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



The Fabian Society is a British socialist organization which was a forerunner to the Labour Party. Promoting progressive social causes by gradualist, rather than revolutionary, methods, it was for the intelligentsia of fin-de-siècle Britain a major forum for political, social and cultural debate.

Spurred by the Liberal reforms of the early 1900s, the Society campaigned for a minimum wage, national health and education systems, the abolition of hereditary peerages and the nationalization of land. Drawing into its ambit most of the prominent intellectuals of the time, it grew to be the preeminent academic meeting place of the Edwardian era. A close association existed with the London School of Economics, which was founded in 1895 by the Society’s lifelong guiding spirits, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, together with G. B. Shaw.

A major split occurred in the Society over its response to the Boer War, leading to the resignation of Emmeline Pankhurst. Narrowly deciding in favour of the British invasion of the Transvaal, the Fabians supported British imperialism as a means of disseminating enlightened principles of governance throughout the world. Despite this, the Society between the wars was patronized by several expatriate nationalists, including Mohammed Ali Jinnah, Obafemi Awolowo and Lee Kuan Yew. The Fabian worldview was in turn to make a major impression on the constitutions of the emergent Commonwealth nations.

Other names: 

The Fabian Society

Secondary works: 

Fremantle, Anne, This Little Band of Prophets: The Story of the Gentle Fabians (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1960)

Pease, Edward R., The History of the Fabian Society (London: A. C. Fifield, 1916)

Pugh, Patricia, Educate, Agitate, Organize: 100 Years of Fabian Socialism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1984)

Date began: 
04 Jan 1884
Key Individuals' Details: 

Annie Besant, Hubert Bland, Edward Carpenter, Keir Hardie, Oliver Lodge, Ramsay MacDonald, Edith Nesbit, Sydney Olivier, Emmeline Pankhurst, George Bernard Shaw, Graham Wallas, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, H. G. Wells, Leonard Woolf, Virginia Woolf.


Fellowship of the New Life, Independent Labour Party, London School of Economics.

Archive source: 

Fabian Society Archive, British Library of Political and Economic Science, London School of Economics

George Bernard Shaw Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin

Leonard Woolf Archive, University of Sussex

Tags for Making Britain: 

Annie Besant


Annie Besant was a leading member of the Theosophical Society, a feminist and political activist, and a politician in India. She had a close relationship with Charles Bradlaugh, MP, a free-thinker who was often known as the 'Member for India'. Having declared herself an atheist, Annie Besant was drawn to other ideas of spiritualism and joined the Theosophical Society in 1889. She was very close to the co-founder, Madame Blavatsky, and allowed Blavatksy to live in her house in St John's Wood from 1889. In 1907, after the death of Colonel Olcott, Besant was made President of the Theosophical Society.

In 1911, Besant brought Jiddu Krishnamurti and his brother to England and acted as their guardian. She proclaimed in 1927 that Krishnamurti was the 'coming', i.e., messiah, and was devastated when he left the Theosophical Society in 1929.  

Besant also campaigned for the rights of Indians and for Indian 'home rule'. She launched the Home Rule League in 1916, modelling the Indian plight on that of Ireland. She was a member of the Fabian Society, owing to her close relationship with George Bernard Shaw. In 1917 she became the first woman president of the Indian National Congress at a session in Calcutta.

Published works: 

Why I Became a Theosophist (London: Freethought Publishing, 1889) 

An Autobiography (London: T. Fisher Unwin, 1893)

The Bhagavad Gita (London: Theosophical Publishing House, 1895)

The Case for India [Congress Presidential Address, December 1917] (London: Home Rule for India League, 1918)

Date of birth: 
01 Oct 1847
Contributions to periodicals: 

Lucifer (edited September 1889 to 1909)

The Theosophical Review (edited 1897-1909)


The Manchester Guardian, 6 August 1895 (Bhagvad-Gita)

Western Mail (Cardiff), 6 August 1895

Liverpool Mercury, 28 August 1895

For articles relating to Annie Besant, see: 'A Talk with Mrs Annie Besant', Christian World, 12 April 1894, p. 259; 'The New Messiah', The Spectator, 26 June 1926

