The Labor Movement in Japan by Sen Katayama (1918)
War against the Russo-Japanese war was fought by socialists with increasing vigor and determination. It was a splendid fight throughout against our jingoists.
The keynote of the battle of the Japanese Socialists was noble and strong and was inspired by Count Tolstoi in his message in the London Times that rang through the world. But our comrades spent all of their energy and force on this anti-war movement and lost temporarily many agitators, who are now serving their terms in prison. Financially the "Chokugen" had suffered greatly on account of constant suppressions and persecutions by the government censor. The final blow was struck by the entire suppression at the time of the great riots in Tokyo, Sept. 5th, 1905. Martial law was declared to put down this popular uprising. This suppression was the direct cause of discontinuance of the "Chokugen" and also the dissolution of the Heimin Sha, the socialist organization, in which our comrades grouped together to work for the cause of socialism, with the chief object of publishing the Heimin and afterward the "Chokugen" and socialist books.
Soon after this suppression of the paper, Comrade Kotoku left Japan partly to regain his lost health in America and partly to organize Japanese socialists in this country. I was still in America at that time and at home many comrades were on trial for the cause. Moreover, since the entrance of Comrades Kotoku and Sakai into the active socialist movement in November, 1903, it had become more and more intellectual and radical in its views, accepting the straight Marxian socialist theory. This being the case a large number of students joined the movement. This was largely due to the fact that these two comrades and those who joined afterward were well versed in Japanese literature with a fair knowledge of English; so they presented socialism in such a way as to attract the attention and interest of the student classes. There were many intellectual socialists, all able writers and many good speakers. At the end of the Russo-Japan war it became a more difficult problem how they could support themselves than how to continue the active propaganda work. They were all good workers, who can edit a socialist paper or any other paper. But they could not get a position on any capitalist paper on account of their views. The supporters and more particularly the subscribers of the socialist papers were mostly students or country youths, who were still under parental support. There was no strong support from real workers, as was the case with my paper, the Labor World.
This regrettable weakness combined with the above difficulties in the situation of the socialist intellectuals is shown by the fact that when the Heimin Sha was broken up, Comrades who were connected with the Heimin started three different socialist papers - The Hikari (Light), the Shinkigen (New Era) and The Home magazine. There was one other paper called The Fire Whip, published by other Comrades. The Hikari was edited by Nishikawa and Yamaguchi, and was supported by almost all the comrades by contribution of articles. Of course each paper had its own editors, with a group of outside supporters. By the time that the inner difficulties and the problems of grouping the intellectuals were somewhat adjusted by the above mentioned publications the public situation in general, had changed for the better. This change was brought about chiefly by the fall of the Katsura's War Ministry and the formation of a new ministry by Marquis Saionji. Soon we found out that we could form a party. This we did by founding a new socialist party and sending a note to the Minister of the Interior, who did not suppress it. Other comrades tried this also with the same result. On the 24th of February, 1906, comrades came together at Dr. Kato's office in Shimbashi, Tokyo, and duly formed the Socialist Party. I was back in Japan at this time and took my part in the formation of the party.
The police department told city editors that there were some twenty-five thousand socialists in the country. We can not rely on this for the government might have reported more socialists in order to get an appropriation for suppressing them. But undoubtedly there was then quite a large number of socialists all over the country. In our movement the party organization had been rather neglected and besides the government measure against organization had been in force. In fact, our comrades since the beginning of the late war with Russia did somewhat purposely avoid the rigid party organization because the Socialist Association which was not legally a political party would have been suppressed had it come out openly as a socialist party. Moreover according to the laws of Japan, women and persons under twenty-one are prohibited from organizing or joining any political party and attending any political meeting. This, of course, was a great drawback to us because in the Socialist party, a large majority of comrades have been young men, especially students who would be excluded from a formal political party. But on the other hand with a socialist party we can canvas the scattered socialist forces into one solid organization, and work more efficiently than without such a party.
