Great Lives: Ken Loach on Digger, Gerrard Winstanley – BBCR4 – 26 Sep 2023

Great Lives: Ken Loach on Gerrard Winstanley – BBCR4 – 26 Sep 2023

But sadly not a lot on Pride’s Purge, or the injustice and horrors of Charles’ execution, which drove Winstanley to act, and cleared a way for the mercantile classes’ British Empire…
Veteran British film director Ken Loach nominates the 17th century radical pamphleteer and and leader of the Diggers, Gerrard Winstanley.

Born in Wigan in 1609, Winstanley began writing religious pamphlets after his cloth selling business in London went bankrupt and he was forced to move to the country. There his ‘heart was filled with sweet thoughts … that the earth shall be made a common treasury of livelihood to all mankind’, for ‘the great Creator Reason, made the Earth to be a Common Treasury… for Man had Domination given to him, over the Beasts, Birds and Fishes; but not one word was spoken in the beginning, that one branch of mankind should rule over another.”

Winstanley began to dig a nearby wasteland, calling on others – rich and poor -to join him in the digging, which he believed would start a revolution and feed the poor. His ideas were radical, communal, spiritual and deeply challenging. Within a year the Diggers had been aggressively expelled from their site of occupation.

The late Tony Benn called the Diggers, ‘the first true socialists’, but Winstanley has also been claimed by anarchists and environmentalists.

With Emeritus Professor of Early Modern history, Ann Hughes. Presented by Matthew Parris and produced for BBC Audio in Bristol by Ellie Richold

The Land Is Ours’ 1999 occupation of St George’s Hill

Winstanley (1975) dir. Kevin Brownlow


Or buy via the BFI – Winstanley – A powerful story of the 1649 St George’s Hill commune inspired by the visionary leadership of Gerrard Winstanley. 1649. With poverty and unrest sweeping England, a group of impoverished men and women, known as the diggers, form a settlement on St George’s Hill, Surrey. Inspired by the visionary leadership of Gerrard Winstanley, the commune’s tireless, yet peaceful attempts to assert their right to cultivate and share the wealth of the common land, are met with crushing hostility from local landowners and government troops. With Winstanley, filmmakers Brownlow and Mollo (the creators of It happened Here) have produced an astonishingly authentic historical film, and a powerful, moving story of one extraordinary man’s vision. Special features New restoration by the BFI National Archive. New filmed interview with Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo (38 minutes) It happened Here Again (Eric Mival, 1976, 48 minutes) ­ the making of Winstanley 9 Dalmuir West (Kevin Brownlow, 1962, 12 minutes) Fully Illustrated 32-page booklet with contributions by Marina Lewycka (author of A Short History of tractors in Ukrainian), Eric Mival, Jonathan Rosenbaum, Tom Milne, and David Robinson; plus biographies and credits. Dolby Digital 2.0 (320kbps)

Winstanley is a 1975 British black-and-white film made by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo and based on the 1961 David Caute novel Comrade Jacob.

The film details the story of the 17th-century social reformer and writer Gerrard Winstanley, who, along with a small band of followers known as the Diggers, tried to establish a self-sufficient farming community on common land at St George’s Hill (now a private gated estate, the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Britain) near Cobham, Surrey.

The community was one of the world’s first small-scale experiments in socialism or communism, and its ideas were copied elsewhere in England during the time of the Protectorate of Oliver Cromwell, but it was quickly suppressed, and in the end left only a legacy of pamphlets and ideas to inspire later generations of socialist theorists.

Ramblers unite at Scots Dyke, near Richmond, North Yorkshire, to protest against England’s draconian right to roam laws

Ramblers unite at Scots Dyke to protest against England’s draconian right to roam laws

English and Scottish walkers meet in mass trespass to call for greater public access to land in England and Wales, like the more generous laws of Scotland

Flag-waving activists for land reform have expressed their demands for greater freedom to roam in England and Wales by staging a symbolic trespass through farmland on the Scottish border.

In a bid to highlight Scotland’s far more generous rights of access to the countryside, around 40 campaigners tramped through boggy, dense woodland to arrive at an earth dyke north of Carlisle which once marked the medieval border.

They lined up on the Scots Dyke, built in 1552 to fix the English-Scottish border in a largely lawless district then known as the Debatable Lands, where Jon Moses, an organiser of the Borderlands rally, stood on the bank with one leg in England and the other in Scotland.

“My left leg is lawful; my right is unlawful,” he said, referring to the substantial differences in right-to-roam laws on either side of the border. That message was echoed by the activists, who sang and danced to an ironic version of the hokey cokey in a static congo line along the dyke.

They were met at the dyke by Scottish activists, including Andy Wightman, a land reform expert and former Scottish Greens MSP, and Dave Morris, former chief executive of Ramblers Scotland. They had legally walked there across land north of the border owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. The southern contingent had technically trespassed over a farm track and private woodland to arrive at the dyke, before staging a ceremony in a Scottish field which was symbolically doused with Newcastle Brown Ale and Scotch whisky.

The Borderlands event was arranged by the Right to Roam campaign, bidding to replicate Scotland’s statutory freedom to walk, row or swim across the vast majority of open land, farm fields, woods and waterways in England and Wales.

Scotland’s longstanding traditions of free access, subject to restrictions to protect private gardens and work such as forestry, were enshrined in law by the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003; the protest at Scots Dyke was intended to mark the act’s 20th anniversary.

In England and Wales, the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000 is far more restrictive. It provides “strikingly limited” rights which are also starkly unequal, argues the Right to Roam campaign.

The act allows free access to only 8% of England and Wales, chiefly along defined paths or designated open land such as national parks. But that leads to hugely unequal levels of access for people to their local areas. While 72% of the Peak District has open access, that falls to 0.6% in Kent.

