Co-authored by Miriam Intrator
Many people worldwide are struggling in their fight for world peace—and against intolerant political views and practices. Despite what appears to be pioneering issues today, between 1936 and 1948, a far-left publishing group who called themselves the Left Book Cub (LBC), organized to cast influence over some of these very same moral issues.
This summer, the Libraries’ Mahn Center is hosting an exhibit titled, “The Politics of Publishing: Joining the Left Book Club,” to showcase the exceptionally large collection of nearly 200 LBC volumes, one of the largest sets in the world, that is housed in the Rare Book Collection on the fifth floor of Alden Library.
Organized to highlight “the Left Book Club’s significance to the history of politics and literature as well as its continuing relevance,” said Marc Blanc, co-curator and a senior in English, the exhibit displays “titles explaining the rise of fascism and the advancing progressive and socialist ideas to counter Hitler and Mussolini. Through the books’ discounted price, previously erudite political ideas became accessible to the average reader.”
Blanc studied the Libraries’ LBC books over the course of the spring 2017 semester while enrolled in ENG 4940 Research Apprenticeship and while working with Miriam Intrator, special collections librarian, and Joe McLaughlin, professor of English.
According to Blanc, the LBC provided a monthly book selection “to subscribers, who would purchase the Club edition of a book from local bookshops for about one-third of the standard price. The striking orange covers with their NOT FOR SALE TO THE PUBLIC imprint lent a distinct identity to the Club, and within three years over 1,000 LBC discussion groups had formed across Britain and beyond. Indispensable to the Club’s success, these groups hosted social functions, lectures from LBC authors, and worked to push the Labour Party in a socialistic direction.”
Blanc’s work, McLaughlin explains, “showcases a significant collection of materials related to the British response to global fascism and the emergence of the social welfare state in the period before, during, and after World War II. The Left Book Club was a landmark attempt to blend political activism and mass culture through the vehicle of the cutting edge information technology of the day–the paperback book.”
Some of the notable authors and/or titles featured in the exhibit include: “The Road to Wigan Pier” (1937) by George Orwell, “Red Star Over China” (1937) by Edgar Snow, and “The Labour Party in Perspective” (1937) by Clement Atlee, prime minister of the United Kingdom from 1945 to 1951.
In spite of these notable books and prominent writers, very little research has been conducted on the LBC since the 1970s.
“Considering current developments in media and politics, LBC and its 1930s literary-political scene should be more relevant than ever,” said Blanc.
Intrator points out that, “In today’s time of striking, controversial developments in media, politics, rights, and ideology, the LBC is relevant to OHIO departments including African American Studies, English, History, Political Science, Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies, among others, as well as to related campus and student organizations and the broader Athens community.”