Eduard Bernstein

Ferdinand Lassalle

Lassalle and the Italian War

In the beginning of 1859, Franz von Sickingen appeared as a printed play. At the time of its publication Europe was on the eve of a war which was to react seriously upon the development of affairs in Germany. It was that Franco-Sardinian campaign, already agreed upon in the summer of 1858, at Plombières, between Louis Napoleon, and Cavour, for the freeing of Lombardy from Austrian rule, and the overthrowing of Austrian supremacy in central Italy.

Austria, at this time, belonged to the German Confederation, and so the question as to what attitude the rest of the Confederate States should assume in this contest was naturally raised. Was it the duty of the rest of Germany or not, especially as opposed to France, to identify itself with Austria?

The answer to the question was rendered the more difficult in that the nature of the war was an equivocal one. For the Italians concerned in it, it was a national war of emancipation, which was to help the cause of the unification and emancipation of Italy a step forward. For France, on the other hand, it was a cabinet war – a war undertaken to bolster up the Bonapartist regime in France, and to enhance the authority of France in Europe. This much, at ally rate, was certain. Moreover, it was common talk that Napoleon had driven a pretty bargain with his ally, the King of Sardinia, that his support was to be paid for in territory (Nice and Savoy), and that the unification of Italy should, at that time, only proceed so far as was compatible with the interests of Bonapartist Imperialism. It was on these grounds that, e.g., so impassioned an Italian patriot as Mazzini denounced, even at the end of 1858, the secret treaty concluded at Plombières between Napoleon and Cavour as a mere dynastic intrigue. This much, at least, was certain, that whoever supported this war, was first of all supporting Napoleon III and his plans.

But Napoleon III needed support. Against Austria alone, he could, in league with Sardinia, wage war, but if the other states of the German Empire, and above all, if Prussia went to the aid of Austria, the affair became at once much more critical. And so, through his agents and his emissaries, he used every means at the German courts, in the German press, and with the German party leaders, to agitate against the war being treated as a matter that in any way concerned Germany. What possible interest could the German people have in upholding the despotism of Austria in Italy, or, indeed, in lending any support to so arch-reactionary a state as Austria? Austria was the sworn foe of the freedom of the peoples; if Austria were crashed, a fairer morning would dawn for Germany also.

On the other side, Austrian writers demonstrated that, if the Napoleonic plans in the South were realised, the Rhine would straightway be in danger. The next attack would be directed against it. Whoever wished to protect the left bank of the Rhine against the greedy hands of Prance, must assist Austria in maintaining her military position in northern Italy unhampered; the Rhine must be defended on the Po.

The watchword of the Napoleonic emissaries coincided in many essential points with the programme of the Kleindeutsch party (the unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia, and the expulsion of Austria from the German Confederation), and was on exactly the same lines. Nevertheless, a large number of Kleindeutsch politicians could not make up their minds, just at this juncture, to separate the cause of Austria from that of the rest of Germany. This seemed to them the less admissible, since it was also known that Napoleon was carrying oil the war in collusion with the Government of the Tzar at St. Petersburg; that this war, therefore, had the farther aim to aid and abet Russian intrigues in the south-east of Europe. They inclined far more to the opinion that the first thing to be done now was to repel Napoleon’s attack. Only when this had been done could they discuss the matter further. But until this was done the Italians, so long as they fought under the aegis of Napoleon, must put lip with being treated simply as his confederates.

Now, it cannot be denied that, from the Kleindeutsch standpoint, another view of the situation might also have been arrived at, and that which has just been set forth deemed inconsequent. If Austria, and especially its extra-German possessions, were to be expelled – and that the sooner the better – from the German Confederation, why not gladly welcome an event which was a step towards the realising of this programme? Had not Napoleon declared he was fighting only Austria and not Germany? Why, then, support Austria against France, especially as doing this also entailed war against the Italians, who surely were fighting for the justest cause in the world? Why defend the Rhine before it was attacked, before there was even a hint that any attack was intended? Why not rather turn the difficulty of Austria and Napoleon’s manoeuvres in Italy to account in furthering the cause of the unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia, and that by positive methods?

