Lassalle and Schweitzer: The struggle against political adventurers in the workers’ movement

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150 years ago, in the early 1860s, the workers’ movement internationally was still in its infancy, and its different components had not yet acquired much experience in setting up and defending political organisations. Following the wave of repression after the struggles of 1848 many members of the Communist League had to go into exile or were taken to court, as at the trial against the communists in Cologne, 1852.  

In Germany, in the early 1860s, there was no independent political organisation of the working class. In many towns there were Arbeiterbildungsvereine (Workers’ Educational Clubs), but not yet any proletarian political organisation with a clear political demarcation from the bourgeoisie. The debate about whether the working class could still support certain factions of the bourgeoisie in their fight for national unification, or whether the class antagonism with the bourgeoisie should be at the centre of the struggle, was in full swing. In this context, where the bourgeoisie had not yet managed to throw off the chains of aristocracy and the Junkers, where German capital had not yet been able to unify as a national capital, attempts were made to forge the first political party of the working class in Germany.  

At the same time the working class in Germany was going to be faced with one of the most difficult political challenges, that of confronting the activities of political adventurers. Although there is not one single profile of political adventurers, one common trait between them is that they use political organisations not to strengthen the struggle of the working class but instead to put these political organisations at their service; they draw on the organisations of the working class to foster their own ambitions. However, the biggest challenge is to unmask adventurers, because they do not act in the open and do not display their own ambitions in public. On the contrary, they tend to have a great skill in mobilising a large number of supporters behind them, which makes the task of unmasking such “highly esteemed” figures much harder.

As we will show, the real nature of the adventurer Lassalle was never fully unmasked during his lifetime. And while the real face of the adventurer Schweitzer was exposed for the first time at a party conference in Spring 1869 in Wuppertal, the effort to unmask him was not fully successful. It was only a few years later that the working class managed, through the efforts of the General Council of the First International, to expose the activities of yet another adventurer, Mikhail Bakunin, at the Hague Congress. The cases of Lassalle, Schweitzer and Bakunin show that the working class and its political organisations have been confronted from the very beginning with the activities of political adventurers.

In this article we will deal with the cases of Lassalle and Schweitzer. In previous articles we have already given a detailed account of the struggle against Bakunin’s adventurism[1].

The Formation of the ADAV

In 1862 in Leipzig the proposal for the preparation of a general workers' congress was made by workers of an association called "Vorwärts". In January 1863 the Leipzig initiators contacted Ferdinand Lassalle. [2]

In several lectures Lassalle had spoken critically against the bourgeoisie in its quarrel with the Junkers; at the same time he had stressed the importance of the working class for historical progress. Lassalle, however, distanced himself from the communist views outlined a good dozen years earlier in the Communist Manifesto.

The proposal that Lassalle should write the program of the "General German Workers' Association" (ADAV), which was finally founded in Leipzig on May 23, 1863, was addressed to a man who had been eager for years to play a leading role in political life in Germany. 

The fact that the leadership was handed over to a person who - apart from a brief activity during the 1848 struggles - had never participated in a proletarian organisation, who could not represent continuity with the Communist League; a man who had previously been denied admission to the Communist League and was now to act as a de facto "saviour" from "outside," immediately claiming a presidential role - all this reflected the immature state of the labour movement at the time.

At the age of 20, Lassalle had met Sophie Gräfin von Hatzfeldt, who was twice as old as he was. In order to "free herself" from the forced marriage with her husband, Lassalle took on her defence as a lawyer. He not only succeeded in winning the Countess's case, but also made an extraordinary fortune, as the Countess financed him from then on and became his political ally.[3] At the same time, as a member of the nobility, the Countess maintained intensive relations with various parts of the ruling class. In 1856 and 1857 he lived in her house in Düsseldorf; and in 1858 he moved together with her to Berlin. [4]

The self-disclosure of an adventurer: "An informer's report about himself

Spurred on by the success of the Hatzfeldt trial and driven by his ambitions to make a career, he began complaining about the "provincial narrowness" in his place of residence, Düsseldorf, in the mid-1850s. In May 1855, he asked the Berlin Police President for the necessary permission to resettle from Düsseldorf to Berlin. [5] In the same month, he wrote an "informer's report about himself", which was to be placed into the hands of the Berlin Police President Hinkeldey (it is not clear whether it was really placed into his hands or was meant to have been). Gustav Mayer reports on "the vicious, cunning, sophisticated, vily, villainous slyness that was employed here" to convince and impress the police president of his importance. Lassalle praised himself as so highly esteemed by the Düsseldorf workers, "who seem to regard Lassalle as their boss and to see an injustice against them and his relationship to them if he leaves the Rhine Province; they did not break with him, but as the conversation shows, threatened very energetically to break with him." Referring to the question of the whereabouts of the former editors of the Neue Rheinische Zeitung (including Marx) after the repression after 1848, he praised his insider knowledge of Marx's place of residence in his "Spitzelbericht" (report of a snitch): "I faked assuming that they had emigrated to America, but Lassalle instructed me that they lived in London and he was apparently well informed about their living conditions”. In order to further increase the interest of the head of the police, he boasted, "So it follows with complete certainty that Lassalle must be in continuous, uninterrupted correspondence with these people in London, at least with Marx”. Knowing well how interested the police were in being informed about the actual mail channels of correspondence between Marx and his fellow combatants, he wrote: "I have […] already mentioned that Lassalle must be corresponding with London, at least with Marx. I must add that, it appears to be likely – as I concluded from a statement - he seems to receive these letters with a fake sender’s name."

To make the bait for the police president more palatable by an additional aspect, Lassalle wrote: "The main reason that drives him to that move is the monotony of life in Düsseldorf that has become unbearable to him. In addition, there is a certain tendency towards enjoyment and especially female distractions, which, despite his great capacity for work, is no less strongly expressed in his temperament, a tendency which he cannot satisfy in Düsseldorf but to which he hopes to feed much more richly in Berlin. He repeated his motive for his intended move to Berlin. (…) if it were not for the influence of the Countess on the one hand, and on the other hand for the already described great inclination towards pleasure and sensual diversion and the unbearable monotony of his Düsseldorf life which are the decisive factor for him...." He described himself as "highly ambitious and vain in character."   

To impress the police (and the political forces behind them), Lassalle boasted: "Since I consider Lassalle to be one of the most intellectually outstanding and rarely energetically gifted representatives of democracy, I am of the opinion that above all this highly dangerous man cannot be observed enough...." Lassalle added another element of attraction to the police: the author of the letter, i.e. the informer, had the prospect of being able to work as Lassalle's secretary. "I already have his benevolence to no small degree. I have acquired the same, partly through a fine use of his vanity..." [...] A short time in the position of his secretary and I would have made myself not only the confidant of his most secret thoughts, but completely indispensable to him." Ready to drive into the arms of the police those who were ready to overthrow the regime (Lassalle and his friends), Lassalle ended his spy report with this: "I would have no difficulty, legitimized by my position with Lassalle and his friendship, in becoming known to all the other more or less outstanding members of democracy and in investigating their affairs from the ground up; in a word, I would thus deliver him and his associates into the hands of the authorities in such a way that it would depend only on their own discretion to destroy these incorrigible partisans of overthrow whenever they find it suitable.[6]

This spy report about himself, which was only found in his inheritance after his death, sheds much light on his activities as an adventurer in the ranks of the German labour movement.

The true motives of the adventurer

We have here a first trait of political adventurers. Contrary to sincere fighters who selflessly join a revolutionary organisation in order to help the working class to fulfil its historical role, adventurers join revolutionary organisations to fulfil their own “historical mission”. They want to place the movement at their service and constantly look for recognition with this purpose. Lassalle's spy report about himself is nothing but a "publicity show" for his purportedly outstanding abilities. Therefore, proletarian organisations serve them only as a springboard for their career, either within a proletarian organisation or within the ranks of the rulers themselves. Convinced that their abilities are greater than have been recognised so far, they seek recognition from both the workers’ movement and the rulers.

