Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Monday, July 27, 2009


The 1975 film Winstanley (tagline: 'The revolution starts here') about Gerrard Winstanley, leader of the Diggers (at the vanguard of the far left in the English Revolution), is being re-released by the BFI - see also here.

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At 5:57 pm, Blogger american left history said...

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

*A Socialist Before His Time –Gerrard Winstanley and the Digger Colonies in the English Revolution

Click On Title To Link To YouTube's Film Clip Of Billy Bragg (Known In This Space As Narrator Of "Woody Guthrie And His Guitar: The Machine Kills Fascists")Performing "The World Turned Upside Down".


Winstanley, starring Miles Harriwell, directed by Kenneth Brownlow, 1975

The time of the English Revolution in the 1640's, Oliver Cromwell's time, as in all revolutionary times saw a profusion of ideas from all kinds of sources- religious, secular, the arcane, the fanciful and the merely misbegotten. A few of those ideas however, as here, bear study by modern militants. As the film under review amplifies, True Leveler Gerrard Winstanley's agrarian socialist utopian tracts from the 1640's, the notion of a socialist solution to the problems of humankind has a long, heroic and storied history. The solutions presented by Winstanley had and, in a limited sense, still do represent rudimentary ways to solve the problem of social and economic distribution of the social surplus produced by society. Without overextending the analogy Winstanley's tract represented for his time, the 1600's, what the Communist Manifesto represented for Marx's time-and ours-the first clarion call for the new more equitable world order. And those with property hated both men, with the same venom, in their respective times.

One of the great advances Marx had over Winstanley was that he did not place his reliance on an agrarian solution to the crisis of society as Winstanley, by the state of economic development of his times, was forced to do. Marx, moreover, unlike Winstanley, did not concentrate on the question of distribution but rather on who controlled the means of production a point that all previous theorists had either failed to account for, dismissed out of hand or did not know about. Thus, all pre-Marxist theory is bound up with a strategy of moral as well as political persuasion as a means of changing human lifestyles. Marx posed the question differently by centering on the creation of social surplus so that under conditions of plenty the struggle for daily survival would be taken off the human agenda and other more lofty goals put in its place. Still, with all the True Levelers' weaknesses of program and their improbabilities of success in the 1640's militants today still doff our hats to Winstanley's vision.

Notwithstanding the utopian nature of the experiment discussed above the filmmaker, Kenneth Brownlow, and his associates here have painstakingly, lovingly and with fidelity to the narrative and detail that are known from the researches of the likes of Christopher Hill and George Sabine, among others, that make for an excellent snapshot of what it might have been like up on Winstanley's St. George's Hill long ago. Two things add to that end.

First, the use of black and white highlights the bleak countryside (after all although the land was "common" it was waste that the landlord did not find it expedient to cultivate) and the pinched appearances of the "comrades" (especially the deeply-farrowed expressions of Miles Harriwell as Winstanley). Secondly, the director has used to the greatest extent possible Winstanley's own pamphlets that dealt with what was going on in Surrey and what his political purposes were (expressed as almost always in those days in religious terms- but taking land in common for use rather than profit is understanding in any language. I might add that the attempts to replicate the costumes of the period, the furnishings and the music round out a job well done.

Note: Part of this DVD contains a section on the hows and whys of the making of the film, including in-depth coverage of its making and commentary by Mr. Brownlow. You are getting this film for the Winstanley reenactment but this section is interesting if you are interested in filmmaking.

At 3:11 pm, Anonymous kensington and chelsea said...

Could be an interesting flick.


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