Left Book Club


The Left Book Club was established in the context of the rise of fascism in Europe and the economic depression, when the need for the dissemination of left-wing politics was keenly felt among British intellectuals. It was an immediate success on its establishment, with 6,000 subscriptions after a month and a membership of 40,000 by the end of its first year. With links to the Communist Party of Great Britain, the LBC was explicit in its advocacy of a left-wing politics. It published books on a wide range of subjects, ‘from farming to Freud to air-raid shelters to Indian independence’ (Laity, p. ix), aiming for accessibility and education. The titles, many of which were newly commissioned, were sold to LBC members at discounted prices. Despite its attempts to bring politics and literature to working-class people, its activists were largely privileged men and women. The LBC organized summer schools and trips (including to the Soviet Union) and held lectures and rallies focused on political events such as the Spanish Civil War, with members also hosting local meetings to discuss the books.

Clearly espousing an anti-imperial stance, the LBC published books by Rajani Palme Dutt and Ayana Angadi, as well as by Santha Rama Rau and Bhabani Bhattacharya. In late 1936, authorities in India began to intercept Left Book Club books despatched (via the Phoenix Book Company) to members in India on the grounds that they contained ‘extremist propaganda’, and the India Office requested reports on the LBC’s activities. Evidence suggests that there were LBC Indian student discussion groups (such as the one formed by Promode Ranjan Sen Gupta, who was under government surveillance), and later an Indian Branch of the LBC, and that these groups attempted to subvert the censorship of LBC material in India. Further, in late 1937, there is evidence that Victor Gollancz, supported by Nehru, was attempting to start a Left Book Club in India in order to circumvent the ban (L/PJ/12/504, pp. 8, 10–11, 18–19). 

Published works: 

There were LBC editions of over 200 works. These include:

Attlee, Clement, The Labour Party in Perspective (1937)

Barnes, Leonard, Empire or Democracy? A Study of the Colonial Question (1939)

Bhattacharya, Bhabani, So Many Hungers! (1947)

Brailsford, H. N., Why Capitalism Means War (1938)

Brailsford, H. N., Subject India (1943)

Brockway, Fenner, German Diary, 1946

Burns, Emile, What is Marxism? (1939)

Cole, G. D. H., The People’s Front (1937)

Cripps, Stafford The Struggle for Peace (1936)

de Palencia, Isabel, Smouldering Freedom: The Story of the Spanish Republicans in Exile (1946)

Deva, Jaya (Ayana Angadi) Japan’s Kampf (1942)

Dutt, R. Palme, World Politics, 1918–36 (1936)

Dutt, R. Palme, India Today (1940)

Gollancz, Victor (ed.), The Betrayal of the Left (1941)

Horrabin, J. F., An Atlas of Empire (1937)

Koestler, Arthur, Scum of the Earth (1941)

Laski, Harold, Faith, Reason and Civilisation (1944)

Marquard, Leopold, The Black Man’s Burden (1943)

Mulgan, John (ed.), Poems of Freedom (1938)

Orwell, George, The Road to Wigan Pier (1937)

Rao, Santha Rama, Home to India (1945)

Russell, A. G., Colour, Race and Empire (1944)

Snow, Edgar, Red Star Over China (1937)

Spender, Stephen, Forward from Liberalism (1937)

Strachey, John, The Theory and Practice of Socialism (1936)

Strachey, John, Federalism or Socialism? (1940)

Webb, Sidney and Webb, Beatrice, Soviet Communism: A New Civilization (1937)

Woolf, Leonard, Barbarians at the Gate (1939)

Monthly journal: Left News


L/PJ/12/504, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 8

Secondary works: 

Dudley Edwards, Ruth, Victor Gollancz: A Biography (London, 1987)

Hodges, Sheila, Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing House, 1928–78 (London, 1978)

Laity, Paul (ed.), Left Book Club Anthology (London: Victor Gollancz, 2001)

Lewis, John, The Left Book Club: An Historical Record (London, 1970)


This file consists of correspondence and reports relating to the Left Book Club and its ‘Indian connections’, with information on the Britain-based Indians involved in the LBC, the connections between LBC activists and Indian anti-colonialists, and attempts to ban LBC material from entering India.

Date began: 
01 Feb 1936

A Left Book Club Discussion Group has been formed in London for Indian students, with Promode Ranjan SEN GUPTA, 7, Woburn Buildings, W.C., as secretary.

In this connection it may be stated that in the 22.5.37 issue of “Time and Tide” there was published a letter from Dharam Yash DEV. In it he protested against the censorship of books exercised by the Government of India, with particular reference to Left Book Club literature. He contended that books not normally banned in India are seized by Customs when they are imported in the L.B.C. edition.

