WHEN the “True Levellers” commenced their agitation with spade and hoe, William Everard appears to have figured as their chief leader, although Winstanley always appears side by side with him. The latter, however, is the author, among other publications, of the Utopia of the True Levellers.
It is entitled The Law of Freedom on a Platform, or True Magistracy Restored, London, 1651-1652, Giles Calvert, wherein the author sets forth what “kingly government” and what “commonwealth government” mean. “Humbly presented to Oliver Cromwell ... and to all Englishmen my brethren whether in church fellowship or not in church fellowship, both sorts walking as they conceive according to the order of the Gospel, and from them to all the nations of the world.”
A motto in verse calls for the speedy realization of the principles of the new doctrine.
In thee, O England, is the Law arising up to shine,
The work itself is prefaced by an address to Cromwell, which entreats him, who had now risen to the first place in the realm, to change not only the names but also the realities of existing institutions. Upon him had been conferred the high honour of becoming the head of a nation that had cast out an oppressive Pharaoh. But the despotic power exercised and represented by the late tyrant was still subsisting. Land and freedom had still to be bestowed upon those who had risked their person and their purse for it. Not Cromwell as an individual nor he and his officers had conquered the King, who had only been vanquished with the aid of the common people, who had either rendered personal assistance or worked at home for the sustenance of the Army. Consequently all should share equally in the fruits of the victory. Cromwell had two courses open to him: either to make over the land to the people, and thus deserve the honour bestowed on him, or simply to assent to a transfer of political power, by which he would compromise his honour and wisdom. He would either fall or prepare the way for a heavier bondage than that which had hitherto obtained. After this almost prophetic introduction, Winstanley enumerates the grievances from which the people suffer. They are as follows:
This is followed by a drastic onslaught upon the titles to the existing landed property, from which we extract the following sentences
But you will say, is not the land your brothers? And you cannot take away another man’s right by claiming a share therein with him. I answer: It is his either by creation right or by right of conquest. If by creation right he call the earth his and not mine, then it is mine as well as his; for the spirit of the whole creation who made both is no respecter of persons. And if by conquest he calls the earth his and not mine, it must be either by the conquest of the Kings over the Commoners or by the conquest of the Commoners over the Kings.
If he claims the earth to be his from the King’s conquest, the Kings are beaten and cast out and that title is undone.
“If he claim the title to the earth to be his from the conquest of the Commoners over the Kings, then I have the title to the land as well as my brother”, for all had helped to carry on the war. 
The sufferings of the people had prompted Winstanley to devise this plan, on the basis of which just conditions should be restored. He had no intention at first of publishing it, but in the end the fire that burnt within him drove him to do so. Possibly not all that he proposed might be correct, but Cromwell might do like the bees which draw the honey from the flowers and leave the rest. “Though this Platform be like a peece of Timber rough hewd, yet the discreet workman may take it, and frame a handsome building out of it.”
Cromwell might perhaps inquire how priests and proprietors and the great landlords were to be provided for, if the former were deprived of their tithes and the latter of the services hitherto rendered to them. But when these duties and tithes were imposed no one had troubled about the poverty of the people. And the plight of the lords and priests would not be a serious matter; as members of the free society to be created, they would have equal right to the common property with their fellow-citizens and need therefore suffer no want.
In this new society an end would, above all, have to be put to trading, to “buying and selling”. Winstanley describes the commencement of trading as the “fall” of the human race.
Is not buying and selling a righteous law? No, it is the law of the conqueror, but not righteous law of creation: how can that be righteous which is a cheat? For is not this a common practice when he (who) has a bad horse or cow, or any. bad commodity, he will send it to the market, to cheat some simple plain-hearted man or other, and when he come home will laugh at his neighbour’s hurt, and much more? When mankind began to buy and sell, then he did fall from his innocency; for then he began to oppress and cozen one another of their creation birthright. As, for example, if the land belong to three persons and two of them buy and sell the earth, and the third give no consent, his right is taken from him and his posterity is engaged in a war.
