Ferdinand Lassalle
Overview
 
Ferdinand Lassalle was a German-Jewish jurist
Jurist
A jurist or jurisconsult is a professional who studies, develops, applies, or otherwise deals with the law. The term is widely used in American English, but in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries it has only historical and specialist usage...

 and socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 political activist.
Ferdinand Lassalle was born on 11 April 1825 in Breslau (Wrocław), Silesia
Province of Silesia
The Province of Silesia was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1815 to 1919.-Geography:The territory comprised the bulk of the former Bohemian crown land of Silesia and the County of Kladsko, which King Frederick the Great had conquered from the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy in the 18th...

 to a prosperous Jewish
History of the Jews in Germany
The presence of Jews in Germany has been established since the early 4th century. The community prospered under Charlemagne, but suffered during the Crusades...

 family descending from Upper Silesian Loslau. His father was a silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

 merchant and intended his son for a business career, sending him to the commercial school at Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

. Lassalle himself, however, had other plans and got himself transferred to university, first in Breslau and afterwards in Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin
The Humboldt University of Berlin is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities...

.
Encyclopedia
Ferdinand Lassalle was a German-Jewish jurist
Jurist
A jurist or jurisconsult is a professional who studies, develops, applies, or otherwise deals with the law. The term is widely used in American English, but in the United Kingdom and many Commonwealth countries it has only historical and specialist usage...

 and socialist
Socialism
Socialism is an economic system characterized by social ownership of the means of production and cooperative management of the economy; or a political philosophy advocating such a system. "Social ownership" may refer to any one of, or a combination of, the following: cooperative enterprises,...

 political activist.

Early life

Ferdinand Lassalle was born on 11 April 1825 in Breslau (Wrocław), Silesia
Province of Silesia
The Province of Silesia was a province of the Kingdom of Prussia from 1815 to 1919.-Geography:The territory comprised the bulk of the former Bohemian crown land of Silesia and the County of Kladsko, which King Frederick the Great had conquered from the Austrian Habsburg Monarchy in the 18th...

 to a prosperous Jewish
History of the Jews in Germany
The presence of Jews in Germany has been established since the early 4th century. The community prospered under Charlemagne, but suffered during the Crusades...

 family descending from Upper Silesian Loslau. His father was a silk
Silk
Silk is a natural protein fiber, some forms of which can be woven into textiles. The best-known type of silk is obtained from the cocoons of the larvae of the mulberry silkworm Bombyx mori reared in captivity...

 merchant and intended his son for a business career, sending him to the commercial school at Leipzig
Leipzig
Leipzig Leipzig has always been a trade city, situated during the time of the Holy Roman Empire at the intersection of the Via Regia and Via Imperii, two important trade routes. At one time, Leipzig was one of the major European centres of learning and culture in fields such as music and publishing...

. Lassalle himself, however, had other plans and got himself transferred to university, first in Breslau and afterwards in Berlin
Humboldt University of Berlin
The Humboldt University of Berlin is Berlin's oldest university, founded in 1810 as the University of Berlin by the liberal Prussian educational reformer and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt, whose university model has strongly influenced other European and Western universities...

. His favourite studies were philology
Philology
Philology is the study of language in written historical sources; it is a combination of literary studies, history and linguistics.Classical philology is the philology of Greek and Classical Latin...

 and philosophy
Philosophy
Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational...

; he became a close follower of Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was a German philosopher, one of the creators of German Idealism. His historicist and idealist account of reality as a whole revolutionized European philosophy and was an important precursor to Continental philosophy and Marxism.Hegel developed a comprehensive...

. Having completed his university studies in 1845, he began to write a work on Heraclitus
Heraclitus
Heraclitus of Ephesus was a pre-Socratic Greek philosopher, a native of the Greek city Ephesus, Ionia, on the coast of Asia Minor. He was of distinguished parentage. Little is known about his early life and education, but he regarded himself as self-taught and a pioneer of wisdom...

 from the Hegelian point of view; but it was soon interrupted and was not published until 1858.

It was in Berlin
Berlin
Berlin is the capital city of Germany and is one of the 16 states of Germany. With a population of 3.45 million people, Berlin is Germany's largest city. It is the second most populous city proper and the seventh most populous urban area in the European Union...

