Socialist Studies Socialist Studies

History and "Great Men"

Marx's theory of history also rejects the 'Great Man Theory of history' first put forward by Thomas Carlyle in his book ON HEROES, HERO-WORSHIP, AND THE HEROIC IN HISTORY (1841). It is a collection of six lectures given in May 1840 about prominent historical figures. It lays out Carlyle's belief in the importance of heroic leadership. Ironically, for a Tory, one of Carlyle's "heroic great men" was Oliver Cromwell who had signed the King's death warrant: a revolutionary as 'hero'.

This facile view of history has been recently popularized by Boris Johnson in his historically illiterate and factually incorrect THE CHURCHILL FACTOR: HOW ONE MAN MADE HISTORY (2013) and by his chum and fellow Etonian, Jacob Rees Mogg in his, VICTORIANS (2019).

The historian Richard J Evans dismissed the numerous inaccuracies of Johnson's book, which included the belief that the German army won the battle of Stalingrad which took place between August 1942 and February 1943, when, in fact, the German army lost. Detail has never been Johnson's strong point as the thousands of unnecessary deaths during the Covid 19 pandemic attest.

Evans wrote that the book seemed that:

"as if it was dictated, not written. All the way through we hear Boris's voice; it's like being cornered in the Drones Club and harangued for hours by Bertie Wooster" (NEW STATESMAN 06 November2014).

Later Evans was to apologise for insulting Bertie Wooster!!!!

What of Boris Johnson's hero, Winston Churchill. His racism is passed over in silence. As does his anti-working class actions against miners in Wales.

Churchill did send troops to areas containing strikers and riots in 1910-11. He withheld their deployment in 1910, but in 1911 their presence at one location resulted in fatalities. So too, was Churchill's contribution to the 1943 Bengal famine in India which led to millions of deaths when he was Prime Minster during the Second World War. While British officials begged Churchill to direct food supplies to the region he bluntly refused. He raged that it was their own fault for "breeding like rabbits". At other times, he said the plague was "merrily" culling the population. (Richard Toye CHURCHILL'S EMPIRE: THE WORLD THAT MADE HIM AND THE WORLD HE MADE, 2010)

Rees-Mogg and his Imperial heroes do little better in the 'great man' stakes. One of his 'heroes' was General Charles Napier whose genocide and plunder in India got him a statue erected in Trafalgar Square.

Rees-Mogg's book gave an autobiographical sketch of ten eminent Victorians but was unmercifully panned in the media by a plague of Tory historians, an indication of how bad the book really was. The author A.N. Wilson described it as a 'staggeringly silly book'.

The conservative historian, Dominic Sandbrook declared the book as "abysmal and soul-destroying". Writing in the SUNDAY TIMES, he said:

"No doubt every sanctimonious academic in the country has already decided that Rees-Mogg's book has to be dreadful, so it would have been fun to disappoint them....but there is just no denying it: the book is terrible, so bad, so boring, so mind-bogglingly banal that if it had been written by anybody else it would never have been published.

The Tory conception of history is the highest form of ignorance and the lowest form of thought.

What of Great Men? They are usually destroyed by events; a Napoleon and a Hitler in Russia's winter comes to mind. Great men make great mistakes. Marx dismissed Louis Bonaparte's 'greatness' by commenting that it was the class struggle in France that created the circumstances and relationships:

"that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part" (1869 Preface to THE 18th BRUMAIRE OF LOUIS BONAPARTE).

And 'Great Men' are unaware of the historical forces facing them. Lenin may have successively grasped political power through a coup d'etat in Russia in 1917, but circumstances meant he and the Bolsheviks could only ever establish state capitalism not socialism.

The conditions were not right in Russia at that time for the establishment of socialism: there existed a backwood peasant majority only interested in their land, the productive forces had not yet fully developed for socialist production to be possible, there had been no other successful revolution elsewhere in Europe while the majority of the Russian working class were not socialist, had no idea what socialism meant and only wanted the war to end.

And then there is former President Trump. He thought he was a Great man. So did his sycophantic supporters.

Let us not forget Trump's sycophantic supporters in the UK.

Michael Gove conducted a fawning interview with Trump and was photographed eagerly shaking Trump's hand. Rupert Murdoch was in the room at the same time but that was supposed to be a secret.

Boris Johnson called for Trump to be given the Nobel Peace Prize.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said that Trump "exudes confidence about his own actions...which also inspires the Brexiteers".

Look at the craven articles in the Tory media praising Trump to the hilt particularly those published in the SUNDAY TIMES and the SPECTATOR.

And Nigel Farage said that Trump was "the only current leader in the free world who has got the guts to stand up and fight for the nation state".

So much for great Men!

Back to top

Socialist Studies

email: |