Open or covert claims for leadership...

When the ADAV was founded in May 1863, Lassalle managed to get himself crowned president for five years, with almost dictatorial power over the local sections. Lassalle insisted to the ADAV that he only wanted to participate if he was directly invited to take the leading role. That is, instead of joining a collective struggle he immediately claimed leadership. We have here another distinctive trait, which is often found in adventurers. Not only do they aspire to take a leadership role in an organisation, they often make direct claims to special authority - and even if they do not receive it from an authority, they themselves aspire to a policy of arbitrary and independent action. As if an emperor had been crowned, he declared: "I am thus able to meet the demands of the position you offer me, and therefore generally declare myself ready to meet the demand you make of me and to take over the leadership of the workers' movement". [7] The local branches of the association had no rights whatsoever: they only carried out the orders of the president.

This was a step backwards from the Communist League, which was a centralised organisation, had established a central authority and district authorities that guaranteed a much more collective functioning, and where the local communities had decision-making powers. In this respect, Lassalle succeeded in turning back the wheel of history with the "leadership role" tailored to him.

In the service of the working class or of personal interests?

Bebel wrote in his autobiography: "Lassalle was not satisfied with the applause of the masses, he attached great importance to having men of prestige and influence from the bourgeois camp on his side, and he went to great lengths to win them" (Bebel, Aus meinem Leben, p. 85). [8]

While on the one hand the power apparatus in Prussia and other parts of Germany had sent out its agents to monitor the aspiring labour movement and to look for possible "cooperative" forces to lure to Bismarck's side, at the same time Lassalle, as the spy report unequivocally reveals, had himself stretched out his feelers.

Secret cooperation with the rulers

Two weeks before the ADAV was founded on 23 May 1863, Lassalle began an exchange of letters with Bismarck. Bismarck, who wanted to unite Germany "by blood and iron", invited Lassalle to a conversation. In a series of four talks, Lassalle not only tried to give Bismarck advice, but also made concrete suggestions for a joint approach.

Lassalle told Bismarck, who was the king's right hand, that the working class "instinctively feels inclined to dictatorship. (Gustav Mayer, Bismarck und Lassalle p. 60), The workers would recognize the monarchy as a "natural carrier of social dictatorship," if the monarchy were to transform itself from a "royalty of the privileged classes into a social and revolutionary people's royalty”. From Lassalle's point of view, the Prussian monarchy was capable of becoming a social royalty – this was the subject of the first conversation with Bismarck. In another conversation, universal suffrage and campaigns against factions of the bourgeoisie hostile to Bismarck, were discussed. Because the Düsseldorf police had taken action against Lassalle's writings at the time of the third discussion on 23 October 1863, Bismarck offered Lassalle to place his works under his protection. For this purpose, Bismarck wanted to issue a circular to the public prosecutors prohibiting the confiscation of Lassalle's works. Lassalle replied to Bismarck that he was against his offer. He thought that repressive measures against him would strengthen his credibility, while if his writings were spared from repression, his credibility would diminish. During this third discussion, the possibility and necessity of an electoral bloc between conservatives and the ADAV was also discussed. On January 12, 1864, Lassalle offered in the next meeting a direct political cooperation in the reform of the electoral law, for which Lassalle wanted to formulate a draft. Lassalle himself told Bismarck that he feared the revolution, this "gloomy, sinister way". And to avoid this, he proposed to Bismarck that he - in order not to be confronted with a revolutionary onslaught - should introduce universal suffrage immediately. Since, from Lassalle's point of view, the German bourgeoisie was incapable of revolution, the workers’ party had to give the impetus, and Bismarck was to urge the king to carry out this turnaround. Finally, Lassalle offered Prussia support in the war against Denmark (including the annexation of Schleswig-Holstein) if Bismarck changed the electoral law. 

When Wilhelm Liebknecht warned Lassalle against Bismarck, Lassalle told him, "Pah, I eat cherries with Herr von Bismarck, but he gets the stones" (cf. Bebel, Aus Meinem Leben, p. 75). After Bebel had questioned Bismarck in the Reichstag at the time of the Anti-Socialist Law in September 1878 about his contact with Lassalle, Bismarck replied to him in parliament: "But Lassalle had attracted him extraordinarily, he had been one of the most witty and kind people with whom he had ever been in contact, he had also not been a Republican: the idea to which he aspired had been the German empire. In this they had had points of contact/agreement. Lassalle had been highly ambitious", Bebel, Aus Meinem Leben, p. 76 ").

Lassalle later confessed to Helene von Dönniges, as Bebel found out from a conversation with her, that both Bismarck and Lassalle thought they were too clever to trick each other. [9]

Lassalle wrote of his encounters with leaders of the Italian national movement after his trip to Italy and declared almost megalomaniacally that he had just "prevented Prussia's intervention through his 'booklet on the Italian war' and had in fact guided 'the history of the last three years'" (see below). In this sense, an adventurer is not the same as a police agent or a snitch, who sell their information. Adventurers do not have to be corrupt to serve a regime. For them the desire for fame and recognition, i.e. psychological factors, are somewhat stronger than mere material compensations.


After Lassalle had been elected president of the ADAV in May 1863, he often presented the programmatic orientation of the ADAV completely differently, depending on who he was dealing with. This duplicity is another characteristic of adventurers - not to play "with open cards" and not to enter the ring openly. While Marx and Engels, for example, wrote many polemics, Lassalle shunned debate himself and appeared in different clothing to different audiences.

...and opportunistic recruitment methods for recruiting members

Lassalle had no real faith in the (yet to be developed) force of the working class, but wanted to win more personalities from the camp of the ruling class for the ADAV, since in his opinion they were called to take the shackles off the working class. Thus Lassalle tried to win over Johann Karl Rodbertus, a representative of so-called state socialism. Rodbertus argued that "friends of the social question", i.e. the conservatives and the bourgeoisie, could also join the association. Lassalle wrote to Rodbertus: "The more good bourgeois members join the association, the better" (F. Lassalle Nachgelassene Briefe und Schriften, 6th volume, Berlin 1925, p. 358).

And because he was not so much interested in the liberation of the working class as in the promotion of the general democratic movement, he also pleaded for the inclusion of liberals and conservatives in the ADAV. Thus he directed himself against the development of an independent political workers party. At the same time, anyone who wanted should be able to become a member and join immediately – and as a result, the ADAV was flooded with bourgeois and petty-bourgeois people. Here, too, it was a step backwards from the Communist League, whose membership was based on the defence of organisational principles enshrined in its statutes.

Lassalle's programmatic orientation: state socialism ....

Lassalle argued in favour of "the state to supply you [the workers] with capital through credit operations, so that you can then enter into free, equal competition with capital". Lassalle did not even think about the destruction of the Prussian state, but hoped for the socialist intervention of the Prussian state! He aroused the confidence that with the help of the existing state it could grow peacefully into socialism.[10]

... and opposing economic struggles in the name of the "iron law of wages”

According to Lassalle, the workers in capitalist society cannot receive a higher wage than that which exceeds the minimum necessary to maintain their physical forces. On this basis, he resisted the unfolding of workers' struggles for demands, dismissed strikes and rejected trade union federations. In short, the ADAV was to be a sect.

Instead, the workers should be raised to the status of entrepreneurs. The state should lend money, build and finance consumer cooperatives.

