(OPE-L) proletarians

From: Gerald A. Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@MSN.COM)
Date: Wed Oct 20 2004 - 08:42:56 EDT

Re: [OPE-L] (OPE-L) Re: CP India-Marxist Pushes Hi-TecRakesh,

Previously, I offered the following definition given by M & E 
in _The Communist Manifesto_:  "By proletariat is meant the 
class of modern wage-workers who, having no means of 
production of their own, are reduced to selling their labor 
power in order to live."

You made a request for clarification and I responded.  You
then asked:  "So anyone who in order to live has to sell labor 
power in exchange for a wage is a wage worker or proletarian in 
Marx's sense?".   You have since, off-list, restated that question
in modified form as:  whether anyone who not owning means of 
production exchanges labor power for a wage is a wage laborer 
or proletarian in Marx's sense? 

Before replying,  I wish to state that if you have objections to the
definition by Marx and Engels, please state what they are and offer
an alternative definition and we can proceed on that basis.

I can think of some -- basically trivial, from the standpoint of the
essential nature of the capitalist mode of production -- circumstances
in which individuals who exchange their labour-power for a wage
might not be considered to be a proletarian (or, fully, a 

a) There are individuals who belong to more than one class. 
E.g. peasant farmers may be forced by economic circumstances
to become part-time agricultural proletarians.  In such a 
circumstance, one might say that this individual belongs 
'full-time' to one class and 'part-time' to another.  

b) Or, it could be that by choice a member of the capitalist class
has a 'night job' as a wage-worker.  E.g.  someone who is
'independently wealthy'  (and belongs to either the capitalist
or wealthy landowning class) might obtain a job as a actor for
a Broadway company and thereby be paid a wage.  In such
a circumstance, then one might say that this individual belongs
to an 'alien' class but nominally has a foot in the door of the
working class.

c) It could be that a member of the capitalist or landowning
classes -- for accounting or tax reasons -- pays him- or herself
a wage.  In such a case, that is merely trickery and subterfuge
and in no way determines which class that person belongs to.

[NB: in b) and c) these are circumstances where one is not 
forced into selling LP for a wage in order to live.  So, they 
are possibilities that arise because of the re-phrasing of 
Rakesh's question.]

d) It could be that individuals are compelled, not by the fear
of joining the industrial reserve army or the fear of being fired
and being forced into obtaining a lower-wage and benefit job,
by direct physical force or the threat of physical punishment 
into selling their LP in exchange for a wage.  Additionally, 
those same individuals might not be allowed -- by the use of 
brute force -- to  go into the labor market and offer her/his
labour power for sale to other capitalists.  E.g. suppose there
is a prison where inmates are told that they _must_ work
for a wage and with those wages the inmates can then 
purchase commodities with which to survive at a prison 
store. In such a circumstance, then these individuals might 
be thought of as slaves rather than proletarians.  The only
possible differences might be: 

-- when/if a prisoners sentence ends or if s/he escapes, 
then s/he can attempt to obtain a job as an actual proletarian. 

-- unlike a slave, the prison doesn't  actually 'own' the inmate
and the inmate can not be sold once and for all to anyone else 
in exchange for money.  In other words, because the inmate
is not the private property of the prison (or the state) then the
prison (or state) has limited property use and transfer rights.

An essential reason why these workers can be considered to 
be de facto slaves is that the *system of control* _required_ in
this scenario is typical of slavery.

btw, it could be that some individuals who _do_ own and
control means of production are nevertheless forced into 
becoming proletarians. E.g. an artisan may own means
of production that can be used to produce a commodity
that is no longer demanded (e.g. harpoons for whaling)
and/or associated with a skill that is obsolete, and/or
the means of production may itself because of 
technological change be obsolete.  In such circumstances,
then these individuals once they obtain jobs as wage-
workers could be considered to be proletarians. Or,
more commonly, a family may own land and other means
of production with which they used to produce 
agricultural commodities.  Competition from large
farms and agro-business may require that they become
wage-workers, but they might still retain title of the land
and the (inefficient) means of production.]

Undoubtedly, all of the above happen. In no way, though, 
could they be seen as justification for rejecting the definition 
of proletarian by M & E in _The Communist Manifesto_.  But,
as I wrote previously, if you have reasons for rejecting or 
modifying that definition, let's hear them.  In any event, I do 
_not_ really want to further  discuss the basically trivial cases 
described above. 

In solidarity, Jerry

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