Eugen Richter, “Economic Chaos after the Socialist Revolution” (1893)

Note: This extract is part of The OLL Reader: An Anthology of the Best of the OLL, the table of contents of which can be found here. It is from "Part X: The Critique of Socialism and Interventionism".

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Eugen Richter (1838–1906)


Eugen Richter, Pictures of the Socialistic Future (Freely adapted from Bebel), trans. Henry Wright, Introduction by Thomas Mackay (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1907).


The text is in the public domain.

The Text


I have not been in the House since the debate on the savings bank question. It will be remembered that [101] this was prior to the recent general election, and that the House, or as it was styled, the Committee of Government, was then composed exclusively of those members of the Socialist party who had sat before the Revolution, the seats of all the members of the various other parties having been declared vacant, in consideration of the fact that all such members had been returned through the influence of capital. To-day, however, the newly elected opponents of Socialism sat in their places, occupying the entire left side of the House, and numbering about one-third of the seats.

The only lady member who has been returned, the Chancellor's wife, sat in the middle of the front Opposition bench. She is a fine, dashing woman, with plenty of energy: to my thinking she was perhaps a trifle coquettishly attired for the occasion. She followed her husband's speech with marked attention, at one time nodding approval, and at another shaking her head—she wore ringlets, and had red ribbons in her hair—to denote dissent.

The Government side of the House lay under a very apparent cloud of depression, resulting from the news of the large deficit. The Opposition, on the other hand, was very lively in its sallies. The strangers' galleries were densely packed, the number of women present being especially large, and the excitement everywhere considerable.

A debate on the condition of the national finances was down for the order of the day, and I will endeavour to reproduce here the main points of the debate as to the causes of the great deficit. The first speaker was

The Chancellor—"The fact of a considerable diminution in productive values having taken place in our [102] country, a diminution so great that those values are now only one-third of what they were before the great Revolution, is a fact that it ill becomes us either to be-laugh or to be-weep, but which we must all endeavour to grasp and to comprehend. Prominent amongst the causes of that retrogression are the opponents of our socialistic system."

The Member for Hagen, on the Left—"Oh, oh."

The Chancellor—"I need scarcely remind the Member for Hagen that in order to establish Socialism in the country, we have been under the necessity of increasing the police force more than tenfold. In addition to this, we have seen the expediency of doubling the strength of the navy, and of the standing army, so that these forces might be in a position to render adequate support to the police in their work of maintaining order and preventing emigration, and might also constitute a sufficient bulwark against dangers from abroad. Furthermore, the declaring void all State bonds and values on the part of the various socialistic governments of Europe, has necessarily affected whatever German capital was invested in those countries, and in this way greatly tended to lessen our income. Our export trade has fallen off to an alarming extent, partly owing to the Socialist order of things which now reigns supreme in many countries, and partly to the aversion which the bourgeois nations show to our manufacturing system. In respect of these various causes it can hardly be anticipated that there will be much alteration in the future.

"A fruitful cause, in our view, of the great falling-off in the nation's productive power has been the release of young and old persons from the obligation to labour (hear, hear, from the Left), and the shortening of the [103] hours of labour. (Uproar.) We are also further of opinion that the abolition of all piece-work has, undoubtedly, contributed to a diminution of manufacture. (Hear, hear, from the Left). One result of the demoralising effects of the former state of society is, that, unfortunately, the consciousness of the indispensable necessity that is laid upon all persons alike, in a socialistic community, to labour, has not even yet penetrated the bulk of the people to such an extent (dissent from the Right), that we should feel justified in not laying before you the measure we are about to introduce, viz. a bill to extend the maximum working-day to twelve hours. (Sensation.) In addition to this, we propose—at least as a provisional measure, and until such time as a satisfactory balance shall have been restored—to extend the obligation to work to all persons between the ages of fourteen and seventy-five, instead of, as hitherto, to those between the ages of twenty-one and sixty-five. (Hear, hear, from the Left.) We shall, however, in these arrangements, make provision for affording facilities to talented young persons for their further culture, and shall also take care that decrepit persons are engaged in a kind of labour that shall not militate against their state of health.

