The Labor Movement in Japan by Sen Katayama (1918)

Chapter 4
The Socialist Movement and the Russo-Japanese War

In spite of the stern suppression by the government of our political organization, Japanese socialists now fought against war for two years. The anti-war propaganda began on the 8th of October, 1903, when the hegemony over Corea was a burning question between Russia and Japan. Our leaders in this difficult task were, of course, Comrades Kotoku and Sakai, who sacrificed their position on account of their socialist views on the war.

In November, 1903, the comrades in question started a socialist weekly called The Heimin" at Tokyo, making it an organ of the fight against the war. From the start Comrades Kotuku and Sakai frankly and expressly declared that they intended to make the weekly Heimin a means to support themselves and an endeavor to support many others in the future. The Heimin was a propaganda paper and at the same time a socialist business enterprise, a combination attempted for the first time in Japan. It was also our socialist organ.

In editing the weekly the said two comrades were aided by other comrades like I. Abe, N. Kinoshita, I. Kato, J. Saji. Later Nishikawa, Ishikawa and a few others joined in the work. I, too, contributed articles from abroad.

Around the weekly Heimin, comrades who were in active propaganda gathered together, holding public meetings from time to time in cities and in the country. They also started to study socialism seriously in meetings every week at the headquarters of the Heimin. Soon several ladies joined in the work, and meetings for socialist women were held once a month, separately, because ladies are prohibited from attending any political meeting. By this time the government ruled that socialists could not hold a meeting without police permission, because they considered the socialist movement a political movement. Nevertheless, they did not allow us to form openly a socialist party. There were then many women enlisted in the ranks of socialism.

When the Russo-Japanese war broke out our comrades redoubled their energy to fight for an early peace. On the 20th of March, 1904, the Japanese socialists, at their meeting assembled in Tokyo, voted to send a greeting of mutual comradeship to the Russian comrades. Here we quote a few lines which will show its spirit and tone:

Dear Comrades: Your government and our government have been plunged into fighting at last in order to satisfy their imperialistic desires, but to the socialists of both countries there is no barrier of race, territory or nationality. We are all comrades, brothers and sisters, and have no reason to fight each other. Your enemy is not the Japanese people but our militarism and so-called patriotism. Nor is our enemy the Russian people, but your militarism and so-called patriotism. Patriotism and militarism are our common enemies; nay, all socialists in the world look upon them as common enemies. We socialists must fight a brave battle against them. Here is the best and most important opportunity for us now. We believe you will not let this opportunity pass. We, too, will try our best. But permit us to say a few words more. We are neither nihilists nor terrorists, but we are social Democrats. We object absolutely to using military force in our fighting. We have to fight by peaceful means, by reason and speech.

Dear Comrades ! When you suffer under the oppression of your government and the pursuit of cruel detectives, please remember that there are thousands of comrades in a distant land, who are praying for your health and success with the deepest sympathy!

To the above there was a reply from Russian comrades appearing in the Iskra: [1].

This manifesto is a document of historic significance. If we Russian Social Democrats know only too well with what difficulties we are confronted in time of war, when the whole machinery of government is working to the utmost to excite patriotism - difficulties which we meet at every step, notwithstanding the utter unpopularity of the present hazardous career of the despairing absolutism - we must bear in mind that far more difficult and embarrassing is the position of our Japanese comrades, who, at the moment when national feeling was at its highest pitch, extended their hands to us.

Amid the jingoistic chorus of both countries, their voice sounds as a herald from that better world, which, though it exists today only in the mind of the class-conscious proletariat, will become a reality tomorrow. We do not know when that `tomorrow' will come. But we, the Social Democrats the world over, are all working to bring it nearer and nearer. We are digging a grave for the miserable today - the present social order. We are organizing the forces which will finally bury it.

Force against force, violence against violence! And in saying this we speak neither as nihilists nor as terrorists. But in the present instance this question is of secondary importance. What is important for us is the feeling of solidarity, which the Japanese comrades have expressed in their message to us. We send them a hearty greeting. Down with militarism! Hail to the international social democracy."

The weekly Heimin was a well edited paper, full of interesting social information on socialist activities at home and abroad. Socialism was presented in such a way that the student class were influenced by it and, in fact, many students joined the socialist movement, awakened by comrades, many of whom were accustomed to travel through the country to sell socialist books and get subscriptions to the Heimin. There were many branches now throughout the country. A branch office of the weekly Heimin was opened by Comrade Morichika at the City of Osaka.

Gradually the government began to adopt very drastic measures against socialists, beginning with May, 1904. The government's charges against socialists were two: 1. The anti-war speeches will kill patriotism. 2. Socialist propaganda tries to break up the system of caste, and leads often to criticism of the Imperial Household. Thereafter the police dissolved every socialist meeting, but the comrades held as many as they could, for they got an increased audience at each successive meeting on account of police interference.

At the regular meeting of the Socialist Association in June, 1904, by a unanimous vote of members, it was decided to address an open letter to the comrades in Europe and America; and also to present the anti-war resolution to the coming international socialist congress, at Amsterdam the following August.

In the course of a few months the weekly Heimin, besides its regular issues, published many books. The most popular and largest circulated hook among them was "Fire Pillar", a novel by Comrade Kinoshita. This book was sold in over ten editions in a few months and made a far greater propaganda than that of Mr. Yano's Shinshakai. It dealt with socialism and socialists of the present day. It is an "Iron Heel" of the Japanese socialist literature.

