COMMUNISM AND ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
After spending Christmas 1930 at Oxford with his Princeton friends, Kenaston and Marian Twitchell, Buchman sailed for Lima, Peru, where he arrived on 10 February. He was taking up the invitation of the British ambassador, Sir Charles Bentinck, whom he had met through the van Heeckerens, relatives of his. The Prince of Wales and his brother, the Duke of Kent, were visiting South America to try and boost British commercial interests at a time of slump. Their first stop was Lima, and Bentinck had asked Buchman to come at the same time. They travelled on the same ship, and some, at least, of the Princes' entourage were prepared to repulse the assault which they imagined would take place. Buchman neither met nor tried to meet the Prince or his brother, though he was introduced to Major Humphrey Butler, the Duke's equerry, by a British Member of Parliament, Sir Burton Chadwick.
The Foreign Office had advised the Prince and the Duke to cancel their visit to Lima because of an impending left-wing revolution in Peru. Bentinck, however, relying on his faith in Spanish chivalry, encouraged their visit, and, sure enough, the garrison at Arequipa and the students of Lima refrained from acting until two days after the royal visitors had departed.1 The disorder in Lima started with a taxi strike, and Buchman was surprised when, on its first morning, a taxi arrived for him as usual. He told the driver that, if he was really allowed to drive him, he would like to go and thank the strike organiser. 'Oh,' said the driver, 'we decided this morning that even if no other taxi moved, you could go where you liked. We had heard that when your previous driver fell ill, you went to visit him.'
Shortly afterwards, Buchman left for Mollendo, Arequipa and Cuzco, the ancient Inca capital. The revolution had spread to Cuzco, and on his first morning there the hotel manager routed him out and advised him to leave the hotel and get into the city. Buchman sought guidance, and received the thought, 'Whatever else you do, don't leave the hotel.' 'Everybody else moved out and I stayed all day and slept,' he related later. 'I didn't hear any shooting or anything. Around six, the others came back. They told me they had been potted at all day.' On 21 February Buchman wrote down, 'All is well. You will safely and unmolestedly pass the border [into Bolivia]. Very right you did not stay in Lima. Man fails. God is firm. Go Tuesday. Normal time to leave. Perfect peace and rest.'
The experience of this attempted revolution lived with him. 'It was a challenging time,' he wrote Baroness van Wassenaer. 'Think of girls of eighteen and nineteen in Cuzco University being propagandists for Communism. Have the Christians any answer for such a prepared programme?'2
His reaction to Communism was to admire the boldness and initiative of its advocates while disagreeing with their ideology. In the mid-1920s he had studied the theory of Communism and decided that it was not only built on moral relativism in an advanced form but was also militantly anti-God. Now the experience of one of his oldest friends was to reinforce that belief.
Chang Ling-nan, the lawyer he had helped in China fifteen years before, was now Chinese Minister in Chile, and Buchman went from Bolivia to Santiago to see him. Chang told him that when, in 1927 and 1928, he had been in charge of a district of Hankow, a Soviet agent of the post-Borodin era had threatened to cut off his head and carry it on a pole through the city unless he renounced Christianity. 'Jesus Christ is my personal friend. I will never betray him,' Chang had replied. Buchman, who usually absorbed his most lasting impressions from people rather than the printed word, was deeply affected by this.
Buchman's thinking was taken a step further when he reached Buenos Aires, where the Prince of Wales was opening the British Industrial Exhibition. All the talk among industrialists was of the Depression and Communism. Some said Communism was the cause of the Depression, others that the Depression caused Communism. This did not satisfy him, and he moved to the view that materialism, particularly in the upper classes, had 'prepared the soil for Communism'. 'Communism is the most organised and effective leadership abroad today,' he noted later in the tour. 'Vital Christianity is the only cure.'
In Sao Paulo, he addressed a group of Brazilian industrialists. His rough notes have survived: 'Commercial dumping and dishonesty are more dangerous than bombs. But this Depression could be our salvation if it killed the germs of materialism in us. These lands are spiritually bankrupt. The answer could be in this gathering. Christ of the Andes. What about a Christ of Rio or Sao Paulo. The new leadership which must challenge a bankrupt age. People want such leadership. Alone, no; a group. It is a company that will do it together.'
The more he thought of it, the more he felt that what he called 'moral Bolshevism' - the revolt against God and His absolute moral standards - was the greatest danger in the West. Reading of the Soviet persecution of Christians and of the paralysis of the German Parliament in face of Hitler's rise, he noted, 'Collision is essential for the saving of Christianity. Christ must be liberated. Materialism prepared the soil for Communism. Humanism is not enough. Members of Parliament are fearful and diplomacy is impotent. I see no movement in all Christendom that gives an answer. Moral Bolshevism demands a mighty counter-move of God's Living Spirit. Can there be a powerhouse that generates the energy to change modern history? We need to change our temperament and our environment. Trade depression is God's way of reminding us.'
