Conformity to Laws of Society

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Conformity to Laws of Society


the objectively existing, recurrent, essential relation of the phenomena of social life or the stages of the historical process that characterizes the progressive development of history.

In pre-Marxist philosophy and sociology, individual thinkers arrived at the idea of the conformity to law of the historical process (Aristotle, the idea of historical determinism of the French philosopher J. Bodin, the theory of historical cycles of the Italian thinker G. Vico, the geographical determinism of the French philosopher Montesquieu, the French philosopher Condorcet, the German thinker J. G. von Herder). French materialism, which on the whole assumed an idealistic position in explaining history, in its own way came close to a recognition of social laws. In the 19th century these problems were elaborated in the works of French historians of the Restoration (A. Thierry, F. Mignet, F. Guizot). Of great significance to the development of this idea were the views of G. Hegel, who, as F. Engels expressed it, “was the first to try to demonstrate that there is an evolution, an intrinsic coherence in history” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 13, p. 496). Saint-Simon arrived at an understanding of the conformity to law of history; the founder of positivism, A. Comte (France), presented the theory of the three stages of historical development.

The scientific solution to the problem of laws of society was first given from the viewpoint of the materialist understanding of history. The isolation of relations of production as primary and material factor made it possible to apply the criterion of recurrence to historical phenomena. This was a precondition for discovering social laws. As Marxism has established, in social life the operation of laws is manifested in the form of tendencies, that is, laws determine the main line of development of society, without including or predetermining many chance events and deviations; it is precisely through these chance events and deviations that necessity forces its way as a law. Therefore, both dynamic and statistical regularities occur in history. With respect to mass social phenomena, it is appropriate to speak of statistical regularities, which allow individual deviations through which a tendency forces its way. If we examine the general line of historical development, then the general sociological regularity expressing it appears dynamic. The concept of socioeconomic formation serves above all as the criterion for singling out the general and the recurrent in history. Marxism rejects the neo-Kantian- denial of recurrence in social phenomena and at the same time does not make recurrence an absolute. The existence of general laws of society allows for variations in the development of individual countries and peoples, which pass through similar stages of development. The law-governed nature of history also implies the progressive nature of its development, which lead to the idea of progress.

The discovery of laws of society made it possible to conceive of the development of society as a natural and historical process. The laws of the development of society are laws applying exclusively to human activity; they are not some-thing external to it. In rejecting fatalism and voluntarism in resolving the problem of the correlation of the objective laws of history and conscious human activity, Marxism proceeds from the fact that people themselves create their own history under the material and spiritual preconditions inherited from previous generations and under specific circumstances. By relying on the objectively existing laws of society, they find in the very reality the sources and forces for its transformation, that is, they actively change the world.

In history there are laws of differing degrees of generality: universal sociological laws, which appear at all stages of human history (for example, the law of conformity of the relations of production with the nature and level of development of the productive forces); laws that operate in a specific group of formations (for example, the laws of class struggle in antagonistic societies); laws characteristic only of individual formations (for example, the law of planned, balanced development under socialism).

Recognition of the social laws in Marxism also implies the possibility of knowing them. Compared to knowledge of the laws of nature, laws of society have some specific features: in particular, cognition of the social laws depends on the degree of maturity of social relations and is linked largely to the interests of specific classes. In the very method of cognition there are a number of special characteristics; experiment is possible to a lesser degree than in natural science, and therefore the role of theoretical methods of cognition is significant. However, with the development of methods of cognition, exact research methods are playing an increasingly greater role in the social sciences. Especially great is the role of the qualitative content analysis of social objects; the problem of the conditions and limits of formalization requires special study. Therefore, Marxism rejects the positivist tradition of mechanically transferring the methods of quantitative analysis from the natural sciences to the social sciences.

Knowledge of the laws of social development opens the possibility of utilizing them in the practical activity of people. In antagonistic societies the use of social law is linked to the class struggle. In a socialist society the conditions arise for the conscious use of the objective laws of history: here the correlation between spontaneity and consciousness in social development changes, and the possibility of scientifically directing social processes increases. This possibility is used by the Communist Party for elaborating a scientifically founded policy for the development of all spheres of society, for foreseeing the tendencies and direction of social development.

The problem of social law is one of the critical questions in the struggle between Marxist and bourgeois ideology. The Marxist position on the question, which is supported by the course of historical development, is opposed by a number of trends in bourgeois philosophy and sociology, a characteristic feature of which is either the refusal to recognize social laws or the rejection of the possibility of knowing and using it. The position of social science with respect to laws of society in the final analysis is inevitably connected with class position. Its recognition in Marxism is the theoretical basis of the doctrine of the law-governed nature of socialistic revolution and of the inevitability of the triumph of communism.


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Marx, K. K kritike politicheskoi ekonomii. Ibid., vol. 13.
Marx, K. “[Pis’mo] P. V. Annenkovu, 28dekabria 1846. ”Ibid., vol. 27.
Engels, F. L. Feierbakh i konets klassicheskoi nemetskoi filosofii, section 4. Ibid., vol. 21.
Engels, F.Anti-Dühring. Ibid., vol. 20. Pages 16–32, 267–296.
Engels, F. “[Pis’mo] F. A. Lange, 29 marta 1865.” Ibid., vol. 31.
Engels, F. “[Pis’mo] I. Blokhu, 21 [22] sentiabria 1890.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Engels, F. “[Pis’mo] K. Shmidtu, 5 avgusta 1890.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Engels, F. “[Pis’mo] K. Shmidtu, 12 marta 1895.” Ibid., vol. 39.
Engels, F. “[Pis’mo] V. Borgiusu, 25 ianvaria 1894. ”Ibid., vol. 39.
Lenin, V. I. “Chto takoe ‘druz’ia naroda’ i kak oni voiuiut protiv sotsial-demokratov.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. Materializm i empiriokrititsizm. Ibid., vol. 18. Chapter 6.
Lenin, V. I. “Karl Marks. ”Ibid., vol. 26.
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The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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