Precise date began unknown: 
Key Individuals' Details: 

Rajani Palme Dutt (on the LBC panel of speakers), Victor Gollancz (founder and publisher), Harold Laski (commissioning editor), Sheila Lynd (worked for LBC), Betty Reid (worked for LBC), Emile Burns (on selection committee), John Strachey (instrumental in foundation of Club and commissioning editor).


This note on Indian students in Britain involved in the Left Book Club is suggestive of the way in which left-wing networks transgressed cultural and ‘racial’ boundaries, bringing Indians and Britons together in pursuit of their political ideals. The censorship of LBC material in India is further indicative of the intersection of the Communist ideals associated with the Club and the anti-colonial ideologies that were a threat to the Government of India. The protest against this censorship by Indians in Britain emphasizes the importance of Britain as a site of anti-colonial activism by South Asians.


Ayana Angadi (Jaya Deva) (his Japan’s Kampf was an LBC book), Bhabani Bhattacharya (his So Many Hungers! was an LBC book), Miss Bonnerji (Indian branch of the LBC), Amiya Bose (Indian branch of the LBC), Ben Bradley, Stafford Cripps (instrumental in foundation of Club), Dharam Yash Dev (wrote a letter in the 22/5/37 issue of Time and Tide protesting against the Government of India censorship of LBC books), Promode Ranjan Sen Gupta (organized a Left Book Club discussion group for Indian students in London), Mahmud-us-Zaffar Khan (Nehru’s personal secretary – liaised with Gollancz in relation to his attempt to set up an LBC in India), Cecil Day Lewis (spoke at LBC meetings), Jawaharlal Nehru (supported Gollancz’s attempts to set up an LBC in India), George Orwell (his The Road to Wigan Pier and Homage to Catalonia were LBC books), Sylvia Pankhurst (spoke at LBC meetings), Santha Rama Rau (her Home to India was an LBC book), Paul Robeson (spoke at LBC meetings), Ellen Wilkinson (supporter of the LBC).

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1948
Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/504, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Papers of Sir Victor Gollancz, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick

Precise date ended unknown: 


Henrietta Street
London, WC2E 8PW
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

LBC national rally, Royal Albert Hall, London, February 1937

Conference on civil liberties in India, London, 17 October 1937

George Padmore


Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse, know as George Padmore, was born into an emerging black middle-class family in Trinidad in 1902. In 1924 he married Julia Semper and left for further education in the United States later that year. At first he studied at Fisk University, then moved on to New York University and later to Howard University, Washington, DC, in 1927. There he joined the Communist Party and adopted the name George Padmore.

In 1929, Padmore travelled to Moscow where he helped to organize the first International Conference of Negro Workers (1930). After Moscow, he briefly went to Vienna, Austria, where he met Rajani Palme Dutt. From 1931, he was based in Hamburg, Germany, where he edited the Negro Worker. He briefly visited London in 1932. In 1934, he asked W. E. B. Du Bois for help with organizing unity among people of African descent. After a fall-out with the Comintern, he re-located to London in 1935, where he became involved with, but never a member of, the Independent Labour Party, collaborating with Fenner Brockway and Reginald Reynolds. In 1935, he also became close friends with T. Subasinghe, who would later become ambassador of Ceylon in Russia. Padmore conducted political study classes for some colonial students, including Subasinghe. According to Subasinghe, Padmore went through a difficult time from 1935 to 1945.

In 1936, Padmore met K. D. Kumria, founder of the Swaraj House in Percy Street, at an Indian National Congress rally, and through Kumria came in contact with many members of the Indian National Congress in London. The ties between the two led to Swaraj House often becoming a venue for protest meetings of African groups. Padmore also became a close friend of Krishna Menon, who did not get along with Kumria.  At a meeting held at Swaraj House in 1944 to celebrate Nehru's 55th birthday, Padmore gave a speech in praise of Nehru's international outlook. In a letter to the editor of Socialist Leader, 28 February 1948, Padmore, Douglas Rogers of the British Centre for Colonial Freedom and Kundan Lal Jalie of Swaraj House announced that Swaraj House would henceforth be a general anti-colonial meeting place open to all groups. Apparently, Padmore held Indian national leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru and Subash Chandra Bose in high regard but because of his Marxist leanings he also pointed out the limitations of the leaders because of their bourgeois background.

In 1937, Padmore founded the International African Service Bureau and in late 1944, Padmore and others formed the Pan-African Federation, which was responsible for organizing the Pan-African Conference in October 1945 in Manchester. The Conference was attended by Padmore, Du Bois, Kwame Nkrumah and South Asians such as Surat Alley, N. Gangulee and T. Subasinghe. In 1946, Padmore and other well-known Pan-Africanists, such as Jomo Kenyatta and W. E. B. Du Bois, joined Krishna Menon's protest against the use of colonial troops in Indo-China and Burma.

