Monday, 27 January 2020

Britain's entry into the 1914-18 war and the role of individuals - Harry Ratner (2008)

Britain's entry into the 1914-18 war and the role of individuals
Written By: Harry Ratner
Date: April 2008
Published In LSHG Newsletter Issue 31: Summer 2008  

One of the problems facing socialist historians – particularly Marxist historians – is what weight to give to the two strands in Marxism, the determinist and the voluntarist; and how to reconcile the two.

The determinist strand sees history as the unfolding of objective laws as determinist as the laws governing the physical universe. It sees the stream of causality running one way from the economic base to the superstructure. Happenings in the economy determine happenings in the superstructure. The development of human societies is governed by these objective laws and the role of the individual is minimal.

Though Plekhanov, in his seminal The Role of the Individual in History, concedes that in certain circumstances individuals, because of their position in society, can affect events, they can only alter details but not the main trend of events which is determined by large scale social historical forces. At best prominent individuals are instruments of these historical forces. He describes the role of the individual as an accident in history. (1)

I have long been unhappy about both an overly economic reductionist interpretation of history and the downgrading of the role of the individual. How reconcile it with the voluntarist strand in Marxism? After all, why – if it is historically determined that capitalism is going to be replaced by the next historical stage, communism – should you and I bust our guts, go on demonstrations and have our heads bashed in by police truncheons?

Why have thousands of socialists and communists risked their lives, suffered torture and imprisonment if it was all predetermined and their actions made little difference? Why did Marx and Engels toil away at convincing people of the correctness of their views if the development of a revolutionary (Marxist) consciousness by the working class and its eventual overthrow of capitalism were determined by objective historical laws? I believe it is possible to reconcile the determinist and voluntarist strands. I will look at the factors leading to the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 and particularly Britain’s entry into the war to argue that a holistic view of history is better than a strictly economic reductionist one or a purely voluntarist one. I want to show that the outbreak of the 1914-1918 war cannot be attributed solely or mainly to purely economic causes, but that political and military factors were its proximate cause.

Within the political and military superstructure the decisions of individuals are not only necessary links in the causal chains but can have far-reaching consequences. I want to rescue the importance of the individual from its downgrading by a too economic reductionist view of history.
A review of the events of 1914 shows that the decisions of just nineteen men, members of the British Cabinet (and among them one particular individual), had far-reaching consequences on the future history of Europe and the world. So much for Plekhanov’s description of the effect of the individual as an accident in history!

The economic and the political factors
The Marxist explanation is that the 1914-1918 war was the inevitable outcome of objective forces - the imperialist rivalries, the struggle for markets, colonies, control of material resources. And these struggles were the consequences of the development of the productive forces of capitalism having reached a certain stage. It is undoubtedly true that the whole previous development of capitalist industry provided an impetus for the acquisition of colonies and spheres of influence because of the economic advantages these provided. In that sense the 1914-18 war was a capitalist war. But it is only a part of the explanation if it leaves out of the equation the purely political factors and the crucial roles of individuals.

To describe the war as capitalist war – implying that it was a war inspired purely and mainly by the struggle for markets and outlets for the investment of capital - is an over-simplification. Certainly Britain and France were fully developed capitalist nations. But in the three other major powers involved, Russia, Germany and Austria-Hungary, there had been no bourgeois revolution. Russia was ruled by an autocratic Tsar, Germany and Austria- Hungary by a landed-military class headed by a hereditary emperor. In none of these countries did the capitalist class, the bankers and industrialists control the state machine. The imperial governments were not primarily motivated by the desires of these industrialists but by pre-capitalist considerations of military strength. Ever since the existence of distinct nation-states based on territories – going back even to classical times – inter-nation relations had been a free for all. There were no rules, no independent arbiters, no supra-national umpire to set the rules. In this dog eat dog world survival depended on military muscle and making the correct alliances.

Of course feudal rulers and absolute monarchs and the later Russian, Austrian and German imperial governments had an interest in encouraging the development of industry and finance as this underpinned their military power. So there was a convergence of interests between the imperial governments and the industrialists. An example of this was the naval rivalry between Britain and Germany, each trying to maintain naval superiority. The manufacturers of the steel required to build the ships for the new German battle fleet, and the mine-owners who produced the coal to fuel it, paid for the flood of pamphlets and propaganda put out by the Navy League to arouse popular support for the idea of a large German navy. And the British shipyard owners were also quite pleased to profit from orders by the British navy. But the main and immediate motivations for the actions of the imperial governments were military-strategic considerations, maintaining armed superiority and concluding alliances against any possible combination of adversaries. These imperatives had existed before the growth of capitalism and continued into the new era. Military expenditure profited the capitalists, and they looked forward to exploiting any new territories their imperial governments might acquire as a result of military victory. However, this does not alter the fact that the main and proximate causes of war were not primarily and directly economic competition between capitalists but the old-fashioned military-strategic considerations which pre-dated the establishment of purely bourgeois regimes.

