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Robert Tressell’s “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”. Hull Truck 14th May 2013

RTPPicA virtually full house in the main auditorium at Hull Truck Theatre witnessed this genius adaptation for the stage of a seminal work in the history of UK socialism. A close Comrade whose opinion is widely respected in the Hull Labour Movement correctly said, “if they are prepared to pay £15 to take part in an event that preaches to the converted, why the hell aren’t they out really making a difference by getting involved in campaigning. If people aren’t motivated now, what WILL it take?”

A quick scan of Wikipedia will provide the bare bones of why the Labour Party came to exist, but for me the best explanation comes Robert Tressell’s one and only novel written in 1911, but only published posthumously in 1914, “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists”.

It tells the story of a bunch of painter/ decorators and their travails with uncaring employers who are only interested in making the biggest profit for the smallest outlay. The characters often argue and Tressell is constantly showing that they in fact facilitate their miserable existence by doing that very British of things, slagging off their bosses behind their backs but then ingratiating themselves with said employers to gain the upper hand on their colleagues. 

Tressell uses various characters to illustrate the ideas of Karl Marx regarding the idea that employers, by and large, are like puppet masters watching their employees do all the work whilst they cream off the money. This process is never questioned because the employer creates a hierarchy by making a few workers feel superior, but at the same time these employees are worried about the loss of their own privileges if those beneath them do not deliver. 

We enjoyed the delivery and it proved that the issues of 100 years ago are exactly the same as they are now. Poverty, capitalism and workers at each others throats over immigration, “deserving” welfare and the such like mean now, more than ever we must be united and solid in the face of the cruellest Government imaginable. It made we wonder about the relevance of the Labour front bench and PLP as they (with notable exceptions) just do not get it about just how terrible things really are.

But I keep coming back to our Comrade’s earlier observations. Maybe there is an element of feeling the combination of teachers (guilty), University lecturers and social workers (meow) have done their “bit” by being there and can go home to their, (wait for it), homes in Kirk Ella (again, guilty) and the Avenues feeling vaguely sated with mild outrage? But we can only hope that they were galvanised by the self evident truths that were on offer, and will take practical measures to oppose this dreadful Government of desperadoes and millionaires in London. 


About dermotrathbone

Writer and co author "Through Red Lenses". Activist Unite the Union, Save Our NHS Hull. Fan of Yorkshire County Cricket Club, Hull FC, Munster and Ireland Rugby. Views are mine alone and may not reflect the organisations concerned.


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