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The proletariat is a term used to describe the class of wage-earners (especially industrial workers) in a capitalist society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour-power


  • Class instinct is subjective and spontaneous. ... To arrive at proletarian class positions, the class instinct of proletarians only needs to be educated; the class instinct of the petty bourgeoisie, and hence of intellectuals, has, on the contrary, to be revolutionized.
  • Was ist der Kommunismus? Der Kommunismus ist die Lehre von den Bedingungen der Befreiung des Proletariats. Was ist das Proletariat? Das Proletariat ist diejenige Klasse der Gesellschaft, welche ihren Lebensunterhalt einzig und allein aus dem Verkauf ihrer Arbeit und nicht aus dem Profit irgendeines Kapitals zieht; deren Wohl und Wehe, deren Leben und Tod, deren ganze Existenz von der Nachfrage nach Arbeit, also von dem Wechsel der guten und schlechten Geschäftszeiten, von den Schwankungen einer zügellosen Konkurrenz abhängt.
    • What is Communism? Communism is the doctrine of the conditions of the liberation of the proletariat. What is the proletariat? The proletariat is that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labor and does not draw profit from any kind of capital; whose weal and woe, whose life and death, whose sole existence depends on the demand for labor – hence, on the changing state of business, on the vagaries of unbridled competition.
    • Friedrich Engels Principles of Communism (1847)
  • How do you think the transition from the present situation to community of Property is to be effected?
    The first, fundamental condition for the introduction of community of property is the political liberation of the proletariat through a democratic constitution.
  • Notwithstanding all the differences in the aims and tasks of the Russian revolution, compared with the French revolution of 1871, the Russian proletariat had to resort to the same method of struggle as that first used by the Paris Commune — civil war. Mindful of the lessons of the Commune, it knew that the proletariat should not ignore peaceful methods of struggle — they serve its ordinary, day-to-day interests, they are necessary in periods of preparation for revolution — but it must never forget that in certain conditions the class struggle assumes the form of armed conflict and civil war; there are times when the interests of the proletariat call for ruthless extermination of its enemies in open armed clashes.
  • Freedom and slavery constitute an antagonism. There is no need for me to speak either of the good or of the bad aspects of freedom. As for slavery, there is no need for me to speak of its bad aspects. The only thing requiring explanation is the good side of slavery. I do not mean indirect slavery, the slavery of proletariat; I mean direct slavery, the slavery of the Blacks in Surinam, in Brazil, in the southern regions of North America.
    Direct slavery is as much the pivot upon which our present-day industrialism turns as are machinery, credit, etc. Without slavery there would be no cotton, without cotton there would be no modern industry. It is slavery which has given value to the [European] colonies, it is the colonies which have created world trade, and world trade is the necessary condition for large-scale machine industry. Consequently, prior to the slave trade, the colonies sent very few products to the Old World, and did not noticeably change the face of the world. Slavery is therefore an economic category of paramount importance. Without slavery, North America, the most progressive nation, would be transformed into a patriarchal country. Only wipe North America off the map and you will get anarchy, the complete decay of trade and modern civilisation. But to do away with slavery would be to wipe America off the map. Being an economic category, slavery has existed in all nations since the beginning of the world. All that modern nations have achieved is to disguise slavery at home and import it openly into the New World.
  • In examining any dictatorship, there are two good tests. Firstly, what is the relation between the rulers and the proletariat or common people? Are the rulers members of the proletariat, as they would have you believe? Do they even identify their interests with those of ordinary citizens? The truth seems to be that, no matter where you find them, the so-called proletarian dictatorships are actually controlled by a small elite who ordinarily lose little sleep in worrying about the rights of the common man. Secondly, have the proletariat any effective say in what the rulers do? In the proletarian dictatorships I am familiar with, ordinary people enjoy little or no control over their Government or over their own lives and futures.
  • The expenses of the royal household, wars, and lavish public building were financed by tolls and the profits of the king's foreign trade monopoly, by conscription of labour and heavy taxation. The results were impoverishment of the masses, alienation of land, and the development of a proletariat.
  • The bourgeoisie today is a falling class... by its imperialist methods of appropriation [it] is destroying the economic structure of the world and human culture generally. Nevertheless, the historical persistence of the bourgeoisie is colossal. It holds to power, and does not wish to abandon it. Thereby it threatens to drag after it into the abyss the whole of society. We are forced to tear it off, to chop it away. The Red Terror is a weapon utilized against a class, doomed to destruction, which does not wish to perish. If the White Terror can only retard the historical rise of the proletariat, the Red Terror hastens the destruction of the bourgeoisie.
    • Leon Trotsky Terrorism and Communism : A Reply to Karl Kautsky (1920; 1975), p. 83

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