximum to which the revolution was able to rise in XVII century.

9. In June of 1649 a leader of Irish Catholics Ormond has started a campaign against the English. His party has had many internal contradictions, his army was not well organized; however, at the end of the month, the English Parliament controlled only Dublin and Londonderry. Parliament sends Cromwell to Ireland with the army. They want to remove him away from the city politics, and they hope that he will not come back from Ireland. Cromwell hesitates, but eventually goes. There, relying on his "New Model Army", he takes two fortresses by storm (Drogheda and Wexford), after which all the prisoners of war were massacred.

10. Cromwell attempts to stem the tide of Irish militancy away from England by announcing that the Irish are at liberty to join the armies of foreign countries. As the Irish have had no other means of support, around 140 thousand Irishmen signed for armies of various countries (e.g. 25 thousand went to Spain, and 20 thousand to France), while Ormond could hardly find 8 to 10 thousand.

11. The Englishmen take the best Irish lands. A class of new landlords is formed, consisting partially of officers of Cromwell's army, and partially of the magnates who financed the war. The English soldiers sold their shares of land cheaply, in exchange for overdue wages. Today, Englishmen own around 2/3 of all land in Ireland.

The local population, which in 1641 consisted of 1.5 million people, in 1652 decreased to 850 thousand, of which 150 thousand consisted of English and Scottish settlers. The local population is deprived of their land and either dies, or becomes farm hand for English landlords, or emigrates to America. Marx writes that the English revolution has smashed itself over Ireland. He means that: 1) the movement of levelers was destroyed in connection with sending troops to Ireland; 2) the English army, both the officers and the soldiers, were corrupted by the Irish expedition. The soldiers got their first taste of imperialism.

”English Soldier Raised for Service in Ireland.” This satirical drawing, published circa 1540, depicts the typical English soldier in Ireland as an unabashed plunderer.

12. After his return from Ireland, Cromwell is appointed commander-in-chief over the army to fight the Scottish Presbyterians. Fairfax is removed from commanding position, as he is a Presbyterian and refuses to march against the Scots. The war against Presbyterians becomes necessary as they support the son of the beheaded king, Charles II. On 22 July Cromwell, at the head of 15000 men, invades Scotland. He acts less cruelly in Scotland than he does in Ireland. In Scotland, Cromwell attempts to win over some classes of the population by peaceful means. For example, he conducts theological debates with some left-wing Presbyterians. Finally, the army of the Scots turns out to be weak and "Cromwell subdued the Scots in two battles, at Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651)".

13. After Cromwell returns from Scotland, we see several conspiracies against him, originating in the camp of royalists and Presbyterians. In 1651 and 1652, there were 4 of these, and, as Guizot writes, in the next 13 months 27 royalists were executed. In the next years, attempts at Cromwell continue, levelers acting as assassins and royalists standing behind them. This forces Cromwell to resort to terror. He promises that if another attempt is made at his life, no member of the royal family will be left alive.

14. On April 20, 1653 Cromwell, using a detachment of 300 soldiers, disperses the remnants of the Long Parliament, the Rump. In his speech to them, he says: "ye are a factious crew, and enemies to all good government; ye are a pack of mercenary wretches, and would like Esau sell your country for a mess of pottage, and like Judas betray your God for a few pieces of money; is there a single virtue now remaining amongst you? is there one vice you do not possess? ye have no more religion than my horse; gold is your God; which of you have not barter’d your conscience for bribes? is there a man amongst you that has the least care for the good of the Commonwealth? ye sordid prostitutes have you not defil’d this sacred place, and turn’d the Lord’s temple into a den of thieves, by your immoral principles and wicked practices? Ye are grown intolerably odious to the whole nation; you were deputed here by the people to get grievances redress’d, are yourselves become the greatest grievance. Your country therefore calls upon me to cleanse this Augean stable". The people supported this move. A.L. Morton explains that the Rump “became notorious for taking bribes and for the place-hunting of its members, and its unpopularity became a danger to the whole regime”.