"In the next place, we are strongly of opinion that a plainer and less expensive system of national nourishment than has hitherto been adopted (dissent from the Right) would very materially aid in reducing the deficit. Carefully conducted investigations which we have recently made have fully established the fact that, providing the rations of potatoes and vegetables be increased in a proportionate degree, the customary one-third of a pound of meat is by no means a requisite [104]ingredient of the chief meal of the day, but that one-tenth of a pound of meat, or fat, is abundantly sufficient."

The Member for Hagen—"In Ploezensee!"1

The President—"I must request the Member for Hagen to discontinue these interruptions." (Applause from the Right.)

The Chancellor—"It is a well-known fact that there are many estimable persons—I allude to those persons who are styled vegetarians—who hold not only that meat may very well be dispensed with altogether, but that it is positively injurious to the human system. (Uproar from the Right.)

"One of the main sources, however, from which we calculate upon effecting economy, is the placing of narrower bounds to individual caprice as manifested in the purchase of articles. A measure of this nature is a necessary and logical step in the direction of social equality, and we hope, by its means, to put an end to the irrational rule of supply and demand which even nowadays to a great extent obtains, and which so much tends to place obstacles in the way of production, and to raise the price of things correspondingly. The Community produces, let us say, articles of consumption, furniture, clothes, and so on. But the demand for these articles is regulated by the merest freak or caprice—call it fashion, taste, or whatever you like."

The Chancellor's lady—"Oh, oh."

The Chancellor hesitated a moment, and sought by means of a glass of water to calm his evident irritation at this interruption. He then continued—

"I repeat, the caprice of fashion is directed only too frequently, not to those articles which are already [105] in stock, but to some new-fangled thing which takes the fancy of the moment. As a result of this, those goods which are manufactured and exposed for sale by the Community become often so-called shop-veterans, or they spoil—in short, fail to fulfil the purpose for which they were produced; and all this, forsooth, just because these goods do not quite take the fancy of Mr. and Mrs. X. Y. Z. Now I put the question to you: are we justified in so far yielding to the caprices of such persons, that we offer them a choice of various goods to one and the same identical end—such as nourishment, furnishing, and attire—in order that Mr. and Mrs. X. may live, and dress, and furnish their house differently from Mr. and Mrs. Y.? Just reflect how vastly all processes of manufacture would be cheapened if, in place of having any variety in goods which are destined to fulfil the same purpose, all such articles were limited to a few patterns, or, better still, if they were all made on one single pattern. All losses arising from goods being left on hand as unsaleable, would be avoided if it were, once for all, definitely understood that Mr. and Mrs. X. Y. Z. had to dine, and attire themselves, and furnish their houses in that manner which had been prescribed by the State.

"Hence, lady and gentlemen, the Government contemplates shortly submitting to your consideration plans for regulating your other meals in a manner similar to that which was adopted from the first for the regulation of the chief meal of the day. It will also tend to promote more real social equality if all household goods and chattels, such as bedding, tables, chairs, wardrobes, linen, etc. etc., be declared the property of the State. By means of each separate dwelling being furnished by the State with these various requisites, [106] all after one identical pattern, and all remaining as a permanent part of each dwelling, the trouble and expense of removal are done away with. And only then, when we shall have advanced thus far, shall we be in a position to approach, at least approximately, the principle of equality as respects the question of dwelling-houses, no matter how different their situations and advantages. This problem we propose to solve by a universal fresh drawing of lots from quarter to quarter. In this way, the chances which everybody has to win a nice suite of apartments on the first-floor front are renewed every quarter of a year. (Laughter from the Left. Applause here and there from the Right.)

"As an additional aid to the promotion of equality, we propose that in future all persons shall attire themselves in garments whose cut, material, and colour, it will be the province of this House to determine beforehand. The length of time during which all garments are to be worn will also be fixed with precision."

The Chancellor's lady—"Never, never."

The dissent shown by this member was taken up by various ladies in the strangers' galleries.

The President—"All marks of approval or disapproval from the strangers' galleries are strictly prohibited."