The first work of the Socialist Party was to call mass meetings on 11th and 15th of March, 1906. The meetings were to protest against raising the carfare in Tokyo from three sen to five sen and both were to be held at the Hibiya Park. The first meeting failed on account of heavy rains. The second was a great success with fine weather. There were over ten thousand people. Many socialists made stirring speeches and the citizens of Tokyo, especially those present, were made acquainted with the socialists.
After the meeting was over the excited crowds, indignant over the greedy streetcar company, attacked the cars and offices of the company. This made the demonstration still more effective. As a result the government did not give permission to raise the fare, and the citizens kept the three sen through-fare for the whole city, That was a most encouraging start for the Party. It was the first victory for the red flag in Japan. In this agitation we distributed some twenty thousand little pamphlets written by me and many of them were sold. A number of meetings were held all over the city. In this way we created a strong public opinion against raising the fare.
With this good beginning the Socialist Party made very good progress; members increased ten-fold in a few months and many branches were formed throughout the country. Soon there were twelve, which number increased to fifteen. These were organized under the following names - Dawn, Yokohama; Flame, Hitachi; A.B.C. Club, Okayama; Tea Talk Club, Hiroshima; Heimin Club, Nimiya; Yokohama; Kobe; Yokosuka; Kagoshima; Hakodate; Socialist Association; Kushimoto; and other places under different names. During this period comrade Kotoku was in San Francisco and was working among the Japanese there. His articles and reports on the progress of the Socialist movements in America gave a great impetus to comrades at home.
In the Hikari, issued on the 25th of October, 1906, there appeared an announcement to the effect that there would be formed a company which would soon publish a socialist daily. This announcement was made under the following names: - Kotoku, Sakai, Ischikawa, Nishikawa and Takeuchi as, the original promoters. These five promoters, share-holders, ($50 a share) editorial and business members of the Daily Heimin and employees were to constitute the company - the Heimin Sha. The promoters would have full power in their democratic management, and the shareholders were to get a full report on the business and would have the right to ask questions or speak on all matters concerning the work.
In the same issue the Hikari said that they had already bought a house and an entire printing outfit, types and machines, and the first issue of the Daily Heimin was announced for the 15th of January, 1907. The last number of the New Era appeared in November and that of Hikari in December. The last issue of the Hikari gives full details of the company; twenty-one members participated in the Daily and there were twenty-eight share-holders.
With a preparation of little over two months, our comrades gave to the world a well edited socialist daily; its news items, editorials and contributed articles were all full of interest and instruction. Enthusiasm, forcefulness and radicalism dominated the whole paper. Its circulation was increasing daily. But often extreme radicalism and the outspoken manner of expressing things brought a severe censorship against the daily which made the articles still more vigorous, as for instance, in "Kick Your Mother and Father." This, however, crippled a steady growth of the daily paper while its suppression, the accusations, trials, fines and imprisonment of editors weakened the fighting power and finally the daily was altogether suppressed by the government, never to revive, after a brief existence of only seventy-five issues, January 15th to March 14th, 1907.
But it made a very good impression on the public and our comrades realized once more the power of the press.
During the month of February, 1907, two things happened that must be remembered in order to understand the real situation of the socialist movement in Japan at this turn and the period immediately succeeding. One was a great riot occurring at the Asio copper mines. The riot was started on the 14th of February and continued for three days and was only put down by calling out the national troops. This was the first experience of this kind in the history of Japan's labor movement. The riot spread over all the mines and destroyed a great part of the mining properties that were easily accessible to rioters. The loss was estimated at two million dollars. The authorities arrested over 200 miners and labor leaders.
The labor movement at the Asio copper mines was started in December, 1903, by Comrade Nagaoka, a personal friend of mine and a well-known miner of long standing, a strike leader at the Kosaka copper mines in the eighties and a labor agitator for several years at Yubari Collieries. He went to the Asio copper mines and worked as a common miner, but soon he was known to fellow miners as their leader. He had to quit his work and published a little paper called, "Friend of the Miners". He also published many songs of his own composition and sung to the miners and sold them, with the paper, to support the movement. At one time be became a street vender so as to be in constant touch with miners. Thus he gradually organized miners at Asio under the name of Shisei-Kai, a Society of Sincere Persons. Shisei-Kai has grown in few years into quite a strong union with a membership of some four thousand miners. In 1905 another comrade Minami, the co-agitator of Nagaoka at the Yubari, came to Asio and joined in his work.
