Podcasts, various

Belatedly, here are some links to recent talks/interviews wot I have done.

A chat with Neil Denny on the Little Atoms radio show on resonance fm. You can download here.

A podcast for BBC History Magazine to accompany my article on Gerrard Winstanley.

A recording of my talk as part of the St Albans festival here.

In other radical news, Tom Paine has a new statue in Lewes.


Reassessing Gerrard Winstanley, Keele University 5-6 February 2010

Places still available for this conference on Winstanley’s life, thought and writings.  Speakers include Tom Corns, Ann Hughes and John Gurney. For full details see the attached poster.

The conference celebrates both the 400th anniversary of Winstanley’s birth and the imminent publication of the new edition of Winstanley’s works edited by Ann Hughes, Tom Corns and David Loewenstein. It’s turning into a bumper season for fans of the Diggers, with the reissuing of Brownlow and Mollo’s evocative Winstanley on dvd, Kevin Brownlow’s recently published ‘making of’ book about the film and the forthcoming publication of The Law of Freedom in Platform, introduced by Tony Benn (no less), in Verso’s revolutions series. And, of course, the imminent paperback publication of A Radical History of Britain which has a whole chapter devoted to the Diggers.

winstanley conference poster

Gerrard Winstanley, the Diggers, the Levellers and the G20

There is an interesting piece by David Horspool in the Times today, seeing resonances between some of the G20 protests, notably the G20 Meltdown on Wednesday 1 April, and the Diggers, whose commune on St. George’s Hill, Surrey was established on the same day 360 years ago.

Of course, some of these protesters had already been very consciously linking their actions back to an earlier tradition of protest – if not quite back to the mid-seventeenth century – see Climate Rush‘s appropriating of suffragette style, slogans and tactics in opposing Heathrow expansion.

Horspool’s argument also involves an artificial division between Leveller ‘democrats’ and Digger ‘communists’ (with a small c.) But even Winstanley’s supposedly neo-Stalinist last political tract The Law of Freedom in a Platform envisaged a democratic state built upon a clear notion of a social contract, while the Levellers were a lot more interested in the defence of individual liberty against tyranny than they were in securing the vote for adult males. Back in the mid-17th century, the Levellers had already recognised that voting rights alone could not reverse political inequalities. For that reason, not only did government have to be clearly founded on the principle of popular sovereignty, by the actual act of subscribing to the Leveller proto-constitutions, the Agreements of the People, but once elected, the power of the new ‘representative’ (Parliament) and the executive had to be hemmed in by a series of ‘reserves’, rights which no power in the land could abrogate.

More interesting is Horspool’s suggestion that the Diggers’ vision was more global than the Levellers. That is largely a consequence of the wedding of the plan for Digger communes with Winstanley’s vision of the new millennium, an event that obviously was not going to be confined just to England. Even so, the Levellers, again, get a bit hard done by. Didn’t Edward Sexby try, albeit with limited success, to sell Leveller ideas (via a French translation of the Agreement of the People, ‘L’Accord du peuple’) to the Frondeurs? And see also Peter Linebaugh and Marcus Rediker’s excellent treatment of the wider implications of Leveller rhetoric in The Many Headed Hydra.

But certainly, the largely peaceful, carnivalesque nature of the G20 demonstrations this week has clear affinities with many British popular movements that successfully combined sociability with solidarity, like the orderly processions that marched to Peterloo in 1819, indebted to the Lancashire tradition of  ‘rush-bearing’

Even Winstanley is at last getting a party in his honour, with a festival commemorating the Digger settlements to be held in Cobham in September this year.

Gerrard Winstanley Law of Freedom in a Platform wordcloud

Earth, Land, Law, Commonwealth, Freedom, People. As you might expect.