International Vegetarian Union (IVU)
IVU logo

1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]


The interwar years saw the continuation of vegetarianism's links with socialism and the left generally. With the rise of the parliamentary Labour Party, achieving power in 1924 and 1929, there comes to be a scattering of vegetarians in the House of Commons. Fenner Brockway, the radical, pacifist and leading figure of the ILP had been a vegetarian since just before the First World War. (1) The ILP was, in the twenties, no longer the grass-roots expression of the Labour Party that it was before the war, since direct membership was now possible, and it became instead a radical group within Labour, containing an alliance - sometimes uneasy - between radical intellectuals and the working-class-based Clydeside group, and aiming at a full socialist reconstruction of society rather than the reformism that dominated the Labour Party. The ILP in the twenties did retain some of the earlier sense of socialism as something that transformed all aspects of life, and Fenner Brockway wrote of their summer schools, where there were always vegetarian tables: 'At the schools we enjoyed a comradeship which we rarely know now. Socialism was to us a personal relationship as well as an ideal for the future'. (2) Rennie Smith (3) - not a member of the ILP, though he shared Brockway's pacifist concerns - and Peter Freeman (4) – from a different background, a theosophist and enlightened business man, though a socialist - were also vegetarians in the House. Ellen Wilkinson - 'Red Ellen', the MP for Jarrow - though not completely vegetarian, was largely so.(5)

Stafford Cripps was a vegetarian, certainly for health reasons, though possibly also for the humanitarian. Broadly speaking there is a tendency for the political-left vegetarians to incline towards the humanitarian rather than the health aspect. (6)

The link appears also in the socialist novelist Walter Greenwood whose best seller, Love on the Dole, exposed the human conditions of life in Salford, where Greenwood was a Labour councillor. (7)

In 1926, with the General Strike, we find the Vegetarian Society sending vegetarian food parcels to the distressed mining areas, though how they were received is not recorded. (8) Such activities, though of limited impact, do indicate broadly where sympathies lay.

Not all favoured the connection, and the Vegetarian Messenger records the continuation of the older criticism, now made by ‘socialists and communists' , that vegetarianism would only depress wages. (9)

There are also in the period some muted connections with Social Credit. Based on the theories of the Canadian Douglas, Social Credit was in the thirties a slightly ambiguous political movement including aspects of both left and right. Its diagnosis of the economic crisis was one of plentiful production but no purchasing power, and it sought to solve this by issuing a national dividend. There is a strong theme of individual responsibility in it, which was developed in relation to its health policy with its emphasis on preventative measures and individual self help. (10)

  1. 95. FENNER BROCKWAY: b.1888, of missionary family, moved into the orbit of socialism and free religion before the First World War, influenced by Keir Hardie and the writing of Carpenter. Leading figure in the No Conscription Fellowship, imprisoned during the war. Elected to parliament in 1929, helped to take the ILP out of the Labour Party. Involved in Indian independence and international socialism. Worked for animal rights after the war and for the end of racialism. Lost his seat in 1964 and, with misgivings, joined the House of Lords. Brockway rests his vegetarianism firmly on animal rights and not health, though a deep mystical sense of the oneness of life and the beauties of nature has been at the root of his philosophy of life. See his Towards Tomorrow, 1977 (p25 and 42 for nature); and interview.
  2. 96. Towards Tomorrow, p76.
  3. 97. See p248
  4. 98. PETER FREEMAN: 1888-1956. Director of J.R. Freeman Cigars; Lawn Tennis Champion of Wales three times; Labour MP Brecon and Radnor, 1929-31, and Newport, 1945-56. Founder and general secretary of the Theosophical Society in Wales; friend of India and Ethiopia; passionately anti-vivisection and vaccination. See VN, Feb 1931, p50; his Druids and Theosophy, Glasgow, 1924; VM, Sept 1925, p220 on fatigue in industry; and his The World Food Crisis Solved by a Vegetarian, Letchworth 1956, brief biography. [see also his article on the Vegetarian Guest House Association 1949]
  5. 99. ELLEN WILKINSON: 1891-1947. Daughter of cotton operative and insurance salesman. Scholarship to Manchester University. Involved in suffrage organisations. 1924-31 Labour NIP for Middlesborough gave energetic support to the miners in the General Strike. 1935 Labour MP for Jarrow, led the Jarrow march, and wrote The Town that was Murdered. Worked for India and Nazi refugees. Minister for Education in 1945. See interview, VN, Jan 1929, p13; Fenner Brockway says she was an almost total vegetarian; and DNB.
  6. 100. STAFFORD CRIPPS: 1889-1952. Nephew of Beatrice Webb; barrister and Anglican. Moved towards Labour Party in 1920s, increasingly radical in the 1930s. Led Socialist League, founded Tribune. Involved in Indian independence. 1942-5, Minister of Aircraft Production. President of the Board of Trade and later Chancellor of the Exchequer in Atlee government. Cripps suffered from recurring illness which was alleviated by nature cure and a vegetarian diet; though Brockway believes that he was also a vegetarian for humane reasons. See D1TB, and biography by Chris Cooke, 1951.
  7. 101. Greenwood- was a vegetarian solely on humanitarian grounds. VM, April 1934, p126 June 1935, p193; July 1935, p222. He was converted by his sister. See also his autobiography, There was a Time, 1967. Salford continued to have vegetarian links: Canon Peter Green was a vegetarian, VM, March. 1927, p57, as was the wife of Robert Roberts, author of The Classic Slum, Manchester, 1971.
  8. 102. VM, Aug 1926, p176. The society also sent parcels to distressed areas during the Depression, VM, Jan 1935, p458, Nov 1935, p382.
  9. 103. VM, April 1931, p102.
  10. 104. See Aubrey Westloke's outline of Social Credit health proposals in his Health Abounding, 1944, 2nd ed.

Previous: Food & Health Debate | Thesis Index | Next: The Peace Movement