Eduard Bernstein

Ferdinand Lassalle

The Struggle for a Constitution in Prussia – Lassalle and the “Progressist Party” – The Worker’s Programme

DURING 1860 and 1861, Lassalle was much taken up with the idea of starting a democratic paper on a large scale in Berlin. We have already seen what he thought of the Liberal press, and we have also seen how anxious he was to be able to immediately influence the course of events in Germany, As a general amnesty was probable at the death of Frederick William IV, Lassalle applied to Marx, asking if he and Engels would, in this event, be inclined to return to Germany, and to bring out such a paper with him.

“In my last letter but one,” he writes to Marx on 11th March, “I asked if you two would, in the event of the King’s death and the proclamation of a general amnesty, come back and bring out a paper here? Do answer about this. For I am, on the chance of this, cherishing a hope – still vague and indefinite, it is true – of then bringing out (here in Berlin) a big paper along with you. In such an event would you two be inclined to come over? And how much capital would a big paper require? Would 10,000 thalers, if one could scrape them together, be enough? Or how much? I should be glad if you would write to me about this, for I like thinking of this Chateau en Espagne! “In the following letters he frequently returns to this idea, and on the 19th January, 1861, when the accession of the new King of Prussia had, in fact, led to an amnesty, he writes more pressingly “Once more I ask you (1) how much capital must we have to start a paper here? (2) Who of the former editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung would eventually come back here for this purpose?”

Although Marx yielded to Lassalle’s importunities and visited him in the spring of 1861 in Berlin, the plan fell through. To begin with, Lassalle laid down the extraordinary condition that in the editing of the paper he should have one vote, while Marx and Engels, together were also to have only one, as he “would otherwise always be in the minority!” Then, too, the Prussian Government interpreted the amnesty in such a fashion that those political refugees, who by over ten years’ sojourn abroad had forfeited their claim as members of the Prussian Confederation, would by no means benefit directly. They would, on the contrary, be treated exactly in the same way as foreigners seeking naturalisation. And this would have applied to the majority of the refugee, and it would, therefore, have depended upon the pleasure of the Government to “get rid of” anyone whose return might be “inconvenient” And so, of course, a demand for naturalisation for Marx presented by Lassalle was refused, on the ground – according to the reply from the Liberal minister of Schwerin to Lassalle, dated 11th November, 1861 – that “at the present time, at any rate, there were no special reasons for giving a permit of naturalisation to the said Marx.” With this, of course, all idea of Marx’ migration to Berlin was knocked on the head.

Towards the end of the summer of 1861, Lassalle made a journey to Italy with the Countess Hatzfeld, a journey which, he writes to Marx, “was most instructive for him.” His stay at Caprera with Garibaldi had been moat interesting, and he had become acquainted with “almost all the leading people” in the various towns he had visited. In his Enthüllungen über das tragische Lebensende Ferdinand Lassalle’s [1], Bernhard Becker declares that Lassalle tried to persuade Garibaldi to make a volunteer invasion of Vienna, and although Becker is by no means scrupulously veracious, the affair, improbable as it appears at first sight, does not seem to have been a mere invention. Moreover, Lassalle had a decided hankering after personal acquaintance with the celebrities of the day. Only this is remarkable. That while, besides Garibaldi, he met all sorts of Italian personages, a few calumnious remarks by Italians sufficed to make him avoid the German Republican and Socialist, Johann Philipp Becker, to whom Marx had given him a letter of introduction. “Most of them” – the Italians – “don’t know him at all,” Lassalle writes to “inform” Marx about Becker. “Those who do know him think him a blageur and loafer and HUMBUG ... He is only on good terms with Turr, who is certainly a creature of Napoleon’s, dependent upon his purse.” In consequence he had determined not to make use of Marx’ letter of introduction. “You know how often we are so placed when abroad, that we avoid nothing so carefully as our own countrymen.” Now the excellent Johann Philipp was, at all events, not an ordinary swaggerer, but one who had again and again stood out manfully for the cause of freedom, and a meeting with him Lassalle might well have put up with. And when, later on, he started the General German Working men’s Association, he knew how to find Becker’s address [2], and writing to the latter – who had somehow heard of the rumours current about him – represented the matter in such a light as if it had been Marx, who, making a mountain out of a mole-hill, had placed upon a casual remark about Becker’s intercourse with Turr so evil a construction.

It was not until the January of 1862 that Lassalle returned to Berlin. He found the political situation essentially changed. The differences between the King of Prussia and Liberal middle-classdom had grown into an open conflict. At the recent Parliamentary election, in the beginning of December, 1861, the weak-kneed Constitutional Party had been ousted through the rather more determined tone adopted by the Progressist Party. The latter had, during the summer of the same year, grown from the party – until then a small minority in the Chamber – of the “Yung Lithauen,” or rather had formed around these as an nucleus. But the Progressist Party was by no means homogeneous. It consisted of the most diverse elements: persons of the upper middle-class with a leaning towards Liberalism sat in it side by side with petty bourgeois democrats; ex-republicans, with milk and water socialistic tendencies, side by side with men who were more royalist than the King himself. With Hohenzollern obstinacy, William I. had managed to fall out with all of them; only the party of the squires and the bigots, and the actual bureaucracy with their following, stood by the Government. The Progressist Party commanded the large majority of the Chamber, and almost the whole of public opinion in the country. Even people who saw through the: real nature of this party, and who were too radical to become members of it, thought it wise not to oppose it at that time, but rather to wait and see how it would carry on its struggle with the Prussian Government.