Thus, he continues, Crown and Church lands, instead of being set apart for common use, were now being sold to land-grabbing officers of the Army and speculators of all kinds, “to the scandal of poor people. This buying and selling did bring in, and still does bring in, discontent and wars which have plagued mankind sufficiently for so doing. And the nations of the world will never learn to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning-hooks, and leave off warring, until this cheating device of buying and selling be cast out among the rubbish of kingly powers.” 
Winstanley proceeds to discuss the questions connected with his scheme of the future. He asks: “But shall not one man be richer than another?”
And his answer is
There is no need of that. For riches make men vain-glorious, proud, and to oppress their brethren, and are the occasions of war.
He shows, and in this he anticipates the arguments of the nineteenth-century socialists, that great private riches are impossible without exploitation.
No man can be rich but he must be rich either by his own labours, or by the labour of other men helping him. If a man have no help from his neighbour, he shall never gather an estate of hundreds and thousands a year. And if other men help him to work, then are those riches his neighbours’ as well as his, for they be the fruits of other men’s labours as well as his own. But all rich men live at ease, feeding and clothing themselves by the labours of other men, not by their own, which is their shame and not their Nobility, for it is a more blessed thing to give than to receive. But rich men receive all they have from the labourers’ hand, and what they give, they give away other men’s labours, not their own.
But inequality might exist as regards titles and honours. “As a man goes through offices he rises to titles of Honour, till he comes to the highest Nobility, to be a faithful commonwealth man in a Parliament House. Likewise he who findes out any secret in Nature, shall have a Title of Honour given him, though he be a young man. But no man shall have any Title of Honour till he win it by industry, or come to it by age, or office-bearing. Every man that is above sixty years of age shall have respect as a man of Honour by all others that are younger, as is shewed hereafter.”
He next asks
Shall every man count his Neighbour’s house as his own, and live together as one Family?
His answer is
“No. Though the Earth and Storehouses be common to every Family, yet every Family shall live apart as they do; and every man’s house, wife, children, and furniture for ornament of his house, or anything which he has fetched from the Storehouses, or provided for the necessary use of his Family, is all a property to that Family, for the Peace thereof.” Whoever offends against this shall be punished “as an enemy of the Commonwealth Government”.
Will there be any lawyers?
The reply is in the negative, and the reason is stated briefly and tersely
There is no buying and selling.
For the rest, the law shall be its own “Counsel” – its wording shall be so clear as to require no interpretation. “The foes of contention, Simeon and Levi, must not bear Rule in a free commonwealth.”
So far the preface. The first chapter of the treatise itself discusses the meaning of liberty, which does not, as many have imagined, consist in the free use of trading, as this is “a Freedom under the Will of a conqueror”. 
Nor does it consist in liberty of religion, as “this is an unsettled Freedom”, nor in the “Freedom to have community with all Women”, or in the “elder brother” being the Landlord and the “younger” being made to serve him. “All these, and such like, are Freedoms: but they lead to Bondage, and are not the true Foundation-Freedom which settles a commonwealth in Peace. True Commonwealth Freedom lies in the free Enjoyment of the Earth. True Freedom lies where a man receives his nourishment and preservation ... A man had better to have no body, than to have no food for it; therefore this restraining of the Earth from brethren to brethren, is oppression and Bondage.”
I speak now in relation between the Oppressor and the Oppressed; the inward bondages I meddle not with in this place, though I am assured that if it be rightly searched into, the inward bondages of the minde, as covetousness, pride, hypocrisie, envy, sorrow, fears, desperation, and madness, are all occasioned by the outward bondage, that one sort of people lay upon another. 
Winstanley again refers to the Normans as the enslavers of England, to the laws introduced by them, and the State clergy who defend these laws. He says
Their work was to persuade the multitude of people to let William the Conqueror alone have possession and government of the Earth and to call it his and theirs, and so not to rebel against him. Then do the Ministers prepare War against the common man and will make no Covenant of Peace with him till they have their Reason blinded, so as to believe every Doctrine they preach and never question any thing saying, The Doctrine of Faith must not be tried by Reason. No, for if it be, their Mystery of Iniquity will be discovered and they would lose their Tythes.
Therefore no marvell, that the National Clergy of England and Scotland who are the Thything Priests and Lords of blinded men’s spirits, held so close to their master the King, for, say they, if the people must not work for us and give us Thythes, but we must work for ourselves as they do our Freedom is lost. Yes, but this is but the cry of an Egyptian Task-master who counts other men’s freedom his bondage.
