Eduard Bernstein

Ferdinand Lassalle

Breach with the Progressist Party – The Open Reply Letter; its political portion.

Meantime, however, the Progressists did not accept the terms of the peace – i.e., the method of fighting recommended by Lassalle. And looking at it from their point of view one cannot blame them. Lassalle’s proposition was very good if one was prepared to force things to a head at once, and was in a position to answer a coup d’état – and a coup d’état was the only resort these tactics left the Government – by a revolution. But the Progressists had not yet progressed so far, and, therefore, preferred the dilatory method. Without a revolution in immediate reserve, the voluntary renunciation of the tribune of the Chamber must end in that notorious “passive resistance” of which Lassalle himself quite rightly made fun. By persistently refusing to vote supplies, one could “say what is” quite as loudly and as drastically, could stimulate public opinion as effectively as, or even more effectively than, by means of an indefinite prorogation, which would, into the bargain, give the Government a semblance of right in their violation of the Constitution. But this was the main tactical idea of the Progressists – to make the Government above all else appear as the representative of Might against Right. “Their chief spokesmen” says B. Becker, very justly, “were for the most part men of the juridical and legal profession, accustomed therefore to the law’s delays, and inclined to look upon the struggle between the parliamentary majority and the Government as a protracted legal struggle.”

And so they again accused Lassalle of placing, like the Government, Might above Right. And now – not as Becker, and after him all the “historians” of the Lassallean movement say, at the time of the first pamphlet on the “Constitution” – Lassalle wrote his essay, Might and Right, in which he openly threw down the gauntlet to the Progressist Party.

It was easy for him to show in a few words the whole absurdity of this accusation, and to prove to the Progressists to boot that their idol, Schwerin, whose declaration that in Prussia “Right goes before Might,” they applauded so loudly, had taken part in a round dozen violations of Right where Might went before Right. “No one in the Prussian State has the right to speak of ‘Right!’” he exclaims, “save the Democracy – the old and true Democracy. For it alone has always held to the Right, and has never condescended to any compromise with Might.” And: “All Right is with the Democracy alone, and with it alone will be Might!

This declaration of war, sent in the form of a statement to the Radical Berlin Reform, a paper for which Lassalle, so late as June, 1862, had put in a good word with Marx, was refused insertion in its columns, and the Vossische Zeitung did the same. The latter also refused to insert the article as a paid advertisement, whereupon Lassalle had it published as an Open Reply Letter at Zurich. That the choice of this place for the publication really justified the doubts of the Vossische Zeitung “on account of the press laws,” did not trouble Lassalle.

Between the publication of the lecture Was Nun? (December, 1862), and the drawing up of the Open Letter (February, 1863), two more months passed. But meantime (in January, 1863), the deputation of the Leipzig Central Committee – consisting of the author, Dr. Otto Dammer, and the working-men, F.W. Fritsche and Julius Vahlteich – had been to Berlin to make one last attempt at co-operation with the leaders of the National Association. Nevertheless, they do not seem to have taken this attempt very seriously. They were all three Socialists, and were anxious to get out of the Progressist leaders’ own mouths the declaration that they would not hear of an independent working-men’s movement, but wanted to keep it in the leading strings of bourgeois Liberalism. And their hopes in this respect were not disappointed. With regard to the question of admission to the National Association, they were given the classical answer, already mentioned, that the workers should consider themselves “honorary members” of the National Association. With regard to the question of the franchise, Unruh, Schulze-Delitzsch, etc., were themselves divided, and, moreover; did not look upon it as a burning one. The three-class electoral system had returned such an excellent Chamber, that surely it might be left alone for a while. That the excellent – i.e., anti-governmental – Chamber was wholly the result of the special conditions of the time never occurred to these gentlemen.

