From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Also referred to as the people or common people, commons, hoi polloi, masses, it is the main toiling part of the population who determine the group character and preserve its customs from one generation to the next.
The common people does not include or consider the privileged strata of the population, as well as ruling classes, even if the latter do not formally have privileges. The people generally does not include the government.
In ancient Greece, people was designated by the word demos. However, with the development of slavery, the word "demos" came to mean only free citizens, who may not even be the majority.
In France during absolutism the people coincided with the third estate. However, usually common people do not coincide with any estate or class, but includes several classes.
The sympathy for the common people gained strength in 19th century in many countries. For example, in Imperial Russia a big part of the intelligentsia was striving for its emancipation. Several great writers (Nekrasov, Herzen, Tolstoy etc.) wrote about sufferings of the common people. Some organizations, parties and movements arose, proclaiming to the liberation of the people: "People's Reprisal", "People’s Will", and others in the 19th century, "Party of Popular Freedom", "People's Socialist Party" and others at the beginning of 20th century.
In Marxism, the people are considered to be the creator of history. By using the word "people", Marx did not gloss over the class differences, but united certain elements, capable of completing the revolution.
Various republics govern, or claim to govern, in the name of the people. Both the Roman Republic and the Roman Empire used the Latin term Senatus Populusque Romanus, (the Senate and People of Rome). This term was fixed to Roman legionary standards, and even after the Roman Emperors achieved a state of total personal autocracy, they continued to wield their power in the name of the Senate and People of Rome. A People's Republic is typically a Marxist or socialist one-party state that claims to govern on behalf of the people. Populism is another umbrella term for various political tendencies that claim to represent the people, usually with an implication that they serve the common people instead of the elite.