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Lassalle (Lassal), Ferdinand

LASSALLE (Lassal), FERDINAND (1825–1864), German Socialist leader. Born in Breslau, Lassalle was the only son of Heyman (Chayim) Lassal, who was trained for a rabbinical career, but became a merchant, a member of the town council, and subsequently a militant adherent of the Jewish Reform movement. Ferdinand Lassalle's diary reveals that as a young man he was precocious and undisciplined, dreaming of leadership, first at the head of the Jews avenging the Damascus massacres of 1840, and later, leading the German democrats at the side of *Boerne and Heine.

Ferdinand Lassalle's interest switched from literature to history and finally to Hegelian philosophy. Leaving school before matriculating, he prepared himself for university. During this period he became for a short time a Young Hegelian intent on converting the members of the enlightened Lernund Leseverein and on using the liberal Reform movement as a means of destroying Orthodox Judaism. Admitted to Breslau University, he switched to Jacobin democratic propaganda which he based on an "activated" but orthodox Hegelianism. In order to avoid expulsion and to widen his horizons he went to Berlin where he soon gathered around him a small circle of followers. During the years 1843 to 1845 Lassalle developed his concept of democratic and industrial Socialism based on the rule of law. In early years he worked for the newspaper of Karl Marx, Neue Rheinische Zeitung. His political and scholarly interests brought him to Paris in the winter of 1845/46 where he met Heinrich *Heine. Lassalle promised Heine legal aid in securing certain pension rights which his family was withholding. Heine withdrew his legal action to avoid public scandal but Lassalle put the legal skills he acquired to effective use, representing Countess Sophie von Hatzfeldt in her dispute with her husband. After a legal action which lasted eight years he secured a divorce and financial settlement for the countess and she rewarded him with a permanent income which ensured him economic independence. For a short time Lassalle took an active part in the 1848 Revolution. He had been arrested early in 1848 after one of his followers illegally seized a suitcase believed to contain important documents connected with the Hatzfeldt case. Lassalle was convicted and was released only some months later. He was rearrested soon afterward at the beginning of the November uprising for inciting violence. His defense at the assizes, which he circulated in pamphlet form under the title Meine Assisen-Rede (1849), was one of the remarkable documents of that abortive revolution. Acquitted on the principal charge, he was nevertheless convicted on a minor charge and sentenced to a further six months' imprisonment. For the next few years Lassalle conducted a lengthy correspondence with *Marx in London. He also helped him to publish his writings, aiding him financially and keeping him informed on German affairs. Marx proposed that Lassalle be invited to join the "Communist League" but the Cologne central committee rejected the proposal because of Lassalle's dubious reputation. Later, however, relations between Marx and Lassalle cooled. A visit to the Balkan countries after the Crimean War and the national stirrings in Italy convinced Lassalle of the potentialities of national uprisings. His readiness to tolerate Napoleon III, his encouragement of nationalism, and his refusal to regard Russian pan-Slavism as the archenemy of revolution, estranged him from Marx. Furthermore, Lassalle's literary productions, Franz von Sickingen (1858), a plea for German unification in drama form; Der italienische Krieg und die Aufgabe Preussens (1859), a battle cry against the Hapsburgs, demanding the dissolution of the Empire; and Fichtes politisches Vermaechtnis (1860), a blueprint for a centralized Germany, were the subject of lengthy literary controversies with Marx, and at the same time enhanced Lassalle's reputation amongst the intellectual elite.

Lassalle's political activity between 1860 and 1862 was confined to his relations with Garibaldi and the left wing of the German "National-Verein." He tried to exploit the constitutional crisis in Prussia for intensive agitation among the workers. During the winter of 1862/63, Lassalle was contacted by a Leipzig committee for a pan-German labor congress and was asked to help counteract the influence of the liberal Schulze-Delitzsch. In his reply Offenes Antwortschreiben an das Central-Comité … (1863), Lassalle advised the workers to agitate for universal suffrage. He believed that a popular parliament would vote state credit for producers' cooperatives, thereby freeing the workers from the grip of the "iron law of wages," the cause of their poverty. Lassalle's proposals were rejected by most of the organized working clubs ("Arbeiterbildungsvereine"), but awakened the interest of the general public to the "social question" and attracted big audiences to his mass meetings. After a speech for the rights of the working class he founded on May 23, 1863, the Allgemeiner deutscher Arbeiterverein (ADAV, General German Workers Association) in Leipzig, to propagate his political ideas. The party, which proved to be the forerunner of the German Social Democratic party, had few members at first and even at Lassalle's death (1864) numbered only 4,000. The ADAV was strictly disciplined, the members accepting a dictatorial and centralized leadership. It indirectly forced the other parties to reform their organizations to counteract the ADAV's "shock tactics." Las salle's pamphlet against liberal economic doctrine (Herr Bastiat Schulze von Delitzsch, 1864) was a crude but effective primer of labor economics. Its slogan of state aid as opposed to individual self-help influenced many socialist party programs even outside the ADAV. Marx privately expressed his misgivings of Lassalle's alleged plagiarism, his dictatorial methods, and his unbalanced propaganda.

Lassalle died of a bullet wound received in a duel at Car-rouge, Geneva. Because the family of his bride-to-be, Helene von Doenniges, rejected him on account of his Jewish origin and his dubious past, Lassalle provoked the duel in order to vindicate his social and political respectability. The Countess Hatzfeldt and Lassalle's followers wanted to make the burial a demonstration but the family objected and he was buried hurriedly in the Jewish cemetery of Breslau.

During the classical period of international Socialism before World War I, Lassalle was honored as one of its principal figures. While Marx and Engels worked mainly abroad Lassalle laid the foundation of the Social Democratic movement in Germany. His career showed him to be a man of extraordinary ability and his writings reveal great depth of thought. His best-known works are Die Philosophie Herakleitos Des Dunklen von Ephesos (1857); Der italienische Krieg und die Aufgabe Preussens (1859); and Das System der erworbenen Rechte (1861). In addition, his pamphlets urging the workers to usher in a new social era reflected the radical policies he advocated, which were too revolutionary for the liberal movement of 19th-century Germany.


D. Footman, The Primrose Path (1946); S. Na'aman, Ferdinand Lassalle, eine neue politische Biographie (1968); T. Ramm, Ferdinand Lassalle als Rechtsund Sozialphilosoph (1953); H. Oncken, Lassalle, eine politische Biographie (1920); G. Mayer, Bismarck und Lassalle (1928); H. Ebeling, Der Begriff "Demokratie" in den sozialistischen Ideologien: Marx, Lassalle, Engels (1964), 62–85, incl. bibl.; E. Silberner, Sozialisten zur Judenfrage (1962), 160–80, index; idem, in: HUCA, 24 (1952/53), 151ff.; B. Andréas, in: Archiv fuer Sozialgeschichte, 3 (1963), 297–412 (bibl. 331–412); E. Rosenbaum, in: YLBI, 9 (1964), 122–30; S. Na'aman, Ferdinand Lassalle, Deutscher und Jude (1968), incl. bibl.; S. Heym, Lassalle (1969). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: T. Ramm, Ferdinand Lassalle (2004).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.