The young Berlin Democrat, and subsequent Progressist member of the Chamber, Ludwig Lowe, directed the attention of the deputation to Ferdinand Lassalle, and, on their return to Leipzig, they entered into communication with him. It is easy to understand how much this must have strengthened his resolve to withdraw his “Peace to the past, gentlemen.” When he issued his Open Letter, “Right and Might,” it had already been arranged between himself and the Leipzig Committee that the latter were to ask him, in an official communication, to set forth his opinions upon the mission of the working-class movement, and the question of the associations – (i.e., the co-operative societies) – in any form he might think fit, and that this form should be that of a fly-sheet. The Leipzig people – i.e., the active elements in the Working-men’s Association – knew perfectly well what they were driving at; what they were still undetermined about was less the essence of the action to be undertaken than the programme of that action. It was by no means “the consciousness of their own want of lucidity,” as Bernhard Becker, with his claim to speak truth above everything, says in his History of the Lassallean movement-which induced the Leipzig Committee, an Appeal to the German Workers, dated 10th February, declare themselves simultaneously in favour of expediting the summoning of the Workers’ Congress, and against over-precipitancy in the matter. The Congress was to be held as soon as possible, but not too soon to prevent Lassalle’s answer from first producing its effect. It is only Becker’s personal animosity towards Dr. Otto Daxnmer that here induces him to falsify history, and to represent the Committee “as beating a retreat” when nothing was farther from their thoughts. At the same sitting in which the appeal just referred to was drawn up, the Committee decided to write the following letter, which was duly forwarded the next day, to Lassalle:-

To Herr Ferdinand Lassalle, in Berlin.

Most honoured Sir,-Your pamphlet, Ueber den besonderen Zusammenhang der gegenwärtigen Geschichts-Periode mit der Idee des Arbeiterstandes (On the Special Connection between the Present Historical Period and the Concept of the Workers’ Estate) has everywhere here met with great approval from the workers, and the Central Committee have given expression to this feeling in the Arbeiter Zeitung. On the other hand, very serious doubts have been expressed in many quarters as to whether the associations recommended by Schulze -Delitzsch can really benefit the vast majority of the workers, who possess nothing, and especially whether they could alter the position of the workers in the State to the extent that seems necessary. The Central Committee have expressed their views upon this matter in the Arbeiter Zeitung (No.6); they are convinced that co-operative associations cannot, under our present conditions, do enough. But now the views of Schulze-Delitzsch are being everywhere advocated as imperative upon the working-class, by which we mean the most oppressed class of the people, and as no doubt other ways and means than those proposed by Schulze-Delitzsch might be suggested for attaining the ends of the working-class movement – i.e., political, material, and intellectual improvement in the condition of the workers – the Central Committee, at its sitting of the 10th February, unanimously resolved

To request you to express your views, in any form you think fit, upon the working-class movement, and the tactics it should pursue, and especially upon the value of the associations for the entirely unpropertied classes of the people.

We attach the greatest value to your views as expressed in the above-mentioned pamphlet, and shall therefore be thoroughly able to appreciate any further communications from yourself. Finally, we would ask you to grant our request as soon as possible, as we are very anxious to push forward the development of the working-class movement.

With greeting and good wishes on behalf of the Central Committee for summoning a General German Workers’ Congress, OTTO DAMMER.
LEIPZIG, 11th Feb., 1863.

The answer to this letter was the Offene Antwortschreiben an das Zentral-Komitee zur Berufung eines Allgemeinen Deutschen Arbeiter-Kongresses zu Leipzig [1], dated the 1st March, 1863.

With this work, and its acceptance by the Committee and by the Leipzig Workingmen’s Association itself, begins the actual Socialist agitation of Lassalle, and the history of tile “General German Working-men’s Association.” Lassalle’s “Open Reply Letter begins by controverting the idea that working men do not need to concern themselves with politics. On the contrary, it is just with politics that they must concern themselves, only they must not do this in such a way as to look upon themselves as the “disinterested choir and sounding-board” of the Progressist Party. The proof that the Progressist Party had no such pretensions is deduced mainly from their conduct during the constitutional struggle, and is, therefore, not always equally convincing. When, e.g., Lassalle on p.4 of the pamphlet reproaches the Progressist Party for having “made ... only ... the asserting the right to vote supplies the essence of their struggle,” he forgot that in his lecture, Was Nun? he had himself defined this as the real and main object of the struggle that must be upheld with the utmost energy. In the same way the Progressist Party might have quoted himself when he counts it a political sin to them that “Their dogma of the supremacy of Prussia forced them to see in the Prussian Government the chosen Messiah of the new birth of Germany. Yet there is not a single German Government, including Hesse, that is politically inferior to that of Prussia, while there is scarcely a single German Government, including Austria(!!), that is not considerably superior to that of Prussia.” [2]