The Chancellor—"I wish not to be misunderstood. We do not contemplate carrying equality in dress to such a length that all diversities will be entirely abolished. On the contrary, we suggest the wearing of various badges as marks whereby the ladies and gentlemen of the different provinces, towns, and trades, may readily be distinguished from each other at a glance. An arrangement of this kind will materially facilitate the surveillance of individual persons on [107] the part of the checkers appointed by the State for that purpose (hear, hear, from the Left,) and will thus render the present unavoidable increase in the number of those checkers less large than would otherwise have been the case. As you are aware, the number of checkers hitherto has been in the ratio of one to fifty of the population. But with the aid of the arrangement just proposed, the Government is of opinion that the appointment of one checker to every thirty of the population will abundantly suffice to make our country an orderly one in the truest sense of the word, (disturbance and cries of "Tyranny" from the Left; the President touched his gong and requested order,) and to ensure on the part of all a rigorous observance of the laws and regulations respecting the taking of meals, style of dress, manner of living, and so on.

"This is our programme. Should it meet with your approval, we doubt not that a vigorous carrying out of the same will soon have the effect of doing away with the deficit, and of leading the country, on the basis of social equality, to unimagined heights of prosperity and happiness, proportionate to the degree in which, in the course of time, it shakes off and triumphs over the demoralising effects of a former state of society." (Applause from the Right; groans and hisses from the Left.)

The President—"Before proceeding to discuss the measures which have been unfolded by the Chancellor, it would be well for such members as may desire fuller information on any of the points noticed, to avail themselves of the present opportunity to direct short queries to the Chancellor."

The Chancellor said he was prepared to answer at once any questions which might be addressed to him.


A member of the Government party wished the Chancellor to be more explicit respecting the form it was proposed to give to the morning and evening meals; and he further asked whether the measures contemplated would have any retrogressive effect upon the value of the coupons composing the money-certificates.

The Chancellor—"I am thankful to the last speaker for having called my attention to several omissions in my statement. With a view to preventing all over-loading of the digestive organs, we propose to reduce the bread rations for adults from one pound and a half per diem to one pound. The large amount of starch which is a constituent part of wheat is particularly liable to fermentation, which, as experience has shown, frequently results in unpleasant internal disorders. In addition to this bread ration, and which, as a matter of course, serves for the whole day, each person will receive one hundred and fifty grains of unroasted coffee, and a quarter of a pint of skimmed milk for breakfast. This will yield one pint of coffee. The Government is fully convinced that a conscientious adherence to these proportions will result in the production of a compound which will be free from those heating and deleterious effects which frequently accompany the use of coffee as a beverage. (Laughter from the Left.)

"The evening meal will be composed of a pint and a half of soup for each adult, care being taken to secure due variety, so that these soups may not pall upon the taste. Rice soup, meal soup, barley soup, bread soup, and potato soup will alternate with each other; and in order to obtain still more variety, half a pint of skimmed milk will occasionally be substituted for the [109] soup ration. On the three chief political holidays of the year—the birthdays of Bebel, Lassalle, and Liebknecht—each adult person will receive half a pound of meat, and a pint of beer for dinner.

"I omitted to mention, too, that once a week there will be an augmentation of each adult person's ration by the addition of a herring. Those persons who prefer to consume their herring at the evening meal are at liberty to do so; and, indeed, this plan has much to commend it, seeing that the mid-day meal is already enriched by one-tenth of a pound of meat.

"Such are the proposals which we submit to Parliament for its sanction. In attempting to formulate the nourishment of the people on simple and natural principles, we have been guided by the consideration that such a system would place us in a position to export all our most valuable products, such as game and poultry, hams, highly esteemed vegetables, the choicer kinds of fish, wine, and so forth. By this means we calculate upon paying the bill for such imports as we require for the sustenance of the people, more particularly corn and coffee.

"As regards the money-certificates, it goes without saying that an extended application of the plan of supplying the people with goods must of necessity have an effect on the value of the coupons corresponding to such application. It is also contemplated in future to supply every dwelling with firing and lighting at a fixed rate, which will be deducted from the money-certificates. Similarly, all washing—naturally up to a certain maximum limit—will be done at the State washing establishments without any direct charge being made.

