Labour History Review

Jack Bucknall (1888-1954): A Particular Kind of Socialist

Labour History Review (2002), 67, (2), 205–220.


This article examines aspects of the life and ideas of Jack Bucknall, an important member of Conrad Noel's Catholic Crusade, one of the most renowned Christian Socialist bodies of the twentieth century. This examination is set in the context of George Orwell's arguments in The Road to Wigan Pier about the prevalence of ‘cranks’ in the socialist movement. It is suggested that Orwell used this word to designate activists in Life Reform movements, a term borrowed from German social history. Bucknall was, in his adherence to anthroposophy and cosmovitalism, undoubtedly a Life Reform activist and the sort of person Orwell had in mind. A consideration of Bucknall's involvement with these movements and their ideas, leads to a suggestion that Orwell's judgements may have been ill-considered.

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George Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, Harmondsworth, Penguin Books, 1969, pp. 152-3. It is perhaps worth noting that the ‘cranks’ were well aware of the hostility they faced from commentators such as Orwell. As early as 1904 the word had been ‘reclaimed’ with the publication of the Crank monthly (later the Open Road) by the publisher C. W. Daniels, whose list included much material that would have fitted Orwell's terms of reference. See Jeremy Goring, The Centenary of a ‘Crank’ Publisher, Ashingdon, The CW Daniel Co., 1971. The Road to Wigan Pier 152 3 Google Scholar

Although both Beatrix Campbell's Wigan Pier Revisited, London, Virago, 1984, and several of the essays in Christopher Norris (ed.), Inside the Myth: Orwell: Views from the Left, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1984, note some of the relevant quotations from The Road to Wigan Pier, neither of the books seriously consider the issue of ‘cranks’ in a critical way. Google Scholar

The biographical information used here is derived from a letter to the author from Bro. William Nicol CR, archivist of the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, of 4 November 1997. Bro. Nicol indicates that he used the College's roll and the Crockford directory of 1951 as his sources. Google Scholar

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Chris Bryant, Possible Dreams, London, Hodder and Stoughton, 1996. See pp. 140-3 for an example of Bryant on the Crusade. Possible Dreams 140 3 Google Scholar

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Perhaps the definitive account of the Battle of the Flags is to be found in Reg Groves, Conrad Noel and the Thaxted Movement, London, Merlin Press, 1967. Groves, a leading figure in the early days of British Trotskyism, had been a Crusader, and he also produced Catholic Crusade 1918-1936, London, Archive, 1972, notable for its reproduction of the Crusade's manifesto. See also the fictionalised version of the Battle of the Flags by the late Robert Shaw, The Flag, London, Chatto and Windus, 1965. Chapman, Liturgy, draws upon Noel's own account in his considerations; Conrad Noel, The Battle of the Flags, London, The Labour Publishing House, 1922. Conrad Noel and the Thaxted Movement Google Scholar

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Conrad Noel, An Autobiography, ed. Sidney Dark, London, J. M. Dent, 1945, p. 108. This autobiography was posthumous, but the editor, Sidney Dark, notes that when Noel died in July 1942, ‘he had dictated the greater part of an autobiography’ (p. vii). Dark does note later in his Foreword that there was a considerable degree of editing done on the material, but this seems to have taken the form of omission (p. vii). An Autobiography 108 Google Scholar

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Orens shows an awareness that Noel's approach to the Soviet Union changed: ‘For a time Noel was able to delude himself about events in the Soviet Union’ (emphasis added), (Leech (ed.), Conrad Noel, p. 33). Wilkinson, in citing Orens, omits the qualification. For Bucknall's application to join the CPGB and its reasons for refusing him membership, see Communist Review, June 1930, pp. 234-8 — Bucknall, and pp. 239-42 — CPGB response. Google Scholar

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Jack Bucknall, ‘Russia — Some Impressions’, Challenge, May 1936, pp. 4-6. Challenge was still the organ of the Crusade at this stage. In an interview with the author (19 December 1997), Morwenna Bucknall, Jack's daughter, indicated that the trip to Russia had been financed by a fellow member of a Rosicrucian society to which Bucknall also belonged. The letters attacking Bucknall for his views on the Soviet Union and Trotsky were written by Hannah Laurie and G. H. Whittaker and appear on pp. 6-8 of the same edition. In late 1932 or early 1933 Bucknall also wrote an article for the Catholic Crusader on Trotskyism. I owe this reference to Revd Kenneth Leech but have not been able to precisely identify its dating. Dealing with historical issues, it again generally shows a sympathetic view of Trotsky's arguments. Russia — Some Impressions Challenge 4 6 Google Scholar

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Ullrich Kockel, The Gentle Subversion, Bremen, Verlag für ESIS-Publikationen, 1993, p. 12. This publication is in English. For further material on the German Life Reform movement, see Kevin Repp, Reformers, Critics and the paths of German Modernity, Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press, 2000, which deals with the 1890 to 1914 period, and also D. Kerbs and J. Reulecke, Handbuch der Deutschen Reformbewegungen 1880-1914, Wuppertal, Peter Hammer Verlag, 1998. The Gentle Subversion 12 Google Scholar

