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 red flag of international Socialism waves from the palace and from all the public buildings of Berlin. If our immortal Bebel could but have lived to see this! He always used to tell the bourgeoisie that “the catastrophe was almost at their very doors.” Friedrich Engels had fixed 1898 as the year of the ultimate triumph of socialistic ideas. Well, it did not come quite so soon, but it has not taken much longer.
This, however, is immaterial. The main thing is the fact that all our long years of toil and battling for the righteous cause of the people are now crowned with success. The old rotten regime, with its ascendency of capital, and its system of plundering the working classes, has crumbled to pieces. And for the benefit of my children, and children’s children, I intend to set down, in a humble way, some little account of the beginning of this new reign of brotherhood and universal philanthropy. I, too, have not been altogether
without some small share in this new birth of mankind. All, both in time and money, that I have been able for a generation past to snatch from the practice of my craft as an honest bookbinder, and all that my family could spare, I have devoted to the furtherance of our aims. I am also indebted to the literature of Socialism, and to my connection with political clubs, for my mental culture and my soundness on all socialistic points. My wife and children are in full accord with me. Our beloved Bebel’s book on women has long been the highest gospel to my better half, Paula.
The birthday of the new socialistic order happened to be our silver wedding-day; and now, behold, today’s celebration day has added fresh happiness to us as a family. My son, Franz, has become engaged to Agnes Müller. The two have long known each other, and the strong attachment is mutual. So in all the elevation of mind, inspired by this great day, we have knit up this new bond of affection. They are both somewhat young yet, but they are, nevertheless, both good hands at their trades. He is a compositor, she a milliner. So there is ground to hope it will turn out a good match. They intend to marry as soon as the new regulations in respect of work, arrangements of dwellings, and so on, shall have reached completion.
After dinner we all took a stroll
unter den Linden. My stars! what a crowd there was! And what endless rejoicing! Not one single discordant tone to mar the harmony of the great celebration day. The police is disbanded, the people themselves maintaining order in the most exemplary manner.
In the palace gardens, in the square in front, and all around the palace, vast crowds were gathered, which showed unmistakable unanimity and steadfastness of
aim. The new Government was assembled in the palace. Colleagues, chosen from amongst the foremost leaders of the Socialist party, have provisionally taken over the reins of Government. The Socialist members of the town council form, for the present, the corporation. Whenever, from time to time, one of our new rulers chanced to show himself at one of the windows, or on a balcony, the uncontrollable ecstasy of the people would break out afresh, showing itself in frantic waving of hats and handkerchiefs, and in singing the workmen’s Marseillaise.
In the evening there was a grand illumination. The statues of the old kings and marshals, decorated with red flags, looked strange enough in the red glare of so much Bengal fire. The days of these statues are, however, numbered, and they will shortly have to give place to statues of bygone heroes of Socialism. It has already been determined, I hear, to remove the statues of the two Humboldts from the front of the university, and to place there in their stead those of Marx and Ferdinand Lassalle. The statue of Frederic the Great,
unter den Linden, is to be replaced by that of our immortal Liebknecht.
Upon our return home we kept up, in our cosy family circle, this double celebration till a late hour. My wife’s father, who hitherto has not made much account of Socialism, was with us on the occasion, and was very sympathetic and cheery.
We are full of hope that we shall now soon vacate our humble dwelling, three storeys high, and exchange it for something better. Well, well, the old place, after all, has witnessed many a quiet joy of ours, no lack of trouble and sorrow, and plenty of honest endeavour as well.