Ernest Belfort Bax


(14 December 1895)

Aliens, Justice, 14th December 1895, p.4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

In contradistinction to Fabians and other amphibious beings, Social-Democrats have always stoutly upheld the banner of Internationalism in the matter of alien immigration. We should be the last to champion any hard, abstract treatment of a great principle. If it could be shown that the admission of so-called destitute aliens was really serving merely as the safety-valve for Continental capitalism to get rid of an inconvenient encumbrance by extruding from their native country unemployed elements left stranded by the great industry at home; and if it could be shown that the introduction of these elements necessarily had the effect of lowering wages and the standard of living of British workmen, then, distasteful as it would be to us, we might admit the necessity of a law discouraging, or even prohibiting, the migration of such for a time.

We might do so on the ground that even from a “labour,” much more from a Socialistic point of view, it were better for their own and for our sake that these should stay at home and organise industrially and politically for the emancipation of their class rather than perpetuate and extend misery by destroying the livelihood of their brother-slaves further west. We say at least that this is a standpoint which might be taken.

But, so far from this being the fact in the present instance, it can be easily shown that the vast majority of those who have come over have been persons temporarily out of employment, who have not competed with English workmen in those industries in which they were already engaged but have brought over new branches of industry of their own which were previously non-existent here. The ready-made tailoring trade, the waterproof, the cap, the slipper, and the cheap shoe trades have been brought into existence in England by the Jewish immigrants.

If it be urged that these cheaper modes of production necessarily tend to displace the older methods in the long run we can only reply that this is a part of the inevitable economic evolution from Capitalism to Socialism, and that you can no more prevent such evolution from taking place, if not by foreigners then within a short tame by natives themselves than you can prevent the advent of winter in its due course. Apart from this inevitable development, which up to the present has not in all trades made itself materially felt, there is not even the semblance of a case in favour of the Cardiff resolution. There is absolutely no ground for charging either the foreign workers generally, or the Jewish specially, with “blacklegging” to even as great an extent as is practised by English workmen As has been recently pointed out, a far greater proportion of them belong to trade unions than is the case with English workmen, while the blessings of a Free Labour League are unknown among them.

The absurdity of attributing any seriously adverse effect on British labour to the influx of foreign workmen is clearly indicated by the fact that while the average annual immigration into England for the three years 1891-2-3 is officially fixed at under 25,000, the average emigration during the same years is reckoned at 164,000! I own I have no great respect for the science of statistics, but allowing the widest possible margin for errors, to assume even the smallest appreciable effect on the labour market as a whole from such a condition of things is manifestly nonsensical. What is affecting the English labour market is not the blacklegging foreign man, but the blacklegging British female, who is everywhere displacing at lower wages male labour, “alien” no less than English. Of course, we are all creatures of circumstances, so we suppose we must not blame her too severely for her want of class-solidarity, but the fact remains nevertheless.

No, this alien agitation is only one other, and about the feeblest, we have yet come across, of the many red herrings trailed, across the path of Socialist progress. The one point of ingenuity about it is that it, so to say, kills two birds with one stone for the capitalist. It draws attention off the true, issue like the rest, but apart from this negative advantage it has the positive one of setting the proletarians of all countries by the ears. Let us hope they will not fall into the trap, but will effectively reply to the invitation to “come into my parlour” with a hearty “Proletarier aller Lander vereinigt euch!


E. Belfort Bax


Last updated on 5.6.2004