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.Lenin was by no means alone in advocating the policies which ultimately prevailed and which made the October Revolution possible.As Stephen Cohen has noted in his biography of Bukharin, ‘Lenin and the Bolshevik Left, of which Bukharin was the most prominent representative, found themselves in basic agreement on major questions confronting the party in 1917’.20 But neither of the two groups which he mentions as representing the ‘radical’ element in the Bolshevik party, the young left-wing Bolsheviks and the Trotskyists, who entered the party in the summer of 1917, were in a position to carry its leadership with them.No one was in a position to do so in 1917 except Lenin, and Lenin himself had a hard enough time of it.There is simply no warrant for the view that Trotsky or anyone else had the standing required for the purpose.An argument based on the ‘optical illusion’ concept can be mounted, but it would have to rely on the proposition that, had Lenin not led the Bolshevik party and shaped it as he did in the previous years, there would have been room for someone else to do so and to assume the position of authority and prestige which Lenin achieved over the years.This is not unreasonable, unlike the notion that if Lenin had not for some reason reached the Finland Station, someone else would have taken his place and achieved the same results.It is clearly possible that, had Lenin never been heard of, the people who led Russian Social Democracy at the turn of the century would have found themselves outflanked on their left, that the need to create a party of a more or less ‘Leninist’ type would have been met, and that all the rest would have followed as well.It is possible, but the argument is extremely strained and overburdened with hypothetical clauses.Nor does it affect the point that Lenin was indispensable in 1917.Trotsky’s own view of the matter appears the more reasonable one; and it does not, as will be argued presently, do nearly as much violence to historical materialism as Deutscher feared.IIIThe third and most difficult problem which ‘the role of the individual in history’ poses to Marxist historiography and to historical materialism concerns the element of ‘acceleration’ and ‘delay’ which ‘accidents’, Marx said, bring to ‘the general course of development’; and to this may be related the notion that accidents are ‘compensated’ for by other ‘accidents’.As I noted earlier, the clear implication (and it might even be said the purpose) of these propositions is to devalue the significance of, among other things, individual intervention in the historical process.It is obviously possible to concede the point that individuals can ‘make a difference’, and that which individual is in charge also ‘makes a difference’; and yet to hold that this is not, ‘ultimately’, ‘in the long run’ or ‘essentially’, of really great historical significance, because the effect of individual action can ‘only’ be to accelerate or delay a given process, or because of the compensation for one ‘accident’ by another, and so on.It is this which needs discussion.In his reference to this thesis in What is History?, Professor E.H.Carr notes an ‘ingenious analogy’ which Trotsky once used to reinforce it: ‘The entire historical process,’ Trotsky wrote ‘is a refraction of historical law through the accidental.In the language of biology, we might say that the historical law is realized through the natural selection of accidents.’21Professor Carr describes this theory as ‘unsatisfactory and unconvincing’; and while he also suggests that ‘the role of accident in history is nowadays seriously exaggerated’, he nevertheless goes on to say that ‘it exists, and to say that it merely accelerates or retards, but does not alter, is to juggle with words’.Nor, he adds, ‘do I see any reason to believe that an accidental occurrence—say, the premature death of Lenin at the age of 54—is automatically compensated by some other accident in such a way as to restore the balance of the historical process’.22This seems to me to be right, and it has the advantage of opening up the issue rather than foreclosing it.Before proceeding further with the implications of the argument, however, I want to discuss briefly the way in which Professor Carr himself deals with the problem.In effect, what he does is to refuse to assess the significance of ‘accidents’.He believes that accidents have ‘modified the course of history’ and that ‘it is futile to attempt to spirit them away, or to pretend that in some way or other they had no effect’.But he then goes on: ‘On the other hand, in so far as they were accidental, they do not enter into any rational interpretation of history, or into the historian’s hierarchy of significant causes’23 (my italics); and he gives the following example of what he means, based upon his view of history as ‘a process of selection in terms of historical significance’:‘If you tell the student of history that the struggles in the Soviet Union in the 1920s were due to discussions about the rate of industrialization, or about the best means of inducing the peasants to grow grain to feed the towns, or even the personal ambitions of rival leaders, he will feel that these are rational and historically significant explanations in the sense that they could also be applied to other historical situations, and that they are ‘real’ causes of what happened in the sense that the accident of Lenin’s premature death was not’ [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]