Lassalle’s Relationship with Marx and Engels

Although Lassalle claimed to know the Communist Manifesto inside out, he was never a marxist. And although he had known Marx and later Engels since 1848, and corresponded with them again and again, and Marx even spent a few days in his Berlin apartment in 1862, Marx and Engels clashed quite quickly with Lassalle. The reason: profound political divergences (e.g. on the question of the support for Prussia, the demand for the introduction of the right to vote and many more) as well as his behaviour. Marx wrote in a letter to Engels on July 30, 1862, after Lassalle had visited him and his family in London: "The stay in Zurich (with Rüstow, Herwegh etc.) and the later trip to Italy, then his ‘Herr Julian Schmidt’ etc. turned his head completely.

He is now not only the greatest scholar, deepest thinker, most brilliant researcher, etc., but also Don Juan and revolutionary Cardinal Richelieu. (...) As a great secret he told me and my wife that he advised Garibaldi not to make Rome the target of the attack, but that he should go to Naples, declare himself to become a dictator (without Viktor Emanuel being wounded), call the People's Army to campaign against Austria. (…) As the lever of action: Lassalle’s political influence or his pen in Berlin. And Rüstow at the head of a corps of German guerrillas including Garibaldi. Bonaparte, however, was paralyzed by this Lassallean coup d'éclat. He was now also with Mazzini, and ‘he too’ approved and ‘admired’ his plan. He introduced himself to these people as a ‘representative of the German revolutionary working class’ and imputed to them (literally!) the knowledge that he (Itzig) ‘prevented Prussia's intervention’ through his pamphlet on the Italian war, and in fact ‘guided the history of the last three years’. L[assalle] was very angry with me and my wife that we made fun of his plans, teased him as an ‘enlightened Bonapartist’, etc. He screamed, raved, jumped and finally convinced himself thoroughly that I was too ‘abstract’ to understand politics. "[11]

These statements by Marx about the character, the self-portrayal, the megalomania and his entire behaviour show how outraged Marx was about Lassalle. When Marx and Engels shared their assessments about his behaviour , they knew nothing about his contacts and the alliance with Bismarck. Marx’s wife Jenny wrote about Lassalle after his visit to their home in 1861. She also made fun of Lassalle's way of presenting himself: “He was almost overwhelmed by the burden of fame he earned as a scholar, thinker, poet and politician. The fresh laurel crown still rested on the Olympic forehead and the ambrosial curly head or rather the rigid stiff chevelure des nègres. He had just victoriously finished the Italian campaign - a new political coup was hatched by the great men of action. Strong battles took place in his soul. He had not yet entered some fields of science. There was still Egyptology, which had not been so much developed. Should I astonish the world as an Egyptologist, or should I show my universality as a man of action, as a politician, as a fighter, as a soldier” (Jenny Marx, Kurze Umrisse eines bewegten Lebens, 1865).

What Marx thought about Lassalle's programmatic positions and his appearance is also made clear by a letter he sent to Engels on April 9, 1863: "On the other hand, the day before yesterday he sent me his ‘Open Letter of Reply’ to the Central Workers' Committee for the Leipzig Workers' Congress. He behaved – boasting by throwing the phrases around he had copied from our writings - entirely as a future workers’ dictator." (MEW, vol. 30, p. 340) And Marx had recognized in a letter to Engels on January 28, 1863 that the famous "Workers' Programme" was only a bad vulgarisation of the Communist Manifesto. 

After Marx and Engels learned about the negotiations between Lassalle and Bismarck, Marx wrote to Engels: "By the way, since we now know that Itzig [Lassalle] (a fact which was by no means known to us in this way) wanted to ‘offer’ the Workers' Party to Bismarck in order to make himself known as the ‘Richelieu of the Proletariat’...I will now also not show any restraint in indicating clearly in the preface to my book that he is merely a parrot and a plagiarist” (Marx to Engels in Manchester [London] Jan. 30, 1865). In this preface to the first edition of Das Kapital, Marx considered it necessary to point out the method of Lassalle in "borrowing" ideas from Marx's writings, without citing the source... (Capital, MEW, Vol. 23, p. 11). [12]

Manipulation and defamation of the positions of Marx and Engels

Already at that time they considered the speeches and writings of Lassalle as "very disgusting and royalist". (Marx to Engels, Nov. 24, 1864, MEW 31, p. 30)

Marx wrote to Kugelmann:

"Dear friend, I received your very interesting letter yesterday and will now reply to the individual points. Let me start by briefly explaining my relationship with Lassalle. During his agitation, our relationship was suspended: 1. because of his tendency to praise his own reputation and his sloppiness, while at the same time he was the most shameless plagiarist of my texts, etc. 2. because I condemned his political tactics; 3. because I had explained to him already in detail before the opening of his agitation here in London and had proved that an immediate socialist intervention by the Prussian state was nonsense."[13] 

(...) "As soon as he convinced himself in London (end of 1862) that he could not play his game with me, he decided against me and the old party in order to pose as a ‘workers’ dictator’". Engels on June 11, 1863 (three days before the founding of the ADAV) "The guy is now working purely in the service of Bismarck...". (MEW vol. 30, p. 354).

The attempt by Lassalle to isolate Marx and Engels from the labour movement in Germany

Lassalle actually hampered the spreading of Marx and Engels' positions among the workers in Germany and attempted to isolate them from the working class there. Instead, he presented himself as the real "enlightener” and in addition tried to delay and hinder the publication and distribution of texts by Marx and Engels, among other things in order to spread his own positions instead which were often deviating from Marx and Engels, or diametrically opposed to them. Or Lassalle published texts that were often nothing but a plagiarism of the articles by Marx and Engels, without, however, citing the sources. Marx wrote an article specifically for this purpose called "Plagiarism" [14]

Lassalle presented himself as the "true expert" about conditions in Germany, while Marx and Engels lived abroad and did not have the necessary insights.

Lassalle against the struggle of Marx and Engels to defend the organisation

In correspondence with Marx, Lassalle defended the agent of Bonaparte, Karl Vogt. He advised Marx not to take public action against Vogt, not to "stir up" the matter, because this would be badly received by the German "audience". Marx had spent a whole year in 1860 writing an answer to Karl Vogt's book Mein Prozess gegen die Allgemeine Zeitung in which he defiled the political activities of Marx and his comrades. "I will write a brochure as soon as I have his smear text (that of Karl Vogt). But at the same time explain in the preface that I will not give a shit about the judgement of your German audience. (Marx to Lassalle, January 30, 1860, MEW 30, p. 438).

When Marx’s work Herr Vogt had been published, Lassalle did nothing to promote its dissemination in Germany. The bourgeois press was anxious to silence Marx's writing, and for his part the president of the ADAV sabotaged Marx’s struggle to defend himself.

Resistance in the ranks of the ADAV against Lassalle's positions and practices

At the end of 1863, beginning of 1864, resistance had developed against Lassalle's positions, especially against his positions in favour of the monarchy in Prussia. On April 11, 1864 he openly called for the support of the monarchy. Wilhelm Liebknecht, who had moved to Berlin in July 1862 after his exile in London, was one of the first to clash strongly with Lassalle. Marx warned Liebknecht against public appearances together with Lassalle and advised him not to enter into any close relations with Lassalle.  Liebknecht replied: "In the Lassallean Arbeiterverein [ADAV] something is fermenting. If Lassalle does not give up the 'dictatorial attitude' and the flirting with the reaction, there will be a scandal." In the same letter Liebknecht said, "(...) He plays such an intricate game that soon he will no longer be able to find a way out”.

Together with other forces such as Julius Vahlteich, the secretary of the ADAV, they tried to free the ADAV from the clutches of the dictatorial president. When Lassalle noticed this resistance and felt that he would soon have to answer to the organisation and thus face exposure, he was looking for a way to leave the labour movement. His last letters make this search for a "way out" clear. But Lassalle's sudden death put an unexpected end to his activities.