To this – I repeat – from the Kleindeutsch standpoint, logical policy, Lassalle gives expression in his work published at the end of May, 1859: Der Italienischer Krieg and die Aufgabe Preussens. [1] With great energy he combats the view advocated in the two Berlin organs of North German Liberalism, the National Zeitung and the Volks Zeitung – in the former, among others, by Lassalle’s subsequent friend, Lothar Bucher – that, in face of an attack emanating from Bonaparte, Prussia, as a member of the Confederacy, must stand by Austria. Lassalle, on the contrary, demanded that Prussia should seize upon this moment to impress upon the Kleindeutsch states its German supremacy, and, if Napoleon reconstructed the map of Europe in the south on the principle of nationalities, to do the same, in the name of Germany, in the north; and if he liberated Italy, Prussia on its side should seize Schleswig-Holstein. The moment had now come, “while the decay of Austria was proceeding of itself, to provide for the raising of Prussia in the estimation of the Germans.” And, he adds in conclusion, “the Government may be assured of this. In this war, which is of as vital interest to the German people as it is to Prussia, the German democracy itself would carry the standard of Prussia; would sweep all obstacles from its path with an expansive force of which only a seething outburst of national passion is capable; a passion which, crushed down for fifty years, stirs and palpitates in the heart of a great people.”

On the strength of this pamphlet, attempts were subsequently made to stamp Lassalle as all advocate of the “German” policy of Bismarck, and it cannot be denied that the national programme set forth in it bears as such a great resemblance to that of the National Club founded in the sunnier of 1859, and, in the same way, mutatis mutandis, to the policy pursued by Bismarck in bringing about the unification of Germany under the leadership of Prussia. But then Lassalle, for all his theoretical radicalism, was still in practice pretty much imbued with Prussian Jingoism. Not that he was a narrow Prussian “Particularist” – we shall soon see how far removed he was from that – but essentially he looked at the national movement, and its relations to foreign policy, through the spectacles of a Prussian democrat. Iii this respect his hatred of Austria was just as exaggerated as the Prussophobia of many South German democrats, and even many, Socialists. For him Austria is the most dangerous state concept in regard to all culture that Europe can show; “he would “like to know the negro who placed by the side of Austria, would not seem white;” Austria is “a reactionary principle;” “the most dangerous enemy of all ideas of freedom;” “the state-concept Austria must be crushed, destroyed, torn to shreds, annihilated – scattered to the four winds.” Every political infamy with which Napoleon III. might be reproached, Austria .also has upon its conscience. And, “if the reckoning were otherwise pretty equal, yet, despite iris patronage of the priests, Louis Napoleon has not signed the Roman Concordat.” Even Russia fares better than Austria. “Russia is naturally an empire of barbaric force, which its despotic Government is trying to civilise as far as is compatible with its despotic, interests. Barbarism has here the excuse that it is a national element.” It is altogether otherwise with Austria. “Here the Government, in opposition to its peoples, represents a barbaric principle, and artificially and violently crushes them beneath its yoke.”

In this one-sided and relatively - i.e., relatively if we compare it with other states – exaggerated blackening of Austria, and also in many other points, Lassalle’s pamphlet is at one with a work which had appeared a few weeks earlier, the drift of which was also to exhort the Germans to leave Napoleon, so long as he played the part of Liberator, a free hand in Italy, and to applaud the annihilation of Austria. This work was the notorious one of Herr Karl Vogt: Studien zur gegenwärtigen Lage Europa’s [2], a shameless piece of hack work, strung together in the Bonapartist interest. I should have hesitated to quote this work in connection with Lassalle’s, were Lassalle not so entirely above all suspicion of complicity with Vogt and his crew, that it is impossible to place him in a false light by a comparison, which on theoretical grounds seems to me necessary, of these works. But farther, I shall now quote a passage from the preface to the Herr Vogt of Karl Marx, the work which proved that Vogt was at this time writing and agitating in the interest of Bonaparte, proofs which were substantiated nine years later by documents found at the Tuileries. This passage fits in here because it indubitably refers to Lassalle. Marx writes: “Men who even before 1848 were in accord that the independence of Poland, Hungary and Italy, was not only a right of those nations, but was also in the interests of Germany and of Europe, expressed altogether contradictory views with regard to the policy to be pursued against Louis Bonaparte by Germany on the occasion of the Italian war of 1859. This contradiction arose from contradictory views as to actual assumptions-to decide between which must be left to a later time. I, for my part, have in this work only to do with the opinions of Vogt and his clique. Even the opinion which he professed to represent, and in the imagination of a number of uncritical persons did represent, does not, in point of fact, come within the scope of my criticism. I deal with the opinions which he really represented.” [3]

In spite of this, it was naturally unavoidable that where Vogt used arguments which also occur in Lassalle, the latter is also criticised in Marx’ work. This, however, did not prevent Lassalle from declaring in a letter to Marx, dated 19th January, 1861, that after reading Herr Vogt, he thought Marx’ conviction that Vogt was bribed by Bonaparte, “perfectly right and justifiable,” while the internal proof of this – that Vogt was a somewhat doubtful personage, Lassalle, who originally defended Vogt, had admitted earlier – was “supported by an immense weight of evidence.” The book was “in every respect a masterly thing.”

