How socialists debate immigration [Stuttgart 1907]

Text of the debate between socialist delegates to the Second International Socialist Congress held in Stuttgart in 1907. This is what they had to say when they debate the issue of immigration.

This is a rough translation from the German by Ed Potts from Facebook. The text of the agreed motion is online here

The immigration and emigration of workers

First Session: Monday 19 August

Ugarte (Argentina): The Argentinian comrades have brought the question of immigration and emigration of workers to this congress for the following reasons. They want only to fight the artificial immigration that is sponsored by the capitalists in order to undercut workers with a cheaper labour force. The comrades also demand measures against the exploitation of migrants by the shipping companies. The whole problem is not a racial question. The revolution is not waged against Chinese or Japanese people. Argentina should be opened to all workers. Further, workers should be educated about the basic necessities of work and life in a country they wish to migrate to. In this spirit the Argentinians present two resolutions, one of which demands the education of the workers, and the other the relaxation of naturalisation laws in all countries so that workers can immediately acquire political rights in their new home.

Urn (France): polemicised against the American resolution, that transgressed the basic principles of Social Democracy in all countries. The Americans demand controls on immigration. However the workers migrate only because they are forced to by their economic position. In France, immigrant workers — Belgians, Germans, Italians and Spaniards — have a lively racial consciousness. But class consciousness must be awakened in them. The best weapons against the negative consequences of immigration are agitation, education and organisation. The French delegation moves that Socialist members of every parliament should demand that governments are no longer permitted to summarily deport foreign workers; and further that foreign workers should enjoy the same protections as native workers, because then employers will have less interest in employing foreign workers.

Sasek (Bohemia): Migration was initially limited to German and Italian workers, but increasingly turned to the East. The question of migration is primarily a racial one. (Asks the comrades to limit themselves in the discussion to the question of coolie labour).

Trömer (Australia): The problem of immigration has a greater significance for Australia than most other countries that are represented here, because the wages of native workers there are higher than elsewhere. The capitalists therefore endeavour to bring in more Asian workers to depress wages. The incoming white workers organise themselves swiftly and do not drag down the conditions of Austrialians. The Australian Labor Party therefore wishes to keep out certain workers who are not expected to adopt the conditions of whites. This means the Asians. [He believes that] these policies of the Australian Labor Party do not contradict socialism. […] Of course we all want a general brotherhood of peoples, but until we achieve this we must look after the workers of our own country, so that they are not offered up to the capitalists without resistance. It has been attempted to bring Italian workers into Australia. The Australian socialists wrote a letter about it to “Avanti”, which actually succeeded in stopping Italian immigration. In such communications lies the main point of the International Socialist Bureau. To further the interests of socialism the Australian workers must guard against the immigration of Asian workers.

Morel (France) spoke against the Australian resolution. We are not against the yellow race, but we are certainly against yellow strike-breakers. We must bring the Chinese and Japanese to socialism through education, and through organisation make them our brothers. We must unionise the yellow race and all workers in general against the yellow strike-breakers. Migrants are the most unfortunate section of the great family of workers. It would be unsocialist to demand further measures against them; we must rather assist them. The actual burning question is the immigration of seasonal workers. The French delegation requests the preparation of a special report into seasonal workers, to pluck them from the jaws of the people traffickers. We should intervene immediately on this with education and organisation, so that the seasonal workers do not continue to depress wages.

Hillquit (USA): The problem of immigration and emigration is very difficult and serious. The Americans have the principle of internationalism constantly on our minds, and the resolution does not contradict this principle in any way. [Hillquit differentiates] between various types of emigration: the first type is natural emigration, that arises naturally from the capitalist economic order. For this immigration and emigration the Americans demand the greatest freedom, and moreover make it the duty of workers to support the poor migrants. But this natural immigration and emigrationmust be clearly distinguished from the other type, that is immigration which is fundamentally nothing more than the import of a foreign workforce by capitalism. The capitalists import such workforces, that by nature must be cheaper and in general serve as unwitting strike-breakers, and who are dangerous competition for native workers. Nowadays these workforces are Chinese and Japanese, the yellow race in general. We have absolutely no racial prejudice against the Chinese, but we must state that they are completely unorganisable. A people can only be organised for the class struggle when its development has already progressed quite far, as is the case with the Belgians and Italians who have migrated to France. The Chinese however are still too far behind in their development to be organised. Socialism must not be mere sentimentalism. We are in the middle of an open struggle between capital and labour. Whoever stands against organised labour is our enemy. Do we want to achieve a sort of privilege for foreign strike-breakers, that native workers will have to fight against? If we take no measures against the import of Chinese strike-breakers, then we will roll back the socialist workers’ movement. Our resolution upholds the principle of class struggle, while the French resolution would weaken it. We are not concerned with the specific wording of our resolution, but please endorse a resolution which supports our position.

