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Revisiting the role of individual in history

and its indispensability

in the process of social change today

‘Individual’ in Socialist/Communist political movements


Plekhanov, a much respected Russian revolutionary and Marxist philosopher and theorist, wrote a short book in 1898 called ‘On the role of the individual in history’. In this work Plekhanov tried to examine the role of individual in history by juxtaposing the revolutionary movement or the social forces (which are a collective) on the one hand and the role of individual on the other. The important thing was that he was seeing them as two different categories. He had made that classification between the individual and the movement and then he was trying to thrash it out. But he could not complete that work because there were no takers for it. The Bolshevik party had glossed over the issue of the individual completely and emphasized the mass movement or the social forces. Whereas Plekhanov was aware that the role of the individual was in fact a reality. And he being a person of integrity and intellect could not ignore a reality. So he had to take notice of it and then try to rationally resolve it. 

The communist party or the Bolsheviks had made these tiers of vanguards. The working class was the vanguard and the vanguard of this vanguard was the communist party or the Bolsheviks, the vanguard of the Bolsheviks was the Central Committee, the vanguard of the Central Committee was the Politburo and finally the vanguard of the Politburo was the General Secretary. So at the end of these tiers of vanguards it came down to the individual; a Lenin or a Stalin. The individual was therefore a reality except that that reality was cloaked in the garb of half a dozen tiers of vanguards. And these vanguards were an integral part of the movement. Thus, Karl Marx downward, all Socialists/Communists tried to keep the individual underground in the conceptual framework but in reality and actual practice everything boiled down to ‘a’ Mao Zedong, Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro or Stalin. 


We have witnessed how the Bolsheviks tried to run away from the individual and the individual also tried to keep his individuality underground, but the movement, alongside common people insisted that there had to be an operative (responsible and capable) individual to lead the way. Some concrete examples of this can be seen in the British Communist movement, which had Harry Pollitt as the operative individual or helmsman. In the Indian Communist movement it was P.C. Joshi and then B.T. Ranadive. Of course there were some senior Politburo members alongside these operative individuals but they were not in the same bracket. They were just companions or associates. Then we find the same thing in the case of the African National Congress which had Nelson Mandela. And then Jawaharlal Nehru in the Indian National Congress. In fact, if we go back in history this phenomenon can even be observed in the cases of Buddha and the Muslim Prophet Mohammad. So we find that at a superficial level the individual is side-lined and the individual himself tries to remain underground but in reality the individual is the dominant operative in the movement and the movement knows this and in fact it actually wants and insists on an operative individual at the helm. 


The reason for the denial of the role of the individual was that those individuals who did sow the seeds of a movement were acutely aware that social change can only come about through an organized movement, which becomes a social force. Because the underpinning of any society is an existing social force. So if people are going to change society for the better then they will have to change the social force which is the foundation of that society. And it is only a new social force which can successfully contest with and change the preexisting social force. The leaders or helmsman of movements were acutely aware of this fact and that is why they pushed the individual underground and only tried to glorify the movement. That is why it was Karl Marx who created the First Communist International in 1848, which was both a movement and an organization. And Khomeini did the same in Iran. 


There is also another, more subtle reason, for sidelining the individual. The ‘individuals’ who founded movements and who held the steering wheel with success and produced social change knew perfectly well the difference that existed between their own individual formations and the formations of other individuals who were a part of the movement. They were aware of this difference even in the case of their close associates. They knew, it is one thing to have some talent, goodness or some very strong feature and it is another thing to be a changed individual. Lenin was aware of this when he wrote letters to the Congress regarding some members (especially Stalin and Trotsky) of the Politburo before he died, which were not published after him. The founding fathers or the ‘individuals’, knew perfectly well that their associates had only partly changed. This does not mean that they considered them and other people to be intrinsically inferior to themselves. There was no basis for thinking that because they themselves started their lives as ordinary individuals. But when these ordinary individuals became those individuals who were not only the founding fathers of movements, but also their helmsman then they were a product of the change they had brought about in themselves. None of them were born as changed individuals nor did they grow up like that but they ‘changed’ themselves to become like that. So these individuals knew perfectly well who they were and they knew that their associates were people who were taking a ride on the boat which they had built. The boat which could cross the river between the past and the future of their societies. But that is the utmost they could do. What in fact happened in history is that some individuals, who had changed themselves, were able to change society by creating a movement. Some of them who were lucky and where time and circumstances were in their favor then the seeds of their greatness as individuals did flower out and they managed to produce social change. But they were not able to change individuals; all of them knew that they had not succeeded in changing individuals. However, they also knew that they were going to die and they wanted the movement to live. So they took their individuality underground and glorified the collective and its basic concepts which they tried to depersonalize. They tried every trick in the trade; developed concepts and idea structures, created organizations and rules of that organization, hoping that they would be substitutes for the individuals. 