At any rate, Herr Vogt is an extremely instructive book for the understanding of the history of the nineteenth century. This pamphlet contains a mass of historical material that would suffice to furnish forth a dozen essays.

But from our point of view it has also a special interest.

The correspondence between Marx and Lassalle was at no time so active as in the years 1859 and 1860, and a large portion of it deals with this Italian war and the attitude to be taken in regard to it. Whether the letters of Marx to Lassalle on this subject are still in existence, and if so, in whose hands they are, is not at present known, nor whether their present owner is prepared to publish them.

From Lassalle’s letters, however, the attitude taken by Marx at this time can only be imperfectly gathered, and still less the reasons for it, since Lassalle, quite naturally, confines himself chiefly to explaining his own standpoint, and refuting, as far as possible, the objections to it. But no further explanation is necessary to explain why, in a work on Lassalle, written for Socialists, not only his personal relations to the founders of modern scientific Socialism, but also his relation to their theoretical teaching and their treatment of social and political questions are of especial interest.

The literati of the day have, as we all know, a cut and dried formula as to this relation. As to politics, in the narrower sense, it runs thus: Lassalle was national; Marx and Engels were and are international; Lassalle was a German patriot; Marx and Engels were and are without fatherland, they ever cared only for the Universal Republic and the Revolution; what became of Germany was a matter of indifference to them.

I regret that there is a bitter disillusion in store for the inventors of this formula and those who repeat it.

Even before Lassalle’s. Italienischer Krieg (Italian War) appeared, the same publishers had issued another pamphlet, dealing with the same subject. It was entitled Po und Rhein (The Po and the Rhine). Like the first edition of Lassalle’s work, it appeared anonymously. The author sought to prove, from the military point of view, that the watchword given by the organs of the Austrian Government, that Germany needed the Italian provinces for its defence in the south-west, was false; that without these provinces Germany still had a strong defensive position in the Alps. This would be especially the case so soon as a free and united Italy had been created, since Italy would hardly be likely ever to have any valid reason for quarrelling with Germany, but might often enough have cause to seek a German alliance against France. Northern Italy was an appanage which at the very most might be useful to Germany in war, but could only be a danger in times of peace. And even the military advantage in a war would be bought at the price of the sworn enmity of 25 million Italians. But, the author then continued, the question of the possession of these provinces is one between Germany and Italy, and not between Austria and Louis Napoleon. Face to face with a third factor, a Napoleon, who interfered only to further his own, in other respects anti-German, interests, it was simply a question of a province that one only cedes under compulsion, of a military position one only evacuates when it is no longer tenable. “If we are attacked we shall defend ourselves.” If Napoleon wanted to pose as the paladin of Italian Independence, let him begin at home, and restore Corsica to the Italians. Then it might be seen how far he was in earnest. But if the map of Europe is to be revised, “then we Germans have the right to demand that it shall be done thoroughly and impartially; that it shall not be after the approved fashion of demanding that Germany alone should make sacrifices.” “But the final result of this whole investigation,” the pamphlet concludes, “is that we Germans would be driving an excellent bargain if we exchanged the Po, the Mincio, the Etsch, and the whole Italian bag of tricks for the UNITY of Germany, which alone can make us strong at home and abroad.”

The writer of this pamphlet was no other than – Frederick Engels. Needless to say that Engels had published it in agreement with Karl Marx. Lassalle had found a publisher for it. And Lassalle had also, as appears from one of his letters, reviewed it in the Vienna Free Press, at that time still an independent organ, whose editor was a relative of his. So he was quite familiar with its contents when he wrote his Italian War, and therefore opposes it when he combats its conclusion that, as Napoleon’s leadership transformed the war from a war of independence into an enterprise directed against Germany, which must, of necessity, end in an attack upon the Rhine, Germans must treat it as such. On the other hand, as I have already said, Lassalle’s work was also criticised in the criticism of Herr Vogt [4], in part V. 14, Dâ-dâ Vogt and his Studies.

