Historical and Socialist Views on Immigration

Socialism is NOT Liberalism

by Serban V.C. Enache

In the past, I wrote about open immigration policy being a boon to capital. It’s important to consider both sides of the balance sheet: one country is gaining people, another is losing people. Naive liberals will claim that immigration is great to have in any and all circumstances. Narrow-minded conservatives will argue that immigration is a bane on a country’s health and security. I will completely disregard such delusional thinking, and instead offer what I believe to be a balanced perspective, one that takes into account circumstances – moderation and prudence always being good tenets to follow.

Immigrants, as we shall discuss later, can provide the host country with tremendous gains in skills and productive power. Integration of foreigners into the host society is not a simple issue. The country’s political class has to desire and work toward integration, and the foreigners need to work to that end as well. This equation is multi-faceted. Economic aims are not sole factors. Culture plays a big role. Some countries practice and encourage multi-culturalism and multi-racialism. Some countries practice and encourage only the latter – while others might simply tolerate it without encouraging it.

At the end of the day, the real constraints for a sovereign (currency issuing) nation are: available land, labor, materials, and know-how. Even under ideal political circumstances, however, the aforementioned constraints have to be considered carefully when figuring out how fast and how much immigration and overall population growth (birth rates included) the country can sustain. I see no point (from a moral and ecological POV) to overpopulate one region of the globe and depopulate another, when nations could help each other by promoting mutual investment so that each may create employment at wages of dignity and foster progress on their own soil.

In reality, however, we’re nowhere in an ideal political context. Establishment policy is to deliberately keep a section of the population in a state of permanent and involuntary unemployment. Standard policy is: to tolerate wage suppression, to subsidize rent-seekers and usurers, to tolerate cartelized markups, to force more people to buy essential goods and services from bank debt instead of from income, to entertain economic uncertainty for the lower classes, to sabotage unionism, to deregulate, defund public services and hand them off to private interests, and to import cheap labor from abroad (pitting domestic workers against immigrants).

Brain drain is a big problem. Example: Country A invests in training doctors and nurses, and once trained, they emigrate to Country B which pays better wages. In contrast, Country B gets cheaper workers (already trained at the cost of Country A) and there’s less incentive to invest in domestic training, while Country A suffers a shortage. Another issue is the lack of solidarity among and between domestic workers and foreign workers. The latter usually choose not to unionize because they have families to support back home – and that means getting a job as quickly as possible without (collectively) negotiating the wage or working conditions. Some countries can afford to lose a portion of their population, which in absolute numbers can entail great millions of people like India and China. Other countries, like those with negative demographics can’t afford to.

Let’s see the positive aspects of importing skilled labor using some historical examples.

Friedrich List, The National System of Political Economy

Chapter IV: The English

“In our account of the Hanseatic League we have shown how in England agriculture and sheep farming have been promoted by foreign trade; how at a subsequent period, through the immigration of foreign artificers, fleeing from persecution in their native land, and also owing to the fostering measures adopted by the British Government, the English woollen manufacturing industry had gradually attained to a flourishing condition; and how, as a direct consequence of that progress in manufacturing industry, as well as of the wise and energetic measures adopted by Queen Elizabeth, all the foreign trade which formerly had been monopolised by foreigners had been successfully diverted into the hands of the merchants at home.

[…] Already under the reign of Elizabeth the importation of metal and leather goods, and of a great many other manufactured articles, had been prohibited, while the immigration of German miners and metal workers was encouraged. Formerly ships had been bought of the Hansards or were ordered to be built in the Baltic ports. But she contrived, by restrictions on the one hand and encouragements on the other, to promote shipbuilding at home.

[…] The immigration into England, moreover, of the Protestant artificers who had been driven from Belgium and France by Philip II. and Louis XIV. gave to England an incalculable increase of industrial skill and manufacturing capital. To these men England owes her manufactures of fine woollen cloth, her progress in the arts of making hats, linen, glass, paper, silk, clocks and watches, as well as a part of her metal manufacture; branches of industry which she knew how speedily to increase by means of prohibition and high duties.

