02 FEBRUARY 2004

History of the Kibbo Kift 

by Professor LP Elwell-Sutton,

Chief Executive Officer,
Kibbo Kift Foundation 

On August 18, 1920, a group
of young men met in a London hall to formalise the foundation of a new
movement to be known as the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift. The aims of this
movement had been written down two months earlier in the form of a seven-point
Covenant, which ran as follows: 

Open Air Education for the

Camp Training and Naturecraft. 

Health of Body, Mind and

Craft Training Groups and
Craft Guilds. 

The Woodcraft Family, or
Roof Tree. 

Local Folk Moots and Cultural

Disarmament of Nations –
Brotherhood of Man. 

International Education
based on these points. 

Freedom of Trade between

Stabilisation of the Purchasing
Power of Money in all countries. 

Open Negotiations instead
of secret treaties and diplomacy. 

A World Council.

The Founder-Leader and moving
spirit of this new movement was the 26-year old John Hargrave, who at this
time was still Commissioner for Woodcraft and Camping in Baden-Powell’s
Boy Scout Movement founded in 1908, though his temerity in challenging
the establishment earned him “excommunication” from that body in the following
January. The son of an artist and Quaker, Hargrave had joined the newly-founded
Boy Scouts at the age of 14, and had progressed rapidly in the movement,
writing a series of articles and pamphlets that showed his early recognition
of the importance of the open-air life. His first book, LONECRAFT (based
on the work of the Lonecraft camps, which he started in 1912), was published
in 1913, and was intended to encourage boys who were too distant from organised
scout troops to become “Lone Scouts” – a theme that must have been near
to his heart, stressing as it did the importance of the individual standing
on his own feet. Increasingly he was to feel that this close contact with
the reality of the earth was missing from the official movement. His ideas
were further reinforced by his experiences as an RAMC sergeant in the Gallipoli
and Salonika campaigns (he was invalided out in 1916). In 1919 appeared
his first major work, THE GREAT WAR BRINGS IT HOME, in which may be found
the seeds of all his future thinking. “The Great War brings home that
our great disorganised civilisation has failed,” he wrote, and called for
Outdoor Education and Open Air Camps, a programme of regeneration. “Only
a few under our present system will be able to carry out such a training,”
he concluded. “But, never mind – Let us at any rate have the few, and hope
that by their example others will follow the lead.” The prescriptions were
detailed and wide-ranging;
present day followers of the Maharishi’s
cult of Transcendental Meditation will be surprised to find in this book
written more than sixty years ago “a chapter on Yoga – the art of meditation”,
in which Hargrave anticipates, but with ice-cold logic, the teachings that
have now become so popular in a woollier form. 

Though these ideas were further developed in his novels, notably YOUNG
WINKLE (1925), the formation of the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift gave him
the chance to put them into practice. As can be seen from a reading of
THE CONFESSION the purpose of the Kibbo Kift Kindred was to train a body
of men and women who, having drawn apart from the mass, would fit themselves
to act as a catalyst on a corrupt and directionless society and lead it
back to health and wealth. The movement was firmly rooted in English tradition
and indeed might rightly be described as the only genuine English national
movement of modern times. But this did not mean that Kibbo Kift teaching
was applicable only to England. Kibbo Kift ideas and Kibbo Kift branches
took root and flourished in Scotland, in Holland, Belgium, even in Russia.
The influence of Hargrave’s views and methods on the German youth movement
of the twenties has been acknowledged by several authorities. 

    The aims
and ideas of the Kindred are fully described in THE CONFESSION OF THE KIBBO
KIFT, and the main purpose here is rather to outline the subsequent development
of the movement from 1927 onwards. During the years that culminated in
the publication of THE CONFESSION, John Hargrave had been growing in stature
as a novelist and artist, and had also solved the practical problem of
earning a living by taking employment as a copywriter and lay-out draughtsman
in a London advertising agency. It was the head of this firm who in 1923
set Hargrave’s fertile mind moving along a new track by putting him in
touch with another thinker whose ideas were to influence world events.
Hargrave himself wrote later, “I was introduced to C.H. Douglas by a very
erudite student of Social Credit, who suggested I should call at his home
in Fig Tree Court, London. This I did. He was a little reluctant at first,
but on hearing from whom I came and that I wanted to ask a few questions
on Social Credit, willingly gave me an interview.” 

