This year's Wigan Diggers' Festival, coincides with the 340th Anniversary of the death of Gerrard Winstanley, the Wigan born leader of 17th century radical movement known as "The Diggers", or “True Leveller.
The Diggers’ Festival site is less than 5 minutes walk from Wigan Bus Station (between Market Street & Hallgate) and both of the town’s railway stations. Turn left out of Wallgate station, right out of Wigan North Western.
Local comrades of the Socialist Party will have a stall at the event.
Gerard Winstanley, the seventeenth-century utopian communist, was virtually unheard of for over two centuries after his digger writings. British political radicalism up to the latter half of the nineteenth century emphasised the contribution of the Levellers and the defender of parliament against the crown, John Hampden, to political democracy. Winstanley’s legacy was mainly focused on his possible contribution to Quakerism. This all changed, however, with the rise of Marxian revolutionary socialism which led to an interest in Winstanley’s communism and his rise from historical obscurity. Unlike so many historians who dwell only upon the more plodding gradualism of the Levellers, more and more recognise the particular significance of the Diggers and provide us with a unique insight into the movement and its revolutionary ideas. It was the German social democrat, Eduard Bernstein who, in 1895, revived Winstanley’s reputation as an early proponent of ‘communistic utopia’ in his book ‘Cromwell and Communism’.
Today the situation is somewhat reversed and Winstanley is probably the most celebrated radical figure of the English Civil War period. In fact, he is probably emphasised beyond his historical importance – the subject of numerous academic studies and celebrated as a ‘forerunner’ of socialism, anarchism, libertarianism and back-to-the-land activism. Gerrard Winstanley can well be described as England's first articulate socialist It is possible to see in Winstanley’s writings the rudiments of the Marxian concepts of alienation and the labour theory of value. Whereas the Levellers, who were also radicals for their time, saw the first English revolution as a springboard for the creation of political equality (a case they argued for unsuccessfully in the Putney Debates), the Diggers sought social equality, fusing economic and political objectives as all socialists must. Indeed, there is not much said by the Diggers which socialists today would want to argue with. The difference is that they were advocating what could for them have only been a utopian strategy, which they attempted to implement and were persecuted for so doing, whereas now capitalism is ripe for being replaced by a new system of social organisation. We who seek to bring it about have good reason to remember Winstanley and the Diggers.
Winstanley promoted a social transformation based on the abolition of private property and money and their replacement with common ownership and working in common. Winstanley wanted a community without money, buying and selling, wage working, without army and law. Although the disasters of the Digger experiments (strife within and brutal repression from without) caused Winstanley to recant somewhat on aspects of his more radical views, he stood for common ownership of the earth by locally self-supporting communities. Nor were his views utopian. Winstanley had practical views on the organisation of production; which may not have resulted in the abundance that is now possible, but which might have led to the majority being immeasurably better fed, housed, and clothed. Winstanley and his Digger comrades clearly stood for a society in which all goods would be held in common, with free access for all to the common store. Winstanley explicitly rejected money, the rule of government and (despite his use of religious metaphors) belief in churches or omnipotent gods.
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