Gerrard Winstanley


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Winstanley, Gerrard

 

Born 1609, in Wigan, Lancashire; died after 1652. English Utopian socialist and ideologist of the Diggers, the extreme left wing of revolutionary democracy in the English Civil War.

In 1630, Winstanley moved to London, where he worked as an apprentice to a company of clothing merchants and later became a company partner. He subsequently went bankrupt and worked for hire in Surrey about the year 1643. His career as a publicist began in the mid-1640’s. Using mystical arguments, Winstanley expounded his social doctrine in numerous pamphlets, beginning with The New Law of Righteousness (1649). He proposed “the law of social righteousness, ” offered proof of the absolute necessity for a democratic agrarian revolution, and advanced a design for a “free republic.” His new law of righteousness was to be a classless society, free of private property, money, buying and selling, work for hire, and material inequality. Winstanley believed that establishment of such an order would have to be preceded by a democratic agrarian revolution, which would guarantee the right of the poor to cultivate common wasteland rent free and which would provide for the replacement of copyhold by freehold. He considered the agrarian revolution an indispensable precondition for the victory of a republic over the monarchy.

In 1649, Winstanley led the Diggers’ revolt, which marked the culmination of the revolutionary-democratic movement in midnth-century England. Near the town of Cobham he founded his colony of Diggers, which was the first communist experiment in modern history. After the rout of the colony in the spring of 1650, Winstanley wrote his ideological testament, The Law of Freedom in a Platform (1652), in which he described a communist Utopia and showed for the first time the relationship between the social ideals of a communist society and the aspirations of the poor. In the testament he defined individual freedom as, above all, freedom from want.

WORKS

The Works of Gerrard Winstanley. Ithaca, N.Y., 1941.
In Russian translation:
Izbr. pamflety. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950.

REFERENCES

Stal’nyi, V. “Utopiia Dzh. Uinstenli.” Istoricheskii zhurnal, 1942. nos. 3–4.
Barg, M. A. Narodnye nizy v angliiskoi revoliutsii XVII veka. Moscow, 1967. (Contains bibliography.)
Saprykin, Iu. M. Sotsial’no-politicheskie vzgliady angliiskogo krest’-ianstva v XIV–XVII vv. Moscow, 1972.

M. A. BARG

References in periodicals archive ?
So said Gerrard Winstanley [1609-1676], leader of the Diggers during the English Revolution but of whose life--except for a brief period of activism between 1648 and 1652--we know frustratingly little.
In the mid-17th century, Gerrard Winstanley led a series of protests in England against "enclosure," the practice of landlords privatizing public lands.
Also of note is her subtle treatment of William Prynne, Oliver Cromwell, Gerrard Winstanley, Margaret Fell, George Fox, and Menasseh Ben Israel, as well as of self-proclaimed prophets such as John Rogers, Abiezzer Coppe, and Anna Trapnel.
CHRISTOPHER Hitchens belongs to the old English tradition of pamphleteers and rabble- rousers going back to Gerrard Winstanley and Daniel Defoe.
Civil War radicals like Gerrard Winstanley denounced clergymen and lawyers as unproductive caterpillars of the commonwealth.
Other omissions include such interesting figures as Gerrard Winstanley, Jacob Bauthumley, and Laurence Clarkson, whose annihilationism had come within the purview of Burns (and Christopher Hill).
As well as discussing recognisably anarchist figures like Bakunin and Kropotkin, the book includes observations on libertarian elements in the thought of Gerrard Winstanley, William Godwin, Tom Paine and even the Marquis de Sade.
But I will restrict myself to two of my favourite examples: Thomas Muntzer and the Peasants' Revolt in 16th-century Germany and Gerrard Winstanley and the Diggers from 17th-century England.
377] and, not surprisingly, uses the texts of Gerrard Winstanley to make his case.
Perhaps what is most surprising to someone interested in the utopian aspects of seventeenth century English political and social thought is an absence of a discussion of Gerrard Winstanley.
As the political thought of Thomas Hobbes, John Milton, Oliver Cromwell, Robert Filmer, and Gerrard Winstanley have little in common, any attempt to bring these seventeenth-century thinkers together in one volume is a challenge.
One of the most interesting examples of a social critique inspired by the Apocalypse and other parts of the Bible emerged in the writings of Gerrard Winstanley.