political activism

Naomi Mitchison


Naomi Mitchison [née Haldane] was a Scottish novelist and social activist. Born in Edinburgh into a wealthy and well-established family, she was brought up in Oxford, where her physiologist father, John Scott Haldane, was a Fellow. In 1916, she married the barrister Gilbert Richard (Dick) Mitchison (later Labour MP and life peer). The couple’s main residence from 1923 to 1939, the River Court house on the Mall in Hammersmith in London, became a lively intellectual centre, frequented by a wide circle of artists, writers, politicians and working-class friends. Among her many friends were Aldous Huxley, Wyndham Lewis, W. H. Auden, and E. M. Forster.

In 1930, she joined the Labour party with her husband, and became an active political campaigner throughout the 1930s. In 1932, she took part in a Fabian Society expedition to the Soviet Union, and in 1934 went to Vienna to assist the socialists who were being persecuted by the Austrian government. She also stood unsuccessfully for election as a Labour Party candidate for the Scottish Universities in 1935. In 1939, she moved to Carradale, Scotland, and became involved in the Scottish renaissance. In the 1960s, she was adopted by the African tribe of Bakgatla, Linchwe, as their councillor and ‘mother’ and wrote many books on them.

In 1934, Mitchison was introduced to Jawaharlal Nehru at King’s Norton, Birmingham, and later that year, she set up a meeting in London between the Labour politician Strafford Cripps and Nehru. After Indian independence, Mitchison visited the Subcontinent several times to spend time with her daughter Sonia Lois, who went to Pakistan to be a teacher. Her brother, the famous geneticist, J. B. S. Haldane, also migrated to India in 1957. Mitchison visited him in 1958.

Published works: 

The Conquered (London: Cape; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1923) [novel]

When the Bough Breaks and Other Stories (London: Cape; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1924) [short stories]

Cloud Cuckoo Land (London: Cape, 1925; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1926) [novel]

The Laburnum Branch (London: Cape, 1926) [poetry]

Anna Comnena (London: Gerald Howe, 1928)

Black Sparta: Greek Stories (London: Cape, 1928; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1928) [short stories]

Barbarian Stories (London: Cape, 1929; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929) [short stories]

Nix-Nought-Nothing: Four Plays for Children (London: Cape, 1928; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929) [play]

Comments on Birth Control (London: Faber & Faber, 1930)

The Hostages and Other Stories for Boys and Girls, illustrated by Logi Southby (London: Cape, 1930; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931) [children’s book]

Boys and Girls and Gods (London: Watts, 1931) [children’s book]

Kate Crackernuts: A Fairy Play (Oxford: Alden Press, 1931) [play]

The Corn King and the Spring Queen (London: Cape, 1931; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1931) [novel]

The Price of Freedom (London: Cape, 1931) [play]

The Powers of Light (London: Cape, 1932; New York: Peter Smith, 1932) [novel]

The Delicate Fire: Short Stories and Poems (London: Cape, 1933; New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1933) [short stories]

The Home and a Changing Civilization (London: John Lane, 1934)

Vienna Diary (London: Gollancz, 1934; New York: Smith & Haas, 1934)

(with Wyndham Lewis) Beyond This Limit (London: Cape, 1935) [novel]

We Have Been Warned (London: Constable, 1935; New York: Vanguard, 1936) [novel]

The Fourth Pig: Stories and Verses (London: Constable, 1936) [short stories]

An End and a Beginning and Other Plays (London: Constable, 1937) [play]

(with Richard Crossman) Socrates (London: Hogarth Press, 1937; Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole, 1938)

The Moral Basis of Politics (London: Constable, 1938; Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1971)

As It Was In The Beginning (London: Cape, 1939) [play]

The Alban Goes Out (Harrow, Middlesex: Raven Press, 1939) [poetry]

The Blood of the Martyrs (London: Constable, 1939; New York: McGraw-Hill, 1948) [novel]

The Kingdom of Heaven (London: Heinemann, 1939)

(ed. with Robert Britton and George Kilgour) Re-Educating Scotland (Glasgow: Scoop Books, 1944)

The Bull Calves (London: Cape, 1947) [novel]

(with Denis Macintosh) Men and Herring: A Documentary (Edinburgh: Serif, 1949)

The Big House (London: Faber & Faber, 1950) [short stories]

Spindrift. A play in three acts (London: Samuel French, 1951) [play]

Lobsters on the Agenda (London: Gollancz, 1952) [novel]

Travel Light (London: Faber & Faber, 1952) [novel]

Graeme and the Dragon, illustrated by Pauline Baynes (London: Faber & Faber, 1954) [children’s book]

The Swan's Road, illustrated by Leonard Huskinson (London: Naldrett Press, 1954) [children’s book]

To the Chapel Perilous (London: Allen & Unwin, 1955) [novel]

The Land the Ravens Found, illustrated by Brian Allderidge (London: Collins, 1955) [children’s book]

Little Boxes, illustrated by Louise Annand (London: Faber & Faber, 1956) [children’s book]

Behold Your King (London: Muller, 1957) [novel]

The Far Harbour, illustrated by Martin Thomas (London: Collins, 1957) [children’s book]

Five Men and a Swan: Short Stories and Poems (London: Allen & Unwin, 1958) [short stories]

Other People's Worlds (London: Secker & Warburg, 1958) [children’s book]

Judy and Lakshmi, illustrated by Avinash Chandra (London: Collins, 1959) [children’s book]

(with G. W. L. Patterson) A Fishing Village on the Clyde (London: Oxford University Press, 1960)

The Rib of the Green Umbrella, illustrated by Edward Ardizzone (London: Collins, 1960) [children’s book]

The Young Alexander the Great, illustrated by Betty Middleton-Sandford (London: Parrish, 1960; New York: Roy, 1961) [children’s book]

Karensgaard: The Story of a Danish Farm (London: Collins, 1961) [children’s book]

Presenting Other People’s Children (London: Paul Hamlyn, 1961)

Memoirs of a Spacewoman (London: Gollancz, 1962) [novel]

The Young Alfred the Great, illustrated by Shirley Farrow (London: Parrish, 1962; New York: Roy, 1963) [children’s book]

What the Human Race is up to (London: Victor Gollancz, 1962) (editor)

The Fairy Who Couldn't Tell a Lie, illustrated by Jane Paton (London: Collins, 1963) [children’s book]

Alexander the Great, illustrated by Rosemary Grimble (London: Longmans, Green, 1964) [children’s book]

Henny and Crispies (Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, 1964) [children’s book]

When We Become Men (London: Collins, 1965) [novel]

Ketse and the Chief, illustrated by Christine Bloomer (London: Nelson, 1965; New York: Nelson & Nashville, 1967) [children’s book]