For some time already, Lassalle had fallen out with the chief men of the Progressist Party in Berlin. Yet, at the beginning of 1860, in a letter to Marx, he had broken a lance with very great, if altogether uncalled for, vehemence for the Berlin Volks Zeitung; had called it a paper which “even though with much less courage than was necessary, and with much less determination than, despite the enslavement of the press, it should have shown, had on the whole defended through all these years, and still was defending, the democratic standpoint.” And he had declared every other policy than that pursued by the Neue Rheinische Zeitung in 1848 towards the “blue-revolutionary” [3] papers and parties, to be “as false theoretically as pernicious practically.” With regard to the “vulgar democratischen” parties and their different shades of opinion, he writes: “We must hold as fast to the identity as to the difference of our social revolutionary standpoint as compared with theirs. There will be time enough to show only the difference when they are victorious.” And should the party in London, on the other hand, have arrived at the decision to treat all merely “blue-revolutionary” papers and parties alike, “then I declare most distinctly that I shall not follow them in this transmutation, but shall rather everywhere combat it à outrance.”

Nevertheless, in his letter of the 19th January, 1861, he informs Marx that he had taken advantage of the refusal of the Volks Zeitung to insert a long article of his against the National Zeitung as an excuse for breaking with its editor, Franz Danker. “Breaking off our acquaintance, I mean, for there was nothing else whatever. I am taking advantage of the excuse, I say, for it is to me more a desired opportunity than a reason. I had long come to see the necessity of this with regard to him. One can’t have anything to do with these faint-hearted creatures, so I shall take advantage of this to break off all connection with him-as I should have done long ago, but for my constitutional good nature.” And so, in the Preface to the “System of Acquired Rights,” dated March 27th, 1861, we already find an attack, in this place indeed somewhat uncalled for, upon the “spokesmen of the liberal bourgeoisie,” whose “conception of politics is one of supine dullness and superficiality,”of “isolation” that forces them to lose themselves in mere words, and to fight about words, with words, for words. Nevertheless, Lassalle still kept up his relations with other Progressist and National Liberals, and in Berlin itself, the only immediate result of the rupture with Danker was that ever more and more equivocal personages formed Lassalle’s circle of acquaintance. With the exception of a few real savants, quite ordinary society lions, like Baron Korff, Meyerbeer’s son-in-law, or artists playing at Radicalism, like Hans you Bulow [4], etc., could boast of intimate friendship with Lassalle. In her Apology, Frau Helene von Racowitza describes – unintentionally, it is true, but therefore all the more effectively – the very mixed, and to some extent very rotten, society in which Lassalle lived, when she made his acquaintance in the beginning of 1862. Of the Advocate Hiersemenzel, at whose house the first meeting between Helene and Lassalle took place, and whose “charming fair-haired wife” pointed out Lassalle to her as one of her husband’s most intimate friends, Lassalle himself wrote a few months later – on the 2nd June, 1862 – to Marx: “By the way, I have broken for ever [5] with that very low pike Hiersemenzel,” and he characteristically adds “Now, don’t run away with the idea that his wife was at the bottom of it.”

The friendship of Lassalle with Herr Lothar Bucher – who after the amnesty had returned to Germany, and settled down in Berlin – proved more lasting. Bucher was certainly no “pike,” but belonged to quite another zoological class.

From a letter of Bucher’s to Lassalle, of the 19th January, 1863, – published in the Berlin Freie Presse in the middle of July, 1878 – it appears that Lassalle had returned from Italy with some very venturesome plans. Bucher, who at this time had plenty of reasons for “hating this old order o the world,” at this time “he was a private individual,” later as “privy-councillor,” in his Preface to the 2nd Ed, of the System of Acquired Rights, put a different gloss upon it. Referring to a discussion with Lassalle on the previous evening, he declares that he had certainly thought it possible to overthrow the existing order – “or disorder” – of things in Germany, but not to keep it down; in other words, that the time was not yet ripe for a socialist revolution. “And pray, consider this also, that every socialist movement in France will yet for a long time to come be impregnated with the dirt and poison of Bonapartism, and that with us a mass of healthy and pure elements would rise against such a movement in our midst.” To the question, what should be done then? – he had but “the lame answer of Machiavelli”: politics is a choice between evils. “A victory of militarism” – i.e., of the Prussian Government! – would be “an evil,” but “a victory of the Austria of to-day would be a victory of the reactionary principle.” As a proof of this, he would refer Lassalle to the Berlin Revue, etc. All these objections to arguments advanced by Lassalle allow of only one explanation – that Lassalle believed a. revolution could be forced on, and had chosen Austria as its excuse. This, of course, would explain the attempt above referred to, and his trying to win over Garibaldi to a volunteer descent upon Vienna. The only doubtful point is how Lassalle, who was usually in political matters a very prudent calculator, could have taken up so foolhardy a plan. Whether it had been hatched by the Countess Hatzfeld, who was burning to see Lassalle play a public part, or whether it had been suggested by the French, Hungarian or Italian revolutionists whom Lassalle had met on his journey to and through Italy, must remain uncertain. Bat the plan – well as it fitted in with certain of Lassalle’s ideas – can hardly have originated with him.