In the main, however, Lassalle was, of course, quite right. The organisation of the workers, as an independent political party with a programme of their own, was a historical necessity. If the development of the political conditions in Germany was such as to make it seem doubtful whether this was the most propitious moment for separating the workers from the army of the Progressist Party, then fighting against absolutism, yet this party had done enough to challenge such a separation. Moreover, the independent organisation of the workers did not as yet, in itself, mean any interference with the aggressive force of the Progressist Party. That this was actually the result is largely due to the Progressist Party itself, and to their extremely narrow attitude towards the new movement. Partly, no doubt, it was also due to the programme which Lassalle gave to this movement.

In discussing the Worker’s Programme, we saw what an abstract, purely ideological idea Lassalle combined with the concept “the State.” It is no exaggeration to say that of the idea of the State he made a veritable cult. “The immemorial vestal fire of all civilisation, the State, I defend with you against those modern barbarians” (that is the Manchester Party), he exclaims to the judges of the Berlin Kammergericht (Court of Appeal) in his speech on Indirect Taxation, and similar passages occur in almost all his speeches.

The “State” is the weakest point in the Lassallean doctrine; in the truest sense of the word, its Achilles heel. The old Hegelian ideological concept of the State induced, Lassalle to instil into the workers a semi-mystical reverence for the State at a time when, above all, it behoved them to shake off the police State. It sounds pretty enough when in the Open Reply Letter he cries to the workers: “What, you want to discuss the right of free migration? I can only answer you with Schiller’s distich”

Jahrelang bedien’ ich mich schon meiner Nase zum Riechen,
Aber hab ich an sie auch ein erweisliches Recht?

[For years I have already used my nose for smelling,
But have I really a demonstrable right to that organ]

Free migration, and the free choice of handicrafts were things which, in a legislative body, “one dumbly and in silence decrees but no longer debates.” As a matter of fact, however, these things, like the right of combination, did not even yet exist, while the workers unquestionably needed them. The true reason why the questions of free migration and free choice of handicraft had to be assigned a relatively insignificant position at a working-men’s congress, was because they were also, to a large extent, demands of middle-class Liberalism. But the discussion of them was not superfluous, if only because in working-class circles themselves much confusion as to their meaning still prevailed.

Lassalle pushed these questions on one side, because the demand for State-help seemed to him more important than they were.

First for its own sake; but secondly, because he saw in the project of State-help the only effective means of rousing the working-class to political action, of at once emancipating them from the yoke of the bourgeois parties, and of stimulating them to the obtaining of their democratic demands. And, no doubt, for the time being, the second reason was the mare weighty one to him. It was so also from the position of affairs themselves. The only question was whether the method and the means, by which he sought to attain this end, were the right ones.

To convince the workers of the futility of self-help as preached by the bourgeoisie, Lassalle adduced the law of wages in capitalist production as formulated by the classical political economists and more especially and most emphatically by Ricardo. The “iron and inexorable law, according to which, under the domination of supply and demand, the average wages of labour remain always reduced to the bare subsistence which, according to the standard of living of a nation, is necessary for the maintenance of life and the reproduction of the species.” If wages periodically rose above this average, the greater number of marriages and births caused an increase of the working-class population, and with it, of the supply of labour, in consequence of which, wages again sank to their former level. If they fell below this average, emigration, greater mortality among the workers, abstinence from marriage, and fewer births, caused a diminution in the supply of labour, in consequence of which wages again went up. Thus “workers and the wages of labour circled for ever round the extreme margin of that which, according to the needs of the time, constitutes the necessary means of subsistence,” and this “never varies.”

