As a young man he became aware of the work of Karl Marx. In 1848 he read the Communist Manifesto was published in Germany in February, 1848. Later that month a police spy in Belgium reported that: "This noxious pamphlet must indisputably exert the most corrupting influence upon the uneducated public at whom it is directed. The alluring theory of the dividing-up of wealth is held out to factory workers and day labourers as an innate right, and a profound hatred of the rulers and the rest of the community is inculcated into them. There would be a gloomy outlook for the fatherland and for civilisation if such activities succeeded in undermining religion and respect for the laws and in any great measure infected the lower class of the people." (1)
Inspired the pamphlet Sorge joined a group of armed revolutionaries in Saxony, but after they were defeated he was forced to take refuge in Switzerland. Sorge was condemned to death in Germany for his role in the 1848 Revolution. In 1851 he was expelled by the Swiss and moved to Belgium. In March 1852 he was expelled from Belgium and moved to London, where he met Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. (2)
In June 1852, he boarded a ship for New York City. He became a music teacher, married and moved to Hoboken, New Jersey. In 1857 he helped form the New York Communist Club, which was an educational society involved in the anti-slavery movement. (3)
On September 28th, 1864, a meeting took place in St. Martin’s Hall in London. The meeting was organised by George Howell and attended by a wide array of radicals, including Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Wilhelm Liebknecht, August Bebel, Élisée Reclus, Ferdinand Lassalle, William Greene, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, Friedrich Sorge and Louis Auguste Blanqui. The historian Edward Spencer Beesly was in the chair and he advocated "a union of the workers of the world for the realisation of justice on earth". (4)
In his speech, Beesly "pilloried the violent proceedings of the governments and referred to their flagrant breaches of international law. As an internationalist he showed the same energy in denouncing the crimes of all the governments, Russian, French, and British, alike. He summoned the workers to the struggle against the prejudices of patriotism, and advocated a union of the toilers of all lands for the realisation of justice on earth." (5)
The new organisation was called the International Workingmen's Association. Karl Marx attended the meeting and he was asked to become a member of the General Council that consisted of two Germans, two Italians, three Frenchmen and twenty-seven Englishmen (eleven of them from the building trade). Marx was proposed as President but as he later explained: "I declared that under no circumstances could I accept such a thing, and proposed Odger in my turn, who was then in fact re-elected, although some people voted for me despite my declaration." (6)
Friedrich Sorge agreed to be IWMA's representative in New York City. By December 1869 it had 46 members and the following year he established the Central Committee of the North American IWMA. In September 1871 he organized a demonstration of 20,000 workers, including black workers, demanding an eight-hour day and supporting the Paris Commune. (7)
Karl Marx continued to write on a regular basis to Sorge. In one letter Marx made some predictions about the future that included the First World War and the Russian Revolution: "What the Prussian jackasses don't see is that the present war leads just as necessarily to war between Germany and Russia as the war of 1866 led to war between Prussia and France. That is the best result that I expect of it for Germany. Prussianism as such has never existed and cannot exist other than in alliance and in subservience to Russia. And this War No. 2 will act as the mid-wife of the inevitable revolution in Russia." (8)
The IWMA National Congress took place at the Hague, in September, 1872. According to newspaper reports, local people were warned "not to go into the streets with articles of value upon them" as the "International is coming and will steal them". Vast crowds followed the delegates from the railway station to the hotel, "the figure of Karl Marx attracting special attention". Marx dominating the proceedings "his black broadcloth suit contrasted with his white hair and beard and he would screw a monocle into his eye when he wanted to scrutinise his audience." (9)
At the congress a report was presented that showed Mikhail Bakunin had tried to establish a secret society within the IWMA and was also guilty of fraud. It also revealed details of the letter sent by Sergi Nechayev to Marx's publisher in Russia. The delegates voted twenty-seven votes to seven, that Bakunin should be expelled from the association. (10)
Marx had decided to retire from the IWMA and concentrate on the second volume of Das Kapital. Marx decided that the General Council of the IWMA should be moved to America. Engels proposed at the congress that the organisation should be transferred to New York City. The vote was very close with twenty-six for, twenty-three against and 9 abstentions. (11)
Friedrich Sorge now became general secretary of the International Workingmen's Association. The rival anarchists held a rival congress immediately following the IWMA congress. In 1873 they had another congress that was attended by anarchists from England, Italy, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. Sorge attempted to organise a congress in Geneva in 1873, but it was poor attended after Marx instructed his followers not to attend. Marx wrote to Sorge in 1874 that "in England the International is for the time being as good as dead". (12)
In 1874 a group of socialists led by Sorge formed the Workingmen's Party. Three years later it was renamed the Socialist Labor Party. Some members of the party came under the influence of the anarchist ideas of the German revolutionary, Johann Most.
In 1886 the party became involved in helping organize the campaign for the eight-hour day. At one meeting on 4th May, in Chicago, the Haymarket Bombing took place and several former members of the party, including August Spies, Albert Parson, Adolph Fisher and George Engel, were found guilty of conspiracy to murder and executed.
What the Prussian jackasses don't see is that the present war leads just as necessarily to war between Germany and Russia as the war of 1866 led to war between Prussia and France. That is the best result that I expect of it for Germany. Prussianism as such has never existed and cannot exist other than in alliance and in subservience to Russia. And this War No. 2 will act as the mid-wife of the inevitable revolution in Russia.