15. Cromwell gathers 128 people from all regions of England to form what became known as "the Barebones Parliament". David Hume explains reason for such a title: “In this notable assembly were some persons of the rank of gentlemen; but the far greater part were low mechanics; fifth monarchy men, anabaptists, antinomians, independents; the very dregs of the fanatics... This parliament took into consideration the abolition of the clerical function, as favoring of popery; and the taking away of tythes, which they called a relict of Judaism. Learning, also and the universities were deemed heathenish and unnecessary: The common law was denominated a badge of the conquest and of Norman slavery; and they threatened the lawyers with a total abrogation of their profession.” Such politics were too radical for Cromwell and the commanders of the army. Thus, the Barebones Parliament existed only for 5 months, after which it was dispersed. Cromwell explains his reasons thus: if someone had 12 cows, this convent thought that he should share with his neighbor, who had none. Who could call anything his own property, if such people were the masters in the country?

16. In 1654 Cromwell assembles a parliament of the gentry; to be a member of it, one had to own land worth at least 200 pounds annually. Inside this parliament, conspiracies against Cromwell start, with some officers of the army participating in these. Hence, on 22 January 1655 Cromwell disperses this parliament as well, but its members, returning to their counties, continue their plots.

17. However, Cromwell has his faithful secretary Thurloe, who has spies everywhere. Hume writes: “There was no point about which the protector was more solicitous than to procure intelligence. This article alone, it is said, cost him sixty thousand pounds a year. Postmasters, both at home and abroad, were in his pay: Carriers were searched or bribed: Secretaries and clerks were corrupted: The greatest zealots in all parties were often those who conveyed private information to him…” Due to such network, many conspirators were arrested, some executed, and some condemned to pay high fines. Cromwell definitely reminds us of Stalin.

18. In 1655 a group of army officers appoints Cromwell "Lord-Protector". Hume writes: “In the army was laid the sole bases of the protector’s power; and in managing it consisted the chief art and delicacy of his government. The soldiers were held in exact discipline … He augmented their pay … he entirely commanded their affectionate regard, by his abilities and success in almost every enterprize, which he had hitherto undertaken …”

On 27 February 1657 a Member of Parliament from London proposes that Cromwell should become a king and the House of Lords should be re-established. However, the army is against, and so Cromwell, who had in the army his chief political base, declines the title. Let’s note that in early 2000's there was a talk in Russia about Putin becoming an "Emperor".

b. Foreign policy

1. After returning from Irish expedition, Cromwell, looking at his graying hair, said that if he was 10 years younger, no king in Europe would be not trembling. One of his plans was landing troops against monarchist France.

2. In order to become stronger, we notice attempts of revolutionary regimes to form a single country. For example, during the Protectorate of Cromwell there were plans to unite England with Holland into one state. The aim was a mutual protection of the two republics against catholic monarchies of Spain and France.

Two main reasons prevent a union England and Holland. One was competition within Holland of two parties for power. One party represented the wealthy bourgeoisie of the cities. Another represented the House of Nassau. Both of these parties fought against Spain, but now, just like Independents and Presbyterians, they competed with each other on internal arena. The other reason was competition between English and Dutch bourgeoisie. Thus, the English bourgeoisie passed a bill through Parliament according to which ships could bring into England only that which is produced in their countries. This was an underhand blow at the Dutch, who were famous for their transit commerce. A war starts between the English and the Dutch fleets, to the amusement of Spain and France.

The Anglo-Dutch Wars were a series of wars fought between the English (later British) and the Dutch in the 17th and 18th centuries for control over the seas and trade routes. Depicted here is an "Attack on the Medway", June 1667 by Pieter Cornelisz van Soest, painted c. 1667. This was a successful attack of the Dutch ships against English ships.

3. However, Spain also competes with France. Hence, both of these countries attempt to get Holland and England to join them in military alliance against its nemesis. Guizot writes that in Paris there were plans for an alliance of France, England and the United Provinces, and in Madrid there were plans for alliance of Spain, England and the United Provinces. Such competition between old-style regimes allows younger and revolutionary regimes to survive. 

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