Victor Gollancz

Victor Gollancz

Victor Gollancz, the son of Alexander Gollancz, a prosperous wholesale jeweller, was born in London in 1893. After his education at St. Paul's School and New College, Oxford, he became a schoolmaster at Repton School.

In 1917 Seebohm Rowntree recruited Gollancz as a member of his Reconstruction Committee, an organisation he hoped would help plan the reconstruction of Britain after the war. Gollancz became a strong supporter of William Wedgwood Benn, the Liberal MP for Leith. Gollancz worked closely with Benn as secretary of the Radical Research Group. In 1921 Benn introduced Gollancz to his brother, Ernest Benn, the managing director of the publishers, Benn Brothers.

On the recommendation of William Wedgwood Benn, Gollancz was employed by Benn Brothers to develop the list of magazines the company published. Within six months Gollancz had convinced Ernest Benn to let him publish a series of art books. The books were a great success and during a seven year period turnover increased from £2,000 to £250,000 a year. Benn wrote in his diary that the increased company profits "reflects the greatest credit to the genius of Victor Gollancz".

Gollancz also recruited novelists such as Edith Nesbit and H. G. Wells. He employed Gerald Gould, fiction editor of the Observer, as chief manuscript reader. Gollancz realised that if he published works selected by Gould, the books would be guaranteed at least one good newspaper review. Gollancz believed that good reviews was a major factor in the selling of books. In critics liked a book published by the company, Gollancz purchased full-page adverts in national newspapers such as The Times and the Daily Herald to tell the public about the good reviews.

Although Ernest Benn believed Gollancz was a "publishing genius" he was unwilling to give him full control over the company. There were also political differences between the two men. Whereas Benn had moved to the right during the 1920s, Gollancz had moved sharply to the left and was now a strong supporter of the Labour Party. Gollancz had disapproved of the publication of Ernest Benn's own book, Confessions of a Capitalist, where he extolled the merits of laissez-faire capitalism.

In 1927 Gollancz left Ernest Benn and formed his own publishing company. Victor Gollancz was an immediate success. Using methods developed at Benn Brothers, he recruited writers such as George Orwell, Ford Madox Ford, Fenner Brockway, H. Brailsford and G. D. H. Cole.

In January 1936, Gollancz had lunch with Stafford Cripps and John Strachey, where they discussed the possibility of establishing a United Front against fascism. It was during this meeting that Gollancz suggested the idea of creating a Left Book Club. It was also agreed that Harold Laski, the Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, would make an excellent partner in this venture. The main aim was to spread socialist ideas and to resist the rise of fascism in Britain. Gollancz announced: "The aim of the Left Book Club is a simple one. It is to help in the terribly urgent struggle for world peace and against fascism, by giving, to all who are willing to take part in that struggle, such knowledge as will immensely increase their efficiency."

Ben Pimlott, the author of Labour and the Left (1977) has argued: "The basic scheme of the Club was simple. For 2s 6d members received a Left Book of the Month, chosen by the Selection Committee - which consisted of Gollancz, John Strachey and Harold Laski. Left-wing books could be guaranteed a high circulation without risk to the publisher, while members received them at a greatly reduced rate." As Ruth Dudley Edwards, the author of Victor Gollancz: A Biography (1987), pointed out: "They were a formidable trio: Laski the academic theoretician; Strachey the gifted popularizer; and Victor the inspired publicist. All three had known a lifelong passion for politics and all had swung violently left in the early 1930s. Only Victor did not describe himself as completely Marxist, though he was objectively indistinguishable from the real article."

The first book, France To-day and the People's Front, by Maurice Thorez, the French Communist leader, was issued in May 1936. This was followed by other books that dealt with the struggle against fascism in Europe. This included books by Stafford Cripps (The Struggle for Peace, November 1936), Konni Zilliacus, The Road to War, April 1937), G.D.H. Cole, The People’s Front (July 1937), Robert A. Brady, The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, September 1937), Richard Acland (Only One Battle, November 1937), H. N. Brailsford (Why Capitalism Means War, August 1938), Frederick Elwyn Jones (The Battle for Peace, August 1938) and Leonard Woolf (Barbarians at the Gate, November 1939).

The Left Book Club also published several books on the impact of the Great Depression. This included George Orwell (The Road to Wigan Pier, March 1937), G.D.H. Cole and Margaret Cole, The Condition of Britain (April 1937), Wal Hannington (The Problem of the Distressed Areas (November 1937) and Ellen Wilkinson (The Town that was Murdered, September 1939).

The Spanish Civil War was another subject that was well-covered by the Left Book Club. This included Harry Gannes and Theodore Repard (Spain in Revolt, December 1936), Geoffrey Cox (Defence of Madrid, March 1937), Hewlett Johnson (Report of a Religious Delegation to Spain, May 1937), Hubertus Friedrich Loewenstein, A Catholic in Republican Spain (November 1937), Arthur Koestler (Spanish Testament, December 1937) and Frank Jellinek (The Civil War in Spain, June 1938). However, Victor Gollancz rejected the idea of publishing Homage to Catalonia. In the book George Orwell attempted to expose the propaganda disseminated by newspapers in Britain. This included attacks on both the right-wing press and the Daily Worker, a paper controlled by the Communist Party of Great Britain. Although one of the best books ever written about war, it sold only 1,500 copies during the next twelve years.

Gollancz had hoped to recruit 10,000 members in the first year. In fact, he achieved over 45,000. By the end of the first year the Left Book Club had had 730 local discussion groups, and it estimated that these were attended by an average total of 12,000 people every fortnight. As Ben Pimlott pointed out: "In April 1937 Gollancz launched the Left Book Club Theatre Guild with a full-time organiser; nine months later 200 theatre groups had been established, and 45 had already performed plays. Sporting activities and recreations were also catered for."

The success of the Left Book Club encouraged socialists to believe there was a market for a left-wing weekly. Gollancz was approached by a group of Labour MPs that included Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan, George Strauss and Ellen Wilkinson and it was agreed to start publishing Tribune. Gollancz joined the editorial board and William Mellor was recruited as editor. George Orwell, now recognised as Britain's leading left-wing writer, agreed to contribute articles and later became the literary editor of the paper.

Other important books published by the Left Book Club included Philip Noel-Baker (The Private Manufacture of Armaments, October 1936), Stephen Spender (Forward from Liberalism, January 1937), Clement Attlee (The Labour Party in Perspective, August 1937), John Lawrence Hammond and Barbara Hammond (The Town Labourer, August 1937), Edgar Snow (Red Star over China, October 1937), Sidney Webb and Beatrice Webb (Soviet Communism: a New Civilisation, October 1937), Richard H. Tawney (The Acquisitive Society, November 1937), Eleanor Rathbone (War can be Averted, January 1938), Konni Zilliacus (Why the League has Failed, May 1938), Agnes Smedley (China Fights Back, December 1938), Joachim Joesten (Denmark’s Day of Doom, January 1939) and Victor Gollancz (Is Mr. Chamberlain Saving the Peace?, April 1939). By 1939 membership of the Left Book Club rose to 50,000.

Harry Pollitt remained loyal to Joseph Stalin until September 1939 when he welcomed the British declaration of war on Nazi Germany. He published a pamphlet entitled How to Win the War. It included the following passage: "The Communist Party supports the war, believing it to be a just war. To stand aside from this conflict, to contribute only revolutionary-sounding phrases while the fascist beasts ride roughshod over Europe, would be a betrayal of everything our forebears have fought to achieve in the course of long years of struggle against capitalism."

Joseph Stalinsigned the Soviet-Nazi Pact with Adolf Hitler in August, 1939. At a meeting of the Central Committee on 2nd October 1939, Rajani Palme Dutt demanded "acceptance of the (new Soviet line) by the members of the Central Committee on the basis of conviction". Despite the objections of several members, when the vote was taken, only Harry Pollitt, John R. Campbell and William Gallacher voted against. Pollitt was forced to resign as General Secretary and he was replaced by Dutt. William Rust took over Campbell's job as editor of the Daily Worker. Over the next few weeks the newspaper demanded that Neville Chamberlain respond to Hitler's peace overtures.

