The proletariat is the social class of wage-earners, those members of a society whose only possession of significant economic value is their labour power (their capacity to work). A member of such a class is a proletarian.
Marxism considers the proletariat to be oppressed by capitalism, forced to accept meager wages in return for operating the means of production, which belong to the class of business owners, the bourgeoisie. Marx claimed that this oppression gives the proletariat common economic and political interests that transcend national boundaries, impelling them to unite and take over power from the capitalist class, and eventually to create a communist society free from class distinctions.
In The Principles of Communism, Friedrich Engels explains that the proletariat is "that class in society which lives entirely from the sale of its labour and does not draw profit from any kind of capital." Their "sole existence depends on the demand for labor," and therefore the bourgeoisie subjects them to competition amongst their fellow workers.
The interests of the proletarian are in conflict with those of the bourgeois.
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- Friedrich Engels (1847). "The Principles of Communism" Marxists Internet Archive. Retrieved 11-22-2022.