Roots & revival? 1st TLIO -1995 Wisley Airfield

Tony Gosling tony at
Sat Oct 5 12:21:39 BST 2013

Report by the (anti-spiritual for some reason) UK Socialist Party

April 1995 - True Levellers or Diggers

At the end of April a few hundred demonstrators 
occupied the site of the old Wisley airfield near 
George’s Hill, in Surrey. This was where, in 
1649, the Diggers had set up a communist 
community with the aim of starting a movement to 
make the Earth “a common treasury for all” again. 
The demonstrators called themselves the “New 
Levellers”. this was appropriate because, like 
the original Levellers (but unlike the original 
Diggers), they were demanding a reform of the 
laws governing land ownership and use rather than 
the abolition of private property, as the leaflet we distributed pointed out.


Many of the Levellers of the 1640s, being 
inexperienced in rebelling against the injustices 
of the market, and yet to recognise the 
incompatibility between FREEDOM and PROPERTY, 
sought to reform and make just property 
relationships. For example, the Leveller leader, 
Lilburne, in March 1648 wrote that the Levellers 
had “been the truest and constantest asserters of 
liberty and property (which are quite opposite to communitie and levelling)”.

THE TRUE LEVELLERS were the Diggers. Their ideas 
can serve as an inspiration to those of us in the 
1990s who detest and reject the iniquities of the 
commercial system. The Diggers stood not for 
state ownership but COMMON OWNERSHIP: “The earth 
with all her fruits of Corn, Cattle and such like 
was made to be a common Store-House of 
Livelihood, to all mankinde, friend and foe, 
without exception” (A Declaration From the Poor Oppressed People of England).

Where all wealth is commonly owned there will be 
no need for money. In the above-quoted 
Declaration the Diggers proclaimed that “we must 
neither buy nor sell. Money must not any longer . 
. . be the great god that hedges in some and 
hedges out others . . .” Production must be 
solely for use and all people able to take from 
the common store on the basis of FREE ACCESS. As 
Winstanley explained in his Law of Freedom: “As 
everyone works to advance the Common Stock so 
everyone shall have a free use of any commodity 
in the Storehouse for his pleasure and 
comfortable livelihood, without buying and 
selling or restraint from any”. This is a 
wonderful and compelling socialist vision of a 
society where all things in and on the Earth are 
the common property of all; where all people give 
according to their abilities and take freely 
according to their needs; where money and other 
time-wasting features of property relationship 
are done away with. It is a practical alternative 
to capitalism’s property mania.

Modern Tory defenders of property assert that 
owning things makes us free. This false equation 
between liberty and property was spread by the 
17th defenders of property power, and was also 
accepted by several well-intentioned Levellers, 
just as it has been by subsequent leftists who 
have feared to break with the ideas of THE MONEY 
SYSTEM. In truth, property and money make us 
unfree. As Winstanley stated: “True freedom lies 
where a man receives his nourishment and 
preservation, and that is in the use of the 
Earth”. Those in Britain living beneath the 
poverty line and the millions in the world dying 
from starvation should see the sense of that.

Socialists must learn from the wisdom of our 
Digger predecessors and have the boldness to 
state the case for A MONEYLESS WORLD SOCIETY – a 
case now more materially feasible and globally urgent than ever.
No. 1090 June 
1092 August 1995 ›

The Land Is Ours ‘bounces back’!

    * November 26, 2011 10:23 am

In early October the land rights organisation The 
Land Is Ours held its first gathering for a 
decade, attended by more than a hundred activists 
over a full weekend. Dave Bangs reportd

This heart warming revival of a movement that has 
been in the doldrums for a long time covered much 
ground. There were workshops and speakers on the 
CAP (the EU’s Common Agricultural Policy), GM, 
Land Value Tax, affordable housing, the fight 
against mega farms, squatting, low impact 
smallholdings and homesteads and their problems, 
forests, the Planning and Localism Bill, Reclaim 
The Fields and direct action, and a good plenary 
with the beginnings of much wider debate.

The attendance was equally broad, with a majority 
of young people, many very experienced older 
people, and a good geographical spread. This 
geographical spread, however, did not extend to a 
balance between rural and urban folk, and urban 
land issues were scarcely – and often only tangentially – referred to.

