I posted a bit ago about how I wanted to know more about the origins of the term proletariat among radical folk. Just the other day I stumbled onto David Lovell’s book Marx’s Proletariat. Now, I’ve got the orthodoxy – or is it faith? – such that I can’t bring myself to read the whole book. (Its final line is “Perhaps Marx’s concept of the proletariat is suited only to simpler, more hopeful times.” 223.)

[I plan to take more extensive notes later which I’ll add to this post, after which I’ll delete this bracketed remark but for now here’s what I find useful in what I’ve read of the book.]

Lovell surveys French, and to a lesser degree German, socialist and communist writings around their use of the term proletaire and proletariat. The terminology is linked to doctrines of social unity vs social conflict (or general vs sectoral or class interests). Lovell argues that the term emerged as part of socialists’ attempts to dramatize the extent of social problems in the early 19th century. Lovell suggests that these socialists helped contribute to the growth of viewpoint they didn’t hold, at least initially, a view of society as shot through with incompatible interests and that the solution was to be had by the victory of one group and its interests – the working class – over another. Lovell also notes that the socialist movement and the working class were not identical. Presumably this means that the socialist movement and the working class movement weren’t identical. He doesn’t make the distinction, but the same could be said of the working class and the working class movement. Lovell’s attention is on the socialist movement (mainly in France) more than the working class movement.

I’d get more from Lovell if I knew more about the French Revolution, and of course about the history of socialists and communists in the 19th century, and working class movements of the time as well, and the social and economic history of the era.

I found myself throughout wondering about slavery, the slave trade, and slave rebellions in the era, and about other geographic locations than France and Germany. Surely those other areas had their own conflicts and people in them had their own ideas. And would the concepts look different if slavery was included more in the conversation (and was it? Is the omission Lovell’s or that of the people he’s reading? I assume it’s the former); this like some other stuff I’m reading make me want to know more about Haiti, among other things.

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