A Mochudi Family, illustrated by Stephen John (Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, 1965) [children’s book]

Friends and Enemies, illustrated by Caroline Sassoon (London: Collins, 1966; New York: Day, 1968) [children’s book]

Return to the Fairy Hill (London: Heinemann, 1966; New York: Day, 1966)

Highland Holiday, photographs by John K. Wilkie (Wellington, New Zealand: Department of Education, 1967) [children’s book]

The Big Surprise (London: Kaye & Ward, 1967) [children’s book]

African Heroes, illustrated by William Stobbs (London: Bodley Head, 1968; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1969) [children’s book]

Don't Look Back, illustrated by Laszlo Acs (London: Kaye & Ward, 1969) [children’s book]

The Family at Ditlabeng, illustrated by Joanna Stubbs (London: Collins, 1969; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1970) [children’s book]

Sun and Moon, illustrated by Barry Wilkinson (London: Bodley Head, 1970; Nashville: Nelson, 1973) [children’s book]

The Africans: A History (London: Blond, 1970)

Cleopatra's People (London: Heinemann, 1972) [novel]

A Life for Africa: The Story of Bram Fischer (London: Merlin Press, 1973; Boston: Carrier Pigeon, 1973)

The Danish Teapot, illustrated by Patricia Frost (London: Kaye & Ward, 1973) [children’s book]

Small Talk: Memories of an Edwardian Childhood (London: Bodley Head, 1973)

Sunrise Tomorrow (London: Collins, 1973; New York: Farrar, Straus, 1973)

Oil for the Highlands? (London: Fabian Society, 1974)

All Change Here: Girlhood and Marriage (London: Bodley Head, 1975)

Sittlichkeit (London: Birkbeck College, 1975) [children’s book]

Solution Three (London: Dobson, 1975; New York: Warner, 1975) [novel]

Snake!, illustrated by Polly Loxton (London: Collins, 1976) [children’s book]

The Little Sister, with works by Ian Kirby and Keetla Masogo, illustrated by Angela Marrow (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1976) [children’s book]

(with Megan Biesele) The Wild Dogs, illustrated by Loxton (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1977) [children’s book]

The Brave Nurse and Other Stories, illustrated by Loxton (Cape Town: Oxford University Press, 1977) [children’s book]

The Cleansing of the Knife and Other Poems (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1978) [poetry]

(with Dick Mitchison) The Two Magicians, illustrated by Danuta Laskowska (London: Dobson, 1978) [children’s book]

You May Well Ask: A Memoir 1920-1940 (London: Gollancz, 1979)

Images of Africa (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1980) [short stories]

The Vegetable War, illustrated by Loxton (London: Hamish Hamilton, 1980) [children’s book]

Mucking Around: Five Continents Over Fifty Years (London: Gollancz, 1981)

What Do You Think Yourself? Scottish Short Stories (Edinburgh: Harris, 1982) [short stories]

Not By Bread Alone (London: Boyars, 1983) [novel]

Among You, Taking Notes: The Wartime Diary of Naomi Mitchison 1939-1945, ed. by Dorothy Sheridan (London: Gollancz, 1985)

Naomi Mitchison (Saltire Self-Portrait; Edinburgh: Saltire Society, 1986)

Early in Orcadia (Glasgow: Drew, 1987) [short stories]

A Girl Must Live: Stories and Poems (Glasgow: Drew, 1990) [short stories]

The Oath-takers (Narin: Balnain, 1991) [novel]

Sea-Green Ribbons (Narin: Balnain, 1991) [novel]


Naomi Mitchison, Mucking Around: Five Continents Over Fifty Years (London: Gollancz, 1981), 89-90, 101.

Date of birth: 
01 Nov 1897

Mitchison describes her experience of visiting India.


Joe Ackerley, Horace Alexander, W. H. Auden, Tom Baxter, Stella Benson, Henry Noel Brailsford, Jonathan Cape, Margaret Cole, Douglas Cole, Stafford Cripps, Krishna R. Dronamraju, Hugh Gaitskell, E. M. Forster, Victor Gollancz, Norman Haire, Graeme Haldane, J. B. S. Haldane, Tom Harrisson, Gerald Heard, Aldous Huxley, Julian Huxley, Storm Jameson, C. E. M. Joad, Andrew Lang, Harold Laski, Doris Lessing, Cecil Day Lewis, Wyndham Lewis, Bronislaw Malinowski, Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, Gilbert Murray, E. M. S. Namboodiripad, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gilbert Richard Mitchison, John Pilley, Horace Plunkett, Lady Rhondda, George Bernard Shaw, Stevie Smith, Olaf Stapledon, Dora Russell, Khushwant Singh, Osbert Sitwell, Dylan Thomas, Beatrice Webb, Rebecca West, Leonard Woolf.

Labour Party, World Peace Appeal (vice-chair).

Contributions to periodicals: 

Left Review

Liberal Woman’s News

New Republic

New Statesman


Journal of Modern African Studies

Modern Scot

Scots Magazine

Time and Tide

Twentieth Century

Woman’s Leader

Time and Tide (‘Anna and the Apes’, 19 July 1930) [review of The Apes of God by Wyndham Lewis]

Nash’s Pall Mall Magazine (‘Forty Years of Aldous Huxley’, 93.491, 1934)

Spectator (‘What does a Socialist woman do?’, 156.5616, 14 February 1936)

Current History (‘Leaders of British Labour’, 44.1, 1936)

Pakistan Horizon (‘Socialist Britain’, 4.1, 1951)

New Statesman and Nation (‘Banned Bodies’, 45, 7 March 1953)

Manchester Guardian (‘Sitting for Wyndham Lewis’, 9 July 1956)

New Statesman (‘India from Inside’, 56.1443, 8 Nov 1958) [review of Taya Zinkin, India Changes]

Listener (‘Free Fun in New Delhi’ 60.1546, 13 November 1958)

Cairo Studies in English (‘On Writing Historical Novels’, 1960)

The Glasgow Herald (‘Passages to India’, 8 June 1961) [reviews of Ved Mehta, Walking the Indian Streets; Peter Schmid, India: Mirage and Reality; Selig Harrison (ed.), India and the United States]

Harper’s Magazine (‘A Scottish Mother for an African Tribe’, 233.1396, 1966)

Community Development Journal (‘What community development is not’, 5, January 1967)

Shenandoah (‘Young Auden’, 18.2, 1967)


Charques, R. D., TLS, 28 April 1935, p.  270 (We have been Warned)

Wintringham, Thomas Hardy,  Left Review, June 1935, pp. 381-3 (We have been Warned)

Sparrow, John, Spectator, 7 February 1936, pp. 209-210 (We have been Warned)

The Hindu (Madras), 9 August 1959 (Judy and Lakshmi)


In the laboratory there were visitors from other countries. Once it was Ho Chi Minh, and Professor Mahalanobis insisted on marshalling us in lines to be shaken hands with. This displeased my brother; he and a Russian colleague – could it have been Oparin? – and Helen and I all went for a walk through the grounds instead of standing in line and met Ho Chi Minh with less formality later…
India and all its memories: one especially remains. I had walked round the garden of the Prime Minister’s house with Jawaharlal Nehru. We had I suppose talked politics, though simply being with him was always great happiness in itself. Then we went to see his pandas. He bent over stroking them; I tried to do the same but they didn’t like me. ‘Wait’, he said, and spoke to them. Then it was all right; I was properly introduced and allowed to touch. One of them had recently had a night out, ‘and had’, he said, I thought approvingly, ‘bitten a policeman’.