It was arranged to hold the annual meeting of the Shisei-Kai on the 10th of February, 1906, and to take a vote on the demands of the miners, who were working under the most deplorable conditions. But on the 4th of February about one hundred miners came to a collision with a number of bosses over their wages. To this movement several hundred miners joined and it developed into a riot. It spread like wildfire in other parts of the same mines. At first leaders of the Shisei-Kai endeavored hard to pacify the excited miners and partially succeeded, but when riots broke out in other parts, the police stepped in suddenly and arrested the leaders of the Shisei-Kai together with the rioters - in total over 200. When the miners, who had kept away from the actual scenes of the riots, heard about the arrest of comrades Minami and Nayaoka, they became angry at the injustice of the authorities and went to destroy the properties.
It was supposed that the Mining Company purposely instigated some of the miners to come to a conflict with the bosses in order to find a pretext to arrest the leaders of the Shisei-Kai and destroy the Shisei-Kai itself. But subsequent investigations and trials brought to light that the rioters were neither instigated by the agitators nor by the company but that the riots were spontaneous uprisings of miners who were outrageously ill-treated and brutally exploited by the mine-owners. After three months the leaders were released. But at the time of the riots, the trouble was attributed to the influence of Socialists and the Daily Heimin, by the press and authorities. As the result the Shisei-Kai was entirely suppressed and all its properties were confiscated by the government. The mining company hunted out the members and dismissed them. After the riots there remained in Asio, no union and no agitator.
The second important event of the month was the first anniversary meeting the socialist party held at Tokyo on February 17th. The most heated discussions were carried on over the question of tactics of the Party. The Executive Committee after many meetings, drafted a change of constitution and a compromising resolution on tactics. The change in the Constitution suggested was to strike out the clause - "we advocate socialism within the law." The resolution contained the following points:
A radical and fundamental change of the existing society; universal suffrage; anti-militarism and anti-religion. Besides, two opposing resolutions were proposed by opposing leaders. The one by Comrade Kotoku on Direct Action, striking out Universal Suffrage, and the other by Comrade Tazoye on the policy of Parliamentarism. After several hours of discussion both opposing resolutions were defeated and the compromising resolution was carried by the majority. This, however, decided the fate of the Socialist Party for long years to come. The tone and thought of the speeches made and the resolution adopted in the meeting of the Socialist Party, left no doubt in the minds of the authorities that it was an extremely revolutionary and radical one, although the resolution was considered to be a compromise between two extremes. The government thereupon suppressed the Socialist Party and never allowed it to be revived up to the present day.
The Daily Heimin, which printed the speeches of Kotoku and Tazoye, and the resolution, was prosecuted on a charge of treason to the Imperial Constitution. As I foresaw that this misfortune might happen if we went too far in our tactics, I had persuaded my fellow comrades in drafting the constitution of the Socialist Party in February, 1906, to insert a clause - "We advocate socialism within the limit of the Law." My contention was that in Japan a law-abiding socialist could most forcibly and ably advocate socialism. Our workers were not educated in the tactics of the labor movement and therefore should go slow in order to lead and educate them. Unfortunately I was absent after June of that year and arrived at Yokohama two days after the Socialist Party meeting. Ever since Comrade Kotoku had returned from America the previous June, he had been preaching direct action and general strikes, minimizing political action. His influence now became a conflicting factor in the socialist movement. Editorials of the daily Heimin were dominated by Comrade Kotoku's influence but there were many comrades who advocated political action, including Comrade Sakai, who still holds to Parliamentarism. Younger persons, especially students, inclined toward radicalism. This conflict. however, unfortunately, did not have full chance to crystalize through the columns of the Heimin as the paper was suppressed. The fight between the two wings was left to future organs yet to be born.
