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 only with considerable trouble that Franz and I managed to day to squeeze ourselves into the House situated in Bebel Square (the King’s Square of old days). A settlement was to be arrived at in respect of the savings bank funds. Franz informs me that amongst the 2,000,000 inhabitants of Berlin, there are no fewer than 500,000 depositors in the savings banks. No wonder, then, that the whole neighbourhood of the House, the entire expanse of Bebel Square, and the surrounding streets, were densely packed with persons mostly of the poorer clad sort, who awaited with breathless interest the decision of the House. The police, however, soon began to clear the streets.
As the general election has not yet taken place, and as all the seats of those members who were elected by the so-called better classes were declared vacant, we found, as a matter of course, no other members present save our old colleagues the proved pioneers of the new order.
At the request of the Chancellor, the head of the Statistical Department opened the debate in a speech dealing largely with statistics, and showing the real magnitude of the question in hand. He said there were eight million depositors in the savings banks, with an aggregate of more than 5,000 millions of marks. (Hear, hear, from the Left.) The yearly sum formerly paid in interest amounted to more than 150 millions of marks. Of the deposits, 2,800 million
marks were invested in mortgages, 1,700 millions in bonds, about 400 millions in public institutions and corporations, and the balance of 100 millions were floating debt. All bonds had been repudiated by law. (Quite right, from the Left.) With the transfer of all landed property to the State, all mortgages were, as a matter of course, annulled. It was, hence, clear that there were no funds out of which the claims of the savings bank depositors could be satisfied.
At the close of this speech a member of the Right got up. “Millions of honest workmen and true Socialists,” said he (uproar from the Left), “will feel bitterly disappointed when, in place of getting the full reward of labour as expected, they see themselves deprived of those savings they had by dint of arduous work been enabled to put by. By what means had those savings been effected? Only by means of continuous effort and exertion, of economy, and of abstention from certain things, such as tobacco and spirits, which many other workmen often indulged in. (Uproar from the Left.) Many a one had imagined that by putting by these savings he was laying up something for a rainy day, or providing for his old age. The placing of such persons on precisely the same footing with those who have not shown a morsel of thrift, will be felt by millions to be an injustice.” (Applause from the Right, and loud cries of approval from the galleries.)
The President threatened to have the galleries cleared if such cries were repeated, and at this there were cries, “We are the nation.”
A member of the Left now followed: “A real Socialist of pure water never yet had bothered himself about saving anything,” said he. (Contradictory signs from the Right.) “Nobody who had allowed himself to follow the doctrines of economy so much preached by the bourgeoisie had the least right to reckon on any consideration at the hands of the socialistic State. Let it not be forgotten, too, that some of these savings were in reality only stolen from the working-classes. (Dissatisfaction from the Right.) It should never be said that Socialism had hung up the big thieves, but let millions of little ones escape. Why, the various investments of this very savings bank capital had helped to foster the old system of robbing the people. (Loud applause from the Left.) None but a bourgeois can say a word against the confiscation of the savings bank funds.”
The President here called the last speaker to order for the grave offence implied in designating a member of the socialistic Parliament by the term bourgeois.
Amidst breathless suspense the Chancellor rose to speak. “Up to a certain point justice compels me to say that both the honourable members who have just spoken are quite right in what they have advanced. A good deal might be said on the side of the morality of these savings, but equally much may be advanced as to the demoralising effects they have exercised in the form of accumulated capital. Let us, however, above all things, never suffer a longing look at the past to divert our gaze from the great times in which we live. (Hear, hear.) We must settle this question as Socialists who know what they are about,
and without any admixture of sentiment. And in view of this I say that to hand over 5,000 million marks to a fractional eight millions of the population would be a building up of the new social equality on a foundation of inequality. (Applause.) This inequality would inevitably soon make itself felt throughout all the various branches of consumption, and thus upset all our carefully conceived plans for harmonising production and consumption. These fund-holders to-day ask for a return of their savings: with precisely the same right others might come to-morrow—those, for instance, who had sunk their savings in machinery and tools, in business stock, in houses or land—and demand that their capital be refunded. (Signs of approval.) How are we then to set bounds to a possible reaction against the social order of things now established? Whatever pleasures those persons who had put by their little savings had promised themselves as the fruits of their thrift, and their abstinence, they would now reap a hundred times greater reward in the consciousness of knowing that all alike will now share those great benefits which we are about inaugurating. But if you take from us these five milliards, reducing by this amount the capital which ought to work solely in the interests of the public at large, then my colleagues in the ministry, and myself, will be no longer in a position to accept the responsibility of carrying out those socialistic measures which it was our aim to see accomplished.” (Loud and long-continued applause.)
A great number of members had signified their intention of speaking. But the President said it was his duty to remind the House that, reckoning the time spent on committee meetings, and that which the law
allowed to each member for reading and preparation, the maximum eight hours had, as a matter of fact, already been reached, and that under these circumstances the debate could not be continued before the next day. (Cries of “vote, vote.”) A resolution to apply the closure was proposed and passed. Upon the vote being taken, the House, with only a few dissentients, passed to the order of the day, and the sitting was over.
There were loud cries of indignation from the gallery, and these spread to the street outside. The police, however, soon managed to clear the space about the House, and they arrested various noisy persons, amongst whom were a good many women. It is said that several members who had voted against the bank monies being refunded to the owners were shamefully insulted in the streets. The police are stated to have made merciless use of their new weapons, the so-called “killers,” a weapon on the English pattern which has just been introduced.
Within our four walls we had an abundant display of resentment and ill-feeling. Agnes rejected all endeavours to tranquillise her, and it was in vain that my wife sought to comfort her with the thought of the opulent dowry which the Government meant all newly married couples to receive.
“I won’t have anything given to me,” she cried pettishly; “all I want is the wages of my own labour; such government is worse than robbery.”
I much fear that to-day’s events are not at all calculated to strengthen Agnes’ hold on socialistic principles. My father-in-law has likewise savings in the bank, and we dare not venture to tell the old gentleman that his bank book is mere waste paper.
He is far from being a miser. It was only the other day he mentioned that he let interest and compound interest accumulate; we should find at his death that he had been really grateful for all our tender care of him. In very deed one requires to be as firmly grounded as I am in socialistic principles to stand such reverses without in the least losing heart.