How strikingly Lassalle’s arguments frequently coincided with those of Vogt one example will show. On the side of Austria the treaties of 1815 had been referred to, by which the possession of Lombardy had been guaranteed to Austria. To this Vogt and

Lassalle reply as follows:-


It is remarkable to find such language in the mouth of the only Government” (the italics are Vogt’s) “which has, so far, impudently violated the treaties. All other Governments have, so far, respected them; Austria alone has violated them, by stretching out in the midst of peace, and without any provocation, its wanton hand against the Republic of Cracow, protected by these same treaties; and, without more ado, incorporating it with the Austrian Empire. (Studien, 1st Ed., p.58.)


The treaties of 1815 could no longer, even from the diplomatic point of view, be appealed to. Seriously violated by the creation of the Belgian Constitution, trodden under feet and torn to shreds by this same Austria, through the forcible occupation of Cracow, against which the Cabinets of Europe did not fail to protest, they have lost all righteous validity for every member of the European state family. (Italienischer Krieg, 1st Ed., p.18.)

Now, let us hear Marx against Vogt: “Nicolas, of course, destroyed the Constitution and Independence of the Kingdom of Poland, guaranteed by the Treaties of 1815, out of ‘respect’ for the Treaties of 1815. Russia respected the integrity of Cracow in no less degree when, in the year 1831, it invested the Free City with Muscovite troops. In the year 1836 Cracow was again invested by Russia, Austria, and Prussia; was in all respects treated as a conquered country; and even in the year 1840, on the strength of the Treaties of 1815, appealed in vain to England and to France. Finally, on the 22nd February, 1846, the Russians, Austrians, and Prussians once more invested Cracow, in order to laud it over to Austria. The treaty was violated by the THREE NORTHERN powers, and the Austrian Confiscation of 1846 was only the last word of the Russian entry of 1831.” (Herr Vogt, pp.73, 74.) Further, in a note, Marx refers to his pamphlet, Palmerston and Poland, in which he had shown that Palmerston, since 1831, had also had a hand in the intrigues against Cracow. This, however, is a question which has no special interest for us here, but it is of interest to note another matter demonstrated by Marx: that Vogt, in referring to the example of Cracow, was again only repeating and paraphrasing an argument advanced by the Bonapartists. In a Bonapartist pamphlet, published at Paris in the beginning of 1859, by Dentu La vraie question – France, Italie, Autriche (The real question – France, Italy, Austria) – it was said literally: “Moreover, with what right could the Austrian Government appeal to the inviolability of the treaties of 1815, that Government which violated them by the confiscation of Cracow, whose independence these treaties had guaranteed?” After the true sycophant method, Vogt had everywhere played an extra trump. Such catch words as “the only Government,” “in impudent fashion,” “wanton hand,” are his stock-in-trade. And so, too, when at the end of the passage quoted above he pathetically invokes a “political Nemesis against Austria.”

Lassalle, when he wrote his pamphlet, had not yet seen Vogt’s production; but that his work was influenced by the “cries” set going by Bonaparte, and repeated through a thousand channels in the press at home and abroad, the above quotation, to which a whole series of others of the same kind might be added, leaves no doubt. When the National Liberal Bismarck worshippers to-day claim that the policy of their idol was sanctioned even by Lassalle, they are overlooking only one fact: that the programme proposed to the Prussian Government by Lassalle, in whatever sense Lassalle himself meant it, was to all intents and purposes the same as the programme which Bonaparte was then trying to palm off upon the German patriots, in order to win them over to his temporary policy. All the “prophecies” in the Italienischer Krieg, which to-day excite the admiration of the Brandeses, etc., are also to be found in Vogt’s “Studies,” and in a whole series of other Bonapartist pamphlets. Yes, Herr Vogt knew, even as early as 1859 – before the re-organisation of the Prussian army – that should Prussia stir up a German civil war, for the re-establishment of a unified central power, this war “would not last as many weeks as the Italian campaign would months.” [5] Moreover, Vogt, who was “in the swim,” was really better informed on many points than Lassalle, a fact which should be distinctly noted to Lassalle’s honour. Vogt, e.g., knew perfectly that the Berlin Cabinet would leave Austria in the lurch. According to him, it must be clear even to the “most short-sighted person,” that “an understanding existed between the Prussian Government and the Imperial Government of France, that Prussia would not draw the sword in defence of the extra-German Provinces of Austria . . that Prussia. would prevent any attempt of the Confederation or the individual members of the Confederation on behalf of Austria in order to receive its wage for these efforts, in North German lowlands.” [6] More predictions cannot really be expected from a prophet.