[…] Great, however, as have been the advantages heretofore mentioned, they have been greatly surpassed in their effect by those which England derived from immigrations attracted by her political, religious, and geographical conditions.

Chapter XI: Political and Cosmopolitical Economy

“The effects of this system for the purpose in view are of two kinds: in the first place, by gradually excluding foreign manufactured articles from our markets, a surplus would be occasioned in foreign nations, of workmen, talents, and capital, which must seek employment abroad; and secondly, by the premium which our system of protection would offer to the immigration into our country of workmen, talents, and capital, that excess of productive power would be induced to find employment with us, instead of emigrating to distant parts of the world and to colonies. Political science refers to history, and inquires whether England has not in former times drawn from Germany, Italy, Holland, France, Spain, and Portugal by these means a mass of productive power. She asks: Why does the cosmopolitical school, when it pretends to weigh in the balance the advantages and the disadvantages of the system of protection, utterly ignore this great and remarkable instance of the results of that system?

I will venture an answer to List’s question. Ideologues don’t care for facts. The free traders overwhelmingly clung to dogma and their modelling of reality instead of keeping an open mind and entertaining the possibility their assumptions (and thus conclusions) may be wrong. It is also a way in which big capitalists are elevated above states in economic and political importance. The free market/free trade mythology works in their favor; they are (falsely) portrayed as the job creators, the ones who foot the bill for public services and the bill for people’s wages. I will say this – if you are a critic of free market economics; if you think Government dirigism is necessary and plays a positive role in the economy, but you are against controlled immigration, then you are a hypocrite – for you favor the rule of the free market on this question.

Nowadays, the word ‘socialist’ in the West has been transformed to mean ‘social democrat’. In Europe, where universal health care isn’t taboo, the traditional socialist parties are referred to as ‘caviar socialists.’ They too are in fact social democrats and socialists in name only. In short, neoliberals one and all.

The great international lawyer and philosopher Emmerich de Vattel, in his book, The Law Of Nations, on the subject of emigrants writes the following:

“Those who quit their country for any lawful reason, with a design to settle elsewhere, and take their families and property with them, are called emigrants. […] Their right to emigrate may arise from several sources.

  1. In the cases we have just mentioned (§ 223), it is a natural right, which is certainly reserved to each individual in the very compact itself by which civil society was formed.
  2. The liberty of emigration may, in certain cases, be secured to the citizens by a fundamental law of the state. The citizens of Neufchatel and Valangin in Switzerland may quit the country and carry off their effects at their own pleasure, without even paying any duties.
  3. It may be voluntarily granted them by the sovereign.
  4. This right may be derived from some treaty made with a foreign power, by which a sovereign has promised to leave full liberty to those of his subjects, who, for a certain reason — on account of religion, for instance — desire to transplant themselves into territories of that power. There are such treaties between the German princes, particularly for cases in which religion is concerned. In Switzerland likewise, a citizen of Bern who wishes to emigrate to Fribourg, and there profess the religion of the place, and, reciprocally, a citizen of Fribourg who, for a similar reason, is desirous of removing to Bern, has a right to quit his native country, and carry off with him all his property.

It appears from several passages in history, particularly the history of Switzerland and the neighbouring countries, that the law of nations, established there by custom some ages back, did not permit a state to receive the subjects of another state into the number of its citizens. This vicious custom had no other foundation than the slavery to which the people were then reduced. A prince, a lord, ranked his subjects under the head of his private property; he calculated their number as he did that of his flocks; and, to the disgrace of human nature, this strange abuse is not yet everywhere eradicated.

[…] If the sovereign attempts to molest those who have a right to emigrate, he does them an injury; and the injured individuals may lawfully implore the protection of the power who is willing to receive them.

[…] But though this right is necessary and perfect in the general view of it, we must not forget that it is but imperfect with respect to each particular country. For, on the other hand, every nation has a right to refuse admitting a foreigner into her territory, when he cannot enter it without exposing the nation to evident danger, or doing her a manifest injury, what she owes to herself, the care of her own safety, gives her this right; and, in virtue of her natural liberty, it belongs to the nation to judge, whether her circumstances will or will not justify the admission of that foreigner (Prelim. § 16). He cannot, then, settle by a full right, and as he pleases, in the place he has chosen, but must ask permission of the chief of the place; and, if it is refused, it is his duty to submit.

