Pictures of the Socialistic Future
By Eugene Richter
Eugene Richter (1838-1906) was a member of a generation of classical liberals who died between the turn of the 19th century and the First World War. This generation included the French economist
Gustave de Molinari (1819-1912), the English sociologist
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), the English historian Lord Acton (1834-1902), the English radical individualist Auberon Herbert (1838-1906), the American sociologist William Graham Sumner (1840-1910), and the English radical liberal
Thomas Mackay (1849-1912). What died with the passing of this generation was a form of classical liberalism which was based on a strong defence of individual liberty, property rights and self-ownership, free trade and laissez-faire, and opposition to war and imperialism. The “liberalism” which emerged after the catastrophe of the First World War, if one can indeed call it “liberalism”, turned its back on this generation of classical liberals and all that it believed in–with dire consequences for liberty in the 20th century.Richter was born in Duesseldorf and attended universities in Bonn, Heidelberg and Berlin. In the late 1860s, when the German unified nation state was being created by Prussia through a series of wars against other German states and France, Richter first became a member of the German national parliament (the Reichstag). Over several decades he used Parliament as a platform to voice his unwavering opposition to increasing state expenditure, increases in the size and power of the army and the navy, government abuses of individual freedom, and colonial policy. Richter was faced with two major sources of opposition to his form of classical liberalism. On the one hand there were the conservatives led by Otto von Bismarck who cleverly forged an alliance between traditional conservatives, the military, and the working class with his combination of warfare and welfare expenditure and tariff protection. On the other hand, there were the socialists who wanted to maintain the high level of government expenditure, but shift the balance more towards welfare expenditure. As modern electoral politics emerged in Germany in the late 19th century Richter’s never-ending opposition to all government expenditure increasingly came to be seen as mere dogmatism and pig-headed “Manchesterism” (as free trade and free market ideas were called).Pictures of the Socialistic Future (freely adapted from Bebel) (1891), is Richter’s satire of what would happen to Germany if the socialism espoused by the trade unionists, social democrats, and Marxists was actually put into practice. It is thus a late 19th century version of Orwell’s
1984, minus the extreme totalitarianism which Orwell had witnessed in Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia but which was still inconceivable to 19th century liberals. The main point of the book is to show that government ownership of the means of production and centralised planning of the economy would not lead to abundance as the socialists predicted would happen when capitalist “inefficiency and waste” were “abolished”. The problem of incentives in the absence of profits, the free rider problem, the public choice insight about the vested interests of bureaucrats and politicians, the connection between economic liberty and political liberty, were all wittily addressed by Richter, much to the annoyance of his socialist opponents.Richter’s book is part of a series we are putting together online on late 19th century free market criticism of socialism. It now joins those by
Spencer.Little has been written on Richter. There is a brief excerpt from one of his books and a short bio in
Western Liberalism: A History in Documents from Locke to Croce, ed. E.K. Bramsted and K.J. Melhuish (London: Longman, 1978). There is a long chapter on Richter in Ralph Raico,
Die Partei der Freiheit: Studien zur Geschichte des deutschen Liberalismus (Stuttgart: Lucius, 1999). See also Ralph Raico, “Eugen Richter and Late German Manchester Liberalism: A Reevaluation,”
The Review of Austrian Economics, vol. 4, 1990, pp. 3-25. Online at
David M. Hart
March 1, 2004
Henry Wright, trans.
First Pub. Date
London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd.
First published in German. Introduction by Thomas Mackay.
The text of this edition is in the public domain.
- Some Press Notices
- Introduction, by Thomas Mackay
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- Chapter 6
- Chapter 7
- Chapter 8
- Chapter 9
- Chapter 10
- Chapter 11
- Chapter 12
- Chapter 13
- Chapter 14
- Chapter 15
- Chapter 16
- Chapter 17
- Chapter 18
- Chapter 19
- Chapter 20
- Chapter 21
- Chapter 22
- Chapter 23
- Chapter 24
- Chapter 25
- Chapter 26
- Chapter 27
- Chapter 28
- Chapter 29
- Chapter 30
- Chapter 31
- Chapter 32
- Chapter 33
- Chapter 34
- Chapter 35
- Postscript, by Henry Wright
THE universal dwelling-house lottery has taken place, and we are now in possession of our new home; but
I cannot exactly say that we have bettered our position. We used to live S.W., at the front of the house, on the third storey. Oddly enough, a dwelling has fallen to our lot on the very same premises, only it happens to be at the back of the house, and quite in the back-yard, in fact. It is likewise on the third storey. My wife’s disappointment is considerable. She had given up all thought of a small villa, but she still clung to the hope of getting a neat suite of rooms on an elegant flat.
