In the past, I’ve argued in that Karl Marx unfairly gets a bad reputation for simply writing down what most people already knew. Marx’s ideas on wage slavery, capital, exploitation, and private property were nothing new and are, in fact, centuries old.
It’s time to read the writings of the True Levellers (a.k.a. Diggers) and their leader Gerrard Winstanley.
The year 1649 was a time of great social unrest in England. The Parliamentarians had won the First English Civil War but failed to negotiate a constitutional settlement with the defeated King Charles I. Royalists wished to place King Charles II on the throne; men like Oliver Cromwell wished to govern with a plutocratic Parliament voted in by an electorate based on property, similar to that which was enfranchised before the civil war; agitators called Levellers, wanted parliamentary government based on an electorate of every male head of a household; Fifth Monarchy Men advocated a theocracy; and the Diggers, led by Winstanley, advocated a more radical solution.
Introducing the Christian Communist Manifesto of 1649:
The True Levellers Standard Advanced: or, The State of Community Opened, and Presented to the Sons of Men:
In the beginning of Time, the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury, … but not one word was spoken in the beginning, That one branch of mankind should rule over another.
But since humane flesh (that king of Beasts) began to delight himself in the objects of the Creation, more then in the Spirit Reason and Righteousness, … he fell into blindness of mind and weakness of heart, … taking possession … and ruling as King … did set up one man to teach and rule over another; and thereby the Spirit was killed, and man was brought into bondage, and became a greater Slave to such of his own kind.
And hereupon, The Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves: And that Earth that is within this Creation made a Common Store-house for all, is bought and sold, and kept in the hands of a few, … delighting in the comfortable Livelihood of some, and rejoycing in the miserable povertie and straits of others.
But for the present state of the old World … we see proud Imaginary flesh, … rises up in flesh and gets dominion in some to rule over others, and so forces one part of the Creation man, to be a slave to another; and thereby the Spirit is killed in both.
And so the Earth that was made a common Treasury for all to live comfortably upon, is become through mans unrighteous actions one over another, to be a place, wherein one torments another.
And this Elder Son, or man of bondage, hath held the Earth in bondage to himself, not by a meek Law of Righteousnesse, But by subtle selfish Councels, and by open and violent force;
But when once the Earth becomes a Common Treasury again, … Then this Enmity in all Lands will cease, for none shall dare to seek a Dominion over others,
And the Rulers, as Kings and Governors, were continually the Ocean-head, out of whose power, Burdens, Oppressions, and Poverty did flow out upon the Earth: and these two Powers still hath been the Curse, that hath led the Earth, mankind, into confusion and death by their imaginary and selfish teaching and ruling,
O thou teaching and ruling power of the earthy man, thou hast been an oppressor, by imprisonment, impoverishing, and martyrdom; and all thy power and wit, hath been to make Laws, and execute them against such as stand for universal Liberty,
Thou hast made the people to take a Covenant … to bring in Liberty every man in his place; and yet while a man is in pursuing of that Covenant, he is imprisoned and oppressed by thy Officers, Courts and Justices, so called.
And we shall not do this through force of Arms, … [but] by labouring the Earth in righteousness together, to eate our bread with the sweat of our brows.
The work we are going about is this, To dig up Georges Hill and the waste Ground thereabouts, and to Sow Corn, and to eat our bread together by the sweat of our brows.
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;
That so long as we, or any other, doth own the Earth to be the peculiar 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;
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 Commandments, Thou shalt not steal, or kill.
They have by their subtle imaginary and covetous wit, got the plain-hearted poor, or yonger Brethren to work for them, for small wages, and by their work have got a great increase; for the poor by their labour lifts up Tyrants to rule over them; or else by their covetous wit, they have out- reached the plain-hearted in Buying and Selling, and thereby inriched themselves, but impoverished others: or else by their subtile wit, having been a lifter up into places of Trust, have inforced people to pay Money for a Publick use, but have divided much of it into their private purses; and so have got it by Oppression.
these landlords have thus stoln the Earth from their fellow Creatures,
Take notice, That England is not a Free People, till the Poor that have no land, have a free allowance to dig and labour the Commons, and so live as Comfortably as the Landlords that live in their Inclosures. … the Oppressed might be set Free … by an universal Consent of making the Earth a Common Treasury,
Work together, Eate Bread together, Declare this all abroad.
And if so, the certainly none shall say, This is my Land, work for me, and I’le give you Wages.
And if the Earth be not peculiar to any one branch, or branches of mankind, but the Inheritance of all; Then is it Free and Common for all, to work together, and eate together.
Wheras on the otherside, pleading for Propriety and single Interest, divides the People of a land, and the whole world into Parties, and is the cause of all Wars, and Bloud-shed, and Contention everywhere.
and by denying to labor for Hire, they shall pull them down again. He that works for another, either for Wages, or to pay him Rent, works unrighteously, and still lifts up the Curse; but they that are resolved to work and eat together, making the Earth a Common Treasury, doth joyn hands with Christ, to lift up the Creation from Bondage, and restores all things from the Curse.
we would have none live in Beggery, Poverty, or Sorrow, but that every one might enjoy the benefit of his creation,
and all Poor people by their righteous Labours shall be relieved, and freed from Poverty and Straits;
All places stink with the abomination of Self-seeking Teachers and Rulers: For do not I see that every one Preacheth for money, Counsels for money, and fights for money to maintain particular Interests? And none of these three that pretend to give liberty to the Creation, do give liberty to the Creation; neither can they, for they are enemies to universal liberty; So that the earth stinks with their Hypocrisie, Covetousness, Envie, sottish Ignorance, and Pride.
