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 general election is at last to take place, and next Sunday is fixed as the polling day. This choice of a day
of rest and leisure deserves the highest commendation, as nowadays a hundred times more issues depend upon the result of an election than was formerly the case. Laws are everything in a socialistic State; the law has to prescribe to each separate individual how long he must labour, how much he has to eat and drink, how he must be dressed, housed and what not.
This is already very apparent in the addresses to constituents, and in the election cries. The number of parties which advocate particular interests is legion. Many of the addresses issued by the candidates bristle with proposals for the reform of the daily bills of fare, for the increase of the meat rations, for better beer, stronger coffee, (since the complications with various foreign powers, we scarcely ever get any coffee that is not made exclusively of chicory,) for finer houses, better heating apparatus, more splendid lighting, cheaper clothes, whiter underlinen, etc. etc.
Many women are extremely indignant at the rejection of their demand that one half of the representatives in the various divisions be of their sex. The ground for this rejection was that the demand was a reactionary endeavour to split up the interests of the whole Community into separate interests. The women, however, on their part, fear that, by throwing in their lot with the men, and having divisions common to both, many of their voters will in the end go over to the men’s side. They fear that the result of this, coupled with the other fact that the support of women candidates by men is not at all to be relied on, will be that they will be able to carry but a limited number of candidates.
A large number of women, quite irrespective of age, have now thrown in their lot with the Younkers,
and this party, the better to render the new alliance permanent, has inscribed upon its banner the right of all women to marriage. These politicians are now constantly appealing to Bebel’s book on woman, and they want to make out that they are the real genuine Bebelites. Their programme is—A four hours’ maximum working-day; four weeks’ holiday in the year for everybody, with a sojourn at the sea-side or in the country; the re-introduction of free amusements; weekly change in the kind of labour to be performed; and lastly, the monthly duration of all appointments to high offices and offices of State (including the office of Chancellor), all such appointments to be held in rotation by all persons in the State, without distinction. The Government party shows considerable confidence, although, in reality, the programme it has issued does not go beyond ordinary commonplace; but it calls upon all other parties, as true patriots, to forget their differences, and to unite and form a grand Party of Order, in opposition to the party of negation and demolition, which was stealthily increasing, and which, under the enticing name of a Party of Freedom, sought to ingratiate itself with the nation. This so-called party of freedom demands the re-recognition of the right of parents to bring up their children, abolition of the State cookshops, free choice of trades and professions, entire liberty to move about as one pleases, and a better recompense for the higher kinds of labour. Now, it is abundantly clear that the concession of demands such as these must of necessity upset all equality, and be eminently calculated to sap the very foundations of Socialism. The candidates of the Government party very properly point out in their addresses to constituents that the granting of such
demands would inevitably open the door to the return of personal possessions, the doctrine of inheritance, the sovereignty of wealth, and the plundering system of bygone days.
But, after all, the amount of excitement shown at the present election is strangely out of proportion to the number and many-sidedness of the election cries. In old days people took a good deal more interest in an election. People can now say what they think. Following the resolutions passed at the Erfurt Conference, in October, 1891, all such laws as tended to limit freedom of speech and the right of combination are now abrogated; but what is the good of a free press so long as the Government is in possession of every printing establishment? What is the right of public meeting worth when every single meeting-hall belongs to the Government? True, the public halls, when not already engaged, may be taken by parties of all shades of politics for purposes of public meeting. Only, as it chances, it is just the various Opposition parties that invariably have such ill-luck in this way. As often as they want a hall or a room, they find it has been previously engaged, so they are unable to hold a meeting. The press organs of the Government are in duty bound to insert such election notices from all parties as are paid for as advertisements; but by an unfortunate oversight at the issue of the money-certificates, there were no coupons supplied for such particular purposes. The unpleasant result of this omission is a total lack of all funds with which to pay the expenses of an election. In this respect the Socialists were vastly better off under the old style. They then had large sums at their disposal, and it must be admitted they knew how to apply them judiciously.
The Opposition parties complain bitterly of the scarcity of persons who, when it comes to the test, have the requisite courage to boldly face the Government as opponents, either as candidates for Parliament or as speakers at election meetings. The fact that every obnoxious person may be unceremoniously told off by the Government to some other occupation, or sent away to a distant part of the country, may have something to do with this hanging back. Such sudden changes involve frequently the endurance of many unpleasantnesses and hardships, particularly to people of riper years. Of course everybody has the right to protest against a transfer which looks like mere caprice on the part of the Government. But how can an individual undertake to prove that the transfer was not a well-advised step, and not justified by other alterations elsewhere in the general labour scheme, which rendered this particular appointment necessary?
The daily conferences which we controllers have together, make it more and more clear that the minds of men, both in the towns and in the country, are in a bad ferment. It is impossible to resist the conviction that the most trifling cause might, at any moment, suffice to call forth a violent eruption of popular feeling in favour of a restoration of the old order of things. From all parts of the country reports are constantly coming in, detailing violent collisions between civilians and the troops which were sent out to establish Socialism. The Government is not even quite sure of the troops. This is the reason why Berlin, in spite of the great augmentation of the army, has not received any garrison. But our police force, on the other hand, which has been picked from the
ranks of perfectly reliable Socialists throughout the whole country, has been increased to 30,000 men. In addition to mounted police, the police force is now further strengthened by the addition of artillery and pioneers.
The voting takes place by means of voting-papers, which bear the official stamp, and which are handed in in sealed envelopes. But in view of the system of espionage in the hands of the Government, which penetrates into everyone’s most private affairs; in view of the publicity which everybody’s life now has, and the system of control that all are subject to; in view of these things, many persons seem to mistrust the apparent security and secrecy of the voting-papers, and not to vote according to their inmost convictions. In former times, somewhat of this sort of thing prevailed in small electoral districts. Now, however, every single individual is a spy on his neighbour.
There is, hence, a great deal of uncertainty as to the result of the elections. If the nation gives expression to its real wishes, we shall see the return of a majority bent upon a restoration of the old order of things. But if these wishes are kept in check by fear, we shall get a parliament which is a mere tool in the hands of the Government.