Gerrard Winstanley (baptised October 10, 1609; his date of birth is unknown; d. September 10, 1676), leader and theoretician of the group of English agrarian communists known as the Diggers, who in 1649 - 50 cultivated common land on St George’s Hill, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey, and at nearby Cobham until they were dispersed by force and legal harassment.
They believed that land should be made available to the very poor. In one of the Digger tracts, The Law of Freedom, Winstanley took the view held by the Anabaptists that all institutions were by their nature corrupt:
"Nature tells us that if water stands long it corrupts; whereas running water keeps sweet and is fit for common use". To prevent power corrupting individuals he advocated that all officials should be elected every year.
Soon after publishing The New Law of Righteousness (January 26, 1649; "In the beginning of time God made the earth. Not one word was spoken at the beginning that one branch of mankind should rule over another, but selfish imaginations did set up one man to teach and rule over another"), in which Winstanley identified private property as "the curse and burden the creation groans under", he established the Diggers. In April, 1649 Winstanley, William Everard, a former soldier in the New Model Army and about thirty followers took over some common land on St George’s Hill and "sowed the ground with parsnips, carrots and beans".
In 1652, Winstanley published The Law of Freedom in a Platform in which he proposed the introduction of his utopian commonwealth by state action.
Oliver Cromwell is reported to have said: "What is the purport of the levelling principle but to make the tenant as liberal a fortune as the landlord. I was by birth a gentleman. You must cut these people in pieces or they will cut you in pieces."
The name 'Diggers' was revived in San Francisco for a radical guerrilla theater group The Diggers, offering street theater, information and free food during the hippie movement associated with the Haight-Ashbury, 1965 - 68.
A counter-cultural broadsheet newspaper in Australia in the 1970s was called The Digger, probably deriving its name from Winstanley's Diggers, the San Francisco movement, and also the fact that 'digger' is an Australian colloquialism similar to 'mate', deriving from the 'diggers' (infantrymen) of World War One.
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Etexts[edit | edit source]
- A Declaration from the Poor Oppressed People of England Wistanley & 44 others (1649) backup
- The True Levellers' Standard Advanced by Winstanley & 14 others (April 1649) backup
- The Law of Freedom in a Platform by Gerrard Winstanley
Commentary:[edit | edit source]
- Gerrard Winstanley index page at the University of Montpellier
- An index page at Diggers.org.
- An index page at strecorsoc.org
- Gerard Winstanley: 17th Century Communist at Kingston A lecture by Christopher Hill at Kingston University January 24, 1996.
- The Religion of Gerrard Winstanley and Digger Communism by Donald R. Sutherland
- English Dissenters: Diggers
- Winstanley & The Diggers: The Spiritual and Political Story of a Seventeenth Century Communist Movement An account of Winstanley's Digger Colony and the philosophy behind it.