Long Walks & Anarcho-Primitivism:
‘Radical References’, No.2, Lammas 2021

(The prologue to)
A Watchword to The City of London, and The Army

By Gerrard Winstanley,
26th August 1649.

Page bookmarks
(use section number as a hotkey to jump to it).
  1. Page title and bookmarks.
  2. An introduction to Radical References No.2.
  3. A Watchword to The City of London, and The Army.
  4. Gerrard Winstanley’s prologue to the pamphlet.
  5. End credits.

Written three-hundred and seventy-two years ago, this prologue to a much longer and detailed pamphlet outlines some of Gerrard Winstanley’s1 key phrases and ideas. More significantly, it’s about the importance of action to create change rather than ‘just talking about it’2, and the unwelcome reality that too many people talking about change delays the achievement of it through direct action.

In these days where people obsess about ‘freedom day’, or the limits applied to their ‘personal freedom’ – by which in truth they mean their freedom to shop3 and buy consumer goods and services without restriction – this text allows us to reflect upon a time when England’s freedom was far more limited and arbitrary. And in particular, that the freedoms people desired then have still not been achieved today, and that in reality we all still labour under the same elite oligarchy4.

The freedom to consume material goods is not true freedom; in fact that practise maintains the shackles5 that bind people to the economic and political order, rather than liberating them from it. Likewise, concepts like ‘bright green’6 environmentalism will never work, because those ideas primarily seek to maintain affluence and consumption using more industrial technologies, rather than adopting lifestyle changes7 to ‘save the planet’ directly.

Screenshot of Gerrard Winstanley from the 1975 film, ‘Winstanley’.

“And hereupon, The Earth (which was made to be a Common Treasury of relief for all, both Beasts and Men) was hedged in to In-closures by the teachers and rulers, and the others were made Servants and Slaves” – from The True Levellers Standard Advanced,
by Gerrard Winstanley.

Screenshot from 1975 film, Winstanley (click link to view film free on-line), which opens with a reading from the prologue to A Watchword to The City of London, and The Army.

Winstanley’s powerful and prescient words have as much relevance for us today as when they were written – even though they are bound within the religious overtones of their time.

As Winstanley wrote at the time the ideas of modern governance emerged in Europe, he exposes the fraud at the roots of ‘representative politics’8 which emerged from the British Civil Wars9 (given each nation was very differently affected by them); allowing us to see parallels in their failure to deliver the fair governance promised to the ordinary people in those times, as well as today.

Though our technological and material circumstances are incomparable, the fundamental nature of power in the English state of the 1650’s and the 2020’s, especially with the recent swing towards more dictatorial government which favours a wealthy elite, is exactly the same. More importantly, the kinds of action we need to solve the ecological crisis are absolutely based in people’s ability to access land to make a simple living, and so Winstanley’s words are an essential lesson for everyone to learn today.

A Watchword to The City of London, and The Army

Wherein you may see that England’s freedom, which should be the result of all our Victories, is sinking deeper under the Norman power, as shown by the unrighteous proceedings of Kingston Court against some of the Diggers at St. George’s Hill. But yet thereby the cause of the Diggers is more brightened and strengthened, so that every one singly may truly say what his freedom is, and where it lies.

By Gerrard Winstanley.

When these clay-bodies are in grave,
and children stand in place,
This shews we stood for truth and peace
and freedom in our days;
And true born sons we shall appear
of England that’s our mother,
No Priests nor Lawyers wiles embrace,
their slavery we’ll discover.

To the City of London, Freedom and Peace desired.

Thou City of London, I am one of thy sons by freedom, and I do truly love thy peace. While I had an estate in thee, I was free to offer my mite into thy public treasury, the Guildhall, for a preservation to thee and the whole land. But by thy cheating sons in the thieving art of buying and selling, and by the burdens of and for the soldiery in the beginning of the war, I was beaten out both of estate and trade, and forced to accept of the good will of friends crediting of me, to live a country life. And there, likewise, by the burden of taxes and much free-quarter, my weak back found the burden heavier than I could bear.