, towards the end of 1845, that he met Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt
House of Hatzfeld
The House of Hatzfeld, also spelled Hatzfeldt, is a prominent German family of high nobility originally from Hesse. The family is first mentioned in 1138 and has its ancestral seat in Hatzfeld.- Members :...

. She had been separated from her husband for many years, and had problems with him on questions of property and the custody of their children. Lassalle attached himself to the countess's cause, made special study of law
Law
Law is a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, wherever possible. It shapes politics, economics and society in numerous ways and serves as a social mediator of relations between people. Contract law regulates everything from buying a bus...

, and, after bringing the case before thirty-six tribunal
Tribunal
A tribunal in the general sense is any person or institution with the authority to judge, adjudicate on, or determine claims or disputes—whether or not it is called a tribunal in its title....

s, reduced the count to a compromise on terms favourable to his client.

The court case, which lasted ten years, gave rise to some scandal, especially that of the Cassettengeschichte (Casket Affair), which pursued Lassalle all the rest of his life. This arose out of an attempt by the countess's friends to get possession of a bond for a large life annuity settled by the count on his mistress, Baroness von Meyendorff, to the disadvantage of the countess and her children. Two of Lassalle's comrades succeeded in carrying off the casket, which contained jewels, from the baroness's room at a hotel in Cologne
Cologne
Cologne is Germany's fourth-largest city , and is the largest city both in the Germany Federal State of North Rhine-Westphalia and within the Rhine-Ruhr Metropolitan Area, one of the major European metropolitan areas with more than ten million inhabitants.Cologne is located on both sides of the...

. They were prosecuted for theft, one of them being condemned to six months imprisonment. Lassalle, accused of moral complicity, was acquitted on appeal.

Lassalle took part in the German Revolutions of 1848
Revolutions of 1848 in the German states
The Revolutions of 1848 in the German states, also called the March Revolution – part of the Revolutions of 1848 that broke out in many countries of Europe – were a series of loosely coordinated protests and rebellions in the states of the German Confederation, including the Austrian Empire...

. As a result of his activity he underwent a year's imprisonment in 1849 for resistance to the authorities of Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf
Düsseldorf is the capital city of the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia and centre of the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan region.Düsseldorf is an important international business and financial centre and renowned for its fashion and trade fairs. Located centrally within the European Megalopolis, the...

 and was thereafter banned from living in Berlin. Until 1859 Lassalle resided mostly in the Rhineland
Rhineland
Historically, the Rhinelands refers to a loosely-defined region embracing the land on either bank of the River Rhine in central Europe....

, dealing with the suit of the countess, and finishing the work on Heraclitus. In this time he was not much involved in political agitation, but remained interested in the labour movement.

Return to Berlin

In 1859 Lassalle returned to Berlin, entering the city disguised as a carter, and, through the influence of Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt
Friedrich Wilhelm Heinrich Alexander Freiherr von Humboldt was a German naturalist and explorer, and the younger brother of the Prussian minister, philosopher and linguist Wilhelm von Humboldt...

 with the king, received permission to stay there. The same year he published a pamphlet on the war in Italy
Italy
Italy , officially the Italian Republic languages]] under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In each of these, Italy's official name is as follows:;;;;;;;;), is a unitary parliamentary republic in South-Central Europe. To the north it borders France, Switzerland, Austria and...

 and how Prussia should act: he warned Prussia against going to the rescue of Austria
Austrian Empire
The Austrian Empire was a modern era successor empire, which was centered on what is today's Austria and which officially lasted from 1804 to 1867. It was followed by the Empire of Austria-Hungary, whose proclamation was a diplomatic move that elevated Hungary's status within the Austrian Empire...

 in her war with France
France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

. He pointed out that if France drove Austria out of Italy it would be able to annex Savoy
Savoy
Savoy is a region of France. It comprises roughly the territory of the Western Alps situated between Lake Geneva in the north and Monaco and the Mediterranean coast in the south....

, but would not be strong enough to prevent Italian unification
Italian unification
Italian unification was the political and social movement that agglomerated different states of the Italian peninsula into the single state of Italy in the 19th century...

 under King Victor Emmanuel
Victor Emmanuel II of Italy
Victor Emanuel II was king of Sardinia from 1849 and, on 17 March 1861, he assumed the title King of Italy to become the first king of a united Italy since the 6th century, a title he held until his death in 1878...