Therefore, every attempt of the working-class to improve its condition by the individual efforts of its members, was, of necessity, condemned to failure. It was equally useless to attempt improving the condition of the workers by means of co-operative societies. So long as these were isolated, they might here and there procure the workers certain advantages. But from the moment these societies became general, the workers would, as producers, again lose in wages what, as consumers, they had gained in the purchase of their goods. Indeed, the condition of the working-class could only be permanently freed from the pressure of this economic law, if the wages of labour were replaced by the possession of the products of laborer, if the working-class became its own employer. But this could not be done by the starting of self-help societies, since these had not the necessary means, and since they were only too often fated to become permeated by the employer-spirit, and its members to be transformed into the “repulsive caricature of working-men with working-men’s means, and employers’ minds.” Great problems could only be solved by great means, and, therefore, societies must be started on a vast scale, and must be extended to the factories of modern industry, but the means to do this – the necessary capital, i.e., the necessary credit – must be provided by the State.

This was certainly in no way Communism or Socialism. “Nothing could be further removed from so-called Communism or Socialism than this demand which would allow the working-classes to retain just as to-day their individual freedom, their individual mode of life, and the individual reward of labour,” and to stand in no other relation to the State, than that through its agency the required capital, i.e., the credit necessary for their societies, would be obtained. Now the true function of the State was to facilitate and help on the great forward march of mankind. “For this the State exists, for this it has always served, and must serve.” But “what then is the State!” And Lassalle cites the figures of the Prussian statistics of incomes for the year 1851, according to which in that year 89 per cent. of the population had had an income of less than 200 thalers, and 7¼ per cent. of the population an income of from 200 to 400 thalers, so that, therefore, 96¼ per cent. of the population were in a miserable, oppressed condition. “To them, then, gentlemen, to the suffering classes does the State belong, not to us, to the upper classes, for of them it is composed! What is the State? I asked, and now you see from a few figures, more easily than you could from big volumes, the answer: Yours, the poorer classes’ great association, – that is the state.” And how to obtain this intervention from the State? This would be possible only by means of universal and direct suffrage. Only when the legislative bodies of Germany were returned by universal and direct suffrage, “then, and then only, will you be able to induce the State to undertake this its duty.”Universal and direct suffrage ... “is not only your political, it is also your social fundamental principle, the fundamental condition of all social help.” Therefore let the workers organise for a universal German Working-men’s Association, whose object should be the introduction into all German countries of universal and direct suffrage. If this demand were taken up by the 89 to 96 per cent. of the population as a question of the belly, and therefore distributed with the warmth of the belly throughout the whole of the national body, there was no power on earth that could withstand it long. “The whole art of tactical success lies in this: in the concentration of all power, at all times, upon one single point – upon the most important point, and in turning neither to the right nor to the left. Don’t look either to the right or to the left, be deaf to all that is not called universal and direct suffrage, or is related thereto, and may lead to it.”

This, roughly speaking, is the informing idea of the Open Reply Letter, and, at the same time, of the whole Lassallean agitation. For though, of course, this does not represent the whole of Lassalle’s aims, nevertheless, to the very end Lassalle held fast to limiting the movement to this one point: “Universal suffrage in order to obtain State help for productive co-operative societies,” and this on the principle stated above, that the art of practical success consists in concentrating all forces, at all times, upon one single point. It is important to keep this in mind, for those who wish to estimate rightly Lassalle’s labours as an agitator. These labours, in the beginning at least, had been directed towards obtaining an immediate practical result. In the Open Reply Letter Lassalle specially refers to the agitation and success of the Anti-Corn Law League in England, and it would seem that he had the English Chartist agitation in his mind also. This is proved by the sentence about the “question of the belly,” which recalls the declaration of the Chartist preacher, Stephens: “Chartism, my friends, is not a political question, but a fork and knife question.”

