August 19, 2022

The proletariat and the proletariat (from the Latin proletarii, capite censi or adcensi) are variously defined terms according to the socio-economic approaches and according to the historical periods of reference: in a broad sense they designate the group or income class that ranks lower in the social ladder.


In a general sense and starting from the original definition that identifies them as those who possess only their children (offspring) as wealth, they constitute, from an income point of view, a disadvantaged social stratum of the population. According to the Marxist theory, the proletarian is synonymous with wages and the proletarians constitute the social class whose role, in the capitalist system of production, is to lend their labor power for wages and therefore employees, deprived of ownership and control of the means of production and owners of a single commodity to sell, namely their labor-power. The term proletarii was already used in ancient royal and republican Rome and has been translated with alternating events to the present day. Proletariat recurs in the writings of the English jurist Thomas Smith of the sixteenth century, to indicate the economically lowest social class among the four identified and subsequently we read it in Bernard de Mandeville, Montesquieu, Rousseau, in the Dictionnaire des travaux (Jacques Binet Tarbé de Vauxclairs) and in Diderot's Encyclopédie. It reappears more and more frequently after the French Revolution of 1789 in socialist contexts, in Saint-Simon, Blanquii, and in de Lamennais and Blanc, before being interpreted in the strictly Marxist sense of class from about the middle of the 19th century. The same meaning of Marxist origin will change in the course of the twentieth century, revised on the one hand by the Leninist approach where the proletariat is organically incapable of becoming a "class for itself" if not through the action of the party led by the intellectuals, by the another from the so-called revisionism of Eduard Bernstein, the harbinger of social democracy. Finally, at the end of the century, it will take on even more nuanced contours, on the one hand due to the evolution of society and the new interpretation of it in a Marxist key as in Braverman, in directly assimilating the wage-earning strata of the proletariat, on the other for the 'different and non-Marxist use as in Arnold J. Toynbee to indicate the excluded and non-participants, present in every age and society and in resentful opposition to the dominant fraction.


Ancient Rome

The reform of Servius Tullius, carried out during the sixth century BC, was aimed at carrying out an internal division of Roman citizenship between those who could perform military service (obliged to arm themselves at their own expense and therefore called adsidui) and divided in turn into five sub-classes on the basis of the census, and the so-called proletarii or capita censi. The latter were those who possessed fewer than 11,000 axes, organized into a single century, called immunis militia, exempted from fulfilling military obligations, except in cases where there were particular dangers for the city of Rome. In the latter case they were also armed at the expense of the state, serving in special formations outside the legionary order. The Latin meaning of the term proletarius stems from a condition of poverty such that it was not possible to make contributions to the state, except for their own children (proles). At the end of the Second Punic War (218-202 BC) there was a new reduction in the minimum income required to pass from the condition of proletarians (or capite censi) to adsidui, or to perform military service within the five sub-classes, such as had established in the sixth century BC, Servius Tullius. In fact, over the course of three centuries, a minimum census of 11,000 aces to 4,000 ( 400 silver drachmas described by Polybius at the end of the third century BC) had passed.