- This is the term used by Karl Marx to refer to the working class, and it is defined as the class within capitalism that does not own the means of production, the class that owns nothing other than its labor power. The proletariat is locked in struggle with the bourgeoisie which owns and controls the means of production, and by extension controls the state. Gradually developing in size, organization, and class consciousness the proletariat, Marx believes, will bring about revolutionary change, overthrowing capitalism and instituting communism after a transitional phase of the dictatorship of the proletariat. With the advent of communism and the abolition of private property the proletariat along with all other classes will disappear. There are a number of significant problems with Marx’s notion of the proletariat. First, Marx nowhere develops a theory of class and fails to offer more than a terse definition of the proletariat. This means that it is very difficult to determine exactly who falls into the category of proletarian. For example, managers, professionals, intellectuals and housewives/husbands are all propertyless, but it is not clear if they should be included in the proletariat since they do not create value and in the case of managers and professionals in particular they may earn vastly more than and see themselves very differently from a more typical member of the proletariat such as a factory worker. Also, there is the problem of the lack of a revolutionary consciousness emerging in the proletariat, which has led to some Marxists, such as Vladimir Ilich Lenin, arguing for a vanguard party to import revolutionary consciousness into the proletariat, and others, for example the members of the Frankfurt School, taking a more pessimistic view of the possibility of the proletariat being an agent of revolution at all.
Historical dictionary of Marxism. David Walker and Daniel Gray . 2014.