In the mid-19th century, a new political movement arose: socialism. Germany was its epicenter. The German Karl Marx was its leading thinker, and the Social Democratic Party of Germany its leading organization. The socialists denounced capitalist inequality and argued that the obvious solution was government ownership of the means of production.
From the outset, many questioned the practicality of the socialists' solution. After you equalize incomes, who will take out the garbage? Yet almost no one questioned the socialists' idealism. By 1961, however, the descendents of the radical wing of the Social Democratic Party had built the Berlin Wall — and were shooting anyone who tried to flee their "Workers' Paradise." A movement founded to liberate the worker turned its guns on the very people it vowed to save.
Who could have foreseen such a mythic transformation? Out of all the critics of socialism, one stands out as uniquely prescient: Eugen Richter (1838–1906). During the last decades of the 19th century, he was the leading libertarian in the German Reichstag, as well as the chief editor of the Freisinnige Zeitung. Seventy years before the Wall, Richter's dystopian novel, Pictures of the Socialistic Future, boldly predicted that victorious German socialism would inspire a mass exodus — and that the socialists would respond by banning emigration, and punishing violators with deadly force.
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.
Eugen Richter (1838-1906) was one of the very few radical liberals in late 19th century Germany. As a member of the Reichstag, he consistently opposed the growing budget, German militarism and imperialism, and the rise of socialism.