Left Book Club

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Left Book Club
Left Book Club logo.jpg
Logo for the Left Book Club
Founded 1936
Founder Victor Gollancz
Country of origin United Kingdom
Headquarters location London
Distribution Pluto Press
Publication types Books
Nonfiction topics "A full range of progressive traditions, perspectives and ideas"
Official website http://www.leftbookclub.com

The Left Book Club was a publishing group that exerted a strong socialist influence in the United Kingdom from 1936 to 1948, and is credited with helping the Labour Party to win its landslide victory of 1945. Pioneered by Victor Gollancz, it issued a monthly book choice, restricted to members only, as well as a newsletter that acquired the status of a major political magazine. It also held an annual rally. Membership peaked at 57,000, but after the Soviet-Nazi non-aggression pact of 1939, it disowned its large communist element, and years of paper-rationing led to further decline. It ceased publishing in 1948.

An attempt to relaunch the group in the early 2000s stalled, but after some delays, in 2015 the first publications under the new Left Book Club name appeared.

Formation and development

The Left Book Club, founded in May 1936, was a key left-wing institution of the late 1930s and 1940s in the United Kingdom set up by Stafford Cripps, Victor Gollancz and John Strachey to revitalise and educate the British Left.[1][2] The Club's aim was to "help in the struggle For world peace and against fascism". Aiming to break even with 2,500 members, it had 40,000 within the first year[1] and by 1939 it was up to 57,000.[2] The LBC was one of the first book clubs in the UK and, as such, played an important role in the evolution of the country's book trade.[3]

The club supplied a book chosen every month by Gollancz and his panel — Harold Laski and John Strachey — to its members, many of whom participated in one or other of the 1,500 or so Left Discussion Groups scattered around the country. The books and pamphlets with their distinctive orange (paperback 1936–38) or red (hardback 38–48) covers with their legend — NOT FOR SALE TO THE PUBLIC — sold for 2s 6d to members. Many titles were available for sale only in the LBC edition, with monthly 'choices' received by all members, with additional optional titles reprinting current socialist and 'progressive' classics. The volumes included history, science, reporting and fiction and covered a range of subjects, but all with a left-leaning slant.

1936 - 1939

Until the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, the club's output included many authors who were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain or close to it, and many of its books offered a positive portrayal of the Soviet Union and its international policies. The book World Revolution: 1917-1936 by C. L. R. James was written as a Trotskyist critique of the LBC's coverage of the Soviet Union.[4] However, as a member of the Labour Party, Gollancz was concerned to keep the club at a formal distance from campaigns of which the Labour Party disapproved.[5]

1940 - 1948

By early 1940, however, Gollancz had broken with the CP, a process documented in the articles collected in Betrayal of the Left in early 1941, and from then on the club took a strongly democratic socialist line until its demise in 1948. Despite its large membership and popular success the Book Club was always a huge financial drain on the publisher, with the advent of paper rationing at the onset of the war the club was restricted to just one monthly title. To replace the book club's additional choices and augment the LBC selections, Gollancz launched the "Victory Books" series, a series of shorter monographs available to the general public, including two of the biggest sellers of the War: Guilty Men by Cato (Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard) and Your M.P. by Gracchus (Tom Wintringham).

In addition to books, the LBC also produced a monthly newsletter — which began as a simple club news sheet Left Book News, but gradually developed into a key international political and social affairs paper (as Left News) - with lengthy editorials from Gollancz. The LBC held its first annual LBC rally in February 1937, which were held until the late 40s.[6]

Gollancz was a notoriously interventionist editor. He published Orwell's The Road to Wigan Pier but insisted on prefacing its account of working-class life in the north of England with an introduction disowning its criticisms of middle-class socialists who had little understanding of working class life and later republished the book leaving out the second part of which he disapproved.

Authors and titles

  • Cripps, Stafford (1936). The Struggle for Peace.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Malraux, André (1936). Days of Contempt.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Noel-Baker, Philip (1936). The Private Manufacture of Armaments.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1936). The theory and practice of Socialism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Attlee, C. R. (1937). The Labour Party In Perspective.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cole, G. D. H.; Cole, M. I. (1937). The Condition of Britain.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cole, G. D. H. (1937). The People's Front.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Collard, Dudley (1937). Soviet Justice and the Trial of Radek and Others.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (a defence of the first two Moscow Trials)
  • Koestler, Arthur (1937). Spanish Testament.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Odets, Clifford (1937). Waiting for Lefty.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Orwell, George (1937). The Road to Wigan Pier.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sloan, Pat (1937). Soviet Democracy.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (praising the 1936 Soviet Constitution)
  • Snow, Edgar (1937). Red Star Over China.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Spender, Stephen (1937). Forward from Liberalism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1937). The Coming Struggle for Power.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Tawney, R. H. (1937). The Acquisitive Society.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Webb, Sidney; Webb, Beatrice (1937). Soviet Communism - A New Civilisation.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Haldane, J. B. S. (1938). A. R. P.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jones, F. Elwyn (1938). The Battle for Peace.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Smedley, Agnes (1938). China Fights Back: An American Woman with the Eighth Route Army.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1938). What Are We to Do?.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1938). Why you should be a Socialist.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vigilantes (1938). Why the League has Failed.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Addison, Lord (1939). A Policy for British Agriculture.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Barnes, Leonard (1939). Empire or Democracy?.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Campbell, J. R. (1939). Soviet Policy and its Critics.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (defending the Popular Front and criticizing Trotsky)
  • Cole, G. D. H. (1939). War Aims.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Johnson, Hewlett (1939). The Socialist Sixth of the World.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Swingler, Stephen (1939). An Outline of Political Thought Since the French Revolution.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Vigilantes (1939). Why We Are Losing the Peace: the National Government's Foreign Policy: its Causes, Consequences and Cure.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Wilkinson, Ellen (1939). The Town That Was Murdered - The Life Story of Jarrow.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Constantine, Murray (1940). Swastika Night.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1940). Federalism or Socialism?.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1940). A Programme for Progress.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cole, G. D. H. (1941). Europe, Russia and the Future.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Edelman, Maurice (1941). Production for victory, not profit!.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Koestler, Arthur (1941). Scum of the Earth.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • The Pied Piper (1941). Rats!.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Snow, Edgar (1941). Scorched Earth.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Strachey, John (1941). A Faith fo Fight For.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cole, G. D. H. (1942). Great Britain in the Post-War World.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Mallalieu, J. P. W. (1942). Passed to You, Please: Britain's Red-Tape Machine at War.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cole, G. D. H. (1943). The Means to Full Employment.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Laski, Harold J. (1944). Faith, Reason and Civilisation: An Essay in Historical Analysis.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Smedley, Agnes (1944). Battle Hymn of China.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Zilliacus, Konni (1944). The Mirror Of The Past: Lest it Reflect the Future.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Blum, Léon (1946). For All Mankind.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Roth, Andrew (1946). Dilemma In Japan.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Cole, G. D. H. (1948). The Meaning of Marxism.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