Recent analysis by the New Economics Foundation and the Ramblers shows deep social inequalities regarding access to designated rights of way in England and Wales; people in the richest areas have 80% more paths, and in the whitest areas have 144% more.

The England and Wales act also prevents free access to around 97% of England and Wales’ lakes and rivers, unlike Scotland’s legislation, which allows kayakers, swimmers and rowers the statutory right to use nearly all open water.

The Right to Roam campaign is pinning its hopes on Labour following through on its recent pledges to replicate Scotland’s access laws for England and Wales if it wins power at the next election.

Nadia Shaikh, a Right to Roam organiser, told the protesters the Scottish legislation allowed English activists “to remind ourselves this is absolutely possible; it is absolutely achievable”.


But there are splits in the English access movement: the Ramblers group believes the English act can be enhanced to include access to watersides (but not on to the water), to woodlands and some downlands. England’s very large number of rights of way makes Scotland’s model unsuitable and unnecessary, and would undermine the “trust and consensus” built with landowners, they argue.

In a brief ceremony at the Scots Dyke, Wightman handed over a mocked-up land reform bill for England and Wales – modelled heavily on Scotland’s legislation – to 11-year-old Shafag Elnour, the daughter of Sudanese refugees now living in Newcastle.

“I just think that we should have a right to roam,” said Elnour, carrying a small green banner she had made with the slogan “right 2 roam” in her hands.

“It is just stupid that all those people buy lots and lots of land and do nothing with it.”

Her father, Mohaned Ahmed, a human rights lawyer and consultant present at the event with Elnour’s two brothers and mother, said being a black refugee added additional barriers to enjoying the English countryside.

“I think it is inhuman that land is for a handful of people, not for everyone,” he said.

Indigenous people in Brazil shed tears of joy as the Supreme Court enshrines their land rights in win for president Lula

In several former European colonies, such as Vancouver and Australia, rights to freely inhabit and work reservation lands, formerly under private ownership or otherwise threatened, are being returned to indigenous people

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Indigenous people celebrated Thursday after Brazil’s Supreme Court ruled to enshrine their land rights, removing the imminent threat those protections could be rolled back.

The justices had been evaluating a lawsuit brought by Santa Catarina state, backed by farmers, seeking to block an Indigenous group from expanding the size of its territorial claim. Nearly all of the high court’s justices voted to support the Indigenous group, which has far-reaching implications for territories nationwide.

Dozens of Indigenous people in traditional yellow feather headdresses and body paint danced, sang and jumped around in front of a multitude of flashing cameras in the capital of Brasilia after the decisive vote was cast. Some wiped away tears of joy.

“I’m shaking. It took a while, but we did it. It’s a very beautiful and strong feeling. Our ancestors are present — no doubt about it,” said Jéssica Nghe Mum Priprá, who is from the Xokleng-Laklano Indigenous group.

In the case before the court, Santa Catarina state argued a legal theory being pushed by opponents of further land allocations for Indigenous groups. It said that the date Brazil’s Constitution was promulgated — Oct. 5, 1988 — should be the deadline for when Indigenous peoples to have already either physically occupied land or be legally fighting to reoccupy territory. They also claimed it would provide legal certainty for landholders.

Nine of the court’s 11 justices rejected that argument.

“Areas occupied by Indigenous people and areas that are linked to the ancestry and tradition of Indigenous peoples have constitutional protection, even if they are not demarcated,” said Justice Luiz Fux, who cast the vote that established the majority.

The two justices who voted to support Santa Catarina’s position were appointed by the President Jair Bolsonaro, who was a vocal opponent of expanding Indigenous territories and supported their assimilation.

Indigenous rights groups argued the concept of the deadline was unfair, saying it does not account for expulsions and forced displacements of Indigenous populations, particularly during Brazil’s two-decade military dictatorship.

The lawsuit put at risk the status of Brazil’s hundreds of Indigenous territories, said rights group Articulation of Indigenous Peoples of Brazil, known by the Portuguese acronym Apib.

Large groups of Indigenous men and women from different states and ethnicities had gathered in and around Brasilia in recent months during the high court’s deliberations.

Francisco Cali Tzay, the U.N. special investigator on the rights of Indigenous peoples, had urged Brazil’s Supreme Court to protect Indigenous lands.

“Under the constitution, Indigenous peoples are entitled to the permanent possession of the lands they traditionally occupy,” Tzay said in a 2021 statement.

He said a ruling in favor of business interests “could legitimize violence against Indigenous peoples and inflame conflicts in the Amazon rainforest and other areas.”

Though the case involved only one Indigenous group, the Supreme Court gave it “general repercussion” status, meaning the ruling will serve as a precedent for all instances of justice involving Indigenous groups.

It thus applies to hundreds of administrative procedures and legislative initiatives that are in progress and is likely to torpedo a proposal in Congress to enact the same 1988 deadline.

However, that legislation also carries other threats to Indigenous rights, potentially opening the door to an easing of restrictions on mining, dam construction, agricultural and transportation projects in Indigenous lands.

“We’ve won the battle, but not the war,” Dinamam Tuxá, executive coordinator of Apib, said in Brasilia. “We will continue to fight for Indigenous territories to be demarcated, so that the rights of indigenous peoples are safeguarded and protected.”

Since taking office in January, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has given significantly more attention to the demands of Indigenous peoples than his predecessor, Bolsonaro.

He created the country’s first Ministry of Indigenous Peoples, headed by Indigenous woman Sonia Guajajara, and demarcated eight new Indigenous territories.

Indigenous territories cover nearly 14% of Brazil’s vast expanse, according to data from the Instituto Socioambiental. The process to officially establish an Indigenous territory can take decades.