The above is the picture that we witness when we look at the great men and the movements they founded. They knew that for social change a movement, a social force was necessary, and they also knew that the organization, the leading group or the leading associates of that social force had not changed holistically (but only partly) like they themselves had changed. And most importantly, they did not know how to get them to undergo the sufficient change that was necessary for social change. But then they did what they had to and could do and what happened during their lifetimes when they achieved success and after them is human history. We know what Nelson Mandela did in South Africa but we can also see that South Africa after the revolution is far from Nelson Mandela’s ideal. Similarly in Vietnam the revolution was far from being Ho Chi Minh’s ideal. And as Lenin wrote in his last testament in 1923 that the Soviet Union was far from being his ideal. Human history is full of such cases. So that problem is still with us. 


‘Individual’ in Feudal and Bourgeois societies  

There are only two exceptions to the above historical pattern; the emergence of feudal and bourgeois societies or we can say societies emerging out of the anti-tribal feudal renaissance and the anti-feudal bourgeois renaissance. If we take a look at the feudal society we find no one ‘Great’ man to whom the creation of feudal society has been ascribed. There are lots of great individuals who were the pillars of feudal society ranging from Ram and Arjun, to the second Mughal emperor Akbar in the Indian Subcontinent, to Louis the Fourteenth in Europe and people like Sun Tzu and Confucius in China. Actually there are hundreds of them spread over centuries in different parts of the world. Similarly, we can observe the same basic pattern in the emergence of bourgeoisie out of the European Renaissance. For example, Martin Luther who in history books is referred to as the man who laid the first brick is neither Mao Zedong nor Buddha, nor Khomeini. Martin Luther contributed only one element and he focused on only one element. It is another thing that because of the Roman Church’s attack on him there developed a kind of a movement in his time but that was more a product of the reaction of people around him to the aggression of the Roman Church, or the Pope. He stood by his work in the Reformation which was basically to rescue the ideas of the bible from the degeneration of the Roman church. So it is not Martin Luther who is the chief architect or the creator of the renaissance; he may have been the first pebble that was thrown into the pond which created the ripples that later became a storm. Thus, we find hundreds of individuals in the European renaissance. There is no agreed list of them but there are names like Erasmus, Galileo, Grimm brothers, Herbert Spencer, Nietzsche, Shakespeare, Elizabeth the First, Calvin, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, add infinitum. These men were again spread out over centuries, in all countries and in different fields and departments. So we find these two cases; the making of the feudal society and then the making of the bourgeois society, where there is no one great man but a lot of great individuals to whom the making of the feudal and bourgeois societies can be attributed. And we also know that these societies have lasted longer and more effectively than those societies produced by ‘great’ men like Lenin, Mao, Khomeini, etc., through their revolutionary movements based primarily on capturing of state power and social reshuffling through passing of new laws and policies. Since we know more about the bourgeois renaissance so let us first take a closer look at its facts. What we find there is that it was born out of its resistance and its opposition to the feudal society. A resistance not only to the political feudal society but to the cultural feudal society, i.e. the whole gamut of the concepts of the feudal society and not just one political area. It was not just a question of state power of the feudal society but all its fronts and departments. So the fundamental platform that they put together for the bourgeois or we can say the anti-feudal renaissance, was this opposition to all areas and concepts of the feudal society. And then they produced concepts of democracy, freedom and equality of all individuals or equal rights of every individual. All these were nails in the coffin of the feudal society and state power. It was concepts like ‘Liberty’, ‘equality’ and ‘fraternity’, which then ended up being a ‘democracy’. What happened here was that because this was not a product of one great man it meant it was a product of social evolution and social change over a large period of time. And this is what must have happened in the case of the feudal renaissance, or the anti-tribal renaissance. In both these cases lots of great men over generations produced the movements and social forces which overthrew the state power of the tribal society and then later on of the feudal society and created space for the new respective societies. This did not happen according to any plan, but that is how it was in fact happening through a process of gradual accumulation. Both these movements made their respective platforms. In the case of the feudal society the platform was the anti-tribal feudal renaissance, with an emphasis on moral duty. The platform of the anti-feudal bourgeois renaissance was liberty, equality and democracy, which means state power in the hands of the people and consensus of the people rather than a king who claims divine right. And this was coupled with hard work based on the protestant work ethic. So one finds Confucian virtues (hard work and duty) being restated in the European renaissance.     