Lassalle, on the other haul, seems, just at this time, to have been very inadequately advised of the intentions of the Berlin Cabinet by his informants. “My pamphlet, Der Italienischer Krieg and die Aufgabe Preussens (The Italian War and the Mission of Prussia),” he writes, on the 27th May, to Marx and Engels, “will have reached you. I don’t know if you over there read enough German papers to see from them, at least approximately, what the feeling here is. Absolute Franco-phobia, hatred of France (Napoleon only the pretext, the revolutionary development of France the real, secret reason), that is the string on which all the, papers here are harping, and the passion which by playing upon the national sentiment they are trying – unhappily with some success – to instil into the heart of the lower classes and democratic circles. Useful as a war against France, undertaken by the Government against the will of the people would be for our revolutionary development, just so dangerous must be the effect upon our democratic development of a war supported by blind popular enthusiasm. And besides other reasons adduced under this head in the 6th chapter of my pamphlet there is this: that they are already allowing the rift that divides us from our Governments to be entirely and completely closed. In the face of so menacing a danger, I felt it my duty to throw myself into the broach ... Of course, I am not for a single moment deluding myself into a belief that the Government could or would take the way proposed under Section III. On the contrary! But I felt all the more bound to make this proposal, because it at once turns to a reproach. It may act as a sea-wall, against which the waves of this false popularity are beginning to break.

From this it appears that Lassalle, in writing his pamphlet, was more anxious to forward the revolutionary than the national movement – to subordinate the latter to the former. The idea in itself was right enough. The only question was whether the means were right; whether these must not force the national movement – as to which, for the time being, there was absolutely no difference of opinion between Lassalle on the one hand, and Marx and Engels on the other – into a wrong path. Marx and Engels were of opinion that the first thing to do was to counteract the manoeuvres directed against Germany as a whole, by the common action of all Germans, and at a time when such a plot was brewing, not. to support, even apparently, a policy which must lead to the dismemberment of Germany. The difference of opinion between them and Lassalle on this question was mainly due to the fact that whilst they regarded the question from its wider historical and international side, Lassalle was influenced rather by the immediate relation of Germany’s internal politics. Hence, too, arose the contradiction that while he strongly marked off the difference between the people and the Government of France, he identified Austria with the house of Habsburg, and proclaimed the destruction of Austria, when surely only the destruction of the Habsburg régime was involved.

In one of his letters to the well-known and remarkable Economist Rodbertus, Lassalle quotes a passage from a letter written by Rodbertus to himself: “And I yet hope to see the tune when the heritage of Turkey shall have fallen to Germany, and when German soldiers, or Workers’ regiments, are established on the Bosphorus.” And to this Lassalle says: “It moved me strangely when, in your last letter, I read these words. For how often have I – in vain – pleaded for this very view against my intimate friends, and had to put up with being called a dreamer by them for my pains! All the putting off of the Eastern question that has been taken up so many times since 1839, has, to me, always seemed reasonable and logical, only because it must be put off until its natural reversioner, the German Revolution, solves it. We seem to have come into the world as spiritual Siamese twins.” [7]

How Germany was to enter into the Turkish heritage, after Austria had first been “annihilated,” and Hungary and the Slav States torn from Austro-Germany [8] is difficult to understand.

Another passage from Lassalle’s letters to Rodbertus fits in here: “If there is one thing I have hated in my life, it is the Kleindeutsch Party. Everything Kleindeutsch is Gothaism und Gagerism [9], and pure cowardice. A year and a half ago, I held a meeting here of my friends, when I formulated the matter thus; We must all will for a united Germany, moins les dynasties. I have never written a line in my life that could be counted to the good of the Kleindeutsch Party; I consider it as the product of sheer dread of earnestness, war, revolution, the republic, and as a good slice of national treason.” [10]

It is evident that if Lassalle had been in earnest over the National Programme as set forth by him in The Italian War, it would have been impossible for him to have written the above lines, for that programme was most certainly a Kleindeutsch one. He was rather only using it as it seemed to him expedient for his much more advanced political aims, and for brining about the Revolution which was to solve the national question in the “greater” German sense. In his letters, following that of the 27th May, 1859, to Marx and Engels, he expresses himself more and more explicitly in this sense. Space forbids my giving more than certain parts and short résumés of Lassalle’s very lengthy letters.