Who wanted war?
There was a large body of opinion in business and financial circles which did not welcome the prospect of war as it disrupted trade and created uncertainty. War was seen as inimical to the smooth flow of trade. As Joll points out in his Europe Since 1870 (Penguin Books)

‘The belief that the economic fabric of international life was too closely knit to allow war to break out found expression in the final crisis of July 1914. In Britain Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer responsible for economic policy, was well aware of the anti-war opinion in the City of London, and this contributed to his initial opposition to British intervention. As late as 31 July Grey told the French Ambassador, who was pressing for a clear statement of British intentions, ‘The commercial and financial situation was extremely serious, there was danger of a complete collapse that would involve us and everyone in ruin; and it was possible that our standing aside might be the only means of preventing a complete collapse of European credit in which we should be involved.’ In Germany while many industrialists had a direct interest in naval construction and in the arms industry, and were dreaming of an expanded zone of German economic predominance in Europe and an expanded colonial empire overseas, even if this involved a risk of war, others felt that their own economic interests were bound up with the maintenance of peaceful international trade, and the chairman of the Hamburg-America steamship line, Albert Ballin, a personal friend of the Kaiser, was particularly active in the final crisis in trying to find a peaceful way out in conjunction with the British financier Sir Ernest Cassel.’ (2)
It is over-simplistic and smacks too much of economic reductionism to describe the war as simply a war between rival groups of capitalists and to ascribe to it purely – or even mainly - economic causes.
The prime and immediate causes of the war were the political and military strategic decisions taken by non-bourgeois, i.e. imperial rulers based on land-owning military elites; and in this context the decisions of individual had great weight. This is clear if we look at the events leading up to the outbreak of war.

The final steps to war
The crisis started in the Balkans, which for long had been the scene of a struggle between the Austro-Hungarian and Russian Empires over who would take over the region when Turkey, the “sick man of Europe”, was finally evicted. In addition the Austro-Hungarian empire was faced with national independence movements from its many subject nationalities, Bosnians, Southern Slavs, Czechs, Slovaks, Poles. The Croats and Slovenes were demanding autonomy, the Czech were demanding an autonomous Bohemia and were looking to Russia for support. And its Serb minority was demanding union with Serbia. The Balkan wars had just ended and Austria hoped to finally subdue Serbia and assert its disputed authority in the region.

In July 1914 the assassination of the archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austria-Hungarian throne, by nationalists suspected of being aided by Serbian authorities gave Austria the pretext it needed. Russia was Serbia’s ‘protector’. So when Serbia was attacked Russia mobilised and prepared to support Serbia (Russia also had a long-standing ambition to control the Dardanelles - the entrance to the Black Sea.).

Meanwhile Austria had appealed for support to its ally, Germany. The latter was anxious to strengthen its main regional ally and also felt threatened by Russian moves in the region. The Russian mobilisation triggered a German response. The Russian moves had been primarily directed at Austria, and the Tsar had originally intended to mobilise on the Austro-Hungarian frontier alone in an attempt to show that Russia had no intentions against Germany. But he was advised by his military chiefs that this was impossible as all the plans for mobilisation were for a simultaneous mobilisation along both the Austro-Hungarian and German borders.

By August 1st Germany and Russia were at war. At this stage previous treaties and military plans now dragged France into the conflict. Not only were France and Russia bound by treaty to come to each others assistance but German military strategic planning required that Germany must attack France and neutralise the French army in order to be free to throw its main armies against Russia. And in order to attack France the German armies had to march through Belgium.

So a whole combination of movements for national independence, mutual treaty obligations, strategic considerations and the rigid mobilisation and war plans of the contending powers combined to bring about war. It is evident that the main factors were political-military rather than economic.

Britain on the brink
In the light of all that had happened till then one could say that a continental war had become inevitable. But there was nothing inevitable about Britain’s involvement. There was a good possibility that Britain would have remained neutral – at least for a time. If this had happened the outcome of the war could have been very different and with it the future development of Europe and the world.

