Birmingham CPGB-ML sent a few comrades along to meet up with other party members at the Wigan Diggers festival this Saturday, remembering another aspect of the people’s British history. It was an enjoyable day with plenty of discussion with local workers, the majority of whom were disgraced to hear how Birmingham’s Labour Council was attacking the bin men. Many told us that the local Wigan Labour Council was the same. Sadly, for a progressive festival, we came across Labour Party/Corbyn supporters who backed the Birmingham cuts and supported Jeremy Corbyn for not saying anything about the bin men strike. One Labour member from Manchester said Birmingham’s bin men were only “out for themselves” and that we were “selfish” for criticising Labour cuts. Her reasoning was that those who are victim to Labour cuts should “put up and shut up” so that Jeremy can come to power and wave his magic wand to sort everything out. If we complain we are to be blamed for letting the Tories in!
The only other sad incident came from a lone ISIS supporter backed up by a couple of members of the Wigan Diggers Committee (although by no means all of them). This ISIS supporter attacked one of our stalls and attempted to steal a flag of the Syrian Arab Republic. This individual, who was clearly ill, encouraged a couple of Trotskyist members of the Wigan diggers committee to ask us to take down one of our two stalls. They initially claimed we were a health and safety risk, then when we refused to move they claimed we obstructed he pavement, running out of reasons they eventually admitted they didn’t want the Syria flag on display and complained that we carried our own hammer and sickle flags! Such are the voices of free speech, expression and democracy! Of course these bureaucrats think power grows from the wearing of a yellow hi-viz whilst Marxists understand it comes from physical force. Needless to say they eventually gave up as we numbered 30 and they about 3.
“The Earth was made a common treasury for all” was the slogan of the Diggers. It is vital to revive the knowledge of our rebellious history and traditions in order to inform and enthuse our current working class struggle. Throughout the ages oppressed peoples have fought valiantly against their oppressors, and in victory or defeat they have left us a legacy we must continue!
The Wigan festival celebrates Gerrard Winstanley, from Wigan, and the True Levellers (known as the Diggers), a radical Protestant movement that sought to utilise common land for the benefit of the poorest elements of society, who could not survive without subsistence farming, at a time when food prices were exceptionally high. They arose during the civil war in the 17th century and presented perhaps the most radical ideology of their time.
Winstanley and the Diggers based their ideology on certain passages in the bible, which is best summarised in one of their most memorable quotes: “the Earth was made a common treasury for all”. While it was not possible for them to have developed a socialist theory on the exploitation of the peasantry and labourers at the time, as neither the material conditions nor the schools of philosophy resulting from them existed at the time, it was a noble and notable proto-socialist movement based on a philosophy of primitive agrarian communism.
Ultimately, the Diggers drew the aggression of landowners and the government, with their communities and communal property coming under violent attack from landlords before being ordered off the land by the courts, with the threat of armed reprisal if they did not comply. While the rest of British society adapted to parliamentarianism and the development of the bourgeoisie, the True Leveller movement dissipated.