Thoughts of what might have been, had Lassalle’s career in politics not been brought to so melancholy an end, are likely to be idle. Helen von Racowitza, the pathetic instrument of his fate, not unnaturally indulged her fancy in such thoughts. Writing in her old age she queries: “Would he, ... with his incomparable ambition and will, ever have been able to adapt himself to the compact edifice of the German empire? Assuredly it must always have seemed to him like a prison!” To a woman wracked by remorse it may have been comforting to believe that when the catastrophe occurred the work of the man she once had loved was really completed. Doubtless indeed Lassalle himself had begun to realize, short as was the period from the foundation of the Workingmen’s Association to the fatal duel with the Rumanian Yanko, that he could not bring his enterprise to a head as quickly as he had hoped. Doubtless he already saw that the establishment of an independent labor party was not a matter of a single hard-fought campaign, to be waged and won by the genius of any one great leader, but a task requiring long and patient toil and the indefinite postponement of the sweet joys of victory. Certainly in his last months Lassalle showed an unwise readiness seriously to compromise his position for the sake of more immediate success. Had he lived, he would soon have discovered that he must retrace those latest steps, or Bismarck, and not he, would have been the actual leader of the first German independent labor party. There was nothing in Lassalle’s life to warrant the assumption that he would deliberately sell his party for a mess of pottage. Lassalle had put his hand to the plow and it was not in his nature to leave the furrow unturned.
Yet Lassalle’s title to greatness must lie less in what he himself achieved than in the achievements of others in his name. He founded a political party; others have made that party great. But the most signal service is the service of the founder, for to found a party is to generate a living organism which will, in the fullness of time, express the purposes and unite the energies of millions. So it has been with the party of Lassalle. Like the husbandman who casts his seed on good ground, he implanted the germs of the Social-Democracy in the hearts of his country’s workingmen when the time was ripe for the sowing. It is enough to secure his fame that he had the vision to see that the time was ripe and the strength to break the ground.
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TRANSLATED BY E.H. BABBITT, A.B.
Assistant Professor of German, Tufts College
Gentlemen: Requested to deliver an address before you, I have thought it best to choose, and to treat in a strictly scientific way, a subject, which, from its nature, must be particularly interesting to you, namely, the special relation of the character of the historical period in which we are living to the idea of a working class.