Since its emergence, society has developed for a long historical process. In this process, societies of different types with different characters have been replaced. It is therefore important to have correct knowledge of characters and types of society in understanding society.
What, then, is the character of society?
The character of society is, in one word, essential characteristics of society in a certain stage of development.
In other words, the nature of society means essential characteristics of society that is fundamentally different from nature but the character of society means different essential characteristics of society in different stages of development.
The main criterion for understanding the character of a society is which class or which social group takes ruling position in a certain society.
Since the division of society into hostile classes, class struggle took place continuously by which the classes that took ruling position have been replaced.
The ruling class changes structure of society according to its will. It changes mode of production and distribution of social wealth and newly makes up and manages political structure and ideological and cultural institutions. As a result, society of another character is formed. In this sense, the character of society depends on which class or social group takes ruling position.
The level of development of a certain society may be expressed by the level of productive forces and material and cultural wealth. But they show one aspect of society. In societies of the same character, there may be difference in the level of productive forces and material and cultural level. Therefore the level of productive forces and material and cultural wealth cannot be the main criterion for character of society.
The character of society finds its concentric expression in the character of social system. This is because the social position of a class or social group is fixed and guaranteed by social system.
The class or group that takes the ruling position in society sets up and consolidates social system according to its will. So its ruling position is fixed on a social scale, and it is guaranteed by state authority and power. The ruling position that is not fixed and guaranteed by social system is as the same as a castle in the air. Therefore, when a class or group takes ruling position, it sets up social system suitable to it. The character of social system is precisely character of society, and the meaning of social system can be the same as that of society.
What, then, is the factors that decide the character of society?
President Kim Il Sung said:
“The character of a given society is determined by the class which holds power, and by the form of ownership of the means of production.”
If a class or group is to take ruling position in society, it should solve two problems. One is to take state power and the other is to own the means of production.
That is because whether or not it has state power and means of production is the main factor that determines the position and role of the people in society.
Firstly, the character of society is decided by who has the state power.
Why, then, is it so?
Unlike political party or social organization, state power is the most comprehensive political organization. Political party or social organization can control only its members but state power can control all the people in the country.
State power is not only comprehensive in scope of management but also coercive. People should obey the state power, otherwise the state power makes them obey in a coercive way.
With law the state controls and punishes those who violate the law. This is the state power.
The class or group that has state power, therefore, can control the members of society according to its will and interests and set up social system suitable to its will and interests. On the contrary, the class or group that has no state power is socially subjugated and oppressed.
Accordingly, the character of society is decided by which class or group has state power.
Capitalist society is reactionary and anti-popular society that pursues greedy demand and interests of the capitalist class. That is because in that society, a handful of capitalist class takes state power. Socialist society is the most advanced and popular society where the will and interests of the working class and other people are fully realized. That is because broad masses are genuine masters of the state power.
The character of society is also decided by the relations of property over the means of production.
This is important but not the only factor that decides character of society.
As mentioned before, the means of production is material means to organize the production of life data necessary for survival and development of man. According to the form and property of the means of production, the ruling class or group is different in economic life. If this is fixed into system, it concentrically expresses the nature of society.
The society where the form of private property over the means of production prevails is exploiter society whereas the society where the form of social property over the means of production prevails is socialist society.
Therefore, the form of property over the means of production is important factor that defines the character of society.
As mentioned before, there are two factors that define the character of society; that is the possession of the state power and the relations of property over the means of production. Here the former is more decisive.
That is because other social relations such as the relations of property over the means of production is established according to the demand of the ruling class, and the rights to property that is not guaranteed by power cannot be maintained or developed.
For instance, in the framework of feudal society, capitalist form of property began to rise, placing capitalist class in the ruling position in economic life but this class cannot be master in society until it assumes power, and the society remains as feudal society. This tells that without changing the class in power, character of society is not fundamentally changed, although there is change in the relations of property over the means of production. It is therefore relation of property over state power that plays decisive role in defining character of society.
But if the relations of property over the means of production is neglected, it is impossible to correctly and comprehensively define the character of society.
For instance, although working class takes power after victory in anti-imperialist anti-feudal democratic revolution, the society is not socialist society while there remains private property over the means of production and exploiter class. Only when working class takes power and social property is set with elimination of private property over the means of production, is it genuine popular socialist society. Therefore in order to correctly define character of society, it is necessary to put stress on the relations of property over the state power, considering the relations of property over the means of production.
Now, we will see the societies that have different characters.
In human history, there have been societies of different types.
We can divide them into three.
