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1. Biology increasing complexity, adaptation, etc., during the development of an individual or evolution of a group
2. Brit a stately royal journey
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


  1. a movement towards a desired objective; a development or advance, which is favourably regarded.
  2. the result of social development, involving the enhancement of scientific and technological knowledge, economic productivity and the complexity of social organization.
Two main viewpoints in sociology on the idea of progress can be noticed:
  1. theories which embrace the concept in identifying the main historical route taken by progress, 20th-century theories such as Parsons’ conception of EVOLUTIONARY UNIVERSALS, as well as 19th-century theories (see EVOLUTIONARY THEORY);
  2. theories, especially since the end of the 19th-century and the early 20th-century which for a variety of reasons reject the idea of progress.

The concept of’progress’ lay at the core of early sociological thinking and is especially evident in the work of the discipline's founding trinity For MARX, progress lay in the development of the forces of production and their eventual use, after revolutionary struggle, in the satisfaction of human need rather than private accumulation; for WEBER, somewhat more ambivalently, it lay in the RATIONALIZATION of economic, organizational, legal and scientific life; and for DURKHEIM in the enhanced possibilities for individual freedom in forms of organic solidarity (see MECHANICAL AND ORGANIC SOLIDARITY).

Much earlier 19th-century EVOLUTIONARY THEORY, however, had tended to see development as also involving a civilizing process, i.e. a transition from simple SAVAGERY and barbarism to the ‘enlightenment’ achieved by the European ruling, capitalist and Christian classes. Paleoevolutionism attempted to avoid this problem of value-laden definitions of progress by speaking of an increase in the ‘general adaptive capacity of society’ or the ‘all round capability of culture’ (M. Sahlins and E. Service, 1960).

A continuing characteristic of advanced and especially capitalist industrial societies is the rapidity of technological progress, with particular reference to the new technologies. The impact of these developments on economic and social life are a continuing source of debate, and are intimately connected with contemporary theories of SOCIAL CHANGE. See also MODERNIZATION, FORDISM AND POST-FORDISM, POSTINDUSTRIAL SOCIETY.

The alternative, more pessimistic, view of progress, however, includes:

  1. pessimism, especially associated with conservative thinking, e.g. from NEOMACHIAVELLIAN political theorists (e.g. PARETO, MICHELS) and NIETZSCHE, over the implications of’mass democracy’, MASS SOCIETY, etc.;
  2. pessimism associated with concrete political events, especially the end of the long peace’ of the 19th century (which had led earlier theorists, e.g. SPENCER, to believe this would usher in a new ‘pacific’ age), including World War I, the rise of FASCISM in the interwar years culminating in World War II, and the threat of nuclear holocaust of the postwar era of COLD WAR. Added to this, there have arisen concerns about new threats to the environment, and questions have been raised about the sustainability of current patterns of economic growth.

The 20th-century retreat from POSITIVISM and EMPIRICISM, and the undermining of most forms of philosophical ESSENTIALISM, has been a further dimension questioning any simple assumptions about progress (see POSTMODERNITY AND POSTMODERNISM, DECONSTRUCTION).

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.



a type, or direction, of development characterized by a transition from the lower to the higher, from the less perfect to the more perfect. One may speak of progress with reference to an entire system, to certain elements thereof, or to the structure and other parameters of a developing object. The concept of progress is a correlate of the concept of regression.

The idea that changes in the world proceed in a certain direction arose in remote antiquity. It was initially a purely interpretative concept and was developed chiefly with respect to the history of society. In the development of precapitalist formations, varied and intense political events were combined with extremely slow change in the socioeconomic foundations of social life. For most of the classical writers history was a simple sequence of events, behind which stood something unchanging. On the whole, history was viewed either as a regressive decline from an ancient “golden age” (Hesiod, Seneca) or as cyclical recurrence of the same stages (Plato, Aristotle, Polybius). Nor did Christianity perceive progress in society. Although Christian historiography views history as a process having a certain direction, the process is not an immanent one, but a movement toward some providential aim that lies outside the scope of actual history. The idea of historical progress was born not out of Christian eschatology, but out of a rejection of it.

The social philosophy of the rising bourgeoisie, reflecting an acceleration of social development, was imbued with optimism and the conviction that the “reign of reason” lay not in the past but in the future. Initially, progress was perceived in the sphere of scientific knowledge. F. Bacon and Descartes taught that one need not look back to the ancients and that the scientific cognition of the world was advancing. Later, the idea of progress was extended to the realm of social relationships by A. R. J. Turgot and Condorcet.

