Eduard Bernstein

Ferdinand Lassalle

Lassalle as agitator and leader of the Association

IT is impossible, without expanding this sketch into a large volume, to enter into all the details of the Lassalle agitation. I must confine myself rather to indicating the general features of the movement.

The Open Reply Letter for a time only partially produced the effect which Lassalle had promised himself from it. He might well write to his friend Gustav Lewy, at Düsseldorf: “The whole thing reads so easily that it must at once seem to the working-man as if he had known it all for years.” The pamphlet was indeed a masterpiece for agitation; instructive and yet not dry; eloquent without phrase-mongering, full of warmth, and yet written with the most trenchant logic. But – the workers meanwhile did not even read it; only where the soil had already been prepared, did it take root among them. This, as we have already seen, was the case at Leipzig; so, too, at Frankfort-on-the-Maine, in a few of the larger towns and industrial centres of the Rhine, and in Hamburg. To some extent political refugees who had returned had carried on a Socialistic propaganda in a small way, while, to some extent – especially along the Rhine – the traditions of the Socialist propaganda before and during the Revolution of 1848, revived again. But the mass of the workers who took part in the political movement, for a long time yet remained unmoved by this appeal, and looked upon Lassalle in the same way as he was regarded by most of the leaders of the Progressist Party – as a cat’s-paw of the reaction.

For so far as the Progressist Party in Prussia and outside Prussia, is concerned, the Reply Letter had certainly raised a perfect storm – that is, a storm of indignation, of passionate resentment. They lead felt themselves so great, so paramount in their role of knights of the threatened rights of the people – and now, suddenly, from the left, a voice cried out that they had no claim to this title, that they had proved themselves unworthy of the confidence hitherto placed in them by the people, and that, therefore, everyone who really cared for freedom, and especially every working-man, must turn his back upon them. No fighting party will tolerate such an accusation, least of all when it is in such a position as that of the Progressist Party at this time. The feuds between it and the Prussian Government had gradually attained such dimensions that a forcible solution of the conflict seemed well-nigh unavoidable; at any rate; one must be prepared for the worst. To the contention of the Government organs that the Progressist Party had not the people really at their back, they had hitherto been able to reply with contempt and scorn, that the masses, the thoughtful people who cared for politics, were unanimously with them, and confident of this, they had always used more and more threatening language. For though the Progressists might not have a great desire to make a revolution, they were by no means chary of threatening with one. [1]

And precisely at such a moment as this they were to allow a man, who spoke as a democrat, as an opponent of the Government, to reproach them with having betrayed the cause of the people, to look on quietly while this man sought to gather the workers around himself under a new banner? To expect this was to expect the superhuman.

Why, the very sense of self-preservation forced the Progressists to do their utmost to prevent the Lassalle agitation from gaining ground. And subsequent criticism has to do only with the manner of their counter-attack – not with the attack itself. The former was so natural it cannot be considered as a reproach to them but the manner of their counter-attack can only be described in two words – beneath contempt. That they represented Lassalle as a cat’s paw for the reaction, is really the very least they can be reproached with. For after all it cannot be denied that Lassalle’s Reply Letter just then brought grist to the mill of the Prussian Government. But instead of confining themselves to attacking Lassalle where they had a strong case against him, they fastened, for their attack, upon those points where they were weak, and with this proved themselves so impotent, that their helplessness would almost provoke pity – but for the fact that it was accompanied with such colossal self-assertion. To Lassalle’s one-sided concept of the State, they opposed an absolutely ridiculous negation of all the social-political duties of the State. To his theory of the iron law of wages – based as we have seen upon a partial misapprehension – they opposed the feeblest glorification of the bourgeois-capitalist system of competition. In their blind rage they so completely forgot the actual condition of affairs, everything that they themselves had formerly said in regard to the evil effects of capitalist production, that they even justified the exaggerations of Lassalle by the absurdity of their own contentions. From petty-bourgeois opponents of capitalism, Schülze-Delitzsch and Co. suddenly became its panegyrists. We need only compare the passages from Schulze-Delitzsch’s work, published in 1858, quoted earlier in this volume (pp.8, 9), with the statements in his Kapitel zu einem deutschen Arbeiter Katechismus [2] – a collection of six lectures, the later ones of which were meant to annihilate Lassalle critically before the Berlin working-men. While in the former work the helping to cut down the profits of the employer was eulogised as one of the most admirable results of the self-help associations, in the latter Schulze-Delitzsch declared that “science knew nothing of such a thing as employer’s profits,” and consequently, of course, knew nothing of any antagonism between the wages of labour and employer’s profits. They recognised only “(a) wages of enterprise and (b) profits of capital.” (See Schulze-Delitzsch; Kapitel, etc., p.153.) One did not even need to be a Lassalle in order to cope with such “science” as that.