On the boat back to Britain, Buchman did have some contact with the Princes and their entourage. In planning a tea party for the Duke of Kent, he wrote down, 'Ask him, "How would you like to catch a live Communist and change him?" Kindle his imagination.' The Duke appreciated Buchman's freshness of approach, together with his restraint in not pushing himself forward, and kept in friendly touch until his untimely death.* Humphrey Butler talked to Buchman of the need for change which he saw in London and borrowed books about his work. Off Pernambuco Buchman was interested to see the Prince of Wales reading one of them while everyone else was dancing. But nothing is known of any contact between the two men.
(* The cuff-links Buchman wore in his portrait by Frank Salisbury, painted in 1938 and now hanging in the Westminster Theatre in London, are thought to be the pair given him by the Duke.)
The journey also gave him time to assess the future. One morning he wrote, 'This is the age of the ordinary man. Develop him. Plan for world-wide revival. The devil gets them if you don't. Much more initiative on your part. Much more dare. Trained Christian forces. They have been too apologetic. No conforming to the world's standards. You cannot avoid criticism. The ordinary man demands honesty, purity, unselfishness and love. Dedicate yourself to the people.'
Buchman's time in South America had a considerable effect on his thinking. The students he had been in contact with in America and Britain had not, up till now, been those who were turning to Communism. On this trip he came to believe that a half-hearted Christianity and the 'moral Bolshevism' of the privileged classes were taking the world into an age of conflict. He had been appalled, as well, to discover in Brazil that vast amounts of coffee had been thrown into the sea for commercial reasons, when people were going hungry. On his return to Britain he said to some of the young people working with him, 'In one country I was told two young Communists had made it their duty to attach themselves to each Cabinet Minister to win him to the Party line. Which of you will plan as thoroughly to bring a Christian revolution to your leaders?'
As a result of this visit to South America he was considering similar 'spiritual prospecting' in Spain and Portugal, when the clear thought came to him that he must stay in England because someone needed him immediately. Arriving at Brown's Hotel late one night he left word with White, the hall porter, to let him know at once if anyone called for him. Next morning early, White called to say a gentleman was downstairs asking for him. He found a man with every sign of having been drinking long and hard. Later this man told his own story:
'Men drink for various reasons - for company, for consolation, to celebrate or to forget. I drank simply because I was thirsty. I loved to drink. I drank mostly alone. I would go to my room with a bottle of whisky and a novel and not appear again until both were finished.
'It was after an all-night session in my flat spent in the usual way that I found myself facing an early London morning, with a hangover, a foul temper, and no more drink. I was extremely thirsty, and there being no supply available anywhere at such an hour, I strolled round to a friend of mine to knock him up and ask for a drink. This friend was an equerry to the Prince of Wales and lived in St James's Palace. He did not much like being disturbed at this unearthly hour and, in fact, was pretty fed up with me and my habits - as indeed were all my friends.
' "I'll give you a drink, Jim," he said, "on one condition."
' "What's that?" I said cheerfully. I would willingly have promised him the moon. I wanted a drink!
' "That you go round and see a friend of mine - I think he could do something for you."
' "Certainly, old man. I'll go round and see the King of England or the Pope of Rome. I want a drink."
' "Well, he's a fellow called Frank Buchman and he stays at Brown's Hotel. I met him on board ship and I'm sure you ought to see him."
'I had my drink and I kept my promise. We got on well from the start. We found we had many friends in common and Frank was full of stories. Pretty soon I found myself telling him my own story. Frank was a good listener. The only trouble was that talking made me thirsty, so I asked Frank for a drink. Frank said nothing but pressed the bell and the waiter came in. At that very moment an extraordinary thought struck me. It came with the force of a clap of thunder. "This is the last drink you will take." I quickly added a P.S. of my own, "Well, you'd better make it a double." I did. And it was! Before I left Frank that day we prayed together.'3
This man, Jim Driberg, a brother of Tom, had been an able surgeon who had already drunk himself out of Harley Street. He had had a good war record, and was a cheerful companion and a fearless gambler around the clubs. During the next months he was a source of help and inspiration to many who met him. The Bishop of London, Mahatma Gandhi and C. F. Andrews were among many who were struck by the obvious change in his behaviour. He returned to his old Oxford college, Brasenose, and was the guest of the Dean, an old drinking companion. His host was anxious to keep conversation in safe familiar channels. 'How is your golf, Jim? What's your handicap?' 'Mine's drink,' he replied cheerfully. 'What's yours?'