“If the earth could be enjoyed as ... it may by this Platform I have offered then”, pursued Winstanley, “man need not act so hypocritically as the Clergy do and others to get a living ... The glory of Israel’s Commonwealth is this, They had no beggar amongst them.
The first chapter concludes with an appeal to the communistic spirit o£ the Mosaic law and a protest against the aspersion that the projected Commonwealth would mean general idleness, abolition of marriage ties, and lawlessness. The second and third chapters discuss the meaning of Government in general and define what is “kingly” and what “commonwealth” Government. We will only quote a few of the more significant sentences.
The original Root of magistracy is common Preservation, and it rose up first in a private Family: for suppose there were but one Family in the World as is conceived , Father Adam’s Family wherein were many persons, Adam was the first Governor or officer. He was the most wise in contriving, the most strong for labour and so the fittest to be chief Governor. For this is the Golden Rule: Let the wise help the foolish, and let the strong help the weak.
The objection which might be raised, that Adam was not subject to any law, but was an autocrat, free to exercise his own will, is anticipated by Winstanley, who points out that the law of necessity was then paramount, and it indicated Adam as the head of the family so clearly that all parties concerned would readily submit to him. Necessity chose him as the head on behalf of the children.
Winstanley contends that while necessity imposes some form of government, it does not sanction despotic rule.
All Officers in a true Magistracie of the Commonwealth are to be chosen Officers.
“All Officers in a Commonwealth are to be chosen new ones every year.” When publique Officers remain long, they will degenerate. “Great Offices in a Land and Army have changed the disposition of many sweet spirited men. Nature tells us, That if water stand long, it corrupts, whereas running water keeps sweet and is fit for common use.”
The definite exposition of the organization of the true commonwealth commences with the fourth chapter. As the title suggests, it is elaborated in the form of a platform, or as we should say nowadays, in “articles” or “clauses”. Beginning with a list of the various offices, it proceeds to explain the functions and duties of each class of officials, and where appropriate, describes certain of the social institutions. The fifth chapter is devoted to problems of education, both academic and commercial, whilst the sixth chapter expounds several special laws of the true commonwealth as opposed to the “kingly” laws.
In view of the industrial conditions under which the author lived, the economic basis of the new society is mainly small-scale production, each individual being at liberty to produce in his own home. At the same time the community maintains public workshops, where any boys may be trained who do not elect to learn their father’s domestic trade, or that of any other master. The exchange of products, on the other hand, is effected according to the principles of mutuality. Each individual delivers what he has produced into the common “storehouse”, from which he draws whatever he requires either for his private use or for manufacturing purposes. There are two kinds of storehouses, viz., those for products in bulk, such as corn, wool, and raw products of all kinds, and those for the various products of manufacture. The delivery of finished goods into the storehouse, and the drafts from the store, are TOTALLY INDEPENDENT AND SEPARATE TRANSACTIONS, NO CALCULATION OR SETTLEMENT OF ACCOUNTS BEING MADE. The risk of a disparity between production and consumption is obviated in the following manner: Each able-bodied member of the community is expected to supply a certain quantity of work. If he habitually supplies less than his quota, he is first to be privately(!) reminded of his duty by the overseer for his trade, and if such admonition proves without effect, he is to be called to account by the community. This would suffice in most cases, but failing this, and then only, punishment will be resorted to. Similar rules apply as regards excessive drafts of stores, or waste and destruction of material and tools and implements. Education is to be general, the children are to be educated together in public schools, and work is to be compulsory up to forty years of age. Every pupil shall receive scientific and trade instruction, but there shall not be any purely academic section “who set themselves up above their brethren”. Anyone over forty years of age may spend his time as he chooses, as a teacher, in trade, agriculture, etc., or he may stand for election as overseer or the like.
The following are the various “offices”
Men over sixty years automatically become overseers of the general welfare (observance of laws, etc.). Otherwise, all officers, including soldiers, who in time of peace are to act as constables, are to be elected annually. The duties of the majority of officers and official bodies are apparent from their titles, and therefore require no further explanation except the “postmasters” and the “ministers” of the commonwealth.