Dier (Hungary) spoke against the remarks of Comrade Hillquit. Hungary contributes a large contingent of migrants, but despite the great numbers they are not only harassed by capitalist strike-breakers, but moreover the state itself sends emissaries to bring in strike-breakers from Russia. In terms of the racial question, Hillquit thinks is he is taking a correct position. But the countries that are unorganisable today, will no longer be so tomorrow. In backward countries, development will not take as long as those countries which became developed first, like England and Germany. Only ten years ago our Hungarian workers emigrated to America and could have been regarded as unorganisable. Today, after only a few years, they are imbued with the spirit of socialism and organise themselves. You want to enact protectionist controls on workers and will thereby find yourselves in a fiasco like the capitalists. We cannot consider wages only from the perspective of supply and demand, because then we would also have to oppose the the introduction of agricultural machines, which especially in the eastern countries have made more workers unemployed than have the Japanese and Chinese. We should allow completely free immigration and emigration. A great number of American workers are still not filled with proletarian class-consciousness, rather only with wage-consciousness. In any case we must fight against the abuses caused by mass importation [of labour] by the capitalists, but we must fight these abuses through education and organisation. A good tactic would be to demand the introduction of a minimum wage; and if this is not achieved by political means, then through resort to industrial means. [Lively applause]

Lucas (South Africa): We in South Africa must reduce the import of cheap labour which is destroying our trade unions. We are no enemies of the Chinese as a race, only as strike-breakers. When it comes to the emigration of workers who can be organised, we adhere to the position of international socialism.

Rappaport (Paris): The present debate has distinguished between three positions: the national thesis of Australia, the international thesis of France, and in the middle the thesis of Hillquit which in its international application is nationalist. Hillquit wants to use Marx to bolster his argument, and calls it revolutionary. But we must apply Marx not only on the level of ideas, but — despite difficulties — practically as well. We would deal internationalism a slap in the face if we were to adopt the Australian thesis. Hillquit speaks of predestined strike-breakers; we cannot accept that. So long as a worker has not broken any strike, he is our comrade. We also want to take on the contract-breaking immigration sponsored by the capitalists, but not by fighting the workers affected. I ask you not to consider the Australian or American resolutions, but look instead to the French resolution. [Applause]

Second Session: Tuesday 20 August

The chair Ellenbogen (Vienna) asked for contributions from the comrades.

Rotsche (Romania): There are two sorts of immigration, one natural that arises from economic relationships, and the other that consists of strike-breakers and which is encouraged by governments and capitalists. But there are still other forms of emigration, for instance that which owes to mass expulsions. In Romania more than 400,000 Jews are completely without rights. Any police officer can persecute them. [The speaker refers to] the mass expulsions of Romanian Jews who are often chased out of the country by night under cover of darkness. He calls on the commission to make it a duty of all socialist parliamentarians to help prevent such mass expulsions by governments.

Ellenbogen (Vienna): The discussion is diverging in two directions. One represents the interests of immigrant countries, the other of emigrant countries. Between these two views no reconciliation appears possible. But hopefully an agreement is possible, if we get to the bottom of this conundrum. I ask you however not to muddy the waters of this complex question with other questions, such as the situation of the Jews in Romania. Immigration and emigration is not a moral question, but rather a question of the capitalist economic system, a means by which capitalism seeks to maximise its rate of profit and depress the wages of workers. It is therefore the task of this congress to counter these two goals. The point is to take the best of both views expressed previously and proceed from there. I think this is best achieved if we proceed negatively and exclude everything from the outset that is unacceptable to socialists, like for example all exclusion laws and measures. Comrade Hillquit will not take offense if I cannot accept his resolution due to its unclear wording. We should steer clear of such distinctions as “natural” and “unnatural” emigration. We have however a range of positive measures, the main tasks of which fall to the trade unions. They must reach out to the poor in their countries of destination and undertake education in their countries of origin, like the German trade unions have done in exemplary fashion. They must also try to prevent the export of strike-breakers. Above all however the trade unions of destination countries must take care to bring immigrants over to their side, and I deeply regret that many American trade unions impede the entry of immigrants. A second set of tasks is in the realm of social legislation. To the suggestion by Dier to demand a minimum wage, can be added the demand for a maximum working day. The tender for public contracts must also be controlled. Above all we must encourage a special control for migrant ships. Through that alone Chinese immigration in its worst form would be made impossible, because by requiring a certain amount of air per head the current means of transport would not be profitable. I would like to pose the problem in this way, that capitalism tries to increase its rate of profit, while we try to decrease it in order to increase the workers’ share. I don’t want to win your applause by quoting famous socialists, but rather expressly point out the seriousness of the problem. [Applause]