On 31 August 1864 he was seriously injured in a duel over a woman and died three days later of his fatal injuries. [15] Before his death Lassalle had written a will as president of the ADAV in which he chose Bernhard Becker to be his successor as president. The latter, with the help of Countess Hatzfeldt, then set everything in motion to take over this presidential post and soon began to spread the most infamous insults about "the Marx Party".

In order to preserve the sectarian existence of the ADAV, Becker's successor fought against the affiliation to the First International, which had in the meantime been founded in London on 28 September 1864, almost a month after Lassalle's death.

We cannot go into detail here about the significance of the formation of the First International. However, while its foundation was an enormous step forward for the whole workers’ movement, the forces around Lassalle neither contributed towards the participation of the workers in Germany in its formation nor did they situate their work in the perspectives of the First International.

The material situation of Lassalle

Lassalle had secured a financial income through the Countess through the then 'ground-breaking' winning of the trial as a lawyer... and at the same time he had become dependent on the Countess. So while he didn't have to earn his income as a lawyer, he had a very specific privileged status. Such truly financially parasitic positions made him appear in his eyes as "independent" towards the representatives of the ruling class with whom he interacted. Lassalle had never personally experienced what wage dependency or material hardship meant.

Engels’ “obituary” of Lassalle

 “He was currently a very insecure friend for us, in the future a quite secure enemy ".... (Engels to Marx, 4 September 1864, MEW vol. 30, p. 429)

In their "obituary" of Lassalle, Marx and Engels wrote: "The brave Lassalle gradually turns out to be an ordinary villain. We have never proceeded from judging people by what they imagined, but by what they were, and I don't see why we should make an exception for Itzig [Lassalle]. Subjectively his vanity may have presented the matter to him as a plausible strategy, objectively it was, a betrayal of the whole labour movement to the Prussians. But the stupid fellow does not seem to have demanded anything in return from Bismarck , nothing specific, let alone any guarantees. He seems to have merely relied on the fact that he had to cheat Bismarck, just as he could not fail to shoot Racowitza. Typical for Baron Itzig [Lassalle]. By the way, the time will not be long when it will not only be desirable, but necessary, to publish this whole thing. This can only be of use to us and if the matter with the ADAV and the newspaper in Germany continues, then soon his whole legacy will have to be thrown out. Meanwhile the proletariat in Germany will soon see what Bismarck is worth”. (; MEW vol. 31, p. 45)

Lassalle had been an adventurer, whose true role in his lifetime was recognised only by very few and then only piecemeal. As shown above, even Marx, Engels, Bebel and Liebknecht, who had got to know him better, did not have a complete picture of him.

Misjudgements of the adventurer by Rosa Luxemburg and Franz Mehring

At the same time the case of Lassalle shows that during that period there were grave differences amongst revolutionaries concerning the assessment of such people. Because decades later even such important political minds as Rosa Luxemburg or Franz Mehring were to make rather blatant misjudgements of Lassalle.

For example, in 1913, 50 years after the founding of the ADAV, Rosa Luxemburg wrote a misleading and trivial praise of Lassalle: "Lassalle made mistakes in his fighting tactics, certainly. However, it is only a cheap pleasure for petty hooligans of historical research to find mistakes in a great life's work. For the assessment of a personality such as his, it is much more important to recognise the actual cause, the particular source from which his mistakes as well as his merits arose. Lassalle often sinned by his tendency to play at ‘diplomacy’, to cheat with ideas, as he did in his negotiations with Bismarck about the imposition of universal suffrage, and in his plans for productive associations founded on state credit. In his political struggles with bourgeois society as well as in his struggles with the Prussian judiciary, he liked to descend to the level of his opponent, granting him concessions to his point of view, seeing himself as a daring acrobat: as Johann Philipp Becker wrote, he often ventured a leap to the outermost edge of the abyss, which distinguishes a revolutionary tactic from a pact with reaction.

But the cause that led him to these daring leaps was not the inner insecurity, the inner doubt about the strength and feasibility of the revolutionary cause that he represented, but, conversely, an excess of self-assured belief in the indomitable power of that cause. Lassalle sometimes put a foot on the opponent's ground in the struggle, while not wanting to abandon any of his revolutionary aims, but in the delusion of a powerful personality. He believed that he was able to wrest so much for his revolutionary aims on his own ground that the ground itself should have collapsed under the feet of the opponent. If Lassalle, for example, grafted his idea of productive associations based on state credit onto an idealistic, ahistorical fiction of the state, the great danger of this fiction lay in the fact that in reality he was merely idealising the pathetic Prussian state. But what Lassalle, on the basis of his fiction, wanted to demand and impose on this state in terms of the tasks and duties of the working class, that would not only have shaken the miserable barrack of a Prussian state, but the bourgeois state as such.“[16]

Let’s consider Luxemburg's view that Lassalle was a "bold, daring acrobat” who “often ventured a leap to the outermost edge of the abyss which distinguishes a revolutionary tactic from the pact with reaction" In reality experience shows the opposite; it shows that the correct political statements which a political adventurer can make at some point cannot change his character and overall contribution. No less misleading was the assessment of Franz Mehring, probably the most famous party historian and for a long time someone who stood alongside Rosa Luxemburg. From his point of view Lassalle was a revolutionary and as such "quite equal" to Marx (Mehring, Geschichte seiner Lebens, p. 318). According to Mehring, Lassalle was someone "whom the history of German social democracy will always mention in the same breath with him [Marx] and Engels". (Mehring p. 320). Lassalle's agitational writings have “given a new life to hundreds of thousands of German workers” (ibid. p. 314). According to Mehring, Marx “never completely overcame his prejudices” against Lassalle. Mehring regretted that Marx “judged the dead Lassalle even more bitterly and unjustly than the living”. (ibid. p. 319, 320)

Due to historical circumstances, Lassalle was never fully unmasked during his lifetime. As mentioned above, Marx and Engels broke with him over programmatic questions and his behaviour around 1861/62, but they had not been aware of the nature of his links with Bismarck. His sudden death increased the difficulties of grasping and exposing the full scope of his personality.

Schweitzer – a second adventurer

After Lassalle's death in 1864, Jean Baptist von Schweitzer was elected president of the ADAV in 1867 at the age of 34 years.

To get a picture of Schweitzer's character, we quote August Bebel in detail here.

“J.B. von Schweitzer is one of the leading personalities who, after Lassalle's death, successively took over the leadership of the association he founded. With Schweitzer the association received a leader who possessed to a high degree a number of qualities which were of great value for his position. He had the necessary theoretical background, a broad political view and a cool mind. As a journalist and agitator, he had the ability to make the most difficult questions and issues clear to the simplest worker; he knew how to fascinate and whip up the masses like few others. In the course of his journalistic work, he published a series of popularising science papers in his journal, The Social Democrat, which are among the best that socialist literature possesses. (...) He quickly grasped a given situation and understood how to exploit it. Finally, he was also an able and calculating speaker, who made an impression on the masses and his opponents.

But in addition to these good, in part brilliant qualities, Schweitzer possessed a number of vices which made him dangerous as the leader of a workers' party which was in the early stages of its development. For him, the movement which he joined after several wanderings was not an end in itself, but a means to an end. He entered the movement as soon as he saw that no future was blossoming within the bourgeoisie, that for him, who had become a declassé early through his way of life, the only hope was to play the role in the labour movement to which his ambition and, so to speak, his abilities predestined him. He also did not want to be merely the leader of the movement, but its ruler, and sought to exploit it for his selfish purposes. Educated in a Jesuit-led institute in Aschaffenburg for a number of years, later devoting himself to the study of jurisprudence, he acquired the intellectual tools in Jesuit casuistry and legal rabble-rousing that were by nature cunning and devious He was a politician who unscrupulously sought to achieve his purposes, satisfying his ambition at all costs, and also satisfying his needs to be a ‘bon viveur’, which was not possible without adequate material means, something he did not possess“ (August Bebel, Aus Meinem Leben, Part 2, p. 223).

