The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists is the one book
. Part novel
, part socialist propaganda
, Tressell never lived to see the book published.
It tells the story of a group of builders and labourers in Mugsborough, a
fictional town on the south coast of England which was obviously a
thinly-disguised Hastings, where Tressell used to live. Tressell's
manuscript of The RTP was completed in 1910 but the first edition didn't
appear until 1914, nearly four years after the author's death. It started to
sell well but then the outbreak of World War I put a quick halt to it.
After the war another edition was put out, at a much reduced price. The timing
was perfect: a wave of revolutionary and left-wing ideas were sweeping
across Europe as soldiers returning to civilian life started to wonder exactly
what and who they'd been fighting for. Because it was written in an
easy-to-read style, in the language of ordinary people, and presented
socialist ideas without being patronising or over-complicated, it became
highly influential, and copies were passed around from person to person many
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists has been called the book that won the
general election for Labour after the end of World War II; the veteran MP
Tony Benn describes it as "a torch to pass from generation to generation".