Yet, despite his intellectual superiority, despite his powerful rhetoric, Lassalle was not so successful in his campaign against the Progressists as he expected to be. There was not then the remotest idea of the Open Reply Letter having an effect like that of the Theses Luther nailed to the church door at Wittenberg – an effect which Lassalle, however, as he says in the letter to his friend Lewy, already quoted, had expected.

On the 19th May, 1863, at a public meeting at Frankfort-on-the-Maine, held at the conclusion of the “Maine District Workers’ Congress,” Lassalle, who had attended the Congress, which sat two days, and who delivered a speech of four hours, got a resolution passed pledging those present to do their utmost to start a General German Working-men’s Association on Lassallean lines. Thereupon, on the 23rd May, 1863, the “General German Working-men’s Association” had been formed at Leipzig, when delegates from ten towns (Hamburg, Leipzig, Frankfort-on-the-Maine, Harburg, Cologne, Düsseldorf, Mainz, Elberfeld, Barmen, Solingen), were present, the rules having been drawn up by Lassalle, together with a friend of his, the Democratic Progressist member of Parliament, Ziegler.

In conformity with these rules, the organisation was a strictly centralised one; which was due partly to the German laws affecting association, and partly to the fact that the founding of a General Workers’ Insurance Society had originally been intended. This idea had been dropped, but Lassalle retained the rules that affected himself solely, more especially those which guaranteed the personal prerogatives of, and gave positively dictatorial powers to, the president, who was, into the bargain, to be elected for five years. There were certainly already some signs of opposition to these rules at this first assembly for the foundation of the Association, but in the face of Lassalle’s express wish that the rules should be accepted without alteration, the opposition fell through. By an all but unanimous vote (only one delegate, York from Harburg, voted against him) Lassalle was elected president, and after some hesitation, the assembly having further given him power to elect as often, and for any term of office he chose, a vice-president, he accepted the presidentship. By virtue of this he became the acknowledged leader of the new movement; but for a long time to come the movement was limited to a very small number of adherents. Three months after its foundation the General German Working-men’s Association numbered scarcely 900. In itself this would have been no mean success, but Lassalle had counted upon figures very different from these. He did not want to be the leader of a propagandist society, but the head of a popular movement. Only the masses kept aloof from the new organisation.

Lassalle was a splendid worker. At times he was capable of developing a positively colossal energy; but it was not given to him to do steady, solid, persistent work. The Association was barely six weeks old when the new president started upon a long holiday of many months, first going to Switzerland, and then to the North Sea. It is true that Lassalle was not inactive during his travels. He kept up a lively correspondence, tried to win over all sorts of notabilities to the Association, and was not very particular, in his choice. But the main thing – the agitation among the masses – he left severely alone. Farther, he did not even, strangely enough seek to secure for the Association at least a good weekly organ, although he had the means to do so. He contented himself with the occasional subventioning of small papers -the Nordstern, published in Hamburg, by the old free-lance Bruhn, and the Leipzig Zeitgeist, – by the way a very doubtful organ – edited by the litterateur, Ed.. Löwenthal; subventions which kept these papers for a time above water, but did not prevent them from constantly hovering between life and death.

Like the mass of the workers, most of the advanced Democrats, and middle-class Socialists, whom Lassalle invited to join the Association, kept away from it. A large number of these people were, as I have already pointed out, steeped in philistinism or, at any rate, were on the high road to it; others were prevented by a vague, personal distrust of Lassalle from openly declaring for him, whilst others again thought the time very inopportune for an attack of the left wing upon the Progressists. And even those who did join the Association, for the most part contented themselves with simple membership, and for the rest remained passive.

As a set-off against these, however, other members of the Association, especially those belonging to the working-class, agitated the more energetically, while the secretary of the Association, Julius Vahlteich, showed a positively feverish activity in trying to get new members for the organisation. But their success was by no means commensurate with their efforts. On the one hand the indifference of the still undeveloped masses of the workers, on the other, the all-absorbing interest of the hour – the national movement, together with the constitutional struggle in Prussia – seemed almost insurmountable difficulties. 1n many places, indeed, the members of the Association eagerly discussed the question whether some sort of bait of a non-political nature, as, e.g., the starting of benefit funds, etc., should not be offered in order to attract members.