"Under these circumstances, and seeing that people [110] will have everything found for them, the Government turned its attention to a consideration of the amount it would be judicious and prudent to fix for each person's private expenses, for what, in fact, is familiarly designated pocket-money, and it appeared to us that for such sundry outlays as would be involved in the purchase of an occasional little extra in the way of eating and drinking, of tobacco, soap, in amusements or occasional trips; in short, in procuring all that the heart could wish, we should not be wrong in going to the extent of a mark per head for every ten days. (Laughter from the Left.) It must be understood that the application of this mark is not to be subject to the slightest limitation, or to any sort of official control. It will thus be apparent that we are far from desiring to unduly restrict individual freedom when moving in legitimate spheres."

A member of the Party of Freedom wished to know the intentions of the Government in regard to the greater dilatoriness and lassitude in the performance of labour, which would presumably ensue upon the lengthening of the working-day to twelve hours. He also asked for an expression of the Government's views on the question of an increase of the population.

The Chancellor—"As regards offences against the obligation to work, the Government recognises the fact that the extension of the hours of labour to twelve hours renders a further elaboration of the system of penalties imperatively necessary; and it proposes to effect this elaboration through a variety of means. Amongst others, I mention the removal of the bed for slighter transgressions; arrest, incarceration in the dark cell, and the lash for repeated offences." (Hisses from the strangers' galleries.)


The President threatened to have the galleries cleared forthwith if his warnings were again disregarded.

The Chancellor—" Let me not be misunderstood as regards the lash. We should not be disposed to recommend the application of more than thirty strokes. The end which the Government seeks by these means to attain is to develop the recognition of the necessity of labour, even in those who constitutionally rebel against the doctrine.

"As respects an increase of the population, we hold firmly to Bebel's principle in the main, that the State must regard the advent of every child as a welcome addition to the cause of Socialism. (Applause from the Right.) But even here it will be necessary to draw the line somewhere, and we can never again allow an unreasonable increase of population to upset the delicately-adjusted equilibrium which will be established by the passage of the proposed measures. Hence, as we shall have an opportunity of more clearly showing when the debate on the budget comes on, we reckon upon largely using the system employed for nourishing the people as an instrument for regulating population. Herein we shall be following a hint we are grateful to Bebel for. Bebel said, with no less beauty than truth, that Socialism is a science which is applied with unwavering purpose and inflexible steadfastness of aim to every sphere of human activity." (Loud applause from the Right.)

The President—" As no member seems desirous of asking any more questions of the Chancellor, we can at once proceed to discuss the matters before the House. I shall follow the plan of nominating alternately speakers from the two great parties, the Right [112] and the Left, and shall begin with the Left. I call upon the Member for Hagen."

The Member for Hagen—"I feel little desire to closely interrogate the Chancellor upon the details of his programme. The fruits of the socialistic order (so-called) of things which we have hitherto seen, and still more those which we may expect from the various measures in prospect, are quite enough to fill the soul with loathing and disgust at the condition of affairs which Socialism has brought about in Germany. (Great uproar from the Right; loud applause from the Left.) Experience shows that the miserable realities even transcend what my departed predecessor predicted would be the condition of things if the socialistic programme were ever actually realised. (Cries from the Right: "Aha, the Falsities man; the Slayer of Socialists.") I notice that the gentlemen of the Right have never been quite able to get over the 'Falsities of Socialism,' by the departed member, Eugene Richter.2 It is only to be regretted that these gentlemen did not suffer themselves to be converted from their errors, so that they could now with unclouded vision see the connection that all matters of national and international economy have with each other. This annual deficit of twelve milliard marks which we are now face to face with, means the bankruptcy of the social democracy. (Great uproar from the Right.) The Chancellor is entirely on the wrong track when he endeavours to make the opponents of Socialism in any way responsible for the deficit.

