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Proletariat is any social element or group which in some way is 'in' but not 'of' any given society at any given stage of such society's history. That is, it is used in the scenes of the Latin word proletarius from which it is derived. In Roman legal terminology, proletarii were citizens who had no entry against their names in the census except their progeny (proles). The following definition is given in the Compendiosa Doctrina per Litteras of Nonius Marcellinus:

'Proletarii dicti sunt plebeii qui nihil rei publicae exhibeant sed tantum prolem sufficiant.' [1]

To say that 'proletarians' contribute nothing to the community but their progeny is a euphemism for saying that the community gives them no remuneration for any other contributions that they may make (whether voluntarily of under compulsion) to the common weal. In other words, a 'proletariat' is an element of group in a community which has no 'stake' in that community beyond the fact of its physical existence. It is in this broad sense that the word 'proletariat' is used and not in the specialized sense of an urban laboring population which employs the modern Western economic technique called 'Industrialism' and is employed under the modern Western economic régime called 'Capitalism'. This restricted usage of the word, which sometimes remains current, was given currency by Karl Marx, as one of the technical terms which he coined in order to convey the results of his study of history. More than one of these Marxian coinages have become current even among people who reject Marxian dogmas.[2]

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  1. Quoted by Bruns, C.C., in ,i) Fontes Iuris Romani Antiqui, ed. 7 (Tübingen 1909, Mohr), Pars Posterior, p. 65.)
  2. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, Vol. XIV, Part I, B. IV. p.40, f.3. (Oxford University Press, 1961).