This possibility and its consequences have been explored by Niall Ferguson in his essay The Kaiser’s European Union in Virtual History (ed. Niall Ferguson, Picador, London 1997). and by the military historian, Robert Cowley in What If? (Pan Books 2001).

I am aware that the ‘what if?’ counterfactual approach to history is looked on with disfavour by Marxist historians; E.H. Carr described it as ‘parlour games’. Nevertheless, I believe that one cannot avoid examining what might have happened if certain factors in a situation had been different or absent. To avoid asking these questions means that one cannot ascertain which factors are necessary or sufficient. Without posing these questions one cannot assess cause and effect. Ferguson and Cowley put forward convincing arguments to show that British involvement was by no means certain and that Britain’s abstention would have had far-reaching consequences

It is at this stage that the decisions of a small group of individuals, the members of the British Cabinet had important consequences on future history. And among this small group one man, Lloyd George, played a key role.

The Cabinet was divided when it met on 31 July 1914. There were no overwhelming purely economic imperatives driving Britain to war. The City of London and influential industrialists were in favour of Britain staying out of the conflict. There were fears of the effect of war on international trade, fears about the collapse of credit etc. Marxists may have believed that the economic struggle for markets and spheres of investment led to war. But that was not a view held by many capitalists themselves. The views of the City of London, of the financial institutions and of many industrialists were reflected by Lloyd George and others within the British cabinet who argued that Britain should keep out of the war. (This did not of course prevent them - once the war had started - from wringing the maximum possible profits supplying armaments and uniforms for the armed forces). So the reasons for Britain declaring war must be found in non-economic, i.e. political and military considerations – and in the subjective decisions of Cabinet members about these considerations.

In the context of strategic and military policy there were arguments for and against British involvement. We can dismiss the argument that Britain was bound by treaty to come to the defence of Belgium neutrality or to the aid of France. Both the Prime Minister, Asquith, and Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary, strongly emphasised in their memoirs that there was no contractual obligation that obliged Britain to intervene in the war between the continental powers. In Asquith’s words ‘We kept ourselves free to decide, when the occasion arose, whether we should or should not go to war…There was no great military convention [with France]: we entered into communications which bound us to do no more than study possibilities.’ Nor did Grey make any secret of his opposition to any ‘precipitate attempt to force a decision’, which prevented him making any commitment to France in July.(3) A former Foreign Office Permanent Under-Secretary Sanderson, noted that the 1839 treaty with Belgium was ‘ not a positive pledge…to use material force for the maintenance of the guarantee of neutrality in any circumstances and at whatever risk.’ As Ferguson has pointed out a careful scrutiny of the contemporary documents reveals how very near Britain came to standing aside. ‘While it seems undeniable that a continental war between Austria, Germany, Russia and France was bound to break out in 1914, there was in truth nothing inevitable about the British decision to enter the war.’(4)

The main argument in favour of British intervention was that, for strategic and military reasons Britain could not afford that one power should dominate Europe. It was therefore necessary to prevent France from being crushed and Britain having to face, alone, a rampant, expansionist and potentially hostile Germany. The build up of German naval strength in the years immediately prior to the war were seen by many British strategists as a serious potential threat to Britain’s imperial power. The need to defend ‘poor little Belgium’ was a post-facto justification for Britain’s intervention.
However, there were equally potent factors that made British neutrality conceivable. Ferguson makes the following case.

