General German Workers' Association

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Ferdinand Lassalle, founder of the ADAV in May 1863

The General German Workers' Association (German: Allgemeiner Deutscher Arbeiter-Verein, ADAV) was a German political party initiated on 23 May 1863 in Leipzig, Kingdom of Saxony by Ferdinand Lassalle. The organization existed by this name until 1875, when it combined with a rival organization to form the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany. This unified organization was renamed soon thereafter the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD), which presently remains in existence and dates its origins to the founding of the ADAV.

The ADAV was the first German Labour Party, formed in Prussia prior to the establishment of the German Empire. Its members were known colloquially throughout Germany as Lassalleans.

Organizational history[edit]


The General German Workers' Association (ADAV) was founded in Leipzig by Ferdinand Lassalle and twelve delegates from some of the most important cities in Germany: Barmen, Dresden, Düsseldorf, Elberfeld, Frankfurt am Main, Hamburg, Harburg, Cologne, Leipzig, Mainz and Solingen.

The ADAV sought to advance the interests of the working class and to work for the establishment of socialism by the use of electoral politics.[1] Lassalle acted as president from 23 May 1863 until his death in a duel on 31 August 1864.

The unofficial organ of the ADAV was the newspaper Der Sozial-Demokrat (The Social Democrat),[1] launching publication in Berlin on 15 December 1864.[2] The publication initially won promises of editorial contributions from the radical exiles Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, but the pair soon disfavored the notion owing to the allegiance of the Sozial-Demokrat and the ADAV to the memory and ideas of their nemesis Lassalle.[3]


Lassalle had been expecting many thousands to become members of the association, but by 1864 there were only 4,600; merging with the SDAP was the best option to gain influence. The ADAV was in part financially assisted by funds obtained by Lassalle through his personal relations.

The ADAV had its first congress, called a General Assembly, in Düsseldorf on 27 December 1864.[4] Marx and his associates had hoped that this gathering would cause the organization to join the newly established International Workingmen's Association (First International), which they helped manage, but the gathering did not discuss affiliation, further disaffecting Marx from the group.[4]

Wilhelm Liebknecht was a member until 1865, but as the ADAV tried to cooperate with Bismarck's government, for example on the question of women's suffrage, Liebknecht became disillusioned with the association. He had been writing for Der Sozial-Demokrat, but as a result of disagreement with the newspaper's Prussia-friendly rhetoric, he quit the organization to establish the Saxon People's Party along with August Bebel. In 1869 Liebknecht became a co-founder of the Social Democratic Workers' Party (Sozialdemokratische Arbeiterpartei, SDAP) in Eisenach as a branch of the International Workingmen's Association.

Liebknecht was to meet again with his old ADAV colleagues, however, as the lack of support for the ADAV caused them to join forces with Liebknecht's SDAP in 1875.

Merger and legacy[edit]

Together with the SDAP the ADAV formed the Socialist Workers' Party of Germany (Sozialistische Arbeiterpartei Deutschlands, SAPD) at the Socialist Unity Conference in Gotha. The manifesto of the new organization was the Gotha programme, which urged "universal, equal, direct suffrage."

In 1890 the party was renamed the Social Democratic Party of Germany (Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands, SPD) and it still exists under this name. The SDP now dates its origins to the founding of the ADAV, and celebrated its 150th anniversary in the spring of 2013.[5]


  1. ^ a b Tom Goyens, Beer and Revolution: The German Anarchist Movement in New York City, 1880-1914. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2007; pg. 65.
  2. ^ Vladimir Sazonov, Footnotes to Marx-Engels Collected Works: Volume 42: Marx and Engels, 1864-68. New York: International Publishers, 1987; pg. 599, fn. 80.
  3. ^ Karl Marx in London to Carl Siebel in Elberfeld, Marx-Engels Collected Works: Volume 42, pg. 58.
  4. ^ a b Sazonov, Footnotes to Marx-Engels Collected Works: Volume 42, pg. 599, fn. 82.
  5. ^ Peter Schwarz, "The SPD Celebrates its 150th Anniversary," World Socialist Website, 23 May 2013.