Sunday, 5 April 2009

Review – The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell

After having this book recommended to me several times I finally got around to reading it over the last few months. And the reasons that it was recommended to me, for its exposition of the capitalist system and a vague explanation of how Socialism could work are very good. The chapters which feature the debates the workmen have about socialist ideas are excellent parts of the book.
Yet, for me there were several things I disliked about the book too. Firstly, at 700 or so pages, I felt that the book was overly long for the story it was telling. Secondly, I found the story quite depressing. Not that that is a reason necessarily to dislike it, but what was most depressing was the fact that the Socialists were just abstractly arguing for their ideas without trying to engage in struggles alongside other workers. There is one bit towards the end when the main character, Frank Owen, finally stands up to his employer to defend an apprentice at the company, and I found myself thinking ‘at last!’.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists depicts the brutality of capitalism for the working classes excellently, and despite the gap since when it was published those same conditions apply in similar form today. But whilst you’ll find an exposition of Socialist ideas in the book, what you won’t find is how to bring these ideas to the working class.

1 comment:

Charlie Marks said...

Yeah, it's been years since I read it (it made me so sad I didn't finish) but that struck me too. There was a Radio 4 dramatisation recently, which made the story come to life for me.