Human Migration

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Migration, Human


population shifts associated with changes in place of residence. Human migration is one of the most important problems in population studies and is viewed not only as a simple physical movement of people but also as a complex social process that affects many aspects of socioeconomic life. Migration has played an important role in history. It is associated with settlement, economic use of the land, development of productive forces, education, and the mixing of races, languages, and peoples. There are a number of different aspects of migration. Its character, structure, and consequences are studied by sciences such as demography, economics, geography, sociology, statistics, and ethnology. Research on migration is applicable to national economic and regional planning and to the use of labor resources.

Migrations are classified as external, or international (intercontinental and interstate), and internal (intrastate)—interregional migrations and shifts of population from rural areas to cities. Some migrations are permanent—that is, they are characterized by permanent or long-term residence in a new location. Temporary or seasonal moves involve relatively short stays in a new place. UN statistics define migrants as persons who live in a new area for more than six months. Sometimes tourism, vacation trips, pilgrimages, and other phenomena are considered forms of migration, but this viewpoint is incorrect, because such movements are not associated with a change in place of residence. Pendulum migration, or daily commuting to a distant place of work, is not a true form of migration.

Specific forms and causes of human migration and volumes and directions of migration streams are associated with each social formation. Among the earliest migrations were the spontaneous resettlements of ancient tribes, which took place throughout the world. These resettlements, which lasted for thousands of years, were accompanied by the peaceful development of new territories. Later, as the primitive communal system declined, production developed, and the population grew, mass movements of people took place as a result of clashes between tribes. Mass migrations were accompanied by the formation and destruction of early class states and the development of new peoples. The mingling of different tribes, which decisively influenced the formation of the modern ethnic structure of the European population, took place at the end of antiquity and during the early Middle Ages as a result of the Great Migration of Peoples. During the feudal period there were mass migrations of peasants fleeing from the oppression of serfdom to free lands. The forced resettlement of serfs on lands annexed by feudal lords is also considered an example of mass migration.

External (major intercontinental) migrations took place after the great geographic discoveries. During the period of the primary accumulation of capital they were associated with the colonization of lands discovered and seized by Europeans in America, Asia, and Africa and with the extermination of native populations or with their displacement into the heart of a country. From the 16th through 18th centuries a considerable part of America was settled by free immigrants from Europe and by Negro slaves from Africa. Until the early 19th century the importation of slaves exceeded the influx of free immigrants.

As capitalism developed, the size of human migrations increased throughout the 19th century. Interstate migrations caused by the relative overpopulation of certain countries and a shortage of manpower in others became more common. Emigrants were attracted primarily to the USA and Canada, and to a lesser degree, to Australia, New Zealand, certain South American countries (Argentina and Brazil), and South Africa. During the period of developed capitalism the migration stream was initially (until the 1890’s) heaviest from the industrially developed countries of Europe—Great Britain, the Netherlands, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. Later, from the end of the 19th century an even greater stream came from the less industrialized countries of Southern and Eastern Europe, which had suffered agrarian crises (Italy, Poland, Hungary, and Russia, for example; see Table 1). V. I. Lenin called these two stages the “old immigration” and the “new immigration” (“Kapitalism i immigratsiia rabochikh,”Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24, p. 90). Emigration from Europe reached its peak between 1900 and 1914, a period during which about 20 million persons emigrated. Almost three-fifths of them settled in the USA. After World War I, as the general crisis of capitalism expanded and deepened and as a permanent army of unemployed emerged, migrations fell sharply, hindered by restrictive legislation passed by a number of countries, especially the USA and Australia.

Immigration to Canada (mainly from Europe) totaled 709,600 from 1851 to 1875; 667,200 from 1876 to 1900; 521,500 from 1901 to 1905; 932,000 from 1906 to 1910; 1,452,000 from 1911 to 1914; 402,500 from 1915 to 1919; 637,500 from 1920 to 1925; 731,500 from 1926 to 1930; 86,300 from 1931 to 1935; and 72,200 from 1936 to 1940.

Interstate migrations associated with the mass recruitment of cheap manpower, primarily in China and India, for work on foreign plantations in Southeast Asia and East Africa became important in Asia during the first third of the 20th century.

In addition to migrations motivated primarily by socioeconomic factors, various historical periods have seen migrations for political reasons, including the formation of new states, changes in state borders, and political and economic transformations. Sometimes, national and religious motives play a significant role in migration.

Considerable migrations took place during and after World War II. Many migrants were refugees or displaced persons. After the defeat of fascist Germany approximately 9.7 million Germans were transferred in an organized manner from Poland and Czechoslovakia and resettled in the German Democratic Republic, the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), and West Berlin. In return, about 5 million Poles and 2.3 million Czechs were resettled in the liberated regions. An exchange of population took place between the newly formed independent states of India and Pakistan, which had been carved out of the British colony of India. Motivated primarily by religion, the exchange involved about 16 million Muslims and Hindus. After World War II approximately 6.3 million Japanese were repatriated from China, Korea, and other parts of Asia.