However, as property could not be introduced to the prejudice of the right acquired by every human creature, of not being absolutely deprived of such things as are necessary — no nation can, without good reasons, refuse even a perpetual residence to a man driven from his country. But, if particular and substantial reasons prevent her from affording him an asylum, this man has no longer any right to demand it — because, in such a case, the country inhabited by the nation cannot, at the same time, serve for her own use, and that of this foreigner.

Now, supposing even that things are still in common, nobody can arrogate to himself the use of a thing which actually serves to supply the wants of another. Thus, a nation, whose lands are scarcely sufficient to supply the wants of the citizens, is not obliged to receive into its territories a company of fugitives or exiles. Thus, it ought even absolutely to reject them, if they are infected with a contagious disease. Thus, also, it has a right to send them elsewhere, if it has just cause to fear that they will corrupt the manners of the citizens, that they will create religious disturbances, or occasion any other disorder, contrary to the public safety. In a word, it has a right, and is even obliged to follow, in this respect, the suggestions of prudence.

But this prudence should be free from unnecessary suspicion and jealousy; it should not be carried so far as to refuse a retreat to the unfortunate, for slight reasons, and on groundless and frivolous fears. The means of tempering it will be, never to lose sight of that charity and commiseration which are due to the unhappy. We must not suppress these feelings even for those who have fallen into misfortune through their own fault. For, we ought to hate the crime, but love the man, since all mankind ought to love each other.

Vattel’s wisdom and beautiful words need no comments from me. The reader will find that Vattel’s interpretation of Natural Law is more enlightened than that of Grotius or John Locke.

Karl Marx’s thoughts on mass immigration into Britain, in a letter to Sigfried Meyer, dated August 1870.

“But the English bourgeoisie has also much more important interests in the present economy of Ireland. Owing to the constantly increasing concentration of leaseholds, Ireland constantly sends her own surplus to the English labour market, and thus forces down wages and lowers the material and moral position of the English working class.

And most important of all! Every industrial and commercial centre in England now possesses a working class divided into two hostile camps, English proletarians and Irish proletarians. The ordinary English worker hates the Irish worker as a competitor who lowers his standard of life. In relation to the Irish worker he regards himself as a member of the ruling nation and consequently he becomes a tool of the English aristocrats and capitalists against Ireland, thus strengthening their domination over himself. He cherishes religious, social, and national prejudices against the Irish worker. His attitude towards him is much the same as that of the “poor whites” to the Negroes in the former slave states of the USA.. The Irishman pays him back with interest in his own money. He sees in the English worker both the accomplice and the stupid tool of the English rulers in Ireland.

This antagonism is artificially kept alive and intensified by the press, the pulpit, the comic papers, in short, by all the means at the disposal of the ruling classes. This antagonism is the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation. It is the secret by which the capitalist class maintains its power. And the latter is quite aware of this.

But the evil does not stop here. It continues across the ocean. The antagonism between Englishmen and Irishmen is the hidden basis of the conflict between the United States and England. It makes any honest and serious co-operation between the working classes of the two countries impossible. It enables the governments of both countries, whenever they think fit, to break the edge off the social conflict by their mutual bullying, and, in case of need, by war between the two countries.

England, the metropolis of capital, the power which has up to now ruled the world market, is at present the most important country for the workers’ revolution, and moreover the only country in which the material conditions for this revolution have reached a certain degree of maturity. It is consequently the most important object of the International Working Men’s Association to hasten the social revolution in England. The sole means of hastening it is to make Ireland independent. Hence it is the task of the International everywhere to put the conflict between England and Ireland in the foreground, and everywhere to side openly with Ireland. It is the special task of the Central Council in London to make the English workers realise that for them the national emancipation of Ireland is not a question of abstract justice or humanitarian sentiment, but the first condition of their own social emancipation.”

A year later, Marx emphasized his point on strikes and immigration in an interview with the New York World on the 18th of July.

