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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the requirement or lack of something that is necessary to support the vital activity of an organism, human individual, social group, or society as a whole; the internal stimulus to action.

Biological needs (including those of the human being) are dictated by the metabolism, the essential prerequisite for the existence of any organism. The needs of social subjects (individuals and social groups), as well as of society as a whole, depend on the specific social conditions of their activity and on the level of development of a particular society. Social needs develop through the relationship between the production and consumption of material and cultural goods. The satisfaction of relatively elementary (vital) needs gives rise to new ones, “and this creation of new needs is the first historical act” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3, p. 27). In other words, the rise of new needs distinguishes human beings from animals: man, the subject of the historical process, transforms the natural and social environment; animals adapt to it. “The scope of so-called essential needs and methods of satisfying them are the product of history and depend largely on the cultural level of a country” (K. Marx, ibid., vol. 23, p. 182).

The needs of society—especially economic needs, the foundation of all social production—are objective. They develop as a result of the necessity of bringing the character of production relations into line with the level of development of the productive forces and making relations in society’s political and cultural superstructures correspond to society’s economic basis. In the economy of a socialist society, the objective needs for the development of particular economic sectors are determined by the law of planned proportional development. Under capitalist production these needs are determined spontaneously by the law of value and by market relations.

Needs that have been consciously recognized by society, social classes, groups, and individuals operate as interests. In class society the needs and interests of various classes, social groups, and strata differ, owing to differences in their economic, sociopolitical, and cultural positions and to social heterogeneity. The elimination of social antagonisms in socialist society means that artificial, unhealthy needs and the antagonisms in the needs and interests of different classes and groups are simultaneously overcome. This is a prerequisite for creating the conditions for a harmonious combination of social and individual interests.

In psychology, needs are viewed as special mental states of the individual, felt or consciously recognized as stress, dissatisfaction, or discomfort. In other words, needs are the reflection in the human mind of a discrepancy between the internal and external conditions for activity. Therefore, a need is also a stimulus to action directed at eliminating this discrepancy, a purpose that can be accomplished by taking advantage of actual opportunities for satisfying a need. When such opportunities are lacking, a need may be repressed or replaced by a similar one. This mechanism does not, however, apply to the satisfaction of vital needs. If they cannot be satisfied, the organism dies.

As an expression of the relationship between a subject and the conditions of his activity, a need is revealed in unconscious inclinations and conscious motives for behavior. Human needs are, as a rule, characterized by an objective orientation that is preceded by searching behavior. A general, nonspecific need stimulates a quest for definite ways and objects to satisfy it. According to the theory proposed by the Soviet psychologist D. N. Uznadze, the habitual satisfaction of a need under definite conditions becomes fixed in the individual mind as a set for action that appears to replace the need.

The most important characteristics of needs are dynamism, changeableness, and the development of new, higher needs on the basis of satisfied ones, a phenomenon that is related to the individual’s involvement in different forms and spheres of activity. The needs of the individual form a hierarchy, the base of which consists of vital needs, and the upper levels of which consist of social needs. The highest manifestation of social needs is the need for self-actualization, self-affirmation—that is, the need for creative activity.

Social needs are unlimited in principle. Their development is related to general social conditions and the economic and cultural level of society. Cultural needs (intellectual, aesthetic, and creative ones) have the greatest potential for “infinite” development.

In contemporary science and scholarship, needs are classified in different ways, depending on the system of relations in which human needs are being studied. Needs may be classified on the basis of spheres of activity (needs for labor, knowledge, communication, and recreation). They are also categorized in terms of their object (material and cultural, ethical, and aesthetic needs, for example), function (dominant and secondary, central and peripheral, stable and situational needs), and subject (individual, group, collective, and social needs).

Crude biological notions concerning the human personality (Freudianism) assert that the primary factors in the social activity of the individual are certain inborn, vital needs that remain unchanged and are objectified in concrete social forms. By contrast, the work of Marxist psychologists is based on a recognition of the dominating role of higher social needs acquired by the individual in phylogeny.

One of the central tasks of communist construction is to ensure the full satisfaction of steadily growing societal and individual needs, in conformity with the law of increasing requirements and according to the communist principle “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.”


Marx, K., and F. Engels. Nemetskaia ideologiia. Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 3.
Marx, K. Nishcheta filosofii Ibid., vol. 4.
Marx, K. “Naemnyi trud i kapital.” Ibid., vol. 6.
Engels, F. “Rol’ truda v protsesse prevrashcheniia obez’iany v cheloveka.” Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Po povodu tak nazyvaemogo voprosa o rynkakh.” Poln. sobr. soch, 5th ed., vol. 1.
Fortunatov, G., and A. Petrovskii. “Problema potrebnostei v psikhologii lichnosti.” Voprosy psikhologii, 1956, no. 4.
Miasishchev, V. N. “Problema potrebnostei v sisteme psikhologii.” Uch. zapiski LGU: Seriia filosofskikh nauk, 1957, issue 11, no. 244.
Rumianstev, A. M. O kategoriiakh i zakonakh politicheskoi ekonomii kommunisticheskoi formatsii. Moscow, 1966.
Kiknadze, D. A. Potrebnosti, povedenie, wspitanie. Moscow, 1968.
Radaev, V. V. Potrebnost’ kak ekonomicheskaia kategoriia sotsializma. Moscow, 1970.
Eksperimental’naia psikhologiia, fasc. 3. Edited by P. Fraisse and J. Piaget. Moscow, 1970.
Leont’ev, A. N. Potrebnosti, motivy, emotsii. Moscow, 1971.
Obukhovskii, K. Psikhologiia vlechenii cheloveka. Moscow, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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