I have always been rather choice in the matter of having a nice home. Hitherto we have had two good-sized rooms, two smaller ones, and the kitchen, for our family of six persons. True, the two smaller chambers in which grandfather and the children used to sleep can now be dispensed with, and the kitchen is now no longer a necessary part of a dwelling, inasmuch as the State cookshops are on the eve of being opened. But I had none the less ventured to hope that at least two or three neat and pretty rooms would fall to our share; but instead of this, we have got only a small room with one window, and a little poky garret similar to those in which servants used to sleep. The rooms are, too, somewhat darker and lower than our old ones. This is the whole extent of the accommodation.
Not that I would by any means convey that there has been the least unfairness. Our municipal body is quite straightforward, and none but rogues can give more than they are possessed of. It was set forth only yesterday, at a meeting of the Council, that our city has only one million rooms for its two millions of inhabitants. But the demand for space for various public and benevolent purposes has, in the socialistic
Community, immensely increased, and the space hitherto employed for such purposes only suffices to cover a small fraction of the present requirements. In the first place, room had to be found, in schools and various houses of maintenance, for a million of people, young and old. Furthermore, accommodation has been provided in hospitals for 80,000 people.
But it is clear that such public interests must take precedence of private ones. Hence it is only natural and right that the best and largest houses, more particularly at the West End, have been appropriated to these purposes. In the inner city, shops and magazines are crowded together, and many of the basements of these are fitted up as State cookshops for the million inhabitants who are not consigned to public institutions. Back-yard premises in suitable situations are being adapted as central wash-houses for this million. It will thus be seen that the setting apart of so much separate space for separate purposes has had the effect of materially curtailing the accommodation for private dwellings.
At the commencement of the new regime it was found, as already stated, that in round numbers one million rooms were at the disposal of the authorities. Of these, after deducting the requirements of the various public institutions, some 600,000 more or less smallish rooms remain, to which, however, must be added several hundred thousand kitchens (now become superfluous), attics, and garrets. As there are one million persons to provide for, it is at once seen that the space allotted is about one room per head; and in order to observe the utmost impartiality in the disposal of these rooms, they were assigned by lottery, each person from the age of twenty-one to sixty-five years,
irrespective of gender, receiving a lottery ticket. And, indeed, this system of raffling is an excellent means of regulating the principle of equality wherever the essential features are disproportionate. The social democrats in Berlin, even under the old regime, had introduced this system of raffling for seats at the theatres.
Upon the completion of this casting lots for residences, exchanges of the rooms that had fallen to the various ticket-holders were permissible. Those persons who desired to remain together, such as married couples, for instance, but who had got their quarters in different streets, houses, or storeys, were allowed to exchange as best they could. For my part, I had to put up with a tiny room, a mere cupboard of a place, adjoining the room which had fallen to my wife’s lot, and, in order to get this cupboard, I had to give up my nice room in a neighbouring house to a young man to whom the cupboard had fallen; but the main thing, after all, is that we do not get separated.
Not that all married couples have, by any means, yet been successful in obtaining a satisfactory exchange of rooms. There may be even some who do not take any particular pains to secure this end. Marriage is a private affair; and, therefore, officially, there can be no lotteries of larger dwellings for married people, and of smaller ones for those who are single. Were such the case, then, the termination of a marriage contract, for instance (which ought to be attainable at any moment), might have to be put off until single rooms for the individuals concerned were procurable. As it now is, each compound dwelling formed by the two halves to a marriage contract can,
at a moment’s notice, on the termination of the contract, be resolved into its original halves. All you have to do is to make a division of the furniture, and the thing is settled.
Thus we see that everything in the new Community has been settled in a logical and sagacious manner. All the arrangements guarantee full personal liberty to every man and every woman; and how humiliated must those feel who used to maintain that Socialism meant the subjugation of the individual will.
Not that considerations of the above kind are personally of any moment to my better half and me; whether happiness or sorrow comes we shall stick together to the end of life’s journey.
On our removal here we had, unfortunately, to leave a number of our things behind us. The new quarters were too small to stow away even the remnant that had been left to us after the day of the furniture-vans. As a matter of course, we have stuffed our little place as full as it will hold, so that we can scarcely move about. But the fact is, this old servant’s closet of mine is so wretchedly small that it is precious little that I can get into it. It has fared no better with numerous persons. At the general removal vast numbers of things were left standing in the streets, for the simple reason that their owners could find no room for them in their new dwellings. These things were collected and carted away in order to augment as far as possible the still sparse outfit of the numerous public institutions.
However, we do not allow this to distress us in the least. The problem is to supersede the old-fashioned system of limited and meagre private existences, and
to organise, in the new society, the life of the general public on such a vast and grand scale that all those bodily and mental good things, which were once only enjoyed by a favoured class, shall now be within the reach of everybody. The opening of the State cookshops to-morrow is to be followed by the opening of the new popular theatres.