Having created these platforms and because the process of social change in both these renaissances took so much time until their gestation periods covered all the dimensions or the full circle of human (social and individual) life hence both of them got the tools that were needed to make up for the deficiencies in the individuals, who had not changed. Who were just protesting and reacting against the old order and in whom a pro-renaissance consensus was gradually building up due to their discontentment with the old order. So there was a substratum of change which was cumulative in the minds of the common people. It was cumulative through the effort of all these large number of pillars of both the renaissances. Now that changing consensus over a period of time coupled with a crystallized platform which channelized the hard work that people were made to do under the previous order then enabled them to make up for the remaining deficiencies required in changing the minds of men to the extent to which it was required for making the new societies. Without this a new society could not be created and sustained as such. This is how both these renaissances produced societies which continued, over a long period of time, to successfully change unlike the societies produced by ‘one’ great man. The latter had much shorter lives and they were much less successful in producing real and lasting social change, including Buddha, et al. After the new societies emerged from both these renaissances the problem that remained was how to keep the energies of people at large channelized within the framework of the new emerging society. That is where they played their tricks. In the case of the feudal renaissance people were told that in the next life they would be released from feudal oppression provided they did their duty of working hard as serfs in this life. So they would make some exhortations and couple them with an underpinning of some morality and a future promise either about the next birth or the day of judgment. And in the bourgeois renaissance it was said that there is a rule of law according to which all people are equal and so all people must obey the laws. So a large majority became in favor of this. And the consensus of the people then became that there is law, liberty, democracy, human nature and an individual’s misfortune. 


Now because the bourgeois society was a more dynamic society so the people who were generally left out, who were unfortunate and unemployed, were a small percentage. Generally, barring exceptional times of particular crises (natural or man-made), the level of unemployment was less than 10%, mostly around 5% and would sometimes go even below 5% in some countries. So around 5% of unemployed were unfortunate but they were also looked after sometimes in the name of Christian compassion and at other times in the name of economic justice, social welfare, etc. And then there were schools, churches and the media, which ensured a kind of brain washing or we can say a kind of a cultural construct for managing. The problem of management was there after all the positive points of that renaissance. And for that management the bourgeois society resorted not to one great man or to one political platform but to a cultural or an ideological platform. After which it was a management issue of not stretching this balance (between the fortunate and the unfortunate) beyond endurance. It was kept within management limits. The newspapers were permitted to report the miseries of the people. There was freedom but yet it was kept in manageable limits so that the majority felt that they were lucky not to be miserable and they supported the law which ensured that a small minority, relatively speaking, of the deprived and the oppressed would not create a revolutionary movement to overthrow them. It was a kind of carrot and stick founded on the premise that the bourgeois system is much more productive and can ensure that the discontented will be a small number compared to the contented ones. So even these societies could not change the minds of men as the minds of great men had changed. 


‘Individual’ in contemporary societies; the need and role of a changed individual in intelligent social functioning and restructuring 