Secondary works: 

Benton, Jill, Naomi Mitchison: A Biography (London: Pandora Press, 1990)

Calder, Jennu, The Nine Lives of Naomi Mitchison (London: Virago, 1997)

Joannou, Maroula, ‘Naomi Mitchison at One Hundred’, Women: A Cultural Review 9.3 (Autumn 1998), pp. 292-304

Leavis, Q. D., ‘Lady novelists and the lower orders’, Scrutiny 4.2 (Sept 1935), pp. 112–32

Montefiore, Jan, Men and Women Writers of the 1930s (London and New York: Routledge, 1996)



In 1958, Mitchison visited her brother, J. B. S. Haldane, who was working in the Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta. Haldane was a committed communist, and Mitchison witnesses international networks which her brother was creating in India. Mitchison does not specify in which year she visited Nehru, but the extract gives an interesting insight into her relationship with, and admiration of Nehru.

Archive source: 

Lady Naomi Mitchison, Botswana papers, diaries and writings,  Borthwick Institute of Historical Research,York University

Correspondence, diaries, literary manuscripts, family papers, Manuscript Collections, National Library of Scotland, Edinburgh

Letters from E. M. Forster to Naomi Mitchison and Mitchison’s Memoir, Papers of Edward Morgan Forster, King’s College Archive Centre, Cambridge

Correspondence and literary papers, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center Library, University of Texas, Austin

Correspondence with  Bodley Head, University of Reading Library, Reading

Correspondence and literary papers, Buffalo State College, Buffalo,State University of New York

Naomi Mitchison Papers 1909-1979, Archive Collections, Columbia University Library, New York

1914-45: Correspondence, Imperial War Museum Department of Documents, London

Papers relating to Botswana (1964-74), SOAS, London

Letters to the Manchester Guardian (1949-54), John Rylands Library, University of Manchester

Correspondence and papers relating to visit to Australia, University of Melbourne, Australia

Letters to Olaf Stapledon (1936-50), Special Collections and Archives, Liverpool Unviersity

Correspondence with Julian Huxley, Julian Huxley Papers 1899-1980, Fondren Library, Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Naomi Margaret (Haldane) Mitchison

Date of death: 
11 Jan 1999
Location of death: 
Carradale, Scotland

River Court House, Mall Road, Hammersmith, London (1923-39)

Carradale in Kintyre (1939-99)

Said Amir Shah


Said Amir Shah was a London-based silk merchant and warehouseman. He ran a business with his brother Fazal Shah on White Church Lane, and held a shop at 36 Montague Street. He also worked as a contractor for film companies, finding Indians (predominantly former lascars and hawkers) for crowd scenes, and in 1942 founded a company named Shah Film Corporation with John Kartar Singh and Herbert Bundy as his co-directors. A highly resourceful individual, during his time in Britain Shah was involved in a number of anti-colonial organizations and activities. Indeed, V. K. Krishna Menon reportedly cultivated Shah because of his connections, especially with working-class Indians in the East End of London.

Government officials first became aware of Shah through his involvement with the London branch of the Indian National Congress in the 1930s. After a brief period of involvement with the East End branch of Menon’s India League, he went on to become a prominent figure in the Committee of Indian Congressmen (led by Amiya Nath Bose and Pulin Behari Seal), under whose auspices he created an Indian National Muslim Committee which was strongly anti-Pakistan. He also aided lascars in their struggle for workers’ rights, acting as a court interpreter for those involved in criminal cases, and was an active member of the Hindustani Social Club.

In addition, Shah was a leading figure in the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin; in the 1940s he held the post of treasurer, and, according to government reports, he was responsible for opening various provincial branches of the organization in Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow. Shah campaigned for a mosque to serve the Muslim community in the East End of London, and was instrumental in the foundation of the East London Mosque in 1941. He made a speech at its inauguration ceremony, and played a leading role in its management and affairs subsquently. He was the main agitator on behalf of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin in its struggle against the trustees for control over the mosque in 1943.


L/PJ/12/468, India Office Records, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, pp. 278-80


This Indian Political Intelligence file comprises documentation and correspondence relating to Indian Muslim organizations and activity in Britain during the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. It includes reports on the activities and establishment of mosques in London, including the Shah Jahan Mosque, the East London Mosque, and the Regent’s Park Mosque.


Ayub Ali (through East London Mosque), Surat Alley (through Hindustani Social Club), Mulk Raj Anand (through Hindustani Social Club), Tarapadu Basu (attended Jamiat protest meeting against ELM trustees), Amiya Nath Bose (through Committee of Indian Congressmen), G. S. Dara (accountant for Shah Bros), Dr Dutt (through India League), Sir Ernest Hotson (through East London Mosque), Kundan Lal Jalie (through East End connections), C. L. Katial (through India League), Kalundar Amirullah Khan (through Committee of Indian Congressmen), Sahibdad Khan (through East London Mosque, Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and Hindustani Social Club), V. K. Krishna Menon (through India League), Firoz Khan Noon (through East London Mosque), Hassan Nachat Pasha (Egyptian Ambassador – through East London Mosque), Ahmed Din Qureshi (through Hindustani Social Club), S. M. Sayeedulla (through East London Mosque), Pulin Behari Seal (through Committee of Indian Congressmen, Krishnarao Shelvankar (through Jamiat and ELM dispute), I. G. P. Singh (attended Jamiat protest meeting against ELM trustees), John Kartar Singh (formed Shah Film Corporation with Shah, and through Hindustani Social Club), Hassan Suhrawardy (through the East London Mosque), Sir Frederick Sykes (through East London Mosque), C. B. Vakil (through India League).