About the 20th June, 1859 (Lassalle’s letters are very often undated, so that the date has to be determined from the context), Lassalle writes to Marx:

Only in a popular war against France ... do I see a misfortune. But in a war unpopular with the nation, immense benefit for the Revolution ... The work then divides itself thus; our Governments must make the war (and they will do this), and we must make it unpopular ... You [11] over there, absent from here ten years, seem to have no idea how little dis-monarchied our people is. I also only understood it, to my sorrow, at Berlin ... now, if in addition to this, the people were induced to believe that the Government was conducting the war as a national one, that it had risen to the height of a national act, you would see how complete the reconciliation world be, and how, especially in case of reverses, the bond of ‘German fidelity’ would bind the people to its Government ... The following, then, is evidently to our interest

1. That the war be made. (This, as already said, our Government will look after itself.) All the information I get from a reliable source bears out that the Prince is on the point of declaring for Austria. [The “reliable” source to which Lassalle here refers seems to have mystified him badly.]

2. That it (the war) shall be mismanaged. This, too, our Governments will themselves look after, and this the more completely, the less the people are interested in the war.

3. That the people shall be convinced that the war has been undertaken in an anti-popular, in a dynastic, and counterrevolutionary sense, therefore against their interests. This only we can look after, and to look after that is therefore our duty.

Lassalle then goes into the question, what end could be served by “wishing to stir up a popular war amongst us against France? “But here also there are two considerations which he accepts as conclusive. (1) The reaction upon the prospects of the revolutionary parties at home and abroad; and (2) the reaction upon the relations of the German Democracy to the French and Italian Democracies. The interests of Germany as a nation he does not touch upon at all. To the reproach that he was recommending the same policy as Vogt, who was writing in the pay of France, he answers: “Would you reduce me on account of the bad company I keep ad absurdem? Then I might return you the compliment, for you have the misfortune to be of one mind, this time, with Venedey and Waldeck.” Then he boasts that his pamphlet has had an “immense” effect; that the Volks Zeitung and the National Zeitung had sounded a retreat; the latter “in a series of six leading articles, having executed a complete face about.” Strange that Lassalle should never have asked himself why these organs of the Kleindeutsch school allowed themselves to be so readily converted!

In a letter to Marx in the middle of July, 1859 – after Villafranca – he says: “It goes without saying that between us it was not principles, but rather as you say, and as I have always understood it, ‘the most expedient policy,’ upon which we differed.” And that there may be no doubt in what sense he means this, he adds the words: “i.e., therefore, after all, the most expedient policy for the Revolution.”

In the beginning of 1860, writes to F. Engels: “Only to he avoid misunderstandings, I must say that even last year, when I wrote my pamphlet, I heartily wished that Prussia should declare war against Napoleon. But I wished it only on this condition, that the Government should declare it, and that it should be as unpopular, and as much hated by the people as possible. Then, truly, it would have been a great boon. But then, the Democracy ought not to have written and made propaganda for this war ... As to the present situation, we are probably quite agreed, and shall, no doubt, agree also as to the future.”

In the same letter, Lassalle also refers to the scheme of military re-organisation which was just then being broached, and which, as is known, subsequently led to conflict between the Government and the Liberal bourgeoisie. The mobilisation of 1859 had convinced the Prussian Government how ill prepared the Prussian army still was, and that drastic changes were necessary to fit it fur taking the field, either against France or Austria, with any chance of success. Whoever then was in earnest about “the German mission of Prussia,” must also endorse the re-organisation of the army, or, at least, must objectively admit its justification. This, in fact, the Progressists at first did. Now let us hear Lassalle: “The bill is shameful! Dissolution – complete, only maskedl, of the Landwehr, as the last democratic relic of the times of 1810 – creation of an immensely powerful weapon for Absolutism and the Squirearchy – that, in two words, is the evident meaning of the Bill. Never would Manteuffel have dared to propose such a thing! Never would he have carried it through. Whoever lives in Berlin note, and doesn’t die of Liberalism, will never die of vexation!” Finally, one more quotation from a letter of Lassalle’s to Marx, written from Aachen on the 11th September, 1860. Marx, in a letter to Lassalle, had referred, among other things, to a circular note of Gortschakoff’s, which had declared that if Prussia went to the help of Austria against France, Russia on its side would intervene on behalf of France – i.e., would declare war upon Prussia and Austria. This note, Marx had explained, was a proof, first, that there had all along been a plot of which the freeing of Italy was only the pretext, the weakening of Germany the real object, and secondly, that it was a shameless interference of Russia in German affairs, which must not be endured. To this Lassalle now replied that he could not see any insult in the note, but even supposing it did contain one, it would after all only affect “the German Governments.” “For, diable! what does the strong position of the Prince of Prussia matter to you or me? As all his tendencies and interests are directed against the tendencies and interests of the German people, it is much rather in the interest of the German people, if the Prince’s position is externally as weak as possible.” So one must rather rejoice at such humiliation, or, at the most, only use it against the Government in the same way that the French had done under Louis Philippe.

