V. I.   Lenin

Capitalism and Workers’ Immigration

Published: Za Pravdu No. 22, October 29, 1913. Signed: V. I.. Published according to the Za Pravdu text.
Source: Lenin Collected Works, Progress Publishers, 1977, Moscow, Volume 19, pages 454-457.
Translated: The Late George Hanna
Transcription\Markup: Unknown
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Capitalism has given rise to a special form of migration of nations. The rapidly developing industrial countries, introducing machinery on a large scale and ousting the backward countries from the world market, raise wages at home above the average rate and thus attract workers from the backward countries.

Hundreds of thousands of workers thus wander hundreds and thousands of versts. Advanced capitalism drags them forcibly into its orbit, tears them out of the backwoods in which they live, makes them participants in the world-historical movement and brings them face to face with the powerful, united, international class of factory owners.

There can be no doubt that dire poverty alone compels people to abandon their native land, and that the capitalists exploit the immigrant workers in the most shameless manner. But only reactionaries can shut their eyes to the progressive significance of this modern migration of nations. Emancipation from the yoke of capital is impossible without the further development of capitalism, and without the class struggle that is based on it. And it is into this struggle that capitalism is drawing the masses of the working people of the whole world, breaking down the musty, fusty habits of local life, breaking down national barriers and prejudices, uniting workers from all countries in huge factories and mines in America, Germany, and so forth.

America heads the list of countries which import workers. The following are the immigration figures for America:

Ten years 1821–30 . . . . . . . 99,000
” ” 1831–40 . . . . . . . 496,000
” ” 1841–50 . . . . . . . 1,597,000
” ” 1851–60 . . . . . . . 2,453,000
” ” 1861–70 . . . . . . . 2,064,000
” ” 1871–80 . . . . . . . 2,262,000
” ” 1881–90 . . . . . . . 4,722,000
” ” 1891–1900 . . . . . . . 3,703,000
Nine ” 1901–09 . . . . . . . 7,210,000

The growth of immigration is enormous and continues to increase. During the five years 1905–09 the average number of immigrants entering America (the United States alone is referred to) was over a million a year.

It is interesting to note the change in the place of origin of those emigrating to America, Up to 1880 the so-called old immigration prevailed, that is, immigration from the old civilised countries, such as Great Britain, Germany and partly from Sweden. Even up to 1890, Great Britain and Germany provided more than half the total immigrants.

From 1880 onwards, there was an incredibly rapid in crease in what is called the new immigration from Eastern and Southern Europe, from Austria, Italy and Russia. The number of people emigrating from these three countries to the United States was as follows:

Ten years 1871–80 . . . . . . . 201,000
” ” 1881–90 . . . . . . . 927,000
” ” 1891–1900 . . . . . . . 1,847,000
Nine ” 1901–09 . . . . . . . 5,127,000

Thus, the most backward countries in the old world, those that more than any other retain survivals of feudalism in every branch of social life, are, as it were, undergoing compulsory training in civilisation. American capitalism is tearing millions of workers of backward Eastern Europe (including Russia, which in 1891–1900 provided 594,000 immigrants and in 1900–09, 1,410,000) out of their semi-feudal conditions and is putting them in the ranks of the advanced, international army of the proletariat.

Hourwich, the author of an extremely illuminating book, Immigration and Labour, which appeared in English last year, makes some interesting observations. The number of   people emigrating to America grew particularly after the 4905 Revolution (1905—1,000,000; 1906—1,200,000; 1907—1,400,000; 1908 and 1909—1,900,000 respectively). Workers who had participated in various strikes in Russia introduced into America the bolder and more aggressive spirit of the mass strike.

Russia is lagging farther and farther behind, losing some of her best workers to foreign countries; America is advancing more and more rapidly, taking the most vigorous and able-bodied sections of the working population of the whole world.[1]

Germany, which is more or less keeping pace with the United States, is changing from a country which released workers into one that attracts them from foreign countries. The number of immigrants from Germany to America in the ten years 1881–90 was 1,453,000; but in the nine years 1901–09 it dropped to 310,000. The number of foreign workers in Germany, however, was 695,000 in 1910–11 and 729,000 in 1911–12. Dividing these immigrants according to occupation and country of origin we get the following:

  Foreign workers employed in
Germany in 1911–12 (thousands)
Agriculture Industry Total
From Russia . . . . . . . . . . 274 34 308
” Austria . . . . . . . . . . 101 162 263
” other countries . . . . . . 22 135 157
  Total . . . . . . . . . . . . 397 331 728

The more backward the country the larger is the number of “unskilled” agricultural labourers it supplies. The advanced nations seize, as it were, the best paid occupations for themselves and leave the, semi-barbarian countries the worst paid occupations. Europe in general (“other countries”) provided Germany with 157,000 workers, of whom more than eight-tenths (135,000 out of 157,000) were industrial workers. Backward Austria provided only six-tenths   (162,000 out of 263,0O0) of the industrial workers. The most backward country of all, Russia, provided only one-tenth of the industrial workers (34,000 out of 308,000).

Thus, Russia is punished everywhere and in everything for her backwardness. But compared with the rest of the population, it is the workers of Russia who are more than any others bursting out of this state of backwardness and barbarism, more than any others combating these “delightful” features of their native land, and more closely than any others uniting with the workers of all countries into a single international force for emancipation.

The bourgeoisie incites the workers of one nation against those of another in the endeavour to keep them disunited. Class-conscious workers, realising that the break-down of all the national barriers by capitalism is inevitable and progressive, are trying to help to enlighten and organise their fellow-workers from the backward countries.


[1] Other countries on the American Continent besides the United States are also rapidly advancing. The number of immigrants entering the United States last year was about 250,000, Brazil about 170,000 and Canada over 200,000; total 620,000 for the year. —Lenin

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