Ferdinand Lasalle Biography
Lassalle, Ferdinand (1825-64). A celebrated Socialistic agitator, born at Breslau in 1825. His father, a Jewish silk merchant, planned a commercial career for him and sent him at 16 to the commercial high school at Leipzig. But Lassalle conceived an antipathy for trade, left the college after two years, and entered upon philosophical, philological, and archeological studies at Breslau and Berlin.
His extraordinary brilliancy won him many admirers at the university, among them Alexander von Humboldt. At the university he began a philosophical work on Heraclitus the Obscure, but, becoming interested in the case of the misused wife of Count von Hatzfeldt, he spent his best energies for eight years in conducting her suit for separation and won a brilliant victory. Die Philosophie Herakleitos des Dunkeln appeared in 1858 and was received with great favor in Berlin. In 1861 Lassalle published Das System der erworbenen Rechte pronounced by Savigny to be the ablest legal work written since the sixteenth century.
As early as 1848 Lassalle had become a radical disciple of Marx. In that year he was arrested for his bold denunciations of the reactionary party and after a long trial was condemned to six months' imprisonment. In 1862 he broke with the Progressists (Fortschrittspartei) and appeared as the champion of the working classes. He published several pamphlets, the circulation of which was prohibited. Nevertheless, copies of them were widely circulated and created a general interest in Socialism among the working classes. His main theory was that there was no satisfactory prospect for the working classes under the wage system. He proposed to found cooperative associations for production, employing public credit to secure capital. In 1863 he founded Der allgemeine deutsche Arbeiterverein, the object of which was to secure to the workers political power, to be employed for the overthrow of the existing economic order. While the society was still in its infancy, Lassalle was killed in a duel, the result of a love affair. Lassalle must be regarded as the virtual founder of the German Social Democratic party, although the present leaders of the party repudiate his ideas as antiquated.
Lassalle's Socialistic writings added practically nothing to the teaching of Marx, but his learning and eloquence and his fascinating personality gave the labor movement a powerful impulse. Modern Socialism as a political movement owes more to Lassalle than to any other man. The best edition of Lassalle's works is that of Bernstein, Ferdinand Lassalles Reden and Schriften (3 vols., Berlin, 1892-93), which includes a biography. A new edition of his Gesammtwerke is by Blum, vols. i-xiv. Several volumes of Lassalle's letters have been published: to Hans von Bülow, 1862-64 (Dresden, 1885) ; to Karl Rodbertus (Berlin, 1878); to Georg Herwegh (Zürich, 1896); to Karl Marx and Friedrich Engel (Stuttgart, 1902).
The New International Encyclopaedia, Vol. XIII (New York: Dodd, Mead & Co., 1920) 586.