It would be difficult to express oneself more “treasonably” than in all this, and those who have hitherto held up Lassalle as the pattern of a good patriot in the National-liberal sense of the word, against the Social Democracy of to-day, will, after the publication of Lassalle’s letters to Marx and Engels, simply find they have not a leg to stand on. The motives that influenced Lassalle in writing the Italian War were anything but an acknowledgement of the national mission of the Hohenzollerns. And far from it being the case – as most of the bourgeois biographers declare – that in Lassalle the party-man was sunk in the patriot, it would be truer, on the contrary, to say that the party-man, the republican revolutionist, forced the patriot into the background.

Undoubtedly, the question might with a certain appearance of plausibility be asked: “But if the standpoint which Lassalle works out in his letters to Marx is so essentially different from the one set forth in the pamphlet, who can prove that the former was really the one which Lassalle in his inmost heart accepted? Since in any case he must have concealed his true face once, may not this have been from Marx?” There are so many reasons against this assumption that it is hardly worth while considering it. The most important is, that the contradiction between the pamphlet and the letters, is, after all, only an apparent one. Where Lassalle says anything in the pamphlet which does not square with the ideas expressed in the letters, he always speaks hypothetically, with a big “If.” And to this “If” he adds at the end: “But if not – THEN,” and formulates his “THEN” thus: “Then this will only prove again and again, that Monarchy in Germany is he longer capable of a national act.” As to the positive declarations of the pamphlet, these he maintains also in the letters. He was perfectly sincere in the main contention of the pamphlet, that the Democracy – by which he understood the whole of the decidedly opposition parties – must not sanction the war against France, because they would thereby identify themselves with the oppressors of Italy; and he was also quite in earnest in his desire for the crushing of Austria. Up to this point the pamphlet, whether one agrees with the standpoint set forth in it or not, is thoroughly justifiable as a subjective expression of opinion. Not so with regard to the last chapter. Here Lassalle transgresses the limits that divide the politician fighting for his convictions, for definite principles, from the demagogue. The former will never recommend anything which he does not really wish to happen. Lassalle certainly qualifies his expressions, but in so ambiguous a way that the uninitiated reader, cannot but believe that Lassalle ardently desired the Prussian Government to pursue the policy which he there suggests. The qualified form explains the contradiction to the letters to Marx, Engels, and Rodbertus, but by no means justifies the double dealing. The lawyer trick of recommending a course because one believes it will not be taken, is, after all, an altogether false method in politics, only calculated to mislead your own followers – as, indeed, happened subsequently in this case. The example which Lassalle cites for his own tactics is the most unfortunate one imaginable. The foreign policy of the Republican opposition in France under Louis Philippe, of the gentlemen of the National, subsequently smoothed the path for the murderer of the Republic, for Bonapartism. Just as the “Pure Republicans” had used the Napoleonic legend against Louis Philippe, Lassalle believed he could play off the legend of Frederick the Great against the Prussian Government of the time. But the Frederick tradition, so far, at any rate, as it was here concerned, had, by no means, been given up by the Prussian Government, and Lassalle was making propaganda not against, but for the dynastic policy of the Hohenzollerns.

How later, when Prussia felt itself militarily strong enough, the policy was energetically followed; how it next led to a civil war between North and South Germany; how Austria was happily forced out of the German Confederation, and the unification of the German rump consolidated, we have seen. But the realisation of the programme set forth in the Italian War bears the same relation to the one Lassalle dreamed of as the camel does to the horse of Lessing’s fable.

