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The proletariat (from Latin proles, offspring) is a term used to identify a lower social class; a member of such a class is called a proletarian. Originally it was identified as those people who have no other wealth than their sons; the term was initially used in a derogatory sense, until Karl Marx used it as a positive term to identify what he termed the working class.

The Proletariat in Marxist theory

In the Marxist theory, the proletariat is that class of society which does not have ownership of the means of production. Therefore, the only source of income for proletarians is wage labor. Proletarians are wage-workers, while some refer to those who receive salaries as the salariat. For Marx, however, wage labor may involve getting a salary rather than a wage per se.

Marxism sees the proletariat and bourgeoisie (owner class) as inherently hostile, since (for example) factory workers automatically wish wages to be as high as possible, while owners wish for wages (costs) to be as low as possible.

In Marxist theory, the proletariat also includes the petty bourgeoisie, who rely primarily but not exclusively on their labour, and the lumpenproletariat, who are not in legal employment. Socialist political parties have often struggled over the question of whether they should seek to organise and represent the entire proletariat, or just the historical working class.

See also

Working class, Wage slavery, Proletarian internationalism
Compare: Plebs

George Orwell

In George Orwell's famous novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, those not directly associated with The Party (either the "Inner Party" of rulers or the "Outer Party" of bureaucrats) were referred to as proles. To Orwell, this novel is a critique of Russia as it existed under Stalin, as well as a warning on the effect of trading freedom for security in future societies. George Orwell was himself a socialist, and argued that although the government of the Soviet Union claimed to be Marxist, the distinct class divide between bureaucrats and workers and the actual lack of democracy meant that it had no resemblance to the Marxist vision of communism and rejected the traditional principles of socialism.

Last updated: 10-23-2005 01:08:11
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