The common People … While they wait for liberty, behold greater bondage comes insteed of it, … the horrible cheating that is in Buying and Selling, and the cruel Oppression of Landlords, and lords of Mannours, … the day of Judgement is begun, … and the poor people whom thou oppresses, shall be the Saviours of the land; For the blessing is rising up in them,
Let Israel [England] go Free; break in pieces quickly the Band of particular Propriety, dis-own this oppressing Murder, Oppression and Thievery of Buying and Selling of Land, owning of landlords, and paying of Rents, and give thy Free Consent to make the Earth a Common Treasury,
Therefore, do not thou hinder the Mother Earth, from giving all her Children suck, by thy Inclosing it into particular hands, and holding up that cursed Bondage of Inclosure by thy Power,
Thus we have discharged our Souls in declaring the Cause of our Digging upon George-Hill in Surrey, that the Great Councel and Army of the Land may take notice of it, That there is no intent of Tumult or Fighting, but only to get Bread to eat, with the sweat of our brows; working together in righteousness, and eating the blessings of the Earth in peace,
But wait. Winstanley and his group are not done. That same year, they published another pamphlet titled: “A Declaration from the Oppressed People of England, Directed to all that call themselves, or are called Lords of Manors“:
We whose narnes are subscribed, do in the name of all the poor oppressed people in England, declare unto you, that call your selves lords of Manors, and Lords of the Land, That in regard the King of Righteousness, our Maker, hath inlightened our hearts so far, as to see, That the earth was not made purposely for you, to be Lords of it, and we to be your Slaves, Servants, and Beggers; but it was made to be a common Livelihood to all, without respect of persons: And that your buying and selling of Land, and the Fruits of it, one to another, is The cursed thing, and was brought in by War; which hath, and still does establish murder, and theft, In the hands of some branches of Mankinde over others, which is the greatest outward burden, and unrighteous power, that the Creation groans under: For the power of inclosing Land, and owning Propriety, was brought into the Creation by your Ancestors by the Sword; which first did murther their fellow Creatures, Men, and after plunder or steal away their Land, and left this Land successively to you, their Children. And therefore, though you did not kill or theeve, yet you hold that cursed thing in your hand, by the power of the Sword;
For though you and your Ancestors got your Propriety by murther and theft, and you keep it by the same power from us, that have an equal right to the Land with you, by the righteous Law of Creation, yet we shall have no occasion of quarrelling (as you do) about that disturbing devil, called Particular propriety: For 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.
And to prevent your scrupulous Objections, know this, That we Must neither buy nor sell; Money must not any longer (after our work of the Earths community is advanced) be the great god, that hedges in some, and hedges out others; for Money is but part of the Earth: And surely, the Righteous Creator, who is King, did never ordain, That unless some of Mankinde, do bring that Mineral (Silver and Gold) in their hands, to others of their own kinde, that they should neither be fed, nor be clothed; no surely, For this was the project of Tyrant-flesh (which Land-lords are branches of) to set his Image upon Money. And they make this unrighteous Law, That none should buy or sell, eat, or be clothed, or have any comfortable Livelihood among men, unless they did bring his Image stamped upon Gold or Silver in their hands.
for buying and selling is the great cheat, that robs and steals the Earth one from another: It is that which makes some Lords, others Beggers, some Rulers, others to be ruled;
what Law then can you make, to take hold upon us, but Laws of Oppression and Tyranny,
And since the power of the murdering, and theeving Sword, formerly, as well as now of late yeers, hath set up a Govenment, and maintains that Government; for what are prisons, and putting others to death, but the power of the Sword to enforce people to that Government which was got by Conquest and Sword, and cannot stand of it self, but by the same murdering power? That Government that is got over people by the Sword and kept by the Sword, is not set up by the King of Righteousness to be his Law, but by Covetousness, the great god of the world;
And seeing and finding ourselves poor, wanting Food to feed upon, … declare our condition to you, and to all, that have the Treasury of the Earth, locked up in your Bags, Chests, and Barns, and will offer up nothing to this publike Treasury; but will rather see your fellow Creatures starve for want of Bread, that have an equal right to it with your selves, by the Law of Creation,
Therefore we are resolved to be cheated no longer, nor be held under the slavish fear of you no longer, seing the Earth was made for us, as well as for you.
England the land of our Nativity, is to be a common Treasury of livelihood to all, without respect of persons.
And we look upon that freedom promised to be the inheritance of all, without respect of persons; And this cannot be, unless the Land of England be freely set at liberty from proprietors, and become a common Treasury to all her children,
we shall prove it by the Righteous Law of our Creation, That mankinde in all his branches, is the Lord of the Earth and ought not to be in subjection to any of his own kinde without him, but to live in the light of the law of righteousness, and peace established in his heart.
And thus in love we have declared the purpose of our hearts plainly, without flatterie, expecting love, and the same sincerity from you, without grumbling or quarreling, being Creatures of your own Image and mould, intending no other matter herein, but to observe the Law of righteous action, endeavouring to shut out of the Creation, the cursed thing, called Particular Propriety, which is the cause of all wars, bloud-shed, theft, and enslaving Laws, that hold the people under miserie.
Things that make you go hmmm…
Thanks for reading,
The True Levellers Standard Advanced Full text: https://scholarsbank.uoregon.edu/xmlui/bitstream/handle/1794/863/levellers.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y
A Declaration from the Oppressed People of England Full Text: https://www.bilderberg.org/land/poor.htm