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Peter Washington, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon, London, Secker and Warburg, 1993. Madame Blavatsky's Baboon Google Scholar

Washington, Baboon, p. 387. Google Scholar

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Jack Bucknall, ‘Agriculture’, Church Militant, September 1941, p. 7. Google Scholar

George Scott Blair, ‘The Scientific Outlook’, Church Militant, October 1941. The Scientific Outlook Church Militant Google Scholar

Mason's contribution appeared in Church Militant, November 1941, and Blair's response in Church Militant, December 1941. This was the article in which Blair indicated his professional background. Google Scholar

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For the Kenyatta prayers, see Jack Bucknall, ‘Public Worship’, Church Militant, Winter 1953, p. 12. Google Scholar

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The connections between the Community of the Resurrection and the Christian Socialist movement are well covered by Peter d'A. Jones, The Christian Socialist Revival 1877-1914, Princeton, Princeton University Press, 1968, and also by Alan Wilkinson, the Community's historian, in his Christian Socialism. Google Scholar

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Alan Wilkinson, The Community of the Resurrection, A Centennial History, London, SCM Press, 1992, p. 183. Footnote on p. 361 shows that Fitzgerald was a signatory to both documents. Wilkinson's account shows that Bucknall, and his brother-in-law John Groser, signed the 1923 address. The Community of the Resurrection, A Centennial History 183 Google Scholar

Ellic Howe, The Magicians of the Golden Dawn, London, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1972, p. 274. The Magicians of the Golden Dawn 274 Google Scholar

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Howe, Magicians, p. 257. Howe's chapter 17, ‘The Stella Matutina’, deals with this body. Francis King, Ritual Magic in England, London, Neville Spearman, pp. 94-6. Google Scholar

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Information derived from a letter to the author from Robert Gilbert, 9 February 1998. Mr Gilbert was not able to indicate when Bucknall left the movement. Robert Gilbert is the most important contemporary writer on the OGD. A recent work of his is Revelations of the Golden Dawn, London, Quantum, 1997. Google Scholar

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See King, Ritual, p. 107. Google Scholar

These claims are made on the back cover of Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, Search for the Ageless, Vol. 1, Nelson (British Columbia), International Biogenic Society, 1978. I have not made any efforts at verifying them. Google Scholar

Edmond Szekely, Cosmos, Man and Society. A Paneubiotic Synthesis, Ashingdon, C. W. Daniel, 1936. This book was translated by Purcell Weaver. It is now out of print. The International Biogenic Society, a body that promotes Szekely's ideas based in British Columbia currently publishes a book with the same title, but which is not the same text. Google Scholar

Purcell Weaver, in Szekely, Cosmos, p. 12. Google Scholar

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Church Militant, December 1947-January 1948, pp. 8-9. Google Scholar

Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, Treasury of Raw Foods, Nelson (British Columbia), International Biogenic Society, 1997. This is a reprint of material originally published in Britain in the 1930s. Treasury of Raw Foods Google Scholar

See Chris Bryant, Stafford Cripps, London, Hodder & Staughton, 1997, p. 65. Purcell Weaver is currently living in California. Sir Toby Weaver, a distinguished civil servant who worked in the educational field, died in June 2001. See obituary in Independent, 11 June 2001. Google Scholar

Diana Cripps, ‘Menus for August’, Cosmovitalist Monthly, August 1939, unpaginated, back page. Menus for August Cosmovitalist Monthly Google Scholar

Bryant, Cripps, pp. 271-4. Bucknall, too, broke this rule, smoking a pipe. Bucknall also broke the rule that stressed the need to replace tea and coffee with herb tea or cereal coffee. Several of the interviewees who talked to me about Bucknall fondly recalled his brewing of real coffee in a pan on the stove of his kitchen. Google Scholar

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See Cosmovitalist Quarterly, Spring 1946. Details about the Bureau are given on the inside of the front cover, and Florence Mahon is named as the Bureau's secretary there. Google Scholar

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Watson Thomson, Pioneer in Community, Toronto, The Ryerson Press, 1949, p. xv. The review is in Church Militant, November-December 1949, pp. 12-13. Pioneer in Community xv Google Scholar

The trend is, of course, that subsumed by the word ‘organic’. For an excellent account of this trend throughout the twentieth century see the recent book by Philip Conford, The Origins of the Organic Movement, Edinburgh, Floris Books, 2001. Google Scholar

Rather than try to substantiate this rather generalised judgement, I would refer the reader to Gary Valentine Lachman's recent book Turn off your mind, London, Sidgwick and Jackson, 2001. The book's subtitle is ‘The mystic sixties and the dark side of the Age of Aquarius’, which gives a good summary of its contents. Google Scholar

The anthroposophical movement has had a longstanding and principled opposition to genetic modification. Over the last few years a significant amount of material has been published on this question in New View, the Anthroposophical Society in Great Britain's ‘public’ journal. Google Scholar

Orwell, The Road, pp. 154-5. Google Scholar

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Author details

Tyldesley, Michael