If we now ask ourselves whether an immediate practical success was actually possible for the agitation thus planned out, under the then existing conditions, I believe I may unhesitatingly answer in the affirmative. That Bismarck later on – it is true only for the North German Reichstag – actually introduced universal suffrage, does not, it seems to me, affect the question. All kinds of circumstances might have prevented this, without altering the fact that Lassalle’s calculation was, for the time, a right one. On the contrary. Although the three-class electoral system was retained for the Prussian Landtag, Lassalle’s calculation was, all the same, right; it was quite in keeping with the existing political situation. Lassalle knew perfectly well that if in the Progressist camp universal suffrage had many enemies, and, on the whole, only lukewarm friends, the governmental circles, on the contrary, looked more and more askant at the three-class electoral system. The governmental papers spoke quite openly in this sense, and, moreover, as we have seen, Lassalle had plenty of connections to keep him well informed as to which way the wind blew in court and official circles. If the Government would not give way on the constitutional struggle, it could, unless a foreign war came about – and that also might prove fatal – do nothing but emulate Napoleon III, dissolve the Landtag and introduce another more “democratic” suffrage. And the Government was the more driven to such a step that a strong movement independent of the Progressists was growing up, which had inscribed upon its banner the abolition of the three-class electoral system. Especially, in view of a possible war, this must have seemed to the Government the best way to escape having a whole nation as an enemy attacking them in the rear. [3]

From the point of view of immediate, practical success, Lassalle was, then, undoubtedly right. It was possible to obtain universal suffrage in the way worked out by him. Truly for a price. If the Government granted it to avoid being obliged to give in to the Progressist Party, the solution of the constitutional struggle would be, at least, still further postponed. “Be deaf to all that is not called universal and direct suffrage, or is related thereto, and may lead to it,” he says in the Open Reply Letter. Universal suffrage once obtained, it would also – at least, one is logically bound to assume this as self-understood in Lassalle, although he does not expressly say so – solve this question. But was Lassalle’s expectation in respect to universal suffrage, as well as the expectations which be based upon this, justified by actual facts?

The only experience obtainable in Lassalle’s time with regard to universal) and direct suffrage, was furnished by France. And here the results were not particularly in its favour. During the February Republic, universal suffrage had certainly sent a number of Socialists to the National Assembly, but the voice of these Socialists had been drowned by that of the representatives of the different bourgeois parties, and universal suffrage had so little prevented Bonaparte’s coup d’état that, on the contrary Bonaparte had been able to make the coup d’état as the “champion of universal suffrage.” And moreover, the February Republic, when it came into existence, was hailed by the Parisian proletariat as the social Republic. Its proclamation had been preceded by a period of immense Socialist propaganda on a very large scale, and so warranted the assumption that this Republic might have become in course of time a really Socialistic Republic. Why didn’t it come about? Why, rather, was it overthrown by the Empire?

When Lassalle at the end of the Worker’s Programme, says that what was overthrown on the 2nd December, 1851, was “not the Republic,” but the bourgeois Republic, which, by the electoral Law of May, 1850, had abolished universal suffrage, and had introduced what amounted to a property qualification in order to exclude the workers; when he says that the Republic of universal suffrage would “have found in the breasts of the French workers an insurmountable barrier,” he is simply echoing one of the cries of the small middle-class Revolutionists, à la Ledru Rollin, which does not answer the question, but only evades it. Where was this “insurmountable barrier,” when the Chamber, elected on the basis of universal suffrage, repealed that suffrage? Why did not the Parisian workers prevent this “coup d’état of the bourgeoisie”? If Lassalle had asked himself this question he would have found that the February Republic could not endure as a social Republic, because the class upon which it would as such have had to rely, was not yet sufficiently developed – i.e., not sufficiently developed in the social sense of the word. The modern industrial proletariat was there; it had even been strong enough for one moment to overthrow the whole existing order of things, but not strong enough to keep it down. Here we again see the fundamental fallacy of the Lassallean method of thought. Even when he tries to enter into the deeper causes of historical events, his juridical bent of mind prevents his really getting to the bottom of the social side of these, and even when he deals with their economic side he does so when this has already – if I may so express myself – crystallised in the juridical form. This alone can explain why Lassalle, to show the workers of what elements the population of the State is composed, confined himself, and that exclusively, to the statistics of incomes. The dispute, which arose out of this passage in the Open Reply Letter, is comparatively unimportant. Whether Lassalle’s percentages were slightly inaccurate in this direction or in that, at bottom matters very little. The fact that the great mass of the population lives in poverty, while only a small minority riots in superfluity, this the Wackernagles and his fellows, who at this time opposed Lassalle, could not, with all their pettifogging arguments, argue out of the world. It is far more important that Lassalle completely ignored what different elements composed that 96 or 89 per cent. of the population, whose “great association” he called the State. Nor does he at all note how great a proportion of these were small artisans, and small peasants, and, above all, agricultural labourers, a section of whom were still absolutely under the spiritual control of their employers. Over half the population of Prussia was at this time agricultural; the larger towns did not play any thing like the part they do to-day, and, from the standpoint of industrial development, the whole eastern portion of the kingdom was only a desert with isolated oases. [4]