"Germany already bristles with soldiers and with police in a way that has never been the case before. [113] But when all the affairs of life, large and small, without exception, shall be subject to the management of the State, you will have to reckon with an additional host of servants appointed to see that the State's bidding be duly carried out. It is, unfortunately, but too true that our export trade is in a wretched plight, but this is attributable solely to the utter turning topsy-turvy of production and consumption which has taken place both here, at home, and in the neighbouring socialistic countries. But even this is far from adequately accounting for a deficit amounting to so many milliards. The Chancellor considers that a part of the blame attaches to the shortening of the hours of labour. But before the Revolution took place, the hours of labour were on an average less than ten hours, and in the course of time this working-day would, in the smooth progress of events, have become gradually shorter in an easy and natural way, and without doing any sudden violence to supply. We must seek the cause of the retrogression in all our manufactures, not so much in a shortening of the working-day as in the inferior quality of our goods now; in short, in the style of loafing about (Oh, oh, from the Right) which has become so general. As in feudal times, labour is now again regarded as a kind of villanage, a slavish toil. The system of giving the same remuneration for labours of the most diverse values; the absence of all prospect of bettering one's condition, no matter how great one's industry and skill; these are elements which are inimical to real love of work for its own sake.

"Another reason why manufacture is no longer productive is, that with the cessation of all private enterprise there has been a disappearance of those careful [114] circumspect leaders in the field of labour who took care that a judicious use was made of all materials, and who more or less regulated supply according to demand. Your managers of to-day lack all real and deep interest in their work; they lack the stimulus which, in bygone days, even the heads of Government establishments received from the competition of private firms. This vast deficit teaches us plainly enough that the man of private enterprise was no plunderer, and no superfluous drone, and that even painstaking labour, when not conducted in an intelligent manner, may turn out to be but a mere waste of force and of material. Then again, your system of working everywhere on a big scale, even in cases to which this system does not in the least adapt itself, operates to retard production.

"What have we come to? In endeavouring to get rid of the disadvantages of the socialistic method of manufacture, you place such restrictions on the freedom of the person, and of commerce, that you turn Germany into one gigantic prison. (Great uproar from the Right; applause from the Left and from the galleries. The President threatened to have the galleries cleared at once if there were any more manifestations of feeling.) The compelling of all alike to work; the equality of the working hours for all; the forcing of persons to certain kinds of labour utterly regardless of their wishes and tastes; these are things which we had hitherto had no experience of outside the walls of penitentiaries. And even in those institutions, the more industrious and skilful inmates had the opportunity given them of earning a trifle in the way of something extra. The similarity to prison life is further maintained through the system of each person's [115] having to occupy a certain dwelling, just as prisoners have their cells apportioned to them. The fixtures which are to form an inseparable portion of each dwelling still further enhance the resemblance to gaol life. Families are torn asunder. And if it were not for the fear of Socialism dying out, you would altogether separate husband and wife, as is done in the lock-up.

"And as it is in respect of labour so is it in regard to rest; and every member of this socialistic Community is tied down to the same prescribed nourishment. I was justified in calling out 'Ploezensee,' as the Chancellor enlightened us as to his bill of fare. I will almost venture to say that the food dispensed in former times to the inmates of the prison was better than that which it is now proposed to feed the nation on. In order that nothing may be wanting to complete the resemblance to a gaol, we have now the same uniform clothes proposed. Overseers are already provided in the persons of the numerous checkers; sentinels, too, are posted to see that those who are condemned to Socialism shall not escape across the frontiers. In our prisons the working-day was a ten hours one, not a twelve hours one. Punishment by the lash, which you have to introduce as an aid in establishing the twelve hours working-day, was no longer resorted to in many prisons, because it was felt it could be dispensed with. To those in gaol there was, at least, the possibility of an act of pardon, which might some day open a path to liberty, even to those who had been condemned to life-long imprisonment. But those who are handed over to your socialistic prison are sentenced for life without [116] hope of escape; the only escape thence is suicide. (Sensation.)

