Thursday, April 23, 2020

读书笔记 - The Role of the Individual in History

Georgi V. Plekhanov

This essay substantiates and defends Marxism and advocates Marxian theory of social development. This essay might be regarded as the one of the best in Marxist literature.

Human history as a process expresses laws, but does not proceed independently of man; history is made by men who set the problems of progress and solve them in conformity with the historical conditions of the epoch.

A great man is great because he possesses qualities which make him most capable of serving the great social needs of his time, needs which arise as a result of general and particular causes.

A great man is precisely a beginner because he sees further than others and desires things more strongly than others.

Stalin says: "Only the people are immortal. Everything else is transient. That is why we must be able to value the confidence of the people."

When we say that a certain individual regards his activities as an inevitable link in the chain of inevitable events, we mean, among other things, that for this individual, lack of free will is tantamount to incapability of inaction, and that this lack of free will is reflected in his mind as the impossibility of acting differently from the way he is acting.

As the man is, so is his philosophy.

Men who have repudiated free will have often excelled all their contemporaries in strength of will, and asserted their will to the utmost.

It is freedom that is identical with necessity, it is necessity transformed into freedom.

Being conscious of the absolute inevitability of a given phenomenon can only increase the energy of a man of the forces which called it into being.

This sum of circumstances will include my replacement as a negative magnitude; and it will also include, as a positive magnitude, the stimulating effect on strong-minded men of the conviction that their savings and ideals are the subjective expression of objective necessity.

The science of history must have in view, not only the activities of great men, and not only political history, but historical life as a whole.

We cannot make history, we must wait while it is being made. We will not make fruit ripen more quickly by subjecting it to the heat of a lamp; and if we pluck the fruit before it is ripe, we will only prevent its growth and spoil it.

Historians are too much in the habit of paying attention only to the brilliant, clamorous and ephemeral manifestations of human activity, to great events and great men, instead of depicting the great and slow changes of economic conditions and social institutions.

In the eighteenth century the students of the philosophy of history reduced everything to the conscious activities of individuals. The great majority of the thinkers of the eighteenth century regarded history exactly in the way we have described.

The mental and moral qualities of a man who is playing a more or less important role in public life, his talent, knowledge, resoluteness or irresoluteness, courage or cowardice, etc cannot help having a marked influence on the course and outcome of events; and yet these qualities cannot be explained solely by the general laws of development of a nation; they are always, and to a considerable degree, acquired as a result of the action of what may be called the accidents of private life.

A man can "by the sudden decision of his will" introduce a new force into the course of events which is capable of changing their course considerably.

By virtue of particular traits of their character, individuals can influence the fate of society. Sometimes this influence is very considerable; but the possibility of exercising this influence, and its extent, are determined by the form of organization of society, by the relation of forces within it.

The extent of personal influence may also be determined by the talents of the individual.

In everything finite there are accidental elements. Accident is something relative, it appears only at the point of intersection of inevitable processes.

Influential individuals can change the individual features of events and some of their particular consequences, but they cannot change their general trend, which is determined by other forces.

In order that a man who possesses a particular kind of talent may, by means of it, greatly influence the course of events, two conditions are needed. First, this talent must make him more conformable to the social needs of the given epoch than anyone else. Second, the existing social order must not bar the road to the person possessing the talent which is needed and useful precisely at the given time.

It is well known that quantitative differences ultimately pass into qualitative differences. This is true everywhere, and is therefore true in history.

Individual causes cannot bring about fundamental changes in the operation of general and particular causes which, moreover, determine the trend and limits of the influence of individual causes.

A great mean is great not because his personal qualities give individual features to great historical events, but because he possess qualities which make him most capable of serving the great social needs of his time, needs which arose as a result of general and particular causes.

A great man is precisely a beginner because he sees further than others, and desires things more strongly than others.

It is not only for "beginners", not only for "great" mean that a broad field of activity is open. It is open for all those who have eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to love their neighbors. The concept great is a relative concept. In the ethical sense every man is great who "lays down his life for his friend."

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