Shah Film Corporation

Precise DOB unknown: 

It is now clear that from 1941 onwards, SHAH has been trying to work himself up to a position of leadership in Moslem circles in this country. It is highly improbable that he has any religious motives in the matter, but desires to strengthen his hand as uncrowned king amongst Indian merchants, peddlers and seamen in the East End and in Provincial towns. In October 1941, when the East London Mosque was opened, he commented to the effect that it was not the Mosque he wanted, but it would have its uses. Shortly afterwards he was one of two members of the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin co-opted onto the Board of Trustees of the Mosque and the Mosque Fund, and thereafter campaigned strenuously to obtain control, through the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin, of the Mosque and the Fund.


First, this extract points to the fact that Muslim South Asians in Britain during the early twentieth century identified in terms of their religious faith as well as in terms of a broader Indian identity. Further, it suggests the presence of a burgeoning Muslim working-class community in the East End of London – a precursor to the significant Bangladeshi community that inhabits the area today. Finally, Shah’s connections with and leadership of ‘Indian merchants, peddlers and seamen’ coupled with his involvement with the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and the East London Mosque suggest an intersection of the political and religious spheres for Muslims in 1940s Britain – and an attempt on Shah’s part to mobilize this community for the right to practise their faith within the public sphere.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/455, India Office Records, Asian and Afridan Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/468, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

L/PJ/12/646, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Involved in events: 

Inauguration of the East London Mosque, 1941

Dispute between the Jamiat-ul-Muslimin and the Board of Trustees of the East London Mosque, 1943

Opening of the East End branch of the India League, 1943

City of birth: 
Amritsar, Punjab
Country of birth: 


Montague Street
London, EC2Y 8BB
United Kingdom
51° 31' 3.3312" N, 0° 5' 52.818" W
White Church Lane
London, E1 7QR
United Kingdom
51° 30' 55.7388" N, 0° 4' 8.1732" W
Precise date of death unknown: 
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

1930s - 1940s

C. L. R. James


C. L. R. James was born in Caroni, Trinidad, to Robert Alexander James and Ida Elizabeth Rudder. The family moved to Tunapuna, where James' friend Malcolm Nurse (George Padmore) lived. After graduating from Queen’s Royal College he pursued a writing career, publishing the short story ‘La Divina Pastora’ in 1927. At a similar time, he befriended the cricketer Learie Constantine, who moved to England in 1929. On his arrival in England in early 1932 James stayed with Constantine in Nelson, Lancashire, before moving to London in 1933.

James' collection of essays written for the Port of Spain Gazette shortly after his arrival in Britain (published as Letters from London, 2003) indicate his position on the fringes of the Bloomsbury Group. In London, he was invited to join the Friends of India Society and to lecture on any subject connected with the West Indies at the Indian Students’ Central Association. James also attended several meetings of the India League. He began to read the work of Marx, Lenin, Engels and Trotsky and merged his interest in black politics with Marxist theory. He joined the League of Coloured Peoples, which also had a South Asian membership at this point, and wrote for their journal The Keys. He associated with other black anti-colonialists of the time, such as George Padmore, Amy Ashwood Garvey and Ras Makonnen. As a Trotskyist, James attracted the attention of the Metropolitan Police Special Branch. A 1937 Special Branch report shows that James was a regular visitor to Balkrishna Gupta, an Indian Trotskyist who was reportedly linked to Nehru. In 1938, James was living with Ajit Mookerjee (Ajit Roy), a Trotskyist law student at LSE and friend of Gupta, on Boundary Road, London. James and Mookerjee formed the Marxist Group in 1935 and later the Revolutionary Socialist League. In 1936, James' play Toussaint L’Ouverture was staged at the Westminster Theatre with Paul Robeson in the title role. James was also the cricket reporter for the Manchester Guardian from 1933 to 1935 and the Glasgow Herald in 1936. He was a fan of cricketer Kumar Shri Ranjitsinhji and wrote about him both in his journalism and at length in his work Beyond a Boundary (1963).

In 1938, James left Britain for the United States where he stayed for the next fifteen years. In 1952, he was interned at Ellis Island for passport violations, and upon release in 1953 he went back to England before relocating to Trinidad in 1958. In 1962, he returned once again to England, settling in London for the majority of his remaining years. He died in his Brixton home on 31 May 1989.

Published works: 

(with Learie Nicholas Constantine) Cricket and I (London: Philip Allen, 1933)

The Life of Captain Cipriani: An Account of British Government in the West Indies (Nelson: Coulton & Co., Ltd, 1932)

The Case for West-Indian Self-Government (London: L. & V. Woolf, 1933)

Minty Alley: A Novel (London: M. Secker & Warburg, 1936)

World Revolution, 1917-1936: The Rise and Fall of the Communist International (London: M. Secker & Warburg, 1937)

The Black Jacobins: Toussaint L’Ouverture and the San Domingo Revolution (London: Secker & Warburg, 1938)

A History of Negro Revolt (London, 1938)

Mariners, Renegades and Castaways: The Story of Herman Melville and the World We Live In (New York: C. L. R. James, 1953)

Every Cook Can Govern: A Study of Democracy in Ancient Greece (Detroit: Correspondence Publishing, 1956)

Modern Politics (Port of Spain: printed by the P. N. M. Publishing Company, 1960)

Beyond a Boundary (London: Hutchinson, 1963)

Wilson Harris: A Philosophical Approach (Port-of-Spain: University of the West Indies, 1965)

C. L. R. James, etc. (Madison, Wisconsin, 1970)

(with F. Forest and Ria Stone) The Invading Socialist Society (Detroit: Bewick Editions, 1972)

(with Grace C. Lee, and Pierre Chaulieu) Facing Reality (Detroit: Bewick/Ed, [1958] 1974)

Toussaint L’Ouverture (1936). Published as The Black Jacobins in A Time and Season: 8 Caribbean Plays, ed. by Errol Hill (Trinidad: University of the West Indies Extra-Mural Unit, 1976)

The Future in the Present: Selected Writings (London: Allison & Busby, 1977)

Nkrumah and the Ghana Revolution (London: Allison & Busby, 1977)

(with George Breitman, Edgar Keemer and others) Fighting Racism in World War II (New York and London: Pathfinder, 1980)

Notes on Dialectics: Hegel, Marx, Lenin (London: Allison & Busby, 1980)

Spheres of Existence: Selected Writings (London: Allison & Busby, 1980)

At the Rendezvous of Victory: Selected Writings (London: Allison & Busby, 1984)

(with Margaret Busby and Darcus Howe) C. L. R. James’s 80th Birthday Lectures (London: Race Today, 1984)

(with Anna Grimshaw) Cricket (London: Allison & Busby, 1986)

