Diggers


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Diggers,

members of a small English religio-economic movement (fl. 1649–50), so called because they attempted to dig (i.e., cultivate) the wastelands. They were an offshoot of the more important group of Puritan extremists known as the LevelersLevelers
or Levellers,
English Puritan sect active at the time of the English civil war. The name was apparently applied to them in 1647, in derision of their beliefs in equality. The leader of the movement and its most indefatigable propagandist was John Lilburne.
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. Gerrard Winstanley was the leader of the Diggers and the exponent of their egalitarian and communistic philosophy in his New Law of Righteousness (1649). The little band planted the common land at St. George's Hill, Surrey, and at nearby Cobham, but their project was met with suspicion by their neighbors and resistance from the landowners on whose property they encroached. In the spring of 1650 their community was destroyed by mob violence, and the experiment was abandoned. Winstanley's Law of Freedom (1652) extended his thesis that English law and institutions should be modified immediately to bring social and economic equality to all men through common ownership of the land.

Diggers

 

representatives of the extreme left wing of revolutionary democracy in the English Civil War, expressing the interests of the village and urban poor, especially of peasants owning little or no land who were ruined in the agrarian upheaval and who were being exploited by both feudal lords and capitalists.

The designation Diggers first appeared during the peasant uprising of 1607 in central England, but as an ideological and sociopolitical movement the Diggers emerged during the bourgeois-democratic stage of the Civil War (1647-49), when they split off from the Leveler movement, in distinction from whom the Diggers began calling themselves “true Levelers.” Through their ideologist G. Winstanley, the Diggers proclaimed the ideals of a “free republic” where the exploitation of man by man would be unknown and of the collective ownership of property and performance of labor. Their program envisaged the abolition of copyhold and the land rights of the manorial lords and the return of common land to public use. Realization of this program would have entailed the complete abolition of feudal landownership and, in the final analysis, of all private ownership of land. Because of the extreme stratification of the English peasantry, the Diggers’ demands could not serve as the basis for a mass movement in the village. In 1649 the Diggers attempted the collective cultivation of public wasteland near Cobham, Surrey, and elsewhere. In the end, however, legal persecution and out-right repression by the authorities undermined the Diggers movement (1650).

REFERENCES

Angliiskaia burzhuaznaia revoliutsiia XVII veka, vols. 1-2. Moscow, 1954. (Includes bibliography.)
Volgin, V. P. “Diggery i Uinstenli.” In Uinstenli Dzh., Izbrannye pamflety. Moscow-Leningrad, 1950. (Collection of pamphlets, translated from English.)
Saprykin, Lu. M. “Sotsial’no-politicheskie idei diggerov.” Vestnik MGU, Istoriko-filologich. seriia, 1959, no. 2.
Barg, M. A. Narodnye nizy v Angliiskoi revoliutsii XVII v. Moscow, 1967.

M. A. BARG

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