Saw my parents at the weekend and was surprised to be given my Grandfather's collection of Left Book Club editions. I know little of this Grandfather who died when my own Dad was a boy. I do know he had been a Father Of the Chapel, but I had no idea that he was on the Left, or possibly even a Communist Party sympathizer.
The titles of the books, all from the late 1930's, show the uncritical attitude of many of the Left at that time to the Soviet Union. There's the Webbs' 'Soviet Communism - A New Civilisation', and Sloan's 'Soviet Democracy'. But perhaps Cole's 'The People's Front' best sums up the spirit of the times, when many otherwise independent lefts saw the Soviet Union as the last bulwark against rising Fascism. Almost impossible for our own post cold war generation to imagine.
Hilariously there is also an edition of Orwell's 'Road To Wigan Pier' - with a preface added by Victor Gollancz himself warning readers that the Left Book Club did not necessarily endorse Orwell's views. Particularly his skepticism about the Soviet Union and his criticisms of middle class socialists as 'cranks, pipe-smokers, fruit juice-drinkers and vegetarians' (all still perfectly valid today of course).
Apparently Gollancz refused to publish 'Homage To Catalonia' and subsequently put out a later version of 'Wigan Pier' with the offending sections censored out. To his credit though , following the Nazi-Soviet pact he himself became disillusioned with the CP.
At its peak just before the outbreak of war the Left Book Club had just under 60,000 members paying 2s 6d for a monthly book club choice - politics, economics, history or culture - always in an economy paperback edition with distinctive orange covers.
A fantastic concept that could be revived - without the Stalinism - maybe this time round as an online subscription service ?