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 entire navy left by the late Government is to be got ready for service with all possible speed. In
addition to this, the standing army, which had already been increased to 500,000 men with a view the better to maintain order at home, and to keep a good watch on the frontiers, has been still further strengthened. These are amongst the first measures taken by the new Chancellor to avert dangers which menace us from abroad.
In the speech which the Foreign Secretary made before the Committee of Government, and in which he unfolded the above measures, he calls attention to the necessity there is for them, in consequence of the deplorable growth of friction, of complications and dissensions with foreign powers. But it must distinctly be understood that the Minister for Foreign Affairs was in no way responsible for this unfortunate state of things. In the socialised Community it was the province of this Minister to arrange with foreign powers for the barter of all goods between State and State. It resulted from this arrangement that all complaints in respect of inferiority of goods, or unpunctuality in supplying them, had to be attended to in the form of diplomatic notes. All that tension which sometimes ensued from the breaking off of business connections, from the jealousies of competition, or from similar commercial causes, and which formerly had only affected mercantile circles, was now transferred to the direct relations which one nation had with another. This is in the nature of the new arrangements.
The Minister went on to say it had been hoped that the almost universal consciousness of having adopted right principles, and the sentiment of the brotherhood of all nations, would play a different part than had been found to be the case in actual practice,
toning down differences, and bringing universal peace. He said it need occasion no surprise that the English, that egotistical Manchester race, and their American cousins, would have nothing at all to do with Socialism. They never could get over it that the socialistic European continent, by the repudiation of all State bonds, shares, and so on, had shaken off all slavish indebtedness to English holders of continental scrip. But even these inveterate lovers of money ought to see that Germany had lost unnumbered millions more by the repudiation than it had gained. This was evident, inasmuch as all the Russian, Austrian, Italian and other bonds in German hands had also been repudiated by the socialistic governments of those countries.
These various socialistic governments do not thank us a bit for having, in our lofty consciousness of the international value of Socialism, accepted without a murmur the abolition of all claims for interest on such foreign bonds as were in our possession. Several of these governments have latterly become so egotistical, and they show such a want of regard for us, that they positively go the length of refusing to let us have any goods except against either money down, or an equivalent value in such other goods as they may require. Payment in money was no difficulty to our Government so long as any of those stocks of coined and uncoined gold and silver which had become worthless to us were left. But now that we have by degrees got to the end of our stock of noble metals, we are constantly coming across all kinds of obstacles in the way of the exchange of our goods for commodities which we need from other countries, such as corn, timber, flax, cotton, wool, petroleum, coffee, etc. These obstructions are
not confined to the snobbish gentlemen of England and America, but they are every bit as numerous on the part of the neighbouring socialistic nations. Our requirements for the articles just mentioned have not diminished one atom under our socialistic form of government. Quite the reverse. But the neighbouring States, with similar views to our own, tell us that since the introduction of the socialistic form of government they find no demand at all for German goods, such as velvets, shawls, ribbons, mantles, embroideries, gloves, pianos, glass and similar wares. They say that since the restoration of the precise balance of social equality, they produce more of these goods themselves than there is a demand for.
The English and Americans, in their enmity to Socialism, are everlastingly drumming it into us that our manufactures, from ironware and textile goods down to stockings and toys, have so deteriorated under the new system of manufacture, that they can no longer pay us the old prices; and they say that unless an improvement takes place they will have to look to other sources of supply. But even as it is, with the enhanced cost of production, we cannot make our trade pay. All attempts to settle an international maximum working-day have failed, as the various socialistic governments allow particular interests to influence them, and pretend that in this matter they must be guided by such special features as climate, national character, and the like.
What is our Government to do in this dilemma? The fact that we, on our part, now require no more silk, and no more expensive wines from abroad, is but a meagre compensation for the loss of our export trade, amounting to many millions. It can occasion
no surprise that the exchange of diplomatic notes partakes daily of an increasingly irritable character. Already, both on the West and on the East, hints have fallen that the right thing for Germany to do, seeing she seems incapable of maintaining her population, would be for her to cede slices of the country to neighbouring States. Nay, the question is even debated whether it would not be advisable, as a precautionary measure, to lay an attachment on these border lands, as security for the bill which Germany had run up for goods supplied to her.
Foreign holders of German bonds who feel themselves injured by our repudiation, take every opportunity of indemnifying themselves by laying an embargo on German vessels and merchandise. Then again, the assistance given by foreign ships to fugitives from our country, is a permanent cause of angry representations.
In short, the hope that the advent of Socialism everywhere would prove synonymous with the reign of eternal peace between the nations, was so far from being realised that the very opposite threatened. The Minister concluded his speech by saying that the Committee of Government could hence hardly fail to see the necessity there was for the navy being again fitted out for service; and it would doubtless also sanction the increase of the army to a million men.