Thoss (Bern): Above all we must fight the against the pressure on living standards, irrespective of whether it is caused by native or immigrant workers. All too often native workers are also strike-breakers. Foreign workers that fight alongside us for better living conditions are closer to us than native strike-breakers. Here we should also consider the formulation of housing law. Italian workers are mostly housed in such miserable slum quarters, and that in itself increases the capitalists’ profits. New housing legislation could bring in a range of sanitary measures as well as requiring a level of comfort appropriate to each country’s conditions. Finally a comprehensive and good system of workers’ insurance is necessary, for native and immigrant workers alike.

Kato (Japan): As a representative of the Japanese socialists I must chime in here on this particular question. The Americans have deported us from California and justify it with two reasons: first, that the Japanese workers depressed the wages and living conditions of local workers; and second, that they take away all the job opportunities. I must point out that it is not merely the Japanese, but also the Italians, the Slovaks, the Jews etc who do this. I ask therefore why it is the Japanese workers who are expelled? It seems to us that the Racial question plays a role here, that the Americans are being influenced by fears of the so-called “Yellow Peril”. The history of the American nation confirms this view.

An additional cause appears to be that the American capitalists are seeking to deceive their own workers. The Japanese live under the pressure of capitalism just as do other peoples, and only dire need drives us from our homeland to seek a living abroad.

It is the duty of socialists to take in these poor brothers, to care for them and to fight capitalism together. The founder of socialism, Karl Marx, looked not to this nation or that, but to all nations. Internationalism is inscribed on our banner, and it would be a slap in the face to socialism if the poor exploited Japanese were to be excluded. [Lively sustained applause]

Dr Julius Hammer (USA — Socialist Labor Party): There is no middle ground in this question of immigration and emigration. Either one is for controls on immigration, or one struggles actively against them. Hillquit’s resolution is an attempt at mediation. But it has completely failed. [The speaker criticised] in particular the third point of Hillquit’s resolution, that allows for a potential limit on immigration of Chinese and Japanese workers. That is completely un-socialist. A statutory limit on immigration must be dismissed. Nothing for socialism can be achieved through the legislative path in cooperation with the bourgeois parties. [The speaker gave several examples] of how racial hatred in America blinded the workers and incited them to violence. The Japanese and Chinese could be organised very well. There are no workers so uneducated as has been suggested. They come to understand capitalism very well, and understand how to fight it too. I ask you not to pursue statutory controls on immigration. We must reach out to a great nation of the exploited.

Wittus (Galicia): We have followed this debate for educational purposes with great interest and agree with the principle of free movement. We are consequently against the resolutions of the Americans and Australians and against the following clause of Ellenbogen’s resolution: “Exclusion from immigration of all commercial workers who are in a contractual relationship with an employer in their destination country, and further all whose travel costs are paid for them.” We propose that socialists establish a special information bureau for migrants, which can regulate the flow of emigrants according to the natural laws of supply and demand, and in times of difficulty can warn against migration. I warn also against the adoption of clauses in the Bund’s resolution, which call for a state information bureau. In other respects I favour Ellenbogen’s resolution.

Marlecki (Poland): spoke for the French resolution, that calls for complete freedom of immigration and emigration. We do not justify our rejection of the American resolution with phrases about universal brotherhood, but rather because we are not in a position to really fight to change existing social relations through bourgeois means. If the American workers were powerful enough to prevent the importation of cheap labour by the capitalists, then they should instead fight for a minimum wage and for laws which also benefit migrants. [The speaker also polemicized] against Hillquit and attributed the Americans’ demand for immigration controls as falling back on the bourgeois ideology of racial conflict.

Rahan (England): spoke for the whole English section and said that he did not want to get involved in a theoretical discussion, but he must point out that one could not bring about international fraternity through revolutionary phrases. That is the quintessence of socialism. The question of immigration and emigration can be considered from two angles. If Hillquit wanted with his resolution to demand controls on the immigration of conscious strike-breakers, then we are in agreement. But if he wanted to limit voluntary migration, then I am completely against it, because that would be an attack on the freedom and freedom of movement of workers. That would be an application of bourgeois methods aimed at splitting the proletariat. The proletarians constitute a class that we must not split internally. We must combat all racial tensions. I regard it as shameful that lately strike-breakers have travelled from England, the home of the oldest trade union movement, to Germany. We cannot distinguish between superior and inferior races. The Japanese, whose representative just a moment ago evoked with such strength the fundamentals of socialism, and among whom socialism is making such great and swift progress — they are no inferior race, they can also be organised.