Victor Gollancz was appalled by this decision and in March 1941 the Left Book Club published Betrayal of the Left: an Examination & Refutation of Communist Policy from October 1939 to January 1941. The book was edited by Gollancz and included two essays by George Orwell, Fascism and Democracy and Patriots and Revolutionaries.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s Victor Gollancz was heavily involved in trying to get Jewish refugees out of Germany. After the war Gollancz worked hard to relieve starvation in Germany. He founded the Jewish Society for Human Service and its first objective was to help Arab relief.

Some members of the Left Book Club disapproved of the electoral truce between the main political parties during the Second World War. On 26th July 1941 members of the 1941 Committee led by Richard Acland, Vernon Bartlett and J. B. Priestley established the socialist Common Wealth Party. The party advocated the three principles of Common Ownership, Vital Democracy and Morality in Politics. The party favoured public ownership of land and Acland gave away his Devon family estate of 19,000 acres (8,097 hectares) to the National Trust.

In 1942 the Common Wealth Party decided to contest by-elections against Conservative candidates. The CWP needed the support of traditional Labour supporters. Tom Wintringham wrote in September 1942: "The Labour Party, the Trade Unions and the Co-operatives represent the worker's movement, which historically has been, and is now, in all countries the basic force for human freedom... and we count on our allies within the Labour Party who want a more inspiring leadership to support us." Large numbers of working people did support the SWP and this led to victories for Richard Acland in Barnstaple and Vernon Bartlett in Bridgwater. Later, Victor Gollancz argued that "had there been no Left Book Club there would have been no Bridgwater."

The Left Book Club continued to publish books throughout the Second World War and they no doubt helped to bring about the landslide victory of the Labour Party in the 1945 General Election. As his biographer, Ruth Dudley Edwards, pointed out: "By March 1947 he (Gollancz) was sick rather than just tired of the Left Book Club. With fascism defeated and a Labour government in power, the aims for which it had been set up were now irrelevant." With the Left Book Club down to 7,000 members, Victor Gollancz closed the organization down in October 1948.

After the Second World War political differences with George Orwell resulted in Gollancz not publishing two great novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, he had several important successes including Kingley Amis's Lucky Jim, John Updike's Rabbit, Run and Colin Wilson's The Outsider.

In the 1950s played an active role in the formation of the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment (NCACP). In 1958 Gollancz joined with Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, J. Priestley, Canon John Collins and Michael Foot to form the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).

Victor Gollancz died in 1967.

On Friday we had a board meeting of Ernest Benn Ltd which is really doing great things. The first year fully justified our highest hopes, the profit appears to be between 4,000 and 5,000 and reflects the greatest credit to the genius of Victor Gollancz, who is alone responsible. Gollancz is a Jew and a rare combination of education, artistic knowledge and business ability.

Victor Gollancz. I spend alternate periods of 3 months each, hating him and loving him. His business ability is tremendous, his energy abnormal and he has made a great thing of Ernest Benn Ltd. The combination of my finance and his flair has produced the biggest thing in publishing history.

Gollancz goes. His agreement expires next April and ever since last Christmas he has been discussing new terms. These have included the alteration of the name of the firm to Benn & Gollancz. The more we discussed the wider became our differences and the end of it all is that we agree to part. The partnership is an unnatural one. First is the fact that Gollancz must be "boss", he is a natural leader and in his own interest he should set up for himself.

Victor's conception of a Popular Front embraced all opponents of government from dissident Tory to communist - an objective for which there was small support. There was, however, considerable left-wing backing for a socialist-communist United Front, an idea to which the CP was deeply committed and the leadership of the Labour party implacably opposed. Victor therefore saw his immediate political priority as that of persuading the rank-and-file members of the Labour and Liberal parties that they had much in common with those further to the left. Therefore, communist literature must bc brought to a wider reading public, and through an organization that had a broad appeal.

The moment when the LBC germinated from a vague idea into a specific project came in early January 1936. Sir Stafford Cripps, prominent Labour MP and a recent and enthusiastic Marxist convert, invited Victor and John Strachey to lunch, to discuss the possibility of founding a weekly paper to promulgate socialism and oppose fascism. That the meeting produced no concrete plans (though Tribune was launched a year later) no doubt boosted Victor's impetus towards immediate personal action. Strachey, the most influential English Marxist writer of the 1930s (and a Gollancz author) seemed an ideal ally. Although he was a communist, the wise men of the CP had refused him a party card, recognizing the usefulness of his nominal independence. As they left Cripps, Victor proposed to Strachey that he co-operate in selecting books for a Left Book Club, and together they decided that Harold Laski, Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics and probably the most influential teacher of his generation there, should be the third selector.

They were a formidable trio: Laski the academic theoretician; Strachey the gifted popularizer; and Victor the inspired publicist. Only Victor did not describe himself as completely Marxist, though he was objectively indistinguishable from the real article. The three, through a longing for all-encompassing solutions to the problems of the human condition, were natural followers of a philosophy that admitted no doubts. Laski once explained that his journey to Marxism had given him "an increasing confidence in its will: the paradoxical sense that a fighting philosophy confers an inner peace unobtainable without its possession." Having gained that inner peace, they all showed themselves to be dedicated proselytizers, and won, individually and collectively, the hearts and minds of thousands of young people in pursuit of Utopia.

In choosing his co-selectors, Victor (a Labour Party member) had this deep-running community of ideals and attitudes as the chief criterion, followed by intellectual respectability and an appearance of political breadth. Strachey was under Communist Party direction. Laski was an influential member of the Labour Party's National Executive Committee who contrived meanwhile to hold the conviction that inadequacies in the British democratic system would stymie the introduction of socialism, and he shared Victor's doubts that the classless society could be brought about without revolution. In pursuit of the Popular Front goal, they committed themselves inevitably to a period of nimble, and taxing, ideological footwork.

Strachey was excited by the idea of the Club. Seeking a guarantee of a reasonable income, he wrote to Victor on 10 January that "it might become something really influential if one made it a principal charge on one's interest". Victor wished to harness Strachey's enthusiasm as cheaply as possible, so he offered him just the normal reading fee of two guineas a manuscript. Laski, offered only one guinea on the good socialist grounds that, unlike Strachey, he had a job, kindly refused any remuneration.

From the outset Victor displayed a typical combination of parsimony and generosity. To make the Club as effective as possible he was determined to keep wages and royalties to the minimum, thus freeing funds for advertising or organization. The frequent allegation that the Club was but a cunning entrepreneurial device to make yet more money in the name of anti-capitalism had no validity. Victor was not prepared to risk bankrupting Gollancz and was reluctant to spend an unproductive penny, but in the drive to make converts he gave his money as freely as he gave the time that he could otherwise undoubtedly have used to make himself rich.

The aim of the Club is a simple one: it is to help in the struggle for World Peace and a better social and economic order and against Fascism, by (a) increasing the knowledge of those who already see the importance of this struggle, and (b) adding to their number the very many who, being fundamentally well disposed, hold aloof from the fight by reason of ignorance or apathy.

That the success of this aim is of terrible urgency at the present time, when the world is drifting into war, and when Fascism is triumphing in country after country, needs no emphasis.

Nine considerations impelled my activity: (i) we must prevent war; (2) we could do it only by uniting as many nations as possible in opposition to Hitler; (3) in view of Germany's geographical position, if of that alone, the Soviet Union, France and Great Britain must be the core of any effective combination; (4) no such unity was conceivable unless these peoples and their regimes learned to understand one another; (5) no such unity was conceivable, either, without unity at home - a unity of all anti-fascists, from communists at one extreme to a section of conservatives at the other; (6) domestic unity was demanded, also, by the need for preventing such a triumph of indifference, or even of pro-fascism, here in Britain itself, as would encourage Hitler to strike; (7) this triumph could be further obstructed by (a) the indifferent becoming anti-fascists, and (b) anti-fascists growing keener, more active; (8) the prerequisite for such a change was a greater understanding of what fascism meant by way of internal bestiality and external aggression; and (9) to effect this understanding, an expose of fascism must be supplemented by an expose of its opposite - of the socialism that has for pith and marrow, or alas! (as I must now say) ought to have, the ideal of international brotherhood.

