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The Plebs’ League was set up in 1908 as a Marxist-influenced group unhappy with the teaching at Ruskin College. It published a magazine, Plebs, and many books. Its outlook was summed up by its 1921 title, dedicated to Lenin, Creative Revolution – A study of Communist Ergatocracy (rule by the workers): “There will have to be a highly centralised governmental authority, exercising rule in the strictest sense.” The TLS called the volume “An elaborate apologia for Bolshevism”.

The cartoon on the front of the special General Strike edition of Plebs had the TUC as an elephant looking at a small stone marked “The constitution” and thinking, “Ouch! I must be careful not to tread on that.” In 1927 publishing operations were taken over by the National Council of Labour Colleges and things became more mainstream with the Labour MP Arthur Woodburn writing the Plebs outline on finance. In 1964 the NCLC was, in turn, subsumed into the TUC education service.

This article first appeared in the 01 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, Labour conference special