Friday, August 4, 2017

The 1908 Resolution against Mass Immigration by the Socialist Party of America

From the 10–17 May 1908, the Socialist Party of America held a national convention in Chicago.

It was at this conference that the convention set up a special committee of five men to study the issue of mass immigration into the US, namely, Victor L. Berger, Guy E. Miller, John Spargo, Joshua Wanhope and Ernest Untermann (Untermann is well known as the first American translator of Karl Marx’s Das Kapital).

On the 14 May 1908, the convention passed this resolution on mass immigration, which stated its views and set up the special committee that later reported to the 1910 conference:
“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).
It is notable that they lived in a time when virtually everybody believed in the objective reality of race and racial differences (even including some of these socialists and Marxists themselves), but the convention did not frame its opposition to mass immigration in racial terms, but in terms of economics, and even in 1910 its resolution did not call for exclusion of immigrants simply because of their skin colour or racial identity.

Their opposition to mass immigration remained based on economic, social, cultural and political considerations.

At the same time, however, they recognised the tribal nature of human beings. Here is a comment by the delegate Guy E. 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).
So, clearly, some of these socialists were not utopian multiculturalists.

Victor L. Berger even noted that open borders would result in the demographic replacement of the 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).
Ernest Untermann went even further than this:
“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. ….

Every one 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).
Clearly, then, neither Berger nor Untermann accepted the kind of mass immigration that would have made the European people – especially the white working class – a minority in North America.

Contrast the views of the Socialists of 1909 with those of modern US Republicans and Democrats:

But, of course, most of the people who today pass for modern “socialists,” “Marxists”, “progressive Liberals,” or “Leftists” agree completely with Biden and Kristol.

Take this Green Party politician from Germany:

Contrast that disgusting rant with a Socialist from 1908:
“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.” (Ernest Untermann, quoted in Work 1908: 110–111).
Work, John M. (ed.). 1908. Proceedings. National Convention of the Socialist Party, held at Chicago, Illinois, May 10 to 17, 1908. The Socialist Party, Chicago, Illinois.

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