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(prōlətâr`ēət), in Marxian theory, the class of exploited workers and wage earners who depend on the sale of their labor for their means of existence. In ancient Rome, the proletariat was the lowest class of citizens; its members had no property or assured income and were a source of discontent and political instability. According to Karl MarxMarx, Karl,
1818–83, German social philosopher, the chief theorist of modern socialism and communism. Early Life

Marx's father, a lawyer, converted from Judaism to Lutheranism in 1824.
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, the breakup of feudalism and the development of capitalism created a new, propertyless class from the dispossessed peasants and retainers who were forced to sell their labor for wages in the new industrial centers. Marx believed that the seizure of power by the proletariat from the capitalist class was a necessary step to a classless society. Under Lenin and the Bolsheviks, this revolution was to be directed by the Communist party, as the vanguard of the dictatorship of the proletariat.


See L. P. Adams and R. L. Aronson, The History of Workers and Industrial Change (1957); J. Kuczynski, The Rise of the Working Classes (tr. 1967); S. Avineri, The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx (1968).


  1. (MARXISM) the class of propertyless labourers who live by selling their LABOUR POWER to capitalists in exchange for wages. The condition for employment is held to be ‘exploitative’, in that in creating VALUE workers increase the wealth and power of the bourgeoisie against their own interests (see SURPLUS VALUE, EXPLOITATION (AND APPROPRIATION)). Thus, in this perspective, the proletariat is conceptualized in an antagonistic relation to the bourgeoisie and is, inevitably, exploited and oppressed.
  2. more generally, in sociology, the WORKING CLASS. See also PROLETARIANIZATION, CLASS.



one of the two main classes of bourgeois society; the class of wage earners. Proletarians are denied ownership of the implements and means of production, and thus their only source of livelihood is the sale of their labor to the capitalists, the other main class of bourgeois society.



the name of several Polish political parties that existed in the second half of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

The First, or Great, Proletariat was the first political party of the Polish proletariat. Its official name was Międzynarodowa Socjalno-Rewolucyjna Partia Proletariat (International Social Revolutionary Party Proletariat). The party was founded in 1882 by L. Waryński, who united several socialist groups in Warsaw and organized the Workers’ Committee. The Proletariat’s program, included in an appeal issued by the Workers’ Committee on Sept. 1, 1882, raised the question of a socialist state and public ownership of the means of production, called on the proletariat to begin the struggle for socialism, and proclaimed proletarian internationalism. The program also contained several anarchist demands. At a congress held in Vilnius in January 1883, the Polish and Lithuanian Social Revolutionary Party, founded in St. Petersburg in 1881, joined the Proletariat, as did the Polish socialist circles of Warsaw, Vilnius, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, and Odessa.

From April 1883 the Proletariat was headed by the Central Committee, which included Waryński, S. Kunicki, and T. Rechniewski. The Central Committee published the newspaper Proletariat in 1883–84 in Warsaw, the newspaper Robotnik in 1883 in Kraków, and the works of K. Marx and F. Engels in Geneva. Members of the Proletariat maintained close ties with G. V. Plekhanov, V. I. Zasulich, and other Russian revolutionaries. In March 1884 the Proletariat formed an alliance with the People’s Will, recognizing that economic and political terror was the highest form of struggle against autocracy. In 1884, after Kunicki’s arrest, the Central Committee was headed by M. Bohuszewicz, and from September 1885, it was directed by M. S. Ulrych, W. Wisłocki, W. Buksznis, and B. Waligurska. The Proletariat organizations were destroyed in July 1886.

Several trials of Proletariat members were held between 1883 and 1888, the largest of them, the Trial of the Twenty-nine, lasting from Nov. 23 to Dec. 20, 1885. Kunicki, P. Bardovskii (Bardowski), J. Pietrusiński, and M. Ossowski were sentenced to death by a military tribunal and executed in the Warsaw citadel on Jan. 28, 1886. W. Kowalewski was executed on Sept. 4, 1886.

The Second Proletariat (official name, Socjalno-Rewolucyjna Partiia Proletariat, Social Revolutionary Party Proletariat) was founded in February and March 1888 through a merger of the Warsaw Workers’ Committee (founded in 1887 by M. Kasprzak) and a group of student propagandists (organized in 1887 by L. Kulczycki).