In the issue of August 27th, the weekly Heimin published a translation of Count Leo Tolstoi's essay on the Russo-Japan War, published in the London Times in June 27th, 1904. This gave an exalted tone to the weekly and much agitation. Our comrades were still more encouraged in the anti-war movement by a letter to the Heimin from Count Tolstoi.

To celebrate the first anniversary of the founding of the weekly Heimin, the Japanese comrades decided to translate and publish in the anniversary number the Communist Manifesto. The translation appeared on the 13th of November. It was a joint translation by Comrades Kotoku and Sakai.

The issue that printed the Communist Manifesto was suppressed by the government. But the paper was already distributed among subscribers so we had accomplished our aim.

The year 1904 closed with two public accusations pending for trial. The one was against an editorial - "To the Grammar School Teachers", and the other against the "Communist Manifesto". During the year socialist propaganda was carried on with a great vigor and enthusiasm in spite of stern censorship and many oppressive measures against socialists. This is shown by the following statistics published in the Heimin:

Leaflets for the socialist propaganda distributed during the year numbered 39,000. The Heimin Library published 8 books and sold altogether 15,700 copies. The weekly Heimin sold 200,000 copies during the year. Socialist organizations established in 11 cities and in 10 towns. There were 8 public accusations against socialists. During the year 120 socialist meetings were held, of these 13 were women's socialist meetings. There were then scores of women comrades who took active part in the movement.

Our comrades had learned how to utilize legal trials in the court for our propaganda from Lassalle and others. The charge against Kotoku and Nishikawa was tried and carried to the highest court and finally they were punished, but it took fourteen weeks and three trials. We could propagate socialism in the court. What was said on trial either in accusation 'or defense in the court could be printed without molestation. But afterward trials of socialists were mostly carried on in closed court and socialists were never allowed to come out of prison on bond. As the result of the trial, Comrade Kotoku got five months with a fine of 50 yen and Nichikawa seven months and 50 yen fine, and the printing presses were also confiscated, the charge being for acts in opposition to the Imperial constitution, and finally the weekly Heimin was entirely suppressed. The "Chokugen" (straight word) was published to take the place of the Heimin.

The January revolution in the Russian capital gave a thrilling interest and impetus to the Japanese comrades and they attempted to preach socialism among Russian captives in Japan, whose number increased with the fall of Port Arthur. The Weekly from time to time informed Russian captives about the revolutions in Russia and endeavoured to distribute socialist literature among them sent from Europe and America.

On May 16th, 1905, socialists of Tokyo put up a candidate at a big election for the Imperial Diet. Comrade Kinoshita, who ran several years ago at Mayebashi City as a socialist candidate, ran again. After a very lively socialist campaign, he got 32 votes. There were 16,000 voters in the city of 1,800,000 population.

During this war period the socialist movement became more and more intellectual and at the same time international on account of drastic oppressive measures used against socialists by the military government, so that the weekly " Chokugen" filled its columns more and more with socialist news from abroad, Japanese news being suppressed. Comrade Kaneko had contributed every week from America and I also, acted as a sort of exchange medium between comrades at home and abroad as I resided at that time in this country.

The " Chokugen" published a translation of "Merrie England". The Weekly has always been well edited with literary skill and accomplishment.

Socialist meetings were held at various parts of cities and in the country. Meetings to study socialism, social gatherings of comrades, debating clubs and public meetings were held each week throughout the country. But, sad to say, owing to the lack of experience and also to the fact that socialists were deprived of the right to organize a party, socialists could not mass the forces scattered all over the country into one socialist organization, while the war ministry of Prince Katsura ever tightened its oppressive grip on the necks of socialists. New socialist books were often suppressed and the weekly "Chokugen" met with occasional confiscations. Frequent trials and imprisonment of editors weakened the ranks. Financially the weekly had to meet its deficit by contributions from comrades. With these and many other difficulties, there came a great blow to the weekly. It was altogether suspended on account of great riots that were started on the 5th of September, 1905, in the City of Tokyo, when martial law was declared; for a few days the capital was completely in the hands of mobs. This disturbance was attributed to the dissatisfaction of the people with the peace terms concluded at Portsmouth, but in reality it was a general dissatisfaction of the people against the Katsura Ministry, which had been lying to the people about diplomatic affairs, at the same time suppressing the freedom of the people.

The weekly "Chokugen" was suspended without giving any reason as a result of the riots. Our comrades were grouped together round this weekly and largely depended upon the income of sales of the paper and books. The number of these comrades had lately increased while the income did not grow because many law suits and frequent suppressions of the weekly and books made it ever more difficult to support the movement. So they decided to break up the group entirely.

This period of the socialist movement ended with a popular uprising in the cities and the country and contained a good promise for new activities in the near future. On the whole we consider that the socialists made a splendid and glorious fight against the war and for the peace!

1. MECW "'Iskra,' at that time was edited by Lenine, so this comment on the Japanese greeting to the Russian Socialists must have been written by Lenine himself," said Comrade Frederick Rosin who took a part in the revolution of 1905 with Lenine and was exiled to Siberia for life. From there he escaped to America. Comrade Rosin just left here for Russia by way of Norway to join the revolutionary work in Russia. (August, 1917.)