The Enlightenment theories of progress justified the destruction of the feudal order and gave rise to many systems of Utopian socialism. However, historicism was absent from the rationalist theories of progress, which emphasized the onward direction of historical development but ignored its contradictions, its variety of forms, and the necessity of the preceding stages of development. The Enlightenment thinkers held that social progress stemmed from progress in human reason. Their theories were teleological inasmuch as they made the transient ideals and illusions of the rising bourgeoisie the ultimate goal of history. Even at this time G. Vico and especially J.-J. Rousseau were pointing out the contradictory nature of historical development.

The romantic historiography of the early 19th century, opposing the rationalism of the Enlightenment, advanced the idea of slow organic evolution that did not allow interference from without. The romantic historians also asserted the individuality and uniqueness of historical epochs. But this historicism was one-sidedly turned toward the past and often served as an apologia for archaic social relations.

The most profound treatment of progress in pre-Marxist thought was provided by Hegel, who criticized both the Enlightenment’s neglect of the past and the false historicism of the romantic “school of history.” According to Hegel, history is not simply change, but progress in the consciousness of freedom, in which the old serves as the necessary foundation for the new. Each nation, having fulfilled its historical mission as the temporary bearer of an absolute idea, yields its place to another. However, in interpreting historical progress as the self-development of the “world spirit,” Hegel failed to explain the transition from one stage of social development to another. He believed that social progress culminated in the Prussian monarchy, and his philosophy became a theodicy, a justification of god in history.

Proceeding from a materialist view of history, the Marxist-Leninist conception of progress is characterized by a dialectical-materialist approach to the problem of progress and an emphasis on its objective criteria. Marx stressed that “in general, the concept of progress should not be taken in its usual abstract form” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 12, p. 736). “It is undialectical, unscientific and theoretically wrong to regard the course of world history as smooth and always in a forward direction, without occasional gigantic leaps back” (V. I. Lenin, Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 30, p. 6). Progress is not an independent essence or transcendent aim of historical development. The concept of progress has meaning only when applied to a specific historical process or phenomenon: it is always progress with reference to something. People’s aims, aspirations, and ideals—in terms of which people evaluate historical development—themselves change in the course of history, and therefore such evaluations inevitably suffer from subjectivity and are nonhistorical. Marx wrote that “so-called historical development rests in general on the fact that the newest form regards the preceding ones as stages leading to itself and always interprets them one-sidedly, since it is capable of self-criticism only very rarely and only under strictly defined conditions” (K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 12, p. 732).

The objective criterion of social progress must be sought in the material basis of society. Production relations reflect the discontinuity, the discreteness of the historical process and the specific nature of its concrete forms. Productive forces, on the other hand, develop more or less continuously and cumulatively, although here there is also some regressive movement. Moreover, this is the main, determining aspect of social development. For this reason, Lenin considered the interests of the development of the productive forces to be the “highest criterion of social progress” (Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 16, p. 220).

Improvement of the means and organization of labor assures the growth of labor productivity, which in turn leads to an improvement in the human element in the productive forces—the work force. It engenders new production skills and knowledge and changes the existing social division of labor. Technological progress occurs simultaneously with scientific development. Finally, growth in labor productivity means an increase in the surplus product. Under such conditions, the composition and volume of man’s basic needs expand and changes occur in the way these needs are met, as well as in man’s way of life, culture, and daily living habits. A more complex form of production relations and social organization as a whole corresponds to a higher level of development of productive forces.

The most general criteria of historical progress are the degree of society’s mastery over the elemental forces of nature, expressed in the growth of labor productivity, and the degree of its liberation from the tyranny of elemental social forces, sociopolitical inequality, and human spiritual underdevelopment. In the light of these criteria, the primitive-communal, slaveholding, feudal, capitalist, and communist formations represent lawlike stages in the progressive development of humanity.

However, the process of development is contradictory, and there are differences in the type and rate of development. For primitive-communal, slaveholding, and feudal societies, an extremely slow rate of development is characteristic. Capitalism signifies an enormous acceleration of tempo, but the antagonisms inherent in the development of an exploitative society also increase and intensify. In any process of development, there is an interconnection between the leading, developing elements of the system and its structure as a whole. Certain elements outstrip others, the remaining elements trail behind them, and only then does the structure of the whole change.

