III. Capitalism and the Increasing Relevance of Migration




Note of the Editorial Board: The following Chapter contains several figures. For technical reasons these can only be viewed in the pdf version of the book which can be downloaded here.





A crucial sector of the working class, which becomes increasingly important in the imperialist countries, are migrants. As we have elaborated extensively in other publications, this layer of the working class is nationally oppressed and economically super-exploited. , i.e. the capitalists reap extra profits from the migrants’ labor. [1]


Migration from the South to the imperialist North has accelerated in the past decades given the increasing impoverishment and the growing number of wars as well as of environmental catastrophes in the semi-colonial countries. In addition, the capitalists have increasingly encouraged a process of importing migrants from poorer countries to the imperialist metropolises in order to exploit them as cheap labor. The background for this is, on one hand, the desire of the capitalists to lower the wage costs (as well as the costs for education). On the other hand, the imperialist states face a constant reduction of young labor force. [2]


A Dutch business executive stated, in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, that “the European Union will be 32 million people short by 2050. This could go up to as much as 50 million, because a substantial part of the population still hasn't got a good-quality education. You can do whatever you want, but an increase in productivity won't help, increasing the retirement age won't help, you will have to work on immigration. There's no choice.” [3]


The situation in the U.S. is not much better. According to the United States Census Bureau data for every 100 working-age Americans there are currently 21 at the age of 65 or older. However, this ratio will increase to 35 by the year 2030. [4]


Similarly, the Boston Consulting Group estimates that China’s surplus in the year 2020 (about 55.2 million to 75.3 million workers) could reverse sharply, turning into a shortage of up to 24.5 million people by 2030. [5] According to the latest issue of the UN’s World Population Prospects, China’s population is supposed to decline from 1.409 million (2017) to 1.020 million (2100). [6]


Russia, too, faces perspectives of labor shortage. Putin’s finance ministry predicts a 4% decline in the working population by 2035. The UN predicts a decline of the country’s population from 144 million (2017) to 140.5 million (2030), 132.7 million (2050) and 124 million (2100). [7] The Institute for Social Analysis and Forecasting at the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA) sees the work force shrinking by about 0.8-0.9 million people a year until 2025. Russia’s labor force, which has risen since 1999, stood at 76.3 million people in July 2017, down by 1 million a year earlier. [8]


As a result of these developments, in the last few decades, millions of people from the South have succeeded in reaching the relatively wealthy regions of North America, Western Europe and Oceania. (See also Figure 14) In the US, the share of migrants among the general population rose from 5.2% (1960) to 12.3% (2000) to more than 14% (2010) and 16% (2017). In Western Europe, the migrants’ share of the population grew from about 4.6% (1960) to nearly 10% (2010) and 14.4% (2017). [9]


The United Nations estimates in its latest migration report: “Between 2000 and 2015, positive net migration contributed 42 per cent of the population growth in Northern America and 31 per cent in Oceania. In Europe, the size of the population would have declined during the period 2000-2015 in the absence of positive net migration.[10]


Russia, an emerging imperialist power, experiences also a massive process of migration, in particular from Central Asian republics. According to official statistics approximately 11.6 million legal migrants currently reside inside Russia. In addition, another 5-8 million migrants have illegally entered the country in order to work there. The official figure for the migrants’ share of Russia’s population is 8.1%. However, there exist estimations which calculate a larger share of migrants in Russia. [11]




Figure 14. Foreign-Born and Foreign Citizen Population in 2013 (Percent of Total Population) [12]





The role of migrants is even more significant than these figures indicate as they are concentrated in the metropolitan areas of the imperialist countries. Already, in the early years of the 2000s, half of all resident workers in New York were black, Latinos or belonged to another national minority. In inner and outer London, respectively 29% and 22%, of the residents were from ethnic minorities in 2000. [13] In Austria migrants officially constitute 19.4% of the total population, and in Vienna, the capital city, this share is higher with 38.5%. (If one includes the second and third generation of migrants, this share is even higher.) About 2/3 of these migrants either come from the Balkans, Eastern Europe or Turkey.


