Hero Worship: A Conversation with a Visitor from Mars.
“Although,” remarked the Martian, “you have certainly illustrated the fact that the ‘great man’ is not the dominant factor in history, you have not yet given me any definite theory which explains the progression of changes and development in human society.”
“Many apologies for the omission, Marty, old man,” I replied, “but if you will lend me your esteemed ears for a while —figuratively speaking, of course—I will endeavour to acquaint you with the two main theories opposed to the Carlyle conception of history. Buckle,(*) the nineteenth century historian, stresses the importance of ‘climate, food, soil, and the general aspect of nature’ as the great factors in determining the course of social development. Certainly, in the infancy of a race, these factors are of primary importance in deciding, for instance, whether society should be pastoral or agricultural, nomadic or settled. But this theory does not account for the successive changes in the social and economic basis of society in the countries where these physical agents have remained constant for centuries; the America of to-day, Marty, is radically different in its social and economic structure from the fatherland of the Last of the Mohicans, despite the fact that ‘climate, food, soil, and the general aspect of nature’ have remained virtually the same (although, perhaps, Buckle would have ascribed this transformation to the change in the people’s food due to ‘adulteration’s artful aid !’). Also, the same systems of society have sprung up in countries which bear no resemblance at all in their physical characteristics. Thus, I fear, our historian comes somewhat unbuckled ! Where, then, must we turn for the true explanation? Late in the 18th century Franklin made the pronouncement that man differed from other animals by the fact that he was the sole tool-maker; but Franklin did not realise that therein lay the key to historical development.
“To satisfy the needs of society, Marty, men enter into certain relations with each other in order to produce wealth in the most efficient and convenient way. These industrial relations correspond to the stage society has reached in the development of its productive forces, while the sum of these industrial relations constitutes society’s economic structure. Now, allow me to indicate to you the three great economic structures of society known to European civilisation in order to illustrate the fact that the industrial relations of men vary according to the state of society’s productive forces.
The principal industry of the ancient world, Marty, was agriculture, and the system of production was chattel-slavery, which was exceedingly efficient, as men themselves were still the main instruments of production, while world-peace (Pax Romana) made this human property secure. With the advent of the breaking up of the world-market (as known to the Ancients), however, land became the main means of subsistence, and war was always imminent; the system of production then became one based on serfdom, which conveniently combined the utility of the slave and the reliable fighting power of the ‘free’ man. Now in modern times, my friend, the machine is the great factor in production, and thus the value of employees, in the eyes of the owners of the means of production, is far less than was the value of the slave or the serf; while their dogs and horses in old age are well cared for, the men who have created their wealth are regarded, in the main, as mere human sponges, to be wrung dry of their labour power, and when ineffective through sickness or age, to be flung upon the industrial refuse-heap. In other words, we still endure the obsolete and increasingly-disastrous Capitalist system of society.
(*)History of Civilisation.
(To be continued).
(Socialist Standard, April 1928)