Role of the Individual in History

Because Marxists recognise historical necessity, bourgeois ideologists often accuse them of denying the role of individuals, of great people, of leaders, in history. These accusations are unfounded, for Marxism far from underestimates the role of the individual. Although Marxists maintain that individuals cannot change the objective course of history at will, they admit that the individual plays no small part in social development. “The idea of historical necessity,” Lenin noted, “does not in the least undermine the role of the individual in history: all history is made up of the actions of individuals, who are undoubtedly active figures” (1). Only Marxism has demonstrated the real importance of the individual in social development and has also indicated the conditions in which the individual can play an important part in history.

An individual makes history by his labour, political activity, will and reason, and the greater is social progress the greater the influence of the individual on society. With the development of history, the deepening and extension of historical tasks, and the progress of science, technology and culture more and more people participate in historical events and each individual plays a mounting role in the historical process and increases his contribution to the treasure-store of material and spiritual culture. The creative activity of the individual is particularly great in socialist society where there are favourable conditions for free labour and activity in various spheres of social life.

Great people do not appear by chance but by historical necessity, when the corresponding objective conditions are ripe. Outstanding political figures, leaders of the people, come to the fore in a period of radical revolutionary changes in society, very great political actions and popular uprisings. Men of genius appear in science most often when production requires some great scientific discovery. Great artists, as a rule, display their talent at the most significant turning points in history. Moreover, a talented person will go down in history only if his talent, character and intellect are needed by society at a given stage of its development.

Many names are recorded in history, but far from all of them were really great. There were men who acted contrary to historical necessity and sought to set the clock back. These men, by expressing the interests of reactionary classes, inevitably suffered defeat together with the […] cause they championed. A man can be truly great only if he dedicates his life and energies to society’s progress, if he, without sparing any effort, works for the new, the progressive, and tirelessly helps the advanced classes of society to introduce a progressive social system.

Why is an outstanding personality capable of accomplishing such great and difficult tasks? What is the source of his strength? An outstanding personality’s strength lies above all in the strength of the progressive social movement which he champions and leads. A great man is great because he understands the objective course of the historical process, sees the requirements of society’s development and knows how to satisfy these requirements, how to improve social life. An outstanding personality is strong because he serves the interests of the advanced classes, the people, and therefore enjoys their trust and support.

The personal qualities of a great man are of no small importance. Only a man endowed with uncommon abilities and personal qualities—great intellect, inexhaustible energy, resolution and bravery—can cope with the tasks history sets him. The fuller the personal qualities of a great man correspond to social needs, the more notable and important is his role in history.

The leaders of the proletariat and all the working people, Marx, Engels and Lenin, were outstanding personalities who left a deep imprint on history. They were leaders of a qualitatively new type, splendid theoreticians and organisers of the greatest movement of the people, the revolutionary movement of the proletariat. They had resolution and bravery, unshakable inner conviction in the justice of the communist cause, love for the people and hatred for their enemies. They were closely bound up with the people, taught them and in turn learned from the people, generalising their rich revolutionary experience.

The great cause initiated by them is being successfully continued by their disciples and followers, prominent leaders of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the other fraternal Communist and Workers’ parties who are heading the most powerful movement of our age, the people’s movement towards communism. […] Lenin wrote that “the working class, which all over the world is waging a hard and persistent struggle for complete emancipation, needs authorities” (2). [….] All historical development shows that however great an individual is, he is incapable of determining the course of history. It is the people who make history and social revolutions and produce all the material and spiritual wealth of mankind.


(1) V.I. Lenin, “What the ‘Friends of the People’ Are and How They Fight the Social Democrats”, Collected Works, Vol.1, p.159.

(2) V.I. Lenin. “Preface to the Russian Translation of K. Kautsky’s Pamphlet: The Driving Forces and Prospects of the Russian Revolution”, Collected Works, Vol.11, p.412.

Source #1

Source #2

Categories: History, Theory

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