Monday, October 23, 2006

*The World Turned Upside Down-Circa 1650-The Diggers At Saint George's Hill

Click on title to link to blog detailing information about the film, "Winstanley", about the leader of the diggers and their trials and tribulations in 1650.



The time of the English Revolution in the 1640's, Oliver Cromwell's time, as in all revolutionary times saw a profusion of ideas from all kinds of sources- religious, secular, the arcane, the fanciful and the merely misbegotten. A few of those ideas however, as here, bear study by modern militants. As the film under review amplifies, True Leveler Gerrard Winstanley's agrarian socialist utopian tracts from the 1640's, the notion of a socialist solution to the problems of humankind has a long, heroic and storied history. The solutions presented by Winstanley had and, in a limited sense, still do represent rudimentary ways to solve the problem of social and economic distribution of the social surplus produced by society. Without overextending the analogy Winstanley's tract represented for his time, the 1600's, what the Communist Manifesto represented for Marx's time-and ours-the first clarion call for the new more equitable world order. And those with property hated both men, with the same venom, in their respective times.

One of the great advances Marx had over Winstanley was that he did not place his reliance on an agrarian solution to the crisis of society as Winstanley, by the state of economic development of his times, was forced to do. Marx, moreover, unlike Winstanley, did not concentrate on the question of distribution but rather on who controlled the means of production a point that all previous theorists had either failed to account for, dismissed out of hand or did not know about. Thus, all pre-Marxist theory is bound up with a strategy of moral as well as political persuasion as a means of changing human lifestyles. Marx posed the question differently by centering on the creation of social surplus so that under conditions of plenty the struggle for daily survival would be taken off the human agenda and other more lofty goals put in its place. Still, with all the True Levelers' weaknesses of program and their improbabilities of success in the 1640's militants today still doff our hats to Winstanley's vision.

The following is a short history of the True Levelers, commonly called the Diggers who formed the extreme left of the democratic movment in the English Revolution. They, in short, formed the "vanguard" of the vanguard party of the English Revolution. This material is culled from a Digger Internet site.

The Diggers were a group of agrarian communists who flourished in England in 1649-50 and were led by Gerrard Winstanley and William Everard. The Diggers believed that since the English Civil War had been fought against the King and the landowners, and with Charles I executed, land should then be made available to the poor to cultivate. In April 1649 a group of about 20 men assembled at St. George's Hill, Surrey, and began to cultivate the common land.

The Diggers' activities alarmed the Commonwealth government and roused the hostility of local landowners, who were rival claimants to the common lands. On 16 April 1649 Henry Sanders sent an alarming letter to the Council of State reporting that several individuals had begun to plant vegetables on St. George's Hill in Surrey. Sanders reported they, the Diggers, had invited "all to come in and help them, and promise them meat, drink, and clothes." and that the Diggers claimed that their number would be several thousand within ten days. "It is feared they have some design in hand." The Council of State sent the letter to Lord Fairfax, lord general of the army, along with a dispatch stating:

By the narrative enclosed your Lordship will be informed of what hath been made to this Council of a disorderly and tumultuous sort of people assembling themselves together not far from Oatlands, at a place called St. George's Hill; and although the pretence of their being there by them avowed may seem very ridiculous, yet that conflux of people may be a beginning whence things of a greater and more dangerous consequence may grow.

Fairfax was then ordered to disperse the group and prevent a repetition of the event.
The Diggers were harassed by legal actions and mob violence, and by the end of March 1650 their members were driven off the St. George's Hill. Despite this setback they continued their work on a nearby heath in Cobham. colony was dispersed. In April the Digger movement collapsed when a Parson Platt, the lord of the manor, and several others destroyed the Diggers' houses, burned their furniture, and scattered their belongings. Platt threatened the Diggers with death if they continued their activity and hired several guards to prevent their return to the heath. Winstanley recorded these events as well as a final defense of the Digger movement.


If John Milton was the literary muse of the English Revolution then the Diggers and their leader, Gerrard Winstanley, were the political muses.

The World Turned Upside Down

We will not worship the God they serve, a God of greed who feeds the rich while poor folk starve.
In 1649 to St. George's Hill
A ragged band they called the Diggers came to show the people's
They defied the landlords, they defied the laws
They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs.
We come in peace, they said, to dig and sow
We come to work the lands in common and make the waste
ground grow

This earth divided we will make whole
So it may be a common treasury for all "**
The sin of property we do disdain
No man has any right to buy or sell the earth for private gain

By theft and murder they took the land
Now everywhere the walls spring up at their command
They make the laws to chain us well
The clergy dazzle us with heaven, or they damn us into hell

We will not worship the God they serve,
a God of greed who feeds the rich while poor folk starve
We work and eat together, we need no swords
We will not bow to masters, nor pay rent to the lords

Still we are free, though we are poor
Ye Diggers all, stand up for glory, stand up now!
From the men of property the orders came
They sent the hired men and troopers to wipe out the Diggers'

Tear down their cottages, destroy their corn
They were dispersed - only the vision lingers on
Ye poor take courage, ye rich take care
This earth was made a common treasury for everyone to share
All things in common, all people one
They came in peace - the order came to cut them down