It is in the above context that we confront our own time---the 21st century. The moral of the story seems to be that societies and the ideas and understanding upon which they are based after spending their natural and logical span of life will need to be changed. Because meanwhile life has changed in consequence of the improvements in the human energies, their applications and their products. So the framework of old societies is no longer sufficient. Of course we can change laws and both feudal and bourgeois societies always changed laws in order to adjust as much as they can but these laws and concepts by themselves do not change societies; their function is to preserve society as it is fundamentally. The vision of laws and morality is not another qualitatively better society but the preservation of the existing society, be it through morality or through laws. They only try and cope with the problems that arise out of an existing society. But then as capabilities of men multiply and the world that those capabilities construct becomes extremely complex there comes a point when changes in laws or even a change of government will not be sufficient, one will need to change culture, and the concepts upon which those societies are based. One will need to change man himself. Because man himself becomes insufficient for the world that he has produced (both within and outside of himself). So there is a very real, a much deeper and a much more comprehensive problem. And that is the time when it becomes necessary to qualitatively change society from its foundations upward. It does not mean it has to be through a bloody revolution. It is certainly possible to do it without violence but there is no guarantee that violence can always be avoided, it depends upon the concrete specifics of the situation which confronts any society which is struggling for a revolution. As long as we don’t impose an a priori precondition or limit of absolute non-violence there can definitely be a better, more efficient and a more intelligent way of changing society fundamentally. And that way would be one in which there is the least amount of bloodshed, and violence. When the time comes for that kind of a fundamental change then it is not only a question of changing institutions and the laws but also of changing man himself. Because remember all the constraints of the old society are reflected within the individual’s formation through the culture of that society, which has shaped his or her mind. And even when the individual’s mind is acutely discontented with society it retains the negative features of that society through its culture, its environment and in the shape of the formation of the individual’s own internal culture, which means his personality, ideas, preferences, agendas, temperament, habits, in short, the head by which the individual lives out his own life, which is largely the handiwork of the previous society’s culture. So the individual is a product of that. Hence the changing of society inevitably means changing the man produced by that society. And who is to change man, none other than man himself. We have already seen that changing social institutions and other structures through passing new laws, making new policies or coming up with new rhetoric cannot change man and consequently society at a fundamental level.  Another reason for why an individual has to change is that it is the individual who is that repository, in an existing society, which is at once the source of the creation of new foundations, new designs and the construction of a new society. Of course, it goes without saying that this entire process can only be undertaken by a collective body of individuals. It is no one individual who can alone make the foundations or the structure of the new society nor even produce the design of a new society. No one individual perhaps would suffice to be the architect (who does the basic drawings and also the working drawings) of it. And implementation certainly one individual cannot do. The entire process will have to be undertaken by lots of ‘individuals’. If a large number of people are going to collectively undertake the designing and the making of a qualitatively better society then they will have to make serious contributions and take responsibilities of those contributions. Even at the level of a humblest contribution there is still a responsibility. But one can see that there are grades of contributions and grades of responsibility. And at a higher grade or level of contribution there is an equally higher level of responsibility. In contemporary society, unlike in the feudal or earlier societies or even in the bourgeois society, there is a need for many more responsible individuals simply because there are many more positions of responsibility. That is the consequence of social development and progress. Today these positions of senior responsibilities would amount to somewhere between tens of thousands or maybe hundreds of thousands depending upon the respective size of any society. Then there is yet another problem. The men who have to take responsibility for critical and serious positions in the making of a new society and in running it can only function if they are supported by a large number of people who will work harmoniously with them rather than antagonistically. These supporting individuals may not be as great as these tens of thousands of men are but they must be good enough to be able to work in harmony with them. And this will primarily depend on how the people at higher levels of responsibility are able to intelligently and capably integrate their supporters. Now this thing can only be done through the minds of men and the minds of men exist in the individual dimension. The primary state of the mind has to be an individual mind and the collective can only be a secondary state. So when there is an undertaking of a social magnitude then we think of people in multitudes, in masses, which is a reality but when we think like that then we tend to ignore the individual. And that is not true. We know that men did not always work in multitudes. When they were living in forests as cavemen, they worked in very small groups. Today if they have to work in huge multitudes to run a society, then that means there are as many jobs to be done, and as many responsibilities to be taken. And since the nature of the work has become more complex, the role of the individual mind is that much greater. Keeping this in view those people who today want to rig up a political party with a platform and some manifesto and a news conference are just deceiving themselves. They are only trying to copy the great men of the past who produced short-lived changes; they are either trying to follow the models of Lenin or Mao or come up with some variation upon the same theme. They do not understand that a great man like Mao almost succeeded in killing the revolution had he himself not died before he succeeded. Similarly, Lenin’s assumption that state power is equal to social change was also flawed and not true. We have seen the practical manifestations and consequences of this flaw in the case of Pol Pot and even in the case of Ho Chi Minh.  So people who today want to bring about a revolution do not have the foggiest idea about what that revolution is. For them it is only a change of state power. One can understand people doing politics in a bourgeois society through the democratic bourgeois electoral process because they are not trying to change society, but only trying to preserve it. The good elected individuals try to make some improvements, the bad ones try to be corrupt and use the state machinery and its resources for their personal purposes but in neither case do they want to bring about revolutionary changes.  