Different though he had become in many respects, Jim received little encouragement from his family. His brother, Tom, who was now firmly established at the Daily Express, responded to the news of his change with the remark, 'I knew you could sink very low, but I never thought you would sink so totally as to associate with those people.'4 His mother was more realistically sceptical, saying he owed thousands of pounds. Buchman and his friends kept in constant touch with him, and his letters to Buchman - which were often daily - show that he was keeping free of drink, enjoying their fellowship, genuinely helping many people, and even returning to surgery.
Then suddenly, on 17 February 1932, in the same week in which he had sent Buchman letters of joy and comradeship - he was in Geneva, Buchman in Rome - he wrote saying he could no longer work with Buchman and the Oxford Group. His letter expressed his 'deep, deep gratitude for all you have done for me' and stated that he 'would never waver in his loyalty to the Group', but added that he had, ten days ago, seen an exaggeration concerning himself in a copy of a letter from Buchman to a third person which had 'shaken his confidence'. Buchman had written that Jim had been sent to him by 'the Princes through one of their ADCs'. Buchman immediately cabled him, 'Forgive and forget my mistakes,' and followed with a letter apologising for what he called his 'legally incorrect statement', while expressing himself 'puzzled that you should take such drastic action'. But Driberg firmly cut the links.
Whether this was the sole - or real - reason for his action was never clear. His elder brother John attributed the sudden move to the 'mental factor which has now and then sent Jim off on absurd tangents'.5 Humphrey Butler, the equerry who had sent Jim to Buchman, wrote of his 'brain storms' being 'the fault of the war', and said he would try to 'persuade him to continue his work with the Group'.6 He failed, and telephoned to say that he thought Buchman's 'little inaccuracy' was being used by Jim as 'a cloak to hide from other things'.7 A year later Jim's former wife came into Brown's Hotel and confirmed that her ex-husband owed very large sums to medical colleagues and socialite friends, and it became clear that there were layers of difficulty to which Buchman and his friends had not penetrated.
Buchman and Major Butler, meanwhile, had consulted each other about the mental and emotional factors involved, and the Major found Driberg a post, at his own request, as a ship's surgeon. Before he left Driberg wrote Buchman, who was then in America, 'I would like to thank you and the Group once more for all you have done for me and to let you know my prayers are with you always.'8
Alas, Jim Driberg could not make it alone. As Tom, his brother, relates in Ruling Passions,9 he soon turned back to the bottle and to massive borrowing. This defeated his attempt to establish himself as a surgeon in Brazil and, for many years, he lived as an awkward pensioner of his brother's, first at Bradwell Manor and then at a boarding house in Devon, where he died in November 1956.
Tom Driberg alleges in his book that 'according to MRA myth, it was I who, in sheer wickedness, lured him back to the demon drink'. Certainly if this statement was made - and, on occasion, it does seem to have been, in conversation - it was made without evidence. Equally, there is no evidence that Buchman himself took that line.
Buchman had given Jim Driberg the same attention he had given to McGhee Baxter the previous year. He had been prodigal of his time and care, and had taken many risks on his behalf. In 1938 he advised one of his friends to think again before taking responsibility for a certain person: 'At the request of Humphrey Butler, I spent a lot of time on a person like that. I am doubtful about ambulance cases like that, as they need very special handling.'10
Though he continued to help many in desperate straits, Buchman felt that his time should now be mainly spent in training people who could tolerate the pressures of his developing work.
Even as Buchman moved towards this decision, events were taking place independently in two American cities which were to lead to his principles being applied to such hospital cases by other people, first throughout America and then all over the world.
In Akron, Ohio, Jim Newton, the young salesman at the Toytown Tavern weekend who had since become personal assistant to Harvey Firestone, the tyre manufacturer, found that one of Firestone's sons was a serious alcoholic. He offered to try to help the young man, and took him first to a drying-out clinic on the Hudson River and then on to an Oxford Group conference in Denver. The young man gave his life to God, and thereafter enjoyed extended periods of sobriety. The family doctor called it a 'medical miracle'.
Firestone Senior was so grateful that, in January 1933, he invited Buchman and a team of sixty to conduct a ten-day campaign in Akron. They left behind them a strong functioning group which met each week in the house of T. Henry Williams, an inventor of machinery for making tyre moulds used by the chief American tyre-makers. Among them were an Akron surgeon, Bob Smith, and his wife Anne. Bob was a secret drinker and it was not until he had been attending Oxford Group meetings for some time that he told them the extent of his problem.