(with Rana Dunayevskaya and Grace Lee) State Capitalism and World Revolution (Detroit: Facing Reality, 1969)

Walter Rodney and the Question of Power (London: Race Today, 1983)

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

(with Anna Grimshaw and Keith Hart) American Civilization (Cambridge, MA, and Oxford: Blackwell, 1993)

(with Scott McLemee and Paul Le Blanc) C. L. R. James and Revolutionary Marxism: Selected Writings of C. L. R. James, 1939-1949 (Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1994)

(with Scott McLemee) C. L. R. James on the 'Negro Question' (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996)

(with Anna Grimshaw) Special Delivery: The Letters of C. L. R. James to Constance Webb, 1939-1948 (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996)

(with Martin Glaberman) Marxism for Our Times: C. L. R. James on Revolutionary Organization (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999)

Letters from London: Seven Essays by C. L. R. James (Port of Spain: Prospect Press, 2003; Oxford: Signal Books, 2003)

(with David Austin) You Don’t Play with Revolution: The Montreal Lectures of C. L. R. James (Edinburgh: AK, 2009)


Bornstein, Sam and Richardson, Al, Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, 1924-38 (London: Socialist Platform, 1986), p. 263

Date of birth: 
04 Jan 1901

Here, the authors quote Ajit Mookerjee Roy on James' political convictions and their personal relationship.

Contributions to periodicals: 

The Keys


I had rarely come across a finer political polemicist than C. L. R. James. His attacks on Stalinism were absolutely devastating. He was then thinking in terms of building an independent Trotskyist party. I joined him readily. There was no doubt in my mind that all we had to do was to start with a clean slate. We had the answer to all the problems, and that the few of us would grow in the course of time into a mighty party. Now when I think of my faith in those days, I feel very amused.

Secondary works: 

Bogues, Anthony, Black Nationalism and Socialism (London: Socialists Unlimited for Socialists Workers’ Party, 1979)

Bogues, Anthony, Caliban’s Freedom: The Early Political Thought of C. L. R. James (London: Pluto Press, 1997)

Bornstein, Sam and Richardson, Al, Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain, 1924-38 (London: Socialist Platform, 1986)

Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James: His Life and Work (London: Allison & Busby, 1986)

Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James: The Artist as Revolutionary (London: Verso, 1988)

Cudjoe, Selwyn R. and Cain, William E., C. L. R. James: His Intellectual Legacies (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts, 1995)

Dhondy, Farrukh, C. L. R. James (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2001)

Ervin, Charles Wesley, 'Trotskyism in India: Part One: Origins Through World War Two (1935-45)', Revolutionary History 1.4 (Winter 1988-9), pp. 22-34

Farred, Grant, What’s My Name?: Black Vernacular Intellectuals (Minneapolis and London: University of Minnesota Press, 2003)

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

Grimshaw, Anna, The C. L. R. James Archive: A Reader's Guide (New York: C. L. R. James Institute and Cultural Correspondence, 1991)

Henry, Paget and Buhle, Paul, C. L. R. James's Caribbean (Durham: Duke University Press, 1992)

Howe, Stephen, 'James, Cyril Lionel Robert (1901-1989)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/59637]

Innes, C. L., A History of Black and Asian Writing in Britain, 2nd edn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008)

King, Nicole, C. L. R. James and Creolization: Circles of Influence (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2001)

McClendon, John H., C. L. R. James's Notes in Dialectics: Left Hegelianism or Marxism-Leninism? (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005)

Needham, Anuradha Dingwaney, Using the Master's Tools: Resistance and the Literature of the South Asian Diasporas (Basingstoke: Macmillan, 2000)

Nielsen, Aldon Lynn, C. L. R. James: A Critical Introduction (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997)

Nordquist, Joan, C. L. R. James: A Bibliography (Santa Cruz, CA: Reference and Research Services, 2001)

Ordaz, Martin, Home-Coming of a Famous Exile: C. L. R. James in Trinidad & Tobago (Trinidad & Tobago: Opus, 2003)

Ragoonath, Bishnu, Tribute to a Scholar: 'Appreciating C. L. R. James' (Kingston: Consortium Graduate School of Social Sciences, University of the West Indies, 1990)

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

Renton, Dave, C. L. R. James: Cricket's Philosopher King (London: Has, 2007)

Rosengarten, Frank, Urbane Revolutionary: C. L. R. James and the Struggle for a New Society (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2008)

Samoiloff, Louise Cripps, C. L. R. James: Memories and Commentaries (New York and London: Cornwall Books, 1997)

Somerville, Erin D., 'James, C. L. R. (1901-1989)', in The Oxford Companion to Black British History, ed. by David Dabydeen, John Gilmore and Cecily Jones (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), pp. 232-4

Sancho, T. Anson, CLR: The Man and His Work (1976)

Scott, David, Conscripts of Modernity: The Tragedy of Colonial Enlightenment (Durham: Duke University Press, 2004)

Stephens, Michelle Ann, Black Empire: The Masculine Global Imaginary of Caribbean Intellectuals in the United States, 1914-1962 (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005)

Worcester, Kent, C. L. R. James: A Political Biography (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1996)

Young, James, The World of C. L. R. James: The Unfragmented Vision (Glasgow: Clydeside Press, 1999)


This excerpt highlights the friendship between James and Ajit Mookerjee Roy. It is suggestive of the way in which left-wing anti-colonal political convictions linked members of different minority groups in Britain across cultural and 'racial' boundaries.

Archive source: 

'Cyril Lionel Robert James', Metropolitan Police Special Branch file, KV 2/1824, National Archives, Kew

Correspondence and papers, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, University of London

'C. L. R. James talks to Stuart Hall', Miras Productions, 30 April 1988, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

'A Tribute to C. L. R. James, 1901-1989', Banding Productions, 21 June 1989, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

Current footage affairs, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

Documentary footage, National Film and Television Archive, British Film Institute, London

Documentary recording, National Sound Archive, British Library, London

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Other names: 

Cyril Lionel Robert James

Date of death: 
31 May 1989
Location of death: 
Brixton, London
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
18 Mar 1932
Dates of time spent in Britain: 

March 1932 - October 1938, 1953-8, 1962-89


Boundary Road, London

Julius Silverman


Julius Silverman was a Labour politician and MP. He had a long-standing association with Indian organizations in Britain. He was chairman for the Birmingham branch of Krishna Menon's India League and also attended meetings of the Committee of Indian Congressmen. As a Birmingham councillor, Silverman took up the causes of the South Asian community in his ward and lobbied on their behalf. He was good friends with Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Nehru. Julius Silverman became President of the India League in 1947 and its Chairman in 1974.