Schweitzer’s morals

After Schweitzer had been elected chairman of the Frankfurter Arbeiterbildungsverein (Workers‘ Educational Club) even before the founding of the ADAV in November 1861, he had not only become known locally as chairman of the Schützenverein (shooting club) and the Turnclub, (gymnastics club) but had also built up his first relationships with the local nobility. In the summer of 1862 he was accused of embezzling funds from the Schützenverein and of a paedophile contact with a 12 year old boy in a park. He was sentenced to two weeks in prison for the offence committed against the boy and for "arousing public anger".

Even though the boy was never found and although Schweitzer denied the whole affair the reproach of child abuse was from then on constantly hanging over him. He never denied the embezzlement of the money of the Schützenverein.

Nevertheless Lassalle protected him and accepted him into the ADAV and made him a board member. 

Bebel later wrote about the behaviour of Schweitzer and his promotion by Lassalle:  "He quickly understood that there was an opportunity here for a position for his future that corresponded to his ambition, which was cut off from him for all time in the bourgeois world because of the events described above [child abuse and embezzlement of money - ICC]. In these circles he was regarded as a person to be shown the door. (Bebel, Aus Meinem Leben, p. 232)

Contacts with the ruling class…

Following in Lassalle's footsteps, Schweitzer soon made an effort to establish contacts with ruling circles, in particular Bismarck and his entourage, by means of the Privy Councillor Hermann Wagener. [17]

Like Lassalle, Schweitzer also offered political support to Bismarck. How conscious Hatzfeldt was of Schweitzer's efforts, is shown by a statement by Bebel in his autobiography: "The Countess Hatzfeldt, according to whom Schweitzer‘s policy in support for Bismarck's had not gone far enough, tried to justify this policy towards the end of 1864 in a letter to Mrs. Herwegh, in which she wrote: ‘There is a formal abyss between the following two things: to sell oneself to an adversary, to work for him, whether in a hidden or uncovered way, or to grasp the moment like a great politician, to profit from the mistakes of the adversary, to let one enemy be wiped out by the other, to urge him on a downward trajectory and to take advantage of the favourable situation – no matter who may have brought it about. Those who merely have honest convictions, those who always base themselves only on an ideal vision of things to come, who remain floating in the air, may be considered privately as quite good people, but they are completely incapable of being useful for something, for actions which really affect events, in short, they can only be part of a great mass following the leader who knows better". (Bebel, ibid. p. 251)

Here you can see the point of view often found in adventurers: the masses are stupid and must be controlled, they need a clever head that can act effectively on the opponent. The adventurer is the "chosen one, the one who has been called". And a part of this behaviour is to speak with two tongues. As Bebel wrote: "The way in which Schweitzer knew how to flatter the masses, although inwardly he despised them - I have never seen a thing of this scope." [18]

...Paired with opportunist offers

Because Schweitzer said that "His Majesty our most revered king is the friend of the workers" and that the main enemy for the ADAV lies in the "liberal bourgeois party", he argued that "the social democratic party's struggle must first and foremost be directed against them. But if you defend this view, gentlemen, then you will say to yourself: Why shouldn't Lassalle have turned to Bismarck? (Bebel, Aus meinem Leben, p. 233, 247). [...] Bebel continues: “Schweitzer knew that the view he preached was fundamentally a reactionary one, a betrayal of the interests of the workers, but he propagandised it because he believed that it would promote his ascent (...)

It was self-evident that Bismarck and the feudalists gladly accepted such help from the far left and possibly supported the advocate of such a view" (Bebel, Aus Meinem Leben, p. 233). (...) “The attempts to make the General German Workers' Association palatable for Bismarck's grand Prussian politics, were thus undertaken very early and then permanently. It will be up to me to prove that Schweitzer consciously served Bismarck's endeavours” (Bebel, p. 227). Efforts to fulfil personal ambitions through direct or indirect contacts with the rulers were therefore often accompanied by programmatic weaknesses and deceptions, as could be seen in the question of electoral law (or see, for example, Schweitzer's article "The Ministry of Bismarck and the Government of the Central and Small States"). Engels later wrote: "At that time, an attempt was made to bring the Allgemeine Deutsche Arbeiterverein - at the time the only organised association of social democratic workers in Germany - under the wing of the Bismarck Ministry by giving the workers the prospect that the government would grant them universal suffrage. The ‘universal, equal, direct right to vote’ had been preached by Lassalle as the only and infallible means for the conquest of political power by the working class.

At that time Engels wrote two important programmatic texts, "The Prussian Military Question and the German Labour Party" as well as an answer to J.B. Schweitzer "Über P.-J. Proudhon”. As Engels commented, “this article had Proudhon as its topic, but actually it should also be seen as an answer to Lassalleanism itself” (MEW 15, P. 25).

At the same time Schweitzer reacted to the criticism of his position on Prussia. Because Marx and Engels lived in England and not in Germany, they could not have any "expert knowledge" at all. Only if one has a "local/national" view can one judge correctly "As far as the practical questions of momentary tactics are concerned, however, I ask you to consider that, in order to judge these things, one must stand in the center of the movement". In the Social Democrat of December 15, 1864, an article "Our Programme" defended this national standpoint: "We do not want a powerless and torn fatherland, powerless to the outside and full of arbitrariness within - we want the whole mighty Germany, the one free people's state” (Bebel, ibid., p. 232). Such a strong national vision was put forward at a time when the First International was emphasising the importance of internationalism to the whole working class worldwide.

On December 15, 1865 Schweitzer published an article in Social Democrat praising the "merits" of Lassalle, as if there had been no workers' movement before him. In response, Marx sent the above-mentioned article on Proudhon in order to "almost covertly" encourage critical reflection on Lassalle's role. In addition to Lassalle's glorification, the Social Democrat under Schweitzer wanted to further expand Bismarck's support. As a result, Marx and Engels renounced their collaboration in the Social Democrat on February 23, 1865, after which Schweitzer again falsified the positions of Marx and Engels. [19]

The personality cult around Lassalle

The opposition within the ADAV began to polemicize against the “dictatorial organisational provisions in the Association Statutes, so as Lassalle's very own work the organisation had to be surrounded with a kind of glory. The Lassalle cult was from now on systematically promoted and everyone who dared to hold different views was branded as a kind of desecrator of the most sacred” (Bebel, Aus meinem Leben, p. 246). Bebel went on to say that "And Schweitzer supported these idiotic views, which eventually became a kind of religious belief. (...) In the course of the years it came to pass that the topic ‘Christ and Lassalle’ was placed on the agenda of numerous popular assemblies” (ibid., p. 246). [20]

"Obscure" funding sources

Like Lassalle, Schweitzer did not rely solely on dubious sources of finance. He never explained where the large funds for the production and distribution of the Social Democrat came from, after the suspicion arose that he was receiving funds from government sources. The mere suspicion that he was dependent on government funds, that he thus could not only be blackmailed but even directly corrupted, should not have been left unanswered by Schweitzer. Instead he left this accusation hanging in the air. [21]

And he did nothing when it became known that a police informer named Preuß was active in the organisation and was in contact with his police superior, with whom Schweitzer himself maintained contacts.

Not only spared by the police

It might be argued: aren't prison sentences or repressive actions against adventurers proof of their "innocence"?

In November 1865 Schweitzer had gone to prison and was to have served a year there for insulting His Majesty and defaming official orders, with deprivation of his rights of honour.

