After reading this article you will learn about the role of individual in development of society according to Marx and Engels.
It is to be emphasized here that Marx and Engels had no intention to undermine the importance and role of individuals.
The role of individuals envisaged by Marx and Engels must be viewed in the proper perspective. They have admitted the crucial role of individual having exceptional qualities in the making and remaking of history and also moulding the process of development.
An outstanding individual like Oliver Cromwell or Napoleon Bonaparte or Marx himself has tremendous influence upon the course of history. An exceptional individual has certain traits of character which ensure his role in the progress of history.
To a very crucial point Marx and Engels have drawn our attention. Historical development took place at different periods of time.
We also come to know that individuals gave leadership to these development processes or to this development. But Marx and Engels have said that these individuals are not ordinary persons, they are leaders to classes and movements/This are the key point to be properly treated.
Individuals direct the movement of history as leaders of classes, representatives of the mass. Cornforth, in this connection, maintains “unless the individual bases his authority and his influence upon the support of some class, whose interests and tendencies he represents, he is impotent and can exert no decisive influence”.
As without the support of classes leaders cannot influence history, so without leaders the classes and movements cannot achieve success. The good leaders accelerate the movement and bad leaders retard it.
Marx regards individuals as a product of social being or product of materialistic situation. Individual does not come from the vacuum. He draws his inspiration from the society. This does not, of course, mean that a particular historical situation will produce identical individuals. Though the superstructure is the reflection of basis, it is not devoid of varieties.
There are varieties of ideology, religion, art and literature. All these lead to the varieties of individual’s character and attitude. Thus a capitalist base has various types of individuals. That is why in capitalist society some people relentlessly fight against capitalism and vow to overthrow it.
In capitalist society the individual is simply a wage-earner and a machine of surplus value, i.e., surplus value-creating agency He sells his labour and in exchange of that gets an amount of wage which just helps him to survive. The workers are forced to stay and comfort themselves at subsistence level of wage.
The greatest “achievement” of capitalism is that it has alienated and dehumanised individual. On his labour the great citadel of wealth is built. He is destined to sacrifice.
Individual in capitalism is the victim of exploitation, misery suffering and degradation. He is put to all sorts of subjection. He is supposed to have freedom, which is in fact, a false one. Economic slavery makes freedom fully meaningless.
Absence of economic freedom abnegates the political freedom. The creative activity of the individual, in capitalism, is retarded. So what is the way out? Socialism, Marx believes, is the only way of emancipation.
It opens the floodgates of opportunities for the individual sufficient for the utilisation of creative faculties which the individual possesses.
He gets back his worth Let us put the matter in the words of Kolakowski:
“Socialism was vastly to enlarge the sphere of creative activity outside the production process freeing consciousness from mystification and social life from reified forces”.
Forces of production will be released from private control. The contradictions, characteristic features of capitalist society, will cease to exist. Abolition of the antagonistic class society will radically change the character of base and superstructure.
Man will no longer be subject of exploitation. Both alienation and dehumanisation will be buried in oblivion. “Socialist production” observes Cliff Slaughter “will provide an entirely changed basis for individual development. Social forces and cultural stimuli will come under individual’s control”.
From the above analysis of base and superstructure relation or interaction we conclude that Marx makes a very important contribution to social philosophy. Many of the concepts or ideas of Marx may be challenged or rejected but his in-depth analysis of base and superstructure has an everlasting value.
In every capitalist society base generally controls the superstructure and sometimes the superstructure is found to influence the base. This view of Marx is found in many systems.