Selections from Gerrard Winstanley

Gerrard Winstanley’s writings are cloaked in the religious phrases of its time.

“In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, to preserve Beasts, Birds, Fishes, and Man, the lord that was to govern this Creation; for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds, and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another. And the Reason is this, Every single man, Male and Female, is a perfect Creature of himself; and the same Spirit that made the Globe, dwels in man to govern the Globe;so that the flesh of man being subject to Reason…”  (The True Levellers Standard Advanced.)

He saw clearly that there could be no real freedom whilst there was private property. As Winstanley stated:

 “True freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation, and that is in the use of the earth . . . A man had better to have no body than to have no food for it . . . True freedom lies in the free enjoyment of the earth.” (The Law of Freedom.)

. . . Rich men receive all they have from the labourer’s hand and what they give, they give away other men’s labours, not their own” (The Law of Freedom.)

The kind of society the Diggers aimed to establish can be shown by this description:

“Shall we have lawyers? There is no need for them, for there is to be no buying and selling; neither any need to expound laws; for the bare letter of the law shall be both judge and lawyer, trying every man’s actions. And seeing we shall have successive Parliaments every year, there will be rules made for every action a man can do.” (The Law of Freedom.) 

 Winstanley stood for common ownership where all wealth was owned communally and where there will be no need for money. He proclaimed that:

we must neither buy nor sell. Money must not any longer . . .be the great god that hedges in some and hedges out others . . .” 

It meant that production must be solely for use and all people able to take from the common store on the basis of free access. As Winstanley explained: 

As everyone works to advance the Common Stock so everyone shall have a free use of any commodity in the Storehouse for his pleasure and comfortable livelihood, without buying and selling or restraint from any”.( Law of Freedom)

The earth is to be planted and the fruits reaped and carried into barns and storehouses by the assistance of every family. And if any man or family want corn or other provision, they may go to the storehouses and fetch without money. If they want a horse to ride, go to the fields in summer, or to the common stables in winter, and receive one from the keepers, and when your journey is performed, bring him where you had him, without money. If any want food or victuals, they may either go to the butchers’ shops, and receive that they want without money; or else go to the flocks of sheep, or herds of cattle, and take and kill what meat is needful for their families, without buying and selling. And the reason why all the riches of the earth are a common stock is this, because the earth and the labours thereupon are managed by common assistance of every family, without buying and seIling

Even as now we have particular trade in cities and towns, called shopkeepers, which shall remain still as they be, only altered in their receiving in and delivering out. For whereas by the law of kings or conquerors they do receive in and deliver out by buying and selling, and exchanging the conqueror’s picture or stamp upon a piece of gold or silver for the fruits of the earth, now they shall (by the laws of the Commonwealth) receive into their shops and deliver out again freely, without buying and selling.

They shall receive in as into a storehouse, and deliver out again freely as out of .a common storehouse, when particular persons or families come for anything they need; as now they do by buying and selling under kingly government.

For as particular families and tradesmen do make several works more than they can make use of, as hats, shoes, gloves, stockings, linen and woolen cloth and the like, and do carry their particular work to storehouses, to work upon without buying and selling; and go to other storehouses and fetch any other commodity which they want and cannot make .. For as other men partakes of their labours, it is reason they should partake of other men’s…

Every tradesman shall fetch materials, as leather, wool, flax, corn and the like, from the public storehouses .to work upon without buying and selling; and when particular works are made, as cloth, shoes, hats and the like, the tradesmen shall bring these particular works to particular shops as is now in practice, without buying and selling. And every family as they want such things as they cannot make, they shall go to these shops and fetch without money, even as now they fetch it with money…

As silver and gold is either found out in mines in own and, or brought by shipping from beyond the sea, it shall not be coined with a conqueror’s stamp upon it, to set. up buying and selling under his name by his leave; for there shall be no other use of it the commonwealth than to make dishes and other necessaries for the ornament of houses, as now there use made of brass, pewter and iron, or any other metal in their use. (The Law of Freedom)

Although Winstanley never  abandoned the idea of a God, his God bore no resemblance to that of any religion. He described God as follows:

“God is reason. Neither are you to look for God in a place of glory beyond the sun, but within yourself and in every man. He that looks for a God outside himself and worships a God at a distance, worships he knows not what”.

