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THE LITERATURE OF THE DIGGERS J. MAX PATRICK COMMUNIST movements have appeared in all the great middleclass revolutions. The Diggers, who were the communists of -the Puritan Revolution, wefe less conscious of what they were doing than modern Marxists. Because capitalist industry was little developed, they failed to envisage a specifically proletarian revolution, and their ideal was an agrarian communism. But they began the theory of utopian socialism and economic democracy. They attempted a socialist community; they sketched the outlines of a socialist constitution; and, in response to the material circumstances in which they found themselves, they developed certain phases of Puritan thought in the direction of socialism. Although local landlords and the armed forces of the state broke up their experiment, leairing their theories apparently discredited and their influence negligible, they nevertheless produced pamphlets which throw much light on the nature of Puritanism, and which contain a ruth~ess analysis of the cause, nature, and significance of the English Revolution. These constitute a literature which is significant in its anticipations of modern socialist thought, striking in its power of phrase and image, potent in its iconoclasm, suggestive of Traherne in its mysticism and pantheism, and indicative of the seventeenth-century trend towards secularism and materialism. ILefl_Wing Democracy in the English Ciuil If/ar: A Study of 1M Social Pllilosophy oj Gerrard Win.rtanlcy, by DAVID W. PETEOORSKY. London, 1940. . The Works of Gerrard Winstanley; with an Appendix of Documents relating 10 the Digger MOrJement, edited with an Introduction by GEORGE H. SABINE. Ithaca, N.Y., Cornell University Press, 1941. It is regrettable that Professor Sabine felt unable to include more than brief extraCts of Winstanley's three earliest pamphlets; as will be seen from what follows' they are important for an understanding of Winstanley's thought. He has omitted to transcribe the complete title pages of Winstanley's works. The Diggers made extensive use of verses and songs to spread their ideas, and several of the title pages contain such verses. I quote one from .If WIl/chword / 0 the Cjty of London (Bodleian cOPY), which is significant because it shows that Winstanley was writing not only for his own times, but for future generations as well: When these clay bodies are in grave, and children stand in place, This shows we stood for truth and peace, and freedom in our days; And trueborn sons we shall appear of England that's our mother, No priests no lawyer's wiles t'embracc, their slavery we'll discover. For the rest, the ca~e and completeness of the edition seem to demand the highest praise. 9S 96 THE UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY Clearly the Diggers have been too long neglected, and there is reason to welcome two recent books about them : the works of Gerrard Wi"nstanley, edited with an introduction by Professor Sabine, and a monograph on their social philosophy by Dr David Petegorsky. Dr Petegorsky's study is by far the best Marxist interpretation of the English Revolution which has yet appeared. It is scholarly, moderate in tone, and interestingly writt" en. The glaring Oversimplifications which mar most of the works of materialistic historians are avoided; difficulties of interpretation are faced, and uncertainties are acknowledged; and the potent influence of ideas and political factors, as well as their economic bases, are dealt with. Petegorsky shows the place of ~he Digger Movement as a link in the long chain of socialist thought which stretches back to the agrarian revolts of the Middle Ages. H e subjects the background of the Civil War to an analysis which discloses the fundamental conflicts of class and economic interests. The function of theories as weapons with which the struggle was waged is elucidated, and their adaptations to changing circumstances are traced, as well as the use to which the religious issue was put. Later chapters deal with the evolution of radical political thought during the Civil War, and give an interpretation of the career and writings of Gerrard Winstanley. Dr Petegorsky is perhaps oversympathetic to the Digger cause. For example, his generalization that the Diggers "looked to the future rather than the past" (p. 13) needs qualification. For though Winstanley's ideas are...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 95-110
Launched on MUSE
2015-07-01
Open Access
No
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