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Related to equality: Equality of opportunity


Maths a statement, usually an equation, indicating that quantities or expressions on either side of an equal sign are equal in value
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


a state of being equal in some respect. Although some religious doctrines hold that all people are in some sense equal at birth, most sociological discussions have focused on equality as an aspect of social context. The lack of equality – inequality - is a vital element in examinations of SOCIAL STRATIFICATION and CLASS.

Following the French Revolution and the growth of LIBERAL DEMOCRACIES, equality has usually been interpreted to mean equality between individuals or CITIZENS within a number of contexts. For example, LIBERAL DEMOCRACY assumes that all individuals are equal in law, have political equality These equalities have often been translated into a series of constitutional rights: the right to a fair trial, the right to hold political office, and the right to fair selection procedures regardless of social background (see also CITIZEN RIGHTS). However, this liberal-democratic concern with individual equality does not assume equality of income and wealth, and critics have argued that the unequal DISTRIBUTION OF INCOME AND WEALTH undermines all the other attempts at equality since the holders of material resources have an advantage over other citizens. Sociologists have found this a fruitful issue for empirical research and have demonstrated how material resources affect people's life chances. For example, material resources have been seen to affect a child's progress in the education system (see EQUALITY OF OPPORTUNITY), and have also been seen to affect access to legal representation.

In the UK, the WELFARE STATE is often perceived as promoting equality, and there are a number of ways in which social policies have been considered to be egalitarian. Le Grande (1982) suggests five different models of equality in the context of social policy:

  1. equality of public expenditure, whereby everyone receives the same amount of support;
  2. equality of final income, where public resources are directed at those with greater need;
  3. equality ofuse, where everyone receives the same service although that service might be more expensive to provide in one part of the country compared with another;
  5. equality of outcome, where resources are provided so that every one is equal after a service has been given. This notion is one that has been particularly developed in socialist political ideologies.

Although the welfare state is perceived as egalitarian, empirical research has demonstrated that in the major areas of welfare policy in the UK – housing, health, education, income maintenance and personal social services - inequalities have persisted and, in some cases, actually increased.

In the 1970s and 80s, a number of Western liberal democracies, such as the UK and the US, elected governments holding the belief that the egalitarian objectives of welfare are wasteful and unfair. See also ROUSSEAU, JUSTICE.

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



like liberty, one of the fundamental ideals of any just social order. The meaning of the concept of “equality” has differed during various historical epochs and for various classes of society.

The problem of equality emerged at the beginning of human history, with the division of society into classes and the rise of slavery. The slaveholding system was characterized by profound inequality: the slaves, who had no rights, were considered “speaking tools.” In antiquity social inequality was also characteristic of the poor strata of the ruling class. During the epoch of feudalism, social inequality did not decline but was transformed into inequality between social estates. The peasantry, who had the fewest rights, were economically and politically dependent on the feudal lords. Within the ruling class there was a pyramidal system of inequality: minor feudal lords were subordinate to major feudal lords, who were, in turn, subordinate to the royal court.

Many class conflicts adopted the slogan of a struggle against inequality, because it was clear, simple, and easily understood by the masses. Equality was the goal of many slave rebellions, including the uprising led by Aristonicus (second century B.C.), which was inspired by the idea of creating a “nation of equals.” During the Middle Ages the slogan of “equality” inspired all the large-scale peasant uprisings (for example, the Jacquerie in France, the Hussite revolutionary movement in Bohemia, and the Peasant War of 1524–26 in Germany). The idea of equality greatly influenced the uprisings led by S. Razin and E. Pugachev in Russia, as well as the Taiping Rebellion in China.

Theoretical reflections on the causes of social inequality and the means of abolishing it developed simultaneously with the class struggle. The first writers to establish a direct connection between inequality and the private ownership of the means of production were the great Utopians T. More and T. Campanella. The link between private property and inequality was very clearly demonstrated by J.-J. Rousseau in his famous Social Contract. The views of Utopian writers and Enlightenment thinkers had a tremendous influence on social development. In the two most important bourgeois revolutions (the English bourgeois revolution of the 17th century and the French Revolution) radical trends proclaimed as their goal the establishment of general social equality (the Levelers, or equalizers, in England, and G. Babeufs Conspiracy of the Equals in France).

