Join the Socialist Party Join us today!

Printable version Printable version

Facebook   Twitter

Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/678/12366

From The Socialist newspaper, 6 July 2011

Review: A Common Treasury

A Common Treasury by Gerrard Winstanly, Verso 2011

A Common Treasury by Gerrard Winstanly, Verso 2011   (Click to enlarge)

A Common Treasury, by Gerrard Winstanley, Verso £8
Reviewed by Mike Cleverley

One of the false arguments against socialism and communism is that these ideas are 'foreign'. Karl Marx was a German Jew and a follower of the German philosopher Hegel. 'Revolution is something that happens in other countries', the 'British way' is 'evolutionary and not revolutionary'.

Of course, Britain has a long tradition of popular uprising - we just don't learn much about these events at school or through the media. We may know that Charles I was beheaded and that after Oliver Cromwell died the monarchy was restored but the background to these events is both sketchy and misleading. Other revolutionary events, like the peasants' revolt, the Peterloo massacre, the Chartists and the 1926 general strike are often not even mentioned.

This book presents the ideas of the Diggers, a group of rural communists who operated after the English civil war which led to the beheading of Charles I. It has a very readable introduction by Tony Benn though unfortunately I found the writings of Winstanley himself, which make up the bulk of the book, hard going. Benn is very sympathetic to the Diggers' ideas but offers no real way forward to workers today.

Diggers

The Diggers grew out of dissatisfaction with the Levellers who believed that property should be distributed equally but never took active steps to achieve this aim. The Diggers set out to establish communities who would cultivate common land and share in the produce equally.

This was a time of great social ferment; the king was dead but what was to replace him? This is familiar to us. We can see how, in the Middle East and north Africa, corrupt regimes are overthrown but there are, as yet, no mass organisations capable of carrying the revolution forward to make real gains for the workers and the poor.

In 1649 the Diggers began to plant vegetables in common land at St George's Hill, Weybridge, Surrey at a time of rapidly rising food prices. They invited all who were willing to work the land to join them and share equally in the food, drink and clothes that might be produced.

Local landowners called on Cromwell's New Model Army under Sir Thomas Fairfax, to intervene. Fairfax advised that the Diggers appeared to offer little threat to "good order" and suggested that the landowners use the courts. One Diggers' leader, William Everard, left at this point, sensing trouble. That sounds familiar to us today!

Winstanley remained true to his ideals and kept writing about the problems the colony faced. The Lord of the Manor organised gangs to attack the Diggers, ruin their crops and destroy their homes. The Diggers were accused of being members of a banned religious sect, the Ranters, and taken before a magistrate.

As was common then, they were not allowed to speak in their own defence. In this way they were forced to abandon St George's Hill. Some then tried again, at Cobham in Surrey, at Wellingborough and at Iver in Buckinghamshire.

The Wellingborough Diggers published a declaration and in 1650 were imprisoned. Although no charges were ever laid the magistrate refused to release them. Further Digger colonies were set up at Barnet, Enfield, Dunstable, Bosworth and Nottinghamshire. But by 1651 the Diggers' movement was finished, destroyed by the state and by persecution by landowners.

The ideas of common ownership are part of the history of the working people of Britain and the mighty Chartist movement, which influenced Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, stood on the shoulders of the Diggers. In their 17th century days communist ideas were a powerful attraction to the poor but society then lacked three things necessary to make these ideas reality.

Industrial technique is necessary to provide food, clothing and housing for all. The workers' solidarity created by modern production is a force strong enough to overcome the state machine protecting the ruling class. Finally a mass party of the working class, with a programme to attract all the exploited people in society has to be built to carry the revolution forward.

A full working class account of the English Revolution would deal with the Levellers and Diggers in a much more readable format than this book. But the documents it brings to our notice are a valuable resource which the author of such a book will find useful.

Why not click here to join the Socialist Party, or click here to donate to the Socialist Party.


In The Socialist 6 July 2011:


30th June strike and after

What next to defeat the cuts?

Next time - strike together...

