Kulischer, Eugene

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Kulischer, Eugene



Eugene M. Kulischer was born in Kiev, Russia, in 1881 and died in Washington, D.C., in 1956. I the intervening years he fled from Russia in 1920, from Germany in 1936, and from occupied Franc in 1941. Even before he himself became a displaced person (a term that he coined), the work of the Russian historian V. O. Kluchevsky had turned his attention to the historical role of migration. Kulischer’s father and brother were also influenced by Kluchevsky, and all three of them wrote on the subject, although only the volume by the two brothers, Kriegs- und Wanderziige (1932), now appears to be available in American libraries.

Reviewing the broad sweep of history, Kulischer noted that peoples have always moved about, sometimes because of war, sometimes in search of food, and often for both reasons. Perhaps such movements were more visible in Russia than elsewhere, because of the many migrations from central Asia. These movements have tended to occur irregularly over time and have been influenced by a wide variety of factors. They were described by Kulischer as “disorderly,” unlike the relatively “orderly and peaceful” population movements that western European and American demographers observed in their homelands. However, Kulischer’s emphasis on irregularity should not be permitted to obscure the extent to which his assessment of the basic factors in migration overlaps that of other demographers.

Kulischer believed that explanations of changes in the size of the population within a specified geographic area, as well as changes in other characteristics of the population, must be subsumed under a general theory of social change. He considered the following items as intimately related: population, technology, the economic structure, natural resources, the political structure, political developments (including wars), and the psychology of man; each affects the others and is in turn affected by them. Kulischer chose to begin his own analysis of social change by studying population, moving from this to other subjects, but as he saw it, it was equally feasible to begin, for example, with technology and ultimately to deal with population. Within the field of population Kulischer’s point of departure was the study of migration. His major propositions can be expressed as follows.

(1) If technology (including ethnotechnics) remains unchanged, then the economic structure is also likely to remain unchanged, and within a specified geographic area population will continue to grow as long as there are unused natural resources. When the natural resources are used up, the population will attempt to migrate. If vacant lands are accessible, the migration is peaceful and the process of population growth continues; if the neighboring lands are occupied, war ensues.

Subsequent events depend on who wins the war. If the attackers win, the attacked may flee (unless they are killed in large numbers or taken as slaves); as the attacked group flees, it may, in turn, attack its neighbors, thereby setting off a chain reaction that ultimately affects populations thousands of miles away. If the attackers are beaten off with heavy losses, the population may be so depleted that the original land area will again suffice to support the population and the need for migration will be eliminated; if the attackers are beaten off with slight losses, they may attack another neighboring group, and thus the process is repeated.

(2) If technology changes, the economic structure is also likely to change, and population adjustments will occur. If the economic base expands, population will expand, and if the economic base contracts, population will likewise contract. Hence, adjustments in the economy may be substitutes for migration and war.

(3) Population will not necessarily increase to the limits of the economic base, as in the Malthusian view. The standard of living to which the population aspires will be of importance in determining ultimate population size.

(4) There are three different types of technological innovation which can affect population movements differently: those which directly increase the economic base; those which improve means of communication and travel and therefore make migration easier; those of a military nature which make it easier for one population to attack another.

(5) Changes in population size may affect the economy; for example, if there are not sufficient people in an area to utilize the natural resources, an increase in the number of people may lead to greatly increased production which, in turn, will support an even larger population. But if increases in population are not accompanied by commensurate increases in production, the larger population in itself may eventually reduce the population-supporting capacity of the economy and thus lead to a reduction in the population.

(6) Changes in the political and social structure independent of economic changes (such as the expulsion of a religious minority) may also affect the other variables—population size, migration, etc.

(7) Superimposed on these human factors is a whole host of possible changes in the natural environment (climatic changes, earthquakes, etc.) which can affect the population-supporting capacity of an area and/or the size of the population in that area.

(8) Finally, Kulischer believed that there is one, and only one, invariable characteristic of human relationships: As long as one group is better off economically than another or people are not as well off as they think they should be, trouble will erupt sooner or later. For this reason strife has been continuous in history, and viewing the world in the mid-twentieth century, Kulischer could foresee no end to this strife. The world might become peaceful only if the politicians, who are supposed to lead, and the people, who are supposed to follow, came to understand the sources of past strife.

In one form or another there recurs in all of Kulischer’s writings the statement that migratory movements “are expressions of a trend towards equalization of economic density, which is the ratio between the number of inhabitants and the resources at their disposal” (Kulischer & Price 1963, p. 463). Although it seems fair to say that he over-stressed this point, nevertheless he cannot be charged with having proposed a single-cause theory of history and of human nature. Indeed, it may be argued that the foregoing eight points constitute a complex theory of social change rather than an oversimplified explanation of all human action in terms of migration. Migration was the most obvious form of social change to Kulischer, possibly because he had experienced it so directly. Yet even though he began with migration, he ended with technology, politics, and the entire complex of human social structure and relations.

A. J. Jaffe

[Directly related are the entriesMigrationandRefugees. Other relevant material may be found inPopulation, article onPOPULATION THEORIES; War, article onThe STUDY Of War.]


1932 Kulischer, Alexander; and Kulischer, Eugene M. Kriegs- und Wanderz¨ge: Weltgeschichte als Volkerbewegung. Berlin: Gruyter.

1943a The Displacement of Population in Europe. Studies and Reports, Series O, No. 8. Montreal: International Labor Office.

1943b Planned Migrations and the International Labour Office. World Economics 1, no. 1–2:82–89.

1948 Europe on the Move: War and Population Changes, 1917–1947. New York: Columbia Univ. Press.

1949 Displaced Persons in the Modern World. American Academy of Political and Social Science, Annals 262: 166–177.

1953 Teeming Asia and the West. Political Science Quarterly 68:481–491.

1963 Kulischer, Eugene M.; and Price, Daniel O. Migration. Volume 15, pages 463–473 in Encyclopaedia Britannica. Chicago: Benton.


Jaffe, A. J. 1962 Notes on the Population Theory of Eugene M. Kulischer. Milbank Memorial Fund Quarterly 40, no. 2:187–206.

Roof, Michael K. 1956 In Memoriam: Eugene M. Kulischer. R.E.M.P. Bulletin 4:41–44.