Yet in all the passages of these eight years’ troubles I have been willing to lay out what my talent was. To procure England’s peace inward and outward. And yet all along I have found such as in words have professed the same cause to be enemies to me.

Not a full year since, being quiet at my work, my heart was filled with sweet thoughts. Many things were revealed to me which I never read in books, nor heard from the mouth of any flesh, and when I began to speak of them, some people could not bear my words. Amongst those revelations this was one: That the earth shall be made a common treasury of livelihood to whole mankind, without respect of persons. And I had a voice within me bade me declare it all abroad, which I did obey. For I declared it by word of mouth wheresoever I came.

Then I was made to write a little book called, ‘The New Law of Righteousness’, and therein I declared it. Yet my mind was not at rest, because nothing was acted, and thoughts run in me that words and writings were all nothing and must die. For action is the life of all, and if thou dost not act, thou dost nothing.

Within a little time I was made obedient to the word in that particular likewise. For I took my spade and went and broke the ground upon George Hill in Surrey, thereby declaring freedom to the creation. That the Earth must be set free from entanglements of lords and landlords, and that it shall become a common treasury to all, as it was first made and given to the sons of men.

For which doing the dragon presently casts a flood of water to drown the man-child, even that freedom that now is declared. For the old Norman prerogative lord of that manor, Mr Drake, caused me to be arrested for a trespass against him. In digging upon that barren heath, and the unrighteous proceedings of Kingston court in this business, I declared to thee and to the whole land that you may consider the case that England is in.

All men have stood for freedom. Thou hast kept fasting days and prayed in morning exercises for freedom. Thou hast given thanks for victories in hopes of freedom. Plenty of petitions and promises thereupon have been made for freedom. And now the common enemy is gone, you are all like men in a mist, seeking for freedom and know not where nor what it is. The richer sort of you that see it are ashamed and afraid to own it, because it comes clothed in a clownish garment, and open to the best language that scoffing Ishmael can afford, or that railing Rabsheka can speak, or furious Pharoah can act against him.

For freedom is the man that will turn the world upside down. Therefore, no wonder that he hath enemies.

And assure yourselves, if you pitch not right now upon the right point of freedom in action, as your Covenant hath it in words, you will wrap up your children in greater slavery than ever you were in. The Word of God is love, and when all thy actions are done in love to the whole creation, then thou advance freedom. Freedom is Christ in you, and Christ among you. Bondage is Satan in you, and Satan among you.

No true freedom can be established for England’s peace, or prove you faithful in covenant, but such a one as hath respect to the poor as well as the rich. For if thou consent to freedom to the rich in the City, and give freedom to the freeholders in the country, and to priests and lawyers and lords of manors and proprietors, and yet allow the poor no freedom, thou art then a declared hypocrite. All thy prayers, fasts and thanksgivings are and will be proved an abomination to the Lord, and freedom himself will be the poor’s portion when thou shalt lie groaning in bondage.

I have declared this truth to the Army and Parliament, and now I have declared it to thee likewise. That none of you that are the fleshly strength of this land may be left without excuse, for now you have been all spoken to. And because I have obeyed the voice of the Lord in this thing, therefore do the freeholders and lords of manors seek to oppress me in the outward livelihood of the world. But I am in peace. And London, nay England, look to thy freedom! I’ll assure thee, thou art very near to be cheated of it, and if thou lose it now, after all thy boasting, truly thy posterity will curse thee for thy unfaithfulness to them.

Gerrard Winstanley ‘England's people are not free’ quote.

Every one talks of freedom, but there are but few that act for freedom. And the actors for freedom are oppressed by the talkers and verbal professors of freedom. If thou wouldst know what true freedom is, read over this and other my writings, and thou shalt see it lies in the community in spirit, and community in the earthly treasury. And this is Christ the true man-child spread abroad in the creation, restoring all things into himself. And so I leave thee.

26th August 1649.
Being a free denizen of thee, and a true lover of thy peace, Gerrard Winstanley.