As we finished our weekly multidisciplinary meeting on The Republic day of India (which is also Australia Day) I asked the meaning of “Proletariat” to one of the participants.
Being a non-native English speaker he did not know the meaning of this word.
What does Republic Day of India mean to the millions of Diaspora?
How is their experience common with proletarians? The Collins dictionary defines “proletariat” as the class of Wage earners esp industrial workers in a capitalist society whose only possession of significant material value is their labour.In ancient Rome it referred to the lowest class of citizens.
On telling this meaning, my friend immediately identified himself as a ‘proletariat’ (with a few smiles) as he has nothing of significant material value except his labour. Maybe, on a later day, we will sit together and tease out the differences and similarities between “subalterns” and “refugees”. The turmoil in Libya in 2011 made us revisit the meanings of these words in many ways as events of cataclysmic proportions unfolded on the ground. As some of the workers who fled the conflict return, there is an interesting environment to reflect on the different dynamics in place.
As the “NTC” coalition faces increasing challenges in Libya, the Diaspora and intellectuals watch with interest the way the different dynamics play on the ground.
The relations between the various components on the “power-level” are in a state of great flux. What will be the attitude of the current persons in power to persons who want to peacefully express their opinions, will be a key to the future.
There is a churning going on in the inner depths of this society.
Educational institutions and women power at home are two areas where these will play out in a significant manner.
In his essay- “The Prophet and the Proletariat” Chris Harman talks about the ideological somersaults the Islamist leaders take whenever they get close to power.
“ They counterpose “Islamic” to “Western” values. But most so called Western values are not rooted in some mythical European culture but arise out of the development of capitalism over the last two centuries. Thus a century and a half ago the dominant attitude among the English middle class to sexuality was remarkable similar to that preached by the Islamic revivalists today (sex outside marriage was forbidden, women were not supposed to bare even their ankles. Illegitimacy was a taint people could not live down), and women had fewer rights than most versions of Islam grant them today (inheritance was to the eldest son only, while Islam gives the daughter half the son’s portion, there was no right at all to divorce, while Islam grants women that righ in very restricted circumstances). What changed English attitudes was not something inbuilt into the Western psyche or any alleged “Judeo-Christian values” but the impact of developing capitalism –the way in which its need for women’s labour power forces it to change certain attitudes and, more importantly, put women in a situation where they could demand even greater changes” (http://www.marxists.de/religion/harman/pt09.htm)
Another interesting work the famous essay on Chaplin “The Poor and the Proletariat” in which Roland Barthes argues that the Poor Man essayed by the legendary comedian is successful precisely because this character “is always just below political awareness…still outside the Revolution.”
In the coming week, maybe my reading group friend will ask a few
Women colleagues in this society, the meaning of “Proletariat”