- Paperback: 112 pages
- Publisher: New Clarion Press (July 1, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1873797451
- ISBN-13: 978-1873797457
- Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.5 x 0.3 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 3 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,232,376 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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When Adam Delved and Eve Span: A History of the Peasants' Revolt of 1381
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About the Author
Mark O'Brien is Senior Research Fellow at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Liverpool. A lifelong socialist and trade union activist, his research interests include social and labor history, and labour internationalism. He is the author of WHEN ADAM DELVED AND EVE SPAN (New Clarion Press, 2004), a history of the Peasants' Revolt, and PERISH THE PRIVILEGED ORDERS: A SOCIALIST HISTORY OF THE CHARTIST MOVEMENT(New Clarion Press, 2009).
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Then the author goes on to outline the various factors that led to the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381, including the effect that the massive loss of life caused by the Black Death had on the balance of power in the class struggle between the lords and the masses, and the final spark of the imposition of the poll tax.
O’Brien then takes us on an exciting rollercoaster ride through the events of the revolt itself – a revolt which had virtually succeeded until the rebels made the mistake of trusting the lying king when he promised to accede to their demands.
The book ends with a chapter showing how this great revolt has ever since inspired hostility from writers associated with the ruling class and admiration from those who are on the side of the exploited and oppressed.
The book also throws an interesting light on the social role of religion. Firstly, religion was clearly the key ideological weapon used by the ruling class to keep the poor in their place. (“The divine right of kings” etc.)
Secondly, religion can comfort people in their suffering. As Marx said: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
But thirdly, religion can also on occasions act as an ideological inspiration for the downtrodden to rebel. This is what happened in 1381.
Today, for those fighting against the injustices of the capitalist system, there is a set of ideas - Marxism - that can act as a guide for understanding the world and changing it. (I mean the genuine Marxism which advocates freedom, equality and workers’ democracy, not the Stalinism associated with the bureaucratic state capitalist dictatorships which have hijacked the name of Marxism.)
But in medieval times there were only religious ideas to inspire the rebels. A radical version of Christianity was put forward by people like the revolutionary priest John Ball. While the king and nobility claimed that God had ordained the structure of society, Ball said that social inequalities had been created by people, not by God, and could therefore be abolished.
O’Brien calls this “Christian communism”, and he has chosen as the title for his book part of the famous fourteenth century rhyme associated with John Ball:
When Adam delved and Eve span,
Who was then a gentleman?