In presocialist formations some elements within the social whole systematically progress at the expense of others, initially because of the low level of development of production and later also because of the private ownership of the means of production. This makes the progress of the society as a whole antagonistic, uneven, zigzag (F. Engels, in K. Marx and F. Engels, Soch., 2nd ed., vol. 21, p. 177). Technological progress and the development of the social division of labor enormously increase labor productivity. But the reverse side of this is the transformation of the individual into a detail laborer and the growth of alienation and exploitation. The relatively high living standard of a few developed capitalist countries is achieved in part through the merciless exploitation of colonies. Disproportions may be seen not only in the development of different countries and peoples, but in the development of different spheres and elements of social life. Marx observed that “capitalist production is hostile to certain spheres of nonmaterial production, such as art and poetry” (ibid., vol. 26, part 1, p. 280).

The disparity between the material wealth of capitalist society and the level of its nonmaterial culture is especially noticeable in the period of the general crisis of capitalism. It is reflected in the growth of social pessimism and in the rise of numerous philosophical and sociological theories in the 20th century that directly or indirectly reject progress and suggest replacing this concept either with the idea of cyclical repetition (O. Spengler, A. J. Toynbee, P. Sorokin) or with the “neutral” concept of social change (the American sociologist W. F. Ogburn). Also popular are various eschatological conceptions of the “end of history” and pessimistic anti-utopias, of which A. Huxley’s Brave New World and G. Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four may be cited as examples. Alongside these views flourish banal optimistic theories of progress, such as W. Rostow’s “stages of economic growth.”

The transition from capitalism to socialism on a world scale is the general line of social progress in the modern era. Greatly accelerating the rate of social development, the communist formation is gradually overcoming the disproportions, inherited from the past, between the development of the city and the countryside, between the advanced and economically backward countries, between mental and physical labor, and between the productive forces and the spiritual culture of society. Thus, a new, communist type of progress is coming into being, free of the antagonistic contradictions of previous formations. However, this process is by no means automatic. The great number of tasks to be accomplished and an insufficient knowledge of the mechanism of the laws of development of socialist society (which may be partially explained by the limitations of historical experience) may cause elements of subjectivism and voluntarism to appear, resulting in disproportions. Complex problems arise owing to differences in the level of development of the countries of the socialist system and to the distinctiveness of their historical traditions.

In eliminating social antagonism, socialist society does not abolish the contradictory nature of development as such. The cognition of the laws of social development is essentially an endless process, and it is the degree of cognition and mastery of such laws that determines the measure of social freedom.

Having arisen within the framework of social history, the concept of progress was transferred to the natural sciences in the 19th century. Here, as in social life, the concept of progress is not absolute but relative. The concept is not applicable to the universe as a whole, which does not have a univocally determined direction of development, and the postulation of such a direction of development inevitably leads to idealism and religion. The concept of progress is also inapplicable to many processes in inorganic nature, which are cyclical. For this reason, the problem of the criteria of progress in living nature has provoked disputes among scientists.


Davitashvili, L. Sh. Ocherki po istorii ucheniia ob evoliutsionnom progresse. Moscow, 1956.
Problemy razvitiia v prirode i obshchestve: Sb. st. Moscow-Leningrad, 1958.
Semenov, Iu. N. Obshchestvennyi progress i sotsial’naia filosofiia sovremennoi burzhuazii. Moscow, 1965.
Nisbet, R. A. Social Change and History: Aspects of the Western Theory of Development. New York, 1969.
Sklair, L. The Sociology of Progress. London [1970].




an urban-type settlement in Amur Oblast, RSFSR, under the jurisdiction of the Raichikhinsk city soviet. Railroad station on a branch line of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. The settlement has a glassworks and plants that manufacture road machinery and reinforced-concrete products. The Raichikhinsk State Regional Electric Power Plant and the Amur Lighting Engineering Plant are also located in Progress.



in nature, the improvement of organisms or supraorganismic systems in the course of evolution. Previously, the term “progress” designated the tendency in evolution toward structural complexity.

C. Darwin understood progress as an expression of both the organism’s growing adaptability to environmental conditions and its successful struggle for life, which is manifested either by the achievement of structural complexity or structural simplification (as in parasitic and sessile organisms).

