The Libyan revolution seems like a good thing. A dictator is disposed and rule by the people begins. But I’m apprehensive about the outcome. History shows us that revolutions turn out badly far more often than not. Consider what happened once upon a time in England.
Like every revolution before or since, the overthrow of King Charles was led by the wealthy middle classes and implemented by the duped working classes. While senior officers attempted to negotiate a reformed monarchy with Charles and the Royalists in 1647, the soldiers of the New Model Army held a series of debates to discuss their demands for true democracy.
The first part of the Putney Debates was taken down verbatim (although lost until 1890) and I find it very striking how modern and sophisticated is the political thought of these common soldiers, while their nominal leaders were still firmly attached to an almost feudal system of government. The “Grandees” or senior officers, were opposed to the men’s demand for “one man, one vote”, claiming that only landowners should elect Parliament, and that in any case, the Lords (and indeed the King!) should have a veto over the Commons.
The revolutionary army developed a manifesto, An Agreement of the People, which they hoped would form the basis of a new, democratic constitution. As well as a request for amnesty for all, for any actions taken in the civil war, there were four main points:
- Freedom of religion.
- No military conscription.
- Equality before the law.
- Laws must be for the good of the people.
Needless to say, this was anathema to the (new) ruling classes (same as the old ruling classes) and they instead pursued a constitutional framework that eventually made Oliver Cromwell “Lord Protector” with exactly the same absolute powers and privileges that the King had possessed.
Dissent was suppressed with executions and imprisonments, although not on a large scale compared with, say, “The Terror” of the French Revolution. In many cases, the threat of demobilisation without back pay was enough to bring rebel soldiers into line. Some of the democratic reforms they discussed have since become part of British law, and some haven’t. Some freedoms we had, until removed in modern times by the recent, wealthy middle-class governments.