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1. the practice or study of the art and science of forming, directing, and administrating states and other political units; the art and science of government; political science
2. the complex or aggregate of relationships of people in society, esp those relationships involving authority or power
3. political activities or affairs
4. the business or profession of politics
5. opinions, principles, sympathies, etc., with respect to politics
a. the policy-formulating aspects of government as distinguished from the administrative, or legal
b. the civil functions of government as distinguished from the military
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


  1. the processes within a STATE or organization (including groups of all kinds, e.g. families) concerned with influencing the content and implementation of the goals, policies, etc., it pursues, its government (compare POLITICAL SYSTEM).
  2. the science or study of POLITICS 1 and government (see also POLITICAL SCIENCE).
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 It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



the sphere of activity associated with relations between classes, nations (natsii, nations in the historical sense), and other social groups. The core of politics is the problem of winning, maintaining, and exercising state power. The essence of politics is “the organization of state power” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 2nd ed., vol. 23, p. 239). Politics means “participation in the affairs of state, direction of the state, definition of the forms, tasks, and content of state activity” (ibid, vol. 33, p. 340). In the final analysis, the content of politics is always determined by the interests of a class or an alliance of classes. Any social problem may acquire a political dimension if its solution is directly or indirectly linked with class interests or the problem of power (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1, p. 360).

For thousands of years, attempts were made to explain the character of political activity. However, the motives inspiring political actions and movements were usually attributed either to abstract, timeless human nature or to religious, philosophical, or other categories that were viewed in an equally nonhistorical way. A scientific explanation of politics and the establishment of a science of politics became possible only with the emergence of Marxism. The materialist understanding of history, as well as the explanation of the role and function of classes in the totality of social phenomena, made it possible to draw a fundamental conclusion: political relations are essentially class relations.

Politics has existed as a distinct, specific form of public activity ever since classes emerged, and it will continue to exist as long as classes persist. The needs of classes determine the content of political interests. As society became more complex and classes and other social groups became conscious of their interests, the political superstructure of society took shape. Most political activity took place within newly formed organizations and institutions—first the state and later, the political parties. From the Marxist-Leninist point of view, the motion of economic processes determines politics, as both practical relations and ideology. Politics is considered part of the superstructure, which stands above the economic base of society (see BASE AND SUPERSTRUCTURE).

Economic interests act as the ultimate social causes of political actions. The character of the relations between economics and politics was sharply expressed by Lenin in two classic formulations: “politics is a concentrated expression of economics” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 42, p. 278) and “politics must take precedence over economics” (ibid). The determining importance of economic relations is the point of departure of the first formulation, which calls attention to the universalized political image of economic reality. Politics does not simply reflect economics. In political demands and decisions, economic needs are stripped of all their accidental and impermanent aspects, and their primary and fundamental aspects gain prominence. This process may take place spontaneously and unconsciously, resulting in many instances in a distorted political reflection of economic relations and interests. Only a scientific, theoretical approach to the relations between politics and economics makes it possible to find political forms that adequately reflect economic needs.

In his second formulation of the relation between economics and politics, Lenin emphasizes the necessity of subordinating the resolution of economic problems to the fundamental task of preserving and strengthening political power. Lenin wrote: “Without the correct political approach to the matter, the given class will be unable to stay on top, and, consequently, will be incapable of solving its production problem either” (ibid., p. 79). A correct political approach includes viewing the aims of production in the context of the sociopolitical problems characteristic of a particular historical period as a whole.

Although derived from economic activity, political activity is, to a large degree, independent of it. The logic of politics is not a mechanical copy of the logic of economic development. Thus, it is possible for political actions to contradict the laws of economic development. More often, however, political actions do not give full consideration to the laws of economic development. Palliative measures may be a limited success, as is evident in government regulation of the economy in the contemporary capitalist system. However, in the long run ameliorative political actions are doomed to failure, because they treat not the disease but its symptoms.

The relative autonomy of politics raises broad possibilities for progressive influences on the economic process, and on the course of history in general. K. Marx referred to force, or violence, the most extreme expression of political action, as the midwife of history. Even if one discusses not only the critical moments in history, when violence is necessary and unavoidable, but also the normal, peaceful flow of history, political actions that reflect the maturing needs of social and, above all, economic development are powerful accelerators of social progress. Such political actions are forces that contribute to the conscious and efficient realization of the potential in the objective state of affairs.