Contrary to the myth spread by right-wing populists, migration is not the cause of poverty and unemployment. In fact, as we demonstrated in other works, migrants are super-exploited and contribute more to the national wealth of their new country than what they receive. To give only a few examples: in Austria migrants paid €1.6 billion for social service in 2007, but received only €0.4 billion social benefits. Thus, the Austrian state appropriated €1.2 billion in that year alone and used it for other purposes. [14] This example from the year 2007 is not exception but rather the rule, as other studies have shown. [15]


Another example of how the capitalists profit from migrants’ labor can be seen in Britain. According to the then minister for migration, Liam Byrne, the ”British economy“ gained about £6 billion in the year 2006. According to the then finance minister of UK, migrants’ labor was responsible for 15%-20% of economic growth in Britain in the years 2001-2006. [16] In our studies on migration citied above, we have given many more examples of this form of capitalist super-exploitation. [17]


A recently published study arrived at the same conclusions. According to the Resolution Foundation, the ethnicity pay gap represented “a huge blow to the living standards of those affected”. Black and ethnic minority employees are losing out on £3.2bn a year in wages compared to white colleagues doing the same work. After taking account of differences in average qualifications and job types, the analysis by the Resolution Foundation found the gap rose to as much as 17%, or £3.90 an hour, for black male graduates’ pay. It found Pakistani and Bangladeshi male graduates earned an average £2.67 an hour (12%) less, while among female graduates, black women faced the biggest pay penalty, of £1.62 an hour (9%). [18]


The same phenomenon can be observed in Russia. For example, migrants are forced to pay fees of several thousand rubles to get a license to work. In Moscow such payments are bringing even more revenues for the budget than the taxes from oil-corporations! [19]


In summary, given the increasing number of migrants in the imperialist states, the intensifying racism and national oppression against migrants in these countries and the ongoing super-exploitation of them as cheap labor forces, we can state beyond doubt the increasing relevance of migration both for capitalism as well as for the liberation struggle of the international working class.




* * * * *




We can compare, to a certain degree, the role of migrants in the imperialist countries with the role of oppressed nations in imperialist states before 1918. Russia and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire had a population with a majority belonging to oppressed nations. Large sectors of the U.S. population were either black or migrants. As everyone knows, the national question played a key role in the collapse of the Russian and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. (The U.S. could better manage this issue as it was still a rising imperialist power.)


Obviously there are important differences between migrants today and national minorities in the states at that time. Migrants do not constitute a majority of the population in Western imperialist countries. But they are certainly more significant than migrants and national minorities were in most Western countries before 1918. Furthermore, most national minorities were more “backward” in their capitalist development than the dominant nation was. [20] Hence, the share of the proletariat of these oppressed nations was less than the state-wide average while the share of peasantry and urban petty-bourgeoisie was above average. This is completely different with migrants today as most of them are part of the working class actively employed in the labor process. So in effect, the migrants in the old imperialist countries are even more proletarian in their composition than the native population.




* * * * *




In a book published 50 years ago, Ernest Mandel discussed the objective difficulties for the European working class to develop an internationalist consciousness. He pointed out the material and cultural difficulties for European workers to come into contact with workers of other countries since, at that time, workers hardly had sufficient money to make holidays abroad or to learn foreign languages. He also attacked the reformist bureaucracy of the workers movement for hindering or even outright fighting against any internationalist orientation. [21]


However, there have been important changes since then. Transport costs have been reduced, making traveling abroad much easier for European workers. The cultural level also has improved as learning English in school has become obligatory. Furthermore, the working class in Europe has become much more multinational in its composition. A growing part of the workers – the migrants – has a consciousness which exceeds the national boundaries not because they are inherently more progressive or internationalist than the native workers but simply because they continue to have numerous bonds with their home country. Hence, they are naturally more interested in (some) international issues. The strong interest and identification of Arab migrants in Europe with the Arab Revolution since 2011 or the strong solidarity of Muslim migrants with the liberation struggle in Palestine are vivid examples of this fact. [22]


Another example for spontaneous internationalist consciousness among migrants is the famous slogans of the Central American migrant caravans who march to the U.S.: “¡No somos criminales! ¡Somos trabajadores internacionales!” (“We are not criminals! We are international workers!“)


Since migrants are not part of the native, dominant nation but rather nationally oppressed minorities, the huge majority of them have a substantially lower identification with their new imperialist “homeland” than the native, nationally dominant population has. This is symbolically proven at every football match between an imperialist country and the original mother country of migrants living in the given imperialist state. In such cases the migrants will always enthusiastically side with their original mother country and not with the imperialist host country (see e.g. football matches between Germany or Austria against Turkey or an ex-Yugoslavian country; France against Algeria; the U.S. against Mexico). In many cases, migrant fans of the “guest team” even outnumber fans of the “home team”. True, there exist some social climber and Quisling-like “super-patriots” among the migrants, but the huge majority of migrants continue to identify more with their original, semi-colonial, mother country than with the new imperialist host country.