Whither has the Prussian solution of the national question led Germany? Setting aside the question of Alsace and Lorraine – the annexation of these provinces was an additional blunder – let us only consider the position of the German people face to face with Russia and Panslavism. The expulsion of Austria from the German Confederation has furthered the panslavistic propaganda to the highest degree. The Austrian Government is, to-day, forced to make the Slavs one concession after the other; and, consequently, the latter are making ever greater demands. Where they would formerly have been content with a recognition of their language and nationality, they to-day wish to rule and to oppress. At Prag, to-day a Tchech town, the Tchech fraternised with the French Jingoes and drank to a war against the German. The incorporation of the German portions of Austria with Germany, will, of course, come sooner or later, but it will be under ten times more disadvantageous circumstances than before the glorious expulsion of Austria from the German Confederation. To-day, the German Empire is obliged to look calmly on, while these districts are being made more and more Slav. For the Bismarckian method of unifying Germany has made Russia so strong, that the present German policy has the greatest interest in the maintenance of even this Austria. Half a loaf is better than no bread. And assuredly so long as Tsarism, with its panslavist aspirations, rules in Russia, so long the existence as a state even of the Austria of to-day has justification.

Lassalle, of course, wanted something quite other than the mere expulsion of Austria from the Empire. He wanted the destruction, the annihilation of Austria, whose German provinces were to form an integral part of the one and indivisible German Republic. So much the less, then, should he have drawn up a programme, the immediate consequences of which must be a civil war in Germany, a war of North Germany against South, for the South Germans in 1859 were distinctly on the side of Austria. Only Lassalle’s strong tendency to sacrifice to his immediate object all considerations outside it, can explain this return to a diplomacy which he had only just denounced with the utmost severity in Franz von Sickingen.

Then, too, in the writing of the pamphlet, there was in addition the passionate longing of Lassalle to take part in actual politics. This longing again and again finds expression in his letters. When Lassalle, at this time, refuses to entertain any matter on the ground of the scientific work he was still contemplating, it is with the reservation; If there is any immediate possibility of influencing the development of the Revolution, then he will give up science also. Thus on the 21st March, 1859, he had written to Engels

Rather, I suppose, I shall henceforth devote myself to the study of national economy, the philosophy of history – I mean history in the sense of social development – unless, indeed, as is to be devoutly hoped, practical movements begin at last to stop all more serious theoretical activity ... How gladly would I leave unwritten what I perhaps know, if instead we [the “we” is here used as referring to the party,] may succeed in doing a little of what we might.

And could Lassalle, six weeks after writing this have gone over to the monarchical “Kleindeutsch” camp? No. His policy was wrong, but his aim had remained the same: the Revolution for the one and indivisible German Republic. That is what is meant when he prefaces his work with a motto from Virgil; “Flectere si necqueo superos acheronta movebo.” If I am unable to influence the gods – the Government, I will move Acheron – the people.




1. The Italian War and the Mission of Prussia.

2. Studies on the present situation in Europe.

3. Karl Marx: Herr Vogt, Preface, v,. vi

4. So, too, in a second pamphlet by Engels: Savoyen, Nizza, and der Rhein (Savoy, Nice, and the Rhine). Lassalle in his pamphlet had declared the annexation of Savoy to France a quite self-evident, and provided Germany received a satisfactory equivalent for this increase of territory, a “perfectly unobjectionable” proceeding. Now Engels showed what an extraordinarily strong military position the possession of Savoy world give to France, vis-a-vis of Italy and Switzerland, a matter which surely also deserved to be taken into consideration. Sardinia abandoned Savoy because, for the time being, it got something more in exchange. But the Swiss were by no means edified at the transaction. Their statesmen – Stämpfli, Frei-Herrosé, among others – did their utmost to prevent the delivering over into the French hands of the ground of Savoy, hitherto neutral. In Herr Vogt may be read an account of the manoeuvres by which the Bonapartist agent in Switzerland counteracted these efforts. The rest may be seen by a mere glance at an atlas.

5. Studien, 2nd Ed., p.155.

6. Studien, p.19.

7. Letters of Ferdinand Lassalle to Carl Rodbertus-Jagetzow, edited by Ad. Wagner. Letter of the 8th May, 1863.

8. Italienischer Krieg, p.30.

9.] “Gothaism” – i.e. the Gotha Party; the name given the Kleindeutsch Party. Gagern, the “Statesman” of the Kleindeutsch Party.

10. Letter of the 2nd May, 1863.

11. The “you” here refers to both Marx and Engels.


Last updated on 21.1.2003