‘At this point, it is worth asking once again an older counter-factual question which German liberals used endlessly to ponder: what if Britain had reached such an understanding, if not a formal alliance, with Germany? Despite some contemporary British anxieties about German commercial rivalry as German exporters began to challenge Britain in foreign markets and then to penetrate the British consumer market itself, the idea that economic rivalry precluded good diplomatic relations is nonsense. Disputes about tariffs are only harbingers of war to the incurable economic determinist….Moreover there were numerous overseas areas where German and British interests potentially coincided. In 1898 and 1900 Chamberlain argued for Anglo-German cooperation against Russia in China. There was serious though inconclusive discussion of an Anglo-German-Japanese ‘triplice’ in 1901. After much British grumbling, agreement was reached to give Germany Samoa in 1899. The period also saw cooperation between Britain and Germany over Portuguese Mozambique and Venezuela (in 1902). Even in the Ottoman Empire and the former Ottoman fiefdoms of Egypt and Morocco, there seemed to be opportunities for Anglo-German collaboration, though here opinion in London was more divided. A priori, there is no obvious reason why an ‘overstretched’ power (as Britain perceived itself to be) and an ‘under-stretched’ power (as Germany perceived itself to be) should not have cooperated together comfortably on the international stage. It is simply untrue to say that ‘the fundamental priorities of policy of each country were mutually exclusive.’ (5) ‘…neither colonial issues nor naval issues were leading inevitably to an Anglo-German showdown before 1914. As Churchill later put it ‘We were no enemies of German colonial expansion.’ Indeed, an agreement between Britain and Germany, which would have opened the way to increased German influence in the former Portuguese colonies in southern Africa, came close to being concluded. Grey himself said in 1911 that it did not ‘matter very much whether we ha[d] Germany or France as a neighbour in Africa’. He was eager to bring about a ‘division’ of the derelict Portuguese colonies ‘as soon as possible’ ‘in a pro-German spirit’. […] Even where Grey inclined to give French interests primacy – in Morocco - there was not a complete impasse with respect to Germany […] In any case, the German government backed down after Agadir; and when they turned their attention to Turkey, it was much harder for Grey to take an anti-German line without playing into the hands of the Russians with respect to the Straits […] Relations were further improved by Germany’s conciliatory response to British concerns over the Berlin-Baghdad railway.’ (6)
It comes out clearly from all accounts of the run-up to 1914 that all the major powers were constantly maneuvering for position and willing to change alliances whenever it suited them. It is also clear that in Britain there were opposing points of view – some favouring alignment with France and some accommodation with Germany. As far as Britain was concerned the options were open. In the end the Cabinet opted for war with Germany but this was by no means a foregone conclusion.

The Role of Individuals
It is therefore no wonder that when the Cabinet met on 31 July 1914 the nineteen members were divided. Lloyd George was from the start opposed to war. At least five others, Morley, Burns, Simon, Beauchamp and Hobhouse, were for an immediate declaration of neutrality. Only two members (Churchill and Grey) were definitely in favour of declaring war on Germany. The rest, including Asquith, were still undecided. The day before twenty-two Liberal members of the backbench Foreign Affairs Committee had warned that ‘any decision in participation in a European war would meet not only with the strongest disapproval but with the actual withdrawal of support from the Government (7)

With the Cabinet split and Grey threatening to resign if non-intervention was definitely decided the Cabinet agreed that ‘British opinion would not now enable us to support France…we could say nothing to commit ourselves.’ Then when Churchill persuaded Asquith to let him mobilise the navy in response to Germany’s ultimatum to Russia, Morley and Simon threatened to resign and the majority once again opposed Grey’s plea for a clear declaration. The most that could be agreed was that if the German fleet came into the Channel to attack the French coast or shipping the British navy would give all protection in its power. But even this – which was hardly a declaration of war as such German naval action was unlikely – caused Burns, the President of the Board of Trade, to resign. As Samuel noted, ‘Had the matter come to an issue, Asquith would have stood by Grey…and three others would have remained. I think the rest of us would have resigned.’ At lunch at Beauchamp’s that day, seven ministers, among them Lloyd George, expressed reservations about even the limited naval measures. When Grey finally secured a commitment to Belgium only by threatening to resign, Morley, Simon and Beauchamp countered this by now following Burns in offering their resignations.

So why did the government not fall?
Because, at the last minute, Lloyd George, Simon and Pease changed their minds and appealed to the resigners to stay and say nothing. Why did they do so? The answer they gave was Belgium. But as Fergusion points out this has to be viewed with some scepticism: As we have seen the Foreign Office view had been that the 1839 treaty did not bind Britain to go to war ‘in any circumstances and at whatever risk’.

Lloyd George had earlier tried to argue that the Germans would pass ‘only through the furthest southern corner’, and that this would imply only a ‘small infraction of neutrality’. “You see,” he would say (pointing to a map), “it is only a little bit, and the Germans will pay for any damage they do.”

So what made Lloyd George and his supporters change their minds? Party politics might have been a factor. The Liberals depended on the support of the Irish Nationalists. A cabinet split would let in the Tories. The Tories were pro-war. If the resignations had gone ahead Churchill and the pro-war Liberals might have invited the Tories into a war coalition. Alternatively a general election would have been called and a decision on war would have had to be postponed until afterwards. Maybe Lloyd George and his supporters were finally convinced that in the long run Britain could not afford a French defeat and a Europe dominated by an expansionist Germany. But whatever the motives it is still the case that Lloyd George and the others finally voted for war.

