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Together with the same author’s ‘Materialist conception of history’ this is a brilliant introduction to historical materialism. Clearly there are limits to the ‘what if’ way of looking at historical processes, but the reader will no doubt find Plekhanov’s conclusion that even such over-arching figures as Napoleon or Robespierre did not fundamentally change the broad course of historical development compelling. After all Plekhanov is defending the basic materialist conception of history, i.e. that progress is determined by material forces that manifest themselves in the activities of millions of people. He explains it well. In doing so he is illuminating the interplay of accident and necessity in history.