So this raises a serious question that is it reasonable to expect individuals to want to change society today? It is an open and fair question. Deeper observation and understanding will reveal that the overwhelming majority of the people say they do not want to change society. Society is working fine as far as they are concerned and there are opportunities for them and they have the luxury of not having a morality or an ethics, etc. so, devil take the hindmost. Even if tragedy strikes people and their lives are destroyed as long as there is enough of society left to enable an individual to pursue his personal agenda that is good enough. As long as there are sufficient opportunities for an individual and society does not break down completely, in which case those opportunities are no longer available, the individual is fine and does not care what happens to society. Hence it is logical and clear that such individuals don’t want to change society. The problem arises when people want to change society. It seems that today the people who want to change societies will not be those who are wanting to ride piggy back on the miseries of the ‘masses’. A contemporary complex human society is much too developed for social misery, on a scale where it involves the majority of the population. Whatever environmental disasters there may be, whatever food shortages, diseases, etc., it is still not going to produce a scale of social misery which can become the basis for propounding fundamental social change or restructuring of society. So there is clearly ample reason for men and their minds as they are to not want to change society. And if they don’t want to change society why should they be critical of it or curious about it. Why should they waste their time being curious about society as long as they are satisfied with the fact that it exists and the fact that they find it good enough for their own purposes. So we must understand we are not going to have a French revolution today. 


The reason for changing society therefore lies elsewhere. It does not lie in an external opportunity. The external opportunity being that there are millions of people who are terribly discontented and who are willing to die trying to change society, so an individual becomes their leader and captures state power. And then they can sacrifice their lives for this cause and that individual and his group gets the state power and that is revolution. Actually in our times this would be a real political picnic. Today the real basis for men wanting to change society would and can only come from their understanding and their sensitivities, not from material discontentment of the multitudes. It will come from people who are not busy pursuing their personal agendas in existing societies. Who have some time to spare to cultivate their understanding and sensitivities on a human scale and not on a dogmatic or rhetorical scale; on a scale of intelligent knowing/understanding and intelligent sensitivities. Because the kind of society we will have to create to replace the existing form of society, will mean making serious changes which are objectively possible and which in turn means making the running of society a much more precise and well thought out process. Running the society that is needed to replace this one and which is possible will be a process which will have to be intelligently designed, managed and run on a day to day basis. And with an integrity which can only emerge from an intelligent sensitivity and knowing. 

The next renaissance can only produce a society which can be run intelligently, both on the intellectual and the emotional planes. The next model of society cannot be run on the basis of self- interest (of an individual or a social group) and our so called selfish human nature. It cannot be run on the basis of short sighted cunning and clever short term management techniques. Thus we first need prototypes of the kind of men who can make and run this next model of society. It is much easier to overthrow a state power on the basis of mass discontentment through firebrand rhetoric, but this is much more difficult. 