The Postmasters are entrusted to conduct the Intelligence Service. They are to collect, in each locality, reports of remarkable events (phenomena, discoveries, accidents, etc.), and forward them to the capital, where monthly reports are compiled, and printed in the form of books, which are forwarded to the various local postmasters, who are to bring the contents to the knowledge of the members of the community.
The ministers of the commonwealth are to ensure the due observance of the weekly day of rest, when they are to convene meetings of the members of the community, at which three kinds of discourses are to be held, viz., (a) Communication of the contents of the reports received by the postmasters on the affairs of the country; (b) Readings of sections of the Law of the Land, so that this may again and again be impressed on the minds of the citizens; (c) lectures and discussions on subjects from the history of their own or other countries, arts and sciences, natural history, the nature of man, etc. No one is to propound phantastic theories, but only to relate what he has himself ascertained by study and observation.  Moreover, the lectures are not always to be held in the English language, but sometimes in a foreign language also, so that the citizens of the English commonwealth may be able to learn of their neighbours and gain their respect and love.
But saith the zealous but ignorant Professor, this is a low and carnal ministry indeed, this leads man to know nothing but the knowledge of the earth, and the secrets of nature, but we are to look after spiritual and heavenly things. I answer, to know the secrets of nature, is to know the works of God within the creation, is to know God Himself, for God dwells in every visible work or body.
Then follows a remarkable onslaught upon what Winstanley calls “The Divining Doctrine”, and this argument is not surpassed as a dialectical performance by the anti-clerical literature of the French Revolution. Winstanley expatiates upon the contradictions between theory and practice, of the spiritualistic priesthood. He shows how metaphysical doctrine stultifies the people, in many instances driving them to madness, and finally declares quite bluntly: “Thirdly, this Doctrine is made a cloke of policy by the subtil elder Brother to cheat his simple younger Brother of the Freedoms of the Earth.”  Here follows, by way of illustration, a dialogue, which concludes with the “elder” brother (the rich man) saying to the “younger” (the poor man), who is unwilling to believe that the unequal distribution of goods is in accordance with the intentions of the Creator: “What, will you be an Atheist and a factious man, will you not believe God?” thus intimidating him who is “weak in spirit”, and has “not a grounded knowledge of the Creation, nor of himself”, “so that this divining spiritual doctrine is a cheat; for while men are gazing up to Heaven, imagining after a happiness, or fearing a Hell after they are dead, their eyes are put out, that they see not what is their birthrights, and what is to be done by them here on Earth while they are living: THIS IS THE FILTHY DREAD AND THE CLOUD WITHOUT RAIN”. 
Another interesting feature is the reason given by Winstanley for rejecting all “knowledge of the scholars”. As we have already observed, he did not adopt this attitude out of hostility to learning. On the one hand, the restriction of education to the acquirement of practical knowledge reflects the similarly limited empiricism taught by Bacon, but on the other hand Winstanley’s opposition to the so-called pure or theoretical knowledge, “the knowledge of the scholars”, was prompted by the anti-democratic attitude of the Universities and professional scholars. Popular champions could not but distrust learning which imbued its representatives with contempt for the working classes and made them the sycophants of despotic rulers. We must also bear in mind the status and character of contemporary schools of philosophy and their close connection with orthodox theology. We need only refer to the dissertations of Hobbes, the materialist, on the “Kingdom of God”, “Christian Government”, etc., in his Leviathan, which appeared in the same year as the work we are discussing.
Passing over the regulations for the improvement of agriculture, industry, etc., which, although interesting in themselves, do not constitute an advance upon contemporary proposals, we will briefly discuss in conclusion a few regulations governing elections, matrimonial relations, and punishments.
Every male over twenty years of age is an elector, save those who, at the time of the election, are undergoing punishments inflicted by a judge. Every male of forty is eligible for office, but promising younger men may also be eligible.
Marriage is entirely free. “Every man and woman shall have the free liberty to marry whom they love, if they can obtain the love and liking of that party whom they would marry.”