“To give an example, one of the commonest forms of the movement for emancipation is that of strikes. Formerly, when a strike took place in one country it was defeated by the importation of workmen from another. The International has nearly stopped all that. It receives information of the intended strike, it spreads that information among its members, who at once see that for them the seat of the struggle must be forbidden ground. The masters are thus left alone to reckon with their men. In most cases the men require no other aid than that. Their own subscriptions or those of the societies to which they are more immediately affiliated supply them with funds, but should the pressure upon them become too heavy and the strike be one of which the Association approves, their necessities are supplied out of the common purse. By these means a strike of the cigar makers of Barcelona was brought to a victorious issue the other day.”

Early 20th century American Socialist viewpoint on immigration

In May 1908, the Socialist Party of America held a national convention in Chicago. A committee of five men (Ernest Untermann, Victor Berger, Guy Miller, John Spargo, and Joshua Wanhope) was created to study the issue of mass immigration into the United States. On the 14th of May that same year, the convention passed this resolution on the subject matter:

“The Socialist Party, in convention assembled, declares that the fundamental principle of Socialism is the struggle between the exploiting and exploited classes. The controlling principle of the political Socialist movement is the economic interest of the workers.

In conformity with this principle the National Convention of the Socialist Party affirms that the working class must protect itself against whatever imperils its economic interests. The mass importation by the capitalist class of foreign workers with lower standard of living than those generally prevailing may in some instances become as serious to the working class of the nation as an armed invasion would be to the nation itself.

To deny the right of the workers to protect themselves against injury to their interests, caused by the competition of imported foreign laborers whose standards of living are materially lower than their own, is to set a bourgeois Utopian ideal above the class struggle.

This principle compels us to resolutely oppose all immigration which is subsidized or stimulated by the capitalist class, and all contract labor immigration, as well as to support all attempts of the workers to raise their standards of living. It does not, however, commit the Socialist Party to any attitude upon specific legislation looking to the exclusion of any race or races as such.

The question of racial differences involved in the agitation for the exclusion of Asiatic immigrants this convention does not feel itself competent to decide upon at this time in the absence of a scientific investigation of the matter.

Therefore, we recommend that in view of the great importance of this subject to the life of the workers of the nation, a special committee of five members be elected at this convention to carefully study and investigate the whole subject of immigration, in all its aspects, racial no less than economic, to publish from time to time such data as they may gather, and to report to the next convention of the party.” (Work 1908: 105).

While the aspect of race and racial differences was the norm back then, the socialist convention didn’t oppose mass immigration on racial grounds, but on socio-economic, cultural, and political considerations. Being realists, however, they recognized the tribal nature of mankind – an invariable fact across history, cultures, and races.

Comment by delegate Guy Miller:

“People that belong to the same race, unless there are economic reasons for mingling with others, naturally draw those lines pretty closely, and while they may cross those lines in associating and in exchanging ideas, still their life is spent among the people of a common descent. I take it that no mere sentiments or ideals of the present can wipe out the result of centuries of blood and thought and struggle. There are some things along that line that we must consider very carefully.” (Work 1908: 107).

Victor Berger noted that open borders would result in the demographic replacement of the white working class in America.

“This is a practical question for the working class. China could send over about two million coolies every year and not feel it. They could send over here five millions every year if our capitalists should want them, and China would not miss them. But we would feel it. If you permit them to come over here just for fifteen years at two millions a year you will wipe out our civilization simply by their lower standard of living, by their power to live on a great deal less than you can. There would be a quiet war, but a most terrible war, waged against us—a war of extermination, on economic lines. The white race could not propagate, could not exist in a competition of that kind with the yellow race. That is all I have to say on this.

I want to consider this simply from a working class standpoint, and no other. We are willing to help the Japs in every way; we are willing to help the Chinese in every way. By pulling us down to their level they do not help themselves in any way, but they make us miserable. Your first duty, comrades, is to your class and to your family. Because your neighbor’s house is burning, shall you set your own house on fire? No, say I. Defend your own house and then help your neighbor; that is the way.” (Work 1908: 111).