Lassalle himself was at one time inclined to enter into the discussion of this question – see his letter of the 29th August, 1863, to the secretary of the Association, quoted by B. Becker in his History of the Working Class Agitation, p.83 – but he gave it up again, because he saw that were this done, the character of the Association must necessarily be changed. It would have ceased to provide a political machine always ready to hand, and this was the only valve it had in Lassalle’s eyes.

While still at the Baths, Lassalle had worked out the main ideas of a speech with which he intended recommencing the agitation on his return, – to begin with at the Rhine where the position had proved most favourable to him. This was the speech Die Feste, die Presse, und der Frankfurter Abgeordnetentag. [3] This speech, which Lassalle delivered from the 20th to the 29th September, at Barmen, Solingen, and Düsseldorf, marks the turning point in his agitation. What influences had been brought to bear upon him during the summer months, it would hardly be possible to prove, but we shall not be far wrong in concluding that they were those of the Countess Hatzfeld and her connections. The Countess had, naturally enough, an even greater desire to see Lassalle successful than he himself had; for her all interest in Socialism was completely absorbed in interest in Lassalle, through whom, indeed, she had first become socialistically inclined. Assuredly, also, she was only moved by her great affection for Lassalle, when she urged him on to steps which could only serve to satisfy his personal ambition, and which could not but very seriously compromise the movement itself. But to the Countess the movement was Lassalle, and Lassalle the movement; and she looked at all things from the point of view of what she believed to be Lassalle’s interests. Such disinterested friends are, however, as a rule, of very doubtful value. And when they are into the bargain, by education, social position, etc., warped with special class prejudice, and when they have no independent sphere of action, their co-operation often works more dangerously than poison. They foster all the failings and weaknesses of the object of their love; they constantly work upon his sensibility by calling attention to every injustice apparently done to him; and more bitterly than the injured person himself, do they thirst to be avenged for the injustice done; they hound, they egg on, they intrigue – always with the best intentions – but to the greatest detriment of him whom they mean to serve.

The Countess Hatzfeld was, in her way, an able woman, who, very inferior as she was to Lassalle in knowledge and energy, was yet his superior in experience. Where his passions did not stand in the way, he attached great importance to her advice, – and her advice was doubly effective when it chimed in with his passions. In a letter written to the Countess towards the end of his life, he says to her that, after all, it was really she who had induced him to accept the presidency of the General German Working-men’s Association. This must certainly not be taken literally. Even without the Countess, Lassalle would probably have accepted presidentship. But in such situations one likes especially to let one’s good friends talk one over into doing what one has a mind to, because it seems to lessen one’s responsibility. So the Countess probably soothed Lassalle’s scruples, and it is more than likely that she did this by preferring to call his attention to matters then impending in the higher circles of Prussia. I need but remind my readers of Lassalle’s statement in his defence at the trial for high treason, that from the first day in which he began his agitation, he had known that Prince Bismarck would grant universal suffrage, and his farther statement that when he issued the Open Reply Letter, it was “clear” to him that “great foreign conflicts were imminent, conflicts which would make it impossible to ignore the masses.” It is true that he here tries to represent this as a matter which everyone who was carefully watching events must have known. But from his letters to Marx, we have seen how much he allowed his political acts to be influenced by the “information” given him from “diplomatic sources” as to what was going on in governmental circles.

The Countess had certainly been even more disappointed than Lassalle himself at the slow progress of the General German Working-men’s Association. Led by all the educational influences of her life to trust to the use of intrigue and scheming, she was now also bound to think of attaining by roundabout means what it was difficult to obtain in an open struggle. In this design she found only too ready support in Lassalle’s tendency to win success on which he had once set his mind, at any price, in his reckless temperament and his enormous self-esteem.

In how far the threads by which Lassalle was led to the palace of Prince von Bismarck were already knotted together it is impossible at this time of day to say. But both the words which, as he was preparing his speech, The Fetes, the Press, etc., for print, he addressed to his friend, Lewy, “What I am writing here I am writing for only a few people in Berlin,” and above all the subject-matter of the speech itself prove that at least these threads were being eagerly spun. The speech was interlarded with attacks upon the Progressist Party, which in certain cases were very much exaggerated, while on the contrary, Herr von Bismark is positively flattered. If hitherto the democrat and socialist in Lassalle had always mastered the demagogue in him, here the demagogue masters them both.

