The ragged trousered philanthropists - Robert Tressell

The ragged trousered philanthropists - Robert Tressell

A Marxist critique of society dressed up as a novel, Ragged Trousered Philanthrophists follows construction worker Frank Owen trying to convince others about socialism, a figure based on Tressell himself. He would face rejection and death before his work was published, but when it was it found instant popularity amongst UK workers.

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Comments

Steven.
Nov 8 2012 18:58

Thanks for posting this, this is an amazing book.

I have added text and epub versions of this text now.

With the mobi version, is it the full-length version with 54 chapters? Because there is a shorter version, which isn't as good

plasmatelly
Nov 8 2012 19:28

I read this when I was young and groovy - it was handed down from me dad and the whole family bar one brother read it. It's certainly not libcom, but it's truly a classic.

Steven.
Nov 8 2012 19:42
plasmatelly wrote:
I read this when I was young and groovy - it was handed down from me dad and the whole family bar one brother read it. It's certainly not libcom, but it's truly a classic.

yeah, from my memory the analysis of capitalism and the working class is very good. However the version of electoral socialism it outlines is inadequate. Although it was written in 1911 when the Labour Party experiment was still in its early days and so its failure was not yet as apparent as it is today.

flaneur
Nov 8 2012 20:28

No bother, been meaning to put it up for a while. It's from the Gutenberg Project but they don't say owt about what version it is. Happy endings are totally bourgie anyhow.

plasmatelly
Nov 8 2012 20:42

Steven wrote -

Quote:
Although it was written in 1911 when the Labour Party experiment was still in its early days and so its failure was not yet as apparent as it is today.

Yes, I remember the hope and sense of possibilities for the future. AFAICR there was a big explanation from the socialist painter about mutualism and the cooperative movement building another world in the shell of the old - can't remember much about revolution being mentioned... actually I might read it again smile

Chilli Sauce
Nov 9 2012 13:08

Audio version here with 68 chapters:

http://librivox.org/the-ragged-trousered-philanthropists-by-robert-tressell/

EDIT: I'm lying, that's the 54 chapter vision in 68 parts

Chilli Sauce
Nov 9 2012 13:45

Also, just to say, I can't say trousers in anything but a Scottish accent.

Chilli Sauce
Nov 27 2012 15:46

So I just finished reading this (or rather listening--the guy who does the librivox recording has a great Irish accent).

It was good: witty, well written. However, I did find it quite patronizing at times--the enlightened socialists verse the working class "Tory and Liberal upholders of the capitalist system." And this ties into a larger critique I had of the book, namely the idea that political persuasion will lead to a revolutionary movement. I mean, the potential power of Owen's workmates if they stick together is mentioned like three times, while the debates about socialism happen in every other chapter.

Despite the obvious influence of the labour theory of value, there does seem to be a bit of utopian socialism in there as well. I mean, there's the obvious that Tressell's socialism starts with state employment and builds from there, but at the big Socialist meeting, the socialism presented is a meritocratic and compulsive one (required national service and the like).

Again, besides the obvious influence of Marx, the idea of a dialectical development between action and conciousness seems totally absent. And while the book is obviously a good read, I think it's definitely not good organising or good revolutionary practice to suggest the main role of revolutionaries should be out-debate their workmates on the virtues of socialism

The book seems to suggest that it will be a combination of propaganda, winning the argument, and the immiseration of the working class which will eventually lead to socialism. Of course, those are all going to be neccesary elements, but the idea that it will take mass struggle against capital to create the space for a revolutionary movement seems lost on Tressell. In any case, the immiseration line is especially problematic when dealing with a situation where a country's working class--through both struggle and the evolving needs of capital--has pushed itself above subsistence level.

Again, though, this is all pre-1917 and pre-social democracy, so perhaps that's all a bit more understandable.

The other thing that did strike me however, was that it wasn't like Britain hadn't seen mass workers action prior to Tressell's writing. The book sort of presents it like there'd neven been a workers movement in England and I think a lot of the pessimistic tone comes from that. Just seems a bit misplaced.

Steven.
Nov 27 2012 18:20

Yeah, I agree with pretty much all your criticisms. Its strength is definitely in its explanation and critique of the capitalist system, rather than what it proposes in its place, or how it says we should get there.

On a related note, some credit this book with winning the election for Labour in 1945. And obviously it is a failing of a "socialist" book to basically suggest that voting Labour could usher in socialism. But as I said I think that's forgiveable in terms of when it was written and what it is.