Vestiges of the Past

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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vestiges of the Past


residual phenomena from the past, including social relations, customs, traditions, norms and behavioral patterns, ideas, views, attitudes, and tastes, that persist under a new social system at a higher level of socioeconomic development. The presence of vestiges from past epochs was first noted by the philosophers of ancient Greece. The first serious attempts to explain these phenomena were undertaken in modern times. Charles de Brosses, a representative of the French Enlightenment and a researcher of archaic cults, explained the persistence of hangovers from the past as the result of habit and the power of ignorance. He held that habit takes the place of reason everywhere on an equal footing and that ancient absurdities, which arose in an age of ignorance, are easily maintained by virtue of custom alone; he indicated that unlike the radiance of enlightened times, ancient absurdities will long outlive the ignorance that gave rise to them (Sb. de Bross o fetishizme; Moscow, 1973, p. 127; translated from French).

The scientific explanation for the existence of vestiges of the past was given by Marx, Engels, and Lenin, who showed that a new society does not immediately overcome the reactionary and conservative heritage of the past. In particular, they noted that “pure” capitalism never existed. In capitalist countries certain remnants of earlier economic structures and the attitudes, ideas, traditions, and ways of life linked with them continue to exist, although in modified form. Moreover, as capitalism draws into its orbit countries at different levels of socioeconomic and cultural development, it not only breaks down precapitalist forms of social life but also acts to preserve them, especially in colonies.

The new society that arises as a result of the victory of the socialist revolution cannot immediately rid itself of the “birthmarks” of capitalism and other social and political structures that are manifested in economic life and in the consciousness and behavior of part of the population. Certain negative phenomena in the realm of management and administration, which contradict the essence of socialist social relations, for example, bureaucracy and a low level of legal understanding, also constitute vestiges of the past.

Problems of the social and class nature of vestiges of the past, the reasons for their persistence, and the means for overcoming them must be formulated theoretically and practically. This is dictated by the needs of developing socialist society, in which vestiges of the past come into sharp conflict with the main tendencies of social progress and the resolution of vitally important economic, sociopolitical, cultural, and ideological tasks. The extent to which vestiges of the past conflict with the fundamental interests of a workers’ society is the basis for differentiating between varied types of hangovers. The foremost task is to overcome those vestigial phenomena whose existence directly contradicts socialist social relations and, consequently, socialist legal norms; these include crime (theft of state property, bribe taking, and other economic offenses and assault upon the life, health, or dignity of citizens), drunkenness, hooliganism, malingering at work, and other violations of the norms of socialist community life and the principles of communist morality. In today’s circumstances, the struggle against the influence of ideologies alien to socialism has become an acute problem; vestiges of the past, especially those that are nationalistic, religious, or individualistic, nurture the development of such ideologies.

In order to overcome vestiges of the past, it is necessary to improve all aspects of economy, culture, and social administration, to stipulate the accelerated development of certain spheres of social life, for example, life in the home, in accordance with present-day standards. Also necessary are coordinated actions by governmental and social organizations, the development of socialist democracy, and consistent encouragement of a healthy ideological and moral atmosphere at all levels of society and in all collective bodies. It is also necessary to raise the educational and cultural level of all members of society, strengthen ideological education, while taking into account special features of particular social groups and strata in socialist society, and to promote a communist world view among all members of Soviet society. The final overcoming of outdated forms of social intercourse will signify the elimination of the objective causes for the existence of vestiges of the past. After that the attention of society will focus on overcoming hangovers from the past that are primarily cultural in nature and that survive in daily life in the form of outdated traditions, customs, or illusory notions (for example, religious ideas), which affect the behavior and thinking of a certain part of the population. The shaping of a new man, the development of socialist social relations and the socialist way of life, and the establishment of an atmosphere of general intolerance toward vestiges of the past will finally lead to the total disappearance of these vestiges.


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