"It has been asserted that the various prison sentences are evidence against the accusation that Schweitzer was Bismarck's agent. This view is quite wrong. The relations a government has with its political agents do not bind them to the prosecutors and judges. A temporary conviction of a political agent for oppositional acts is also very suitable to eliminate distrust of the person concerned and to strengthen confidence in him. It is well known that at the same time as Lassalle and Bismarck had their hours of political conversations as "friendly neighbours", the Berlin courts did not shy away from sentencing him to a series of harsh prison sentences, even though it was widely known at the time how Bismarck and Lassalle stood in relation to each other”  (Bebel, ibid., p. 253).

While the Berlin police terrorised suspects during their early in the morning raids, among other things through house searches, "Schweitzer [...] never had to complain about such or similar measures. He went to prison and left the same as if he had been to a hotel" (Bebel, p. 297). In fact, Schweitzer was repeatedly released from prison or could almost enter and leave prison and continue his activities - in contrast to other members of the ADAV who languished there.

In fact the close ally of Lassalle Countess Hatzfeldt even denounced Liebknecht to the police when he was staying illegally in Berlin in 1865, after which he was expelled from the city. [22]

Growing resistance to Schweitzer in the ADAV

In the spring of 1869, resistance formed within the ADAV against Schweitzer's dictatorial powers.

At first against his wasteful lifestyle: “Schweitzer was one of those characters who always spend at least twice as much money as they earn, whose slogan is: my needs do not have to depend on my revenue, but the revenues have to depend on my needs, which requires that they then unscrupulously take the money where they find it. In 1862 Schweitzer had taken 2,600 Taler from the Schützenfestkasse, but later, when he was president of the Allgemeine Deutscher Arbeiterverein and as such had the money at his disposal, he embezzled pennies collected by poorly paid workers in order to satisfy his desires. These were not large sums, but this was not due to Schweitzer, but to the meagre contents of the cash register. He was accused of this mismanagement and it was also proven at various general meetings of the ADAV, and Bracke, who for many years was the treasurer of the association and had to pay out the money on Schweitzer's orders, publicly accused him of these infamous activities without Schweitzer daring to utter a word in his defence. But anyone who is capable of such a thing could not have been incapable of selling himself politically, which could be the only halfway lucrative business for him. No one can prove how much was paid, for such transactions are not concluded on the open market” (Bebel, ibid. p. 270). When the local section of Erfurt wanted to have Schweitzer's cash management checked, Schweitzer threatened to dissolve the association... and three weeks later the police actually appeared as a punitive expedition and dissolved the association (Bebel, ibid., p. 274). And following consultations in a small circle of Chosen Men, he had a new club founded. Its statutes were rigged in Schweitzer’s favour: “The new statutes contained downright outrageous provisions. Thus the president was to be elected six weeks before the ordinary general assembly in a ballot by the members of the association, i.e. before the general assembly had spoken and examined its management" (cf. Bebel, ibid., p. 276).

Denigrations of Marx and Engels

Schweitzer further declared against Marx and Engels that they had withdrawn from the Social Democrat as soon as they realised that they could not play the leading role in the party. In contrast to them, Lassalle was not the man of infertile abstraction, but a politician in the strict sense of the word, not a literary doctrinaire, but a man of practical action.

It must not be forgotten, however, that Schweitzer later flattered the man of ‘infertile abstraction’ the ‘literary doctrinaire’, Karl Marx, and sought to win him over“. (Bebel, ibid., p. 240).

During the General Assembly of the ADAV in Wuppertal Barmen-Elberfeld at the end of March 1869, at which Schweitzer was to be called to account, Bebel reported to Marx:

“Liebknecht and I sit here in Elberfeld in a small circle of like-minded people to prepare the campaign plan for tomorrow's battle. Here we have heard about such an abundance of Schweitzer's mean, vile acts, that our hair stands on end. It also turns out to be evident that Schweitzer only proposes to accept the programme of the International for the purpose of leading a coup against us and to knock down a good part of opposition elements or rather to draw them over to himself”. (Bebel, ibid., p. 281). Bebel added that "Schweitzer is using all means of perfidy and intrigue against us". Bebel and Liebknecht wanted to expose Schweitzer in this plenary meeting. [23] Bebel reported: "The next afternoon we entered the crowded hall, greeted by the angry looks of the fanatical supporters of Schweitzer. Liebknecht spoke first, about an hour and a half, I followed and spoke for a much shorter time. Our accusations contained what I had so far put forward against Schweitzer. Several times there were violent interruptions, namely when I called Schweitzer a government agent. I must withdraw the accusation! I refused to do so. I thought I had the right to speak my mind freely, they, the listeners, did not have to believe me.(...)

Schweitzer, who sat on the podium behind us during our speeches, did not answer a word. So we left the hall, with some delegates walking in front of and behind us to protect us from the assaults of the fanatical supporters of Schweitzer. But flattering words like ‘villain, traitor, toe-rag, you should have your bones smashed’ etc., were heard in the crowd as we walked through its ranks. One of those present also tried to bring me down from the podium by pushing me into the hollow of my knee. In front of the door our friends welcomed us to escort us to our hotel as our guardians”.

Schweitzer demanded a vote of confidence from the delegates. After a heated debate he was confirmed as the president – though with a much-reduced number of votes.

“Even though Schweitzer was re-elected at the General Assembly, his powers were severely restricted. Schweitzer swiped the minutes of the General Assembly and made them disappear. (…) Nothing that compromised him was permitted to be made known to the members of the association and become public." (Bebel, p. 285).

For a short time the two wings into which the ADAV had split had proclaimed their reunification under Schweitzer. But the opposition wing around Bracke concluded that "Mr. von Schweitzer uses the association only to satisfy his ambition and to degrade it to a tool of anti-working class reactionary politics” (Bebel, ibid, p. 290). The opposition then called for the holding of a congress of all the social democratic workers in Germany (held in Eisenach). They resigned from the ADAV and declared: "It will become clear whether corruption, meanness, bribery, or honesty and purity of intentions will win out.

Our slogan is: Down with sectarianism! Down with the cult of personality! Down with the Jesuits who acknowledge our principle in words, betray it in actions! Long live Social Democracy, long live the International Workers' Association!

The fact that in this declaration, and later repeatedly, we used the honesty of our intentions against the dishonest Schweitzers in the field, subsequently brought the nickname ‘The Honest’ to the newly founded party of the opponents” (Bebel, p. 293).

“Schweitzer's counter-offensive was not long in coming. The Social Democrat now observed the tactic of constantly proclaiming that our fraction consisted not of workers but of literary figures, schoolmasters and other bourgeois". Above all, the opposition was to be discredited by abuse, attempts at ridicule and slander. "Behind our Congress, it was said in this article, stood the whole liberal bourgeoisie in all its shades. Of course, under a regiment of literary men, schoolmasters, merchants, etc., there could be no question of a tight, uniform organisation. Each of these people must have the opportunity to make themselves quite important. The entire bourgeois press was at our command, he continued. He would see to it that a corresponding number of delegates came to the Eisenach Congress, but not literary men and bourgeois, but real workers” (Bebel, p. 295). Finally, Tölcke, who in 1865 had been elected president of the ADAV, accused Bebel in the Social Democrat of 28 July 1869 of obtaining 600 Taler a month from the ex-King of Hanover - a real slander!

At the founding congress of the Eisenachers held in August, the members feared a violent intrusion by the fanatical supporters of Schweitzer. Approximately 100 people from the "Schweitzer" circle of supporters then appeared at the Eisenach Congress, but were rejected because of non-existent mandates.

