The Proletariat are a punk rock band from Southeastern Massachusetts, whose heyday was during the 1980s, when they were active in the early Boston hardcore scene, sharing the bill with many of the best punk and hardcore punk acts of the time, despite their recorded output having a decidedly non-hardcore aesthetic; the Proletariat show more strongly the musical influences of early British post-punk bands such as Wire and the Gang of Four in their fractured guitar sound and Marxist-themed lyrics.
Formed in early 1980, the Proletariat started as a cover band playing at hardcore punk shows in the Boston area, just as the local scene was breaking. Belligerent British-sounding American singer Richard Brown fronted the group with two friends, both former classmates of his at Apponequet Regional High School: guitarist Frank Michaels and bassist Peter Bevilacqua. The three had enrolled at Southeastern Massachusetts University together, where they studied history, finance, and industrial relations, respectively, but, after exposure to left-wing politics, and despite having no previous musical experience, all dropped out of college during their senior year to form a punk band, which Brown would name the Proletariat. In wanting to align themselves with the working class, Brown took work as a delivery truck driver, and Bevilacqua as a supermarket clerk; Michaels, for his part, devoted himself to managing the band.
Brown initially played snare drum standing up while he sang, until the slightly younger high-schooler Tom McKnight, who worked as a gas station attendant, completed the band as their drummer in September 1980, occasionally accompanied by Brown on cowbell. After a few months of practicing at Brown's parental home in Assonet, the group played their first gig on February 14, 1981 at the Lafayette Club in Taunton By mid-1981, after playing a few shows in Southeastern Massachusetts, doing mostly Sex Pistols covers, the Proletariat evolved a new sound that melded the straight-ahead sound of early records by the Clash with more angular rhythms, and agitprop political rhetoric under the influence of the Gang of Four. They grew into a sound unlike other Boston punk or hardcore bands, characterized by drums holding an almost militaristic steadiness while guitars alternated between jarring upstrokes and overdriven chords. People drew comparisons of the band's music to that of the anarchist group Crass and post-punk group the Fall, bands that the Proletariat's members only listened to after fans tipped them off to it.
Between November 1981 and March 1982, they recorded material at Boston's Radiobeat Studios with producers Jimmy Dufour and Lou Giordano, and brought a couple of songs as reels for airplay on local radio, making some stations' top-ten lists. In July 1982, after the group gained national exposure via the hardcore punk audience on This is Boston, Not L.A., a compilation of bands from the local scene just released in May of that year by Newbury Comics' Modern Method Records label, they self-released a limited edition seven-song cassette EP called Distortion, which received positive response from local critics and DJs. In the late summer of 1982, the band would appear on Unsafe at Any Speed, the six-song follow-up EP to This is Boston, Not L.A.