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.


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


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.


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The first develops, in successive chapters, the religious and political radicalism of John Lilburne, Gerard Winstanley, Abiezer Coppe and Anna Trapnel, and George Fox, and concludes with its first sally into "literature," on Marvell's responses to radical polemic.
Hill shows great respect for the revolutionary thought and character of those like Gerard Winstanley and John Milton.
Boulton argues for the centrality of the Digger Gerard Winstanley to early Quaker thought, and bemoans what he sees as a retreat from Quaker radicalism after 1660, a radicalism that broke "back into the discourse of Friends with the re-emergence of Quaker nontheism in the 1990s" (190).