For some time I watched the work of my comrades in the Daily Heimin, only contributing articles from time to time. I was sorry to see this movement become more and more radical and extreme and finally go down in pieces. There was no socialist paper for two months, from the middle of March to the first of June, 1909. The heated excitement and the final death of the Daily Heimin was something very tragical. Some twenty or more comrades, among whom were a few with families, lost their living with the sudden end of the paper. I was present in the last meeting at the editorial room of the Daily Heimin and was called upon to speak. I do not remember what I said but I know that I actually wept before those comrades whose situation was worse than mine!
In a few weeks many comrades secured some employment, but many are still struggling with extreme difficulties. The problems were very complicated and difficult to solve. For everybody seemed dissatisfied with his own condition, and many blamed others for the management of the late Daily; so there was felt a necessity to solve the conflict and get rid of some among them. The same problems were again confronted as those faced at the time of the dissolution of the Heimin in September, 1905. The only difference was in the socialist tactics, in the public attitude and in the government policy toward socialists. This made it still harder for intellectual socialists to get on in the world.
After these difficulties there appeared two socialist papers, one in Tokyo published by Comrade Nishikawa and myself with two other comrades, and another at Osaka by Comrade Morichika. The one was called Shaksi Shimbum .(Socialist News) the other Osaka Heimin. The former represented Parliamentarism and the latter Direct Action. There were soon also two socialist bodies in Tokyo, one was called Doshikai and the other Kinyokai; the first is represented by Comrades Nishikawa and myself and the latter by Comrades Kotuku, Sakai, Doshikai and Kinyokai. Each had the support of a group of Comrades.
The Socialist News was chiefly edited by Comrade Nishikawa, who worked with me during the years 1901-1903. He was now considered to be one of the principal figures in the socialist movement and carried on discussions on socialist tactics with his former colleagues, Kotoku and Sakai, whose articles were appearing in the Osaka Heimin regularly. Although I was solely responsible for the financing of the paper I was not a match in writing and discussing theoretical matters with these intellectuals. I can write and speak to the working class and interpret their thoughts and actions. My thoughts and sympathies are with the workers and not with intellectuals.
Although I advocate Universal Suffrage as the best means of educating the working classes and as a peaceful method for the development of the socialist movement in Japan, I have also belief in the direct action of workers and in general strikes as the best means of strengthening the position of the workers against the capitalist classes.
On the 4th of June, 1907, about two hundred miners came into conflict with the companies' officers. This trouble was caused by dismissal of their leaders who had called a meeting in which the miners voted to ask the company to raise the wages 30 per cent and to present some other demands. They were roughly dealt with by the bosses. At this the miners, very indignant, at once got hold of the munition store and started to destroy every building but the school, hospital and miners' dwellings. Soon the rioters increased to six hundred and went to the work of destruction in other parts of the mines. This continued for three days. There were at one time over fifteen thousand miners rioting. They got control of the mines. The police forces proved to be powerless before them. The Company, or really a private owner, complied with all the demands of the miners, but at the same time asked the Government to put down the riot by national troops which the government did. Miners were until then most brutally exploited. When they raided the munition store they found many pistols and rifles. In fact the miners often were forced to work at the point of rifle or pistol. Every officer carried a pistol in his pocket since the wages were reduced the year before. As the result of the riots many went to prison but the riots exposed the awfulness of the exploitation of labor in the Bessi Copper Mines.
Although discussions on socialist tactics had been going on through the respective organs of the two wings, both parties kept their temper calm and agreed to have a joint lecture course. It was arranged to hold from the 1st to the 10th of August, 1907, at the Hall of the Universalists in Tokyo. Topics and lecturers were as follows:
Socialist Ethics - Kotoku.
History of Socialism. - Tazoye.
Origin of Society - Sakai.
Economics of Socialism - Yamakawa.
Story of Strikes - Nishikawa.
History of Labor Union Movement - Katayama.