Early Modern Communism: The Diggers and Community of Goods by ProQuest

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									                                                 ariel hessayon goldsmiths, university of london




Early Modern Communism
The Diggers and Community of Goods




     Freedom is the man that will turn the world upside downe, therefore no
     wonder he hath enemies.
                                             —Gerrard Winstanley, A Watch-Word to the City of London
                                                                        and the Armie (1649), preface




I. Positioning the Diggers within a Communist Tradition

Since their rediscovery in the nineteenth century—first by Liberal, Social-
ist, and Marxist historians and then by Protestant nonconformists—the
English Diggers of 1649–50 have been successively appropriated; their
image refashioned in the service of new political doctrines that have sought
legitimacy partly through emphasizing supposed ideological antecedents.
In a previous article I demonstrated that recent attempts to incorporate the
Diggers within a constructed Green heritage are unconvincing and that at
worst these emerging “Green narratives” are insensitive to historical context.1
Similarly, here I want to show how, either through lack of understanding the
finer points of Protestant theology or deliberate distortion, most explanations
of the Diggers’ implementation of the doctrine of community of goods have
been misleading.

Journal for the Study of Radicalism, Vol. 3, No. 2, 2009, pp. 1–50. issn 1930-1189.
© 2009 Michigan State University Board of Trustees. All rights reserved.                                1
2                                                                    Ariel Hessayon


   Although the term “Communism” is anachronistic in an early modern
context—the Chartist Goodwyn Barmby apparently coined it in 1840—Fried-
rich Engels nonetheless used it in his study of The Peasant War in Germany
(summer 1850). Engels, at that time a journalist and political activist with
republican sympathies, linked the revolutionary struggle of the German
people in 1848 with the defeated uprising of their forebears.2 Moreover,
since the 1890s a number of scholars writing in the wake of the emergence
of British socialism and burgeoning trade union movement have used the
word to describe an ideology that burst forth during the English Revolu-
tion. This recurring fascination with the antecedents of communism and
concomitant positioning of the Diggers with a constructed if multifaceted
communist tradition stretching continuously from the German Peasants’
War to the Russian Revolution—Gerrard Winstanley’s name appears eighth
on a list of 19 European radicals commemora
								
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