Max Beer 1921

The Literary Remains of Lassalle

Source: Labour Monthly, September 1921, pp. 283-285;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Ferdinand Lassalle. Nachgelassene Briefe und Schriften. Edited by Dr. Gustav Mayer. Vol I. 64 marks. Deutsche Varlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1921.

Lassalle, the founder of the German Working-class Movement in 1863, was killed on August 31, 1864, in a duel near Geneva. His literary remains he bequeathed to his lifelong friend, the Countess Hatzfeldt, the mother of Prince Hatzfeldt, one time German Ambassador in London. The latter, evidently ashamed of the relations of the spirited lady with the famous Socialist agitator, had the papers stowed away in the loft of the family mansion near Wiesbaden, and obstinately refused to surrender them for purposes of publication. Tens of years passed; the Countess and the Prince went the way of all flesh; Lassalle’s extant works were published and re-published; German Social Democracy grew by leaps and hounds; then, in the wake of the Great War, came the upheaval of November, 1918, which appeared to usher in the triumph of Socialism. Gustav Mayer, who, since 1892, had searched and vainly applied for the missing literary remains of Lassalle, tried again, travelled to Wiesbaden, and this time succeeded in obtaining from the Hatzfeldts the coveted boxes with the papers – just a few hours prior to the occupation of Wiesbaden and the Hatzfeldt mansion by the victorious French military. Verily, books have their own adventures!

The first volume has just been published, containing mainly the letters of Lassalle as a student at the Berlin University, 1841-1844. They are of infinite charm to those who enjoy the spectacle of the unfolding of a great personality, as well as of absorbing interest to those who study the beginnings of German Socialism and its rise from Hegelian philosophy. Our admiration for the immense intellectual power of young Lassalle grows progressively with our reading of his letters. He was not precocious; he was a man, a full-grown man, bodily and mentally, at the age of eighteen. His superabundant political energies required a stage of Western European dimensions, while fate riveted him to the narrow, jagged Prussian rock of the ‘forties, which bruised and lacerated him in body and soul the more he pressed against it for freedom and light.

He provoked opposition, courted danger, from sheer delight of having to fight and to overcome it. A born gladiator, he had to interrupt his public-school studies in his Silesian native town, Breslau, and to attend a commercial college at Leipsic, from where he escaped and prepared for his final public-school examination in order to enter the University. He had to fight for his leaving certificate which would entitle him to matriculation. And the Jewish boy bombarded the Prussian Minister of Education with petitions and letters until he obtained what he wanted. He entered the Breslau University in 1841, and soon found himself at the head of the rebellious youth who spread the literature and views of “Young Germany.” In 1842 he removed to the Berlin University and plunged headlong into Hegelian philosophy, the rugged melody of which charmed him, as it had proved, some five years before, irresistible to Karl Marx. He came under the spell of the Hegelian theory concerning the dialectical evolution of Nature and society, and it soon flashed upon his mind that the development of manufacture and commerce marked the preliminary stage to Communism. The letters addressed by him, in the midst of his wrestling day and night with philosophical and social problems, to his father or to his friends, on the interpretation of manufacturing and commercial movements in the light of Hegelian dialectical evolution, betray a highly disciplined and most vigorous intellect. The upheaval of the Silesian weavers in 1844 he interpreted, in one of the letters to his bewildered father, as the “initial movements and convulsions of Communism which, theoretically and practically, fills and permeates our views.”

This first volume intensifies our regret that Marx, while in some contact with Lassalle since 1848, never cordially responded to the overtures of the latter to act together and to assist one another in the work of propagating Communism. It is, of course, true that Lassalle was not a materialist in. the Marxian sense, and that he remained a Hegelian idealist, believing in the parallelism of the evolutionary processes of the Idea and the material world, whereby the Idea was the primary power. Still, Lassalle was ready to learn from Marx, and wooed for his amor intellectualis, but, unfortunately, never succeeded in entering into closer relations with him. The fault lay, in my opinion, largely with Frederick Engels, who prejudiced Marx against Lassalle, as it is plainly evident from the correspondence of Marx and Engels.