Date of birth: 
08 Dec 1905
Secondary works: 

Dalyell, Tam, 'Obituary: Julius Silverman', The Independent (24 September 1996)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/448-456, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
21 Sep 1996
Location of death: 
Birmingham, England

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) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/57269]

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


Vauxhall Bridge Road, London

Guildford Street, London

22 Cranleigh Street, London, NW1

Tags for Making Britain: 

Subhas Chandra Bose


Having been schooled in Cuttack, Orissa, where his father worked as a lawyer, Subhas Chandra Bose went to Calcutta in 1913 and joined Presidency College. In 1916, Bose was expelled for his complicity in beating a college tutor, Professor Oaten, whom he had heard had manhandled some Indian students. Bose had been involved in student political groups in Calcutta and received much sympathy for his expulsion. He joined Scottish Church College and graduated in 1919 with a degree in philosophy.

Bose's father proposed to send him to England to study for the Indian Civil Service (ICS). Despite Bose's misgivings about accepting a job under the British Government, he set sail for England in September 1919. Upon arriving in Britain, Bose went up to Cambridge to gain admission. He managed to gain entry to Fitzwilliam Hall, a body for non-collegiate members of the University. Bose took the Mental and Moral Sciences Tripos and studied for the Civil Service exams. He attended the Cambridge Union Society debates and was a member of the Cambridge Majlis. He gave evidence to the Lytton Committee investigating Indian students in the UK, and appealed to the India Office to allow Indians to join the University Officers' Training Corps (without success).

In July 1920, Bose took the ICS exams in London and came fourth. Bose then faced a dilemma as to whether to take up this opportunity and sought advice from his family through correspondence to India. Finally in April 1921, Bose withdrew from taking up this post with the ICS and returned to India in the summer of 1921.

In Calcutta, Bose joined the Indian National Congress and worked with the Bengali leader C. R. Das. Bose was in and out of jail in the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s for his political action (often violent) against the British. In the meantime, he rose through the Congress ranks, working with Nehru, and became president of Congress in 1938. Successful again in 1939 against Gandhi's candidate, Bose then resigned over the selection of the working committee.

In 1941, Bose managed to leave India through Afghanistan. In 1943, Bose was in Japan and supported the Prime Minister's efforts to reconstitute the Indian National Army (INA) and set up the 'Azad Hind' or Free India provisional government. In 1944, the INA and Japanese invaded India but suffered a heavy defeat. Bose fled and was killed in a plane crash over Taiwan in August 1945 - although many of his followers remain(ed) doubtful as to the cause of his death, wondering if he had managed to escape the crash.

Published works: 

The Indian Struggle, 1920-1934 (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1935)

Other works, unpublished in his lifetime, can be found in the Collected Works published by the Netaji Research Bureau (see below)


Subhas Chandra Bose, An Indian Pilgrim (1937), ed. by Sisir K. Bose and Sugata Bose (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1997), p. 207.

Date of birth: 
23 Jan 1897

Letter to his brother, Sarat Chandra Bose, on 22 September 1920, from Leigh-on-Sea when on holiday.


Amiya Nath Bose (nephew), Sarat Chandra Bose (brother), K. L. Gauba (contemporary at Cambridge), George Lansbury, Dilip Kumar Roy (contemporary at Cambridge).

Indian National Army


Daily Herald (The Indian Struggle, 1935)

Manchester Guardian (The Indian Struggle, 1935)

News Chronicle (The Indian Struggle, 1935)

Spectator (The Indian Struggle, 1935)

The Sunday Times (The Indian Struggle, 1935)


I am here as a paying guest of Mr Bates's family. Mr Bates represents English character at its very best. He is cultured and liberal in his views and cosmopolitan in his sentiments. He is altogether unlike the ordinary run of Englishmen - who are proud, haughty and conceited and to whom everything that is non-English is bad. Mr Bates counts among his friends Russians, Poles, Lithuanians, Irishmen and members of other nationalities. He takes a great interest in Russian, Irish and Indian literature and admires the writings of Romesh Dutt and Tagore.

Secondary works: 

Bose, Sisir K., and Bose, Sugata (eds), Netaji: Collected Works (Calcutta: Netaji Research Bureau, 1980-2007)

Gordon, Leonard A., Brothers Against the Raj: A Biography of Indian Nationalists Sarat and Subhas Chandra Bose (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990)

Gordon, Leonard A., ‘Bose, Subhas Chandra (1897–1945)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/47756]

Roy, Dilip Kumar, The Subhas I Knew (Bombay: Nalanda, 1946)

Toye, Hugh, The Springing Tiger: A Study of a Revolutionary (London: Cassell, 1959)


In this letter Bose is referring to the different types of Englishmen he has met in his time in Britain. He is particularly appreciative of Mr Bates's character. The references to Dutt and Tagore also reveal how Indian literature had been taken into the homes of many English households.

Archive source: 

Netaji Research Bureau, Kolkata

Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, New Delhi

City of birth: 
Cuttack, Orissa
Country of birth: 
Other names: 



Fitzwilliam Hall,
Turpington Street
Cambridge, CB2 1RB
United Kingdom
52° 12' 1.6632" N, 0° 7' 10.6284" E
Date of death: 
18 Aug 1945
Precise date of death unknown: 
Location of death: 
Date of 1st arrival in Britain: 
25 Oct 1919
Dates of time spent in Britain: 



Fitzwilliam Hall, Trumpington Street, Cambridge

Tags for Making Britain: 

Progressive Writers' Association


The Progressive Writers’ Association was established in London in 1935 by Indian writers and intellectuals, with the encouragement and support of some British literary figures. It was in the Nanking Restaurant in central London that a group of writers, including Mulk Raj Anand, Sajjad Zaheer and Jyotirmaya Ghosh drafted a manifesto which stated their aims and objectives: ‘Radical changes are taking place in Indian society…We believe that the new literature of India must deal with the basic problems of our existence to-day – the problems of hunger and poverty, social backwardness, and political subjection. All that drags us down to passivity, inaction and un-reason we reject as re-actionary. All that arouses in us the critical spirit, which examines institutions and customs in the light of reason, which helps us to act, to organize ourselves, to transform, we accept as progressive’ (Anand, pp. 20-21). Comprising mainly Oxford, Cambridge and London university students, the group met once or twice a month in London to discuss and criticize articles and stories.

The PWA built on the foundation of the controversial collection of stories titled Anghare, published in 1932 and edited by Sajjad Zaheer, with contributions also from Ahmed Ali, Mahmuduzzafar and Rashid Jahan. This volume, which provoked considerable hostility in India and was eventually banned because of its political radicalism and also, according to some, obscenity, was influenced by the radical and literary avant-garde movements in Britain, where both Zaheer and Ali had spent some time studying.

