The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



one of the forms of opportunism in the German workers’ movement, a variety of petit bourgeois socialism. Its name is taken from its founder, Ferdinand Lassalle. It arose in the early 1860’s and became the dominant trend in the General German Workers’ Association (Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein), founded by Lassalle in 1863.

Lassalleanism is based on several dogmas propounded by Lassalle: universal suffrage as the general political means to the emancipation of the workers; productive associations supported by state funds as the way of “introducing socialism” and of peacefully transforming the capitalist state into a “people’s state”; and the “iron law of wages” (borrowed by Lassalle from D. Ricardo and T. Malthus). The Lassalleans regarded the state as an eternal moral category, above classes, having as its purpose “to train and develop humanity in the direction of liberty” (F. Lassalle, Soch., vol. 1, 1925, p. 129). The state, in the opinion of Lassalle and his followers, always fulfills this task, even against the wishes of those directing the state. The Lassalleans claimed that universal suffrage would cause the state to serve society consciously. While advocating the independence of the labor movement from the liberal bourgeoisie, the Lassalleans in fact argued at the same time that class struggle and revolution be abandoned. Lassalle’s mistaken concept that, relative to the proletariat, all other classes constitute “only one reactionary mass” led the Lassalleans to deny the importance of an alliance of the proletariat with the peasantry and other strata of the toiling masses. The Lassalleans turned their back on the struggle to build trade unions and typically failed to comprehend the international character of the working-class movement.

At the time of the First International, Lassalleanism was one of the main obstacles to the penetration of Marxism into the German labor movement and to the creation of a proletarian party in Germany, and it exerted a harmful influence on the workers’ movement in other countries as well. One of the main tasks of the German proletariat in those years, as Marx saw it, was to overcome the Lassallean influence, which had divided the labor movement. The Social Democratic Workers’ Party (Eise-nachers), founded in 1869, was built up in the course of a struggle against Lassalleanism, during which many Lassalleans abandoned their dogmas and took up the Marxist viewpoint. After 1871 one of the most important conflicts between the Lassalleans and Eisenachers—the debate over how Germany should be united—lost its significance. In 1875 at the Gotha Congress the united Socialist Workers’ Party was formed. The Lassalleans succeeded in having a number of their basic tenets included in the program of the new party, although these had already been refuted by the development of the working-class movement. This weakness was only corrected in 1891, in the program adopted by the Erfurt Congress.

The founders of Marxism carried on a constant struggle against Lassalleanism, thus helping the German workers to free themselves from its influence. Lassallean views long remained current within the German Social Democratic movement, constituting one of the ideological sources of right-wing opportunism. The erroneous Lassallean doctrines are still utilized in modified form by present-day right-wing social democratic leaders in their struggle against Marxism. A full critique of Lassalleanism may be found in the writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin and in the works of Marxist historians.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.