In 1912, the Socialist Party of America held another national convention from 12–18 May in Indianapolis.
Once again, the issue of mass immigration was discussed, and once again the committee on the immigration question produced a majority report.
Remarkably, the majority report of 1912 was even more opposed to mass immigration than that of 1910. Furthermore, the authors were not afraid to examine the issue of how racial feelings and animosities were exacerbated by mass immigration and also exploited by capitalists.
The full text of the majority report is as follows:
MAJORITY REPORT OF COMMITTEE ON IMMIGRATIONAs we can see, the majority report of 1912 fully endorsed government legislation implementing large-scale mass immigration restriction into America.
At the national congress of the Socialist Party in 1910, the Committee on Immigration presented a majority report signed by Ernest Untermann, Joshua Wanhope and Victor L. Berger, and a minority report signed, by John Spargo.
The majority report declared that the interests of the labor unions and of the Socialist Party of America demanded the enforcement of the existing exclusion laws which keep out the mass immigration or importation of Asiatic laborers.
The minority report declared that the danger from Asiatic labor immigration or importation was more imaginary than real and that, therefore, the Socialist Party should content itself with an emphasis upon the international solidarity of all working people regardless of nationality or race. The minority report did not state whether the Socialist Party should demand the repeal of the existing exclusion laws. When asked during the debate whether he favored the repeal of these laws, Comrade Spargo declined to commit himself to a definite answer.
In the course of the discussion, Comrade Morris Hillquit introduced a substitute for both reports. This substitute evaded the question for or against the existing exclusion laws, merely demanding that the mass of importation of contract laborers from all countries should be combated by the Socialist Party.
An amendment to this substitute, demanding a special emphasis upon the fact that the bulk of the Asiatic immigration was stimulated by the capitalists and for this reason should be excluded, was offered by Comrade Algernon Lee.
After a debate lasting nearly two days, the congress adopted Hillquit’s substitute by a vote of 55 against 50.
This close vote induced the congress to recommit the question for further study to a new committee on immigration with instructions to report to the national convention of 1912.
In this new committee the same alignment immediately took place. After a fruitless effort of the chairman to get unanimous action, the majority decided to act by itself and let the minority do the same.
Continued study and the developments on the Pacific Coast during the last two years convinced the majority of this committee more than ever that the existing exclusion laws against Asiatic laborers should be enforced and be amended in such way that they can be more effectively enforced. The details of the necessary amendments should be worked out by our representatives, or by our future representatives, in Congress and submitted for ratification to the Committee on Immigration, which should be made permanent for this purpose.
It does not matter whether Asiatic immigration is voluntary or stimulated by capitalists. There is no room for doubt that the capitalists welcome this immigration, and that its effect upon the economic and political class organizations of the American workers is destructive.
It is true that all foreign labor immigration lowers the standard of living, increases the unemployed problem and supplies the capitalists with uninformed and willing tools of reaction. But of all foreign labor immigration, the Asiatic element, owing to its social and racial peculiarities, is the most difficult to assimilate and mold into a homogeneous and effective revolutionary body. It is all the more dangerous to the most advanced labor organizations of this nation, because it adds to and intensifies the race issue which is already a grave problem in large sections of this country.
In the European countries the labor unions and the Socialist Party are not confronted by the task of educating, organizing and uniting vast masses of alien nationalities and races with the main body of the native class-conscious workers. Where alien immigration enters into the European labor problem, it plays but an insignificant role compared to the overwhelming mass of native workers. America is the only country in which the labor unions and the Socialist Party are compelled to face the problem of educating, organizing and uniting not only the native workers but a continually increasing army of foreign nationalities and races who enter this country without any knowledge of the English language, of American traditions, of economic and political conditions. The disappearance of the Western frontier has intensified the difficulties of labor organizations and Socialist propaganda to such a degree that it has become an unavoidable task to decide whether restrictive measures shall or shall not be demanded in the interests of the labor unions and of the Socialist Party. Since the race issue enters most prominently into this problem and has for years been the central point of restrictive legislation, the Socialist Party has been compelled to take notice of it.