The Proletariat called for an alliance with the Russian revolutionaries, political struggle, an all-Russian constitution, and autonomy for the Kingdom of Poland. It considered terror to be one of the means of fighting autocracy. Members of the Proletariat organized the 1890 May Day celebration in Warsaw and published leaflets and Polish translations of Russian revolutionary pamphlets. A group that opposed terror tactics left the Proletariat in July 1891 and formed the Workers’ Association in August. Representatives of the Proletariat attended the founding congress of the Second International in Paris in 1889. In February and March 1893 the few remaining Proletariat groups joined the Social Democracy of the Kingdom of Poland.

The Third Proletariat (official name, Polska Partia Socjalistyczna Proletariat, Polish Socialist Party Proletariat) was founded in the summer of 1900 by the L’vov section of the Polish Socialist Party (headed by L. Kulczycki), which had left the Socialist Party. The L’vov section advocated a stronger political struggle against tsarism through individual defensive terror.

The Proletariat’s maximum program called for a socialist revolution, and its minimum program specified an all-Russian constitution and autonomy for the Kingdom of Poland, separation of church and state, and the introduction of an eight-hour workday. The party was headed by the Central Committee, based first in L’vov and later in Kraków. Numbering about 1,000 persons, the Proletariat had organizations in Warsaw and its environs, Łódź, Białystok, and Tomaszów-Rawski. The party advocated a stronger alliance and closer cooperation with the Russian revolutionary movement. It published the magazine Proletariat in L’vov and Geneva from 1900 to 1904 and the newspaper Proletaryusz in Warsaw from 1905 to 1909. The Proletariat was dissolved in the spring of 1909.


Orekhov, A. M. Sotsial-demokraticheskoe dvizhenie v Rossii ipol’skie revoliutsionery, 1887–1893 gg. Moscow, 1973.
Baumgarten, L. Dzieje Wielkiego Proletariatu. Warsaw, 1966. (Bibliography pp. 761–71.)
Targalski, J. “Geneza Polskiej Partii Socjalistycznej Proletariat.” Z pola walki, 1973, nos. 2–3.



1. all wage-earners collectively
2. the lower or working class
3. (in Marxist theory) the class of wage-earners, esp industrial workers, in a capitalist society, whose only possession of significant material value is their labour
4. (in ancient Rome) the lowest class of citizens, who had no property
References in periodicals archive ?
The key element that Guesde and the Parti Ouvrier took over from Marx is the narrative of the proletariat's historical mission.
"The mission of the worker party is to prepare the proletariat to fulfill its revolutionary tasks." (7) This definition of the party's mission of course assumes that many workers are not prepared as yet.
Lenin never said that the proletariat was incapable of socialist awareness (as often alleged) but only that the party had a mission to make the proletariat "conscient et organise." The reason he bothered to reiterate this point in What Is to Be Done?
Let us sow the good seed among the broad masses of the proletariat. Let us stretch out our hands to one another and rally around the Party Committees!" (11)
This complex of assumptions--the revolution will come only if the proletariat is convinced of its mission, "the socialist party must educate the proletariat, not the opposite," the workers' acceptance of their mission is nevertheless only an affaire du temps--gave rise to an innovative political strategy that can be labeled campaignism.
In reaction to the bloody defeat of the Paris proletariat during the Paris Commune in 1871, Guesde wanted first of all to replace a spontaneous barricade-ism with a modern type of party--a party "not in the old sense of a community of people who have the same ideal but in the sense of a structured organization with a program and a central direction." Furthermore, Guesde wanted a class party, as implied in the narrative of the proletariat's historical mission: "a party that would never leave 'the terrain of the class struggle,' a party that would be unified, disciplined, guided by a 'scientific' doctrine ...
Murray's reflections have to do in particular with Toynbee's observations, in a section called the "Schism in the Soul," about how the dominant elite in a society succumbs to "vulgarity and barbarism in manners" by "merging itself in its own proletariats." Toynbee distinguished between "internal proletariats"--what we might call the underclass--and "external proletariats," by which he meant culturally less sophisticated military rivals.
When a society is robust and self-confident, Toynbee suggested, the influence travels largely from the elites to the proletariats. The proletariats are "softened" (in Toynbee's phrase) by their imitation of the manners and morals of a dominant elite.