This year marks the 400 anniversary of the birth of one of the great revolutionary democrats of British history, John Lillburne. 200 years before the Chartists and 300 before the universal suffrage became a reality in Britain, ‘freeborn John’ and the Levellers campaigned tirelessly for freedom and justice during the turbulent years of the English Revolution.
In honour of this, and to mark this weekend’s conference to celebrate this life and work at the Bishopsgate Institute (featuring John Rees, Geoffrey Robertson QC, Peter Flannery and more) we have an extract from John Lilburne’s pamphlet ‘England’s New Chains Discovered’. Written in 1649, and thus after the execution of Charles I, the abolition of the House of Lords, and the people being declared the origin of all power by the House of Commons, Lilburne argues that the republican government is reverting to a new form of tyranny. This marked the beginning of the end for the possibilities for radical change that emerged during the great social upheavals of the ‘century of revolution’. Yet, Lilburne’s pamphlet shows that the seeds of liberty still remained. As the incomparable historian of the 17th century Christopher Hill argued, ‘Each generation ... rescues a new area from what its predecessors arrogantly and snobbishly dismissed as 'the lunatic fringe,”’ and perhaps now more than ever can we learn anew from the Leveller’s fight for freedom.
One of the signal features of our era is the re-emergence of the 'sacred' in all its different guises, from New Age paganism to the emerging religious sensitivity within cultural and political theory.
Verso has published for many years a range of critical accounts of Christianity and the broader issues of religion, belief and faith. Here, in conjunction with the publication of Pier Paolo Pasolini's St Paul, Verso presents a Radical Christianity reading list.
Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers are inspiring a new generation of artists, writers and activists. Nearly 1,000 people came to hear Tony Benn and Paul Mason discuss the Diggers and the legacy of English radicalism at the Southbank last month (to launch Verso's new collection of Winstanley's writings). Now the composer James Weeks has written a new choral piece inspired by Winstanley, which will be premiered at Spitalfields Music Festival on Monday 13th June.
Most brilliantly, squatters have returned to St Georges Hill, site of the Diggers' original land occupation, and now site of an expensive gated estate with golf course and private security. As reported on Ian Bone's blog:
‘A private estate that is home to a host of celebrities - including former Chelsea star Claude Makelele and Big Brother contestant Shilpa Shetty - is being taken over by a gang of squatters.
Legendary figure of the British left Tony Benn was on BBC Radio 3's Nightwaves with novelist Marina Lewycka (author of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian) to discuss Gerrard Winstanley - "the English communist who lived 200 years before Marx" - and the Diggers, looking back to a time, as the presenter puts it, "when instead of putting royal heads on tea-towels we watched them roll off the executioners block".