Race feeling is not so much a result of social as of biological evolution. It does not change essentially with changes of economic systems. It is deeper than any class feeling and will outlast the capitalist system. It persists even after race prejudice has been outgrown. It exists, not because the capitalists nurse it for economic reasons, but the capitalists rather have an opportunity to nurse it for economic reasons because it exists as a product of biology. It is bound to play a role in the economics of the future society. If it should not assert itself in open warfare under a Socialist form of society, it will nevertheless lead to a rivalry of races for expansion over the globe as a result of the play of natural and sexual selection. We may temper this race feeling by education, but we can never hope to extinguish it altogether. Class-consciousness must be learned, but race-consciousness is inborn and cannot be wholly unlearned. A few individuals may indulge in the luxury of ignoring race and posing as utterly raceless humanitarians, but whole races never.
Where races struggle for the means of life, racial animosities cannot be avoided. Where working people struggle for jobs, self-preservation enforces its decrees. Economic and political considerations lead to racial fights and to legislation restricting the invasion of the white man’s domain by other races.
The Socialist Party cannot avoid this issue. The exclusion of definite races, not on account of race, but for economic and political reasons, has been forced upon the old party statesmen in spite of the bitter opposition of the great capitalists.
Every addition of incompatible race elements to the present societies of nations or races strengthens the hands of the great capitalists against the rising hosts of class-conscious workers. But the race feeling is so strong that even the majority of old party statesmen have not dared to ignore it.
From the point of view of the class-conscious workers it is irrational in the extreme to permit the capitalists to protect their profits by high tariffs against the competition of foreign capital, and at the same time connive at their attempts to extend free trade in the one commodity which the laborer should protect more than any other, his labor power.
It is still more irrational to excuse this self-destructive policy by the slogan of international working class solidarity, for this sentimental solidarity works wholly into the hands of the capitalist class and injures the revolutionary movement of the most advanced workers of this nation, out of ill-considered worship of an Asiatic working class which is as yet steeped in the ideas of a primitive state of undeveloped capitalism.
A proper consideration of working class interests, to which the Socialist Party is pledged by all traditions and by all historical precedent, demands that our representatives in the legislative bodies of this nation should reduce the tariff protection of the capitalists and introduce a tariff, or tax, upon unwholesome competitors of the working class, regardless of whether these competitors are voluntary or subsidized immigrants. Real protection of American labor requires a tariff on labor power and the reduction and gradual abolition of the tariff on capital. Such labor legislation already exists in British Columbia and has proved effective there.
The argument that the menace of Asiatic labor immigration is more imaginary than real overlooks the obvious fact that this menace has been minimized and kept within bounds by the existing exclusion laws, and that it can be eliminated altogether by a strict enforcement and more up-to-date amendment of these laws.
The majority of this committee realize of course, that the development of capitalism in China, India and Japan will necessarily tend to bring the American laborer into competition with the Asiatic laborer, even if the Asiatic does not come to the shore of this country. But the exclusion of the Asiatic from the shores of this country will at least give to the American laborer the advantage of fighting the Asiatic competition at long range and wholly through international commerce, instead of having struggle with the Asiatic laborer for jobs upon American soil. This will tend to abolish the labor of children and women in American factories, to maintain a rational standard of living and to reduce the unemployed problem for adult male workers.
International solidarity between the working people of Asia, Europe and America will be the outcome of international evolution, not of sentimental formulas. So long as the mind of the workers of nations and races are separated by long distances of industrial evolution, the desired solidarity cannot be completely realized, and while it is in process of realization, the demands of immediate self-preservation are more imperative than dreams of ideal solidarity.
The international solidarity of the working class can be most effectively demonstrated, not by mass immigration into each others’ countries, but by the international co-operation of strong labor unions and of the national sections of the International Socialist Party.
Socialism proves itself a science to the extent that it enables us to foretell the actual tendencies of future development.
This is the general principle that guided us in the struggle against the capitalist classes of the world. We work for the transformation of capitalist into Socialist society, not so much because sentiment, longing, dogma or argument drive us, but because we are convinced that the dominant tendencies of capitalism work in the direction of Socialism.