At any rate, Lassalle, returned home, was convinced that for a revolution in Germany, there were, above all, still wanting German revolutionists. Nevertheless, the situation was too troubled for Lassalle to have the quiet necessary for a return to his literary studies. Instead of immediately setting abort the great national economic work he had intended taking up, he again and again put this off, in order to devote himself to questions of the day. And this, with public life becoming daily more keen and pulsating, was certainly natural enough. The first work Lassalle now presented to the public was the pamphlet, written together with Bucher, Julian Schmidt, der Literatur Historiker. [6] Although the work is formally directed against a compilation of Herr Schimidt’s Geschichte der Deutschen Literatur [7], the Preface shows that the Liberal press, as a whole, was aimed at in it, and the Liberal Party also. As Herr Julian Schmidt was one of those who had signed the Liberal Programme, “Julian der Grabowite” might fairly be taken as “representing the intellectual culminating point of this party.” Somewhat exaggerated logic, but, indeed, the whole work abounds in exaggerations. [8]

It is questionable also, whether so mocking an identification was well-timed when the Government had just dissolved the Chamber, and when the King, in his rescript of the 20th March (Lassalle’s Preface is dated March 22nd), had called upon the ministers to “make a stand against calumnies, whose object was to confuse unsuspecting public opinion,” and when the struggle between the popular representatives and the Government was becoming acute. On the whole, however, the lesson read Herr Schmidt was well deserved, the severe castigation of mental inertia, posing in “the pompous language of culture,” thoroughly justified. The wit is rather forced, but then again an apt quotation from the classics often makes up for this. Where “the compositor” makes remarks, it is always Lassalle who speaks; Lothar Bucher figures as “the compositor’s wife.” [9]

In the spring of 1862, an invitation to lecture to one of the Berlin Ward Liberal Clubs, gave Lassalle the opportunity – denied him in the press – of meeting the leaders of the Progressist Party face to face, before their own followers. He took for his subject the question of the day: the constitutional conflict which was raging. In his first lecture, which he called, “On Constitutions in General,” however, he with shrewd calculation confined himself wholly, to an academic exposition. He develops his standpoint of principle, without saying anything about its practical consequences. Questions of constitution are questions of power; a constitution has only an assured existence when and so long as it is the expression of real conditions of power. A people is only protected against the arbitrariness of its rulers, so long as it is in a position, and is determined to protect itself in the ultimate issue against such arbitrariness even without the constitution. Thus the greatest mistake in 1848 had been, that instead of at the outset changing the real factors of power, of, above all, transforming the army from a royalist into a popular one, so much time was wasted in the working out of a constitution, that the counterrevolution had gathered sufficient strength to disband the National Assembly. Should the people again be in a position to make a constitution, they must take this lesson to heart. The Army Bill brought in by the Government must also be considered from this point of view – i.e., as a result of the wish to turn actual conditions to account for the Government. “Royalty, gentlemen,” he says in conclusion, “has practical servants, not phrasemongers, and such practical servants as you yourselves might wish to have.”

The fundamental idea from which Lassalle here starts is indisputably correct. And most of the Progressists knew it. If, in spite of this, they pretended to have a different standpoint, they did this because the translation of the former into practice simply meant the Revolution, while the Progressist Party desired – a portion of it, as final aim, the rest, at any rate, for the time being – to carry on the struggle on parliamentary lines. But one hardly needed to be such a deadly enemy of the Revolution, as Lassalle represented the Progressists – though with regard to a considerable proportion of them rightly enough – to consider the time for such a Revolution not yet ripe. And as we have seen, Lassalle’s friend, Bucher, despite his manifold reasons for hating the existing order of things, was of this opinion. But for a parliamentary struggle, the fiction that one was fighting for the existing constitution against the Government that had violated it, was fighting for Right against Might, provided a far more favourable, or rather let us say, a far more convenient position than the open declaration of war for supremacy could have done. All material means of power were in the hands of the Government, and so one at least wanted to make sure of the moral means,

Although Lassalle had said nothing in his lecture that any Progressist – or, for the matter of that, any sensible being – could object to, yet on that very account he was extremely obnoxious to the leaders of the Progressist Party, while the governmental and reactionary parties robbed their hands with delight. The Kreuz-Zeitung, the organ of the Squirearchy and Church, sang his praises quite openly. The Kreuz-Zeitung was glad not merely to see the conflict carried into the heart of the enemy, it was also anxious to have the question of the Constitution represented as nothing but a question of supremacy between the monarchy and the popular representatives, because its position as the only reliable pillar of the throne would thus become more secure. Nor must we forget that the “new era” of William I. had also been, among other things, an attempt to emancipate the Hohenzollern throne from the now galling yoke of the squirearchy east of the Elbe, and of the bureaucracy. Yet this, compared with the programme as formulated by Lassalle, must undoubtedly seem the lesser evil to the King.

“By special request,” Lassalle published this lecture, which he had repeated at three other Progressist meetings – a proof that the Progressist electors saw nothing questionable about it. In the meantime the elections to the Landtag had resulted in a brilliant victory of the Progressists over the Government, and everyone was waiting with bated breath to see how, under these conditions, the conflict between the two would work out further.

In the spring of 1882, Lassalle also gave a second lecture in Berlin – in the Artisans’ Club of the Oranienburger suburb, the engineers’ quarter of Berlin. He called it: On the Special Connection between the Idea of the Working-class Estate and the Present Historical Period. This second lecture also he had carefully prepared. And if it is not altogether above criticism in certain details – its very title provokes criticism – it is yet one of the best, if not the best, of Lassalle’s speeches. Language as clear as it is beautiful; argument terse, flowing, nowhere extravagant, and yet never dry; a systematic, progressive development of the fundamental idea, from proposition to proposition, are its excellencies of manner; while its matter – with, as we have said, some exceptions – may be taken as an excellent introduction into the world of thought of Socialism. And it in nowise detracts from its value if I call this speech a paraphrase of the Communist Manifesto, adapted to the time and circumstances under which it was delivered. In the main it develops in detail what the Manifesto, in its historical portion, had already laid down on broad lines.