In this first week of August 1914 several possibilities existed. Either the Cabinet opted for neutrality, or it split and a Tory-Liberal coalition declared war, or the decision was put off until a general election. That none of these alternatives actually happened and the Liberal government declared war on 3 August was due to the change of mind of six or seven men out of nineteen in the British Cabinet.

The Consequences
It is clear that in some historical conjunctures the role of a few individuals can have far reaching consequences. And among these few individuals the role of one or more key ones can influence the others.

If Lloyd George had not changed his mind, and not dissuaded his colleagues from resigning, Britain’s abstention or belated entry and the absence of a British Expeditionary Force in France in August and September might have drastically altered the balance of forces. The Germans might have won the battle of the Marne. The possibility of a repeat of 1870 might have forced France to negotiate.

The conclusion of a negotiated peace in 1914 or early 1915 between the continental powers would have meant that however onerous the conditions imposed on France and Russia by the victorious Central Powers, the productive forces and wealth of the warring countries would have been largely preserved. More important millions of soldiers would not have been killed, millions of women would not have been widowed, millions of children not orphaned. A not unimportant consideration for these millions of human beings!

An early peace between Germany and France might also have resulted in an early end to the war with Russia. If that had been the case there might have been no Bolshevik revolution in 1917. Some sort of revolution in Russia was probably inevitable; the Tsarist regime would sooner or later have been overthrown or forced to concede reforms. But there might not have been the complete breakdown that another three years of war brought and which made possible the Bolshevik seizure of power. Tsarist absolutism might have given way to some type of bourgeois democracy or constitutional monarchy. And even if a socialist revolution had occurred it would have been in far more favourable conditions. The degeneration into a Stalinist police state might have been avoided.

What would have been the consequences for Germany? The factors which made possible the triumph of Nazism included the traumas of the November 1918 defeat, of the occupation of the Ruhr and the hyper-inflation of 1923. If Hitler had not come to power in 1933 would there have been a war in 1939? And if sooner or later Germany had once more been at war it would have been a different war with different consequences.

All this, of course, is speculation. The consequences of Britain staying out of the war in 1914 might have been other than those envisaged above. But there is no denying that the course of the war and its outcome would most probably have been different to what they actually became.

The future course of history would have been altered if the nineteen members of the British Cabinet had acted otherwise than they did. The decision could have gone either way. The crucial influence was that of Lloyd George. He was the most adamant opponent of Britain’s participation and the most influential mamber of the Cabinet. It was his belated change of mind and influence on his colleagues that swung the pendulum to war.

Plekhanov downplayed the influence of individuals as accidents in history. Some accidents – involving the lives and deaths of millions!!

Reconciling Determinism and Voluntarism
Even if one takes a determinist view, even if one argues that the 1914 war was determined by large scale, impersonal, historical forces it is a fact that for it to take place the actions of individuals were necessary.

The armies did not spontaneously march to the front, the guns did not go off by themselves. SOMEBODY had to give the orders for the armies to be mobilised, SOMEBODY had to give the order to fire. And that somebody was not an abstract entity called capitalism or imperialism. These somebodies were flesh and blood human beings, a Tsar Nicholas, a Kaiser Wilhelm, an Emperor Franz Josef and their close advisers; or a group of individuals, the British and French cabinets. Of course these individuals did not act in a vacuum. They were embedded and part of complex social and political structures and hierarchies. For the decisions of these individuals to have effect they had to have the power and authority to have their orders carried out; they had to be embodied in power structures with material means.

It can be argued that these individuals and sets of individuals represented social forces, classes, nations etc. But these social forces could only act and express themselves through the agencies of flesh and blood people. These people had to make decisions, carry out actions, give orders to other flesh and blood people and in turn these had to accept the orders and carry them out. Objective factors might well have made the war possible, even inevitable, but before the potential could become actual the decisions and actions of individuals were a necessary part of the network of cause and effect.

The decisions and actions of small groups of individuals or even of one key individual can be critical importance. The entry of Britain into the First World War was one instance. We can think of many more. For example the role of Lenin and the Bolshevik Central committee in 1917, Hitler’s order to the German 6th Army not to retreat from Stalingrad, the decisions of John F. Kennedy and his advisers and of Krushchev and his Politbureau during the Cuban missiles crisis of 1962. In this crisis one finger pressing the nuclear button would have had immeasurable consequences for humanity. To quote Plekhanov again – some accident!

