Saturday, April 11, 2015

A Common Treasury For All

The ideas of common ownership are part of the history of the working people of Britain. A number of people, including Gerrard Winstanley, started to build houses, and dig and plant their crops on the common land at St George's Hill in Surrey. The Diggers, or True Levellers as they described themselves, were communists who wanted to abolish private property and unlike any other radical grouping, they tried to put it in to practice. However, the Digger communes lasted barely a year. They were broken by the violent hostility of the landlords and the indifference of the poor. Ruffians were sent to the commons to physically attack the Diggers, tearing down their houses and trampling crops. The landlords took them to court and prosecuted them for trespass. A smaller group of the original St.Georges Hill Diggers who moved to close by Little Heath near Cobham received similar treatment, as did other communes established in Wellingborough in Northamptonshire, Iver in Buckinghamshire, Barnet in Hertfordshire, Enfield in then Middlesex, Bosworth in Gloucestershire and a further one in Nottinghamshire. Indeed, nine of the Wellingborough Diggers were arrested and imprisoned in Northampton jail and although no charges could be proved against them the justice refused to release them. The Diggers’ communist ideas were a powerful attraction to the poor. Winstanley produced a utopian blueprint entitled Law of Freedom, a detailed plan for a future society.

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