. Prussia, he said, should form an alliance with France to drive out Austria and also to gain power in Germany. In 1861 Lassalle published System der erworbenen Rechte (System of Acquired Rights) on this subject.

Founding of the ADAV

In early 1862, the struggle had begun between Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck
Otto Eduard Leopold, Prince of Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg , simply known as Otto von Bismarck, was a Prussian-German statesman whose actions unified Germany, made it a major player in world affairs, and created a balance of power that kept Europe at peace after 1871.As Minister President of...

 and the liberals
Liberalism
Liberalism is the belief in the importance of liberty and equal rights. Liberals espouse a wide array of views depending on their understanding of these principles, but generally, liberals support ideas such as constitutionalism, liberal democracy, free and fair elections, human rights,...

 in Prussia. Lassalle believed that the liberal politician Hermann Schulze-Delitzsch's co-operative schemes on the principle of self-help were utterly inadequate to improve the condition of the working classes. Lassalle himself had a fashionable, extravagant lifestyle, but now he threw himself into a new career as a political agitator, travelling around Germany, giving speeches and writing pamphlets, in an attempt to organise and rouse the working class.

Although Lassalle was a member of the Communist League
Communist League
The Communist League was the first Marxist international organization. It was founded originally as the League of the Just by German workers in Paris in 1834. This was initially a utopian socialist and Christian communist group devoted to the ideas of Gracchus Babeuf...

, his politics were strongly opposed by Karl Marx
Karl Marx
Karl Heinrich Marx was a German philosopher, economist, sociologist, historian, journalist, and revolutionary socialist. His ideas played a significant role in the development of social science and the socialist political movement...

 and Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels
Friedrich Engels was a German industrialist, social scientist, author, political theorist, philosopher, and father of Marxist theory, alongside Karl Marx. In 1845 he published The Condition of the Working Class in England, based on personal observations and research...

; indeed Marx's essay Critique of the Gotha Program
Critique of the Gotha Program
The Critique of the Gotha Program is a document based on a letter by Karl Marx written in early May 1875 to the Eisenach faction of the German social democratic movement, with whom Marx and Friedrich Engels were in close association...

 is written in part as a reaction to Lassalle's conception of the socialist state. Marx and Engels thought that Lassalle was not a true Communist as he directly influenced Bismarck's government (in secret albeit) on the issue of universal suffrage
Universal suffrage
Universal suffrage consists of the extension of the right to vote to adult citizens as a whole, though it may also mean extending said right to minors and non-citizens...

, among others. Élie Halévy
Élie Halévy
Élie Halévy was a French philosopher and historian who wrote studies of the British utilitarians, a history of 19th-century England and the acclaimed book of essays, Era of Tyrannies.-Biography:...

 would later write on this situation:

"Lassalle was the first man in Germany, the first in Europe, who succeeded in organising a party of socialist action. Yet he viewed the emerging bourgeois parties as more inimical to the working class than the aristocracy' and hence he supported universal manhood suffrage at a time when the liberals preferred a limited, property-based suffrage which excluded the working class and enhanced the middle classes. This created a strange alliance between Lassalle and Bismarck. When in 1866 Bismarck founded the Confederation of Northern Germany
North German Confederation
The North German Confederation 1866–71, was a federation of 22 independent states of northern Germany. It was formed by a constitution accepted by the member states in 1867 and controlled military and foreign policy. It included the new Reichstag, a parliament elected by universal manhood...

 on a basis of universal suffrage, he was acting on advice which came directly from Lassalle. And I am convinced that after 1878, when he began to practise "State Socialism" and "Christian Socialism" and "Monarchial Socialism," he had not forgotten what he had learnt from the socialist leader."


As a result, when Lassalle founded the Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein (General German Workers' Association
General German Workers' Association
The General German Workers' Association, in German Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein, ADAV) was founded on 23 May 1863 in Leipzig, Kingdom of Saxony by Ferdinand Lassalle and existed under this name until 1875, when it combined with August Bebel and Wilhelm Liebknecht's SDAP to form the...

, ADAV) on 23 May 1863, Marx's supporters in Germany did not join it. Lassalle was the first president of this first German labour party, retaining the position from its formation on 23 May 1863 until his death on 31 August 1864. The only stated purpose of this organization was the winning of equal, universal, and direct suffrage
Suffrage
Suffrage, political franchise, or simply the franchise, distinct from mere voting rights, is the civil right to vote gained through the democratic process...

 through peaceful and legal means.

