1920s >> 1928 >> no-288-august-1928

Hero Worship: A Conversation With a Visitor from Mars.

“Spartacus and Tyler are examples of ‘good’ leaders, men of courage, sincerity and ability; but history records far more examples of ‘leaders’ who have betrayed their followers. Indeed, the ruling class in all ages have employed agents to obtain positions of dominance in revolutionary movements that it might be warned of all plans and be prepared against sudden outbreaks. The movements of the Luddites (the name taken by a ‘secret’ organisation which sprang up when modern machinery was being introduced, its objects being to smash the machines which deprived them of their living as handicraftsmen) and the Chartists were made largely ineffective by such laudable stratagems. The last words spoken on the scaffold by Brandreth, one of the boldest of the Luddites, were: ‘I have been betrayed by Oliver the Spy.’ This same Oliver, by the way, was also instrumental in causing one of the best organized risings of the Chartists to be abortive. But the supreme tragedy of the Chartist movement, imbued with ideas of the necessity for leadership, was in the support given to its worst enemies—the liberal capitalists— lured by some of its followers by the latter’s promises to gain for them their objects.
“In more recent times, Marty, it has been shown that often the most violent ‘leaders’ of secret revolutionary organizations are in reality secret police agents. Before the Bolshevic Revolution in Russia, many such agents were proved to have urged bomb outrages against ministers and even to have committed such deeds themselves. The infamous Father Gapon, who led the Russian workers to the terrible shambles at the Tsar’s palace in St. Petersburg, Bogrov, who shot the premier Stolypin dead, and Azeff, one of the most influential of the ‘social revolutionaries,’ were proved to be such ‘agents provocateurs.’
“So much for ‘secret’ movements and the part of ‘hero-worship’ in the disintegration of them, whilst for the workers this rule may be formulated: The penalty of trusting to others to do what can be done by themselves has been and always will be the same—trust and you will be ‘trussed.’
“I have already pointed out, Marty, how capitalism has weakened the hold of genuine ‘hero-worship,’ and I now come to a factor which is tending to destroy the idea of ‘leadership’ in the workers’ movements. The growth of industrial and political organizations professing to promote the interests of the workers has led to a wild scramble for ‘jobs’ in these bodies. Consequently, we see would-be ‘leaders’ seeking to shift the old well-entrenched ‘leaders’ by every kind of denunciation of their words and actions. Thus ‘leader’ succeeds ‘leader’ with bewildering rapidity, and the logical outcome of this sordid struggle must be the realization by the workers that all ‘leaders’ are equally useless to them in their march to emancipation. The use of ‘catch words’ and slogans many times repeated has become so familiar as to breed, if not contempt, at least a desire to see something resembling ‘results.’ Even oratory fails to convey the ‘herd-thrill’ to the same degree as in the past, and the old ‘leaders’ are retained only from sentimental feelings of attachment as one keeps an old pair of boots or a threadbare coat. These are hopeful signs, Marty, but only the realization by the workers of their slave position and the knowledge of the means to escape therefrom can finally dispel any fears as to their ability to dispense with ‘leaders’ and themselves organize for their own emancipation, which wilL involve the emancipation of all mankind by the setting up of the Universal Classless Republic wherein all will be free to enjoy (without the sanction of ‘great’ men) the entire bounty of the earth.”
I had hoped that this peroration would have ended our conversation, but Marty has the tenacity of a bulldog and the curiosity of a jackdaw.
“When Socialism is finally established and ‘hero worship’ no longer exists, what ideals do you conceive will produce the effects formerly obtained from personal idolatry—will sincere, able men continue to inspire others less endowed by Nature? ”
“Your question, Marty,’’ I replied, “is like that of the patient to the doctor: ‘You have cured me of smallpox, what do you propose to put in its place?’ However, assuming the role of the prophet, I shall attempt an answer. Under Socialism the people will be not only the producers of wealth but the owners of it. At the present time we are told by ‘advanced’ capitalists that in firms which allot a portion of the profit for division among the employees, the men work more eagerly, knowing that each will receive a large bonus if the ‘common product’ is increased, and become more vigilant and interested in their work. (Although, of course, these capitalists do not point out the fraud of the ‘beneficial innovation,’ the cheap increased output of the masters, the impaired health of the workers, the speedy glutting of the market and the resultant unemployment.) Also the experiments of Leclaire and Godin show that inventiveness receives a stimulus by this supposed share in the common product. If a zeal is created by participation in a minute fraction of the ‘common product,’ how great a zeal will be inculcated in the independent-minded men who will possess in common the entire fruits of their labours —freed from the dominance of the master class. No longer in fear of losing their livelihood, no longer forced to toil the whole weary day in a frantic effort to secure the bare material necessities for sustaining life, each will have the opportunity to develop himself (or herself), physically and mentally, as a member of the Classless Republic. The increase in leisure will lead to a higher level of culture, while the desire to excel, then no longer necessary to be indulged at the expense of others, will be directed towards the betterment of the community. As to your question whether able men will still inspire men of less ability, the answer is that great deeds and thoughts will be acknowledged with approbation by the community, but reverential awe or idolatrous glorification must needs be absent in a Commonwealth based on equality and not privilege.”
At this point the Martian arose. “Thank you for your patient explanations,” he said, “but I must now return for a season to my planet as the strain of your climate is too much for my Martian constitution.” “Look me up when you are down here again,” I replied. “For the present, bon voyage, and mind the skylight as you go out!”
W. J.

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