A major reason for the NEC's hesitations on the Popular Front was that the Communist Party had been agitating vigorously for one since 1936. The Communists did not make a fundamental distinction of principle between the united front and the popular front - the first was seen as a preparation for the second. The Labour Party Executive was therefore inclined to regard both with equal suspicion as tactics designed principally to increase Communist influence in the Labour Party. This suspicion was not diminished by the linking of united and popular fronts with the situation in Spain.

Closely associated with the Communist Party, and providing a prolific propaganda backing for Communist campaigns for aid to Spain and for united and popular fronts, was the Left Book Club. The Club devoted all its efforts to the explanation and advocacy of a People's Front, recalls its leading official. The Club certainly printed more on the subject than anybody else, was responsible for getting the idea widely discussed in political circles in Britain - and created a firm association in the minds of most people between the Popular Front and Communism.

The Club was the brainchild of Victor Gollancz, pacifist schoolmaster turned successful publisher. The basic scheme of the Club was simple. For 2s 6d members received a "Left Book of the Month", chosen by the Selection Committee - which consisted of Gollancz, John Strachey and Harold Laski. Left-wing books could be guaranteed a high circulation without risk to the publisher, while members received them at a greatly reduced rate...

The growth of the Club was partly spontaneous, partly a consequence of imaginative organisation. From the start, giant Club rallies were held in large halls all over the country. In attendance and in drama, the Club's biggest meetings outdid any organised by the Labour Party. People came to a Club rally as to a revivalist meeting, to hear the best orators of the far left - Laski, Strachey, Pollitt, Gallacher, Ellen Wilkinson, Pritt, Bevan, Strauss, Cripps, plus the occasional non-socialist, such as the Liberal, Richard Acland, to provide Popular Front balance....

At Bridgwater - where Vernon Bartlett won a famous "Popular Front" by-election victory in November 1938 - Left Book Club activities may have been a crucial factor. Gollancz maintained afterwards that "had there been no Left Book Club there would have been no Bridgwater", and it is very likely that Bartlett gained the backing of the constituency Labour Party (against fierce Transport House opposition) because of Left Book Club activities.

Richard Acland, Liberal MP for the neighbouring North Devon constituency and the Club's most prominent and active Liberal supporter, had taken part in a number of Club meetings in the Bridgwater constituency in the summer of 1938, before the seat became vacant. One of these, at Minehead, was announced by a poster which read "Why not pull together, Liberal, Labour and Progressive Conservative for Peace, Democracy and Security." In September (when the imminence of a vacancy was still unsuspected) the Club's monthly journal, Left News reported that Minehead had no Labour Party but "the LBC Group decided to take the necessary steps to bring one into existence... the LBC will give the new organisation the fullest assistance of its organisation and propaganda departments. The Club Secretary has agreed to become temporary Organising Secretary of the about-to-be-formed Party. Later, Club members set up a local party in nearby watcher, where Labour organisation was also dead.

What we say is rather... that in the Left Book Club we arc creating the mass basis without which a true Popular Front is impossible. In a sense, the Left Book Club is already a sort of popular front that happens to have happened. It is a body of people who happen to have come together and happen to agree on a number of vital topics. Sooner or later, in their various organisations, it is absolutely inevitable that they will act on that agreement.

This brings me on also to the next question, which is: "Are you a new political party?" The answer is emphatically "No." Rather are we a body of men and women of all progressive parties, hammering out our differences, coming to agreement, and then acting in our various organisations.

My feeling is this: if we succeed on a big enough scale in creating this mass basis, then all objections to a Popular Front, from whatever quarter, necessarily and automatically vanish.... Now if I have made myself clear, you will not misconstrue me or think I am describing this as a Popular Front meeting when I say that the whole idea of the Left Book Club is reflected in the composition of our platform this afternoon. We have here Professor Laski, who since I first knew him at Oxford before the War (we are living in such an atmosphere that I had almost said before the last War) has devoted himself unswervingly to the Labour Party. We have Mr Acland, one of the Liberal Party Whips. We have Mr Strachey whom some people allege to be a Communist. We have Mr Pollitt, who certainly is a Communist. We were to have had with us this afternoon, as you know, Sir Stafford Cripps, and it is really with tremendous disappointment that I tell you that he cannot come because lie has influenza. Sir Stafford, as you know, has been in a thousand fights for peace and the working man... And then we have my very clear friend, if lie will allow me to call him so, Pritt, who has also been a tireless worker for peace and freedom... Now Pritt, as you know, is a member of the Executive of the Parliamentary Labour Party. I do not know what his views may be on the question of the United Front and the Popular Front, which his party has boycotted, but I know he clearly has no objection whatever to the sort of unity I have been putting before you; otherwise lie would not be on the platform. Nor for the matter of that, has his leader, Mr C.R. Atlee, who has sent us a message as follows: "I am very glad to have an opportunity of sending a message to members of the Left Book Club.

It is of the utmost importance that there should be as wide a circulation as possible of the views of those people who, though presenting the problem from different angles, are united in a conviction of the need for changing the present system of society. Socialism cannot be built on ignorance, and the transformation of Great Britain into a Socialist State will need the active co-operation of a large body of well-informed men and women. For this reason I consider the Success of the Left Book Club to be a most encouraging sign.

In England and America important voices were being raised in public asking for much more help for Germany and for planned distribution. In Great Britain it was above all Lord Beveridge and Victor Gollancz who aroused the public conscience among the victorious nations. Victor Gollancz published a book In Darkest Germany in which he described the German conditions in detail. He also published a pamphlet entitled Leave Them To Their Fate. It was extraordinarily effectively written. Victor Gollancz gave hard and clear statements of the British views and demands concerning Germany, but then argued that in the final resort the problem of Germany fell under a humanitarian principle of the British conscience for the world. The Times, the Daily Herald, the Observer and the Manchester Guardian published letters by Gollancz in which again and again he pointed to the human aspect of the German problem; he also condemned at a very early stage the amount of dismantling demanded by the Allied governments.

In 1947 I met Victor Gollancz personally and found him to be a very intelligent and wise man. He owned a large publishing house and he had great influence on public opinion in Great Britain. Germany owes Victor Gollancz a great debt of gratitude, a debt which is all the greater in view of his Jewish descent.




The Road to Wigan Pier
by George Orwell.
With a foreword by Victor Gollancz.
London: Victor Gollancz, London, 1937 (Left Book Club).
Orange limp cloth. Front cover and spine lettered in black. xxiv, 264 pp. 32 black and white photographic plates. Size: Octavo [217 x 140 mm].


LEFT BOOK CLUB (VICTOR GOLLANCZ LTD.)
Series Note:
The Left Book Club was a "British book club created by [Victor] Gollancz in 1936 to combat the rise of Fascism and create the basis for a ‘popular front’ through the marketing and large-scale international distribution of left-wing books. (. ) Subscribers received one publication monthly for 5s. 6d., along with the newsletter Left Book News."

-- Kate Longworth, "Left Book Club" (entry) in: The Oxford Companion to the Book, O.U.P. (online version).

John Lewis, The Left Book Club: An Historical Record, London, Victor Gollancz, 1970. Foreword by Dame Margaret Cole. John Lewis was the Convener of the L.B.C. Groups in the years 1936-40.

See also:
Right Book Club

Arranged in order of date of publication

1936
Cripps, Stafford (1936). The Struggle for Peace.
Malraux, André (1936). Days of Contempt.
Noel-Baker, Philip (1936). The Private Manufacture of Armaments.
Olden, Rudolf (1936). Hitler the Pawn.
Salvemini, Gaetano (1936). Under the Axe of Fascism.
Strachey, John (1936). The Theory and Practice of Socialism.

1937
Attlee, C. R. (1937). The Labour Party In Perspective.
Brady, Robert A. (1937). The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism.
Cole, G. D. H. Cole, M. I. (1937). The Condition of Britain.
Cole, G. D. H. (1937). The People's Front.
Collard, Dudley (1937). Soviet Justice and the Trial of Radek and Others. [1]
Cox, Geoffrey. Defence of Madrid.
Koestler, Arthur (1937). Spanish Testament.
Odets, Clifford (1937). Waiting for Lefty.
Orwell, George (1937). The Road to Wigan Pier.
Sloan, Pat (1937). Soviet Democracy. [2]
Snow, Edgar (1937). Red Star Over China.
Spender, Stephen (1937). Forward from Liberalism.
Strachey, John (1937). The Coming Struggle for Power.
Tawney, R. H. (1937). The Acquisitive Society.
Webb, Sidney Webb, Beatrice (1937). Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation.

