Lassalle, Ferdinand

Lassalle, Ferdinand

Lassalle, Ferdinand (fĕrˈdēnänt läsälˈ), 1825–64, German socialist. The son of a Jewish merchant, he studied at the universities of Breslau and Berlin, where he became a philosophical Hegelian. He gained wide recognition as an attorney in a lengthy and notorious divorce suit (1846–54). In this period he became acquainted with Karl Marx and, partly influenced by him, developed a theory of state socialism. In contrast to Marxian theory, Lassalle's theories emphasized the role of the state and nationalism. He argued that the state should make capital outlays to enable the workers to set up producers' cooperatives; he believed that the state could be forced to do this once universal suffrage was achieved. Lassalle's influence on German politics was great, particularly in introducing the workers as a third element in the contest between Otto von Bismarck and the Prussian liberals. He played a key role in establishing (1863) the General German Workers' Association, the first workers' political party in Germany; this later developed (1875) into the Social Democratic party. Lassalle was killed in a duel over a love affair, which is the subject of George Meredith's novel The Tragic Comedians. His collected works were edited by Eduard Bernstein (12 vol., 1919–20).


See biographies by A. Schirokauer (tr. 1931) and D. J. Footman (1947, repr. 1969).

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Lassalle, Ferdinand


Born Apr. 11, 1825, in Breslau (now Wrocław), Poland; died Aug. 31, 1864, in Geneva. Prominent figure in the German workers’ movement, a petit bourgeois socialist, a pamphleteer and lawyer. Father of Lassalleanism, one of the varieties of opportunism in the labor movement. The son of a wealthy silk merchant.

From 1843 to 1846, Lassalle studied philosophy, history, and classical philology at the universities of Breslau and Berlin. From 1846 to 1854 he handled the divorce case of Countess Sophie Hatzfeldt, which brought him financial independence. During the revolution of 1848–49 in Germany he took part in the revolutionary movement in Düsseldorf, and in November 1848 he was arrested and sentenced to six months imprisonment. From 1849 to 1862 he corresponded with Marx and Engels. Although he frequently declared himself their adherent, he never fully assimilated the principles of scientific communism. Until the early 1860’s he in fact remained a petit bourgeois democrat. His writings, such as The Philosophy of Heraclitus, the Dark, of Ephesus (1858), The System of Acquired Rights (1861), and the drama Franz von Sickingen (1859), were seriously criticized by Marx and Engels. In 1862, at a time when the labor movement was reviving, Lassalle began to speak out from the point of view of petit bourgeois socialism and to agitate for the creation of a political organization of the German proletariat. He was elected president of the General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein), which was founded in May 1863, and his writings The Workers’ Program and Open Letter to the Central Committee on the Convening of the General German Workers’ Congress in Leipzig were taken as the basis for the association’s program.

Lassalle’s great historic service, in the view of Marx, Engels, and Lenin, was his impact upon the process of emancipation of the German workers from bourgeois political influence. However, Lassalle’s dogmas, which became part of the association’s program, and the tactics he pursued and advocated lent a reformist and sectarian character to the organization he helped found. He oriented the association toward support of the policies of Bismarck. He defended the plans for uniting Germany by dynastic means, under the leadership of reactionary Prussia, in sharp contradiction to the line upheld by Marx and Engels, who called for a revolutionary unification of the country. As Lenin noted, “Lassalle was adapting himself to the victory of Prussia and Bismarck, to the lack of sufficient strength in the democratic national movements of Italy and Germany” (Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 26, p. 138, footnote).

Lassalle died of a wound received in a duel.


Marx, K., and F. Engels. [Letters.] Sock, 2nd ed., vols. 28–30. (See index of proper names.)
Marx, K. “Kritika Gotskoi programmy.” Ibid., vol. 19.
Engels, F. “Voennyi vopros ν Prussii i nemetskaia rabochaia partiia.” Ibid, vol. 16.
Lenin, V. I. “Protest rossiiskikh sotsial-demokratov.” Poln. sobr. sock, 5th ed., vol. 4.
Lenin, V. I. “Avgust Bebel’ Ibid., vol. 23.
Lenin, V. I. “Pod chuzhim flagom.” Ibid., vol. 26.
Plekhanov, G. V. Ferdinand Lassal’, ego zhizn’ i deiatel’nost’, part 1. Geneva, 1887.
Stepanova, E. A. “Marks i Lassal’.” Proletarskaia revoliutsiia, no. 1, 1933.
Vorob’eva, A. K. “Iz istorii rabochego dvizheniia ν Germanii i bor’by Marksa i Engel’sa protiv Lassalia i lassal’ianstva ν 1862–1864 gg.” In the collection Iz istorii bor’by Marksa i Engel’sa za proletarskuiu partiiu. Moscow, 1955.
Gluzberg, M. S. “K voprosu o lassal’ianstve kak sisteme vzgliadov neproletarskogo sotsializma.” Uch. zap. Alma-Atinskogo ped. in-ta inostr. iazykov, no. 1, 1956.
Friederici, H.-J. “Zur Einschätzung Lassalles und des Lassalleanismus in der bürgerlichen und rechtssozialdemokratischen Geschichtsschreibung.” Beiträge zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, no. 2, 1960.
Hümmler, H. Opposition gegen Lassalle. Berlin, 1963.


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