Probably neither of the two men at the time realised the fateful nature
of this interview. Major C.H. Douglas (then in his forties was a retired
army engineer who, round about the time that Hargrave was writing his first
major book, had published a series of tautly composed, even obscure, articles
in the weekly New Age, which set out to show that the root cause of all
economic and therefore social problems was a shortage of purchasing-power,
and that this shortage was caused by a flaw in the pricing system that
ensured that there could never be enough money in the hands of consumers
to buy all the goods produced for sale. Hence arose the tragic absurdity
of “Poverty in the midst of plenty”. Douglas showed clearly that this “gap”
existed because money was treated as a commodity to be bought and sold,
and therefore to be kept in short supply by the banking system which had
a monopoly of its creation and issue. Instead, he and his followers argued,
it should be looked on as representing the National Credit, and allowed
to increase step by step as real wealth increased. This increment was not
to be regarded as the property of any individual or group whether worker
or employer but, because it arose out of the inherited knowledge and expertise
of the whole community – the “increment of association”, belonged to all
and should be shared by all. 

Douglas’s second major innovation was the recognition, years before the
arrival of cybernetics, computers, silicon chips, that the modern revolution
would be the replacement of human labour by machines. “Unemployment” was
inevitable; it was not therefore to be feared as a problem, but welcomed
as an opportunity, the opportunity to free man from wage-slavery. The solution
was the National Dividend, a living income paid to every man, woman and
child, whether employed or not, and financed out of the national credit
– in other words, the Wages of the Machine. These theories came in due
course to be known as Social Credit. Hargrave saw immediately that here
might lie the clue to something that had been troubling him. How was it
possible for men and women enmeshed in the modern urban life of “getting
and spending” to break away into the free, open-air life that for him was
the only healthy one? As long ago as 1915 Hargrave had been alerted to
the irrelevance of money to real wealth, when on the scorching Suvla Bay
beaches he saw a man, with a glass of precious drinking water, refuse a
sovereign for it. Now, it seemed, he had found someone else who, from quite
a different angle, had come upon the same truth, and had found the answer.
Now it was possible to see the way into the Machine Age. Hargrave began
to study Social Credit, and urged his Kinsmen to do the same. Many were
reluctant to do so; what had economics to do with the outdoor life? But
others were able to follow him along this new path. All the same, when
Hargrave wrote THE CONFESSION, in 1927, he still found it politic to omit
the disturbing words “Social Credit’ even though the economic passages
in this book are clearly recognisable to any Social Credit advocate, and
indeed that at the 1927 Al-Thing (National Assembly) of the Kindred in
June the seven-point Covenant was amended to incorporate Douglas’ Social

The adoption by the Kibbo Kift of Social Credit as official policy presaged
fundamental changes in its organisation and methods. On January 3, 1931,
Hargrave spoke at the Annual Kinfest, showing how it was the duty of the
Kibbo Kift to break the power of the money-mongers. Parliament was useless,
and the people themselves lacking hope and courage; but they would follow
the Kin if the Kindred could show “that absolute, that religious, that
military devotion to duty without which no great cause was ever brought
to a successful issue.” In this speech Hargrave mapped out a new road not
only for the Kindred of the Kibbo Kift, but also for the Social Credit
Movement, which up to that time (and indeed long afterwards outside the
membership of the Kindred) had limited its activities to the formation
of “study-groups”. This passive introverted technique was helpless against
the almost total boycott of Social Credit by press and wireless, but from
now on Social Credit was to be taken on to the streets, to be brought to
the people directly. The next few years saw the fashioning of the Kindred
into a new type of human political instrument, still based on the principles
and ideals of the Kibbo Kift, but now placing Social Credit in the forefront
of its aims. The Kibbo Kift “habit” was replaced by a simplified uniform
(the “Green Shirt”), and a disciplined paramilitary technique with marching,
drums and banners cut through the barrier of suppression and brought the
message direct to the people. The basic principles of Social Credit were
pared down to the Three Demands: 

Open the National Credit

Issue the National Dividend! 

Apply the Scientific Price! 