It is true that Hegelian ideology and the juridical point of view still run through the argument, but along with these the note of the economic basis of history is also sounded. That the working-class, thanks to its class conditions in modern bourgeois society, is the really revolutionary class, the class destined to place Society upon a new basis – the fundamental idea of the Communist Manifesto, – is also the leading idea of the Arbeiter Programm [10], under which title the lecture was subsequently published. Only for Lassalle, this principle at once crystallises into juridical concepts, and becomes impregnated with ideological notions. Lassalle’s constant use, both in the title and all through his lecture, of the term “Arbeiterstand,” (working-class estate), might be looked upon as a mere concession to a common phrase, to which only a pedant could take exception. To his honour it must, however, be said, that Lassalle never set about his choice of words lightly. It was not a mere acceptance of a popular phrase that induced him to speak of the “working-class estate,” of the “fourth estate,” but rather the consequence of his essentially juridical point of view. It is the same reversion to the juridical method that makes him derive the concept of the bourgeois not from the actual power which the possession of capital confers, and which is due solely to its economic effects and forces, but from the juridical and political privileges which the bourgeois enjoys or claims on the strength of his property. Instead of clearly pointing out the fundamental difference between the modern bourgeois and the feudal lord of the Middle-Ages, he, on the contrary, obliterates it, and only then admits that the possessor of capital becomes a bourgeois when lie lays claim to the State and legal position of a feudal lord. (See pp.20-22, Arbeiter Programm, 1st Edition.) And, as always, logical even in his error, Lassalle represents the class or census electoral system as the distinctive feature of bourgeois society, represents it, that is, not as a, but as the distinctive feature. The Prussian three-class electoral system, introduced by the feudal-absolutist reaction against the bourgeois Revolution of 1848, is, according to him, the electoral system of the modern bourgeois State. This may, perhaps, have some meaning if the concept bourgeois is confined to the few large capitalists à la Stumm, but then what becomes of the “fourth estate”?

As a further characteristic of the bourgeois State thus defined, Lassalle takes the development of the system of indirect taxation as a means for shifting the burden of the taxes upon the non-privileged classes. That every privileged class has the tendency to free itself as far as possible from taxation, may pass uncontested, but when Lassalle makes the concept of the class-state depend upon the existence of electoral rights, his theory is at once vitiated by the simple fact that in the very country where direct and universal franchise has longest existed, the system of indirect taxation is most completely developed. Very questionable also is Lassalle’s deduction that of the 97 million thalers paid to the Prussian State in taxes, in the year 1855, only some 13 million resulted from direct taxation. He calmly declares the 10 million thalers of laud tax an indirect tax, on the ground that it is not paid by the owners of the land, but is shifted by them on to the price of corn. This shifting was, however, by no means an ‘easy matter, so long as the frontiers had not been closed against importations from abroad by means of Protectionist duties. For a long time, indeed, the land tax did affect landed property as a fixed charge; such, too, it was felt to be by the landed proprietors, and as such it was treated in cases of alienation. Nine million thalers’ revenue from law costs might be called indirect taxes, but as the poorest class is by no means the one that most enters into litigation, one cannot – whatever else one may think of the law costs – speak of it as a tax for the relief of the great capitalist. In short, the relative exemption from taxation of the great capitalists is not necessarily a criterion of bourgeois society. This last, indeed, differs from feudal society, by the fact that it is not bound to legalised class-differences by statute, but rather continues to exist in spite of the formal equality of all before the law.

Lassalle is more correct when he cites the enforced depositing of newspaper “caution”-money and the newspaper stamp-duty as a proof that “the bourgeoisie maintains the supremacy of its own peculiar privilege and element – i.e., of capital – with even severer logic than did the nobles in the Middle-Ages, with regard to landed property.” Newspaper “caution”-money, and the newspaper stamp-duty were, in Prussia, by no means governmental measures of the bourgeoisie, but of the semi-feudal and bureaucratic reaction. Lassalle need only have turned to England, where the bourgeoisie had reached the highest point of development, in order to convince himself that, even without the petty measures of a retrograde system of government, the press may become, and that to a greater extent than in Prussia, “a privilege of the great capitalist.” Right as it of course was to speak out against the methods of political repression, it is yet another proof of Lassalle’s juridical beat of mind, that whey he wishes to depict the effect of bourgeois supremacy upon the condition of the press, he refers exclusively to formal legal institutions, and absolutely ignores the influence of the economic factors. Finally, his ideology leads him to sing paean to the State, to the “Concept of the State.” The “fourth estate” has” quite another, quite a different conception of the ethical aim of the State from the bourgeoisie.”

The State-concept of the bourgeoisie, Lassalle declares, is that of the Liberal Free-Trade School, according to which the sole function of the State is to protect the personal freedom and property of the individual.

But this, he says, is a “night-watchman idea.” [11] History is “a struggle with Nature; with the misery, the ignorance, the poverty, the helplessness, and, therefore, with the enslavement of all kinds that hemmed us in when the human race first appeared at the beginning of History. A progressive victory over this helplessness – that is the development of freedom that History shows us.” To accomplish the development of the human race towards freedom, this is the true mission of the State. The State is “the unity of individuals in an ethical whole,” its object being “to make it possible for the individuals, by means of this unity, to attain such ends, such a stage of existence, as they as individuals never could attain; to enable them to attain a degree of culture, power, and freedom, that would be, to everyone of them as individuals, absolutely unattainable.” And further, the object of the State is “to bring man to positive expansion and progressive development, in other words, to fashion the human destinyi.e., the culture of which the human race is capable – into actual being;” it is “the education and development of man to freedom.” So clearly is this “the true and higher mission” of the State that this mission “has been more or less carried out by the State through all tinge, by the force of circumstance, and even without its own will, even unconsciously, even against the will of its leaders.”