In his memoirs, Zaheer claims the leftist writer Ralph Fox was particularly influential in encouraging the formal organization of the group in London. Anand and Zaheer’s attendance of the International Congress for the Defence of Culture in Paris on 21-6 June 1935, with its emphasis on freedom of expression and the interrelationship between art and society, was also an influence. On the peripheries of this congress, Anand went on to present an address at the Conference of the International Association of Writers for the Defence of Culture in London on 19-23 June 1936. The meeting was organized by the International Association of Writers for the Defence of Culture which aimed to stimulate translations and seek publication of works which were censored in the country of the author, as well as to set up a foundation for a world award, and fight, through culture, against war and fascism. Anand and Zaheer internalized much of what was said at these congresses which shaped the central issues of concern for the PWA.

In 1935, Zaheer left London for India via Paris taking the beginnings of the organization back to India for development. The All-India Progressive Writers’ Association had its official inaugural meeting in Lucknow on 9-10 April 1936, with the writer Premchand presiding. The organization continued to campaign for independence and advocate social equality through their writings. It was unfortunately riven by tensions between a desire to strengthen the links of the organization with Communism, and an opposition to this. Those in the latter camp, such as Ahmed Ali, voiced the dangers of the reduction of literature to a vehicle for propaganda. The PWA continued after independence but is said to have lost some of its energy in its later years.

Published works: 

New Indian Literature 1 (London, 1936)

Zaheer, Sajjad (ed.) Anghare (‘Burning Coals’) (1932)


Zaheer, Sajjad, ‘Reminiscences’, in S. Pradhan (ed.) Marxist Cultural Movement in India, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1979)

Other names: 

Progressive Writers' Group

All-India Progressive Writers' Association

Secondary works: 

Anand, Mulk Raj, ‘On the Progressive Writers’ Movement’, in S. Pradhan (ed.) Marxist Cultural Movement in India, Vol. 1 (Calcutta: National Book Agency, 1979)

Coppola, Carlo, ‘The All-India Progressive Writers Association: The European Phase’, in Coppola (ed.) Marxist Influences and South Asian Literature, Vol. 1 (Winter 1974; Asian Studies Center, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan), pp. 1-34

Gopal, Priyamvada, Literary Radicalism in India: Gender, Nation and the Transition to Independence (London and New York: Routledge, 2005)

Zaheer, Sajjad, The Light: The History of the Movement for Progressive Literature in the Indo-Pakistan Subcontinent (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006)


In this piece, Zaheer recalls the formation and development of the Progressive Writers’ Association.

Date began: 
24 Nov 1934

We knew from the beginning that living in London we could neither influence Indian literature nor create any good literature ourselves. Side by side with our realising the advantages of forming the association in London, this feeling was strengthened. A few exiled Indians could do little more than draw up plans among themselves and produce an orphanlike literature under the influence of European culture. The most important thing that we learnt in Europe was that a progressive writers’ movement could bear fruits only when it is propagated in various languages and when the writers of India realise the necessity of this movement and put into practice its aims and objects. The best that the London Association could do was to put us in contact with the progressive literary movements abroad, to represent Indian literature in the West and to interpret for India the thoughts of Western writers and the social problems which were profoundly influencing Western literature.

Key Individuals' Details: 

Ahmed Ali (founding member, contributed to Anghare), Mulk Raj Anand (founding member, drafted manifesto), Hajrah Begum, Prem Chand (first President), Ismat Chugtai, Anil D’Silva, Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Jyotirmaya Ghosh (founding member, helped to draft manifesto), Rashid Jahan (founding member, contributed to Anghare), Mahmuduzzafar (founding member, contributed to Anghare), Saadat Hasan Manto, Taseer (attended London meetings), Sajjad Zaheer (founding member, edited Anghare and helped to draft manfesto).


This passage outlines both the importance and the limitations of the location of the foundation of the PWA in London. London was formative to the Association in so far as the European avant-garde movement encountered there by its protagonists, as well as European political events (i.e., the rise of Fascism), instigated and helped to shape its development. Further, the distance of London from India arguably enabled the articulation of a more radical and critical politics than would have been possible within India. However, Zaheer’s notion of an ‘orphanlike’ literature, or a literature in exile, highlights the problematic detachment of the production in Britain of a socially and politically engaged Indian literature from its key concerns and preoccupations.


Suniti Kumar Chatterji, E. M. Forster, Ralph Fox, Attia Hosain, Aldous Huxley, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Herbert Read, John Strachey.

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1956
Precise date ended unknown: 


Nanking Restaurant
Denmark Street
London, WC2H 8LX
United Kingdom
Involved in events details: 

Founding meeting; Nanking Restaurant, London; 24 November 1934.

International Congress for the Defence of Culture, Paris; 21-6 June 1935 (Anand and Zaheer attend; formative to aims of association).

Official inauguration of the All-India Progressive Writers’ Association, Lucknow, April 1936.

Conference of International Association of Writers for the Defence of Culture, London; 19-23 June 1936 (Anand presents address).

Oriental Press Service


The Oriental Press Service was established in 1926 by Pulin Behari Seal, a journalist and radical political activist. He was assisted in this venture by M. G. Desai and Gurdit Singh Dara, both of whom had, like Seal, Communist connections. In 1928, there were plans to amalgamate the Service with a similar news service run by Vishnu R. Karandikar, but this did not appear to have come to fruition. The Service’s stated purpose was to supply Indian news to the British, and British news to Indians. However, surveillance reports claim that Seal set up the business mainly for political ends, securing interviews with Indians on official business in London then proceeding to critique them in radical newspapers in both Britain and India. According to reports, the office on the premises of the Oriental Press Service was used mainly for the meetings of Indian ‘extremists’. It was not a lucrative business and was eventually liquidated in 1938.


L/PJ/12/186, India Office Records, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras, p. 63

Secondary works: 

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


This Indian Political Intelligence file contains reports on the movements and activities of the journalist and radical political activist Pulin Behari Seal, who founded the Oriental Press Service. The following extract is from a New Scotland Yard report dated 29 April 1931.

Date began: 
01 Jan 1926

 [Seal] still rents an office at Chronicle House, Fleet Street, E.C., in the name of the 'Orient Press Service'…


It would appear that his office is more used as a rendezvous for Indian extremists than a legitimate business address. Almost daily a number of Indians resort there, and as many as seven have been seen to be present and, with Seal, carry on a heated discussion.

Precise date began unknown: 
Key Individuals' Details: 

Gurdit Singh Dara (assistant), M. G. Desai (assistant), Pulin Behari Seal (founder/manager).