We can see the nature of production in earlier (pre-industrial) societies and how much easier it was for existing man to organize and manage it. It was predominantly craft based or we can say handicraft. Today where production (in addition to the industrial mode, which was itself far more complex than the craft mode of production) is of the order of space technology and nanotechnology then the only future that exists is for the new man. There is no future for the existing man. We can have all the fun and games or do all kinds of projects and activities that we want in this society, which is based upon man as he is today in the period of the decay of the previous society. But we must keep in mind that when society has begun to decay and the same decay is reflected in the individual man of that society then one can either live happily in this society and leave things as they are or look at the possibility of change. Since the last twenty or thirty years, human society is ripe for change. So we can either cynically live out our lives knowing what we know or take the responsibility of applying what we know to bring about serious social change. We say cynically because we will have to desensitize ourselves emotionally and switch off the intelligence that we are capable of intellectually in order to be existentialists today and pursue the opportunities available in a decadent society. So at present those people who want to come into politics, create a political movement and capture government based upon rhetoric and discontentment are just barking up the wrong tree. The only political change that is possible today is a real change on the scale of the 21st century. That can only be brought about by a man who has changed himself first. And that too not one great man but many. It is only when we can generate that trend for individuals to change that we will be able to move in that direction. That trend we will need to initiate most of all through example because an example is when we make ideas tangible. For individuals to grasp ideas it is not necessary that they should grasp them through words, if they are able to grasp them in a more tangible form by observing and seeing some examples of their application then the process of change for the individual is more efficient and much easier.  So in contemporary times the role of the individual in the process of social change has become indispensable. But this role has to be of a ‘changed’ individual. And the role of the individual and the role of the collective have gotten merged like the macro and micro in Nature get merged. Just as we know that the micro and the macro are integrated into one phenomenon similarly in the social dimension the micro and the macro dimensions have also got merged. That is why we need to move away from the revolution of the masses modeled on the French revolution and move on towards a new theory and practice of revolution which can act as a tool-kit to first enable an individual to understand the possibility and direction of contemporary change, and then on that basis concretely initiate the process of change within his mind. And consequently move on to joining hands with other restructured individuals to form a collective social force which can practically make changes in the social arena i.e. social interactions, relationships and institutions.



i. Due to some differences with Lenin Plekhanov became a Menshevik in 1903. But despite their differences Lenin acknowledged his immense contribution to Marxist philosophy and Literature. So after the Bolsheviks came to power in 1917 they continued to publish his work, the most famous of which is ‘The development of the Monist view of history’. They also set up the Plekhanov Institute of the National Economy, which is today called the Plekhanov Russian Economic University. The Plekhanov House in the National Library of Russia also has a large collection of materials on Russian and foreign history, social history, education and culture.

ii.The following excerpts from his book will illustrate the juxtaposing going on in his mind between the role of the individual and the social forces, as a part of what he calls the ‘general causes of historical progress’. 

While discussing the general and particular causes of historical progress he says “… the influence of the particular causes is supplemented by the operation of individual causes, i.e. the personal qualities of public men and other “accidents,” thanks to which events finally assume their individual features. 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. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that history would have had different features had the individual causes which had influenced it been replaced by other causes of the same order.” (Plekhanov, 1898). 

And then we see this where he defines a great man and what he can do. “A great man is precisely a beginner because he sees further than others, and desires things more strongly than others. He solves the scientific problems brought up by the preceding process of intellectual development of society; he points to the new social needs created by the preceding development of social relationships; he takes the initiative in satisfying these needs. He is a hero. But he is not a hero in the sense that he can stop, or change, the natural course of things, but in the sense that his activities are the conscious and free expression of this inevitable and unconscious course. Herein lies all his significance; herein lies his whole power. But this significance is colossal, and the power is terrible.” (Plekhanov, 1898). 

Elsewhere while discussing the conflicting views of the subjectivists who ascribed a crucial role to the individual in history and their opponents who vehemently considered it a negligible quantity in historical progress, he clearly states at the end of that discussion that “The correct point of view will be found only when we succeed in uniting the points of truth contained in them into a synthesis”. So we see not only a juxtaposing going on in his mind but also an attempt to rationally address and resolve this issue.

He acknowledges the intelligent understanding of the logical course or direction of social relations and social mentality as an important factor which can intervene and influence the social mentality and consequently historical events. Thus he says “….in a certain sense, I can make history, and there is no need for me to wait while “it is being made””. (Plekhanov, 1898). 

In the concluding part of his book he again states “… The more or less slow changes in “economic conditions” periodically confront society with the necessity of more or less rapidly changing its institutions. This change never takes place “by itself”; it always needs the intervention of men, who are thus confronted with great social problems. And it is those men who do more than others to facilitate the solution of these problems who are called great men.” (Plekhanov, 1898). The important thing is we observe Plekhanov bringing to light this issue albeit at a tentative and academic level. But it was not then taken up seriously by the Bolsheviks and was in fact swept under the carpet.


iii. The term ’vanguard’ was a collective term and not another category apart from the movement.


iv. The General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) between 1929-56.