The bourgeois revolutions and the establishment of the capitalist system led to significant changes in social relations, including substantial progress from the standpoint of the idea of equality. Social estates were abolished, as were the privileges associated with some of them, and all men were declared equal before the law. However, even in the initial period of the establishment of the capitalist system, the limited, illusory character of the principle of equality under capitalism was revealed in social reality. The bourgeois constitutions proclaimed the equal rights of citizens before the law, because private enterprise could exist only if free labor power was available on the market and if the right to buy and sell it had been established. The bourgeois slogan of equality is purely formal in its meaning, because it overlooks the real differences in the social condition of people and their division into antagonistic classes, one of which exploits the others. This was pointed out by C. Fourier and other leading Utopian socialists, who criticized the flaws in the capitalist system.

The founders of Marxism provided a complete and scientific picture of the causes, character, and forms of inequality under capitalism. Marxism-Leninism indicated practical methods for abolishing social inequality and establishing equality and new, just relationships between people under the conditions of socialism and, later, communism.

As the experience of the Great October Revolution in Russia and of the other socialist revolutions demonstrates, the socialist revolution brings about a fundamental transformation of the entire system of social relations by means of its very first act—the transfer of the ownership of the means of production to society as a whole. Consequently, all members of society occupy an identical position in the most essential respect—their relation to the means of production. With the elimination of the exploiting classes, socialist construction solves a number of crucial problems related to social equality. The complete and genuine equality of the working people is established, regardless of origin, social status, religious beliefs, and so forth. Enmity and distrust between nations (natsii, nations in the historical sense) are eliminated on the basis of the Leninist solution of the national question, and full equality is established in national relations. The eradication of the unequal status of women is promoted by the elimination of discrimination against women and against woman labor, by purposeful social action to protect motherhood by making child care, as well as housework, less onerous, and by involving women in productive labor. Socialism ensures the equal right of all individuals to work and to receive a fair wage for their labor, as well as the establishment of an extensive system of social rights guaranteed by the state. Moreover, under socialism, social consumption funds are established and distributed, usually regardless of one’s contribution in terms of labor.

Although socialism is accompanied by tremendous progress toward the establishment of real equality, it does not fully resolve the problem of equality. The principle of equal pay for equal work is applied, but individuals differ in their capacity for work, their skills, and their family situation. There are also considerable differences in the character and significance of various types of labor (for example, mental and manual labor, and skilled and unskilled labor). As a result, a certain degree of inequality in wealth persists. (Of course, in socialist society the inequality in wealth is not comparable to the tremendous disparity between the material conditions of individuals in societies based on exploitation.) The problem of inequality in wealth can be completely solved only by communism, which will eliminate the essential social differnces in the character of labor activity and apply the principle of distribution according to need.

Communist equality has nothing in common with the crude ideas of equalization of individual capacities, tastes, and needs. Abundance and a high level of individual consciousness are precisely the conditions required for the full development of individuality and the discovery of all of the individual’s creative capacities. In the final analysis, Marxism-Leninism defines equality as the complete elimination of classes and the creation of the conditions for the comprehensive development of all members of society.

Marxist-Leninist theory also categorically rejects leveling, a slogan usually adopted by the followers of various petit bourgeois socialist trends. Under contemporary conditions the equal distribution of the social product, regardless of the individual’s labor input and skills, inevitably hinders the growth of the productive forces and leads to a decline rather than to an increase in social wealth. Consequently, equal distribution does not improve the well-being of the masses. In other words, the ultimate meaning of “leveling” is equality in poverty. Attempts to introduce equality in distribution have inevitably failed.

In the epoch of state-monopoly capitalism the standard of living in the developed capitalist countries has risen as a result of the scientific and technological revolution and the struggle of the working class. Bourgeois propaganda takes advantage of this fact, arguing that the problem of equality is successfully solved by the “welfare state” (that is, in the developed countries of the West). These assertions are disproved by reality. In the capitalist countries there is a steady increase in inequality between the main mass of the toiling population and the small, elite stratum of monopolists. The problem of inequality is acute, as is constantly revealed by class conflicts that intensify the general crisis of contemporary capitalism.

Only communism will make it possible to completely eliminate social inequality, on the basis of highly developed production and the intellectual maturity of every individual. Thus one of the most complex social problems will be solved.