Under such conditions, what difference could universal suffrage make in the composition of the Chamber? Was a better result to be expected from it than from universal suffrage in the France of 1848 and 1849? Surely not. It might send a certain number of labour representatives to Parliament, and this, in itself, was certainly desirable. But for the rest it was bound to debase the composition of the Chamber instead of improving it, and this, the more fully it realised what Lassalle expected – i.e., returned a legislative body that should be “the true and faithful image of the people that had elected it.” (Worker’s Programme.) For miserable as the Chamber then was, yet it was at least bourgeois-liberal. Lassalle forgot that the indigent classes, although they may under certain circumstances collectively supply revolutionary troops, are by no means wholly and solely revolutionary classes; he forgot that of the 89 per cent., only a portion as yet consisted of modern proletarians.

If, therefore, it was possible to obtain universal suffrage, it by no means followed that this would bring about, within a measurable time, that which universal suffrage itself again was to be a means of obtaining. Considering the degree of education, political and otherwise, of the great mass of the population, the immediate effect of the suffrage might have been the very opposite. Instead of sending representatives of modern principles to the Chamber, it might have increased the number of representatives of retrogression. Not all Progressists were the opponents, or luke-warm friends of universal suffrage from class-interest. There were among them a large proportion of ideologists, whom the development of events in France had rendered sceptical as to its value. Socialists also thought thus. We need but refer to Rodbertus, who, in his Open Letter to the Leipzig Committee, also points to France as an example that universal suffrage “does not of necessity give the poorer of the State into the hands of the working-class.” It had been said, he goes on, that universal suffrage was to be only a means towards the end, but means “may be used for different ends, and occasionally for the most opposite ones.” “Are you,” he asks, “certain that here the means must of absolute necessity lead to the ends desired by you? I do not think this.” From Lassalle’s letters to Rodbertus it also appears that Rodbertus’s reason for refusing to join the General German Workers’ Association, in spite of Lassalle’s urgent importunities, was almost more due to his opposition to universal suffrage than to his hostile opinion as to the value of the productive associations. [5]

And whatever else one may think of Rodbertus, his motives are unmistakably set forth in the concluding sentences of his letter. He there advises the workers – although Lassalle was right to say such questions were no longer to be discussed – to place the demand for free migration and free choice of calling in their programme as self-understood, in order to warn off as effectually as possible any reactionary who might harm them.

If Rodbertus and others exaggerated the danger of Bonapartism, Lassalle on his side certainly made too light of it. The way in which he actually did, later on, veer round in this direction, was, from the outset, to be expected with his method of reasoning. In this connection a passage in Lassalle’s letter to Marx – from which I have already partly quoted – of the 20th June, 1859, that deals with the Italian war, is very characteristic. Lassalle writes

In the beginning, when the national cry for war against France broke out, and was taken up so passionately everywhere, the Volks Zeitung (Bernstein, in my opinion an arch-reactionary, is its editor) exclaimed triumphantly in a leading article: ‘Would you know what this outcry of all the peoples against France means? Would you understand its world-wide historical import? The emancipation of Germany from the political development of France – that is what it signifies.’ Need I explain in detail to you the ultra -reactionary weaning of this shriek of triumph? Surely not! A popular war against France – and our petty bourgeois democrats, our decentralists, the enemies of all social advance, gain, for a. long, long time, an incalculable increase of power. Even when we are well into the German Revolution, the effect of this tendency would make itself felt. Assuredly we do not need to infuse new strength into this the most dangerous enemy we have – i.e., the German petty-bourgeois individualism, by a bloody antagonism to the Romance – social spirit in its classical form in France.