v. The first General Secretary of the Indian Communist Party from 1935-47.


vi. He replaced P.C. Joshi as General Secretary of CPI in 1948 and remained the Secretary till 1950.


vii. The movement wanted Gandhi to be the operative individual but when Gandhi refused to play that role by opting out as the president of the Congress and becoming an ordinary congress worker then Nehru became the helmsman. 


viii. It is another thing that after an operative individual there is no guarantee that things will work out. There are numerous examples where despite sincerity, goodness and other personal qualities of successors the steering wheel could not be held. And consequently there was failure and disintegration.


ix. Movement is an organized social force which is working in a direction different from that of the social establishment. So there is a social establishment and a social force. To take an example, it was a pre-existing social establishment in Athens which decided that Socrates should either leave Athens or take hemlock and kill himself. If Socrates had chosen to go in the direction of creating a new social force, then the situation would have been different. Socrates would have liked to produce more individuals like himself who could then become a new social force but that was not his priority at that time. What we find in Socrates’s case is that he was more interested in crystallizing and defining the direction of social change rather than working towards changing society in his lifetime. That was the difference between Socrates and Khomeini for example or between him and Lenin. That was his chosen priority and he preferred to live and die by that priority. He knew he had not been able to create more individuals like him and he knew that other people had not changed like he had changed but still he did what he could do. 

Now what was the direction he attached greater importance to than actual social change in his time? It was the process of reasoning. The reason why he attached greater importance to preserving reasoning as the highest human process, was because his reasoning told him that that was more important than social change at that time. So he did not opt for the movement route; the social force and the social change route, and instead chose to stick to that feature, element, or component which would reliably determine in the long-term the direction of social change, i.e. rationality. So one can say that he was not a practical man in the short-term but perhaps a practical man in the long-term

x. These were repressed by Stalin until his death and were published in 1956, three decades after they were written in 1922-23.

xi. The founders may not have been perfect but they were at least sufficient and comprehensive. So the benchmark was sufficient and comprehensive change, not perfect change.

xii. The two main figures of the two major Sanskrit epics ‘Mahabharata’ and ‘Ramayana’, representing the initial period of the feudal system in the Subcontinent.    

xiii. Just an aside! In the Indian feudal system, the moral duty was not coupled with hard work while in the Chinese feudal system it was.

xiv. The previous social orders were very hard working social orders; oppressive but hard working. They were not like contemporary social orders (emerging out of capitalist material prosperity based on technological advancements), which are increasingly breeding mental inertia, laziness, intellectual superficiality, emotional disintegration, etc. There is no such thing as existentialism in a slave or a tribal society, there is immense amount of hard work. In both the renaissances they were able to put this hard work on a better footing which was consistent with their respective platforms. And that better footing was turning it into ‘work ethic’. Be it the protestant work ethic or the Confucian work ethic. And this new work ethic was to a greater advantage, for the individual also. He became more productive and materially prosperous. 

xv. One needs tens or even hundreds of thousands of people to run a society in which there is a population of even a hundred million.

xvi. Between 1966 and 1976 (his death), Mao unleashed the ‘cultural revolution’, a systematic violent frenzy aimed at purging of all possible rivalry to his authority and the destruction of universities, museums, libraries, anything which represented China’s ‘corrupt’ and ‘decadent’ past. It is said that “For ten years after 1966 the Cultural Revolution distorted China both internally and in its relations with the outside world”. (Lynch, 2002).   

xvii. The ‘killing fields’ of Cambodia where millions of people were killed and buried by his regime from 1975-79 are a clear and brute evidence of this flaw.  

xviii. Ho acquired state power or became the leader of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam in 1954. Despite his more humanist and flexible approach in 1986, it was admitted in Vietnam Communist Party’s Sixth National Congress that the economic model practiced since 1954 was a failure and there was a need to move towards market economy and Market Socialism. (Thayer, Retrieved from This clearly shows that the equation between acquisition of state power and social change was just not true. It did not produce the results which were premeditated in this equation. 

xix. Just as we are confronted by the reality of an existing society similarly we are confronted by the real possibility of change. And not any change but only those changes which are objectively possible. Because only those real changes can take place.

xx. The changes we are talking about are not in his body but in his head where his intelligence and his sensitivities reside.

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