And the working-class “estate,” the lower classes of Society generally, thanks to the helpless position in which its members, as individuals, are placed, had “the profound instinct that this is, and must be, the destiny of the State.” And a State dominated by the idea of the working-class estate, would make this “moral nature” of the State its mission, “with the clearest perception and complete consciousness,” and “would bring about an elevation of thought, the development of a sum of happiness, culture, well-being, and freedom, unparalleled in the history of the world.”

This interpretation contains a great error in relation to the historical moment: despite all the emphasis laid upon the historical chances of State and of Society, the State itself is represented as being in its concept and essence one for all time, as having had from the beginning a definite aim underlying its “idea,” an “idea” occasionally misunderstood, only partially understood, or entirely ignored, and which must therefore be helped to a complete recognition. The concept of the State is, so to say, an eternal one. In this sense, Lassalle quotes a passage from an address of Boeckh’s, in which the celebrated antiquarian appeals from “the State-concept of Liberalism,” to the “antique culture” which has now, once for all, become the inalienable foundation of the German mind, and which has given birth to the idea that the concept of the State must be so far enlarged that “the State shall be the institution in which the whole virtue of mankind shall realise itself.” Comprehensible, and, within certain limits, justifiable as was this protest against the theory, at that time so cock-a-hoop, of absolute social and political laisser aller, laisser faire, Lassalle here overshot the mark. The “State” of the ancients was based upon conditions of society differing so fundamentally from those of the present time, that the ideas of the ancients about the State are as little applicable to the present time as their ideas about labour, money, and the family. Like these ideas, the ancient idea of the State only supplies material for comparative research, not for a theory capable of modern application.

If, according to Boeckh, the State-concept as understood by Liberalism involved the danger of a “modern barbarism,” so the grafting upon the society of to-day, of the State-concept as understood by the ancients, involves the danger of a modern State-slavery. Then, too, Lassalle is quite wrong in what he says of the effects of the State. Those have, indeed, greatly differed at different period. Immense strides were made in civilisation before a State existed, and great civilising missions were fulfilled without either help from, or opposition to the State of that time. In the main, no doubt, the State has aided the advance of mankind, but it has also often been a hindrance to it.

Of course, Lassalle did not look upon the matter from so unhistorical a standpoint as to desire the restoration of the State-concept of the ancients unchanged – nor had Boeckh any such idea either – but the direct derivation of the State-concept from theirs made matters not better, but worse. The cult of the State as such, means the cult of every State, and even if Lassalle’s democratic and socialist views made it impossible for him to support directly the existing State, it did not prevent this cult from being exploited later on by the advocates of the existing State in its interest. Indeed, the Achilles heal of all ideology, of all theory built upon preconceived concepts, is that, no matter how revolutionary in intention, they are really always in danger of being transformed into a glorification of existing, or of past institutions. Lassalle’s concept of the State is the bridge that was one day to bring together the Republican Lassalle and the men fighting for absolute monarchy, the Revolutionist Lassalle and the outand-out reactionaries. Philosophical absolutism has at all times had a tendency inclining it to political absolutism.

Thus this lecture, despite its merits, in other respects contains in germ all those errors that came out in the subsequent Lassallean movement.

In conclusion, Lassalle exhorts the workers to steep themselves in the thought of the great historical mission of their class, and to find in it the duty of taking up an entirely new position. “The vices of the oppressed, the idle indifference of the thoughtless, and even the harmless frivolity of the small-minded, no longer become you now. You are the rock upon which the Church of the present is to be built!”

As I have said, Lassalle had this lecture printed. Cautious as he had been, carefully as he avoided drawing any immediate political conclusions, the Berlin police – especially as Lassalle’s political views were well known to them – at once scented what the lecture was really driving at. They seized the whole edition of 3,000 copies brought out by a Berlin publisher, and instituted criminal proceedings against Lassalle. The pamphlet had appeared, and had been confiscated at the end of June. On the 4th November, 1862, the Public Prosecutor, Von Schelling – a son of the philosopher Schelling – applied to the Berlin Stadtgericht for permission to proceed against Lassalle for “exciting the non-possessing classes to hatred and contempt of the possessing class.” On the 17th November, the Court decided to grant the request, and on the 16th January, 1863, the case came before the Court of the First Instance. In spite of a truly brilliant defence, in which Lassalle proved himself superior both to the Crown Attorney and to the President of the Court, and in which he especially flagellated the former, he was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment. He appealed, and had at least this satisfaction, that the Kammergericht commuted the sentence of imprisonment to one of a comparatively small fine. The confiscation of the pamphlet was certainly upheld, but Lassalle in the meantime had a new edition published by Meyer and Zeller at Zurich.

Meyer and Zeller also published the three pamphlets on the trial before the Court of First Instance. Of these pamphlets the first consisted of Lassalle’s Defence, (published under the separate title of Die Wissenschaft and die Arbeiter [12]; the second, the verbatim report of the pleadings at the trial; and the third, a rather tedious criticism of the sentence of the Court of First Instance; and finally, under the title of Die Indirekten Steuern and die Lage der Arbeitenden Klassen [13], his defence before the Higher Court. We shall return to the consideration of these pamphlets later on. Here, and now, we must go back to the time in which the lecture itself was delivered, the spring of 1862. It is easy to understand that the speech, as such, should not, at first, have created any particular sensation. Greatly as its actual contents differed from the kind of fare that the Progressist orators were at this time setting before the Berlin workers, its esoteric political tendency differed but little from theirs. Radical phrases, allusions to a new edition of the 1848 Revolution, attacks upon the indirect taxes, etc., were plentiful enough in the speeches of dozens of Progressist democratic orators. Indeed, as the latter interlarded their speeches with denunciations of the Government, these usually sounded far more radical than Lassalle’s address, with its almost completely academic form. When the Philistine does side with the opposition, he can bluster with the best of them. As a speech, the Worker’s Programme did not produce any great effect either upon the workers or upon the middle-class.

