Central to the formation of the League was Noah Ablett, a miner from the Rhondda who was at the core of a group at Ruskin College, Oxford who challenged the lecturers' opposition to Marxism. In the 1907–8 academic year, Ablett began leading unofficial classes in Marxist political economy which were attended by Ebby Edwards, among others. Ablett returned to South Wales in 1908, where he began promoting Marxist education through local branches of the Independent Labour Party.
A mixture of students and former students at Ruskin founded the Plebs' League in November 1908, also launching the Plebs' Magazine. In the first issue of the Plebs, dated February 1909, Ablett contributed an article on the need for Independent Working Class Education. The League ran classes teaching Marxist principles and later syndicalist ideas.
During 1909, student agitation for Marxism continued at Ruskin. The students were supported by the Principal, Dennis Hird, and when he was dismissed the students went on strike, refusing to attend classes. The rebels formed the Central Labour College, which worked closely with the Plebs' League.
The Plebs Textbook Committee
The Plebs' League established the Plebs Textbook Committee, which was responsible for the collective publishing of several of their books after 1921. These were attributed to "communal production" rather than individual authors.
- Syndicalism in South Wales, Bob Pitt
- Proletcult, Eden Paul (1921)
- Biographical Dictionary of European Labor Leaders, A. T. Lane (1995), p. 3
- The Welsh Academy Encyclopaedia of Wales. John Davies, Nigel Jenkins, Menna Baines and Peredur Lynch (2008), p. 687 ISBN 978-0-7083-1953-6
- The Ruskin Debate: Their college or ours?, Socialist Worker Review 93, Duncan Hallas (1986)
- Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations, Peter Barberis, John McHugh and Mike Tyldesley (2000), p. 157
- Koureas, Gabriel (5 July 2017). "Memory, Masculinity and National Identity in British Visual Culture, 1914?930 ": A Study of 'Unconquerable Manhood'. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-351-55855-6.
- Gibson, I., 'Marxism and Ethical Socialism in Britain: the case of Winifred and Frank Horrabin' (BA Thesis, University of Oxford, 2008)
- McIlroy, J., ‘Independent Working Class Education and Trade Union Education and Training’ in Roger Fieldhouse (ed.), A History of Modern British Adult Education (Leicester, 1996), ch.10
- Macintyre, S., A Proletarian Science: Marxism in Britain 1917-33 (Cambridge, 1980)
- Millar, J.P.M.M., The Labour College Movement (London, 1979)
- Phillips, A. and Putnam, T., ‘Education for Emancipation: The Movement for Independent Working-Class Education 1908-1928’, Capital and Class, 10 (1980), pp. 18–42
- Rée, J., Proletarian Philosophers: Problems in Socialist Culture in Britain, 1900-1940 (Oxford, 1984)
- Samuel, R., “British Marxist Historians, 1880-1980: Part One”, NLR, 120 (1980), pp. 21–96
- Samuel, R., The Lost World of British Communism (London, 2006)
- Simon, B., `The Struggle for Hegemony, 1920-1926’ in idem (ed.), The Search for Enlightenment: The Working Class and Adult Education in the Twentieth Century, (London, 1990), pp. 15–70