In June, 1863, after dismissing the Landtag, the Prussian Government had issued the notorious Press Regulations, which empowered the Government officials, after giving two warnings, to prohibit, “provisionally or permanently,” the further publication of any Prussian newspaper or periodical “for pursuing a line of conduct dangerous to the public weal.” The Liberal press, exclusively in the hands of private individuals, had thereupon, for the most part, preferred to say nothing more whatever about internal politics as long as the Press Regulations were in force. This was certainly anything but bold, but it was not such vile treachery to their own cause as Lassalle represented. Lassalle intentionally overlooked the fact that in issuing the Press Regulations it had been Bismarck’s deliberate intention to ruin the opposition papers that were objectionable to him commercially, in order to replace them with a press of his own, or one more agreeable to himself. In the preamble to the Press Regulations it was distinctly stated:-

The direct counter-effect against the influences of the above (i.e., the Liberal press) – by means of the Conservative press, can only partially attain the desired results, because most of the opposition organs, through long years of habit on the part of the public, and through the commercial side of the said organs, have a circulation which it is not easy to combat.

If, therefore, the Liberal papers did not run the risk of being prohibited, the Government also had no possibility of smuggling other journals into their place, or of stealing their advertisements. The one object of the measure was therefore defeated by this temporary silence on internal politics. And not less did it defeat the second directly political object. In his speech, Lassalle says that if the Liberal press allowed itself to be suppressed, if the Philistine had been unable to get his customary paper at breakfast, the exasperation among the people against the Press Regulations would have grown to such a pitch that the Government would have been obliged to give in. Meanwhile, the exasperation was not the less if the Philistine continued to get his customary morning paper, while its contents daily demonstrated to him that his organ was gagged; when he got his paper, but without the beloved leading article.

Moreover, the Press Regulations were a measure that could not be kept up after the Landtag had assembled. It was a provisional measure, and while it lasted there was no reason whatever why the Liberals should – as Lassalle expresses it – for the love of Bismarck, “die with honour.”

The anger of the Government was, of course, not little, and its organs naturally reflected this anger. Lassalle thus expresses this: “Even(!) the reactionary papers could, at this time, hardly find words to sufficiently express their astonishment and indignation at this attitude.” And as a proof he quotes the Berliner Revue, the organ of tie most reactionary mugwumps. Of course, the reactionaries resorted to the device of hiding their attacks upon the Liberal press beneath a thin socialistic mantle, and pretended to attack it because of its capitalist character. And yet, instead of protesting against this misrepresentation of the Socialist idea, and of repudiating all connection with it, Lassalle actually played up to the Bismarckists by representing their false coin to the workers as pure gold.

Certainly, the fact that the press of to-day is a business concern is a great evil, a mighty factor in the corruption of public life. But, so long as capitalist private property exists, it will scarcely be possible to obviate this – least of all, by restrictive laws. So far as this can be remedied to-day, it can only be by freedom of the press. But of this the Prussian Government would not hear, and Lassalle supported them. For while advocating complete freedom of the press, he at the same time declared that such freedom would be powerless to alter the nature of the press, if, at the same time, the right to publish advertisements were not prohibited. For then the press would cease to be a lucrative business speculation, and only such men would write for the newspapers as were fighting for the well-being and intellectual interests of the people.

Is any particular argument needed to show how absolutely ineffective this remedy would be? Lassalle had only to look beyond the frontiers of the Prussian State, to England and to France, to convince himself of his error. In England, the advertising system formed, and still forms, a very essential source of income to the press; while in France, though the insertion of advertisements in newspapers was not directly prohibited, it was made almost impossible, and was reduced to a minimum, by a very high tax. Was the French press any better on that account than the English? Less at the service of Capitalism, less corrupt than the latter? Not a whit. The absence of advertisements, on the contrary, made it very much easier for Bonaparte to corrupt the press to his own ends, and, on the other hand, it has not prevented the political press of France from rendering far greater service to the big financiers than the political press of England has done.

For all that, Lassalle was, in this portion of his speech at least, touching on a question which must certainly be designated as one of the sores of our modern public life. Even though the time was badly chosen, though the remedy was of problematical value, in itself the fact remains, that the press, with or without advertisements, is becoming more and more a capitalist institution, a cancerous growth to which the attention of the working-class must be called, if they are to free themselves from the influences of the capitalist organs.

