1960s >> 1967 >> no-756-august-1967

Past Migrations

The first thing to remember about emigration in the modern World, is that only workers emigrate. The wealthy “take up residence”, “pay a prolonged visit” or “retire abroad”. When King Edward VIII abdicated and left the country, nobody said that he had emigrated; he had gone into voluntary exile.


This is not a mere play on words. There is a world of difference between the two, the difference in fact between Capitalist and Worker. The wealthy do not need assisted passages, or National Assistance, and if they do not like a place when they get there, they can always move on. They are in no way economic rivals to the workers of the area they visit, so nobody worries about their accents or skin colour. No race-conscious worker would complain if the Aga Khan moved in next door; he would be too busy boasting about his distinguished neighbour for that. It’s the Aga Khan who would do the complaining, and not on account of race, but from an understandable reluctance to share the joys of working class life. The problems of emigration spring from the one thing that both immigrants and native workers share; their poverty.


Migrations are as old as humanity. From the beginning of their existence men have migrated. Sometimes peacefully, sometimes violently, they have moved in search of better and more fertile land, or to escape a stronger enemy, or because of over-population in their homelands. The last of the great migrations came in the centuries following the Discoveries. The whole of America and Australasia, together with large areas of Africa and northern Asia, were peopled by Europeans. Many went freely to seek their fortunes or to escape poverty and oppression at home, but millions were forcibly transported. Indentured servants, negro slaves and convicts all went to provide the cheap labour the new, expanding nations needed.


This was as cruel and bloody a chapter as any in the history of man. By the 19th century European type States had been established in these new lands, while the work of dispossessing the aboriginal inhabitants went steadily on. From then on an immigrant came into an established community as an outsider. There were still however vast unexplored areas into which pioneers could push. By the 20th century these had largely been occupied, except for something like a gold rush that could still send the adventurers on the move.

Emigrants flocked from Europe and Asia to all the new lands, but the one that gripped the imagination, then as now, was the United States. Most of the other new lands were either colonies of the very powers the emigrants were escaping from or, like South America, known dictatorships. America became the symbol of liberty and a myth amongst downtrodden peoples.

Give me your tired, your poor
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free
Th wretched refuse of your teeming shores
Send these the homeless tempest tossed to me
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

runs the inscription on the Statue of Liberty, with more sentiment than accuracy, and into America in about hundred years went vast numbers of immigrants. It is estimated that by 1921, when the Quota Act was passed, over 35,000,000 people had entered the United States. To us in Europe today, emigration to the United States has an importance that no other emigrations have, because America is the foremost Capitalist power and its ideas spill over into the rest of the world. These include attitudes to race and colour that are grafted on to existing attitudes, like the unpleasant idiots over here who burn crosses of paraffin soaked rags in weak imitation of the Ku Klux Klan.

From the very beginning, the more capital or influence that a settler possessed the better it was for him, and the greater his chance of success. This applied equally to the later immigrants who, if they had money, could push on from the ports of dis-embarkation into the new areas. Many Swedes, Germans and Dutch had some capital and struck out into the Middle West to start farms. Land in the frontier areas was usually available to all, but money to buy tools and equipment made life easier. Many settlers had special skills and abilities, for which there was a growing demand in an expanding economy, and in this they resemble the people who leave Britain today for Canada and Australia and for Africa and New Zealand. But a vast number were poor with only their passage money and some not even that, in Britain private and public assistance boards grew up to pay the passage of poor people. In Ireland the famines of the 1840’s drove a vast number overseas, while the city of Hamburg found it cheaper to ship paupers to the United States than to provide relief for them or to jail them. The abortive revolutions of 1848 also swelled the numbers. The conditions endured on the journey in these cases are too well known to repeat.

A pattern emerged that is a familiar one today. Poor immigrants tend to settle at their points of dis-embarkation, which are usually industrial centres as well. This is found in Britain today; areas near large airports and main-line railway termini often have large immigrant populations. It is no accident that the Southall area has a large coloured population. Nearness to a point of arrival, plus industry and cheap housing, continue to produce this effect. The areas around Euston Station, the main point of arrival from Ireland, have a large Irish population. Once such a pattern becomes established, friends and relations come to join the pioneers. This happened in America, where New York, the main point of arrival, became a great immigrant centre, with vast populations of foreign origin. When an immigrant prospered, as many did, they soon moved on to pleasanter areas, but the less-fortunate stayed to swell the slum population.

In the early part of the 19th century the main stream of immigrants into America came from Western Europe—from Great Britain and Ireland, Holland, Scandinavia and Germany. Of these the main prejudice was directed against the Irish. They were anti-British, Catholic and, coming from a poor agricultural economy, tended to undercut on wages when they first arrived. The notice “No Irish” was a common sight outside factories. By the 1880’s immigrants from Western Europe were falling off and Eastern Europeans, Mediterranean and Oriental people began to flock in. These were poor, illiterate and were referred to as New Immigrants. The older immigrants, who had begun to be absorbed, treated the new arrivals with hostility and contempt. In 1877 during a slump in San Francisco an unemployed meeting ended in a two-day riot against the Chinese. A party was formed called the Working Men’s Party of California commonly known as the Sand Lot Movement. Its main plank was to get rid of cheap Chinese labour. The irony of the situation was that the party was led by Irish immigrants.

Racial prejudice is essentially irrational, and the prejudices that grew up around American immigration bore little relation to common sense. The thirteen colonies that became the nucleus of the United States were British, consequently the laws, customs and language of the new State were British. At a later stage French and Spanish areas became incorporated and much of their culture was absorbed. Nevertheless, these were subordinate to the existing pattern. At the time of the American War of Independence Americans regarded themselves as the only true Britons, and thought that the ones left behind in Britain had deteriorated and become decadent In this they resemble the Rhodesians of today.

The most desirable thing to be in 19th century America was Anglo-Saxon. The use of this name to describe anything as racially mixed up as the average Briton, is itself typical of the arrogant nonsense talked by the racial theorists of the day. The following masterpiece of idiocy was written in 1885 by Josiah Strong, a Congregational minister and secretary of the American Home Missionary Society in Ohio. In his book Our Country he claimed that Anglo-Saxons above all other races were champions of “a pure spiritual Christianity” and were being schooled for the “final completion of the races.”

  Is there room for reasonable doubt that this race unless devitalised by alcohol and tobacco, is destined to dispossess many weaker races, assimilate others and mould the remainder, until in a very true and important sense it has Anglo-Saxonised mankind. (Age of Excess—Ray Ginger).

In its cool arrogance, it makes the puny efforts of our home grown racialists very tame indeed.

Scaling down from the “Anglo-Saxon” came other West Europeans, Mediterranean peoples, East Europeans, Mexicans down to Orientals, who had the additional disadvantage of being considered coloured. American official policy strove to make all immigrants into Americans, and discourage the formation of minorities. In this they had a great deal of success but real antagonisms still lay under the surface.

Until workers learn to recognise the real cause of their poverty, Capitalism, they will continue to find scapegoats, and who better for this purpose than a stranger from across the world?

Les Dale