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
ALL young men of the age of twenty are required to enrol themselves within three days. Agnes’ brother is among this number. The “National Bulwark,” as it is called, is to be organised and armed with all speed. The spacious buildings of the War Ministry were to have been converted into a vast infant’s school for the sake of the fine gardens adjoining. (This school was to have been, too, the scene of my wife’s labours.) It is, however, now determined to leave things as they were.
The internal affairs of the country render it necessary
that the National Bulwark should be called out earlier than had been intended, and also that the organisation be on a far larger scale than had been at first contemplated. The New Provincial Councillors are constantly sending urgent requests for military assistance to aid them in the work of establishing the new laws in country districts and in small towns Hence, it has been decided to establish at convenient centres all over the country, a battalion of infantry, a squadron of cavalry, and a battery. In order to ensure better security the troops are composed of men chosen from districts lying far asunder.
These country boors and louts must be brought to reason. They actually go the length of objecting to the nationalisation—or as the official term runs, the communalisation—of their private means, their possessions in the shape of acres, houses, cattle, farm stock and the like. Your small owner in the country will insist on remaining where he is, and sticking fast to what he has got, in spite of all you can tell him of the hard lot he has from sunrise to sunset. People of this sort could be left quietly where they are, but then the mischief is, it would greatly interfere with the vast scheme for the organisation of production. So there is no other way than to compel these thick-headed people by sheer force to see what is to their advantage. And when the whole organisation is once in full swing such persons will soon be convinced of the benefits that have been conferred upon them by Socialism.
Upon its becoming known that all the big landed estates and large farms had been declared State property, all farm servants and agricultural labourers at once attached themselves zealously to our side. But
these people are now no longer content to remain where they were. A great desire for a change has come over them, and they all make for the larger towns, chiefly for Berlin. Here, in Frederick St., and
unter den Linden, may now be seen daily the most out-landish-looking individuals from the remotest parts of the country. Many of them arrive with wives and families, and with the scantiest means. But they nevertheless clamour for food and drink, clothing, boots, and what not of the best and dearest. They had been told, they say, that everybody in Berlin lived on the fat of the land. I wish such were only really the case!
But, of course, we can’t do with these backwoodsmen here, and they are to be bundled off back to where they came from, which will cause some little bitterness. It would be a pretty state of things if the magnificent scheme of the Government for regulating production and consumption were to be made sixes and sevens of in this fashion by a capricious wandering to and fro of people from the provinces. We should have them at one time swarming down like flights of locusts upon the stores accumulated here, to the neglect of necessary labours in their own parts; whilst at other times, when the fit took them not to come, we should behold all the stuff that had been got in in anticipation of their visit, spoiling on our hands.
It would unquestionably have been better if those regulations which have only just been issued had been issued at the very first. According to these regulations no one can now temporarily leave his place of residence without first providing himself with a leave-of-absence ticket; and no one can make
a permanent removal without receiving such directions from higher quarters. It is, of course, intended that Berlin shall still remain a much-visited capital; but people are not to come and go in a capricious, aimless way, but only, as the
Onward simply and clearly sets forth, in a manner which shall accord with the carefully prepared calculations and plans of the Government. The socialistic State or, as we now say, the Community, is in earnest as respects the obligation on all persons alike to work; and it, therefore, is fully determined not to permit any vagabondism of any kind, not even any railway vagabondism.
Yesterday the Chancellor made another telling speech in that convincing manner which, as the
Onward truly remarks, is so peculiarly his own. The question had been raised in the House whether an attempt should not be made to tranquillise the disaffected country districts by aggregating local possessions into local groups, instead of impounding such possessions for the benefit of the whole Community? These detached groups were to be called Local Produce Associations, each inhabitant of a district being a unit of the local group. “It is high time,” said the Chancellor, in his speech, “that errors such as these—errors which reach back to the time of Lassalle, and which were fully disposed of at the Erfurt Conference of 1891—should be set at rest for ever. It is evident that the results of the establishment of various Local Produce Associations would be to introduce competition between the several associations. Then, again, the varying nature of the quality of the land must inevitably tend to produce gradations of prosperity and non-prosperity, and in this way to open a kind of back-door to the return of capital
A well-digested scheme for the regulation of production and consumption, and an intelligent distribution of the craftsmen in each several department over the whole State, are things which cannot admit of any individualism, any competition, any personal or local independence. Socialism can never consent to do things by halves.” (Loud applause.)