After the war restrictions on interstate migration were made even stronger. In particular, the term “undesirable alien” appeared for the first time. In the early 1970’s annual immigration from Europe to the USA did not exceed 100,000–150,000 persons, and to Canada and Australia, 100,000 apiece. A unique migration known as the “brain drain,” which is associated with the luring of highly skilled specialists from one country to another, began in the 1930’s, when the USA had a monopoly on the opportunity to select refugee scientists from fascist Germany.

In the 1960’s and early 1970’s migrations from the less developed countries of Europe to the more developed ones (the FRG, France, Great Britain, the Netherlands, Belgium, and Switzerland) became common. The number of migrants, most of whom are unskilled laborers, ranges from 5 to 8 million per year. As a rule, immigrants to the capitalist countries are the lowest paid and most exploited group among the working people and the one with the fewest rights. Immigrants from minority races (for example, Indians in the Republic of South Africa, Mexicans and Puerto Ricans in the USA) are in a particularly difficult position.

In the capitalist countries the causes of internal and external migration are usually the same. Migrants from relatively over-populated, land-hungry regions resettle and seek jobs in newly developed areas. There is a tendency for population to shift from rural to urban areas. Working people make seasonal moves in search of agricultural work in rural areas and jobs in cities (otkhodnichestvo). Peasants are resettled on free lands. Internal migration is particularly widespread in countries with vast areas and diverse geographic and economic conditions. For example, according to data from 1960, about 30 percent of the inhabitants of the USA lived outside the states in which they were born. In the USA the “centuries-long” settlement of the western and southwestern states is continuing, seasonal migrations of farm workers is increasing, Negroes continue to move from the “black belt” to the north, and increasingly, the population is drawn to the large cities and urban agglomerations. Internal migrations

Table 1. Emigration from Europe (in thousands)
YearsTotalFrom “old immigration” countriesFrom “new immigration “countriesTo the USA

are relatively small in the European capitalist countries. In developing countries the migration picture is rather variegated. But on the whole, the higher the level of development of productive forces, the greater the migrations.

The chief form of modern internal migration is the flow of population from rural areas to the cities. Between 1920 and 1970 the total number of city people in the world increased by almost 1 billion. More than half of the increase was due to the mechanical influx of population rather than natural increase.

Lenin attributed great significance to internal migration in Russia, which contributed to the settlement of the southern steppe and forest-steppe regions, the Volga Region, the Urals, and Siberia, as well as to the growth of cities. (From the 16th century through the early 20th, 25–30 million people migrated and resettled.) In the USSR the class contradictions that give rise to mass migrations were eliminated under socialist construction. The social calamities that force people to abandon their native country or native region are part of the past. However, migrations still take place, although the kinds and forms of migrations and, most important, the reasons for them are changing funda-mentally. State economic planning creates the preconditions for an organized internal flow of migrants, thus eliminating spontaneity. Migrations are regulated by direct or indirect economic and social levers and are used to immediately meet the needs of the economy for an efficient distribution of population. In the socialist countries most migration streams go to previously undeveloped regions, which are now being intensively developed. The scope of internal migration in the USSR is connected with industrialization and urbanization. Between 1926 and 1939 about 4.7 million persons resettled in the Urals, Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Far East. During the Great Patriotic War (1941–45) sharp shifts in the territorial concentration of population were associated with the evacuation of people to the eastern regions from occupied areas and the front zone. (In 1941–42 about 20–25 million persons were evacuated and resettled.) During the postwar period migration continued to new industrial regions, new construction projects, and the virgin lands. From 1959 to 1970 alone 1.2 million migrants went to Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Urbanization has attained a high level. Between 1927 and 1969 the urban population of the USSR increased by 105.4 million, of which 59.7 million is accounted for by migration.


Lenin, V. I. “Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 3.
Lenin, V. I. “Kapitalizm i immigratsiia rabochikh.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 24.
Marianski, A. Sovremennye migratsii naseleniia. Moscow, 1969. (Translated from Polish.)
Pokshishevskii, V. V. Geografiia naseleniia zarubezhnykh stran. Moscow, 1971.
Statistika migratsii naseleniia. Moscow, 1973.
Perevedentsev, V. I. “Sovremennaia migratsiia naseleniia v SSSR.” In Narodonaselenie i ekonomika. Moscow, 1967.
Migratsiia sel’skogo naseleniia. Moscow, 1970.
Migratsiia naseleniia RSFSR. Moscow, 1973.
Rybakovskii, L. L. Regional’nyi analiz migratsii. Moscow, 1973.
International Migrations, vols. 1–2. New York, 1929–31.
International Migration, 1945–1957. Geneva, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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