Death and legacy

In Berlin, Lassalle had met a young woman, Helene von Dönniges, and in the summer of 1864 they decided to marry. She, however, was the daughter of a Bavaria
Bavaria
Bavaria, formally the Free State of Bavaria is a state of Germany, located in the southeast of Germany. With an area of , it is the largest state by area, forming almost 20% of the total land area of Germany...

n diplomat then resident at Geneva
Geneva
Geneva In the national languages of Switzerland the city is known as Genf , Ginevra and Genevra is the second-most-populous city in Switzerland and is the most populous city of Romandie, the French-speaking part of Switzerland...

, who would have nothing to do with Lassalle. Helene was imprisoned in her own room, and soon, apparently under pressure, renounced Lassalle in favour of another admirer, Count von Racowitza
Count von Racowitza
Bajor Janko Prince von Racowitza was a nobleman from Wallachia, who participated in a notable duel on 28. August 1864. He had come from Romania to Berlin in 1856, where studied philosophy and law at Berlin university. He became a member of a German Student Corps there.The diplomate in Bavarian...

. Lassalle sent a challenge to duel
Duel
A duel is an arranged engagement in combat between two individuals, with matched weapons in accordance with agreed-upon rules.Duels in this form were chiefly practised in Early Modern Europe, with precedents in the medieval code of chivalry, and continued into the modern period especially among...

 both to the lady's father and to Racowitz, which was accepted by the latter. At the Carouge, a suburb of Geneva, a duel took place on the morning of 28 August 1864. Lassalle was mortally wounded, and he died on August 31.

At the time of his death, Lassalle's political party had only 4,610 members and no detailed political program. The Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiterverein continued after his death, however, going on to help establish the Social Democratic Party of Germany
Social Democratic Party of Germany
The Social Democratic Party of Germany is a social-democratic political party in Germany...

 (SPD) in 1875.

Lassalle is buried in Breslau (now Wrocław, Poland), in the old Jewish cemetery there.

The state

In contrast with Karl Marx and his adherents, Lassalle rejected the idea that the state was a class-based power structure with the function of preserving existing class relations and destined to "wither away" in a future classless society. Instead, Lassalle saw the state as an independent entity, an instrument of justice essential for the achievement of the socialist program.

Iron law of wages

Lassalle accepted the idea, first posited by the classical economist David Ricardo
David Ricardo
David Ricardo was an English political economist, often credited with systematising economics, and was one of the most influential of the classical economists, along with Thomas Malthus, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill. He was also a member of Parliament, businessman, financier and speculator,...

, that wage rates in the long run tended towards the minimum level necessary to sustain the life of the worker and to provide for his reproduction. In accord with this Iron Law of Wages, Lassalle argued that individual measures of self-help by wage workers were destined to failure and that only producers' cooperatives established with the financial aid of the state would make economic improvement of the workers' lives possible. From this it followed that the political action of the workers to capture the reins of the state was paramount and the organization of trade unions to battle for ephemeral wage improvements more or less a diversion from the primary struggle.

Works

  • Die Philosophie Herakleitos des Dunklen von Ephesos Vol. 1 Vol. 2 Berlin, Duncker 1858 (The philosophy of Heraclitus the Dark Philosopher of Ephesus)
  • Franz von Sickingen; a tragedy in five acts. translated by Daniel De Leon
    Daniel De Leon
    Daniel DeLeon was an American socialist newspaper editor, politician, Marxist theoretician, and trade union organizer. He is regarded as the forefather of the idea of revolutionary industrial unionism and was the leading figure in the Socialist Labor Party of America from 1890 until the time of...

    . (1859)
  • Über Verfassungswesen (On constitutional systems)
  • The working man's programme. (Arbeiter-programm)
  • Offenes Antwortschreiben an das Zentralkomitee zur Berufung eines Allgemeinen Deutschen Arbeiter-Kongresses zu Leipzig (Open letter answering the Central Committee on the convening of a General German Workers' Congress in Leipzig)
  • Zur Arbeiterfrage (On the labour issue)
  • Arbeiterlesebuch (Reading book for workers)
  • Herr Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch, der ökonomische Julian, oder Kapital und Arbeit. (Mr Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch, the Julian of Economy, or Capital and Labour)

Further reading


External links

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