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

Penguin Books


Originally an imprint of the publishing firm Bodley Head, Penguin Books was established by Allen Lane in 1935 and pioneered the paperback book, bringing affordable fiction and non-fiction to the British public.

V. K. Krishna Menon worked as general editor on the Pelican list from its inception in 1936 until 1938. Accounts of the extent and nature of his involvement in this non-fiction imprint vary, but it is generally acknowledged that he played a significant part in its establishment. In a 1967 history of the company, Victor Weybright describes Menon visiting Lane in the crypt (Penguin’s first premises) with written permission from Bernard Shaw for Penguin to publish a paperback edition of his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism. Lane, who had, by coincidence, just overheard a customer in a shop mistakenly referring to a Penguin as a ‘Pelican’ and been struck by the appeal of this as an additional brand name, immediately decided to publish Shaw’s work as the first title of the brand-new Pelican list. Appointing Menon as general editor, Lane also asked the economist H. L. Beales and W. E. Williams, Secretary of the British Institute for Adult Education, to join the team as editorial advisors. The list, which consisted of paperback editions of existing titles as well as original titles, crossed disciplinary boundaries, extending from art to history to politics to science, and included work by eminent writers and scholars such as H. G. Wells, Harold Laski, Roger Fry, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell and Sigmund Freud.

Correspondence between Menon and Lane throughout 1938 documents the gradual deterioration of the relationship between the two men and the eventual ejection of Menon from the company in December 1938. Penguin published K. S. Shelvankar’s controversial The Problem of India in 1941. Fiercely critical of the colonial government in India and considered to be dangerously polemical, the book was banned in India. Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable and Coolie were published in paperback by Penguin in 1940 and 1945, respectively, and in 1944 a second edition of US-based Indian author Dham Gopal Mukerji’s award-winning Gay-Neck was published by Puffin Story Books.

Published works: 

The first 30-40 titles of the Pelican list were edited by V. K. Krishna Menon. These are:

Allen, F. L., Only Yesterday (1)

Allen, F. L., Only Yesterday (2)

Bell, Clive, Civilization

Cole, G. D. H., Practical Economics

Cole, G. D. H., Socialism in Evolution

Crowther, J. G., An Outline of the Universe (1)

Crowther, J. G., An Outline of the Universe (2)

Dobree, Bonamy and Manwaring, G. E., The Floating Republic

Fabre, J. H., Social Life in the Insect World

Freud, Sigmund, Psychopathology of Everyday Life

Fry, Roger, Vision and Design

Haldane, J. B. S., The Inequality of Man

Halevy, Elie, A History of the English People in 1815 (1)

Halevy, Elie, A History of the English People in 1815 (2)

Halevy, Elie, A History of the English People in 1815 (3)

Harrison, G. B. (ed.), A Book of English Poetry: Chaucer to Rossetti

Harrison, G. B., Introducing Shakespeare

Huxley, Julian, Essays in Popular Science

Huxley Julian, et al., We Europeans

Jeans, James, The Mysterious Universe

Lambert, R. S., Art in England

Laski, Harold, Liberty in the Modern State

Massingham, H. J. and Hugh (eds), The Great Victorians (1)

Perry, W. J., The Growth of Civilization

Power, Eileen, Medieval People

Shaw, George Bernard, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism and Sovietism (1)

Shaw, George Bernard, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism and Sovietism (2)

Stapledon, Olaf, Last and First Men

Sullivan, J. W. N., Limitations of Science

Sullivan, J. W. N., The Bases of Modern Science

Tawney, R. H., Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

Webb, Beatrice, My Apprenticeship

Wells, H. G., A Short History of the World (reissued in Pelican after appearing in Penguin series)

Whitehead, A. N., Science and the Modern World

Woolf, Leonard, After the Deluge

Woolley, Leonard, Digging up the Past

Woolley, Leonard, Ur of the Chaldees

Titles by South Asian writers published by Penguin are:

Anand, Mulk Raj, Untouchable (Penguin, 1940; first published by Lawrence & Wishart, 1935)

Anand, Mulk Raj, Coolie (Penguin, 1945; first published by Lawrence & Wishart, 1936)

Mukerji, Dham Gopal, Gay-Neck (Puffin Story Books, 1944; first published by J. M. Dent, 1928)

Shelvankar, K. S., The Problem of India (Penguin Specials, 1940)


Letter from Mulk Raj Anand to Mr Maynard of Penguin, dated 20 October 1940, Penguin Books Archive, University of Bristol

Secondary works: 

Edwards, Russell and Hare, Steve (eds), Pelican Books: A Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration (Miscellany 12, Penguin Collectors' Society, 1997)

George, T. J. S., Krisha Menon: A Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963)

Hare, Steve (ed.), Penguin Portrait: Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors, 1935-1970 (London: Penguin, 1995)

Lewis, Jeremy, Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane (London: Penguin, 2005)

Penguin Books, Penguins Progress, 1935-60 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960)

Weybright, Victor, The Making of a Publisher (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1968)


The editorial files of Anand's Untouchable contain letters between the author and Penguin staff, suggesting a good relationship with Allen Lane and Eunice Frost. Anand's view of the political function of literature is evident from some of the content of the correspondence, as is his involvement with a range of literary and cultural projects and events in Britain.

Date began: 
01 Aug 1935

Italics seem, from my experience, to confuse the English reader and to increase the gulf between him and my alien subject matter, when all my efforts are calculated to show, not how queer the Indians are but how human and like everyone else, in spite of these particular horrors.

Precise date began unknown: 
Key Individuals' Details: 


Anand's request for Penguin to romanize the foreign words in his novel is a strikingly early example of an editorial debate more commonly associated with the late twentieth century. His rationale for this request underlines his belief in the social and political function of literature.


Mulk Raj Anand, H. L. Beales, Clive BellBonamy Dobree, Sigmund Freud, Eunice Frost, Roger Fry, H. B. S. Haldane, Allen Lane, Harold Laski, Ethel Mannin, Aubrey Menen, V. K. Krishna Menon, Peter Chalmers Mitchell, Dham Gopal Mukerji, Bernard Shaw, K. S. Shelvankar, Beatrice Webb, H. G. Wells, Leonard Woolf, W. E. Williams.

Archive source: 

Penguin Books Archive, University of Bristol


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