Do Great Men change the course of history? Discuss with reference to either Lenin or Stalin or Gorbachev

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Do “Great Men” change the course of history? Discuss with reference to either Lenin or Stalin or Gorbachev


Today the great man theory is out of favour as a singular explanation for why things happen. Historians look at other factors such as economic, societal, environmental, and technological which are just as or more significant to historical change. Many historians believe that a history which only follows around single persons, especially when their significance is determined primarily by political status, is a shallow view of the past, and that sometimes such a view excludes entire groups of people from being parts of the study of history. A broader view is provided by a people's history approach. But it takes a special kind of character to shape these influences whether he is a homicidal megalomaniac or men of undeniable charisma. Great men don’t change the course of history they create it. For better or worse, that is up to the historians to decide. But it is impossible to deny his role in not only Russian history but also world history.

        In this essay I am going to look at 3 areas where Stalin changed the course of history. Obviously the two biggest achievements/impacts that were overseen during Stalin’s reign were the defeat of Hitler Germany and the transformation of Russia into a Superpower. The other major area I am going to look at is his battle of ideals with Trotsky and what this meant for history.

Socialism in one country/Permanent revolution

The rise of Stalin to leadership, first within the party and then within the state must be seen in this perspective. His importance begins to emerge with the growing bureaucratisation of party and state. But the bureaucracy in its turn developed and expanded because of Russia’s extreme backwardness and isolation; it was the product of a revolution in retreat, pinned down within the frontiers of a poverty stricken economy, dependent on a huge mass of primitive peasants. The change which occurred in these years, preceding and immediately following Lenin’s death, proved decisive for the whole subsequent course of world history. The failure of the western revolution destroyed the strategy, which had hitherto underpinned the practice of the Bolsheviks. The hope of bridging Russian backwardness and a socialist programme, through the industrial and cultural support afforded by the resources of a socialist Europe, was now unpredictably served. This would lead to internal struggle and the debate between Socialism in one country and Permanent revolution.

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This is one of the most intriguing questions in modern history what if Stalin’s philosophy was not socialism in one country but like Trotsky was the theory of permanent revolution.  Some western scholars like Carr, Alexander Erlich and Moshe Lewin treat his ideological position as a mere façade disguising personal ambition. So this idea could easily have happened.

The theory of “Socialism in One Country” originated as a response to Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution, however it was used by Stalin to create a theoretical justification for the practical realities facing the Soviet Union; it can thus be viewed ...

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