In 1957, he published Pan-Africanism or Communism?, in which he expressed  gratitude to those who had supported his cause against racism and colonialism. Among them were Leonard Woolf and Shapurji Saklatvala, about whom he said: 'He was the one Indian who had no time for opportunistic trimmers and sycophants. The most independent-minded Communist ever. A Titoist before Tito!' (328). The same year, he moved to the newly independent Ghana where he became Kwame Nkrumah's personal adviser on African affairs. In Ghana, his health declined and in September 1959, on a medical visit to London, he died at University College Hospital in London.

Published works: 

The Life and Struggles of Negro Toilers (London, 1931)

'Ethiopia Today', 612-8; 'Pass Laws in South Africa', 807-9; 'How Britain Governs the Blacks', 809-13; 'White Man's Justice in Africa', 813-7, in Negro: Anthology Made by Nancy Cunard, 1931-1933, ed. by Nancy Cunard (London: Nancy Cunard, 1934)

How Britain Rules Africa (London: Wishart Books, 1936)

African and World Peace (London: Secker and Warburg, 1937)

White Man's Duty (London: W. H. Allen, 1942) (with Nancy Cunard)

(ed.), International African Service Bureau Publications (London, 1945)

(ed.), The Voice of Coloured People (Manchester: Panaf Service, 1945)

How Russia Transformed Her Colonial Empire: A Challenge to the Imperialist Powers (London: Dennis Dobson, 1946)

Colonial and Coloured Unity: History of the Pan-African Congress (Manchester: Pan-African Federation, 1947)

Africa: Britain's Third Empire (London: Dennis Dobson, 1949)

The Gold Coast Revolution: The Struggle of an African People from Slavery to Freedom (London: Dennis Dobson, 1953)

Pan-Africanism or Communism?: The Coming Struggle for Africa (London: Dennis Dobson, 1956)

Date of birth: 
28 Jul 1902

Surat Alley, Fenner Brockway (Independent Labour Party), Stafford Cripps (wrote the foreword to Padmore's Africa and World Peace (1937)), Cedric Dover, W. E. B. Du Bois, Rajani Palme Dutt, C. L. R. James, I. T. A. Wallace Johnson, Jomo Kenyatta, T. Subasinghe (helped organize the Pan-African Congress, Manchester, 1945), Krishna Menon, Harold Moody (League of Coloured Peoples), Reginald Reynolds, Shapurji Saklatvala.

Secondary works: 

Adi, Hakim, and Sherwood, Marika, The 1945 Manchester Pan-African Congress Revisited (London: New Beacon Books, 1995)

Callaghan, John, Rajani Palme Dutt: A Study in British Stalinism (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1993)

Fryer, Peter, Staying Power: The History of Black People in Britain (London: Pluto, 1984)

Geiss, Imanuel, The Pan-African Movement (London: Methuen, 1974)

Grimshaw, Anna, The C. L. R. James Reader (Oxford: Blackwell, 1992)

Hooker, James Ralph, Black Revolutionary: George Padmore's Path from Communism to Pan-Africanism (London: Pall Mall Press, 1967)

Howe, Stephen, 'Nurse, Malcolm Ivan Meredith [George Padmore] (1902-1959)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) []

James, C. L. R., 'George Padmore: Black Marxist Revolutionary', in C. L. R. James (ed.) At the Rendezvous of Victory: Selected Writings (London: Allison and Busby, 1984)

La Guerre, John, The Social and Political Thought of the Colonial Intelligentsia (Mona: Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of the West Indies, 1982)

Langley, Jabez Ayodele, Pan-Africanism and Nationalism in West Africa, 1900-1945: A Study in Ideology and Social Classes (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973)

Lewis, Rupert, and Baptiste, Fitzroy, George Padmore: Pan-African Revolutionary (Jamaica: Ian Randle Publishers, 2008)

Pennybacker, Susan D., From Scottsboro to Munich: Race and Political Culture in 1930s Britain (Princeton; Woodstock: Princeton University Press, 2009)

Ramdin, Ron, The Making of the Black Working Class in Britain (Aldershot: Gower, 1987)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain: 400 Years of History (London: Pluto, 2002)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/658, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Involved in events: 

Pan-African Congress, Manchester, 1945

City of birth: 
Arouca district
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Malcolm Ivan Meredith Nurse

Date of death: 
23 Sep 1959
Location of death: 
University College Hospital, London
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
01 Jan 1932
Precise 1st arrival date unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1932, 1935-57


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Guildford Street, London

22 Cranleigh Street, London, NW1

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