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(1) In the broad sense of the word, the population of a particular country.
(2) In historical materialism, the people, or popular masses, are a social community comprising, at various historical stages, those strata and classes that, owing to their position in society, are capable of actively participating in the progressive development of society; they are the makers of history, the determining force in fundamental social transformations.
The people are the real subject of history. Their activity ensures continuity in the development of society. The place and role of the people was first revealed by Marxism-Leninism. In so doing, it eliminated a major flaw of idealist sociology, which ignored the decisive role of the people in social development and ascribed this role to outstanding individuals (see V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 58).
Marxism-Leninism also delineated the social content of the concept of the people and established that the composition of the people varies at different stages of history. No distinction is made between the terms “population” and “the people” for primitive-communal society, in which class divisions were nonexistent. In social formations based on class antagonism, the people do not include the dominant exploitative groups with their antipopular and reactionary policies. Only under socialism, when the exploitative classes are eliminated, does the concept of the people embrace all social groups.
Marxism-Leninism elucidates the differences in position of the various classes, strata, and groups of the population and then, taking into account their class interests, determines the composition of the people. At all stages of social development, the majority of the people consists of the working masses, the principal productive force of society. In class society, the people may include strata of the population that have very different and even opposing interests. For example, it included the bourgeoisie that led the struggle against feudalism during the bourgeois revolutions and the bourgeosie participating in national liberation struggles against imperialism and colonialism. V. I. Lenin wrote that “in using the word ’people’ Marx did not thereby gloss over class distinctions, but united definite elements capable of bringing the revolution to completion” (ibid., vol. 11, p. 124).
Marxism-Leninism draws a distinction between the revolutionary people, who are ideologically and organizationally united and capable of leading the struggle to resolve actual problems of social progress, on the one hand, and those masses that, because of their position in society, have an interest in social transformations yet do not take part in the active political struggle, on the other. The major role in the political awakening and organization of the people is played by the people’s vanguard—the most advanced class—led by the party. “Serious politics can only be promoted by the masses; nonparty masses that do not follow the lead of a strong party are, however, disunited, ignorant masses, without staying power, prone to become a plaything in the hands of adroit politicians” (ibid., vol. 24, p. 66).
A concrete-historical approach to the people permits communist parties to pursue a flexible policy that takes into account changes in the position of various classes. It also allows them to attract along with the proletariat and peasantry other groups into the ranks of the popular movement—the petite bourgeoisie, intelligentsia, and, under certain conditions, various strata of other classes as well. Such an approach permits communist parties to form blocs with various social organizations, unions, and associations, including bourgeois parties. Communist parties thus can forge a broad popular front that unites all the advanced elements of the population capable of leading the struggle for peace, national independence, democracy, and socialism.
Reliance on the people and the study of its experience, needs, and aspirations are distinguishing features of Communist Party practice. As Lenin wrote, “We can administer only when we express correctly what the people are conscious of” (ibid., vol. 45, p. 112). The Communist Party is the collective leader of the people. It is a guiding force that by its organizational and educational work ensures the growing consciousness of the working masses and the concentration of their efforts upon the resolution of problems that have arisen in the course of history. The policies and activity of the Communist Party actively promote maximum involvement of the people in the making of history. The development of society readies the material and spiritual prerequisites for ever-increasing active participation of the people in both the destruction of the old order and the creation of a new social order. The creative activity of the people is the decisive factor in the building of socialism and communism.
In the realm of theory, a sound grasp of the concept of the people allows one to understand the laws governing the activity of the people in various socioeconomic formations and at various levels of each formation’s development. It also allows one to see the specific character of popular movements in these formations at different stages and in different countries. A correct understanding of the concept of people demonstrates the qualitatively new content of the concept in the period of proletarian revolution and socialist construction, as well as the role of the popular masses in the period of the building of communism.
(3) The term “the people” is also used to designate various ethnic communities, such as the tribe, nationality, or nation. Under conditions of developed socialist society in the USSR, a new historical community has evolved—the Soviet people.
A. P. BUTENKO