"Your explanation of all this is, that we are at present in a state of transition. Nothing of the sort. Things will get worse and worse the longer the present system lasts. Hitherto you have only descended the topmost steps of those which lead to the abyss. The light of day still reaches you on those upper steps, but you turn away from it. Whatever culture is now extant, whatever schooling, and practice, and skill, are all due to former systems of society. But in our socialistic schools of to-day, both elementary, advanced, and technical, our young people make no progress at all, not from any lack of time, or means of instruction, but merely because no one feels that he is absolutely bound to acquire certain things as stepping stones to future success in life.

"You live upon the capital of culture and of wealth which descended to you as the result of former arrangements of society. So far are you, however, from putting by anything, and from providing for improvements and additions, that you cannot even properly maintain such possessions as we have, but suffer them to fall into decay. There are now no means to keep all these things intact, because in destroying the hope of profit, which induced capitalists to engage in enterprises, you simultaneously prevented all further formation of capital, which in its turn would again have led to new undertakings.

"All higher development of the faculties, no less than all material progress, is at a stand-still since the abolition of free competition. Self-interest used to sharpen the wits of individuals, and bring out their [117] inventiveness. But the emulation of the many who strove in the same field of labour, constantly operated to make common property of the achievements of individuals.

"All the proposals of the Chancellor will prove as powerless in making good the vast deficit, as our attempted organisation, some years ago, of production and consumption in our prisons proved powerless to cover even a third part of the current expenses of those places. In a very short time, in spite of the Chancellor's programme, you will find yourselves face to face with a new and a greater deficit. Hence I counsel you not to be too greatly elated at the advent of children as being welcome additions to Socialism. On the contrary, consider rather how you may best promote a diminution of population. For it is quite certain that, even with the beggarly style of nourishment which the Chancellor is compelled to place in prospect for us, Germany, on the basis of the present order of things, will be able permanently to support but a very thin and sparse population. The same applies, of course, to the neighbouring Socialist countries. The inexorable law of self-preservation will hence compel the Socialists on this side, and on that side, to engage in a deadly struggle, which will last until that superfluity of population, which can only be supported by such forms and systems as you have uprooted, shall have succumbed.

"So far as I am aware, the hope that Bebel once expressed is not yet any nearer its accomplishment—the hope, namely, that in the course of time the desert of Sahara would, by means of irrigation, be turned into fruitful districts, and prove a favourable colonising ground to which to draft off the surplus [118]Socialist population of Europe. I take it, too, that there is as yet no great liking on the part of those of your side in politics who are superfluous here, to follow the other proposition which Bebel was once good enough to suggest as an outlet for surplus population. That suggestion was the settling in the north of Norway, and in Siberia. (Laughter from the Left.)

"Whether or not it is possible to make a halt in the path of progress to destruction, which we have entered upon, I should searcely care to venture to say. Many milliards in value have already been destroyed by the Revolution, and it would again require the sacrifice of milliards to restore something like order to the present disorganised condition of affairs.

"Whilst we in old Europe, thanks to your efforts, are fast hastening to ruin and destruction, there arises on the other side of the ocean, ever mightier and wealthier, a power that is settled on the firm basis of personal property and free competition, and whose citizens have never seriously entertained the falsities of Socialism.

"Every day that we delay the extrication of our country from the wretched maze into which an aberration of mind has led it, takes us nearer and nearer to the abyss. Hence I say, 'Down with the socialistic gaol regime! Long live Liberty.' " (Loud applause from the Left and from the galleries. Hissing and uproar from the Right.)

The President called the last speaker to order for the concluding remarks contained in his speech, and gave instructions to clear the galleries immediately, by reason of the repeated manifestations of opinion by the occupants.


The clearance of the galleries occasioned no small amount of trouble. As I had to go with the others, I, unfortunately, can say no more as to the further progress of the sitting. But as the Government has a slavish majority at its back, there can hardly be any doubt as to the passing of the various measures proposed by the Chancellor. Not even the indignation of the Chancellor's lady at the proposed Regulation of Dress Bill will have any effect in altering it.


Ploezensee is a house of correction in Berlin.


"Falsities of Socialism," by Eugene Richter. Berlin, 1890.