Founded by George Monbiot and others, after the 
publication of his Land Reform Manifesto in 1995, 
The Land Is Ours attracted, in its first phase, a 
mixed milieu of rural homesteaders and aspirant 
low impact smallholders, new travellers, 
squatters and environmental activists. It held a 
series of land occupations on brown field and 
mostly urban sites which sometimes attracted 
large numbers and national publicity.

In 1995 Wisley Airfield was occupied. In 1996 an 
eco village was constructed on the derelict 13 
acre Guiness site in Wandsworth, under the rubric 
of ‘Pure Genius’. In 1999 the 350th anniversary 
of the squatting of St George’s Hill, Surrey, by 
Gerard Winstanley and the diggers was 
commemorated by a mass encampment there, and in 
2009 a derelict site at Kew Bridge was occupied 
and an eco village created that lasted for 10 
months. The Land Is Ours in Sussex led a campaign 
of mass trespasses as part of the campaign in 
support of the right to roam provisions of 
Michael Meacher’s CROW (Countryside and Rights of 
Way) Bill. That became law in 2000.

In the past decade of doldrums the organisation 
has only survived because of the determination of 
a core group with a strong line of activity 
around the needs of back-to-the-land 
homesteaders, led by the redoubtable Simon 
Fairlie, arguing for sympathetic changes in 
planning law to accommodate their nuanced needs 
for new buildings and infrastructure, whilst 
opposing general capitalist sprawl. The very 
eclectic politics of their occasional journal The 
Land (densely written and wonderfully 
illustrated) has given us lead headlines such as 
“Welcome the Recession” and “Muscle Power – The 
Neglected Renewable Resource”. Other issues have 
celebrated Luddism and the Luddites, and argued 
for a revival of horse power in agriculture. It 
would all have been very recognisable to sandled 
arts and crafts movement ex-townies a century ago.

This strange pot pourri threw up the oddest 
contradictions at the gathering. The packed 
workshop on the housing crisis had a good many 
experienced activists within CFTs – Community 
Land Trusts – and was led by a passionate 
advocate of self-build, but only three voices 
(including my own) picked up the centrality of 
the issue of council housing. The workshop on 
fighting mega farms (such as the proposed 
Lincolnshire 8000 dairy cow unit) was led by 
“Tracey Worcester” alias, Tracey, Marchioness of 
Worcester, married to the Marquess of Worcester, 
son and heir of the Duke of Beaufort of 
Badminton, whose family own 51,000 acres, 
including large parts of the South Wales mining 
valleys. Her family estate has just trousered 
£280,000 from Swansea Council as a fee for 
permission to build a new footbridge across the 
River Tawe to access their new sports stadium. 
Only a few attendees knew who she was and no-one 
(not even me) challenged her presence.

get this
the one strategy workshop to so far 
report back on its recommendations made only 
three points, all variations on a proposal to 
make a yurt to take on campaigns. This, despite a 
history of long running and acrimonious dispute 
about who was looking after the last TLIO yurt, 
which probably contributed in a tiny way to the 
organisation’s earlier decline !!

It was not, though, to the discredit of the core 
organisers that the problems of horizontal 
organisation prevented the collation of any 
proper report backs from the workshops and the 
drafting of agreed positions at the gathering’s 
conclusion. They did a grand job.

And it would be much too easy to dismiss TLIO for 
its disparities and libertarianism. For what was 
even more striking was folk’s eagerness to listen 
to, and take on, new ideas. The contribution from 
the Labour Land Campaign arguing for a land Value 
Tax (LVT)was well received and provoked debate 
both at the plenary and on line, from folk who 
have plainly grappled with the issues and know 
their stuff. The workshops on the CAP and on GM 
were led by campaigners who have addressed these 
issues in both depth and breadth. The appeal 
(from myself) to take the simple step of 
affiliating to Defend Council Housing received whole-hearted applause.