With the foundation of the Eisenach Party in1869, which had risen through opposition to the ADAV, the first party was founded: the Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei Deutschland (SDAP -Social Democratic Workers’ Party of Germany)

In a letter to Schweitzer Marx wrote about the indispensable step of moving from a sect to a real class movement. Lassalle had not only refused to contribute to making this step but had acted as an obstacle, which the movement had to go beyond. “Moreover from the outset, like everyone who declares that he has a panacea for the sufferings of the masses in his pocket, he gave his agitation a religious and sectarian character. Every sect is in fact religious. Further, just because he was the founder of a sect, he denied all natural connection with the earlier movement both in Germany and outside. He fell into the same mistake as Proudhon, and instead of looking among the genuine elements of the class movement for the real basis of his agitation, he tried to prescribe their course to these elements according to a certain dogmatic recipe.

Most of what I am now saying after the event I foretold to Lassalle in 1862, when he came to London and invited me to place myself with him at the head of the new movement.

You yourself have experienced in your own person the opposition between the movement of a sect and the movement of a class. The sect sees the justification for its existence and its ‘point of honour’ not in what it has in common with the class movement but in the particular shibboleth which distinguishes it from it. Therefore when at Hamburg you proposed the congress for the formation of trade unions you were only able to defeat the opposition of the sect by threatening to resign from the office of president. In addition, you were obliged to double yourself and to announce that in one case you were acting as the head of the sect and in the other as the organ of the class movement.

The dissolution of the General Association of German Workers gave you the historic opportunity to accomplish a great step forward and to declare, to prove if necessary, that a new stage of development had now been reached, and that moment was ripe for the sectarian movement to merge into the class movement and make an end of all dependence. Where the true content of the sect was concerned it would, as with all previous working-class sects, be carried on into the general movement as an element which enriched it. Instead of this you actually demanded of the class movement that it should subordinate itself to the movement of a particular sect.

Those who are not your friends have concluded from this that whatever happens you want to preserve ‘your own’ workers' movement" [24]

In July 1871 the Braunschweig party section published an appeal:

But vis a vis Mr. von Schweitzer, who in the most spiteful and reprehensible way tries to set up workers against workers, social democrats against social democrats, we are obliged to stand up for the workers’ real cause with all our energy. Therefore we call upon the party comrades in Barmen-Elberfeld, (...) to take the necessary steps in this direction without delay; the party is guilty and obliged to clean the general movement of a man who, under the guise of a radical attitude, has so far done everything in the interest of the Prussian state government to harm this movement. The party will support the comrades in Barmen-Elberfeld. Now forward vigorously!” (Bebel, Mein Leben, p. 330).
In spring 1871 Schweitzer was expelled from the ADAV. [25]
As with the case of Lassalle, Schweitzer was never fully unmasked during his life (he died of pneumonia in 1875). He was expelled from the ADAV, but without the lessons having been drawn sufficiently.

It was only in the fight against the activities of Bakunin that the First International and its General Council developed the capacity to expose the activities of an adventurer in an efficient manner.

The struggle against adventurers is not possible without assimilating the experience of the revolutionary movement

The role of the two adventurers, both lawyers, who for years were able to do their dirty work in the ADAV - while in the eyes of many were considered to be acting in the interests of the working class - shows how difficult it is to identify and expose an adventurer.

Exposing and uncovering their behaviour, careers, interactions, reactions and true motives is one of the greatest challenges for a revolutionary organisation. As the past has shown, the fact that these individuals have gained the trust of many members of the organisation by trickery, and may enjoy a high reputation in the working class as a whole, is a major obstacle, but it must not undermine the ability to recognise and understand the very nature of such individuals. The unmasking of such adventurers usually encounters the horror of those who feel closest to them and who are incapable or unwilling to recognise reality out of long-term allegiance, "loyalty" and/or emotional affinity. Since such persons can be "highly esteemed" figures, from whom "no one expects anything like this", it is all the more important to come to terms with the painful historical experience of the revolutionary movement. Engels wrote shortly before the end of his life in 1891 that he "would no longer allow Lassalle's false fame to be maintained and preached anew at Marx's expense”. (Engels with August Bebel, May 1/2, 1891, MEW 38, p. 93)  

So he summed up the hesitations and doubts weighing on the party, and showed why it was important to uncover Lassalle mercilessly:

You mention that Bebel has written to you saying that Marx’s treatment of Lassalle has caused bad blood amongst the old Lassalleans. That may be. Those people don’t, of course, know the true story and nobody seems to have done anything to enlighten them on the subject. If they don’t know that Lassalle’s reputation as a great man is solely attributable to the fact that for years Marx allowed him to flaunt as his own the fruits of Marx’s research and, what’s more, to distort them because of his inadequate grounding in political economy, that is no fault of mine. But I am Marx’s literary executor and as such I also have my obligations.

For the past 26 years Lassalle has been part of history. If, while the Exceptional Law was in force, he has been exempt from historical criticism, it is now high time that such criticism came into its own and that light be thrown on Lassalle’s position in regard to Marx. The legend which veils the true image of Lassalle and deifies him cannot, after all, become an article of faith for the party. However highly one may rate Lassalle’s services on behalf of the movement, his historical role inside it remains an equivocal one. Everywhere Lassalle the socialist goes hand in hand with Lassalle the demagogue. In Lassalle the agitator and organiser, the Lassalle who conducted the Hatzfeldt lawsuit is everywhere apparent: the same cynicism in the choice of methods, the same predilection for consorting with corrupt and shady people who may be used simply as tools and then be discarded. Up till 1862 a specifically Prussian vulgar democrat in practice with marked Bonapartist tendencies (I have just been looking through his letters to Marx), he made a sudden volte-face for purely personal reasons and began to engage in agitation. And before 2 years had gone by he was demanding that the workers side with the monarchy against the bourgeoisie and had begun intriguing with his kindred spirit Bismarck in a manner that could only have led to the actual betrayal of the movement had he not, luckily for him, been shot in the nick of time. In his propagandist writings the correct arguments he borrowed from Marx are so interwoven with his own invariably false ones that it is virtually impossible to separate the two. Such workers as have been offended by Marx’s judgment know nothing of Lassalle save for his 2 years of agitation and, furthermore, see the latter only through rose-tinted spectacles. But historical criticism cannot forever remain standing hat in hand before such prejudices. It was my duty to settle accounts once and for all between Marx and Lassalle. That has been done. With this I can content myself for the time being. Besides, I have other things to do. And the publication of Marx’s ruthless judgment of Lassalle will undoubtedly prove effective on its own and put heart into others. But if I were forced to do so, there'd be no alternative: I should have to dispose of the Lassallean legend once and for all” (Engels to Kautsky, 23 February 1891, MEW 38, p. 40).

The unmasking of the activities of Bakunin through the General Council of the First International showed that this struggle was only possible because of the political awareness and determination to unmask such adventurers. And this could only be done by establishing a specific report like that of the General Council to The Hague Congress. [26] When Bebel and Liebknecht denounced Schweitzer in 1869 at the Wuppertal Party conference, they did so without having presented a proper report, without offering a full picture, a fact which certainly contributed to the unmasking being ‘half-baked’, and it did not prevent Schweitzer from being re-elected – in spite of growing resistance.

The struggle against adventurers, which as the experience of Marx and Engels in their struggle against Lassalle and Schweitzer showed, is a tremendous challenge, was taken to a higher, much more efficient level through the General Council of the First International at The Hague Congress. By drawing the lessons of the weaknesses and difficulties of the struggle against Lassalle and Schweitzer the General Council forged the weapons to face up to Bakunin. It is up to revolutionary organisations today to re-appropriate the lessons of this struggle.

Dino,    July 2019



[2]Ferdinand Lassalle was born in 1825 in Breslau, the son of a wealthy Jewish silk merchant. Already in his adolecscence he distinguished himself by his strong independent activities and his ambitions. As a student he aspired to an appointment as a university professor.

[3] Because of his special relations with Countess Hatzfeld, the Communist League refused to accept him into its ranks.