1938
Haldane, J. B. S. (1938). A. R. P.
Jones, F. Elwyn (1938). The Battle for Peace.
Smedley, Agnes (1938). China Fights Back: An American Woman with the Eighth Route Army.
Strachey, John (1938). What Are We to Do?
Strachey, John (1938). Why You Should Be A Socialist.
Vigilantes (1938). Why the League has Failed.

1939
Addison, Lord (1939). A Policy for British Agriculture.
Barnes, Leonard (1939). Empire or Democracy?
Campbell, J. R. (1939). Soviet Policy and its Critics. [3]
Cole, G. D. H. (1939). War Aims.
Gedye, G. E. R. (1939). Fallen Bastions: The Central European Tragedy.
Kuczynski, Jürgen (1939). The Condition of the Workers in Great Britain, Germany and the Soviet Union 1932-1938.
Johnson, Hewlett (1939). The Socialist Sixth of the World.
Swingler, Stephen (1939). An Outline of Political Thought Since the French Revolution.
Vigilantes (1939). Why We Are Losing the Peace: The National Government's Foreign Policy: Its Causes, Consequences and Cure.
Wilkinson, Ellen (1939). The Town That Was Murdered: The Life Story of Jarrow.

1940
Constantine, Murray (1940). Swastika Night.
Strachey, John (1940). Federalism or Socialism?
Strachey, John (1940). A Programme for Progress.
Frölich, Paul (1940). Rosa Luxemburg.

1941
Cole, G. D. H. (1941). Europe, Russia and the Future.
Edelman, Maurice (1941). Production for Victory, Not Profit!
Koestler, Arthur (1941). Scum of the Earth.
The Pied Piper (1941). Rats!
Snow, Edgar (1941). Scorched Earth.
Strachey, John (1941). A Faith to Fight For.

1942
Smith, Aubrey Douglas (1942). Guilty Germans?
Cole, G. D. H. (1942). Great Britain in the Post-War World.
Mallalieu, J. P. W. (1942). Passed to You, Please: Britain's Red-Tape Machine at War.
Neumann, Franz (1942). Behemoth. The Structure and Practice of National-Socialism.

1943
Cole, G. D. H. (1943). The Means to Full Employment.
Braunthal, Julius (1943). Need Germany Survive?
Burger, John (1943). The Black Man's Burden.
Hagen, Paul (1943). Will Germany Crack? A Factual Report on Germany from Within.

1944
Laski, Harold J. (1944). Faith, Reason and Civilisation: An Essay in Historical Analysis.
Smedley, Agnes (1944). Battle Hymn of China.
Sturmthal, Adolf (1944). The Tragedy of European Labour 1918-1939.
Zilliacus, Konni (1944). The Mirror Of The Past: Lest it Reflect the Future.

1945
Anderson, Evelyn (1945). Hammer or Anvil: The Story of the German Working-Class Movement.
Braunthal, Julius (1945). In Search of the Millenium.
Mosley, Leonard O. (1945). Report from Germany.

1946
Blum, Léon (1946). For All Mankind.
Brockway, Fenner (1946). German Diary.
Roth, Andrew (1946). Dilemma In Japan.

1947
Hill, Russell (1947). Struggle for Germany.
Keppel-Jones, Arthur (1947). When Smuts Goes.
Schlotterbeck, Friedrich (1947). The Darker the Night, the Brighter the Stars.
Schuschnigg, Kurt (1947). Austrian Requiem.

1948
Cole, G. D. H. (1948). The Meaning of Marxism.
Braunthal, Julius (1948). The Tragedy of Austria.
Haag, Lina (1948). How Long the Night.
Lingens-Reiner, Ella (1945). Prisoners of Fear.
Walker, Oliver (1948). Kaffirs are Lively.

Footnotes
[1] A defence of the first two Moscow Trials.
[2] Praising the 1936 Soviet Constitution.
[3] Defending the Popular Front and criticizing Trotsky.


Production books,1928-1964 royalty terms ledgers, contract ledgers, 1930-1984, manuscript entering books, 1956-1989 quotes sheets, and miscellaneous correspondence, including titles turned down, catalogues of books published, examples of book jackets, press reviews, 1929-1983, correspondence and related material for books by Victor Gollancz ,1914-1993, and Livia Gollancz correspondence, 1930-1990. Correspondence between Dorothy L. Sayers and authors, agents and publishers whose stories she sought to include in three volumes of 'Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror' 1928-1934. Sayers edited these volumes for Victor Gollancz Ltd.

Victor Gollancz established his publishing company, Victor Gollancz Ltd, in 1928. The company was based in offices in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden, London. It was to become one of the most profitable and successful firms in British publishing history. Gollancz had a flair for marketing and the company quickly made an impression with its bright yellow book jackets and London literary parties. Gollancz angered his rivals with his large scale advertising campaigns and whole-page newspaper advertisements, which were unusual for the time.

When Gollancz died in 1967, his daughter Livia Gollancz took over the company. She sold it to Houghton Mifflin, a Boston based independent publishing company in 1989, in preparation for her retirement. By that time the company was publishing a wide range of both fiction and non fiction books including science fiction, thrillers and children's books.

Houghton Mifflin sold Victor Gollancz Ltd to rival publisher Cassell plc in October 1992. The Covent Garden offices in Henrietta Street were vacated and the Gollancz operation moved to Cassell's offices in the Strand, London. It was at this time that the company archives were deposited in the Modern Records Centre. Victor Gollancz Ltd was incorporated into Orion Books in 1998 and is now the science fiction and fantasy imprint of Orion Publishing Group Ltd.

References: Modern Records Centre correspondence files for MSS.157 and MSS.318 and http://www.orionbooks.co.uk/hist/index.htm.


Left Book Club Anthology

In 1936, the world seemed precariously poised between peace and war, fascism and communism, democracy and dictatorship, hope and despair. Each international event – Spanish and French Popular Front election victories, the continued Italian campaign in Abysinnia, the factory occupations in France, civil war and foreign intervention in Spain - confirmed this instability. In Britain, mass unemployment and Mosley brought home this uncertainty. Domestic official politics consisted of three-cornered contest between a Conservative (nominally National) government, an agonising faction-riven Liberal Party and a Labour Party still reeling from the ‘great betrayal’ of 1931. Into this political situation, Victor Gollancz, the left-wing publisher with his allies the Marxist writer John Strachey and the Labour left Stafford Cripps, struck on the idea of the Left Book Club. Their goal was to revive the left and inject a greater popular awareness of world events. Club membership would oblige each participant to buy a monthly book from the Club’s list of publications. This method guaranteed demand and subsidised sales to members who were committed to remaining with the Club for at least six months. The Left Book Club also lay a considerable network of discussion groups and within months had a mass membership. The editors selected books on a range of subjects: the Spanish civil war, unemployment, the Soviet Union, nazism and international events and relations. The Club brought together some of the most important authors and political figures of the day: George Orwell, John Strachey, Arthur Koestler, Stephen Spender, Ellen Wilkinson, Clement Attlee, André Malraux, R.H. Tawney, Leon Blum and J.B.S. Haldane.

The Left Book Anthology brings together a number of extracts from Left Book Club titles. Paul Laity’s introductory essay (he is the senior editor of The London Review of Books) sets the Left Book Club in context. He outlines the personalities of the principal characters, especially the editorial triumvirate. Victor Gollancz’s energy and tremendous editorial skills are balanced against his intellectual crankiness and elitism. Harold Laski is presented as a highly respected the Christian socialist Professor from the LSE and John Strachey as a snobbish upper-class Marxist with an undoubted gift for popular writing. Laity also charts the startling success of the Club: by the end of 1936 it had 40,000 members, three years later it peaked at 57,000 members, organised in 1,200 groups. Millions of LBC books were disseminated. But there was much more to the fortunes of the Club than the mesh of personalities.

