Did no one see it coming?
By Chris Clancy
In Western Europe, over a very long period of time, events transpired which would result in what we now call the Industrial Revolution. It's widely accepted it got underway sometime in the second half of the eighteenth century.
About one hundred years later something else got underway as a direct result of this. It was a school of thought which became known as Marxism.
In this very readable article, David Prychitko lays out the ideas which underpinned Marxism. He finishes with an appraisal in which he writes:
With hindsight, of course, we're all geniuses. On the one hand, as Marxist ideas began to take hold, few could have predicted how they would play out in practice. On the other, equally, who at that time could possibly have seen just how much life would improve for the masses under capitalism?
When Friedrich Engels arrived in Manchester in 1842, he was appalled by what he saw – so much so he wrote a book about it – published in 1844. In this book he argued that the Industrial Revolution actually made workers worse off.
I daresay, at that time, more than a few would have agreed.
Then in 1848, he and Karl Marx co-authored and published the Communist Manifesto. It is perhaps best known for the following "quote":
Given the conditions under which workers and their families lived and toiled, it was not surprising this "call to arms" gained traction. Especially when intellectuals got hold of it - and things got organized - and it started to evolve into a "movement".
When Das Kapital appeared in 1867 it was on its way.
As it gathered pace there was more and more talk of building a very different future. Of a property-less, classless and harmonious world – of a kind of "worker's paradise" – or something like that.
Milton Friedman captured the academic mood, both then and in the many decades which followed, when he wrote:
As things turned out, the actual which emerged bore little or no relation to the ideal.
Returning to Prychitko:
Again, with hindsight, one can't help but wonder if anyone at the time questioned what a total state, in a Marxian sense, would entail? Did no-one foresee the possible dangers or even the horrors which could unfold?
Well ... there was one man who most certainly did.
His name was Eugen Richter.
In 1891 he wrote a book entitled "Pictures Of The Socialistic Future", which laid out, chapter and verse, almost precisely what would be involved. The accuracy of this prophetic work is almost chilling – and for any academic - breathtaking in its prescience.
There was no hindsight at work here:
For anyone interested in this subject, Richter's book is a must-read.
Chris Clancy lived in China for seven years. Most of this time was spent as associate professor of financial accounting at Zhongnan University of Economics and Law in Wuhan City, Hubei Province. He now lives in Thailand where he spends his time reading, writing, lecturing and, whenever he gets the chance, doing his level best to spread Austrian economics.