[4]One of his biographers, Schirokauer, mentioned his lavish lifestyle as a young man and his high level of consumption of expensive wines and champagnes. In the Berlin residence, where he and the countess lived, it was reported that hash and opium consumption was also a common practice. For more details see: Arno Schirokauer: Lassalle. Die Macht der Illusion, die Illusion der Macht. Paul List Verlag, Leipzig 1928.

[5] Due to the Law on Associations of 1854, political workers' associations and also connections between authorised associations were forbidden.

[6]Gustav Mayer, Lassalles' snitch report about himself. Re-published in the Grünberg Archives, vol. 10, p. 399 ff., see also Gustav Mayer, Bismarck und Lassalle, Ihr Briefwechsel und ihre Gespräche, Berlin, 1928 as well as Johann Baptist von Schweitzer und die Sozialdemokratie, Jena, 1909

[7] A.K. Worobjowa, Aus der Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung in Deutschland und des Kampfes von Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels gegen Lassalle und das Lassalleanertum 1862-1864, Berlin 1961, p. 249

[8] Later Bebel interrogated Bismarck in public about his links with Lassalle. “In reference to the relations with Lassalle which I reproached him with, he said that it was not he, but Lassalle, who had had the desire to talk to him, and he had not made it difficult for him to fulfil this desire. He had not regretted that either. Negotiations between them had not previously taken place, so what could Lassalle, as a poor devil, have offered him?”  (From Bebel, Aus Meinem Leben, My Life, My Entry into the Labour Movement and Public Life, Chapter 5, p. 76)

[9]Helene von Rakowicza (Helene von Dönniges), the former lover of Lassalle, for whom he was involved in the duel that cost him his life, says in her book Von anderen und mir, Berlin 1909, that she presented the question to Lassalle in a conversation at night :“Is it true now? Have you anything to do with Bismarck's secret? To which he replied:As far as Bismarck is concerned and what he wanted from me and I from him? - it should be sufficient for you to know that it did not come about, could not come about. We were both too clever - we saw our mutual cunning and could only have ended up laughing in each other’s faces (politically speaking). We are too well educated for that - so there were no more than visits and witty conversations’."

[10] See also Engels “The Prussian Military Question and the German Workers' Party”, (

Engels; "On the Dissolution of the Lassallean Workers' Association."  (

[12]"Itzig [Lassalle] sends me, inevitably, his defence speech (he has been sentenced to 4 months) in court. Macte puer virtute! First of all, this boastful man had the pamphlet which you have, the speech about "the working class", reprinted in Switzerland under the pompous title: ‘Workers’ Programme’. You know that the thing is nothing but bad vulgarisation of the Manifesto and other things so often preached by us that they have, so to speak, already become commonplaces. (The lad, for example, speaks of ‘positions’ when speaking of the working class.) Well. In his speech before the Berlin court he did not have any shame to say:I further assert that this pamphlet is not only a scientific work like many others, which summarises already known results, but that it is even in many respects a scientific achievement, a development of new scientific thoughts... In various and difficult fields of science I have unearthed extensive works, spared no effort or sleepless nights to extend the boundaries of science itself, and I can perhaps say with Horace: militavi non sine gloria [I fought not without glory]. But I myself explain to you: Never, not in my most extensive works, have I written a line that would be more strictly scientific than this production from its first page to its last ... So, take a look at the contents of this brochure. Its content is nothing more than a philosophy of history compressed into 44 pages ... It is a development of the objective rational thought process which has been at the basis of European history for longer than a millennium, an unfolding of the inner soul etc.’. Is this indecency not incredible? The guy obviously thinks he is the man to take our inventory. This is grotesque and ridiculous! Salut. Your K.M" (MEW 30, 28.1.1863, p. 322)

[13] Marx to Kugelmann, 23 February 1865, MEW 31, p. 451,

[14] MEW 16, p. 221.

[15]Lassalle fell in love with a young woman named Helene von Dönniges during a stay at a health resort. He wanted to marry her, but her parents were opposed. In order to successfully sue her father, the Bavarian diplomat Wilhelm von Dönniges, for sequestration of his daughter, he tried on 16 or 17 August 1864 to pull the Bavarian King Ludwig II over to his side. (...) Thereupon Lassalle decided to travel to Switzerland and to challenge Wilhelm von Dönniges to a duel. As a member of the Breslauer Burschenschaft (fraternity), Lassalle demanded satisfaction from Helene's father, a member of the Corps Rhenania Bonn. The 50-year-old father instructed his desired fiancé, the Romanian boyar Janko von Racowitza (Iancu Racoviţă), a member of the Corps Neoborussia-Berlin, to take on the duel.

The duel took place on the morning of 28 August 1864 in the Geneva suburb of Carouge. Lassalle's assistant was Wilhelm Rüstow. At 7:30 a.m., the opponents faced each other with pistols. Racowitza was the first to fire and hit Lassalle in the abdomen. Three days later, on 31 August 1864, Ferdinand Lassalle died at the age of 39 in Carouge. 

One may trivialise all this as the typical macho behavior of men with aristocratic or, as in the case of Lassalle, bourgeois backgrounds. His cultivation of intense rivalries in his early youth - at the age of 12 he had for the first time challenged in writing a rival to a duel over a 14-year-old girl - can perhaps be dismissed as adolescent zeal, but for a 39-year-old adult who pretended to the workers that he was pursuing revolutionary goals to try to to eliminate a "competitor" through a duel, at the same time putting his own life at risk, was a gross perversion of the goals of the working class.

[16]Rosa Luxemburg: “Lassalle and the Revolution” [Festschrift, March 1904, Berlin, p. 7/8. Collected Works Vol. 1/2, 1970, p. 417-421]

[17] His helper in these matters was the Privy Senior Government Councillor Hermann Wagener. There was also the police agent Preuß, who was handled by Wagener. The latter was the one who denounced Liebknecht's presence in Berlin, in autumn 1866, for infringing a police order, whereupon he was sentenced to three months in prison. See A.K. Worobjowa, Aus der Geschichte der Arbeiterbewegung in Deutschland und des Kampfes von Karl Marx und Friedrich Engels gegen Lassalle und das Lassalleanertum 1862-1864, Berlin 1961

[19]See MEW vol. 16, p. 79, "I had written to Schweitzer about 10 days ago that he had to make a front against Bismarck, and also that the impression of coquetry of the Workers' Party with Bismarck would have to be abandoned etc. In response he was even more willing to flirt with Pißmarck”. See the correspondence of Marx and Engels, February. 3, 1865 and of February 18, 1865.

[20]“The first two test issues of the paper already contained many doubtful points. I remonstrated. And among other things I expressed my indignation that from a private letter, which I wrote on the news of Lassalle's death to Countess Hatzfeldt, a few words of comfort had been extracted, published without my signature and shamelessly misused to propagate servile praise of Lassalle” , MEW 16, p. 87, 23

[21]In later reports by party members it became much clearer how much he had embezzeled party funds. (Bebel, Mein Leben, p. 320, 337).

[22]A.K. Worobjowa, op cit,

[23]Actually, the practice and tradition of the labour movement required that if a member or members of the organisation have a suspicion of anti-organisational behaviour or even express doubt about the credentials of another member, a specially appointed organ of the organisation must intervene in order to carry out investigations with appropriate discretion and method. Such a body did not exist in the ADAV, and the situation was further complicated by the fact that the person under suspicion was the president of the organisation.

[24] Marx to Schweitzer, 13 October 1868, MEW, Vol. 32, p. 569,

[25] Bebel reported that Schweitzer’s supporters at the time of the Franco-Prussian war were suspected of having attacked Liebknecht’s apartment… Bebel, Mein Leben, p. 332.

[26] See our articles in International Reviews 84,85 and 87


Working Class History