Hero Worship: A Conversation with a Visitor from Mars.
“Now it is on the economic basis of society, Marty, that the political, legal, religious and aesthetic superstructures are reared—’the mode of production in material life determines the g’eneral character of the social, political, and spiritual processes of life.’ (*) Some fine illustrations of this fact are provided in the great work, ‘Ancient Society,’ by Lewis Henry Morgan, the American ethnologist. The passage I will now read to you is in itself sufficiently convincing :—
“In its relation to the high career of mankind, the invention of the iron tool must be held the greatest event in human experience, preparatory to civilisation. When the barbarian, advancing step by step, had discovered the native metals …. and produced iron from the ore, nine-tenths of the battle for civilisation was gained. Furnished with iron tools, capable of holding both an edge and a point, mankind were certain of attainment to civilisation. The production of iron was the event of events in human experience …. Out of it came the metallic hammer and anvil, the axe and the chisel, the plough with an iron point, the iron sword; in fine, the basis of civilisation, which may be said to rest upon this metal. The want of iron tools arrested the progress of mankind in barbarism. There they would have remained to the present hour, had they failed to bridge the chasm.”
“As I have already outlined to you, by the change from the Ancient World to Feudalism and from Feudalism to Capitalism, the industrial relations of men come into conflict with the ever-changing material productive forces, and thus, instead of helping, begin to hinder production. Then comes social revolution, a new economic foundation, and corresponding political, legal, artistic, and religious forms. Consequently, the history of mankind, Marty, in its broad outline, is a series of class struggles. At the present time, there remain but two classes in society — the workers, who produce wealth, and the Capitalists, who own the means of producing wealth and accordingly appropriate it when produced. The latter class, though small, is now dominant, but even as the members of this class eliminated the old feudal nobility, so the other class of society (the workers) will eliminate them. Accordingly, classes will cease to exist; the producers will then also be the possessors; in short, social ownership of the means of social production (or Socialism) is the next stage in society’s development.
“This theory of history, formulated by Marx and Engels, based on the economic structure of society, is called the ‘materialist conception of history,’ and completely shatters the view that society depends entirely upon court intrigues and the endeavours of ‘great’ individuals for its development.”
As I said these words, the Martian’s eyes roved around my bookcase, and at length he remarked, “How is it then, holding this view of history, you yet treasure such books as ‘Plutarch’s Lives,’ ‘Autobiography of Herbert Spencer,’ ‘Life of Danton,’ and ‘Marat’?—works dealing exclusively with particular persons.”
(*) Marx’s Critique of Political Economy.
(To be continued).
(Socialist Standard May 1929)