24-hour public sector general strike as next step to beat the Con-Dems

Standing up to a weak government

Labour - condemned for condemning strike

Solidarity from POA

We can win together

Walkout at Wormwood Scrubs prison

30 June pension strike reports


Socialist Party news and analysis

Leaked memo shows government lied over its homeless policies

Dilnot report: A disservice to disabled and older people

Durham Miners' Gala: Miliband pulls out

Stop the racist and divisive EDL

Time to defend abortion rights... again

News in brief


Socialist Party workplace news

Southampton council workers strike on same day as teachers, lecturers and civil servants

Birmingham - the fightback begins

Leeds Unison members decisively reject the council's final offer

Fawley refinery construction engineers summarily sacked

Fighting pension cuts and the anti-union laws

Workplace news in brief

Successful NSSN meeting in Coventry


International socialist news and analysis

East Belfast riots: Only united working class action can prevent further attacks

Kazakhstan: Striking oil workers attempt to break news blockade

Sabotage on ship to Gaza


Socialist Party reports and campaigns

All workers: unite to fight for decent jobs

High street job cuts: Jane Norman worker speaks out

Socialist Students meeting prepares for new term

Youth Fight for Jobs: campaign moving forward

Day-Mer festival support for 30 June pensions strike

Pride London


Socialist Party reviews

Review: A Common Treasury

Endgame by Rise Against


Socialist Party

Building the socialist alternative on 30 June

Socialist Party youth meeting: Successful and insightful


 

Home   |   The Socialist 6 July 2011   |   Join the Socialist Party

Subscribe   |   Donate  




Related links:

Revolution:

triangle'Dazzling' Bad Art show points to socialist future

triangleOctober 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

triangleRussia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangleWarrington & St Helens Socialist Party: 1917-2017; the October Russian Revolution

triangleWirral Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian Revolution

Diggers:

triangleNewport council destroys workers' mural

Tony Benn:

triangleLambeth Socialist Party open meeting

triangleThe Labour Party, Militant and 'infiltration'

triangleTony Benn: Will and testament

Britain:

triangleCan you donate to the Socialism 2017 appeal?

triangleObesity epidemic: end food market anarchy

Marx:

triangleCentral London: Walk along the steps of Karl Marx

Chartists:

triangleCaerphilly & RCT Socialist Party: The fight against Trump

Reviews and comments

Reviews and comments

18/10/17

Port Talbot

Powerful picture of the Port Talbot steel workers' struggle

18/10/17

Russian revolution

October 1917 reviews: 'More bright than any heaven'

11/10/17

Theresa May

Theresa May, Frida Kahlo and turning women into wares

11/10/17

Docks

Poverty, repression and fightback on the docks

11/10/17

The Socialist

The Socialist Inbox

11/10/17

TV

Shocking insight into Isis

2/10/17

Sexism

Hugh Hefner's exploitation of women

27/9/17

Football

Women's football - Sampson allegations

20/9/17

Letters

The Socialist Inbox

20/9/17

Socialist

Interview: the "socialist John Le Carré"

20/9/17

Women

Refreshing, anticapitalist - but little pointing a way forward

13/9/17

Women

New documentary asks women how their bodies are sexualised and policed

13/9/17

Letters

The Socialist inbox

13/9/17

Che Guevara

Intimate insight into a revolutionary icon

6/9/17

Pensions

Bosses' pensions robbery

triangleMore Reviews and comments articles...


Join the Socialist Party
Subscribe to Socialist Party publications
Donate to the Socialist Party

triangle19 Oct Arriva North West bus drivers strike over pay

triangle18 Oct Russia, October 1917: When workers took power

triangle18 Oct Tories torn - bin them now

triangle13 Oct The end of the Tories?

triangle11 Oct Nasty party imploding...drive out the Tories

triangle11 Oct CWU fights court attempt to stop national strike

triangle11 Oct The fight against racial discrimination is tied to fighting against...

More ...

triangle19 Oct Waltham Forest Young Socialists: Deaths in police custody

triangle19 Oct Swansea Socialist Party: Spanish revolution 1936-37

triangle19 Oct Cardiff East Socialist Party: Is equality for women possible under capitalism?

triangle19 Oct Wirral Socialist Party: The October 1917 Russian Revolution

More ...

Socialist Party Facebook page
Socialist Party on Twitter
Visit us on Youtube

Archive

Archives:

October 2017

September 2017

August 2017

July 2017

June 2017

May 2017

April 2017

March 2017

February 2017

January 2017

2016

2015

2014

2013

2012

2011

2010

2009

2008

2007

2006

2005

2004

2003

2002

2001

2000

1999

Legal

SP RSS feed RSS

Platform setting: = No platform choice

V2