Cromwell – fight for democracy?

Posted: 29/10/2013 by zandtao in Struggle, War

Yesterday someone tried to tell me that Cromwell was the birth of democracy. Aaaggh, so frustrating. It was a beach conversation and the guy was drunk so it was pointless – no learning, but at least it sparked this blog.

England was a feudal country run by royal landowners, their land gained by inheritance. When you consider the statement that Cromwell was the birth of English democracy there is an implication that Cromwell created parliament. This is far from true as Cromwell himself was an MP, in fact the war was between parliamentarians and royalists.

It is worth examining the history of parliament to understand whether Cromwell was in fact fighting for democracy. Search wiki for parliament, and you will see that parliament was an advisory body set up by William the Conqueror, vestiges of that origin still exist in current formal practices such as Royal Assent and the Queen’s speech – details here.

So how genuine was the democracy that voted for Cromwell?

Here is a description of the history of UK suffrage – wiki search suffrage click United Kingdom so that you can follow the links:-

United Kingdom
(See also: History of British society and The Parliamentary Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885-1918)

King Henry VI of England established in 1432 that only male owners of property worth at least forty shillings, a significant sum, were entitled to vote in a county. Changes were made to the details of the system, but there was no major reform until the Reform Act 1832. It was not until 1918 that all men over 21, and wealthy women won the right to vote, and it was not until 1928 that all women over 21 won the right to vote. Suffrage in the United Kingdom was slowly changed over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries through the use of the Reform Acts and the Representation of the People Acts, culminating in universal suffrage, excluding children and convicted prisoners.

Reform Act 1832 – extended voting rights to adult males who rented propertied land of a certain value, so allowing 1 in 7 males in the UK voting rights
Reform Act 1867 – extended the franchise to men in urban areas who met a property qualification, so increasing male suffrage to the United Kingdom
Representation of the People Act 1884 – addressed imbalances between the boroughs and the countryside; this brought the voting population to 5,500,000, although 40% of males were still disenfranchised because of the property qualification.
Between 1885-1918 moves were made by the suffrage movement to ensure votes for women. However, the duration of the First World War stopped this reform movement. See also The Parliamentary Franchise in the United Kingdom 1885-1918.
Representation of the People Act 1918 – the consequences of World War I persuaded the government to expand the right to vote, not only for the many men who fought in the war who were disenfranchised, but also for the women who helped in the factories and elsewhere as part of the war effort. All men aged 21 and over were given the right to vote. Property restrictions for voting were lifted for men. Votes were given to 40% of women, with property restrictions and limited to those over 30 years old. This increased the electorate from 7.7 million to 21.4 million with women making up 8.5 million of the electorate. Seven percent of the electorate had more than one vote. The first election with this system was the United Kingdom general election, 1918 –

Representation of the People Act 1928 – this made women’s voting rights equal with men, with voting possible at 21 with no property restrictions
Representation of the People Act 1948 – the act was passed to prevent plural voting
Representation of the People Act 1969 – extension of suffrage to those 18 and older
The Representation of the People Acts of 1983, 1985 and 2000 further modified voting
Electoral Administration Act 2006 – modified the ways in which people were able to vote and reduced the age of standing at a public election from 21 to 18.

In other words Cromwell was voted in by rich landowners, and the civil war was effectively between rich landowners and royal landowners. One could squarely argue that Cromwell was a parliamentarian but to argue anything concerned with democracy is quite clearly out-of-line. When I was just starting out I remember a Ugandan activist telling me that people only got the vote when the powers-that-be had control of who you were voting for, this is the Veil – see the movie “Lifting the Veil”. Universal suffrage only occurred in 1928 or 1969 depending on how important age (21 or 18) is for you, but there were property requirements until the end of the First World War. By the end of the First World War the bipartisan model of politics was well established (“Veil”), and whilst the Labour party at that time had some vestiges of being a working-class movement it was still a party of opportunists with mass movement rhetoric. With Blair the Veil was complete, maybe Milliband is a reaction to him? Back to the blog theme, for me the above clearly indicates that Cromwell fought for moneyed interests against royal interests, democracy nowhere near a consideration. For further indications as to how self-serving parliament was at that time briefly read wiki on long parliament, rump parliament etc.

I will be perfectly honest, the drunk at the beach has helped me. If his boorish behaviour had allowed I would not have argued from fact even though the sense of what I would have said would still have been true – I had it in the back of my mind that Cromwell used the people with a mock democracy to establish parliament, far from the truth he was just a round peg that fitted the hole that business parliament wanted him to fill. Whether some people fought for democracy I don’t know, whether Cromwell’s war rhetoric was about peoples’ rights I don’t know, but what is certain his actions were based on the profits of the business class in parliament. This also fits his later exploitative role – the first colonialist in Ireland, colonialism being concerned with the expansion of land procurement with a view to profit – a business venture.

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  1. zandtao says:

    It is interesting to note that Westminster is held up by many as a model for parliamentary democracy, whereas this Veil actually started life as a monarchy advisory. In the UK Cromwell’s role is clear, he changed parliament to the Veil, a puppet of the contemporaneous corporatocracy.

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