But altogether beside the mark was what Lassalle said of the fêtes which the Progressists held in 1863 in defiance of Bismarck. He must have known that the fêtes were nothing but propagandist meetings, but demonstrations against the Government, such as had been held, under like conditions, in France and England. Had he wished to criticise them, he should have shown that by fêtes alone nothing can be done; that if they stopped at these the cause of the people against the Government was not advanced a single step. But instead of doing this he contented himself with repeating the phrases of the Government press on the fêtes, and even exaggerating the scorn beneath which the latter tried to conceal their vexation. No one who is intimately acquainted with the history of the Prussian constitutional struggles of the year 1863 can read this passage of Lassalle’s speech without disapproval.

The third part of the speed, the criticism of the Congress of the German members of Parliament that had met at Frankfort-on-Maine in the summer of 1563, would have been justified if Lassalle, at the very moment when he was reproaching the Progressists for coquetting with the German Princes, in order to frighten Herr von Bismarck – we have seen how in his Open Reply Letter he had twitted them with the “Dogma of Prussian Supremacy” and had represented Prussia as the most reactionary of the German States – it would have been justified if, at the same time, Lassalle had not been playing the same game as the Progressists, only that he was coquetting with the other side. His entire speech does not contain a single word against Bismarck and the Prussian Government, but is full of direct and indirect flattery addressed to them. He represents them as ignoring the resolutions of the Chamber “with the quiet smile of genuine contempt,” and provides Bismarck with the certificate that he is “a man,” while the Progressists were old women. One more passage in the speech bears witness to Lassalle’s change of front.

The leader of the National Verein, Herr von Bennigsen, had closed the Congress with the following words, and it may be as well to recall them once again. “The violence of the Volkspartei, and the hide-bound nature of rulers, had often led to revolutionary upheavals. But the German people were not only unanimous, but also so moderate in their demands, that the German National Party – which desired no revolution, and which could make none – could not be held responsible if after it another party should appear, which, because no reform was any longer possible, should resort to a revolution.”

To any one who can read, this declaration, though a very weak-kneed threat, is yet a threat of a revolution. “We don’t want a revolution – God forbid – we wash our hands of it, but, if you don’t give in, the revolution will come all the same, and then you’ll only have yourselves to thank for it.” A very cowardly way of threatening when you have the whole nation at your back, but, unfortunately, also a very common way of threatening – so common that, as I have said, it is impossible to misunderstand the meaning of the declaration. But what does Lassalle do? He pretends not to have understood the threat, and he makes this pretence not in order to challenge the Progressists to speak out more decidedly, but in order to threaten them in the event of a revolution or a coup d’état. He quotes the above passage from Herr von Bennigsen, and adds the following pronunciameuto: “Let us lift up our arms and pledge ourselves, if this revolution should come about, whether in this way or in that, to remember that the Progressists and members of the National Verein to the last declared they wanted no revolution! Pledge yourselves to do this, raise your hands on high.”

And “the whole meeting raised its hands in great excitement,” we are told in the report of the speech – which Lassalle himself edited.

What did this threat, this “remembering,” mean? It was almost impossible to explain otherwise than that the Progressists were to be, if not directly attached, yet left in the lurch in the event of a violent conflict arising “in this way or in that.” But such a threat, and at such a moment, could have but one result – instead of forcing the Progressists forward, to make them yet more pusillanimous.

At a meeting at Solingen there was a bloody conflict. A number of Progressists, who had attempted to interrupt Lassalle, were attacked with knives by some of his fanatical adherents. In consequence of this, the Burgomaster, half an hour later, dissolved the meeting. Thereupon Lassalle followed by a cheering crowd, hurried to the telegraph office, and sent off to Bismarck the well-known telegram, beginning with the words: “Progressist Burgomaster has just, at the head of ten gendarmes armed with bayonets, and several policemen with drawn swords, dissolved a working-men’s meeting called by me, without any legal justification;” and ending, “I ask for the severest, promptest, legal satisfaction.”

