Criticism and Self-Criticism

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Criticism and Self-Criticism


a method of exposing the contradictions of social development; an indispensable aspect of material and intellectual activity; one of the fundamental principles of the revolutionary transforming activity of Marxist-Leninist political parties and, in socialist society, of the entire people; one of the moving forces of development in socialist society; and a principle of the moral upbringing, self-education, and spiritual development of people. The essence of criticism and self-criticism consists in the recognition and exposure, in one form or another, of the contradictions, errors, or shortcomings that arise for objective or subjective reasons in the course of social practice, in order to overcome them.

The objective basis of criticism and self-criticism is found in the contradictory process of historical development, in the differences in the social interests of classes and groups, and in the struggle between the new and the old, between the progressive and the conservative, which occurs in all spheres of social life and in the consciousness of people. “Life proceeds by contradiction” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 47, p. 219).

Marx regarded “the weapon of criticism” as an effective means of the proletariat’s class struggle under the conditions of capitalist society, with its inherent social antagonisms. Lenin stressed the vital importance of criticism and self-criticism for carrying out the socialist revolution and for the work of the Communist party (ibid., vol. 44, pp. 150, 205, 209). In the course of the workers’ and communist movement and the national liberation struggle of peoples the weapon of criticism has been extensively employed to expose the exploitative essence of capitalism and the policies of the ruling classes and to bring about the revolutionary overthrow of the capitalist system and the liberation of the toiling people from social and national oppression.

Under socialism, the change in the nature of social relations and the elimination of antagonistic contradictions and exploiter classes fundamentally alter the purpose and nature of criticism. The weapon for the destruction and revolutionary overthrow of the old system becomes an instrument for the creation of socialism and communism.

In a socialist society the objective prerequisites of criticism and self-criticism are the contradiction between rapidly growing social needs and the possibilities of satisfying them (the level of development of productive forces) and the need for constant improvement of productive and other social relations (ibid., vol. 42, p. 37).

The construction of socialism and communism is an uninterrupted process of struggle for the new way in production, in relationships between people, and in the psychology and ethics of the members of society. Because of the ideological and political solidarity of the people under socialism, the struggle is not expressed in major social conflicts, but this does not rule out the serious nature and sharpness of the struggle. Criticism and self-criticism are one of the most important means of evaluating social practice and reassessing obsolete views and notions. The need for criticism and self-criticism is also dictated by subjective errors and shortcomings, which are possible under the complex conditions of creating socialism and communism.

The Leninist tenets on criticism and self-criticism are embodied in the Program of the CPSU and the Rules of the CPSU (1961). With the aid of criticism and self-criticism, the peoples of the Soviet Union bring to light contradictions, unresolved problems, and difficulties and “select the best forms and methods of communist construction” (Programma KPSS, 1972, p. 133).

The development of criticism and self-criticism is determined by the sum total of objective and subjective conditions—by the economic and political maturity of socialism, the country’s domestic and international situation, the scope and nature of the tasks confronting it, the level of development of democracy, the degree of ideological and political consciousness of the citizens, and the level of activity of both party organizations and the public. Criticism is a responsible political act affecting broad social interests, and, therefore, the attitude toward it is determined by the standpoint from which it is conducted and by its goals. The principles of Marxist-Leninist ideology and policies, the Soviet Constitution, and social legality are the criteria of socially useful criticism.

High-principled criticism and self-criticism are imbued with concern for the interests of socialism and communism and the interests of the people, as well as concern for the strengthening and development of the Communist Party and the socialist state. Criticism aimed at eliminating shortcomings in the party and state leadership and in the theory and practice of socialist and communist construction is not subject to restrictions of either an official or personal nature. Every Soviet citizen has the right to criticize the activity of any party or state body, as well as any functionary regardless of the position he holds.

The struggle against infringements of social and state interests and against errors and shortcomings in all spheres of the country’s life is the civic duty of every Soviet citizen and, for Communists, a party obligation as well. The rules of the CPSU directly instruct party members to “develop criticism and self-criticism, to boldly reveal shortcomings and strive to eliminate them to combat parading, conceit, complacency, and particularism, to repulse decisively all attempts to suppress criticism, to oppose any action detrimental to the party and state, and to inform party organs up to the Central Committee of the CPSU of such actions” (1971, pp. 9–10).