Marx, K. Kritika Gotskoi programmy. In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 19.
Marx, K. Kapital, vol. 1. Ibid., vol. 23.
Engels, F. Anti-Dühring, Ibid, vol. 20, sec. 1, ch. 10.
Lenin, V. I. “Sila i slabost’ russkoi revoliutsii” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 15.
Lenin, V. I. “Liberal’nyi professor o ravenstve.” Ibid., vol. 24.
Lenin, V. I. Gosudarstvo i revoliutsiia. Ibid., vol. 33.
Programma KPSS (Priniata XXII s”ezdom KPSS). Moscow, 1974.
Shakhnazarov, G. Kh. Sotsializm iravenstvo. Moscow, 1959.
Leont’ev, L. A. Problema ravenstva v “Kapitale” K. Marksa. Moscow, 1960.
Kurylev, A. K. Kommunizm i ravenstvo. Moscow, 1971.
Lakoff, S. A. Equality in Political Philosophy. Cambridge, Mass., 1964.




the relation of the interchangeability, or mutual substitutability, of objects; because of their interchangeability, the objects are regarded as equal. This conception of equality goes back to G. W. von Leibniz. The interchangeability can be either more or less complete, depending on the scope or extent of the equality. In general, however, the interchangeability is always relative, since the equated objects—whether they be of the objective world or of our thought (for example, ideas, concepts, or propositions)—are unique and nonrepeatable. In other words, the concept of interchangeable objects already contains the assumption of the objects’ individuation—that is, the assumption of a condition, or feature, separating the objects.

The degree of completeness of the interchangeability, that is, the dimension of the equality, naturally increases as we move from similarity to identity. In the case of identity, we simply speak of indistinguishability, which is usually given as the criterion for logical equality (identity). This usage, however, is imprecise, since indistinguishability in general guarantees only equality within the interval of, or with an accuracy of, the conditions of indistinguishability, and such equality, unlike logical equality, is not necessarily a transitive relation. Nevertheless, it is now traditional to speak of the principle of the equality of indistinguishable objects. In the language of first-order predicate logic, this principle is expressed by the axiom of extensionality

X = Y ⊃ (ϕ(X) = ϕ(Y))

and by the axiom x = x. In the language of second-order logic, it is given by the definition

In applications of logic, these expressions are replaced by a finite list of contensive equality axioms for all initial individual functions and predicates of a given theory together with the axioms of reflexivity (x = x), symmetry (x = yy = x), and transitivity (x = y & y = zx = z) for equality. This approach essentially means a transition from the purely logical formulation of the notion of equality to a weaker formulation: equality with respect to all properties that are expressible in terms of the functions and predicates of a specific theory.


Shreider, Iu. A. Ravenstvo, skhodstvo, poriadok. Moscow, 1971.
Kleene, S. C. Matematicheskaia logika. Moscow, 1973. Pages 181–99. (Translated from English.)


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


The state of beingequal.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


See also Feminism.
Augsburg, Peace of
German princes determined state religion; Lutherans granted equal rights (1555). [Ger. Hist.: NCE, 185]
Bakke decision
“reverse discrimination” victim; entered medical school with Supreme Court’s help. [Am. Hist.: Facts (1978), 483]
monarchy where all men are equal and the rulers share the palace chores. [Br. Opera: Gilbert and Sullivan The Gondoliers]
Dred Scott decision
controversial ruling stating that Negroes were not entitled to “equal justice.” [Am. Hist.: Payton, 203]
Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
U.S. government agency appointed to promote the cause of equal opportunity for all U.S. citizens. [Am. Hist.: Payton, 224]
Equal Rights Amendment (ERA)
the proposed 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, stating that men and women must be treated equally by law. [Am. Hist.: Payton, 224]
Equality State
nickname of Wyoming, first state to give women the right to vote. [Am. Hist.: Payton, 224]
(National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) vanguard of Negro fight for racial equality. [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 548–549]
Nantes, Edict of
granted Protestants same rights as Catholics in France (1598). [Fr. Hist.: EB, VII: 184]
Nineteenth Amendment
granted women right to vote (1920). [Am. Hist.: Van Doren, 409]
We Shall Overcome
anthem of civil rights movement, rallying song of black Americans. [Am. Pop. Cult.: Misc.]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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