Even taking into consideration everything that is to be said in Lassalle’s excuse – his bitterness about the repeated attacks upon him by the Progressists, his disappointment at the comparatively small success of his agitation, his profound distaste for the cowardly tactics of the Progressists, his one-sided but still sincere antagonism to the liberal economic doctrines – in short, however much we may try to put ourselves in his place at this time, still one thing unquestionably results from this telegram, taken in connection with the speech described above – that when Lassalle returned to Germany he had already lost his mental anchorage, had lost, if I may so say, his standpoint. No conservative would have been forgiven such a telegram; far less a man who had been proud to call himself a revolutionist, and who certainly, in his heart, still believed himself to be one. If no other considerations did, the simplest feeling of tact should have prevented Lassalle from making an appeal for State-force, that began with a political denunciation.

And even were it possible to excuse this telegram on the ground of his excitement at the breaking up of the meeting, other steps soon followed, undertaken with the coolest deliberation, which were as diametrically opposed to the political principle which Lassalle claimed to represent. Here, but one example, one which is, moreover, closely connected with the events to which I have referred.

Some working-men, who were said to have used their knives at the Soling en meeting, were, in the spring of 1884, condemned to several months’ imprisonment. And it was Lassalle, who in all seriousness, and repeatedly, suggested that the condemned men, supported by a general address of the working-classes, should present a petition for mercy to the King of Prussia. Think of the Lassalle, who only a few years before (see page 57 of this volume) had written that it was only in Berlin that to his grief he had seen “how little the people in Prussia were dismonarchied;” who at Frankfort-on-Maine had exclaimed: “I have no desire and no call to speak to any others than to Democrats”; he, whose duty as leader of the new movement it especially was to set his followers the example of democratic dignity, urged them to beg for mercy from the King of Prussia. However, the workers proved themselves more tactful in this case than their leader. On the 20th April, 1864, the Solingen delegate of the workmen, Klings, announced that there was a general objection to Lassalle’s proposal. All the chief members of the Association had declared against it. “The two from here who have been condemned belong to the most outspoken Working-men’s Party, and even if the sentence were four years, it would be impossible to induce them to present a petition for mercy, because it goes against their convictions to be indebted to His Majesty.”

This opposition awoke Lassalle’s democratic conscience, and he wrote to Klings that the refusal of the people filled him with great pride. He did not yet, however, give up his idea of an address to the King, but tried to prove that even without the petition for mercy from the condemned men, this might be very advantageous. “Perhaps, too,” he actually writes, “the following advantage might ensue, that if the address were signed by many thousands of workers, this step might be so interpreted in the highest circles – without at all binding us – that they would feel the more encouraged, on the next opportunity, to proceed with the introduction of universal and direct suffrage: a step which, as the accompanying leader from the ministerial organ (Nord-deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung) shows, they are just now again considering.” However, even this prospect was unable to convince the Solingen workers of the fitness of the step recommended, and so the movement was spared this humiliation.

When, in the beginning of October, 1863, Lassalle returned to Berlin, he set about winning over the capital to his cause with the utmost zeal. He drew up an appeal To the Workers of Berlin, of which he published 16,000 copies, a portion of which he had distributed gratis among the working-men of Berlin.

Although the appeal was very effectively written, and the connecting of it with the garbled reports of the Rhenish meetings in the Berlin Progressist press (Volks-Zeitung and Reform) able, yet its success was at first a very modest one. Lassalle was unable to hold any large meeting without its being broken up by the Progressists; and when, at one of his meetings by order of the Berlin authorities, Lassalle was arrested, some working-men actually applauded. And even those who, under the effect of Lassalle’s lectures and writings, had their no in the books of the Association, soon dropped out again so that the Association, which, in the beginning of December in Berlin had over 200 members, in February, counted barely three dozen, the greater number of whom, moreover, were not working-men.