This point of view has been almost wholly overlooked in the discussion and practice of these ‘immediate’ policies which serve as our conscious steps in the direction of Socialism.
In our general propaganda and party organization, we work for the prophesied outcome of capitalist development and shape our actions in harmony with the foreseen probable course which the majority of the citizens will be compelled to adopt during the revolution of the human mind towards a Socialist consciousness.
Not so in discussing and acting upon, questions of immediate policy, such as the exclusion of Asiatic laborers from the United States. Instead of clearly foretelling the inevitable policy which the majority of the voters of this nation will be compelled to adopt in this particular instance, we are supposed to shape our actions in response to sentimental, Utopian or dogmatic arguments dictated by the personal likes or dislikes of a few individuals.
Instead of scientifically foretelling the inevitable logic of events, we are supposed to listen to a logic inspired by the sophistry of the advocates of unrestricted immigration.
Those who affirm the sentimental solidarity of the working classes the world over and at the same time demand a restriction of the stimulated mass importation of contract laborers admit unwillingly that this ideal solidarity is really impossible. And while they thus contradict their own sentimental assertion, they evade the real issue by an exaggerated reverence for a Utopian race solidarity.
The common sense Socialist policy under these circumstances is to build up strong national labor unions and strong national Socialist parties in the different countries and work toward more perfect solidarity by an international co-operation of these labor unions and parties. To this end the Socialist Party of America should consider above all the interests of those native and foreign working class citizens whose economic and political class organizations are destined to be the dominant elements in the social revolution of this country.
In the United States this means necessarily the enforcement of the existing exclusion laws against Asiatic laborers, and the amendment of these laws in such a way that the working class of America shall fortify its strategic position in the struggle against the capitalist class.
The majority of this committee are not opposed to the social mingling of races through travel, education and friendly association upon terms of equality. But we are convinced that the mass of the voters with the growth of social consciousness, will rather eliminate more and more those warring elements of social development which interfere with an orderly and systematic organization of industrial and political democracy. They will not be anxious to intensify the unemployed problem and the race issue, but will strive to transform the international working class solidarity from a Utopian shibboleth into a constructive policy. They will use their collective intelligence to reduce the evils growing out of unemployment and race feeling, until we shall be able to eliminate those evils altogether and strip race feeling at least of its brutalities.
This tendency is so plainly evident to the majority of this committee that we can afford to dispense with appeals to passion. This question will not be solved by a repetition of phrases, but by a conscious and instructive policy which will enforce itself as an inevitable step in the direction of working class solidarity and Socialism all world over.
ERNEST UNTERMANN, Chairman.
J. STITT WILSON,
ROBERT HUNTER.” (Spargo 1912: 209–211).
Notably, they thought that preventing large-scale mass immigration of people with differing cultural and racial backgrounds into the United States would actually reduce racial tensions and racial prejudice. This view is rather similar to the progressive Liberal idea of that era of national self-determination as a way to reduce ethnic and national tensions.
The majority report view is stated again here:
“International solidarity between the working people of Asia, Europe and America will be the outcome of international evolution, not of sentimental formulas. So long as the mind of the workers of nations and races are separated by long distances of industrial evolution, the desired solidarity cannot be completely realized, and while it is in process of realization, the demands of immediate self-preservation are more imperative than dreams of ideal solidarity.How times have changed in modern Marxism, socialism and Social Democracy, where the fanatical support for open borders and mass immigration is now a religion.
The international solidarity of the working class can be most effectively demonstrated, not by mass immigration into each others’ countries, but by the international co-operation of strong labor unions and of the national sections of the International Socialist Party. ….
The common sense Socialist policy under these circumstances is to build up strong national labor unions and strong national Socialist parties in the different countries and work toward more perfect solidarity by an international co-operation of these labor unions and parties. To this end the Socialist Party of America should consider above all the interests of those native and foreign working class citizens whose economic and political class organizations are destined to be the dominant elements in the social revolution of this country.” (Spargo 1912: 210–211).
Spargo, John (ed.). 1912. Proceedings. National Convention of the Socialist Party, held at Indianapolis, Ind., May 12 to 18, 1912. The Socialist Party, Chicago, Ill.