A. N. Severtsov clarified the meaning of progress (1914,1925, 1939). He proposed differentiating morphophysiological progress (aromorphosis) from biological progess. He described biological progress as an increase in the population of a given group (species, genus) that is caused by the acquisition of a new adaptation, the group’s resettlement beyond its natural habitat, and the division of the group into new groups by an increase in the number of populations, races, and subspecies in a species and the number of species in a genus (adaptive radiation). Just as biological progress may result from aromorphoses (fundamental organizational improvements) and idioadaptations (specific structural adaptive changes), it may also result from organizational simplifications.

Morphophysiological progress is the accumulation and harmonious combination of adaptations that have a very broad and often universal significance; examples of morphophysiological progress are the evolution of the skeleton, brain, and heart in vertebrates and the development of thermoregulation. Morphophysiological progress results in an increased survival rate and the evolutionary flexibility of a species. It also results in the increased integrity and adaptability of individuals, species, or other evolving organisms.

Severtsov’s ideas on morphophysiological progress were subsequently developed by other biologists, including the Soviet scientists I. I. Shmal’gauzen, G. A. Shmidt, and A. L. Takhtadzhian, and the foreign biologists J. Huxley, V. Franz, and B. Rensch. Morphophysiological evolutionary progress is divided into unlimited progress, which encompasses the range of evolution from the simplest living beings to the highest form of matter movement—man—and limited progress, which is characteristic of the development of definite large groups in the organic world. From the standpoint of ecology, there are two types of progress: general progress, when adaptive possibilities expand, and specific progress (specialization), when an adaptation occurs for a specific purpose. General progress is characterized by the harmonious evolution of organs by means of the increasing number of organic functions and the intensification of the old, as well as the new, functions, for example, the evolution of the pentadactyl extremity of the stegocephalian into the human hand. Specific progress is primarily characterized by an intensification of functions at the same time that the number of functions decreases, for example, the evolution of the tetradac-tyl extremity of ungulate ancestors into the extremity of extant artiodactyls and perissodactyls.

Progress is biotechnical from the standpoint of bioenergetics and the structural development of organs and organisms; biotechnical progress is measured by such indexes as economy, effectiveness, and reliability.


Severtsov, A. N. Glavnye napravleniia evoliutsionnogo protsessa, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1967.
Severtsov, A. N. Morfologicheskie zakonomernosti evoliutsii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Shmal’gauzen, I. I. Puti i zakonomernosti evoliutsionnogo protsessa. Moscow-Leningrad, 1939.
Shmal’gauzen, I. I. Problemy darvinizma, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1969.
Zakonomernosti progressivnoi evoliutsii: Sb. st. Leningrad, 1972.
Huxley, J. Evolution: The Modern Synthesis. London, 1963.




the central publishing house of the State Committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR on Publishing, Printing, and the Book Trade.

Progress publishes works in the humanities in various foreign languages as well as translated materials in Russian. Located in Moscow, it was founded in 1931 as the Publishing House of Foreign Workers in the USSR. In 1939 it was renamed the Publishing House of Foreign-language Literature, and in 1963, after the reorganization of this house and the Foreign Literature Publishing House, it was called Progress.

In 1974, Progress published works in 40 foreign languages, including English, French, German, Spanish, and Arabic. Among these works were classics by the founders of Marxism-Leninism, scholarly works in the humanities and the social and political sciences, the classics and best works of the writers of the USSR, children’s works, art books, literature in foreign languages for students of those languages, guidebooks, and books of photographs. Progress issues in Russian translation the most important works published abroad in the social sciences, international relations, art studies, linguistics, and modern literature; particular attention is devoted to the works of writers from socialist countries.

In 1974, Progress published 950 books and pamphlets in more than 24.1 million copies, representing more than 382.2 million printer’s sheets.


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


A development and database platform from Progress Software Corporation, Bedford, MA ( that runs on Windows, Linux and various Unix versions. It includes a 4GL-based language and relational DBMS, but also interfaces to Oracle, SQL Server and other databases. Formerly known as the Progress language and database, the company was founded in 1981.
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References in periodicals archive ?
With appropriate security granted, clients can view the overall status of the project, and drill into the tasks assigned to ensure that the project is progressing as planned.
Work has been progressing at the rate of one floor a week and construction of Level Five is nearing completion.