The common storehouses to serve for their mutual dowry, “as free to one as to another”. If a man has relations with a maid and begets a child he is bound to marry her. Rape committed on a woman is punished by death – “it is robbery of a woman’s bodily Freedom”. Attempted abduction of the wife of another man is punished by public reprimand for the first offence, by twelve months’ loss of liberty on the second occasion. “Loss of Liberty” means forced labour for the commonwealth, or servitude in a family. Marriages are contracted by mutual declaration before the overseers of the district and in the presence of witnesses, and two years after the appearance of this proposal a resolution in favour of civil marriage was passed in Barebone’s Parliament.
The severest punishment is reserved for buying and selling. Whoever tries to induce anyone else to buy anything of him or sell it to him is to be punished with twelve months’ loss of liberty. Whoever actually sells land, or the fruits thereof, is to be punished with death. Whoever calls the ground his own and not his brother’s will be sentenced to twelve months’ forced labour and will have his words branded on his forehead.
No one shall hire labour, or let himself out for labour on hire. Whoever requires assistance may avail himself of the services of young people, or such as are specified by the labour overseers as “servants”.
Anyone infringing this rule will have to undergo twelve months’ forced labour.
Gold and silver must not be coined, but may be worked up for domestic utensils (dishes, cups, etc.) only. “For where money bears all the sway, there is no regard of that Golden Rule, Do as you would be done by: Justice is bought and sold: nay, injustice is sometimes bought and sold for money; and it is the cause of all Wars and oppressions.”
The sole exception permitted is exchange transactions with other nations that insist on money payments. “Always provided, That what goods our ships carry out, they shall be the Commonwealth’s goods, and all their Trading with other Nations shall be upon the common Stock, to enrich the Storehouses”.
These are the main principles of Winstanley’s Utopia, which is well worth being rescued from the total oblivion to which it has hitherto been consigned. I have been unable to find any reference to it in any study of the English Revolution, or in any history of democracy or socialism, and the results of my search for further particulars concerning the person and history of its author have been very meagre. 
A few hints as to his former life are given by himself in his pamphlet, A Watchword to the City of London, the Army, etc. He seems to have been a tradesman in London, of which he was a Freeman. (By birth he was a Lancashire man, as is shown by the preface to his semi-rationalistic book The Mysterie of God.) When the struggle against Charles I commenced, he contributed liberally to the support of the Parliamentary Army, but was then driven from his calling and deprived of his property, by fraudulent representatives of the “thievish art of buying and selling, in conjunction with the oppressive imposts for the war”, and compelled to accept the help of friends who provided him with the means of settling in the country, where he was eventually ruined by war taxes and the billeting of soldiers. Yet through all these years he was always prepared to work for the good of the nation, but discovered that many who spoke fair words on behalf of the same cause proved to be opponents in the end. At length, one day whilst at work “his heart was filled with beautiful thoughts, and things were revealed to him, of which he had never before read or heard, and which many to whom he related them could not believe”. One of these ideas was that the earth should be made a common treasury of all men without distinction of person.
Winstanley then relates the story of the Diggers’ venture, and the treatment they met with, adding: “And I see the poore must first be picked out, and honoured in this work, for they begin to receive the ward of righteousness, but the rich generally are enemies to true freedome.” 
The presumption is that all writings in which the names of Everard and Winstanley appear were written by Winstanley himself. As a matter of fact, nearly all the historians who mention the Diggers have been led by the somewhat peculiar arrangement of the names on the Diggers’ pamphlets to assume that the reverse was the case. But this hypothesis is negatived by the fact that not a single pamphlet has Everard for its sole author, while quite a series of writings is composed by Winstanley alone.
As far as I have been able to ascertain, Robert Coster is the only other pamphleteer among the Diggers. Of his associate Everard, Winstanley speaks in a pamphlet published in December 1649 in these terms: “Chamberlain the Reading man, called after the flesh William Everard.” The pamphlet Truth lifting up its Head is a defence against the accusation of propagating atheism, and it begins with an explanation why Winstanley uses “the word Reason instead of the word God”.