Recognition of the sometimes critical role of the individual does not, however, contradict a determinist view of history. Even if we accept the hard determinist view that EVERYTHING in the universe is determined right down to the minutest decision - what Lloyd George and the Kaiser decided to have for breakfast - it is still a fact that neither the British nor the German armies would have moved, nor would guns have gone off unless these individuals had made the decisions they did and issued orders the orders they did. And unless other individuals had decided to obey these orders.
Why does a determinist view not lead to fatalism and quietism? This is a question that Plekhanov also asked.

The answer is twofold. Firstly, one’s actions do affect events. It may be determined that I pass my driving test. But I will not do so unless I actually get in the car and drive. Human beings (and other sentient animals) are imbued with wants and desires which can only be satisfied by their actions. It is their subjective perception of the best action to satisfy these desires and further their interests (even if they are mistaken) that is the immediate cause of their actions. Secondly, even the most convinced determinist does not have absolute knowledge of everything. In particular he or she does not know in advance what the next decision will be until makes that decision is made. And that decision is a conscious decision because the human brain has evolved over the millennia to be capable of consciously choosing between alternative actions in the light of the objective circumstances in which the possessor of the brain finds himself or herself.

This most convinced determinist cannot, therefore, help acting in the same way as if he or she had free will. Faced with choices he or she has to consciously choose between them. This is what Lloyd George and his colleagues, and the Kaiser and Tsar Nicholas and their advisers did. This is not altered by the fact that – objectively speaking – their actual decisions were determined by a combination of all previous events, the situation in which they found themselves and their characters (determined by their genetic make-up).

Where does this reconciliation of determinism and voluntarism leave the lowly socialist activist, the rank and file member of the Labour Party, of the Socialist Workers Party or any other organisation? At the beginning of this article I asked why should thousands of socialists and communists have risked their lives, suffered torture and imprisonment if it was all predetermined and their actions made little difference?

Let me repeat what I wrote in a previous article, Historical Materialism; a Critical Look at Some of its Concepts, in New Interventions, Vol.10 No.2, Autumn 2000. I wrote

‘The individual can make a difference. How much of a difference depends on the overall objective situation and the individual’s position in the social context. A Lenin has more influence than a rank and file party member. A Tony Blair or Gordon Brown has more influence than a member of his local Labour Party. But no one can tell in advance how much influence he or she may have in the future.’
Even a marginal individual can have a considerable effect on history at second hand by being a decisive influence on some one who, later, reaches a position of power. Lenin was one of these individuals whose actions had far-reaching consequences. But what influences formed him? Obviously the whole historical situation in which he grew up. Part of this was the activity of the Narodniks, the terrorist group to which Lenin’s brother, Alexander Ulyanov, belonged. Alexander was executed after a failed attempt to assassinate the Tsar. The Narodniks’ adoption of individual terrorism failed to overthrow the autocracy. Alexander Ulyanov was a marginal individual who failed in his objective. Yet all biographers of Lenin agree that this failed enterprise by his brother greatly influenced the young Vladimir Ilyich, not only by convincing him of the need for other methods but no doubt also by imbuing him with the psychological determination that drove his subsequent career.
Hitler was not born a Nazi. It is interesting to speculate the influences his parents, schoolmates, early acquaintances exerted on the young Adolf which drove him along the paths he took. One cannot know in advance what consequences one’s actions may have. One can only hope that one’s contribution together with that of others will make a difference.

In his The Role of the Individual in History, Plekhanov described the views of the subjectivist historians of the eighteenth century who reduced everything to the conscious activities of individuals as the thesis. He called the fatalistic views of later historians, Guizot, Mignet and others, who completely denied the role of the individual, the antithesis.

The recognition of the role of the individual within the framework of large-scale social forces, and the reconciling of free will and determinism may be described as a synthesis of the determinism and voluntarism that coexist in Marxism and historical materialism.


1.The Role of the Individual in History, G.V..Plekhanov, Lawrence & Wishart, p42
2.Europe Since 1870, James Joll, Penguin Books, 1990 p186
3.Virtual History, (ed) Niall Ferguson, Picador, 1997, p236
4.Ibid p237
5.Ibid p238
6.Ibid p247-9
7.Ibid p267

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