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Thread: On the Role of the Individual in History

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    Senior Member Joseph Stalin's Avatar
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    Politics On the Role of the Individual in History

    In their struggle against the Narodniks and their anti-Marxist conception of relations between the masses and "great men," the early Russian Marxists waged a successful struggle to repudiate this conception as well as other incorrect and idealist stands held by the adherents of Narodnism. Whereas the Narodniks held that the masses were a mere mob, "the Marxists affirmed that it is not heroes that make history, but history that makes heroes... Heroes, outstanding individuals, may become ridiculous and useless failures if they do not correctly understand the conditions of development of society and go counter to the historical needs of society in the conceited belief that they are 'makers' of history."[1]

    But is this true? There exist both idealists and vulgar materialists, the former holding that God or some other "spiritual" force ordains history, while the latter hold that humans are forever and at best only very faintly conscious of material forces which shape their destiny. Marx and Engels struggled against both trends, putting forward militant, historical, and dialectical materialism. Defending Marxism at a later date, Lenin pointed out that "the limits of approximation of our knowledge to the objective, absolute truth are historically conditional, but the existence of such truth is unconditional, and the fact that we are approaching nearer to it is also unconditional. The contours of the picture are historically conditional, but the fact that this picture depicts an objectively existing model is unconditional."[2] In effect the vulgar materialists come to uphold a form of idealism, masked with "materialist" phraseology.

    Stalin, in his interview with the German author Emil Ludwig, noted that "Marxism does not at all deny the role played by outstanding individuals or that history is made by people. In Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy and in other works of his you will find it stated that it is people who make history. But, of course, people do not make history according to the promptings of their imagination or as some fancy strikes them. Every new generation encounters definite conditions already existing, ready-made when that generation was born. And great people are worth anything at all only to the extent that they are able correctly to understand these conditions, to understand how to change them. If they fail to understand these conditions and want to alter them according to the promptings of their imagination, they will land themselves in the situation of Don Quixote. Thus it is precisely Marx's view that people must not be counterposed to conditions. It is people who make history, but they do so only to the extent that they correctly understand the conditions that they have found ready-made, and only to the extent that they understand how to change those conditions."[3]

    In his 1894 letter to W. Borgius, Engels pointed out that "great men" (such as Napoléon, Cromwell, etc.) were called for by the material conditions, which are primarily economic in character. That a particular man arose is considered as fortuitous, but the necessity for such men to arise is what counts. The issue, then, is the actions carried out under the leadership of such men, with their psychological and other attributes having an impact on said actions, but at the same time said actions being based primarily on the position of that man in society, in the class position he holds and class interests he is obliged or able to serve.

    Having taken this all into account, in generalized form, what are your views on the subject? Specifically, your views on the role of the individual in history and the role and abilities of the "great men" of history?

    [1] History of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (Short Course), 1945, p. 14.
    [2] V.I. Lenin. Selected Works Vol. 11. 1939. p. 198.
    [3] J.V. Stalin, Works Vol. 13, 1954, pp. 107-108.

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    Senior Member Joseph Stalin's Avatar
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    Someone gave me a negative reputation.

    This proves how glorious Marxism-Leninism is.

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