Ferdinand Lassalle – State Socialism

Ferdinand Lassalle

Ferdinand Lassalle (1825-1864) was the Louis Blanc of German Socialism. His chief work was that of the agitator and propagandist. He founded the Social Democratic Party. His thought needs no long consideration, for in its main outlines it was that of Louis Blanc, Rodbertus, and Marx. Lassalle it was who made the phrase "iron law of wages" his own. Accepting the subsistence theory of wages, he taught that under the capitalistic system the position of labor is hopeless. Therefore capitalism must be abolished, and cooperative associ­ation be put in its place. "Productive association with state credit" was his scheme. And the state was to guard the funds of the associations and maintain suitable rules.
The most notable points in Lassalle's writing are the bril­liant way in which he seeks to drive home the significance of capitalism, and his theory of Konjunctur.

"Capital," he takes broadly to be the name for a group of political, economic, and juristic conditions which are not abso­lute and permanent, but the result of an historical development. An examination of the existing economic order shows that its essential features are division of labor, production for a, world market, competition, and the ownership of the instruments of production by the capitalist class, which exploits wage earners by paying them according to the iron law of wages, pocketing the surplus. Capital, "the dead instrument of labor," has become the active agent, degrading the living laborer.

In opposing individualism Lassalle was led to deny that the individual controls his own destiny. There is a large element of chance, or conjuncture, he said, that dominates individual endeavor and makes control by society necessary. Wars, crises, etc., are of social origin, and largely beyond the scope of individ­ual action. It is therefore folly to rely upon individual initiative and self-interest, as do the Classical economists.