AskDefine | Define proletariat

Dictionary Definition

proletariat n : a social class comprising those who do manual labor or work for wages; "there is a shortage of skilled labor in this field" [syn: labor, labour, working class]

User Contributed Dictionary


Alternative spellings


From etyl fr proletariat, from etyl la proletarius, from proles


  1. The working class or lower class.
  2. The wage-earners collectively, excluding salaried workers.
  3. In ancient Rome, the lowest class of citizens, who had no property.


working class or lower class
  • Czech: proletariát
  • Finnish: proletariaatti, työväenluokka, alaluokka
wage-earners collectively
  • Finnish: proletariaatti, palkansaajat
lowest class of citizens in Rome
  • Finnish: proletaarit

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Extensive Definition

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

The Proletariat in Marxist theory

In Marxist theory, the proletariat is that class of society which does not have ownership of the means of production. 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 (merchant class) as occupying conflicting positions, since (for example) factory workers automatically wish wages to be as high as possible, while owners and their proxies wish for wages (costs) to be as low as possible.
In Marxist theory, the proletariat may also include (1) some elements of the petite bourgeoisie, if they rely primarily but not exclusively on self-employment at an income no different from an ordinary wage or below it, and (2) the lumpenproletariat, who are not in legal employment. Intermediate positions are possible, where some wage-labor for an employer combines with self-employment. Socialist political parties have often struggled over the question of whether they should seek to organize and represent the entire proletariat, or just the wage-earning working class.
According to Marxism, capitalism is a system based on the exploitation of the proletariat by the bourgeoisie (the "capitalists", who own and control the means of production). This exploitation takes place as follows: the workers, who own no means of production of their own, must seek jobs in order to live. They get hired by a capitalist and work for him, producing some sort of goods or services. These goods or services then become the property of the capitalist, who sells them and gets a certain amount of money in exchange. One part of the wealth produced is used to pay the workers' wages, while the other part (surplus value) is split between the capitalist's private takings (profit), and the money used to pay rent, buy supplies and renew the forces of production. Thus the capitalist can earn money (profit) from the work of his employees without actually doing any work, or in excess of his own work. Marxists argue that new wealth is created through work; therefore, if someone gains wealth that he did not work for, then someone else works and does not receive the full wealth created by his work. In other words, that "someone else" is exploited. Thus, Marxists argue that capitalists make a profit by exploiting workers.
Marx himself argued that it was the goal of the proletariat itself to displace the capitalist system with socialism, changing the social relationships underpinning the class system and then developing into a communist society in which: "..the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all" (Communist Manifesto).
Arnold J. Toynbee uses the term "internal" and "external proletariat" in his monumental "A Study of History" to describe the groups within and external to the frontiers of the state, who during the time of troubles, the World Empire and the decay of a civilization, are progressively disenfranchised, and come to have little loyalty to the survival of that civilization.
Marx makes a clear distinction of proletariat as salaried workers, which he sees a progressive class, with Lumpenproletariat, "rag-proletariat", the poorest and outcasts of the society, such as beggars, tricksters, entertainers, buskers, criminals and prostitutes, which he considers a retrograde class. According to Lenin, the Lumpenproletariat belongs in the "reactionary classes" and is to be destroyed during the dictatorship of proletariat.

Historical reference

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 "the proles".
The famous Sri-Lankan philosopher O. Perera once said during a red-eclipse "Hark! See how the Chinese have captured the moon and claimed it for the proletariat!"


  • Hal Draper, Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Vol. 2; The Politics of Social Classes. Monthly Review Press.
proletariat in Arabic: بروليتاريا
proletariat in Min Nan: Bû-sán-kai-kip
proletariat in Catalan: Proletariat
proletariat in Czech: Proletariát
proletariat in Danish: Proletariat
proletariat in German: Proletariat
proletariat in Estonian: Proletariaat
proletariat in Spanish: Proletariado
proletariat in Esperanto: Proleto
proletariat in Basque: Proletargo
proletariat in Persian: پرولتاریا
proletariat in French: Prolétariat
proletariat in Galician: Proletariado
proletariat in Korean: 프롤레타리아트
proletariat in Indonesian: Proletariat
proletariat in Italian: Proletariato
proletariat in Hebrew: מעמד הפועלים
proletariat in Georgian: პროლეტარიატი
proletariat in Hungarian: Proletariátus
proletariat in Dutch: Proletariaat
proletariat in Japanese: プロレタリアート
proletariat in Polish: Proletariat
proletariat in Portuguese: Proletariado
proletariat in Russian: Пролетариат
proletariat in Simple English: Proletariat
proletariat in Slovak: Proletariát (marxizmus)
proletariat in Slovenian: Proletariat
proletariat in Serbo-Croatian: Proletarijat
proletariat in Finnish: Proletariaatti
proletariat in Swedish: Proletariat
proletariat in Turkish: Proletarya
proletariat in Ukrainian: Пролетаріат
proletariat in Chinese: 无产阶级

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

bourgeoisie, common people, common run, common sort, commonage, commonality, commonalty, commoners, commons, laborers, linendrapers, lower classes, lower middle class, lower orders, lumpen proletariat, middle class, middle orders, ordinary people, peasantry, plain folks, plain people, rank and file, shopkeepers, small tradesmen, the lower cut, the other half, the third estate, toilers, toiling class, upper middle class, vulgus, working class, working people
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