The Labor Movement in Japan Sen Katayama (1918)

Chapter 3
Socialism a Popular Topic

The years 1902 and 1903 were the most prosperous period for the combined activities of the labor and socialist movement in Japan. Socialism was then a very popular topic of study and discussion in public. Industrial depressions that followed for many years, after the wild boom that ruled the industrial and commercial world during the sudden influx of a vast amount of war indemnity taken from China, were almost overcome. The long expected prosperity had not yet returned because for some time threatening clouds were hanging over the Hermit Kingdom (Corea), the domination of which had been a constant issue between Russia and Japan for many years since China had been defeated by Japan.

But financial conditions were better than for many years and the industrial situation was on a firm basis. These and other circumstances favored our labor and socialist agitation among the workers; and the general public was then very eager to listen to and discuss socialism.

During those two years of activity we had made several extensive propaganda tours all over the country. We made trips to the country in groups of two to five comrades and I always was one of them. Expenses were met by admissions and selling of the Labor World and socialist books.

After the failure of the socialist daily, the Labor World was again published, starting April 3, 1902, in a much improved magazine form and came out fortnightly. Our socialist movement naturally centered around the Labor World in the editorial work of which I was assisted by two or three comrades, including Comrade Nishikawa. Besides, Comrades Abe, Kotoku, Kinoshita, Sakai and others contributed articles to the paper on socialism and social questions. Not only that, Comrade Kotoku also wrote a life history of Ferdinand Lassalle for the Labor World; Comrade Sakai translated the main part of "Labor" by Emile Zola; Comrade Kotsuka translated "Merrie England", and all of these appeared in the Labor World in the course of two years. Moreover, we published a complete review of a book on Millerand's work and Emile Vandervelde's Industrial Revolution.

Socialism and the labor movement become popular. This is shown by the very fact that the editors of the Labor World interviewed many prominent persons, statesmen, scholars and business men on the labor questions and on socialism. It is now amusing to look into the columns of the old Labor World and to notice how those men, who today are the deadly opponents of socialism, who are condemning socialist activities, at that time approved socialism and gave their own reasons for it. Some even expressed themselves as being already socialists. We will quote here a few of the interviews that appeared in the Labor World in 1902 and 1903.

When I called on him for his opinion on socialism, Marquis Okuma, late Premier, told me that "from olden times the ideals of our statesmen appear to have been a national socialism," and the old Marquis went on to give historical facts. During the Tokugawa rule Japan's own socialism was realized, when Iyeyasu, the first ruler of the Tokugawa Dynasty, prohibited the capitalization of land, fixed the wages of labor by law. Some of the feudal lords, in particular those of Kaga, ordered the landlords within his own province to release land rents for three consecutive periods of ten years each, and finally the tenants acquired their own land when the revolution of 1868 was successful.

At one time the feudal government abolished the creditors' lawsuits against debtors. We know that occasionally the government ordered the people to cancel all the debts contracted.

Mr. Genichiro Fukuchi, a noted historian and savant, said to the editor of the Labor World, "Japan's Kokutai (National Constitution) is really socialism. A person who lives from another's labor is looked upon as a criminal, according to the fundamental national ideas. One who lives from the labor of others is condemned and punished just like a gambler and thief. Labor is the ideal of Japan. Isn't this socialism?"

Prof. Kenzo Wadagaki of the Imperial University said "Japan as a nation is socialistic. The Japanese are of socialistic character." Mr. Rokwa Tokutomi, one of the greatest novelists of modern Japan, wrote a socialistic political novel, Kuroshio (Monsoon) that shocked the very foundation of the bureaucratic regime. The book appeared in 1899 and the writer says to the editor of the Labor World: "I believe in socialism and preach it. Today one who says that he does not believe in socialism or is afraid of preaching it is one who cares for his position, seeks his own property, and longs after his own promotion. One who says he can't understand socialism or can't believe it is not a man but is either a fool or insane."

Prof. Inazo Nitobe of the Imperial University, when he was interviewed by the writer in the summer of 1902, said that he was a good socialist and proceeded to declare that after the trusts, the so-called social democracy of Marx will be established in the sphere of economy. "Socialists shall then rule the world so that the greatest number of human beings will enjoy a happy life. I became a socialist while I was in America three years and ever since my belief in socialism has been growing stronger. The ideal of humanity is in socialism."

This firm believer in socialism and a socialist future in 1902 was Prof, Inazo Nitobe, the noted author of "Bushido." The same professor lately has been faithfully serving the bureaucracy and is attacking socialism and socialists as being detrimental to the interests of the country. Some of his old pupils were influenced by Prof. Nitobe to give up socialism. One of these is Mr. K. Nishikawa, who was one of the founders of the social democratic party. It might look as if these men had expressed mere phrases to the editors of the Labor World, but the printed pages of the Labor World will attest the fact that socialists were not outcast then and socialism was not prohibited in Japan at that period as it is now.

For the time the progress of the socialist movement went on very smoothly-and we had not only the sympathy of prominent persons, who approved socialism and its movement, but also we gained a very strong and prominent socialist in Mr. Fumio Yano. In the summer of 1902 Mr. Fumio Yano declared himself a socialist and gave us many lectures on socialism. He went with us several times during this period for socialist propaganda. Mr. Yano was an old liberal statesman and an influential agitator for the constitutional government in the eighties. But he left the liberal party because the party became too corrupt.

