Blog post

Diggers 2.0—Gerrard Winstanley lives

Tamar Shlaim10 June 2011

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.

And well-heeled residents of the gated St George's Hill community in Weybridge, Surrey, are being asked to be ‘vigilant' following the arrival of their new neighbours.

Six squatters moved into the abandoned £3million, six-bedroom Woodlawn Cottage on the exclusive estate last month, and claim they are not acting illegally.'...

 Whether the squatters know it or not they are following in the tradition and place of Winstanley. DIGGERS ALL - SQUATTERS ALL

James Weeks in the Guardian on his new piece, The Freedom of the Earth, which will be performed for the first time by the London Sinfonietta & the New London Chamber Choir:  

As we wallow in our 21st-century mires of recession, environmental destruction and gluttonous children of a selfish and profoundly unequal society we seem to have no serious intention of reforming, it's salutary to read these bracing words from a distant, more hopeful time. In 1649, as parliament consolidated its triumph in the civil war and Charles I mounted the scaffold, Gerrard Winstanley and his band of True Levellers climbed St George's Hill, near Weybridge in Surrey, and began digging to cultivate the earth for food.

Nothing revolutionary about that, you might think, except that St George's Hill was then common land and by cultivating it, Winstanley and his Diggers were appropriating public property for their own use. Their aim - aside from feeding themselves to stay alive - was not to steal land, but to reclaim it for the people. As Winstanley explained: " ... making the Earth a Common Treasury, that every one that is born in the land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth."

If you think that sounds like a form of basic agrarian communism, then you'd be right. Tony Benn, in his introduction to a new volume of Winstanley's writings, has called the Diggers "the first true socialists"; Winstanley's utopian ideal became a recognisably communist society in which buying and selling were outlawed, land was communally owned and cultivated, and all people were equal and free.

Visit the Guardian to read the full article.