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Title: Proletariat

mike ely - May 17, 2008 02:24 PM (GMT)
Post your understanding here.

It has been asked:

What is the proletariat?
what defines the proletariat as a class?
Is there a proletariat in the U.S.?
what does the term "real proletariat" mean within the Maoist movement of U.S.?
How is that different from the term "working class"?
Has the term "proletariat" become merely an "ideological marker" when used in expressions like "vanguard of the proletariat" and "dictatorship of the proletariat"?

gangbox - May 25, 2008 03:44 PM (GMT)
To orthodox Marxists "Proletariat" means that portion of the working class that are directly involved in the production of surplus value (factory workers, construction workers, ect).

mike ely - May 26, 2008 06:13 PM (GMT)
two points:

a ) I think we should be ciritics of the very notion of "orthodox marxism" (which is an explicit assertion of dogmatism, rigidity, religiousity and opposition to a materialist approach). I think we SHOULD post the previous defintions of Marxist terms -- but use them as a taking off point for a discussion that examines those definitions and assumptions critically.

B ) I don't think gangbox has defined what Marxism has historically held.

Many proletarians make no surplus value: specifically the youth, the retired, the injured and the many unemployed sections of the class.

The proletariat is a class in society. It is defined by its lack of property -- and that it can only live by selling its labor power. People are proletarians even if they don't produce surplus value.

the RCP one-sidedly emphasized only one aspect of the proletariat ("nothing to lose but its chains"). But in fact, there are other important features to that class: its socialization as a class operating in collective production, its organization (that emerges historically out of the needs of people, and rooted in their common experience). and finally its strategic position in modern society (and therefore its ability to reorganize production and society itself).

arthur - May 30, 2008 03:43 PM (GMT)
The term proletariat is primarily used by sectarians to make it clear that they are not talking either about or to the overwhelming mass of the people of advanced capitalist countries who "only work here" and whose livelihood is dependent on employment by people who use their life for profit rather than on them using it themselves to make a living some other way.

On a side issue I agree with the intent of Mike Eely's remarks but disagree with expressing this as a rejection of orthodoxy. His intent seems reasonably orthodox as that term was understood by Lenin:

Let us not believe that orthodoxy means taking things on trust, that orthodoxy precludes critical application and further development, that it permits historical problems to be obscured by abstract schemes. If there are orthodox disciples who are guilty of these truly grievous sins, the blame must rest entirely with those disciples and not by any means with orthodoxy, which is distinguished by diametrically opposite qualities” (Nauchnoye Obozreniye, 1899, No. 8, p. 1579).[16]  Thus I definitely said that to accept anything on trust, to preclude critical application and development, is a grievous sin; and in order to apply and develop, “simple interpretation” is obviously not enough. The disagreement between those Marxists who stand for the so-called “new critical trend” and those who stand for so-called “orthodoxy” is that they want to apply and develop Marxism in different directions: the one group want to remain consistent Marxists, developing the basic tenets of    Marxism in accordance with the changing conditions and with the local characteristics of the different countries, and further elaborating the theory of dialectical materialism and the political-economic teachings of Marx; the other group reject certain more or less important aspects of Marx’s teachings, and in philosophy, for instance, take the side, not of dialectical materialism, but of neo-Kantianism, and in political economy the side of those who label some of Marx’s teachings as “tendentious,” etc. The former on this account accuse the latter of eclecticism, and in my opinion have very good grounds for doing so. The latter call the former “orthodox,” and it should never be forgotten that use of this term has been made by opponents in controversy, that the “orthodox” do not reject criticism in general, but only “criticism” by eclectics (who would only be entitled to call themselves advocates of “criticism” to the extent that in the history of philosophy the teachings of Kant and of his followers are called “criticism,” “critical philosophy”). In the same article I named authors (p. 1569, footnote, and p. 1570, footnote[7] ) who, in my opinion, are representatives of the consistent and integral, and not eclectic, development of Marxism, and who have done for this development—in the field of philosophy, in the field of political economy and in the field of history and politics—incomparably more than, for example, Sombart or Stammler,[8]  the mere repetition of whose eclectic views is regarded by many today as a big step forward. It is scarcely necessary for me to add that latterly the representatives of the eclectic trend have grouped themselves around E. Bernstein. I shall limit myself to these brief remarks on the question of my “orthodoxy,” both because it is not immediately relevant to the subject of my article, and because I am unable here to elaborate in detail the views of the former, and must refer those who are Interested to the German literature. On this subject the Russian controversies are merely echoes of the German, and unless    one is familiar with the latter one cannot obtain a really precise idea of the point at issue.[9]

Jaroslav O. - May 30, 2008 06:11 PM (GMT)
To follow up on Arthur's comment, I often like to say: Dogmatists usually have their dogma wrong.

As in, since the start / at its core, communist theory has been conceived of as a science, looking at things thoroughly & from all sides, & advancing through correcting its own wrong positions, lines, hypotheses, theories, etc. There are many quotes by Marx & co. -- i.e. part of the 'dogma' ('classic texts' etc) -- which take this approach; thus to treat communism as a static dead dogma rather than a living science under constant development is actually to ignore key aspects of the 'dogma' itself.

Despite the wordplay, I think it's important to be non-dogmatic or anti-dogmatic, as a matter of orientation.

Inspectah Ganesha - June 6, 2008 09:31 AM (GMT)
Marxist orthodoxy talks about the "dictatorship of the proletariat." However, more communist revolutions have come to fruition because of the actions of the other oppressed class: the peasants.

Understandably, in Marx's time, the peasants generally couldn't read. It was the proletariat that was at the front of the communist movement because of the culture they were able to afford because of their social status.

However, although there is still a profound division between city and countryside, the peasants are often the vanguard. In these days of high literacy (and the internet) should we really still be talking of the "dictatorship of the proletariat"? Why not the "dictatorship of the oppressed"?

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