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A 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 Children. Camp Training and Naturecraft.
  • Health of Body, Mind and Spirit.
  • Craft Training Groups and Craft Guilds.
  • The Woodcraft Family, or Roof Tree.
  • Local Folk Moots and Cultural Development.
  • Disarmament of Nations - Brotherhood of Man.
  • International Education based on these points.
    • Freedom of Trade between Nations.
    • Stabilisation of the Purchasing Power of Money in all countries.
    • Open Negotiations instead of secret treaties and diplomacy.
    • A World Council.
John Hargrave/White Fox
John Hargrave - White Fox

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.
Procession of Kibbo Kift children at the annual Althing

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.


A Kibbo Kift Camp - early 1920s

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 Credit.
Social Credit Booklet by Hargrave 

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 Office!
  • Issue the National Dividend!
  • Apply the Scientific Price!

Corps of Drums
The Green Shirt Corps of Drums.
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, Astonishingly, 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 on the March
Women 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.
Green Shirts in Birmingham
Green Shirt demonstration in Birmingham

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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