Secondary works: 

Bright, Esther, Old Memories and Letters of Annie Besant (London: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1936)

Nethercott, Arthur, The Last Four Lives of Annie Besant (London: Rupert Hart-Davis, 1963)

Taylor, Anne, ‘Besant , Annie (1847-1933)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)[]

Broughton, T. L. , 'Women's Autobiography: The Self at Stake?', Prose Studies 14 (September 1991), pp. 76-94

Archive source: 

Women's Library, London Metropolitan University, London

Theosophical Society Archives, Adyar, India

Letters to Annie Besant, 1914-1926, Mss Eur C888, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras

Theosophical Society in England, London

College of Psychic Studies, South Kensington

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Date of death: 
20 Sep 1933
Location of death: 
Adyar, India

Shapurji Saklatvala


The nephew of J. N. Tata, Shapurji Saklatvala travelled to England in 1905 to recuperate from malaria and to manage the Tata company office in Manchester. He married Sarah Marsh in 1907 (a waitress he had met at the hydro in Matlock where he had been treated). They moved to London in 1907 and Saklatvala joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1909. In 1921, Saklatvala was adopted as the Labour candidate for Battersea North, despite joining the Communist Party in the same year. In November 1922, he won the seat for Labour and was defeated in December 1923. He regained the seat in October 1924, when he stood as a Communist representative and held the seat until 1929. Saklatvala was the 3rd Asian to become an MP in Britain (all incidentally of Parsee background).

Saklatvala raised Indian issues in Parliament. He was a member of the Indian Home Rule League (founded in 1916). He was also a founder member of the Workers' Welfare League in 1917. This League was initially concerned with the working conditions of Indian seamen in London, but soon widened its objectives to improve the position of all types of Indian workers. He was an influential figure to Indian students in London in the 1920s and 1930s, but was banned from returning to India because of his Communist affiliations. He died in his home in London in January 1936 and was buried in the Parsee burial ground in Brockwood, Surrey.

Date of birth: 
28 Mar 1874

Mulk Raj Anand, Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownaggree (previous Asian MP), Clemens Palme Dutt (CPGB), Rajani Palme Dutt (CPGB), Jomo Kenyatta, Harold Laski, Krishna Menon, Dadabhai Naoroji (previous Asian MP), Walter Neubald, George Padmore, Sehri Saklatvala (daughter), S. A. Wickremasinghe.

Member of Communist Party, Independent Labour Party, India Home Rule League, Social Democratic Foundation, Workers' Welfare League


Hinnells, John R., Zoroastrians in Britain (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996) 

Hinnells, John R., The Zoroastrian Diaspora: Religion and Migration (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)

Squires, Mike, ‘Saklatvala, Shapurji (1874–1936)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004) [] 

Squires, Mike, Saklatvala: A Political Biography (London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1990)

Saklatvala, Sehri, The Fifth Commandment: A Biography of Shapurji Saklatvala (Salford: Miranda Press, 1991)

Visram, Rozina, Asians in Britain (London: Pluto Press, 2002)

Wadsworth, Marc, Comrade Sak: Shapurji Saklatvala, A Political Biography (London: Peepal Tree, 1998)

Archive source: 

L/PJ/12/406, Scotland Yard Report on Central Association of Indian Students, India Office Records, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras.

Communist Party Archive, People's History Museum, Manchester

Saklatvala Papers, Mss Eur D1173, Asian and African Studies Reading Room, British Library, St Pancras.

City of birth: 
Country of birth: 
Current name city of birth: 
Current name country of birth: 


Derbyshire , DE4 3NZ
United Kingdom
53° 7' 23.2356" N, 1° 33' 37.6452" W
2 St Albans Villas,
Highgate Road,
London , NW5 1QY
United Kingdom
51° 33' 6.3252" N, 0° 8' 28.0428" W
Date of death: 
16 Jan 1936
Location of death: 
London, England
Dates of time spent in Britain: 


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