Many from the milieu of alternative small holders 
– plus several conventional larger farmers – who 
attended were serious thinkers and activists for 
an alternative vision of farming and the 
countryside. Within just 15 miles of the 
gathering (near Lyme Regis) there are 40 members 
in a farmers’ cooperative to which local key TLIO 
activists belong. The farm visit to a 
neighbouring ‘alternative’ holding demonstrated 
an extraordinary diversity of crop and farm 
animal production, and value-adding activities, 
turning agri-business farm economics on its head 
and proving the productivity, sustainability and 
viability of even this small low-impact 
enterprise on land of only moderate fertility.

Way back in the late ‘90’s, after a particularly 
depressing TLIO gathering, which decided nothing 
and was attended by few except new travellers, 
Marion Shoard, the redoubtable land reform 
advocate (and author of ‘The Theft of the 
Countryside’ and This Land Is Our Land’, who can 
be counted as one of the founding influences on 
TLIO) confessed that she didn’t think that TLIO 
would ever be anything more than a ginger group, 
and that we needed to set up a new group to 
campaign for land reform. Yet TLIO has survived, 
and the objective need for land reform is greater than ever.

The number of committed socialists attending was 
difficult to assess because of the lack of 
coordinated reporting back and the lack of any 
descriptive attendance list, but there was a 
minority, for sure, as well as a much larger 
number who would be open to socialist ideas.

There is no other coordination that takes on the 
land question at this broad level in England. Via 
Campesina has a major resonance in some countries 
that still possess a peasantry, but England is 
not one of those. Attempts to create parallel 
organisations, like the anarchist inspired 
Reclaim The Fields, who have done some brave 
solidarity work in Rumania, are much too 
self-limiting ideologically to have much 
resonance. The Labour Land Campaign has the 
formal labour movement link, but is entirely 
Georgist (that is, committed to a land value tax 
as theorised by the radical but pro-capitalist 
Henry George). Other sectoral campaigns, like 
Stop GM, draw general conclusions about land 
rights but cannot become general campaigns.

Most of the current land-related issues we face 
have a defensive character at present
and there is no shortage of them

The onslaught on council housing threatens the 
final destruction of this beleaguered sector, and 
related attacks on both private sector tenants 
and those of other social landlords are already 
bringing ever deeper immiseration.
The government and the EU are set to dismantle 
the blocks to the cultivation of GM products.
We have just seen the racist eviction of the Dale Farm travellers.
We have just seen a gigantic campaign against the 
privatisation of our public forests, yet the threat to them remains.
The campaign against the dismantling of post-war 
town and country planning (to benefit the big 
business house builders and other developers) is 
reaching similar proportions, at least in rural and near-rural areas, and

The related attacks on the rural planning 
framework represented by the new wave of on shore 
corporate wind farm developments in culturally 
and ecologically sensitive landscapes – like 
central Wales – is also reaching mass proportions.
The combined local authority landed estate, both 
in county council smallholdings and amenity and 
conservation holdings, is deeply under threat, 
and the rate of privatisations is steeply rising.

All these issues require much wider coordinations 
to drive them through to victory. All of them 
pose wider political problems beyond the scope of 
their sectoral demands. How do we address the 
profound spatial inequalities caused by combined 
and unequal development, both on a local, 
national, continental and global level ? In the 
face of the global catastrophe of climate warming 
how do we argue for BOTH the defence of the 
environment and for the universal satisfaction of 
our basic needs, with life-changing improvements 
in our well-being ? How do we argue BOTH for an 
end to homelessness and poor housing AND for a 
stop on the encroachment of built development on 
core farming, wildlife-rich, and culturally important open land ?

The Land Is Ours has proved its resilience in 
addressing these issues, albeit with a limited 
and ruralistic emphasis. It is the task of us 
socialists to do what we can to make sure that 
the concerns of the great majority who live and 
work in towns and cities balance and reinforce 
the brave work those TLIO stalwarts have been doing.

We need to join with them.

The Land is Ours:

TLIO forum for discussion of land issues: send a 
blank email to Entitle your email ‘subscribe’.
CAP reform:
Low impact farming: (Includes a blog report on the TLIO gathering)
Fivepenny Farm and the farmers’ cooperative mentioned above:
Campaigning against mega farms:

Direct action for food growing land acquisition: 
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