The selection of extracts must have been extraordinarily difficult but Laity has done an admirable job. The opening extracts from The Road to Wigan Pier summed up the paradox of the LBC with a subtle economy. Laity purposely includes both Gollancz’s foreword to alongside the extract from The Road to Wigan Pier that Gollancz tried with some discomfort to explain away. The Road to Wigan Pier was one of the early titles of the LBC. George Orwell toured the depressed north to make the case against unemployment and the means test (and to explain the situation of the miners who were likely to take national strike action). The Road to Wigan Pier is a classic literary portrayal of the slump and the very best exemplar of a genre at which the LBC excelled with such titles as Ellen Wilkinson’s elegy to Jarrow The Town That Was Murdered, Wal Hannington’s angry hard-hitting polemic The Problems of the Distressed Areas, Max Cohen’s personal memoir I Was One of the Unemployed and G.D.H. Cole scholarly investigation, The Condition of Britain. More revealing is the way that Orwell’s piece identified the dilemma at the very centre of the LBC project. The second part of the book was a treatise on socialism in Britain. It was one of the most controversial and self-critical pieces of left-wing writing. He famously described middle-class socialists as ‘all that dreary tribe of high-minded women and sandal-wearers and bearded fruit-juice drinkers who come flocking towards the "smell" of progress like bluebottles to a dead cat.’ Orwell stressed (and caricatured) the lamentable gap in British socialism between the cranky middle-class ‘intellectual, book-trained’ socialist and ‘the warm-hearted unthinking Socialist, the typical working-class Socialist’. Given this (somewhat exaggerated) situation, the LBC could in principle either entrench or bridge the divide. In practice, the Club did both. In the introduction, Laity celebrates the penetration of LBC ideas into working-class circles in South Wales and Glasgow. On the whole, however, the LBC membership was largely middle class as its geographical preponderance in the South confirms. Elsewhere Gary McCulloch viewed Gollancz’s educational approach as preaching to and forging an educated elite and has even described the domination of middle-class intellectuals over the network as ‘an agency of social control over the aspirations of the working class through middle class cultural hegemony’.(1)

Two further extracts exemplify the large number of LBC volumes that sought to comment on aspects of British society. The Walls Have Mouths was an insider’s sensationalist account of life inside Pankhurst prison. The author, Wilfred Macartney, had been imprisoned for spying for the Soviet Union. The selections reveal two aspects of prisoners’ world: homosexuality and the escape legend. Opening the prison-doors to the scrutiny of the reading public was intended to be a powerful spur to prison reform, and indeed the editor attributed the permission of tobacco in British jails as resulting from the book. L.B. Coombes’s These Poor Hands was an account of life in the South Wales coalfield. The extracts paint scenes of everyday life: the night shift, the silicosis sufferer, pay day and the lack of privacy bathing in lodgings. The book was one of the most popular monthly choices and sold 80,000 copies. It stands alongside other important working-class novels relating the 1930s experience such as Walter Greenwood’s Love on the Dole and Walter Brierley’s Means Test Man. It was one of a few examples that lived up to Gollancz’s hope to cultivate working-class novelists and writers through the Club.

The choice of extracts from novels, plays and the Left Song Book illustrate that the LBC was not confined to political manifestos, social commentary and international reportage. The Club also generated a range of cultural activities: travel, rambling, choirs, theatre groups and discussion circles. Clifford Odets’s Waiting for Lefty a play about a New York cab strike had been a considerable box office hit capturing the mood of the America of the depression and the sit-down strikes. As Paul Laity’s words of introduction indicate, the later political trajectory of some American left intellectuals strongly contrasts the play’s strong sense of solidarity. For Odetts along with Elia Kazan named names during the McCarthy witch-hunt. Herman Muller’s Out of the Night is an interesting reminder of popular science writing of the 1930s. The LBC produced volumes on the atom, evolution, public health and chemistry. It also recalls the fact that eugenics had a general acceptance across the political spectrum and were not the exclusive property of the right. He proposed selective breeding through the use of clinical techniques. Muller’s views are an unpleasant blend of Stalinism, social engineering and eugenics.

International affairs were the largest single category of LBC publications. Laity selects titles on Spain, China, Nazi Germany and appeasement. Arthur Koestler’s Spanish Testament is perhaps as important and poignant a selection as that of Orwell. Again its subject, Spain, like unemployment, was a cause célèbre of the Club. It also offers us another piece of the LBC puzzle given Koestler’s eventual odyssey from CP membership (1931-38) to author of the anti-Stalinist novel about the show trials Darkness at Noon (1940) and contributor to the Cold War renunciation of communism, The God That Failed (1950). A generation of intellectuals trod Koestler’s path from communist infatuation to disillusioned anti-Stalinism. This was the principle reason that posterity was so hard a judge on the LBC. Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China was one of the LBC’s most popular titles Gollancz commenting that it was finest recruiter to the Club. It detailed the Red Army’s long march and the social character of the ‘liberated’ territory. The book became the launch pad for a campaign against Japanese intervention in China. The extract tells of his journey into the communist held north west with the goal of interviewing Mao. Central to the vivid narrative were the stories and attitudes of the young communist soldiers that he encountered. Jan Petersen’s Our Street is a partly fictional memoir of a communist resistor to the Nazis about the first years of their rule. It is a remarkable and moving testament about the effects of that take-over on a single working-class street and implicitly makes a compelling case to oppose the rise of fascism elsewhere in Europe. It examines the difficulties of maintaining morale and clandestine organisations in the face of arrests, deaths in custody, and surveillance of comrades and loved ones as well as the impact of this on the family, neighbourhood and political networks of class. G.E.R. Gedye’s Fallen Bastions is an account of the fascist conquest of democracy in Austria and Czechoslovakia. As such it addresses one of the principal themes of the LBC – the appeasement of the fascist powers. Gedye was the New York Times and Daily Telegraph correspondent for Eastern Europe stationed first in Austria and then Prague. His work revealed the corrosive effects on Austrian independence and Czech democracy of Nazi intrigues and the false friendship of Anglo-French diplomats, which sapped the will to fight and made the unacceptable seem inevitable. Gedye was not a leftwinger but a liberal who could see the treachery and disingenuity of appeasement. He related the claustrophobic atmosphere in Austria at the time of the Anschluss and Czechoslovakia in the summer whilst Hitler sought to dismember the country with the sanction of Britain and France.

The editor also includes extracts from two treatises on political theory. John Strachey’s Theory and Practice of Socialism was a centrepiece of the LBC project, an attempt to write the case for communism in popular idiom in the pressing historical circumstance of approaching world war. The extract describes the contradictions and disordered priorities faced by all under capitalism: ‘For why should we build targets for bombs, prevent the tubercle bacillus from destroying the lungs destined for poison gas, or administer with sterling probity the affairs of a city which may soon be uninhabited?’ It appealed to ‘the best men and women of every class’ to embrace communism. This marked a sharp contrast with the Comintern’s ‘class against class’ approach of the early 1930s when specifically soliciting ‘architects, scientists, doctors and civil servants’ would have been unthinkable. The search for intellectuals, professionals, experts, artists was intrinsic to the Popular Front project and the LBC experience. Stephen Spender, who at the time was a fashionable young poet, epitomises the ‘Auden generation’ of intellectuals who were temporarily infatuated with Soviet Russia and its brand of communism. Forward from Liberalism was aimed at converting young left-leaning liberals to this cause. It sought to delineate the limitations of liberal democracy. For Spender, world crisis and approaching war demonstrated that the age of parliamentary democracy was drawing to a close. Communism, he argued, did not reject the idealistic goals of liberalism of equality, democracy and freedom but would realise them.