This excerpt, which maintains that the Oriental Press Service combined journalism with politics, is suggestive of the role of journalism, or the dissemination of alternative reportage, as a potentially powerful tool of resistance.


Reginald Bridgeman (supplied Seal with news about China), Vishnu R. Karandikar (head of a rival news service), B. Khalid Sheldrake.

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1938
Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/186, India Office Records, African and Asian Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Precise date ended unknown: 


61 Fleet Street
London, EC4Y 1
United Kingdom

Swaraj House


Swaraj House was formed in 1942 as a break-away group from the Committee of Indian Congressmen in Great Britain because of the pro-Japanese stance of A. N. Bose and P. B. Seal. The purpose of the organization was to provide a space where Indians would be able to meet freely and exchange frankly political ideas. It offered its premises to all Indians, in particular students, professionals, businessmen, workers, and seamen.

Swaraj House offered its members a reading room with newspapers from India and Britain as well as a library on India. It actively organized lectures, discussions and study circles on India and international affairs. It offered accommodation to Indian groups and organizations who needed it. It was financed through private donations and subscriptions. Swaraj House would also organize English classes for Indians as well as Hindustani lessons for those interested in learning the language. By 1945 it had a membership of seventy seven people; its influence had grown more in proprotion to its growth in membership. The organization was hampered by not having good Parliamentary contacts and it entered into a bitter rivalry with other Indian organizations in Britain to speak offically on behalf of the Indian National Congress. Swaraj House campaigned actively in India in support of the Indian National Congress and its leadership. Its other purpose was to look after the welfare of the Indian community in Britain, while also providing a central meeting place for Indians in London.

In 1943, Swaraj House made arrangements to stage a 'satyagraha' movement in London, to organize groups of around thirty Indian protesters to picket Whitehall and the Houses of Parliament to demand the release of Gandhi and othe Congress leaders. Swaraj House attempted to recruit 150 Indian workers from the Midlands, but the event was not realized as the organization could not secure sufficient support there and because Krishna Menon refused to endorse it. It tried to raise awareness of the famine in India in 1943, organizing a joint meeting with the Hindustani Social Club on 21 November 1943. It also campaigned actively for the release of Suresh Vaidya, one of its secretaries, after he refused to obey a military call-up notice in January 1944; the issue was subsequently taken up by the Independent Labour Party and its subsidiary organization the Indian Freedom Campaign. He was released in mid 1944.

In August 1946, Swaraj House purchased New Vision, the organ of the Independent Labour Party from Fenner Brockway, its former editor. The first issue appeared in October 1946 as India: A Nationalist Review of India Affairs, edited by N. Gangulee.

There were clear rivalries between the India League and Swaraj House. In 1946, Swaraj House was asked by Congress and Nehru to align itself more closely with the India League because of its political clout and close connections with British MPs. In a letter to the Secretary of the Organization, Nehru stated that Congress did not wish to be represented by Swaraj House in Britain, but by the India League. In late 1946, Krishna Menon pressed for the dissolution of Swaraj House as the India League was the offical representation of Congress in the UK. The organization also faced serious financial difficulties at the time and also had to confront serious in-fighting. Financial difficulties also arose with the publication of the first issue of India as many advertisers had not paid up. By mid 1947, the organization's importance was rapidly declining.


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

Secondary works: 

Owen, Nicholas, The British Left and India: Metropolitan Anti-Imperialism, 1885-1947 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007)

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


This is an excerpt from the cyclostyled statement setting out the purpose of the organization:

Date began: 
25 Nov 1942

For a long time now Indians in this country have been in need of a central place where they can meet freely. This is especially true of poltically-minded Indians who cherish the freedom of our country and are supporters of the Indian NAtioanl Congress.

The SWARAJ HOUSE has been openend to meet this urgent and long standing need. It offers its premises to all Indians - students, professional men, business men, workers, seamen and others, and it is hoped that they will take full advantage of the facilities it offers.


The Swaraj House is a public institution of Indians in this country and is conducted democratically. It derives its finances from donations and  subscriptions.

Key Individuals' Details: 

Advisory Council: Tayab Ali, Surat Alley, Rashid Anwar, Dr A. C. Bannerji, Dr D. N. Dutt, Dr N. Gangulee, Professor J. C. Ghosh, Islam-Ul-Haq, Dr A. V. R. Menon, Dr Koba, Babu Rao, Dr S. Sinha, C. B. Vakli (treasurer), Dr S. B. Warden.

Standing Committee: Rafique Anwar, P. K. Basu (Bose), Tarpur Basu, Homi Bode, H. K. Das Gupta, Jabol Hoque, Dr K. D. Kumria, N. Datta Majumdar, S. P. Mitra, Iqbal G. P. Singh, Suresh Vaidya (Secretary).


Surat Alley, A. V. Angadi, Raffi Anwar, Rashid Anwar, A. C. Bannerji, P. K. Basu, Fenner Bockway, Mrs. Haidri Bhuttacharji, Tarapur Bose, Kamal Athon Chunchie, Mayahud Din (secretary of Swaraj House 1944), J. C. Ghosh (professor of Bengali at Oxford), Sudhil Gosh, Dr H. K. Handoo, Jabol Hoque (Bengal India Restaurant), Islam-ul-Huq, Suleman Jeth (a curry powder merchant), I. T. A. Wallace Johnson (Sierra Leonean black activist), Mohamed Ali Khan, Manohar Govind Kore (technical inspector in the Ministry of Supply), Dr K. D. Kumria, N. Datta Mazumdar, Tirath Ram Mehra, S. P. Mitra, George Padmore, David J. Pinto, K. C. Sarkar, Iqbal G. P. Singh (worked in civil defence), Marha Sinha, Sasadhar Sinha, V. S. Sastrya (secretary of the Indian Workers Union, Birmingham), Stanley De Soyza, Alagu Subramaniam, D. V. Thamankar, S. Telkar, Mrs. Vaidya, Suresh Vaidya, Dr C. B. Vakil, Lal C. Wadhwa.

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/646, L/PJ/12/658, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras


32 Percy Street
London, W1T 2DE
United Kingdom

Leonard Matters


Leonard W. Matters was a Labour MP and freelance journalist. He accompanied Krishna Menon, Monica Whately and Ellen Wilkinson on the India League's Mission to India in 1932. Their findings were published in 1933 under the title Conditions of India. He was also a contributor to India Bulletin.

Published works: 

Whatley, Monica, et. al., Condition of India: Being the Report of the Delegation sent to India by the India League in 1932 (London: Essential News, 1933)

Date of birth: 
01 Jan 1881
Precise DOB unknown: 
Secondary works: 

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

Date of death: 
01 Jan 1951
Precise date of death unknown: 


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