Ferdinand Lassalle (fĕr´dēnänt läsäl´), 1825–64, German socialist. The son of a Jewish merchant, he studied at the universities of Breslau and Berlin, where he became a philosophical Hegelian. He gained wide recognition as an attorney in a lengthy and notorious divorce suit (1846–54). In this period he became acquainted with Karl Marx and, partly influenced by him, developed a theory of state socialism. In contrast to Marxian theory, Lassalle's theories emphasized the role of the state and nationalism. He argued that the state should make capital outlays to enable the workers to set up producers' cooperatives; he believed that the state could be forced to do this once universal suffrage was achieved. Lassalle's influence on German politics was great, particularly in introducing the workers as a third element in the contest between Otto von Bismarck and the Prussian liberals. He played a key role in establishing (1863) the General German Workers' Association, the first workers' political party in Germany; this later developed (1875) into the Social Democratic party. Lassalle was killed in a duel over a love affair, which is the subject of George Meredith's novel The Tragic Comedians. His collected works were edited by Eduard Bernstein (12 vol., 1919–20).
See biographies by A. Schirokauer (tr. 1931) and D. J. Footman (1947, repr. 1969).