Winstanley also recognised the real function of religion as propounded by the Church. He knew organised religion as the instrument of the owning class. He stated:

“this doctrine (religion) is made a cloak of policy by the subtle elder brother to cheat his simple younger brother of the freedoms of the earth. For saith the elder brother ‘The earth is mine, and not yours, brother. You must therefore not work upon it unless you will hire it from me and you must not take the fruits of it unless you will buy them from me by that which I pay for your labour; for if you should do otherwise, God will not love you and you shall not go to heaven when you die but the devil will have you and you must be damned in hell. You must believe what is written and what is told you and if you will not believe, your damnation will be greater’. The younger brother, being weak in spirit and having not a grounded knowledge of creation nor of himself is terrified and lets go his hold in the earth and submits himself to be a slave to his brother for fear of damnation in hell after death and in hopes to get heaven thereby—so his eyes are put out and his reason is blinded.
So that this divining spiritual doctrine is a cheat, for while men are gazing up to heaven, imagining after a happiness or fearing a hell after they are dead, their eyes are put out that they see not what is their birthright and what is to be done by them here on earth while they are living.” (The True Levellers Standard Advanced)

“And the First Reason is this, That we may work in righteousness, and lay the Foundation of making the Earth a Common Treasury for All, both Rich and Poor, That every one that is born in the land, may be fed by the Earth his Mother that brought him forth, according to the Reason that rules in the Creation.

Not Inclosing any part into any particular hand, but all as one man, working together, and feeding together as Sons of one Father, members of one Family; not one Lording over another, but all looking upon each other, as equals in the Creation; so that our Maker may be glorified in the work of his own hands, and that every one may see, he is no respecter of Persons, but equally loves his whole Creation, and hates nothing but the Serpent, which is Covetousness, branching forth into selvish Imagination, Pride, Envie, Hypocrisie, Uncleanness; all seeking the ease and honor of flesh, and fighting against the Spirit Reason that made the Creation; for that is the Corruption, the Curse, the Devil, the Father of Lies; Death and Bondage that Serpent and Dragon that the Creation is to be delivered from.

And we have moved here unto for that Reason, and other which hath been shewed us, both by Vision, Voyce, and Revelation.

For it is shewed us, That so long as we, That so long as we, or any other, doth own the Earth to be the peculier Interest of Lords and Landlords, and not common to others as well as them, we own the Curse, and holds the Creation under bondage; and so long as we or any other doth own Landlords and Tennants, for one to call the Land his, or another to hire it of him, or for one to give hire, and for another to work for hire; this is to dishonour the work of Creation; as if the righteous Creator should have respect to persons, and therefore made the Earth for some, and not for all:

And so long as we, or any other maintain this Civil Propriety, we consent still to hold the Creation down under that bondage it groans under, and so we should hinder the work of Restoration, and sin against Light that is given into us, and so through fear of the flesh man, lose our peace.

And that this Civil Propriety is the Curse, is manifest thus, Those that Buy and Sell Land, and are landlords, have got it either by Oppression, or Murther, or Theft; and all landlords lives in the breach of the Seventh and Eighth Commandements, Thous shalt not steal, nor kill.”

He saw the real cause of war and of class struggles:

“property and single interest divides the people of a land and the whole world into parties, and is the cause of all wars and bloodshed and contention everywhere.” (The True Levellers’ Standard Advanced).

Winstanley held a compelling socialist vision of a society where all things in and on the Earth are the common property of all, where all people give according to their abilities and take freely according to their needs; where money and other time-wasting features of property relationship are done away with. It is a practical alternative to capitalism’s property mania:

The earth with all her fruits of Corn, Cattle and such like was made to be a common Store-House of Livelihood, to all mankinde, friend and foe, without exception” (A Declaration From the Poor Oppressed People of England).

Cromwell and those he represented believed that the revolution had gone far enough. They held political power and used it to suppress their more radical supporters, same as they had suppressed their former class enemies.

Winstanley expresses this situation well:

“While this kingly power reigned in one man called Charles, all sorts of people complained of oppression . . . Thereupon you that were the gentry, when you were assembled in Parliament, you called upon the poor common people to come and help you . . . That top bough is lopped off the tree of Tyranny, and the kingly power in that one particular is cast out. But alas, oppression is a great tree still, and keeps off the sun of freedom from the poor commons still.”
A New Year’s Gift for the Parliament and Army.)