Meanwhile, in New York, a series of alcoholics - one of whom had been told by Carl Jung that his only hope was a vital spiritual experience - were cured through a group based with Sam Shoemaker at Calvary Church. Bill Wilson, a Wall Street man who had become an alcoholic following the stock-market crash of October 1929, had a dramatic cure in December 1934, and during the next months tried to sober up many other alcoholics but without success. He could not make out why, until someone said to him, 'You're preaching at these fellows, Bill. No one ever preached at you. Turn your strategy round.'
In May 1935 Wilson went to Akron on business. On a Friday night he found himself alone with only about ten dollars in his pocket. He was heavily tempted to get drunk, and in desperation telephoned a clergyman, picked at random out of the directory, to try and find some Oxford Group people in Akron. The clergyman gave him ten names, the first nine of whom were out. The tenth, Henrietta Seiberling, daughter-in-law of the founder of Goodyear Rubber, put him in touch with Bob Smith and T. Henry Williams' group. Wilson did not preach, but told Smith his experience and was, for the first time, able to help cure another alcoholic.
Bill and Lois Wilson lived with the Smiths for several months, and out of their experience blossomed Alcoholics Anonymous.
Late in life, T. Henry Williams was asked by a researcher where Alcoholics Anonymous had started. 'His eyes lit up. Pointing to a spot on his carpet, he said, "It started right there!'"11 Newton quotes the agreement worked out in those years with the Oxford Group in Akron. 'You look after drunken men. We'll try to look after a drunken world,' Williams had said to Wilson and Smith, who became world-famous as 'Bill W. and Dr Bob of AA'.
As AA's official Brief Biographies of the Co-Founders of Alcoholics Anonymous more concisely states, 'In May 1935 a business trip to Akron led to his (Bill Wilson's) meeting with Dr Bob, who became the second successful recovery - and Alcoholics Anonymous was born.'12 Bill Wilson himself wrote, 'The early AA got its ideas of self-examination, acknowledgement of character defects, restitution for harm done, and working with others, straight from the Oxford Groups and directly from Sam Shoemaker . . . and from nowhere else.'13 Later AA developed the organisation and principles suitable for its precise mission, and, in turn, led to many other "spin-offs" dealing with specific social ills. There are currently estimated to be 500,000 self-help groups modelled on Alcoholics Anonymous in the United States alone,14 and AA itself is active in 116 countries.'15 Howard Clinebell, author of the classic textbook Understanding and Counselling the Alcoholic, describes Buchman as one of the foremost pioneers of the modern mutual-assistance philosophy.16
Paul Tournier, the Swiss psychiatrist, believes that Buchman's thought has also had considerable influence in certain developments in other fields - particularly in medicine and in the Protestant Church as he knows it. Of medicine, he says, 'The whole development of group therapy in medicine cannot all be traced back to Frank, but he historically personified that new beginning, ending a chapter of the purely rational and opening a new era when the emotional and irrational also were taken into account.' Of Buchman's effect on the Church, he adds, 'Before Buchman the Church felt its job was to teach and preach, but not to find out what was happening in people's souls. The clergy never listened in church, they always talked. There is still too much talking, but silence has returned. Frank helped to show again that the power of silence is the power of God.'
1 Duke of Windsor: A King’s Story (Cassell, 1951), pp. 226-7.
2 Buchman to Baroness van Wassenaer (Martin MSS).
3 Contemporary manuscript account shown to author by Alan Thornhill.
4 Quoted by Loudon Hamilton, who was with Jim Driberg when he telephoned Tom.
5 Quoted in Buchman to Humphrey Butler, 7 April 1932.
6 Butler to Buchman, 7 April 1932.
7 Quoted in letter from Garrett Stearly in London to Buchman in America, 27 April 1932.
8 Jim Driberg to Buchman, 9 June 1932.
9 Driberg, pp. 38-42, 100.
10 Buchman to Brigadier-General C.R.P. Winser, 18 January 1938.
11 Willard Hunter, unpublished MS, 1978.
12 Leaflet published by AA World Services, Inc., 1972.
13 Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age (AA World Services, Inc., 1957) p. 39.
14 Plain talk about Mutual Help Groups, issued by National Institute of Mental Health, printed by US Dept of Health and Human Services.
15 The Times, 10 June 1985.
16 Notes by Willard Hunter of Claremont, California, on lecture by Howard Clinebell (Hunter to author, 15 July 1985); also Dr George Wilson of Kogarah Bay, New South Wales, in conversation with author.