Monday, 13 April 2009

The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists

Optimism is a banker ironing 5 shirts on a Sunday evening so the latest joke goes. Due to the economic situation and the battering Capitalism is taking, there has been a substantial rise in the numbers of books advocating alternative systems. Always wise for a chance to increase sales, the local bookshop has a display of just such books as you enter the store with the facial whiskers of Karl Marx and his Communist Manifesto most prominent.
Now if you are a Daily Mail reader or a member of the Conservative Party you will probably not be queuing up at the till with the mid 19th Century publication. You will be far too busy trying to pin the blame for Britain's ills on immigrants for that, but i would advise that if you are one of the recently disillusioned and have heard about this Socialism thing and want to find out a bit more about it, i wouldn't reach for the Marx/Engels book straight away. It can not be called, in any terms, a page turner and can be confusing for anyone dipping a toe into Socialist theory.
Luckily, there is a novel that i always recommend for anyone wanting to read more about Socialism and how it can benefit the everyday working person.
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists written by Robert Tressell is a tale of a group of poorly paid workers who throw themselves into back-breaking work for low wages in order to generate profit for their masters.
The hero of the book, Frank Owen, is a socialist who believes that the capitalist system is the source of the poverty he sees all around him and tries to convince his fellow workers of the Socialist view only to find that they are trained by the very people they are making the vast profits for to distrust any alternative system and to rely on them to 'see them right'.
It was written in 1911, around the time of the Labour Party coming into existence and has been cited by many Labour Party members as the book that inspired them into fighting for a fairer society.
I can't recommend it strong enough as the starting point for understanding the Socialist viewpoint if you are one of those tempted by searching out an alternative view to the present system and are contemplating diving straight into the Communist Manifesto.

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