The World Turned Upside Down #billybragg

aThe World Turned Upside Down  

A song written by Leon Rosselson and sung by Billy Bragg. The song is about a 17th Century group known as the Diggers.  

The world turned upside-down or the folly of man

The world turned upside-down or the folly of man (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They simply wanted a share of the land. Unfortunately, Oliver Cromwell didn’t share their ideas and used the army to put down the Diggers, as he wanted to protect the ruling elites’ position within society.

In 1649 To St. George’s Hill, 

A ragged band they called the Diggers

Came to show the people’s will

They defied the landlords

They defied the laws

They were the dispossessed reclaiming what was theirs

We come in peace they said To dig and sow

We come to work the lands in common

And to make the waste ground grow

This earth divided

We will make whole

So it will be

A common treasury for all
The sin of property

We do disdain

No man has any right to buy and sell

The earth for private gain

By theft and murder

They took the land

Mow everywhere the walls

Spring up at their command 
They make the laws

To chain us well

The clergy dazzle us with heaven

Or they damn us into hell

We will not worship

The God they serve

The God of greed who feed the rich

While poor folk starve
We work we eat together

We need no swords

We will not bow to the masters

Or pay rent to the lords

Still we are free

Though we are poor

You Diggers all stand up for glory

Stand up now 
From the men of property

The orders came

They sent the hired men and troopers

To wipe out the Diggers’ claim

Tear down their cottages

Destroy their corn

They were dispersed

But still the vision lingers on
You poor take courage

You rich take care

This earth was made a common treasury

For everyone to share

All things in common

All people one

We come in peace

The orders came to cut them down   

In 1649 Gerrard Winstanley and fourteen others published a pamphlet in which they called themselves the “True Levellers” to distinguish their more radical ideas from the Levellers. Once they put their ideas into practice and started to cultivate common land, they became known as “Diggers” by both opponents and supporters. The Diggers’ beliefs encompassed a worldview that envisioned an ecological interrelationship between humans and nature, acknowledging the inherent connections between people and their surroundings.

Winstanley would advocated a new democratic society of the “common man” as opposed to the current society based on privilege and wealth. Many of the political, economic and social reforms advocated would dramatically impact the social order. Winstanley was concerned by the plight of the people at the lower rungs of English Society, the overlooked or forgotten man. The poor, the sick, the hungry, and the destitute who often did not scrape by or were left to die.

The Digger movement at St George’s Hill (Surrey) provided an ideal venue for testing Winstanleys’ new social experiment. Winstanley rejected the concept of private ownership of all land, and called for a peaceful return of all public lands to the People. Some have even characterized the Surrey Diggers’ as a primitive Millennium movement. Later generations have called the social experiment an early form of communism or even anarchism.

After repeated attacks and destruction of their commune and crops by local landowners (particularly by hired thugs and ill-informed peasants) and fines from the high authorities, the Diggers soon faded away.

But, as with the Levellers, Winstanley and the Surrey Diggers struck a blow at the halls of wealth and power of 17th century English society. Their efforts and their philosophy were not wasted on later generations seeking the same spirit of liberty and freedom in a more democratic social structure.

5 thoughts on “The World Turned Upside Down #billybragg

  1. Pingback: The World Turned Upside Down #billybragg | Think Left | this 'n that

  2. Pingback: British Levellers’ history from Cameron’s constituency | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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