Bismarck took off his pointed helmet. There
was no need for it now, as he did not have to address the Prussian parliament,
as this was a leisurely meeting between friends. He took off his uniform, which
was festooned with an assortment of honours and medals. He was now wearing a
He sat down and chumped on his cigar, its smoke emanated
from his bushy moustache. He adjusted his bow tie and scratched his equally
bushy eyebrows. His looked stern and pensive.
The door creaked and a figure moved in. The
smoke that Bismarck exhaled had now vanished. He could see the figure who had
walked in and, indeed, he was expecting him it was Ferdinand Lassalle.
Lassalle had a somewhat angular face and he,
too, wore an overcoat and a bowtie. He had black frizzy hair, a moustache and
green eyes. He gripped a cane in a flamboyant fashion. He took a seat in the
chair directly opposite Bismarck and clutched the arms vigorously.
This was their sixth meeting. They had been
meeting secretly over the past three months. Indeed, it would
bring disrepute to both Bismarck and Lassalle if anyone else found out, which
meant that these meetings were discrete affairs. Lasalle gripped his hands and
grinned. Bismarck continued to look stern and pensive and took another puff off
Lassalle was a socialist democrat whilst
Bismarck was an aristocratic Junker. Although this seemed like an unlikely
union of minds, they found some common ground. They were both interested in
workers rights, state assistance for workers, they were nationalists and
they were both equally contemptuous of liberals. However, Lassalles
agitations meant that he had gone to jail, where he missed out on the
revolutions of 1848. Indeed, the Dusseldorf police had identified him as one of
the most dangerous members of the revolutionary movement. Unlike Marx and
Engels, Lassalle was primarily an activist, although he had written a doctoral
thesis on Heraclitus. Meanwhile, Bismarck had been Minister-President of
Prussia since 1862. In other words, he personified the establishment.
Additionally, he was worried about the rising tide of socialism and had toyed
with the idea of outlawing socialist meetings altogether.
talk about the workers again? Lassalle asked, with a mischievous grin.
This was, after all, where they found common ground.
Although he had compassion for the poor,
Lassalle was a product of the bourgeoisie and he was drawn to
aristocratic society, which meant that his meetings with Bismarck were not that
incongruous. Unlike Marx, he had a libertarian streak and believed in free
human agency. Crucially, he believed in the power of the state to fight social
injustice once more, unlike Marx who believed in the goal of both a
stateless and classless society.
Bismarck took another puff of his cigar and
glanced at Lassalles smirking face. Every worker deserves security
and a decent quality of life. He should be able to find work and enjoy access
to health care, unemployment insurance, fair wages and pensions.
So why are you perturbed by the
socialist movement? Surely we need representation in parliament? We are a
better way of representing working class interests than the liberals and the
Progress party. The Prussian parliament represents a very small part of the
population. They represent capital and property. The people and the Prussian
state must become one entity, Lassalle interjected.
Bismarck grunted. Capitalism is the main
engine of growth for our nation. I cannot abide the thought of the socialists
taking control of parliament they would wreck our country. I do not
believe that the common ownership of the means of production is a
option. However, the liberals overstate the importance of constitutional
Lassalle once more smirked. They claim
that you attained the presidency unlawfully. They claim that more and more
power is being concentrated in one person Bismarck. You always insisted
on sole control of foreign affairs. However, I would argue that constitutional
issues are issues of power. The working classes must agitate lawfully
to attain universal suffrage and later to attain representation in
parliament. The exploited, overworked and underpaid industrial masses must
become free men.
Was Lassalle trying to ingratiate himself with
Bismarck? Marx claimed that the man worked for him. The very
thought of speaking to the man would have made Marx recoil. However, Lassalle
believed that Bismarck was an enemy who needed to be courted and persuaded.
Meanwhile, Bismarck could not form an alliance with the liberals, as they
disagreed with him on constitutional issues. Could Bismarck form an alliance
with socialist democrats? This was going too far, as Bismarck abhorred the idea
of Prussia becoming socialist. Piece meal reform, however, could subdue
revolutionary agitation and the likes of Lassalle.
Bismarck was feeling charitable: I am
glad to have a man of such talents and intellect as my neighbour in my country.
Although I believe that the socialist threat must be vanquished, an electoral
alliance between conservatives and socialists is preferable to one between
conservatives and liberals. Talk of constitutional issues is moot what
we really need is a royal constitution for the benefit of the masses.
Lassalle interjected with the following
remarks: A royal dictatorship would be a step in the right
if it benefited the whole community
We need to seize
parliament and have representation for the workers.
Bismarck fiddled with his bushy moustache
before saying: This might all blow over
I might get the liberals on
with a good war
Legitimate territorial conquests could be
made in Denmark, Austria and France
Also, I would like to see a united
With Prussia as the most important component
That would get
the liberals on my side
Then they would shut up about my unlawful
This was a strange alliance, but it was wholly
necessary for both men. Could it lead to political negotiations? Could it lead
to an alliance between Junkers and socialist democrats? Bismarck was a
nationalist and a monarchist whereas Lassalle was a socialist, a revolutionary
and a democrat. Bismarck was a masterful statesman who thought that an alliance
with Lassalle could siphon off the liberals whose views on economics were the
prevalent views of the day. Some of Lassalles ideas could be useful, as
state aid for workers could create nationalist sentiment and pave the way to a
united Germany. Adopting some of his ideas could crush the socialist movement,
too. Only the educated middle classes cared for democracy and constitutional
Ultimately, all of this was moot, as they both
respected each other as individuals. They both looked at each other and smiled.
Both men walked up to each other and shook hands.
See you next week, Bismarck.
See you next week, Lassalle.