This has important consequences for the political climate and social stability of the old imperialist countries as the ruling class can count less on the unconditional loyalty of their population with their nation state than they could in the past. Such a development has important consequences for situations when the ruling class will call their population to rally to the chauvinist banner of “national defense” against a “foreign threat”. Trotsky’s observation in the 1930s about the potentially important role of the black minority in the U.S. in the struggle against imperialist war, given their limited patriotism in a country which brutally suppresses them, gains actual relevance in the case of migrants today. [23]


Furthermore, migrants can play an important role as they are coming from the South and live now in North America, Western Europe or Russia. They can constitute a kind of transmission belt between the two parts of the world: they can bring the militant fighting spirit from their home countries to the North and transmit various skills and experiences from the North to the South.


Such multi-nationalization has also deep effects for the consciousness of the native Western European workers. True some sectors become more chauvinistic. This is often caused by a disorientation and regress in their political consciousness as a result of decades of betrayal by the labor bureaucracy and the consequential rise of right-wing populist parties. Such a development is also facilitated by a certain “aristocratic instinct” of Western European workers towards “foreigners” from poorer countries – a result from the fact that they are living in countries which dominated the world for centuries and from the failure of reformism to help workers to overcome such an “aristocratic consciousness”.


In addition, the working class is not (and can not be) immune towards the influence of the petty-bourgeoisie and the middle layer. Furthermore, one has to take into account certain differences in the development of the consciousness of workers in metropolitan areas (which often have a more multinational composition) and those in the countryside (which usually have a lower share of migrants).


On the other hand there exists also a significant sector of the native European working class which stands in solidarity with refugees, which helped them in 2015 when many arrived, which reject Islamophobia and which support refugees rights to enter their countries. True, sometimes this sector is larger and dominates the “public opinion” (e.g. in autumn 2015 and spring 2016) and on other times it is the reactionary racists which dominate. But this does not mean that they do not exist. They are just less visible for the bourgeois “public opinion”. In any case, this sector, together with the migrants, will play a primary role in build working class resistance and revolutionary parties in Europe.


[1] See on this e.g. Michael Pröbsting: Migration and Super-exploitation: Marxist Theory and the Role of Migration in the present Period of Capitalist Decay, in: Critique: Journal of Socialist Theory (Volume 43, Issue 3-4, 2015), pp. 329-346; Michael Pröbsting: The Great Robbery of the South, Chapter 9, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/great-robbery-of-the-south/; Michael Pröbsting: Marxismus, Migration und revolutionäre Integration (2010); in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Nr. 7, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/werk-7. A summary of this study in English-language: Michael Pröbsting: Marxism, Migration and revolutionary Integration, in: Revolutionary Communism, No. 1 (English-language Journal of the RCIT), http://www.thecommunists.net/oppressed/revolutionary-integration/

[2] See on this e.g. McKinsey Global Institute: Global growth: Can productivity save the day in an aging world? January 2015, p. 34; Lukasz Rachel and Thomas D Smith: Secular drivers of the global real interest rate, Bank of England, Staff Working Paper No. 571, December 2015

[3] Andre Sterk and Robin van Daalen: Immigration Holds Key to Labor Shortage, Wall Street Journal, June 28, 2011, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424052702304314404576411362925170744

[4] Arthur S. Guarino: The Economic Implications of an Aging Global Population, 02.08.2018, https://www.focus-economics.com/blog/economic-implications-of-an-aging-global-population

[5] Boston Consulting Group: The Global Workforce Crisis: $10 Trillion at Risk, BCG Report, June 2014, p. 4

[6] World Population Prospects, The 2017 Revision. Key Findings and Advance Tables, United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, New York, 2017, p. 24

[7] World Population Prospects, The 2017 Revision, p. 26

[8] Denis Pinchuk, Maria Kiselyova: 'No miracles': labor shortage set to hit Russia's GDP, Reuters, October 3, 2017 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-labour-demography/no-miracles-labor-shortage-set-to-hit-russias-gdp-idUSKCN1C80CY

[9] See Rainer Münz/Heinz Fassmann: Migrants in Europe and their Economic Position: Evidence from the European Labour Force Survey and from Other Sources (2004), pp. 5-6; Carlos Vargas-Silva: Global International Migrant Stock: The UK in International Comparison (2011), www.migrationobservatory.ox.ac.uk, p. 5; United Nations: International Migration Report 2017, Highlights, New York, 2017, pp. 29-30. The third region where migrants play an important role is the oil-producing states in the Middle East. We have dealt with this specific case elsewhere. See e.g., Michael Pröbsting: Die halbe Revolution. Lehren und Perspektiven des arabischen Aufstandes, in: Der Weg des Revolutionären Kommunismus, Nr. 8 (2011), p. 14, http://www.thecommunists.net/publications/werk-8