The final extract comes from The Betrayal of the Left, which was a collection of essays written in 1940 signalling Gollancz’s break with his former friends in the Communist Party. The Hitler-Stalin pact of August 1939 reversed the Soviet Union’s stated foreign policy. It was too much for many of the fellow-travellers like Gollancz who had put their faith in a strategy of construction Popular Front governments and the peace bloc between Russia, Britain and France. The Betrayal of the Left once again teamed up Gollancz and Orwell, whose essay ‘Patriots and revolutionaries’ is selected for the anthology. This piece is a remarkable witness to the metamorphosis on popular consciousness that followed the fall of France and the evacuation of Dunkirk. This was one of the most acute crises faced by a British government. Orwell believed that there would be a revolutionary conclusion to the crisis and called on the left to embrace patriotism to effectively capture this mood of popular defiance in the face of threatened invasion and ruling-class treachery. Though there was no British revolution, the implication is that the conditions that Orwell described underpinned Labour victory in 1945.

Two connected controversies have dogged the memory of the Left Book Club: its relationship to Stalinism and the Left’s romanticisation of the LBC and the 1930s in general. The Club has been the subject of long-running criticism of being a communist front. Laity describes the evolving relationship between the Communist Party and the LBC. His frank admission of communist influence left little room for the accusation that he glossed over the uncomfortable truths. Many key figures in the network of clubs were party members as well. The Communist Party sought to recruit via these discussion groups and assumed that the LBC would inculcate communist perspectives amongst a wider audience. Although none of the editors (the ‘Holy Trinity’) were card-carrying members of the Communist Party, they shared an admiration for the Soviet Union and the two administrators in the LBC’s Henrietta Street HQ were party members. Their Stalinism is reflected in the fact that the editors rejected manuscripts that criticised the Soviet Union, such as Orwell’s work on Spain. Much of the left subscribed to these illusions about the Soviet Union and a commitment to the strategy of the Popular Front against fascism. Even the ageing Fabians Sidney and Beatrice Webb eulogised Stalin’s Russia in Soviet Communism: a New Civilisation. Many of the Club’s books engaged in apologetics on behalf of world communism. Leon Feuchtwanger’s Moscow 1937 whitewashed the show trials and the many books on Spain conveyed a guilty silence over communist repression of Spanish revolutionaries. But the relationship was not a simple transmission belt of communist directives. Although Gollancz’s foreword clumsily ‘corrected’ parts of Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, the publisher ignored communist party objections to its publication.

The LBC conformed to the Popular Front vision of the Comintern, which proposed an alliance between liberals, social democrats and communists. Like the gap between the propaganda and reality of the Popular Front, the decision-making in the Club was much narrower. Hugh Dalton had asked for two Labour Party representatives on the editorial team but Gollancz turned this down. Many titles, like those of Maurice Thorez, the leader of the French Communist Party, and G.D.H. Cole, made the case for the Popular Front, which was a strategy for centre-left electoral victory, a domestic bulwark against fascism and the means to draw together a diplomatic alliance against the fascist powers and war. In reality, Stalin cynically used this policy as an instrument of his foreign policy interests and its value on other counts is highly questionable.

On the whole, the anthology ably demonstrates the range of LBC work whilst still choosing some of the most popular and enduring titles. The pedantic temptation to suggest alternative selections is great. My quibble would be that with the inclusion of a play, novel and songbook the impression of the Club is skewed towards cultural works. Of the 250 or so titles only a handful of titles were of this character. As a result, there is no room, for instance, for any of the historical works of the LBC. A number of these – A.L. Morton’s A People’s History of England, the Hammonds’ The Town Labourer and Petergorsky’s Left-wing Democracy in the English Civil War - anticipated themes and changes in the writing of social history after the war. Whilst the editor does make great efforts to make these seven decades-old texts accessible to the reading public, the drawback of interspersing the extracts with introductory editorial comment breaks up the flow of the anthology. The sequence of these extracts, which is neither chronological nor thematic, adds to this sense of fragmentation. Nevertheless, the anthology presents a fascinating insight into the ideas of the time for the general reader and an important undergraduate text for those studying the 1930s.

Some critics will no doubt charge that the book resurrects the red fable of the 1930s: the legend of a devil’s decade that was concocted in part in the comfortable offices and studies of Gollancz and his co-conspirators. The revisionist account of the 1930s has, I believe, been considerably overstated though it is not the place to tackle this issue here. Others will liken that the LBC to a grimy and uninteresting back alley of intellectual and cultural history, rather like the ones Orwell happened upon in Wigan and Sheffield, and one that is entirely overtaken by the corrupting stench of Stalinism. This criticism is not entirely fair, as it is easy to see through the illusions of an age with hindsight. Despite the Stalinist errors, there is much of interest and even contemporary relevance that can be salvaged. Casual allusions to appeasement of the present, for example, might be better informed by a second look at some of the LBC volumes.

This anthology collects together a well-selected sample of a complex and highly charged intellectual climate. The life of the LBC coincided with one of the British left’s most notable periods beginning in Spain culminating in the first majority Labour government. Crucial to that period was an intellectual zeal – though they certainly got things wrong – that tried to measure up to big events and big ideas. It is easy to be wise after the fact. The careful selection of authors and the introductions to each of the extracts acts as a kind of collective biography to explain the subsequent decline of the left. Laity also believes that some of these ideas bear a contemporary relevance ‘perhaps the following extracts will spark a few more’. The anthology acts also a gentle reminder of how an energetic and left-wing Labour Party with a broad consensus of welfarism and full employment made its most significant historical inroads into ‘middle England’.


The End of British Communism

It was not the Nazi-Soviet Pact, but the ‘Party line’, which brought an end to the era of ‘fellow travellers’, 80 years ago.

It is ironic that the closest communism came to establishing a mass movement in Britain was between 1935 and 1939, when its adherents abandoned revolutionism and emphasised the defence of bourgeois democracy. The policy attracted not the proletariat, but the left-wing intelligentsia. The principle around which virtually all sections of the left could unite during that period was anti-fascism and the foreign policies of the National Government – appeasement in Abyssinia and Czechoslovakia and non-intervention in Spain – were regularly denounced. It was, in fact, widely feared that Britain was on the cusp of ‘going fascist’ itself.

The Soviet Union joined the League of Nations around the same time Germany left, signed a Treaty of Mutual Assistance with France in 1935 and, unlike Britain, aided the government side in Spain. It was, therefore, widely lauded as the only power willing to defend democracy against fascism. Naturally, these factors convinced many on the left of the superiority of the Russian political system and brought them into closer collaboration with British communists.

The political theorist G.D.H. Cole thought the Soviet Union was establishing a more ‘real’ democracy than could exist under capitalism, where economic exploitation undermined supposed ‘liberties’. The reformers Sidney and Beatrice Webb, meanwhile, penned a panegyric to the ‘new civilisation’ in the east. As left-oriented Christians sought to reconcile their faith with Marx’s doctrines, theologians worked with communists on an essay collection, Christianity and the Social Revolution. Artists and dramatists began to flood the ranks of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and the poet Stephen Spender eagerly sought the counsel of its General Secretary, Harry Pollitt, while writing Forward from Liberalism.

All of the above were published by the Left Book Club (LBC), a veritable window into the psychology of the left-wing intelligentsia in the 1930s. The LBC advocated a ‘Popular Front’ government, like those of France and Spain, and a collective security agreement with Russia. Its founder, Victor Gollancz, wanted the Club to be a home for all shades of left-wing opinion – except those which imperiled the Club’s goals. Criticism of the Soviet Union was not, therefore, tolerated. The end, Gollancz believed, justified the means: Stalin was Hitler’s most implacable foe.

There was widespread bewilderment then when, on 23 August 1939, a swastika was hoisted over the Moscow aerodrome as the Nazi foreign minister Ribbentrop arrived to thrash out a Non-Aggression Pact. But Stalin’s reputation had survived forced collectivisation, famine and the Moscow Trials, and most ‘fellow travellers’ were able to swallow even this iniquity. John Strachey, who, with Gollancz and Harold Laski, selected the LBC’s titles, excused the Pact as a defensive measure, which, in part, it was. Kingsley Martin’s editorial in the New Statesman went further. He argued that Neville Chamberlain bore ultimate responsibility: his ideological aversion had prevented an Anglo-French pact with Russia. There was a degree of truth, also, in that accusation. The Tribune, echoing the Communist newspaper the Daily Worker, claimed the Pact as a peace move on Stalin’s part. ‘How deeply’, recalled Michael Foot, years later, ‘the Left craved giving the benefit of the doubt to Moscow. No one who did not live through that period can appreciate how overwhelming that craving was.’

