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the officially recognized equality of citizens (subjects) before the state, the law, and the courts; one of the fundamental elements of democracy. The constitutional guarantees of equal rights and the extent to which equal rights are realized indicate the level of democracy in a society and state system.
The principle of equal rights was advanced as one of the most important principles of the state during the age of bourgeois revolutions, which abolished the estate relations of feudal society. (The slogan of the French Revolution was “Liberty, equality and fraternity.”) Although it was proclaimed in the first bourgeois constitutions and declarations, the principle of equal rights was limited in scope and had only formal legal significance. Formal equality, or freedom of contract, concealed the socioeconomic inequality of the capitalist and the wage worker, the exploiter and the exploited. In a number of bourgeois countries there is still inequality before the law (for example, the lack of equal rights for women and discrimination based on national or racial origin).
During the period of transition after a socialist revolution, the principle of equal rights is established for the working people, and restrictions may be placed on the rights and freedoms of the exploiters and their accomplices, who oppose the new system. With the building of socialism, equal rights becomes established as a fundamental constitutional right of citizens. Moreover, the constitution of the USSR contains broad guarantees of real equality (for example, arts. 35 and 36, on the equality of men and women and the equality of citizens regardless of race and nationality).
The socialist state is characterized by equality in the basic (constitutional) rights and duties of citizens and by a combination of civil liberties, social obligations, and state discipline in all aspects of the economy, the state, culture, society and politics. The Soviet Constitution and the constitutions of other socialist states preclude political privileges for some individuals and restrictions on the rights of others.