As the leading spirit of a small sect and the champion of an inchoate class, Winstanley has failed to attract much attention from historians. In the eyes of his contemporaries, even the most advanced among them, he and his associates were crackbrained fools; thus, for instance, John Lilburne in his pamphlet entitled The Legal Fundamental Liberties repudiates responsibility for the “erroneous views of the poor Diggers of George’s Hill”. This was written, however, while he was in prison, and previous to the appearance of the other pamphlet referred to, while, strangely enough, in the publication in question Lilburne breaks a lance on behalf of John of Leyden, who was at that time decried even more than now. But even the self-chosen title “the true Levellers” indicates that definite differences of principle separated the latter from Lilburne and his associates. The Levellers represented those interests which were common to the artisan and the advanced citizen, while the “True Levellers” exclusively represented the labouring interest.
And in this respect we may say without exaggeration as to Winstanley that, although not “armed with the whole of the science of his century”, he was as a socialist ahead of his age.
He represents the most advanced ideas of his time; in his Utopia we find coalesced all the popular aspirations engendered and fertilized by the Revolution. It would be more than absurd to criticize, from our modern standpoint, his positive proposals, or to stress their imperfections and inexpediency. They are to be explained in the light of the economic structure of society as he found it. We would fain admire the acumen and sound judgment exhibited by this simple man of the people, and his insight into the connection existing between the social conditions of his time and the causes of the evils which he assails.
It is now practically certain that Winstanley was the author, or part author, of The Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, and that his Law of Freedom is the exposition, promised in its second part, of the ways and means by which the return to the “time before the fall” is to be achieved. But what became of him? I have been unable to find anything definite, but the title and contents of a publication dating from 1658, the latest to be found from his pen, in the British Museum, suggests that after the failure of his communistic agitation he finally drifted into the same movement as Lilburne did after the collapse of his radical democratic party, viz., into the religious-radical sect of the Quakers, organized since 1652 – the date should be noted. This last publication by Winstanley is entitled: The Saint’s Paradise: or the Fathers Teaching the only Satisfaction to Waiting Souls, with the motto, “The inward Testimony is the soul’s strength”.
It is a reproduction of a sermon or religious address given by Winstanley in London, and is couched in the rationalistic spirit of the Quakers , and the listeners and teachers are addressed, according to the custom of the Quakers, as “Friends”. If we remember, moreover, that Everard and Winstanley when brought before Fairfax refused to take off their hats, because he was “but their fellow-creature”, the supposition that we may look upon them and their adherents as the elements from which the Quaker movement was originally recruited becomes a certainty.
3. The reader will remember what has been said above as to the hatred against lawyers.
4. Compare with this the following sentence of the Communist Manifesto: “By freedom is meant, under the present bourgeois conditions of production, free trade, free selling and buying. But if selling and buying disappears, free selling and buying disappears also.” (Karl Marx and Fred. Engels, The Manifesto of the Communist Party, p.18.) With Winstanley, the “law of the conqueror” means “bourgeois” right of property.
5. pp.17, 18.
6. The hypothetical form used in this instance is very characteristic.
7. “And everyone who speaks of any Herb, Plant, Art, or Nature of mankind, is required to speak nothing by imagination, but what he hath found out by his own industry and observation in tryal” (p.57).
8. By “elder brother” he always means, as we have seen, the ruling and proprietary class.
9. p.62. Imagery taken from the Epistle of St. Jude, 8 and 12. We cannot forbear quoting a few more passages showing how Winstanley anticipated most of the arguments of the deistic and sensualistic writers who came after him.
If a man should go to imagine what God is beyond the Creation, or what he will be in a spiritual demonstration after man is dead, he doth as the proverb saith, build castles in the air, or tell us of a world beyond the moon, and beyond the sun, merely to blind the Reason of Man.
We appeal to your self in this question, what other knowledge have you of God, but what you have within the circle of the Creation? ... For to reach God beyond the Creation, or to know what He will be to a man, after the man is dead, if any otherwise, than to scatter him into his essences of fire, water, earth and air, of which he is compounded, is a knowledge beyond the low capacity of man to attain to while he lives in his compounded body (p.58).
10. Mr. Beren’s book on the Digger Movement appeared after my book was first published.
12. But without their mysticism. Thus Winstanley contends against the belief in the Devil, which was still very strongly held by most Quakers.
Last updated on 21.11.2002