That is, primitive society where there had been primitive equality; exploiter society where the people have been socially subordinated; socialist society that ensures position and role of genuine masters for the people. Human history has developed in the process in which the societies of those types were changed sequentially.
The society of the first type in human history is primitive society.
In this society, people had lived in equal social relations forming clan or tribe, the collective that was linked by blood.
In this society, people jointly managed society depending on clan or tribal council, the political organization for common interests. They jointly possessed means of production though negligible, and jointly worked and jointly consumed products. Therefore, in this society, there were no class, state, exploiter and oppressor. The primitive society is characterized as the society where primitive equality prevailed.
The primitive society that had lasted for millions of years converted into exploiter society after the emergence of class.
The exploiter society changed from slave-holder society into feudal society and again into capitalist society.
Slave-holder society is the first form of exploiter society born after the collapse of primitive society.
The main classes in the slave-holder society were slave-holders and slaves.
The slave-holder class were ruling class, exploiter class that had state power and means of production. The slave-holders fully possessed slaves, severely exploiting, freely selling and buying and even killing the slaves. In this society, slaves were exploited and oppressed and no more than “talking tool”, “thing with life”.
In this society there were not only slaves but also freemen (peasant and handicrafts-men). They were not totally possessed by slave-holders as slaves but were severely oppressed and exploited, eventually falling to slaves.
Like this, the slave-holder society is the society where slave-holders took state power and means of production, fully possessing slaves.
Feudal society is other form of exploiter society that was born after the fall of slave-holder society.
Feudal society is the society based on private ownership of feudal landlords over land. In this society, there were land cultivated by private labor and small ownership of peasants and handicrafts-men over production tools. In this society, feudal landlords could sell or buy serfs but were prohibited by law to kill them.
Feudal society is the society where there prevailed caste system made up by feudal landlord class to maintain their rule.
The exploitation and oppression of the people by the ruling class and exploiter class were more legalized by the caste system. In this system, children of aristocrats or noble men became automatically aristocrats or noble men, though foolish but children of “mean people” could not escape its status, though clever.
The feudal society is called the “dark age”. That is because in this society there existed religious despotism and inhumane caste system that imposed ignorance upon the people.
This society is exploiter society where feudal landlords took state power and means of production and subjugated and exploited serfs and peasants by caste system.
This society collapsed by the struggle of the people who resisted feudal exploitation and caste subjugation.
Capitalist society is the last exploiter society that rose after the collapse of feudal society.
Capitalist society is reactionary and anti-popular society where a handful of capitalist class took state power and means of production and violated the independence of the working people including workers and peasants, severely exploiting them.
Capitalist society turned individualism into unlimited greed of the capitalists. Capitalist society turned the exploitation that was hidden by religious and political illusion of the medieval age into open, impudent, direct and cruel exploitation. The capitalists who pursue unlimited greed turned labor power into commodity, their personal value into exchange value and thus suck blood and sweat of the workers and other peoples.
Capitalist society is the “Heaven” for the minority of ruling class but “hell” that gives starvation, poverty, pain and non-right to the majority of working people.
Capitalist society is mammonist reactionary society based on thorough individualism. This society is the society “everyone for oneself”, society of “law of jungle” where individual’s hedonism is the highest ideal and purpose for which all means and methods are justified.
Today, imperialists vociferate about “superiority” and “material prosperity” of capitalist society, which is no more than screen to cover bloody land of jungle law and the people’s material, spiritual and cultural poverty.
The individualist society brings about exploitation, oppression, money-making of the minority, poverty of the majority, class conflict and inequality, which reach the extreme in capitalist society. Along with this, people’s independence is enhanced and the revolution is strengthened, eventually replacing capitalist society with collectivist socialist society. This is inviolable law of history.
Socialist society is the society of a new type that is fundamentally different from exploiter society that had existed in human society.
Socialist society is genuine popular society where the people take state power and means of production, and they are masters of everything and where everything serves them. In this society, there prevail genuine equality and harmony free from exploitation and oppression of man by man. In this society, the people develop society rapidly, helping and leading each other forward under the slogan “one for all and all for one” in firm unity, with high awareness of being masters.
Today, imperialists and reactionaries vociferate about “setback” of socialism and “end” of socialism over the fall of socialism in East European countries but this is nothing but sophism. However viciously they run wild, socialism advances victoriously along its way.
Of course, there can be trials and difficulties and temporary vicissitudes.
But socialism is scientific doctrine that reflects most correctly the essential demand of man and is a new superior society that came into being negating the old and reactionary capitalist society.
It is the necessity of history that scientific truth and the new win.
The future of humanity is stored in socialism.