Among the sources of the various deviations from Marxism is an incorrect understanding of the relationship between economics and politics. On the one hand, a narrow orientation toward economic factors or an underestimation or minimization of the creative role of political action results in passivity in the principal centers of power and in an increased number of uncontrolled, spontaneous influences on the social organism. On the other hand, an indifferent attitude toward the demands of economics and a belief in the omnipotence of political decisions and slogans deprive political leadership of its necessary objective basis, transforming it into a reign of subjectivism and arbitrariness. Thus, on the one hand, politics merges with economics, and on the other, it is divorced from economics and counterposed to it. Both approaches have the same result: scientific politics is abandoned and is replaced by various types of subjective ideas.

As the concentrated expression of economic and other needs of the various classes, politics has a substantial influence on all the principal elements of the superstructure and provides decisive criteria for distinguishing the progressive from the reactionary. In addition, as the class struggle becomes more acute, a broader range of questions is drawn into politics. Therefore, it is natural that a universal “politicization” of public life is taking place in the present epoch, which is characterized by a worldwide process involving the replacement of one socioeconomic formation by another. The most important and urgent problems facing humanity are political ones.

The distinction between international politics and internal or domestic politics is correct but somewhat artificial and conventional. Lenin wrote: “It is fundamentally wrong, un-Marxist, and unscientific, to single out ‘foreign policy’ from policy in general, let alone counterpose foreign policy to home policy” (ibid., vol. 30, p. 93). On the whole, the foreign policy of a state is determined by the class character and the general character of its domestic politics. At the same time, the international situation has a considerable effect on domestic politics. In the final analysis, both foreign and domestic policy have the same goal: to ensure the preservation and strengthening of the system of social relations in a particular state.

Within this general framework, however, the two main categories of politics have their own important characteristics. The methods of solving domestic political problems are determined by the state’s monopoly on political power, even when there is an openly expressed political opposition. In international politics, however, there is no single power center. The international arena is characterized by the activity of various states that are equal, in principle. Their relations with each other are shaped through struggles and negotiations and through various types of agreements and compromises.

For thousands of years, world politics was openly ruled by the principle of “might makes right.” The emergence of the first socialist state created a completely new situation in the system of international relations. The history of Soviet foreign policy, the essential principles of which were established by Lenin, may be described as a struggle to establish new methods and forms in international politics and new principles for international relations.

Domestic politics falls into two basic categories: government actions and the activity of the ruling parties. Depending on the sphere of social relations at which it is directed, political activity is classified as economic, social, cultural, or technological policy. The core of sociopolitical life in any antagonistic class society is the struggle for power and political dominance between antagonistic classes and between various groups in the ruling class.

Under socialism, after the exploiting classes have been eliminated, the center of gravity in politics shifts to the strengthening and perfecting of the political organization of society, the development of socialist democracy, and the gradual transformation of the entire system of social relations. As long as capitalist society exists, the struggle to maintain the political power of the toiling people will continue to have a sharply defined class character. The internal aspects of politics in the socialist states gradually lose their antagonistic class features as socialism becomes stronger. Of course, even under socialism there are conflicts of opinion reflecting contradictions in social development, as well as the struggle between the old and the new in society. Accordingly, there are different approaches to the solution of problems. Open, creative consideration of differing views and opinions and broad discussion of urgent sociopolitical problems are vital preconditions for further strengthening and developing socialism.

In its most general form, the structure of political leadership may be broken down into several basic aspects. Political leadership involves setting up fundamental tasks and clearly defining the long-term and short-term goals to be achieved in a certain period of time. The degree to which political goals and tasks are realistic and likely to be accomplished depends on the degree to which they correspond to the relation of social forces and to the possibilities actually existing at a particular stage of development.

Political leadership also presupposes the elaboration of methods, techniques, and forms of public activity and organization that can contribute to the optimal means of achieving proposed goals. Because the problem of the relation between ends and means can only be solved on the basis of certain moral concepts, it transcends the framework of “pure” politics. Communists decisively reject the amoral thesis that the end justifies the means. Political experience shows that when inhumane means are used to realize humane ends, success is ephemeral, and the ends themselves are debased and dehumanized.

Political leadership is associated with the necessity of selecting and deploying cadres capable of understanding and carrying out the tasks assigned to them. The three aspects of political leadership—defining fundamental goals, elaborating methods of public activity for the optimal achievement of goals, and selecting competent cadres—presuppose a concrete analysis of specific situations and a review of the possible variants for solving a political problem, so that the best variant can be chosen. Knowledge of a general pattern is not enough to ensure success in politics. Similarly, the use of modern methods, such as systems analysis, is not sufficient for the exercise of political leadership.