In 1882 Mr. Yano wrote a book about a group of youths who brought about the Theban Hegemony. This book served the cause of the liberal movement in Japan. Half a million copies were sold and he became a well known writer and thinker. Now this author came out as a socialist and went with us in the common cause for socialism. Mr. Yano was not only in the active propaganda work, but he wrote a book called "New Society". It is largely original and is well written, working out the problems of modern socialism thoroughly. He took the best there was of Utopian socialism and elaborated on the way to convert Japan into a socialist state. He showed the most skill in picturing the transition stage from the present capitalist state to a socialist state, adjusted admirably every phase of society and international relations under socialism. These two problems the author considered his own contribution to the literature of Utopian socialism as represented by More and Bellamy.

The New Society at once became very popular in the country. Several hundred thousands of copies were sold in a few months.

The Labor World records our socialist activities in 1902, beginning with April 3rd. We held sixty-seven public meetings in 1903, one hundred and eighty-two altogether, in nineteen months - 182 meetings. Besides those meetings there must have been many meetings held by other comrades in the country.

During this period we made several propaganda tours into the country. In the summer of 1902 three of us went to the northeast along the Nippon railroad for fifteen days to hold thirteen meetings in twelve cities scattered in over a distance of 500 miles. In January, 1903, two of us made a trip to western cities, traveling over 400 miles and held meetings at Kiyoto, Osaka, Kobe, Hiroshima and Kure. In the summer of the same year from July 4th to, September 5th, three and part of the time four of us made an extensive trip to Shikoku, Kushiu Islands, covering eleven provinces and twenty-one cities in which we held twenty-six meetings. Many short trips were made from time to time. The propaganda was self-supporting and the Labor World got a very good advertisement from them.

As to the organized work of our socialist movement, we were prohibited from organizing politically, so the socialist association was our only organization. It had a few branches in the principal cities. Our work, therefore, was necessarily limited to education and propaganda. But in the sphere of the working classes we had a very strong influence, especially among colliery workers. In Ubari, Hokkaido, we had a very good organization. There were, however, only a few socialists who were the moving spirits of the organization.

Miners of Japan have been historically considered the toughest kind of workers, so they really could defy the public peace police law. Our agitators could more readily gain access to. them than to other factory, railway or iron workers. This is a reason why we were able to organize the miners in Asio copper mines during the late Russo-Japan war. Our miners live in congested barracks like rows of sheds, which are built by the mining company. They make a little community of their own, know each other and when working underground they can talk to each other freely on whatever subject they choose. So two socialist comrades, Minami and Tsuruoka, were able to organize the miners at Asio copper mines as late as 1904-7, which organization, however, was crushed out of existence with the great riots in February, 1907.

Although we had no political organization, being deprived of that right two years before, yet we could manage to organize the socialists of the country in socialist association and we held the first national socialist conference at Osaka on the 5th and 6th of April, 1903. Besides the sittings of the conference at Osaka Y.M.C.A. hall, we had two big public meetings in the Municipal Assembly hall, the largest hall in the whole city. Both meetings were well attended and made a very good impression on the audience about the aims of socialism. The conference passed by unanimous votes the following resolutions:

1. We, the socialists of Japan, shall exert ourselves in the effort to reconstruct human society on the basis of socialism.

2. We must endeavor to realize socialism in Japan.

3. To reach the ultimate goal of socialism it is necessary to have a united action of socialists of all the countries.

Ten thousand leaflets of a brief socialist manifesto were distributed during the conference at the gates of the national exposition then held in the city.

During the year 1903, two or three events marked the course of the socialist movement in Japan for coming years. One was the attitude of Japanese socialists toward war, which was then threatening in the far east between Russia and Japan over the domination of Korea. We took a firm stand against war and especially against the war with Russia. The first great socialist anti-war meeting was held at Y.M.C.A. hall, Tokyo, on the 8th of October, 1903. In spite of a strong opposition from jingo parties, the meeting was a great success. This meeting proved to be the very first declaration of Japanese socialists against the coming war and its spirit and the tone of the speeches were prophetic of the great strength of the socialist struggle and fight against the war also during the war.

The next event is the entering into active socialist propaganda work by two comrades - Kotoku and Sakai, who gave up their editorial positions in the Yorozu, and devoted their entire time to the cause of socialism. This decisive moment came to them through two causes, first the popular daily, Yorozu, in the columns of which they had taught socialism for several years with the full approval and sympathy of the proprietor Kuroiwa, became ultra-jingoistic and a conflict resulted between the proprietor and the two comrades. Of course the latter had to leave the daily. The entering of these two comrades into the active socialist work was destined to shape largely the course of the Japanese socialist movement in the future.

In November, I made a short trip to Hokkaido, passing through the northeast province and visited Ubari colliery where we had a miners' union under socialist leaders. This was my last labor propaganda work in that year, for I left in December for the United States on my way to attend the coming International Socialist Congress at Amsterdam, Holland, the following August, 1904.

Our socialist movement so far preached socialism more exclusively among the working class and our meetings were largely attended by workers and supported by them. I have been always in touch with the workers of the country, because I had served as a secretary to the iron workers' union since its organization in 1897, up to that time, 1903, and had been making an occasional trip to the different branches. My personal acquaintance with many workers and their families brought me many pleasant experiences and also support for the socialist movement long after the union died and they were no longer members of it. This being the case, our socialist movement never lost sight of the labor cause and of the interest of the working classes, who are naturally inclined to work out problems in practice, which as a rule is a rather slow process. Consequently, I never went to extremes in views or in tactics, but our movement was not dominated by intellectualism.