AskDefine | Define proletarian

Dictionary Definition

proletarian adj
1 the lowest class of citizens of ancient Rome who had no property [syn: propertyless] [ant: patrician, plebeian]
2 belonging to or characteristic of the proletariat n : a member of the working class (not necessarily employed); "workers of the world--unite!" [syn: prole, worker]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Of or related to the proletariat.


related to proletariat


  1. A member of the proletariat


A member of the proletariat
  • Greek: προλετάριος

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.
proletarian in Arabic: بروليتاريا
proletarian in Min Nan: Bû-sán-kai-kip
proletarian in Catalan: Proletariat
proletarian in Czech: Proletariát
proletarian in Danish: Proletariat
proletarian in German: Proletariat
proletarian in Estonian: Proletariaat
proletarian in Spanish: Proletariado
proletarian in Esperanto: Proleto
proletarian in Basque: Proletargo
proletarian in Persian: پرولتاریا
proletarian in French: Prolétariat
proletarian in Galician: Proletariado
proletarian in Korean: 프롤레타리아트
proletarian in Indonesian: Proletariat
proletarian in Italian: Proletariato
proletarian in Hebrew: מעמד הפועלים
proletarian in Georgian: პროლეტარიატი
proletarian in Hungarian: Proletariátus
proletarian in Dutch: Proletariaat
proletarian in Japanese: プロレタリアート
proletarian in Polish: Proletariat
proletarian in Portuguese: Proletariado
proletarian in Russian: Пролетариат
proletarian in Simple English: Proletariat
proletarian in Slovak: Proletariát (marxizmus)
proletarian in Slovenian: Proletariat
proletarian in Serbo-Croatian: Proletarijat
proletarian in Finnish: Proletariaatti
proletarian in Swedish: Proletariat
proletarian in Turkish: Proletarya
proletarian in Ukrainian: Пролетаріат
proletarian in Chinese: 无产阶级

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Cockney, Everyman, John Smith, average man, blue-collar worker, bourgeois, breadwinner, casual, casual laborer, common laborer, common man, commoner, day laborer, employee, factory worker, flunky, free lance, free-lancer, full-time worker, hand, industrial worker, jobber, jobholder, laborer, laboring man, little fellow, little man, menial, middle-class, migrant, moiler, navvy, office temporary, pleb, plebeian, roturier, roustabout, salaried worker, self-employed person, servant, stiff, temporary, toiler, wage earner, wage slave, wageworker, worker, workgirl, workhand, working girl, working-class, workingman, workingwoman, workman
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