[10] International Migration Report 2017 (Highlights), Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the United Nations, New York 2017, p. 18

[11] United Nations: International Migration Report 2017, Highlights, New York, 2017, p. 29; Irina Sinitsina: Economic Cooperation Between Russia and Central Asian Countries: Trends and Outlook, 2012, pp. 38-39

[12] Uuriintuya Batsaikhan, Zsolt Darvas and Inês Gonçalves Raposo: People on the move: migration and mobility in the European Union, Bruegel Blueprint Series Volume XXVIII, Bruegel, Brussels 2018, p.86

[13] See Peter Dicken: Global Shift. Mapping The Changing Contours Of The World Economy (Sixth Edition), The Guilford Press, New York 2011, p. 496

[14] See Hans Gmundner: Straches Handlangerdienste, KPÖ, 10.11.07, http://www.kpoe.at/index.php?id=23&tx_ttnews[tt_news]=105&tx_ttnews[backPid]=2&cHash=7fe484e968

[15] See Gudrun Biffl: Die Zuwanderung von Ausländern nach Österreich. Kosten-Nutzen-Überlegungen und Fragen der Sozialtransfers (1997), WIFO, p. 8

[16] House of Lords (Britain): Report - Economic Impact of Migration in UK (2008), p. 22

[17] See also e.g. Martin Kahanec and Martin Guzi: How Immigrants Helped EU Labor Markets to Adjust during the Great Recession, IZA – Institute of Labor Economics, Discussion Paper No. 10443, December 2016

[18] Kathleen Henehan: The £3.2bn pay penalty facing black and ethnic minority workers, 27 December 2018, https://www.resolutionfoundation.org/media/blog/the-3-2bn-pay-penalty-facing-black-and-ethnic-minority-workers/

[19] Доходы Москвы от мигрантов превысили налоги с нефтяных компаний, 6.8.206, https://lenta.ru/news/2016/08/06/migrants_pay/

[20] There were, of course, some exceptions like the Poles living in Tsarist Russia or the Czech people living in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. These people were capitalistically more developed than the dominant nation and, hence, had a significant (and militant) proletariat. See on this e.g. Georg W. Strobel: Die Partei Rosa Luxemburgs, Lenin und die SPD. Der polnische ‚europäische‘ Internationalismus in der russischen Sozialdemokratie; Franz Steiner Verlag, Wiesbaden 1974; Georg W. Strobel: Quellen zur Geschichte des Kommunismus in Polen 1878-1918, Verlag Wissenschaft und Politik., Köln 1968; Raimund Löw: Der Zerfall der Kleinen Internationale: Nationalitätenkonflikte in der Arbeiterbewegung des alten Österreich (1889-1914), Europaverlag, Wien 1984

[21] Ernest Mandel: Die EWG und die Konkurrenz Europa – USA, Europäische Verlagsanstalt, Frankfurt a.M. 1968, pp. 90-91. This book, to our knowledge, has never been published in English language. For our political assessment of Mandel, a central leader of the post-war Fourth International both in its early revolutionary phase as well as in its period of centrist degeneration, we refer readers to our pamphlet Michael Pröbsting: The Catastrophic Failure of the Theory of “Catastrophism”, in: Revolutionary Communism, New Series No.7, June 2018, p.29, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/the-catastrophic-failure-of-the-theory-of-catastrophism/

[22] Activists of the RCIT Sections in Europe could gain a lot of practical experience of these developments through many years of close collaboration with these migrants both in solidarity work with the liberation struggles in the Arab world as well in activities against racism and Islamophobia. See on this Michael Pröbsting: Marxism and the United Front Tactic Today. The Struggle for Proletarian Hegemony in the Liberation Movement in Semi-Colonial and Imperialist Countries in the present Period, RCIT Books, Vienna 2016, pp. 116-119, https://www.thecommunists.net/theory/book-united-front/; See also numerous report on our website.

[23] The Negro question takes on a new importance. The Negroes will hardly be patriotic in the coming war.“ (Leon Trotsky: For A Courageous Reorientation (1939), in: Writings of Leon Trotsky, 1938-39, p. 349)