Besides the agitation, Lassalle was much occupied with his lawsuits and other conflicts with the authorities. For however agreeable his agitation, so far as it was directed against the Progressist Party might be to the Bismarck ministry, this yet knew well enough that it had not in Lassalle a supporter who would allow himself to be used as a complaisant tool. It could only be agreeable to the ministry, therefore, if the lower officials continued to overwhelm Lassalle with prosecutions, etc. By this means the ministry was in a position either, at the right time, to get rid of an obnoxious firebrand, or, perhaps, even to “bring him to his knees” after all. However this may be, the Düsseldorf Public Prosecutor had the speech The Fetes, the Press, etc., confiscated and brought a charge against Lassalle of violating Secs 100 and 101 of the Prussian Code [Inciting to disorder and false statements, with the intention of discrediting regulations of the authorities]. The prosecution caused Lassalle infinite worry and after a sentence of one year’s imprisonment pronounced in contumaciam by the first court, ended, after his appeal to a higher court, in a sentence of six months’ imprisonment. For the pamphlet To the Berlin Workers, the Berlin authorities brought a charge of high treason against Lassalle, and, as I have already mentioned, had him arrested, when, however, he was liberated on bail. It is possible that both the charge and the preliminary arrest may have been due to the personal spite of the Attorney, Von Schelling, whom Lassalle had so belaboured a year before at his trial before the Stadtgericht. At the trial that took place on the 12th March, 1864, before the Stadtgericht of Berlin, the Public Prosecutor asked no less than that Lassalle should be sentenced to three years’ penal servitude and five years’ police surveillance. The Court, however, so far as the charge of high treason was concerned, dismissed the case, and referred the minor charges of breaches of the Code, brought by the authorities, to the Courts competent to deal with them.

Lassalle’s speech in his defence at this trial is an important document for the history of his agitation. Before considering it, however, a big socio-political work of Lassalle’s must be mentioned. It was published at the end of January; 1864, and must rank as his foremost work in the way of agitation. This is his polemic Herr Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch, der Ökonomische Julian, oder Kapital and Arbeit. [4]

I have already referred, in passing, to the lectures delivered in the spring of 1863 by Herr Schulze-Delitzsch to the Berlin Working-men’s Association, and published under the title Kapitel zu einem deutschen Arbeiter Katechismus, as a counterblast to the Lassallean agitation. These lectures, a re-hash of the tritest commonplaces of liberal political economy, provided Lassalle with a welcome opportunity for annihilating – theoretically – Herr Schulze-Delitzsch, and with him the party which revered him as their economic hero. If we bear in mind that Lassalle had never been able to do any systematic economic work, and that at the very time when he wished to set about the preliminary studies for his book on economics he was prevented from doing so by his practical agitation; if, further, we bear in mind that while Lassalle was writing the Bastiat-Schulze, he was constantly interrupted by his lawsuits, and the labour of managing the Association, one cannot but see in this book a fresh proof of the extraordinary talent, the marvellous versatility and elasticity of Lassalle’s mind. It is true that the Bastiat-Schulze at the same time bears traces of the conditions under which it was written. However much the popularity of the pamphlet is helped by its polemical form, the circumstances under which this controversy arose – the extreme irritation of Lassalle, that was all the greater because he felt keenly that he was placing himself iu a more and more false position, his disillusions on the one hand, and his efforts on the other, to blind himself as to these disillusions – were fatal to the tone of the polemic. But intrinsically, too, the work is by no means always up to the level of its subject; it, frequently degenerates into small verbal quibbling, which, moreover, is not always accurate. [5] Then, too, the fundamental and theoretical part of the work, brilliant as it is in many points, is not free from contradictions. Taken all in all, however, the Bastiat-Schulze has still the great merit of having largely advanced the historical sense, and the understanding of the deeper problems of political economy amongst the German workers. In parts the presentation rises to the height of the best writings of Lassalle, and in these passages his genius appears once again in its most brilliant light.




1. I can still remember thin period very well although I was only a schoolboy; my first political impressions date from it. In school, in the playground – everywhere – in those days we talked politics, and, of course, we boys only repeated in our own way what we heard at home, in our surroundings. My class-mates belonged to the middle-class; my playfellows to the proletariat; but the former were as convinced as the latter that a revolution “must come,” for “my father says so, too.” Every expression of the Progressist leaders that could be construed into a reference to the revolution, was triumphantly passed from mouth to mouth; so, too, the satirical verses on the King and his ministers, etc.

2. Chapter towards a German Workers’ Catechism.

3. The Fetes, the Press, and the Frankfort Congress of Members of Parliament.

4. Herr Bastiat-Schulze von Delitzsch, the Julian of Economy, or Capital and Labour.

5. Thus, e.g., Lassalle’s first objection against “Schulze-Delitzsch,” that “wants” and the “impulse to satisfy wants,” were only “two different expressions for the same thing,” is incorrect. Both, as a rule, coincide, but are by no means the same thing. A few pages later on Lassalle makes fun of Schulze-Delitzsch because the latter sees the difference between human and animal labour in this – that the former labour provides for future wants. He himself, however, falls into the still greater error of seeing the difference only in this, that man works consciously, and the animal without any such consciousness. And so in many other passages.


Last updated on 21.1.2003