It can be argued that alongside the Fabian Society and Transport House, the LBC's popularising of socialist ideas was very influential on the Labour victory in the General Election of 1945. Many members acted as missionaries for the ideas espoused by the club, such as full employment, socialised medicine, town planning and social equality. Eight Gollancz authors were part of the new government (Lord Addison, Attlee, Bevan, Cripps, Philip Noel-Baker, Shinwell, Strachey and Wilkinson) and six were MPs (Maurice Edelman, Michael Foot, Elwyn Jones, J. P. W. Mallalieu, Stephen Swingler and Konni Zilliacus). This led Victor Gollancz's biographer to write, "for an individual without official position, Victor's [Gollancz's] colossal influence on a vital election remains unmatched in twentieth-century political history."[7] However, Gollancz was not rewarded with a position in the House of Lords by Clement Attlee who was worried he would become a thorn in his side there.

The success of the Left Book Club caused other political movements to set up similar groupings.[8] A "Right Book Club" was launched as a conservative response to the Left Book Club in 1937 by Edgar Samuel, who worked for the bookselling firm Foyle's.[8][9] Other political book clubs included the Liberal Book Club and the pacifist Peace Book Club.[8]

In 2006, Ed Miliband MP started the Left Book Club Online as a successor to the original Left Book Club with the aim of stimulating debate around left-wing ideas and texts, but not publishing new work. The website now appears to be defunct.

A small group of booksellers in the UK are working on bringing back a publishing version of the Left Book Club and established a Limited company of the same name in 2002, their site LeftBookClub.com was launched in 2007 after several years of inactivity the website now appears to be promising the launch of its first book, published by Pluto Press, in September 2015 although the company behind it appears to have changed.

2015 relaunch

In 2015 the Left Book Club was relaunched as a non-profit organisation with the aim of encouraging left-wing debate and discussion among its followers. Its first publication was Kevin Ovenden's Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth, with 2016 publications including Samir Jeraj and Rosie Walker's The Rent Trap: How We Fell into It and How We Get Out of It and Ken Livingstone's Being Red: a Politics for the Future.[citation needed] The Left Book Club publishes four books a year and is funded by subscriptions and voluntary contributions.[citation needed] It retains the distinctive orange covers of its original incarnation.

The Labour Leader and MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn says 'The relaunch of the Left Book Club is a terrific and timely idea, and will give intellectual ballast to the wave of political change sweeping Britain and beyond, encouraging informed and compassionate debate. I have a large collection of Left Book Club publications collected by my late parents and me. The works will open minds and inspire. I support the new LBC wholeheartedly.'[citation needed]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Laity, Paul (ed.), Left Book Club Anthology, The Independent<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>.
  2. 2.0 2.1 O’Sullivan, Dan, Wikipedia: a new community of practice?, Ashgate, UK: The Citizen, ISBN 978-0-7546-7433-7<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>..
  3. Edwards, Ruth Dudley (1987) Victor Gollancz: A Biography, P. 231, Victor Gollancz Ltd
  4. Nielsen, Aldon Lynn. C.L.R. James: A Critical Introduction. University Press of Mississippi, 1997 ISBN 9780878059737 (p. 88).
  5. Edwards (1987) pps. 229 & 241
  6. Edwards (1987) ps.238
  7. Edwards (1987) pp. 396 & 399
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Russi Jal Taraporevala (1973), Competition and its control in the British book trade, 1850–1939, London: Pitman, p. 236, ISBN 9780273001447<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. "Other Special Collections", Dunedin Public Libraries<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Lewis, John. The Left Book Club: an historical record. Gollancz. 1970. ISBN 0-575-00586-6
  • Laity, Paul (ed). The Left Book Club Anthology. Gollancz. 2001. ISBN 0-575-07221-0
  • Edwards, Ruth Dudley. Victor Gollancz: a biography. Gollancz. 1987. ISBN 0-575-03175-1
  • Neavill, Gordon Barrick. "Victor Gollancz and the Left Book Club," Library Quarterly 41 (July 1971): 197-215. http://digitalcommons.wayne.edu/slisfrp/53
  • Perry, Matt, review of Laity (2001), Institute of Historical Research, University of Sunderland<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Samuels, Stuart. "The Left Book Club," Journal of Contemporary History 1, no. 2 (1966): 65-86.

External links