Thus Lassalle. The editor of the Volks Zeitung, now dead, unquestionably deserved the title Lassalle gives him, in many respects: but least of all, perhaps, on account of the passage quoted by Lassalle. The political development of France was, at that time, Bonapartism, while the party of the Volks Zeitung swore by England as its political model. This was, certainly, very one-sided, but still not reactionary, or only reactionary in as much as it was one-sided. But Lassalle’s conception, which saw in the State centralisation of France a product of the “romance-social” spirit, and identified this with the fundamental idea of Socialism, whilst entirely overlooking its reactionary side, was not less one-sided.

So much for the political side of the Lassallean programme) Let us now consider its economic side.




1. Open Reply Letter to the Central Committee for the Summoning of a General German Workers’ Congress in Leipzig, by Ferdinand Lassalle.

2. Page 7, 1st Edition.

3. We have already, whilst considering his Italian War, seen with what coolness – quite inconsistent with the rôle of “good patriot” Lassalle regarded the reaction of external complications upon internal politics. Very characteristic of this attitude is a passage in his pamphlet Was Nun? This passage should be quoted here because the proposition there set forth by Lassalle, practically admits of only two solutions: either a coup d’état or revolution. Thereupon Lassalle, to show how impossible and untenable would be the foreign diplomatic position of the Prussian Government if his proposition were accepted, proceeds:

Let none of you, gentlemen, imagine this is an unpatriotic argument. The politician, like the naturalist, must, once for all, consider all that is, and must, therefore, take into consideration all active forces. The antagonism of States, their differences, their jealousies, their diplomatic conflicts, are an active force, and whether for good or for ill and must, therefore, be reckoned with. And in addition to this, gentlemen, how often, in the stillness of my chamber, busied with historical studies, have I had occasion to completely realise the great truth – that it is almost impossible for us to conceive in what a condition of barbarism we, and the world generally, would still be plunged, were it not that the jealousy and antagonism of governments have since all time been an effective means for forcing a government to progress internally. But finally, gentlemen, the existence of the German people is not of so precarious a nature that a defeat of their governments would constitute a real menace for the existence of the nation. If, gentlemen, you study history carefully, and with true insight, you will see that the strides in civilisation achieved by our people, are so gigantic and powerful, have been such a guidance and exemplar for the rest of Europe, that there can be absolutely no question of the necessity for and indestructibility of our national existence. So that should we be involved in a great foreign war, it is possible that our individual governments, the Saxon, Prussian, Bavarian, might break down under it, but Phoenix-like there would arise from their allies, indestructible, that which alone can concern us – the German people! (Was Nun?, 1st Ed., pp.33-34.)

These lines contain much that is true, but two facts mast not be lost sight of. First, that important a factor in the progress of nations as the rivalry of governments may have, and undoubtedly has been, it has very frequently acted in the opposite direction, and has proved an obstacle to progress. We have only to call to mind the two phases of the militarism of to-day. Secondly, although a foreign war would not remove a great civilised people from the ranks of the nations, yet it might so seriously affect them in their vital interests, that war is a contingency we may take into consideration, but should not speculate upon. In the passage quoted, Lassalle only does the former, but as its concluding sentence, and his letters show, he was not disinclined towards the latter course also – a not uncommon habit, by the way, but not on that account the less reprehensible.

4. While 3,428,457 persons were employed in agriculture in Prussia at this time, only 766,180 were employed in factory industries, including the business managers and clerks.

5. Originally Rodbertus had said in his Open Letter: “And I repeat that from the productive associations also I expect absolutely nothing, as a contribution to what is called the solution of the social question.” At Lassalle’s request these words were, however, omitted in print, as in matter they were a repetition of what had already been said in the letter, while in this drastic form they necessarily “must discourage the workers, if they saw such marked differences between the leaders.” (Letter of Lassalle to Rodbertus, August 22nd, 1863.)


Last updated on 21.1.2003