And so, in this same spring, Lassalle was elected by the Berlin “Philosophical Society,” of which he was a member, to deliver the address at their forthcoming celebration, on the 19th May, of the centenary of the Philosopher Fichte. Neither his social nor his political radicalism, which, of course, were well known in these circles, gave offence at this time. As the majority of middle-classdom was with the opposition, its savants also were still allowed to indulge in ideology.

Six months before, in the “Democratic Studies,” Lassalle had celebrated Fichte as the Apostle of the German Republic, and to entrust him now with delivering the address at the celebration was really nothing less than a ratification of that essay. And Lassalle took care to turn this opportunity to account, and to repeat what he had then said in another form.

The speech is entitled Die Philosophie Fichte’s, and die Bedeutung des Deutschen Volksgeists. [14] And it is not only in its representation of Fichte’s philosophical political ideas that it is entirely ideological. Lassalle himself hero again falls into the most approved old Hegelian ideology. ‘The German Volksgeist is the metaphysical Volksidee (i.e., National-idea), and its meaning consists in this: that the Germans have the great historical significance of creating for it, from the “pure spirit,” “not only a real actuality,” but even “the very locality of its existence, its arena ... Because here the existence is begotten of the ‘pure spirit’ Itself, intermingled with nothing historical natural, special, It can only be the actual picture of the pure Thought, and herein bears the necessity of that determination towards the highest and most perfect spirituality of freedom that Fichte predicts for it.” And what Fichte had philosophically enunciated in his loneliness as a thinker, this, making good another of his axioms, had already “become a religion,” and beat “under the popular and dogmatic name of GERMAN UNITY in every noble German heart.”

To represent the striving for German unity as the result of the “pure spirit, intermingled with nothing historical” – this outdid even the ideology of Liberalism. And so it appears that this address, though worked out with rigid logic and consistency of thought, entirely failed to impress the public gathered to hear it. As B. Becker tells us, the audience, to the intense annoyance of Lassalle, gradually left the room (where the speechifying went on) “to make for another, where an appetising meal was spread.” Becker forgets to add that the audience did not consist only of members of the Philosophical Society, but chiefly of guests invited by them; people who, for the most part, attend such meetings because it is “the thing”.

Lassalle published this speech also in separate form, and sent it, together with the Julian Schmidt, and the Lecture on the Essence of the Constitution, through Lothar Bucher to Marx. He had “begun a little of practical political agitation,” he writes, on the 9th June, to Marx. “Thus I delivered the Constitution speech to four associations. And, besides, I have written a much longer address on the Worker’s Estate, and delivered it before a workman’s club.” This is the Worker’s Programme. “And I have now made up my mind,” he adds, “to have it published; it is already in the press. As soon as it is ready I’ll send it you.” Later on in the letter he again refers to the fact, that owing to his intense pre-occupation with other things during the last three years, the national-economic matters in his mind had become “well-nigh fossilised.” Not until “It had all become fluid again” would he proceed to a second reading of Marx’ book, A Criticism of Political Economy, and at the same time to a review of it and to the carrying out of his own economic work – “this LAST, it is true, will take a very long time.” Moreover, this programme would, in any case, be interrupted by a two months’ journey, as he could not stand a summer in Berlin. In July he would go to Switzerland, or come to London first, and then go to Switzerland. He decided in favour of the latter. But before this he once again wrote to Marx

DEAR MARX, – The bearer of this is Captain Schweigert, who has served with distinction under Garibaldi, and especially under my friend Rustow. He is the most honest and reliable fellow in the world. C’est un homme d’action. He is at the head of the Wehr-Vereine (Arms-Club) that he has organised from Coburg, and is now proceeding to London to try and raise the money for getting 3000 muskets, which he requires for the Wehr-Vereine. I’ve no need to tell yon how desirable this would be. So be good enough to put him in communication with people from whom he can obtain money for this purpose, or any kind of assistance towards this end. Do your best. The probability of my coming to London grows. – Thine,

Berlin, 19/6/62.

The Wehr- Vereine being organised from Coburg, belonged to the camp of the “National Club,” which had its headquarters in that town. It is evident that Lassalle had not yet by any means entirely broken with this Club: His emphasis on the “homme d’action,” and his great interest in the acquisition of 3,000 muskets are a further confirmation of what has been said above with regard to Lassalle’s revolutionary plans.

With two short letters, written in London itself, that refer to visits and to an excursion to be undertaken together, the letters which I have from Lassalle to Marx end. It would, however, be a mistake to conclude from this that the visit to London had led to a rapture between the two. Such a rupture never occurred. But it is very possible that in talking things over with Marx, Lassalle understood more clearly than he had hitherto done the fundamental difference of the standpoints of the two men. At any rate, after Lassalle’s return to Berlin, in the autumn of 1862, the correspondence entirely ceased. All the more closely did Larsalle attach himself to Bucher, who later also brought him into relation with Rodbertus.

At the end of the summer of 1862, it seemed for a moment as if the Prussian Government. were going to adopt a more conciliatory attitude towards the Chamber. Negotiations were again carried on until the King suddenly informed the Chamber in the bluntest way that he would not consent to any concessions with regard to the shortening of the term of military service, and that he felt no inclination whatever to recommend a special grant for the unconstitutional procedure with regard to the re-organisation of the army. To this the Chamber replied that by 308 votes to 11 it had rejected the demand of the Government to include the expenditure for the re-organisation of the army among the ordinary items of expenditure in the budget. In order to break down the resistance of the majority, the King now summoned the Prussian Ambassador to France, Otto von Bismarck, who was just then in Berlin, to take the place of Herr von der Heydt in the Ministry. In all probability the churlish way in which the King in his message had laid stress upon his sovereign privileges, was the result of an understanding with Bismarck.