Balere (Italy) agreed with Ellenbogen and Diner and described the relations in Italian emigration. One cannot fight migrants, only the abuses which arise from emigration. The Italian party and trade unions are always mindful of this. We are against controls on migration, because we know that the whip of hunger that cracks behind migrants is stronger than any law made by governments.

Bliegen (Netherlands): Workers that belong to inferior peoples also provide inferior work, and so cannot be such dangerous competition. It must be emphasised that countries which are for measures to control immigration, America, South Africa and Australia, these still have few white workers relative to the whole. In these countries many more workers will still be able to find work. Immigration has not damaged America, for that is currently where the highest wages are paid. If one wants to close all countries, where are the workers to go? We socialists can make that impossible. Migration should be free. In South America the governments have cried out for immigrants, but not provided them with favourable living conditions. Where immigration is greatest, there also are wage levels better than in closed-off countries. It is still far from proven that wages are depressed by immigration, but in countries where emigration is high the wages of remaining workers improve; like in the Netherlands, where numerous agricultural workers have emigrated, those who stayed behind have received better wages. In America, the East is open, but the West where the Japanese and Chinese are migrating is closed. If there is no racial question behind that, then how else to explain it? Right now the Japanese are very enraged at being described as an inferior race. Already there is a threat of war between Japan and the United States. I hope that if war should break out, it should not be because of labour issues. I must still deal with the question of immigration in the colonies. In the mines of the Dutch colonies, Chinese are employed because no other workers are there. The socialists have now intervened, especially Comrade van Rol, and have obtained a number of improvements for the Chinese, in particular a ten-hour day and better accommodation, hygiene measures etc. This work of van Rol and the Dutch should be imitated by other nations who also have colonies.

Three tendencies have emerged. The first finds its expression in the resolutions of the Bund, Ellenbogen, and the Dutch; the second is contained in Hillquit’s resolution; and the third is the tendency of the Poles, that demands full freedom of immigration and emigration. I call for a vote on the fundamental principles and then the establishment of a sub-commission, that will receive the comrades’ resolutions, materials and amendments, and whose task it will be to come up with a unified resolution.

Käplow (Germany): We stand by the position that immigration and emigration must be subject to controls. We support Hillquit’s resolution, that we see as almost-identical to the resolutions from Bliegen and Ellenbogen, and can see no meaningful difference between the tendencies of the three resolutions. We cannot possibly accept that in countries with highly-developed workers’ movements, the achievements of decades of political and trade-union organizing should at a single stroke be eliminated through the mass immigration of almost completely undemanding workers. In a sense, in many countries there are controls on proletarian migration. In France there are regulations that a certain percentage of all public work must be carried out by native workers, and the French comrades who spoke so zealously here for complete freedom of movement voted decisively — and rightly — for such regulations. German governments on the other hand require that foreign workers are used in the construction of major projects like railways and canals, and organize the mass import of foreigners to protect landowners and industrialists against the wage demands of native workers. Through the mass influx of Italian and Slavic workers, the living costs of German agricultural workers have become exceptionally high, indeed nearly impossibly so. We are only too glad to accept foreign immigrants, in order to impart our culture to them and to learn from them; but we must protect ourselves against mass importations. We are also endangered by the introduction of coolie labour. It has begun in the shipping companies, and will spread to the mines and agricultural sectors. [The speaker then turned to] the import of strike-breakers from England to Hamburg and Rotterdam and regretted particularly that this had been possible in the trade union movement’s homeland. In this the conservative attitudes of the English trade unions are also to blame, in that they do not take care of the lumpenproletariat. We Germans cannot accept any resolution that rejects controls on immigration.

Risser (Russia): It is very difficult to come up with a tactical solution to this question. One must differentiate between European migration and trans-oceanic migration. The first is less important; the introduction of a minimum wage would help.

Then one must distinguish further between emigration which arises from economic conditions, and emigration that is driven by the capitalists. These must be kept separate; it is impossible to control the first type of migration because capitalism will always find ways and means of getting around statutory controls. The trade unions can also intervene with only limited success. The workers have a duty, above all, to demand better wages. Then we must demand strict controls on people traffickers and shipping companies. Controls on immigration and emigration are impossible. Freedom of movement for workers must be preserved.

Published by

Simon H

Tooting CLP and Lambeth UNISON

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s