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Eyes Left

Left Book Club launch aims to ignite debate
Douglas Beattie, Friday, November 13th, 2015

What do Jeremy Corbyn, Ken Loach and Melvyn Bragg all have in common? Well along with a whole slew of others they are backing the return of the Left Book Club.


The original club was founded in 1936 as a means of promoting radical debate in Britain. It was a phenomenal success – distributing over two million books and forming more than a thousand discussion groups around the country.


Considered a factor in the creation of the NHS and fundamental in fighting the rise of fascism in Spain and elsewhere, it eventually closed in 1948. Among many writers who contributed were George Orwell and Clement Attlee.


Those behind the new venture argue strongly that today we face similar crises, with the great inequalities of capitalism as well as suffering and violence in so many parts of the world.


Terrific and timely


The Labour leader himself describes the return of Left Book Club as a “terrific and timely idea and will give intellectual ballast to the wave of political change sweeping Britain and beyond, encouraging open and compassionate debate.”


Corbyn’s theme is readily taken up by Jan Woolf, a playwright and trade union activist, who along with historian Neil Faulkner, founded the new Club.


“The times are similar and there’s a similar appetite for understanding the world. We thought this was a good time to launch it.


About discussion


“The Left Book Club could be something which a broad spectrum of the Left gets around – it’s about discussion and opening up strands of Left thought.


“Our aim is for these books to form the basis of a wide network of reading circles, discussion groups and other educational and cultural activities,” she says.


The original Left Book Clubs were “like little political cells” according to Woolf. She admits things change through discussion because a group may then “collectively decide go on a picket line somewhere.”


The basic premise is that members pay £40 for four books over the course of the year, carefully chosen by the Club’s directors and independent book publishers, Pluto Press.


Political drama


The first book – Syriza: Inside the Labyrinth, by Kevin Ovenden – is already published and being sent to a membership which is fast growing. Woolf describes this as “a very good on the ground journalistic account of the political drama in Greece as it happened.”


This will be followed in 2016 by The Rent Trap, a book on the housing crisis by Samir Jeraj and Rosie Walker, and the award winning Here We Stand: Women Changing The World, edited by Helena Earnshaw and Angharad Penrhyn Jones.


The whole thing has been eighteen months in the planning and execution, with an official launch of the non-profit organisation taking place at Conway Hall in central London on Tuesday 17 November.


Get to Conway Hall


That meeting is intended to reflect the aims of the original club. As Woolf explains, “we want as many people as possible to get to Conway Hall because a vital element of the meeting is a discussion.


“It’s not going to be a top table talking to an audience, it’s going to be encouraging the audience to debate what is happening now, to click into the zeitgeist.”


Given that the question posed for the launch is ‘Can Corbyn’s Labour become a movement for radical change?’ it sounds as though the new Left Book Club has every change of replicating the success of its illustrious predecessor.



Launching the Left Book Club

November 17th, Conway Hall, London, 7pm with Ken Livingstone, Kevin Ovenden, Natalie Bennett,

Kate Osamor MP and others.

Suggested donation: £5 concessions £3

To book your place email






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