The primary obstacle to British negotiations with the Soviets had, however, been Poland’s reluctance to accept Moscow’s ‘assistance’ in the event of Nazi invasion. And Polish distrust was proved well-founded by the subsequent Soviet expansion into its eastern provinces, which became part of Stalin’s ‘sphere of influence’, delineated in the Secret Protocols appended to the Nazi-Soviet Pact. The Protocols, though, only came to light after the War and pro-Soviet intellectuals justified the partitioning of Poland and the invasion of Finland by the rationale, sardonically summarised by George Orwell, that ‘Stalin had in some mysterious manner stopped Hitler, who would thereafter be unable to perpetrate further conquests’.

Still, August 1939 was the beginning of the end of the intellectuals’ dalliance with communism. Not because they felt betrayed by Stalin, but because they were exposed, for the first time, to the wild oscillations in communist policy. The CPGB, following the line imposed upon it by the Comintern, no longer professed the defence of democracy against fascism, but embraced a tactic of revolutionary defeatism. There was nothing to choose, the Party claimed, between the rival imperialisms – democracy and Nazism – and defeat in war would be the springboard for communist revolution. It was the same belief that had animated the German Communist Party right up until the Gestapo threw its members into concentration camps: ‘After Hitler, us.’

W.H. Auden, a contributor to Christianity and the Social Revolution, branded the 1930s a ‘dishonest decade’. Gollancz shared that feeling. In his pamphlet of May 1940, Where are you Going? An open letter to Communists, he described reading the Daily Worker – which had begun to quote Hitler approvingly and blamed British aggression for the German invasion of Norway – with ‘a sense of almost intolerable shame’. He had ‘realised the danger inherent in even a mild, common-sense, acceptance of the dictum “The end justifies the means”, and to what an abyss, and how quickly, men can descend, if they once begin to depart from the truth.’

In France, Heinrich Mann’s reaction was similar. The German émigré was able to credit Stalin’s ‘wisdom’ in holding aloof from the conflict. But he had, in Lenin’s phrase, voted with his feet by fleeing Germany and developed an affection for the democracy which had sheltered him from Nazism. Stalin could be excused, but the French Communist Party, which distributed defeatist propaganda in the factories, could not.

In early 1941, the CPGB convened a People’s Convention, which made a series of impossible demands and encouraged strikes if they were not acceded to. It was the sordid limit for the LBC selectors, who collaborated with Orwell on The Betrayal of the Left: an examination and refutation of Communist policy. Interestingly, each of them (excluding Orwell) made a point of offering a charitable interpretation of the conduct of Stalin and the Soviet Union. But by returning to the conspiratorial and anti democratic methods of its past – ‘preaching’, as Orwell put it, ‘the doctrines of Machiavelli in the jargon of Lawrence and Wishart’ – British communism had permanently alienated its one-time sympathisers.

Oscar Clarke is a PhD researcher at the University of Bristol.


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Obituary: Livia Gollancz

The musician who took up the reins of one of the UK’s most venerable publishing lists and led it with an egalitarian gusto is remembered.

For anyone under 40, Gollancz is merely a science fiction imprint—“the oldest specialist sci-fi and fantasy (SFF) publisher in the UK.” Gollancz indeed published many award-winning and successful SFF authors, J G Ballard and Terry Pratchett among them, but Gollancz is far more important than that, which makes the story of its last two decades a tragedy.

Victor Gollancz, a classics graduate from Oxford, was just 30 when he set up his eponymous company in 1927. He published George Orwell’s The Road to Wigan Pier, and Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim, as well as books by Ford Madox Ford, Daphne du Maurier, Franz Kafka and Vera Brittain. On his daughter Livia’s watch, Julia Hales’ The Green Consumer Guide and Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch were trendsetting bestsellers.

A self-described Christian democrat, VG (as he was known) published books that supported pacifist and socialist causes, and he founded the Left Book Club, which makes the company part of a wider 20th century British history and culture. Better than any of his contemporaries, VG understood typography, design and even marketing.

A natural home

The publisher VG’s formidable eldest daughter took over on his death in 1967 was a force to be reckoned with. Livia had joined in 1953—learning the ropes in marketing and design, co-founding its distinguished children’s list—after trouble with her teeth (the brass player’s perennial nightmare) put an end to her career as a French horn player. She had worked with a number of distinguished orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra and Covent Garden, before Sir John Barbirolli offered her the position of principal horn with The Hallé Orchestra. As a result, Livia built up a music list at Gollancz that was the foundation of every student’s library.

“VG trained me in all aspects of the business, except accounts,” she reflected as she prepared to hand over the reins in 1989. “He was a wonderful teacher,” though not such a good editor, at which his daughter turned out to be skilled—the musician’s attention to detail. Nevertheless, VG did not expect the company to long outlive him and would surely have been delighted by its continued flowering. Livia was a good spotter of new authors (Sara Paretsky was among her discoveries) who also had a keen eye for emerging editorial talent. Staff (mostly female) were encouraged to follow their passions, and while there were books of which she didn’t approve, she was never censorious. A devout vegetarian, she was more upset by a colleague’s fishing titles than she was by prostitute Dolores French’s memoir Working, which she thought “a very interesting social document”.

Like VG, she ran the company democratically, expecting everyone to do their own donkey work. The Covent Garden offices were spartan—what you’d imagine a publisher’s office should be—and pay and conditions fair but never lavish. A keen gardener, she would bring to work the abundant fruit (and vegetables) of her labours to share among colleagues. More often than not she wore T-shirt, jeans and stout shoes (Highgate Hill, the Downs or the Dolomites she was a keen walker) and she would have found today’s designer publishers absurd.

When she sold the company to Houghton Mifflin in 1989, Livia shared the proceeds with staff, hoping she had found them a good home. But in 1992 Houghton Mifflin sold to the Cassell Group, which overextended itself and, in turn, sold Gollancz to Orion. By then she had moved on, devoting her retirement to gardening, playing in string quartets (the viola was her second instrument), walking and the Highgate Literary & Scientific Institution.

Livia Gollancz, born 1920, died 2018.

Jon Wood, group publisher at Orion, has responded to the comments in this obituary in a letter, published here. Liz Thomson, writer of the obituary, replies below:

My comments on the diminution of Victor Gollancz should not be interpreted as a slight on the proud history of SF publishing itself, at Gollancz or anywhere else. Rather it is a reminder, to readers and publishers too young to remember the “old” Gollancz, that Victor Gollancz Ltd was a leader in so many ways and an independent powerhouse that set standards and trends in both adult and children’s publishing.

Victor and Livia—and their many colleagues who got their start at Gollancz and went on to make distinguished contributions across the trade, among them—Giles Gordon, Hilary Rubinstein, Liz Calder and Joanna Goldsworthy— discovered and fostered a wide range of writing talent. Throughout it all, Victor Gollancz Ltd held fast to core political, social and moral beliefs.

Long before “corporate social responsibility” became a buzz term, Gollancz conducted its business in a socially responsible way. The Left Book Club was an extremely important initiative that played a key role in the shaping of post-war Britain.

That is what has been forgotten as Gollancz was bought and sold and slotted into the corporate environment. Gollancz itself, and publishing in general, is a key part of Britain’s history and heritage.

Every day in the news, we see how history is casually rewritten—publishing should not proceed down that path.

Robert Simons, nephew of Livia Gollancz writes

As one of Livia Gollancz's nephews, I hesitate to enter the spat about your obituary of her. But given the final sentence of Liz Thomson's reply about how history is casually rewritten, I should like to point out the following:
1. Victor Gollancz was born in 1893, so was 34 in 1927, not 30. By then he had already demonstrated his abilities, having joined Benn Brothers in 1921 and been Managing Director of Ernest Benn Ltd from its creation in 1923.
2. Although VG undoubtedly understood the value of typography and marketing, the distinctive typography and yellow jackets were not his work but that of Stanley Morison, who was a director.
3. Neither Victor nor Livia Gollancz ever owned the firm. The majority of the capital to establish the firm came from the family and friends of Victor's wife Ruth (whom he described as its "only begetter"). Victor controlled the firm through his ownership of 100,000 1 shilling Founder's shares, which outvoted the 50,000 £1 Ordinary shares.