These were tough years for
the Kindred and the newly-joined Green Shirts. They found themselves exposed
not only to the jeers and misrepresentation of the “media”, but also to
the open violence of the extreme left (the Communists) and the extreme
right (the Fascists). At the same time the Green Shirts showed their
community with the victims of the “Economic Crisis” by joining, and often
leading, hunger marches, demonstrations by the National Unemployed Workers
Movement, public mass meetings in London’s Trafalgar Square, Coventry’s
Corn Market, Birmingham’s Bull Ring, as well as street corner meetings
and local marches in cities and towns throughout the country.
these activities gained them the hostility, not just of rival political
groups, but even of sections of the Social Credit movement, who seemed
to regard such conduct as undignified and in some way sullying the purity
of the Social Credit message. 

Green Shirts marching in Downing Street 

In 1935 the time seemed
ripe for a further change. Without abandoning its “direct action” techniques,
the Green Shirt Movement, spurred on by its growing popularity with the
public, as well as by the overwhelming victory of William Aberhart’s Social
Credit Party in the Canadian province of Alberta, decided to enter the
orthodox political field by changing its name to the Social Credit Party
of Great Britain; by this action they made it impossible for any bogus
Social Credit party to arise in Britain. Then, in a lightning three-week
campaign, the SCP candidate for South Leeds in the General Election of
November 1935 gained nearly 4,000 votes – an astonishing result for a new
and untried party. 

    But new
shoals loomed ahead. The Abdication Crisis of 1936 threw British politics
into chaos. On January 1, 1937, the Public Order Act came into force, banning
the wearing of political uniforms – a measure ostensibly aimed at the Fascist
Blackshirts, but which also conveniently (for the authorities) struck at
the Social Credit Party, increasingly seen by the Money Power as the real
danger to their established order. And in September 1939 war broke out
and scattered the membership to the four corners of the world. For the
next six years all overt political activity ceased. 

Hargrave himself was far from idle during these difficult times. In 1935
he had published his great novel SUMMER TIME ENDS, a dramatic kaleidoscope
of English life and attitudes, exposing the insanity of the contemporary
social-economic system, the hypocrisy of politicians and financiers, and
the helpless apathy of the “man-in-the-street”. In 1937 he perfected the
first version of his Automatic Navigator for Aircraft (the “moving map”
device , which was destined thirty years later to be installed in Concorde
and thereafter in many other fast-moving military and civil planes, but
for which the talented inventor was never to receive a penny in recognition.
During the winter of 1939-40 he published two more important books, a study
of Montagu Norman, Governor of the Bank of England, and a crushing expose
of the feebleness of Britain’s wartime propaganda. For thirteen years
from the spring of 1938 he wrote an unbroken series of weekly “Messages”
to all members of the Party which served to hold together the “hard core”
of the movement. In 1944 he became aware of his possession
of the power of healing by radiation from the hand,
and for many
years thereafter he held meetings for healing and achieved many remarkable
results both publicly and privately. 

With the ending of the war and the return of members from national service
the time had come for the revival of the party’s activities. But the situation
in Britain was not favourable to the propagation of unorthodox ideas. A
war-weary electorate sought refuge in passive acceptance of a paternal
“Labour” government happy to relieve them of personal responsibility. Under
Hargrave’s leadership the Social Credit Party, still robbed of its visual
appeal and without access to the “media”, strove to break through the prevailing
political apathy. A National Social Credit Evangel sought to re-create
the emotional appeal that had previously been achieved through the pageantry
of the uniforms, banners and drums. The development of “solar propaganda”,
the formation of the Agriculture and Husbandry Group with the message “Britain
Can Feed Herself’, even Hargrave’s unsuccessful candidature in the 1950
General Election, showed that there was still much vitality in the movement,
small though it had now become. But the tide of affairs was against them,
and on April 29, 1951, an extraordinary meeting of the Party resolved “to
dissolve as an organisation.” 

So passed into history a movement that came within an ace of changing the
whole course of Britain’s political and social life. The Kindred of the
Kibbo Kift no longer exists as an organised body. Hargrave’s Green Shirts
no longer march through the streets with drums playing and banners flying;
the Social Credit Party has not contested an election since 1950. But the
ideas and ideals of the Kindred remain as alive and vigorous as ever, and
many in all walks of life acknowledge the debt they owe to their early
training in the Kibbo Kift and the Green Shirts. 

The re-issue of THE CONFESSION
after fifty years is sufficient evidence of its enduring vitality.



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About Jay Babcock

I am the co-founder and editor of Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curator of the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was one of five Angelenos listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. Today, I live a peaceful life in the rural wilderness of Joshua Tree, California, where I am a partner in with Stephanie Smith.