Today is Wigan's Digger Festival, a day commemorating the Diggers, or the True Levellers, from the time of the English Revolution.
The ideas of common ownership are part of the history of the working people of Britain. A number of people, including Gerrard Winstanley, started to build houses, and dig and plant their crops on the common land at St George's Hill in Surrey. The Diggers, or True Levellers as they described themselves, were communists who wanted to abolish private property and unlike any other radical grouping, they tried to put it into practice. However, the Digger communes lasted barely a year. They were broken by the violent hostility of the landlords and the indifference of the poor. Ruffians were sent to the commons to physically attack the Diggers, tearing down their houses and trampling crops. The landlords took them to court and prosecuted them for trespass. A smaller group of the original St.Georges Hill Diggers who moved to close by Little Heath near Cobham received similar treatment, as did other communes established in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, Iver in Buckinghamshire, Barnet in Hertfordshire, Enfield in then Middlesex, Bosworth in Gloucestershire and a further one in Nottinghamshire. Indeed, nine of the Wellingborough Diggers were arrested and imprisoned in Northampton jail and although no charges could be proved against them the justice refused to release them. The Diggers’ communist ideas were a powerful attraction to the poor. Winstanley produced a utopian blueprint entitled Law of Freedom, a detailed plan for a future society.
"The earth is to be planted, and the fruits reaped, and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family; and if any man or family want corn, or other provision, they may go to the store-houses, and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go into the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him without money. If any want food or victuals, they may either go to the butchers shops, and receive what they want without money; or else go to the flocks of sheep, or herds of cattle, and take and kill what meat is needful for their families, without buying and selling. And the reason why all the riches of the earth are a common stock is this, because the earth, and the labours thereupon, are managed by common assistance of every family, without buying and selling . . ." Gerald Winstanley c.1652
While the Levellers and the Diggers are both relatively well-known groups, the Ranters have attracted less attention, but they were perhaps the most radical of all the sects and groups existing in this period. A prominent Ranter, Abiezer Coppe, called the abolition of property “a most glorious design” and called for it to be replaced with “equality, community and universal love.”
Post a Comment