Bismarck, who had appeared in the “United Landtag” of 1847, and in the Prussian National Assembly of 1849, as the Hotspur of the feudal squirearchy, had, in the meantime, developed into the “modern statesman.” He had thrown his landowner ideologies overboard, in order the more effectually to guard the “consolidated land-owning” interests. He had given up the absolutism proclaimed before the March days, thereby to assure the monarchy an even more advantageous position by saddling the Chamber with the responsibility – and only the responsibility – of the demands of the monarchy. In short., he had adopted the maxims of that system of government known as Bonapartism, which, when it speaks of democracy, means governmental violence, and which proclaims its care for the well-being of the poor, when it is meditating a campaign of taxation against the pockets of the workers. From Russian diplomacy he had learnt how one can maintain an absolutist Government and intrigue under the rose with revolutionists; and from French diplomacy that one must always accuse an opponent of a dishonourable action at the very moment when oneself is contemplating exactly the same action. Besides this, he made a specialty of the trick of all astute diplomatists and sharpers, of displaying on certain occasions an astounding “bluntness,” so that the next time they may so much the more successfully make use of language in order not to speak the truth.

It was with this “bluntness” that Bismarck made his debut in the Chamber, and naturally his German programme was not believed in. His declaration in the Budget Commission that the German question would only be solved through “blood and iron,” merely intensified the opposition. The House stuck to its resolution to vote nothing to the Government until its constitutional rights had been acknowledged by the latter, whereupon Bismarck prorogued the House with the declaration that, for the time being, the Government would take the money wherever they found it.

Meanwhile, Bismarck’s position was by no means a very secure one. He certainly had the force of the Government-i.e., organised force – at his back, while the Chamber had nothing but “public opinion” on its side. But he knew perfectly well that he could not “sit” upon the Prussian bayonets. Unequivocal success in his foreign policy, likely to win over the ex-“Gothaer,” i.e., the weak-kneed Kleindeutsch Liberals to the Government, was, for the time being, not to be reckoned upon. So he had to seek elsewhere for allies against the Progressist party.

It was about this time, in the autumn of 1862, that at various working-men’s clubs, which had either been actually started by the Progressists, or were supported by them, the notorious “workingman,” Eichler, suddenly appeared. He accused the Progressist Party of incompetence, and inveighed against the Schulze-Delitzsch co-operative associations as useless to the workers. The “self-help,” about which the Liberals were making such a fuss, was no good; the State alone could help the workers. Eichler, who declared that his employer had dismissed him on account of his adverse criticism of Schulze’s “self-help” ideas, nevertheless found means to travel to Leipzig, where the local Working-men’s Club was eagerly discussing the summoning of a General Working-men’s Congress for the purpose of founding an independent working-men’s organisation. He tried to induce the Leipzig Central Committee to call the Congress at Berlin, and on their coming to closer quarters with him, at last, in the heat of the discussion, came out with the declaration, that he knew for certain that the Prussian Government was willing to help the workers, especially with the starting of productive co-operative associations. He could inform them also that Herr von Bismarck was prepared to give 30,000 thalers for starting a productive co-operative machine-making association – the Berlin machine-makers being then, and for a long time after, the picked battalions of the Progressist army? Of course the workers would have to make up their minds to turn their backs upon the Progressist Party, as this was the party of the bourgeoisie, the greatest enemy of the workers.

In this Herr Eichler failed completely, for the people in Leipzig who were organising the Workers’ Congress desired anything rather than to oblige the Prussian Government by attacking the Progressists in the rear. Herr Eichler went home again without accomplishing his purpose, and seems to have done little in Berlin either. When called to account for his notoriously luxurious mode of life, which was so little in keeping with an “out-of-work,” he made mysterious allusions to a rich aristocratic lady who had taken a fancy to him, and as he was a good-looking fellow, this was not altogether improbable. Eichler then disappeared from the scene, to turn up later on as a Prussian police official.

When, sixteen years after, at the sitting of the Reichstag of the 16th September, 1878, Bebel twitted Bismarck – meantime made a Prince – with the Eichler “mission,” Bismarck, the next day, tried to shake off Eichler by taking advantage of a slip of Bebel’s as to date (Bebel had spoken of September instead of October, 1862), as the period of Eichler’s Leipzig performance. But trusting to the effect of this dodge, he was betrayed into the confession that later on Eichler “made demands upon me for services he had not rendered me,” and that “it was only then that he remembered that Herr Eichler had been in the service of the police, and that he had sent him in reports.” (See the official verbatim report on the debate on the Anti-Socialist Law, 1878, page 85, published under the title of Die Sozialdemocratie vor dem deutschen Reichstag [15].) In other words, the supposed aristocratic lady, or as the Leipzig Volkstaat once upon a time drastically put it, “the aristocratic strumpet,” turned out to be the Berlin “Scotland Yard.”