At a time when its health care and welfare systems are in a precarious state, immigration in the US is already near its historic peak.

Note: labeled as the golden age of industrial capitalism, that period is marked with lower immigration numbers – in my opinion, due to the post-war reconstruction going on in Europe.

How many more will flock to the US in (legitimate) hopes of a better life should the Government implement Medicare for All and a Universal Jobs Guarantee that pays living wages? The strain on logistics, housing, and the environment will be severe. Many conservative and independent voters in the US today realize that whites will become a minority in the (near) future and they are opposed to it.

Judging from these graphs, it seems immigration is a major contributor to inequality, regardless if the state leans republican or democrat. California and New York, regarded by many as the most progressive, have some of the highest inequality stats in the whole union…

Ernest Untermann was anything but an idealist. Those who are familiar with the history of the Balkans (the peoples that had to endure life situated at the crossroads of empires) will clearly understand his following point.

“I believe in the international solidarity of the working class, and yield to no Socialist on this floor in teaching and practicing such solidarity to the point to which it is possible. But I do not believe in international solidarity to the point of cutting my own throat. […]

Everyone familiar with conditions in the southern states knows very well what would be the fate of the Socialist Party if we attempted to organize mixed locals of colored and white people down there. Every one familiar with conditions on the Pacific and in the Rocky Mountain states knows that the same result would follow there if we attempted to organize mixed locals of orientals and whites. The oriental laborers are of no use to us in our political struggle, even if we could organize them and educate them as easily as laborers from other countries. The orientals have no home. They cannot help to fight the political class struggle, and if we demand homesteads for them what will be the result for the white race? How much of the United States are you going to turn over to them? And if they fill them up, how much more and how much more?

I am determined that my race shall not go the way of the Aztec and the Indian. I believe in the brotherhood of man, regardless of races, but I do not believe in extending that brotherhood to the point of eliminating myself voluntarily from the struggle for existence and turning over this country to my brothers of other races.” (Work 1908: 110–111).

Berger and Untermann made their views plain. They did not accept mass immigration on the grounds of class politics. I don’t see anything morally unjust or unnatural (from a biological standpoint) in self-preservation. A sovereign country retains the right to regulate immigration. The Palestinians, under British dominion, did not have that right – and look what became of them. Realism is what’s missing on the present stage of geopolitics. The conflicts we’re seeing now, the competition for regional dominance, the overthrow of secular governments, the rise of fundamentalism, the dismemberment of sovereign countries at the whim of the hegemonic power and its corrupt allies, the re-emergence of slavery… When only short term objectives are taken into account, the result is perpetual chaos, destruction, and loss of human life.


The question of immigration is not going to disappear any time soon. Strife and poverty give rise to new and increased migration patterns, compounded by climate change.

It’s not an issue to be trivialized by either liberals or conservatives with claims of utopia or doomsday scenarios. It should be approached intelligently, humanely (not how it’s done today by Trump and the Republicans), in coordination with other countries, and above all – the plan needs to be formulated with physical constraints in mind, the ability to physically accommodate foreigners in a sustainable manner while not eroding collective bargaining power or forcing people of antagonistic cultures to live together. The “lack of money” must never be accepted as a reasonable or objective excuse for inaction or sacrifice. It is my belief that supporters of open immigration who are ignorant of class struggle will reap a terrible harvest for native and foreigner alike…

The solution is to destroy rivals by making friends with them. The solution is a community of sovereign nation states, not globalism, not hegemony, not allegiance to cosmopolitical fairy tales, not throwing away sovereignty to super-state institutions and trans-national capital. The solution to mass migration and waves of refugees is to end neo-colonial and neo-imperialist operations; the solution is a multi-polar world order, with peaceful and productive long term goals in mind for the benefit of the human race.

Serban V.C. Enache is a Romanian journalist and indie author. Though interested in history, politics, and economics, his true passion is for medieval fantasy fiction. https://www.amazon.com/Serban-Valentin-Constantin-Enache/e/B00N2SJD6O/ He can be reached over Twitter. https://twitter.com/SerbanVCEnache

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