Scientific politics rests on the firm foundation of Marxist-Leninist theory, which discloses the laws of historical development. Under socialism, the core of scientific politics, or its central meaning and substance, is the problem of social management—that is, the problem of consciously directing social progress. The most important aspects of the work of the ruling Communist parties, which serve as the leaders of the working class and of all the toiling people, are the elaboration of a general, long-term outlook on the development of society and, in order to realize that long-term vision, the elaboration of a correct political line and an effective organization of the toiling people. As the scope of socialist and communist construction becomes broader, the tasks that must be solved become more complex, and the parties leading the masses assume a more responsible, more important role.

Political theory, which provides a general orientation for political activity, cannot cover all events or outline the totality of possible results from a particular cluster of causes. Therefore, politics—even scientific politics—is as much an art as it is a science. The truth of this assertion is demonstrated particularly by the fact that politics is likely to be broadly influenced by the personal qualities of political leaders. Thus, a single objective need (for example, an economic need) may be reflected in various political decisions, the substance of which may, to a large extent, depend on the judgment of the individuals with decision-making power. Although the range of deviation produced by the operation of such subjective factors is objectively limited, it may lead to disharmony or disproportion in political actions.

Unlike economics or culture, politics is among the historically transitory phenomena in society. As the communist socioeconomic formation develops, the shell of politics, within which both material and cultural progress have taken place, grows thinner and thinner, until it dissolves, giving way to the social self-government associated with communism. The relations between people, as well as the management of public affairs, will lose their political character. The establishment of social homogeneity among all mankind will mark the end of politics as a separate form of human activity.


Marx, K. “K kritike gegelevskoi filosofii prava.” In K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 1.
Marx, K. “Politicheskie partii i perspektivy.” Ibid., vol. 8.
Engels, F. “Pozitsiia politicheskikh partii.” Ibid., vol. 1.
Lenin, V. I. “Po povodu odnoi stat’i v organe Bunda.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 14.
Lenin, V. I. “Vybornaia kampaniia sotsial-demokratii v Peterburge.” Ibid., vol. 14.
Lenin, V. I. “Otnoshenie k burzhuaznym partiiam.” Ibid., vol. 15.
Lenin, V. I. “Polemicheskie zametki.” Ibid., vol. 20.
Lenin, V. I. “Blok kadetov s progressistami i ego znachenie.” Ibid., vol. 21.
Lenin, V. I. “O liberal’nom i marksistskom poniatii klassovoi bor’by.” Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Eshche o politicheskom krizise.” Ibid., vol. 25.
Lenin, V. I. “O karikature na marksizm i ob ‘imperialisticheskom ekonomizme.’” Ibid., vol. 30.
Lenin, V. I. “Nad kem smeetes’? Nad soboi smeetes’!” Ibid., vol. 32.
Lenin, V. I. “Iz dnevnika publitsista.” Ibid., vol. 34.
Lenin, V. I. “Politicheskii otchet Tsentral’nogo Komiteta 7 marta.” Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. “Tsennye priznaniia Pitirima Sorokina.” Ibid., vol. 37.
Lenin, V. I. “Zametki publitsista.” Ibid., vol. 40.
Lenin, V. I. Detskaia bolezn’ ‘levizny’ v kommunizme. Ibid., vol. 41.
Lenin, V. I. “Doklad o zamene razverstki natural’nym nalogom 15 marta [X s”ezd RKP(b)].” Ibid., vol. 43.
Lenin, V. I. I. Armand 6(19) ianv. 1917. (Letter.) Ibid, vol. 49.
Stronin, A. Politika kak nauka. St. Petersburg, 1872.
Chicherin, B. Kurs gosudarstvennoi nauki, part 3. Moscow, 1898.
Lashina, M. V. Spetsificheskie zakonomemosti politiki i osobennosti ikh deistviia v usloviiakh stroitel’stva kommunizma. Moscow, 1968.
Burlatskii, F. M. Lenin, gosudarstvo, politika. Moscow, 1970.
Azarov, N.I. V. I. Lenin o politike kak obshchestvennom iavlenii. Moscow, 1971.
Bovin, A. E. V. I. Lenin o politike i politicheskoi deiatel’nosti. Moscow, 1971.
Pichugin, P. V. M esto i rol’ politiki v razvitii sovetskogo obshchestva. Moscow [1971].


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


town where party politics arouses fierce oppositions and loyalties. [Br. Lit.: Dickens Pickwick Papers]
Prince, The
handbook of advice on acquiring and using political power. [Ital. Lit.: Machiavelli The Prince]
Skeffington, Frank
old-time machine politician loses mayoralty and dies on election night. [Am. Lit.: Edwin O’Connor The Last Hurrah in Hart, 457]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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