The Bookseller regrets the tone set by the original obituary, and for these errors — Philip Jones


The Road to Wigan Pier

Today’s book is one of the gems of the Left Book Club series of publications, probably one of the only books produced by the club that is still widely read today. George Orwell, the English essayist and socialist writer, wrote ‘Wigan Pier’ after a long journey and experiential visit of working class housing and workplaces in the north of England during the 1930s. His publisher at the time was Victor Gollancz, the man who published the Left Book Club, and who was also one of the three selectors, hence why Orwell had this book published by them. It was not to be a long standing relationship, however.

The book itself is in good condition, in traditional early LBC orange/red softcover. It dates from 1937, although the text was written before then when the book was published, Orwell was in Spain, fighting in the civil war. We can also tell the owner of the book there is a rather fantastic signature of a Cyril E Iles.

‘Wigan Pier’ was the only Orwell book ever printed by the Left Book Club despite Orwell’s long standing relationship with Gollancz, his book on the Spanish Civil War, ‘Homage to Catalonia’, disagreed with the LBC pro-Soviet position, and ‘Animal Farm’ famously went against Gollancz’s Stalinist motivations. ‘Wigan Pier’ itself was controversial the book, written in two parts, begins with a pretty standard account of poor living and working conditions, and then goes into a damning attack on the left wing of politics of the day, of which the LBC were obviously a part. In fact, so aggressive was the attack in places (including a vicious description of John Strachey’s writing style, which was perhaps a little poorly judged considering Strachey’s place on the selector’s board) that Gollancz placed an introduction at the start of the book, stating that he did not agree with Orwell on many things, and even attacking some of Orwell’s arguments.

After publication, and the subsequent anger expressed by much of the LBC readership, Gollancz gave into pressure and removed the second half of the book from the second edition, which was made easier by Orwell not being able to complain because he was in Spain, and also because, due to the book’s printing as an LBC publication, it had become his best-selling book to date, and therefore a major source of income. However, the second edition did not sell many copies, and much of the stock was later destroyed in a German bombing raid during WWII, making it much much rarer ‘Wigan Pier’ is almost unique in the book world in that respect, in that the first edition is worth considerably less than the second.



THE NEW PEOPLE'S LIBRARY (VICTOR GOLLANCZ LTD.)
Series Note: The books in this series were sold to the public through bookshops and other retail outlets. Most or all volumes were also issued as book club selections and emblazoned with the title Left Club Book Edition.

Volume Number / Title / Author

1. Money - Emile Burns. 1937.
2. The Jewish Question - George Sacks. 1937.
3. An Introduction to Economic Botany - James Gillespie. 1937.
4. A Short History of the Russian Revolution, I - R. Page Arnot. 1937.
5. An Introduction to Philosophy - John Lewis. 1937.
6. A Short History of the Russian Revolution, II - R. Page Arnot. 1937.
7. An Interpretation of Biology - Henry Collier. Preface by Julian Huxley. 1938.
8. The Civilization of Greece and Rome - Benjamin Farrington. 1938.
9. Trade Unionism - John A. Mahon. 1938.
10. Civil Liberties - W. H. Thompson. 1938.
11. Why The League Has Failed - "Vigilantes". 1938.
12. Science and Life - J. G. Crowther. 1938.
13. Italian Fascism - Gaetano Salvemini. 1938.
14. Why Capitalism Means War - Henry Noel Brailsford. 1938.
15. A Short History of the Unemployed - Wal Hannington. 1938.
16. The Evolution of Man and His Culture - H. C. Bibby. 1938.
17. Understanding The Atom - John Rowland. 1938.
18. The Geography of Capitalism - W. G. Moore. 1938.
19. An Outline of Political Thought - Stephen Swingler. 1939.
20. The People's Schools - M. Morris. 1939.
21. The Levellers and The English Revolution - H. Holorenshaw et al. 1939.
22. Riches and Poverty - Gordon Schaffler. 1939.
23. Chemistry: A Survey - Alan Beck. 1939.
24. What Is Marxism? - Emile Burns. 1939.
25. Heredity, Eugenics and Social Progress - H. C. Bibby. 1939.


Victor Gollancz(1893-1967)

Victor Gollancz, the son of Alexander Gollancz, a prosperous wholesale jeweller, was born in London in 1893. After his education at St. Paul’s School and New College, Oxford, he became a schoolmaster at Repton College.

In 1917 Seebohm Rowntree recruited Gollancz as a member of his Reconstruction Committee, an organisation he hoped would help plan the reconstruction of Britain after the war. Gollancz became a strong supporter of William Wedgwood Benn, the Liberal MP for Leith. Gollancz worked closely with Benn as secretary of the Radical Research Group. In 1921 Benn introduced Gollancz to his brother, Ernest Benn, the managing director of the publishers, Benn Brothers.

On the recommendation of William Wedgwood Benn, Gollancz was employed by Benn Brothers to develop the list of magazines the company published. Within six months Gollancz had convinced Ernest Benn to let him publish a series of art books. The books were a great success and during a seven year period turnover increased from £2,000 to £250,000 a year. Benn wrote in his diary that the increased company profits ‘reflects the greatest credit to the genius of Victor Gollancz’.

Gollancz also recruited novelists such as Edith Nesbit and H. G. Wells. He also employed Gerald Gould, fiction editor of the Observer, as chief manuscript reader. Gollancz realised that if he published works selected by Gould, the books would be guaranteed at least one good newspaper review. Gollancz believed that good reviews was a major factor in the selling of books. In critics liked a book published by the company, Gollancz purchased full-page adverts in national newspapers such as The Times and the Daily Herald to tell the public about the good reviews.

Although Ernest Benn believed Gollancz was a ‘publishing genius’ he was unwilling to give him full control over the company. There were also political differences between the two men. Whereas Benn had moved to the right during the 1920s, Gollancz had moved sharply to the left and was now a strong supporter of the Labour Party. Gollancz had disapproved of the publication of Ernest Benn’s own book, Confessions of a Capitalist, where he extolled the merits of laissez-faire capitalism.

In 1927 Gollancz left Ernest Benn and formed his own publishing company. Victor Gollancz was an immediate success. Using methods developed at Benn Brothers, he recruited writers such as A. J. Cronin, GEORGE ORWELL , Ford Madox Ford, Fenner Brockway, H. Brailsford and G. D. H. Cole.

In 1936 Gollancz joined with John Strachey, the Labour MP and Harold Laski, the Professor of Political Science at the London School of Economics, to form the Left Book Club. The main aim was to spread socialist ideas and to resist the rise of Fascism in Britain. Beginning with a membership of 10,000, numbers rose to 50,000 by 1939. The most important book published by the Left Book Club, was The Road to Wigan Pier by GEORGE ORWELL in 1937.

The success of the Left Book Club encouraged socialists to believe there was a market for a left-wing weekly. Gollancz was approached by a group of Labour MPs that included Stafford Cripps, Aneurin Bevan, George Strauss and Ellen Wilkinson and it was agreed to start publishing Tribune. Gollancz joined the editorial board and William Mellor was recruited as editor. GEORGE ORWELL , now recognised as Britain’s leading left-wing writer, agreed to contribute articles and later became the literary editor of the paper.

During the late 1930s and early 1940s Victor Gollancz was heavily involved in trying to get Jewish refugees out of Germany. After the war Gollancz worked hard to relieve starvation in Germany. He founded the Jewish Society for Human Service and its first objective was to help Arab relief.

After the Second World War political differences with GEORGE ORWELL resulted in Gollancz not publishing two great novels, Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four. However, he had several important successes including Kingley Amis’s Lucky Jim, John Updike’s Rabbit, Run and Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

In the 1950s played an active role in the formation of the National Campaign for the Abolition of Capital Punishment (NCACP). In 1958 Gollancz joined with Bertrand Russell, Fenner Brockway, J. B. Priestley, Canon John Collins and Michael Foot to form the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). Victor Gollancz died in 1967.

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Formatted by: O. Dag
Last modified on: 2019-12-29


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