The content, nature, and forms of criticism in socialist society and in the party are determined by the object of criticism, taking into account existing socialist social relations, intraparty relations, and the goals of the criticism. The nature of the criticism employed by Soviet society and its political vanguard, the Communist Party, varies substantially, depending on whether criticism is directed at a political opponent or at an ally, a comrade in joint work and struggle who commits certain errors. Some forms of criticism are applied to phenomena alien to socialism; others are applied to shortcomings that do not extend beyond the bounds of socialist ideology and party policies. In some instances criticism functions as a means of struggle, and in others it is a form of aid.

The CPSU has always been and remains merciless in its criticism of imperialism and its policies and in its criticism of bourgeois ideology. As for differences and disputes with its allies and comrades in struggle, the CPSU strives to overcome them by patient comradely criticism and persuasion. The CPSU also extends this approach to intraparty criticism.

Inasmuch as the object of criticism in the Communist Party and socialist society is usually the shortcomings and errors committed by persons who support the goals for which the party and the people are striving, criticism must open the way for correcting deviations and must not be destructive. The party teaches people to use the method of criticism correctly and to offer well-thought-out opinions, verified facts, and substantiated proposals tactfully, in order to effect positive changes in the work of labor collectives, party, state, and economic agencies, and social organizations, as well as in the behavior and personal life of all members of society. Under socialism, criticism is a method of educating people. Criticism that takes the form of “faultfinding,” like criticism in which people attempt to substitute harshness, labeling, and abuse for arguments or in which they juggle facts and make conjectures, plays a negative role.

The distinguishing feature of criticism based on principles is its constructive character. It is more effective not only when errors and shortcomings are criticized, but when their causes are explained, their roots uncovered, and concrete proposals made of ways to correct them.

The tribunes of criticism and self-criticism are the regularly convened party assemblies and assemblies of the working people, party and trade union conferences and congresses, plenums of party committees, and conferences of the most active members of the party, the soviets, the trade unions, and the Komsomol, as well as the press, radio, television, and motion pictures.

The CPSU seeks to ensure that criticism will find everywhere the necessary public support and that every critical observation will be taken into account and implemented in good time.

Extensive party and public support for critical proposals encourages party and state agencies, social organizations, and their functionaries to be sensitive to the criticism of the masses and to respond to that criticism promptly and efficiently. Among the masses, this situation strengthens the conviction that concerned criticism of shortcomings and errors in the work of a particular collective or official will be supported by the party, state organs, and the public. This raises the level of activity and initiative of both Communists and nonparty workers and fosters devotion to principles and an uncompromising attitude toward shortcomings in their work and toward deviations from the norms and principles of socialist society.

The Communist Party strives for the creation in every group of a sense of public concern for the exposure and elimination of errors and shortcomings. It also strives for the effective operation in every group of the appropriate mechanism to correct them. An important guarantee of the development of criticism and self-criticism is the strict observance of the principles of party and Soviet democracy and socialist legality.

The attitude toward criticism, the ability to accept it properly and respond to it promptly and efficiently is the touchstone of the political maturity of Communists and of the leaders and all members of socialist society. The party firmly censures the leaders and Communists who show bureaucratic self-importance and conceit and are intolerant of criticism. Persecution for criticism is a great evil, and those guilty of it are made accountable.

In developing and improving socialist and intraparty relations, strengthening democracy and legality, and showing concern for the political and ideological growth of Communists and all citizens, the Communist Party creates the indispensable conditions for making criticism and self-criticism a powerful moving force in the process of communist creation.


Marx, K. “K Kritike gegelevskoi filosofii prava: Vvedenie.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed. vol. 1.
Marx, K. Afterword to the second edition of “Kritika politicheskoi ekonomii” (vol. 1 of Kapital ). Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Shag vpered, dva shaga nazad.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 8.
Lenin, V. I. “O smeshenii politiki s pedagogikoi.” Ibid., vol. 10.
Lenin, V. I. “Tezisy ob osnovnykh zadachakh Kominterna.” Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “K chetyrekhletnei godovzhchine Oktiabr’skoi revoliutsii.” Ibid., vol. 44.
Programma KPSS (Priniata XXII s”ezdom KPSS). Moscow, 1972.
Ustav KPSS. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
They engaged in intensive sessions of criticism and self-criticism to ward off counterrevolutionary deviations.