Biography and History

One of the chief 19th-century theorists of socialism and a founder of the German labor movement was Ferdinand Lassalle. He was born in Breslau (now Wroclaw), Poland. He attended universities at Breslau, Berlin, and Paris. It was in Berlin, towards the end of 1845, that he met the lady with whom his life was to be associated for the next ten years, the Countess Hatzfeldt. She had been separated from her husband, and was at feud with him on questions of property and the custody of their children. Lassalle attached himself to her cause, made special study of the law, and, after bringing the case before thirty-six tribunals, reduced the count to a compromise on terms favorable to his client. From 1848 to 1857 Lassalle lived in Düsseldorf, where he took part in the abortive revolutions of 1848-49 to establish a constitutional monarchy that would foster civil rights. It was there that he came in contact with Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In Düsseldorf he was active as both a writer and a labor organizer and was repeatedly arrested, indicted, and imprisoned for his ideas. In 1859 he settled in Berlin where, as a political journalist, he tried to persuade workers' associations to organize into a general federation to promote voting rights at all levels of society. In 1862 Lasalle proposed a theory (Lassalleanism) in opposition to Marxism. He believed that the proletariat represented community, solidarity of interest, and reciprocity of interest. He argued, therefore, that the cause of the workers is the cause of humanity; when the proletariat gains political supremacy, a higher degree of morality, culture, and science results, furthering civilization. When the General German Workers' Association was founded in 1863, he became its president. Rejected because of his authoritarian leadership and disappointed by his political failures, Lassalle traveled to Switzerland in 1864. There he fell in love with a woman who had been engaged to another man. On August 28 he was wounded in a duel with her former fiancé, and three days later he died in Geneva.

Source: From the finding aid for C1106

  • Ferdinand Lassalle Letters. 1862-1864 (inclusive).

    Call Number: C1106

    Consists of letters of Ferdinand Lassalle, the German "scientific" socialist who founded the Democratic Socialist Party and in 1862 proposed a theory (Lassalleanism) in opposition to Marxism.