About this time – i.e., after Bismarck had prorogued the Landtag on the 13th October, 1862 – Lassalle gave his second address, Was nun? [16] In this he declares that events have justified the contentions of his first address. The Kreuz Zeitung (the organ of the Squirearchy), the War Minister, Von Roon, and the actual President of the Ministry, Von Bismarck, had confirmed his theory that constitutional questions are questions of force. Relying upon the force at its disposal, the Government had gone on disregarding the decisions of the Chamber. It was now less a question of how to assure the continuance of the Constitution of 1850 – in a portion of whose provisions the people had no interest whatever – than a question of maintaining the right of the Chamber to vote supplies, and the making of parliamentary government a reality, for “upon it, and it alone, does the existence of every true constitutional Government depend.” Should they refuse to pay the taxes? No, answers Lassalle. This is, in itself, an effective weapon only in the hands of a people which, like the English, has on its side the many powerful means of organised force. Such a step would only be wise if it were meant to provoke a general rising. But of this “it was to be hoped no one, under the present circumstances, would dream.” The only way was to say what the actual facts were. As soon as the Chamber re-assembled “it must say what the real facts were.” This was “the most powerful, political method.” The Chamber must make it impossible for the Government to go on governing with mere sham constitutionalism. As soon as the Chamber re-assembled it must, at once, press a vote to the effect that so long as the Government went on violating the Constitution, it would not, by continuing to sit and to legislate, play into the hands of that Government, would not help to maintain the mere semblance of a constitutional state of affairs, and that therefore “it would adjourn for an indefinite period, aye, until the Government gave proof that it would not continue to ignore the vote of the Chamber against supplies.” When once the Chamber had passed such a vote, the Government would be beaten. Dissolution would be useless to the Government, since the members would be re-elected on the same lines. But without a Chamber it could not govern. Its credit, its reputation, its influence abroad would be so seriously damaged that sooner or later it would be forced to give in. But there was no other way of terminating the conflict. Continuing to sit and refusing to vote other, or, indeed; all Government supplies, would only accustom people and Government to the pleasant habit of disregarding the votes of the Chamber. It would be still worse if the Chamber consented to a compromise possibly as the price for agreeing to the two years military term of service. No; no surrender in the constitutional, principle here at stake. The more obstinate the Government proved, the greater would be its humiliation, when it found itself forced to give in. The Government would all the more recognise the social form of the citizen as the superior force, if, after veering round, it had been forced to bow before the people and the Chamber. And, therefore, no “reconciliation-twaddle, gentlemen.” No new compromise with the old absolutism, but rather “the hand at the throat, the knee on the breast.”

In this address, Lassalle, on the whole, assumes a conciliatory attitude towards the Progressist Party. “For the sake of unity” he will suppress all these serious accusations against them that he has at heart. He only attacks the Volks Zeitung and its backers, for their policy of saying that which is not. These “poor creatures,” in their attempts to “lie” the Government into a constitutional one, were largely responsible for the present condition of things. But “peace to the past, gentlemen!”

Whether Lassalle really in his heart felt so peaceably inclined, whether he really believed the Progressists would accept his suggestion, or whether all this talk of reconciliation was only rhetorical flourish meant to give him a free hand later on as against the Progressists, is difficult to say. Both may be true. That Lassalle was by no means disinclined to work with the Progressists we have already seen. Many of his personal relations, indeed, must have made such an alliance seem desirable, while from the theoretical standpoint, nothing could, under the circumstances, be advanced against it. On the other hand, however, it had become more and more doubtful whether the Progressists would have anything to do with him, and whether they would allow him to exercise that influence upon their tactics, to which he thought himself entitled.




1. Revelations as to the tragic death of Ferdinand Lassalle.

2. That the Italian leaders knew Becker very well is shown by a letter of Mazzini to Becker in June, 1861. See Rüegg’s Extracts from the Papers of Joh. Ph. Becker, published in the Neue Zeit for 1888, p.458, etc.

3. As contrasted with the advanced “red-revolutionists.”

4. Lassalle’s Letters to Hans von Bülow were published in the eighties (Dresden and Leipzig, H. Minden). The editing is as slovenly as the volume is small. In the Preface, a passage from a letter of Heine’s about Lassalle is ascribed to Prince Pückler-Muskau. The letters themselves are not even chronologically arranged. The non-dating of his letters by Lassalle is, no doubt, the excuse for this, although the dates of most of them could have easily been fixed by their contents. In one of the letters, “Salinger’s genial composition” is spoken of. The editor, who had got the letters from Herr Hans von Bülow himself, adds to this as a note, “Workers’ Hymn by Herwegh.” That the name of Salinger, i.e., Solinger, was a pseudonym of Hans von Bülow is, on the other hand, not so much as hinted at. Was this modesty or – remorse on the part of the inspirer of the publication?

5. For ever in English in the original.

6. Julian Schmidt, the Historian of Literature.

7. History of German Literature.

8. Just as it is not wanting in strained assumptions. Oddly enough, too, Lassalle allows the “compositor’s wife” to reproach Herr Schmidt with various sins, which he, of all men, had good reasons for judging leniently, When, e.g., Schmidt speaks of Uhland’s protest, in 1848, against the more closely federated State (i.e., against Klein Deutschland), and of the figure used by Uhland, that in the voice of every Austrian deputy he heard the murmur of the Adriatic, as showing a want of comprehension of the historical situation, he might have taken, as proof for this, Lassalle’s Italian War and the Mission of Prussia, which represented the non. destruction of Austria as the real cause of the failure of the 1848 Revolution. And in the same way Schmidt might have replied to the reproach of “wild Protestant sound and fury” made by Lassalle-Bucher, by referring to Franz von Sickingen.

9. The criticism of Schmidt’s book is in the form of notes by the compositor and the compositor’s wife.

10. Worker’s Programme.

11. Lassalle here refers to the idea of the Manchester School (of Germany), that the duties of Government were not to exceed those of a, constable of the watch.

12. Science and the Workers.

13. Indirect Taxation, and the Position of the Working-Class.

14. The Philosophy of Fichte, and the Significance of the German Volksgeist.

15. Social Democracy in the German Reichstag.

16. What next?.


Last updated on 21.1.2003