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
IT was, indeed, a wonderful achievement that to-day, in Berlin, one thousand State cookshops, each one capable of accommodating 1,000 persons, should have been opened at one stroke. True, those persons who had imagined that it would be like the
table d’hôte of the great hotels of the past days, where a pampered upper class continually revelled in every refinement of culinary art—such persons, I say, must feel some little disappointment. As a matter of course, we have here likewise no trim, swallow-tailed waiters, no bills of fare a yard long, and no such paraphernalia.
In the State cookshops everything, even to the smallest details, has been anticipated and settled beforehand. No one person obtains the smallest preference over others. The picking and choosing amongst the various State cookshops cannot, of course, be tolerated. Each person has the right to dine at the cookshop of the district in which his dwelling is situated. The chief meal of the day is taken between 12 o’clock and 6 in the evening. Everyone has to report himself at the cookshop of his district,
either during the mid-day rest or at the close of the day.
I am sorry to say that I can now no longer take my meals with my wife except on Sundays, as I have been accustomed to do for the last twenty-five years, inasmuch as our hours of labour are now entirely different.
Upon entering the dining-room an official detaches the dinner coupon from your book of money certificates, and hands you a number which indicates your turn. In the course of time others get up and go away, and your turn comes, and you fetch your plate of victuals from the serving tables. The strictest order is maintained by a strong body of police present. The police to-day—their number has now been augmented here to 12,000—rather gave themselves airs of importance in the State cookshops, but the fact is, the crowd was a very big one. It seems to me that Berlin proves itself to be on too small a scale for the vast undertakings of Socialism.
As each one takes his place just as he comes from his work the groups sometimes have a somewhat motley appearance. Opposite to me to-day sat a miller, and his neighbour was a sweep. The sweep laughed at this more heartily than the miller. The room at the tables is very cramped, and the elbows at each side hinder one much. However, it is not for long, the minutes allowed for eating being very stingily measured. At the expiration of the meagrely apportioned minutes—and a policeman with a watch in his hand stands at the head of each table to see that time is strictly kept—you are remorselessly required to make room for the next.
It is an inspiring thought to reflect that in every
State cookshop in Berlin on one and the same day exactly the same dishes are served. As each establishment knows how many visitors it has to count upon, and as these visitors are saved all the embarrassment of having to choose from a lengthy bill of fare, it is clear that no time is lost; whilst there is also none of that waste and loss consequent upon a lot of stuff being left, which circumstance used so much to enhance the price of dining at the restaurants of the upper classes. Indeed, this saving may well be reckoned amongst the most signal triumphs of the socialistic organisation.
From what a neighbour of ours, who is a cook, tells us, it had originally been intended to serve up various dishes on the same day. It soon appeared, however, that there would be a manifest want of equality in such an arrangement; inasmuch as those persons who, from any reason, were prevented from coming in good time would not have the chance of dining off such dishes as were “off,” but would have to take whatever was left.
All the portions served out are of the same size. One insatiable fellow to-day who asked for more was rightly served by being heartily laughed at; for what more deadly blow could be levelled at one of the fundamental principles of equality? For the same reason the suggestion to serve out smaller portions to women was at once indignantly rejected. Big, bulky men have to put up with the same sized portions, and to do as best they can. But, then, for such amongst them who, in their former easy circumstances, used to stuff themselves, this drawing in of their belt is quite a good and wholesome thing. For the rest people can bring with them from their homes as much bread as
they like, and eat it with their meals. Furthermore, any persons who find their portions larger than they care for are not prohibited from giving a part to their neighbours.
According to what our neighbour the cook says, it appears that the Ministry of Public Nourishment has grounded its bill of fare on the experience gathered by scientific research as to the number of grains of nitrogenous matter and of hydro-carbonaceous matter that it is necessary to introduce into the body in order to keep the same intact. Each person’s daily portion is about one-third of a pound of meat, with either rice, groats, or some vegetable or other, to which is generally added a plentiful supply of potatoes. On Thursdays we get sauerkraut and peas. Posters announce what is to be cooked on each day, and these posters give you the bill of fare for the whole week, just as they used to announce the plays at the theatres for the entire week.
Where, I should like to know, in the whole world has there ever been a people every individual of which was assured, day by day, of his portion of flesh-meat, as is now the case with us? Even a king of France, ruminating once on such matters, could form to himself no higher ideal than that on Sundays every peasant should have his fowl in the stew-pan. Then, too, we must remember that outside the system of nourishment provided by the State it is left to the taste of everybody to treat himself to whatever he fancies both in the morning and evening—that is to say, provided it be within the bounds of the money certificate.
No more poor, starving, wretched, homeless creatures! For every man, as the day comes round, his portion of
beef! The thought of having attained such ends as these is so inspiring that one can readily pardon any trifling inconveniences which the new system has brought with it. True, the portions of meat would be none the worse for being a little larger, but then our circumspect Government adopted the wise plan of not dealing out, at the commencement, more meat than had previously on an average been consumed here. Later on these things will all be different, and in process of time, when the new arrangements shall have more and more approached completion, and the period of transition is past, we shall have everything on a vaster and more magnificent scale.
But there is one thing which hinders my pinions taking the lofty flight they otherwise would, and that is the concern which my good wife shows. She is become very nervous, and her state gets worse day by day. During all the twenty-five years of our married life we have never had so many painful scenes and explanations as since the beginning of the new era. The State cookshops, too, are not a bit to her taste. The food, she says, is barracks’ rations, and a poor substitute for the wholesome fare people used to have at their own homes. She complains of the meat being done too much, of the broth being watery, and so on. She says, too, that she at once loses all appetite by knowing beforehand what she has to eat during a whole week. And yet how often she had complained to me that, with the high prices of things, she was at her wits’ end to know what to cook. Formerly she was rejoiced, when we now and then took a day’s excursion, to think she was released for that day from the bother of cooking anything. Well, this is the way with women, and they always have something to say
against whatever they have not had a hand in cooking. My hope is, however, as soon as my wife shall have paid visits to the children and her father at the Benevolent Institutions, and have found them hearty and contented, that that equanimity will be restored to her which in old times never deserted her even in our severest trials.