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".
Tony Benn is author of the introduction to Gerrard Winstanley - A Common Treasury (in Verso's Revolutions series).
Talking about why he considers Winstanley and the Diggers to be "the first true socialists", Benn explained that, while revolutions tend to begin with a specific objective (in this case getting rid of the King), the destruction of old structures createsspace for new debates in the public domain. Winstanley & the Diggers sparked debates of great importance, in particular the issue of ownership of land. Benn went on to say:
When Winstanley said "the earth is a common treasury, it is a crime to buy and sell the earth for private gain" he was making a fundamental statement which was relevant for hundreds of years before he was born and [is] still [true] today.
Benn and Lewycka both agree that, while Winstanley framed his arguments in religious terms, he could also be considered a forefather of secular socialism, with his focus on reason and individual conscience.
They go on to discuss why Winstanley's ideas are still, in various ways, deeply relevant to today's society,
Visit BBC Radio 3 to listen to the full programme (available until Wednesday 18th May).