1920s >> 1928 >> no-287-july-1928

Hero Worship: A Conversation with a Visitor from Mars.

(Continued from June Issue.)

As the ‘magical’ rites performed by the ‘medicine-man’ are deemed indispensable to the prosperity of the tribe, our ‘hero’ gains great influence and repute, and often acquires the rank and authority of a chief or king. Later the time arrives when this position is made hereditary, and soon the ‘magician’s’ wand becomes the sceptre of ‘kingly authority’ ! And so we see, Marty, that the exalted origin of kings and emperors—the ‘divine right of kings’—is the plausible, shrlvelled-up impostor thought to be so powerful by my ancestors, but whose best performances to-day would scarcely attract the notice of a street audience.

“But, however bad the institution of monarchy has been for the human race, its effects have been negligible compared with the terrible superstitions called religions, which have grown up out of the ‘magical’ rites performed by the medicine-man. The old mimicry and flapdoodle of these rites are still the stock-in-trade of our religions, but all the arts of civilisation have been called upon to gratify the senses of the devotees, to dignify fraud, to sanctify humbug and implant superstitious beliefs in the minds of the masses, and so resist the effect of revolutionary ideas engendered by the economic conditions endured by the enslaved majority. But happily the wide spread of knowledge, which the capitalist class has been compelled to facilitate, is steadily weakening the hold of religion upon the community.

 “In enumerating the effects of this primitive ‘hero-worship,’ however, one must bear in mind that, as the antidote is never far from the poison, so the experiments of the witch-doctor with herbal concoctions mark the beginnings of medical science, his ‘magical’ rites led to the development of many arts and crafts, and his pretended study of the stars led (via astrology) to the science of astronomy. That is to say, the eradication of superstition led to honest enquiry.

“It may be relevant here, Marty, to comment upon another phase of ‘hero-worship,’ which appears to have been in being in the earliest stages of social development. Age seems to have been the first privilege to creep into society. In early communities we find the membership of the Council of the tribe was confined almost invariably to men of advanced years. This deference paid to old-age (perhaps originally due to some savage association of ideas connecting whiskers with wisdom !) went to ludicrous lengths during the Patriarchal stage, but although capitalism has brutally reversed old conceptions regarding senility, the old tradition is often hypocritically used by members of the ruling class and their agents as a valuable aid in the task of bemusing the minds of the workers. With what tragical frequency, for instance, does it happen that when some venerable ancient holding high office in a Trade Union, after years spent in beguiling and tricking the members, is exposed and denounced for his flagrant treachery, the members are deterred from taking salutary (and summary !) action by reminders of his past services. Such phrases as ‘Be not hard on one who has grown grey in the Movement’ or ‘Do not forget that Wheedler has sacrificed the best years of his life in your interests,’ etc., ad nauseam, are repeatedly showered upon the duped men in supplicating tones, whilst the fact that Wheedler has also grown affluent and corpulent is not mentioned. The curse of whiskers . . .”

“Enough !” Marty imperiously exclaimed, at the same time fondling his really superb golden beard, “do not deteriorate into childish prattle. You have touched upon a subject which is interesting to me—the question of leadership. Now can you impart some information as to the effects of ‘leadership’ upon the various subject classes you have mentioned? And “—here Marty winced perceptibly— “leave whiskers alone !”

Thus rebuked, I changed the trend of my remarks. “You may be surprised to learn, Marty, that it took centuries of the experience of chattel-slavery before the idea of ‘leadership’ was conceived. Tribal society was often engaged in warfare, but the military commanders were warlike men who received delegated authority from the tribe. During peace time such persons reverted to their ordinary occupations, and were without any special privileges. But although the idea of ‘leadership’ (as differentiated from delegated authority) arose out of the habits of obedience enforced under chattel-slavery, you must not suppose that the slaves themselves tamely submitted to their lot. On the contrary, the great empires of Chaldea, Egypt, Greece and Rome were at times seriously threatened by slave revolts. Thus in Rome (b.c. 73) a Thracian slave called Spartacus gathered a large body of followers and ravaged Italy from end to end, and defeated several Roman armies, until he was at last slain. Undoubtedly, Spartacus was a great leader of men, and the obedience rendered grudgingly by the slaves to their masters was willingly given to him. Accordingly, the slaves, having put all their hopes in the keeping of one man, these hopes perished with the death of the man, and the capable army became a mere rabble and was easily conquered. The bloody vengeance of the ruling class upon these rebels against slavery has no parallel in history—save, perhaps, the massacres after the Paris Commune. The terrible lesson of this vengeance was ever in the minds of the slaves, and no further revolts on such a gigantic scale occurred; and, as there was apparently no earthly saviour, they eventually succumbed to the teachings of the divine-man saviour (Jesus), later encouraged by their masters, who saw its usefulness in instilling earthly contentedness.

“In the history of my country, Marty, the rebellion of the peasants, led by Wat Tyler (1381), provides another example of the senselessness in placing all one’s trust and hopes in ‘leaders.’ The revolt was highly successful until Tyler was murdered, and then his infuriated followers were eventually mollified by the young king, who promised to be their leader and redress their wrongs. Of course, when the peasants had returned home, the ruling class opened its campaign of vengeance, and desisted in its slaughter only when it realized that it was reducing the number of wealth makers so grievously that any further ‘displacement’ of labour would send wages soaring.

(To be continued).

(Socialist Standard, July 1928)

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