The Labor Movement in Japan by Sen Katayama (1918)

Chapter 7
The Marxian Socialist Group

Its Activity in the Great Street Car Strike in Tokyo

Meanwhile Marxian socialist groups had been carrying on quiet propaganda work among the working class. It consisted solely in holding meetings, but we used meetings to interpret social and political facts and events in the light of socialism. We always got a good audience, mostly of the working people. This sort of propaganda was carried on until the end of the year 1911, when there was a great street car strike. We held many meetings during the months of October, November and December in the city of Tokyo and discussed to a great extent the labor problems in connection with the employees of the Tokyo Street Car company. The strike was the climax of our movement.

It was started on the 31st of December, 1911, and lasted until the 4th of the next January. It involved six thousand engineers and conductors. The city of two millions was without a single street car running in those busiest days in the entire year to accommodate the business and social life of the people. The entire city was tied up and everybody, except perhaps working men, felt a great inconvenience and suffered very much. Strikers conducted themselves with precision and firmness, temporarily organizing themselves to deal with the employer. They got what they were after, and squeezed out of the pockets of the old Street Car company one hundred thousand dollars as a bonus. This was the greatest sort of victory for labor.

Those who were in close touch with the strikers were more than pleased with the result. As soon as the strike was settled the authorities arrested one after another of the strike leaders; in all, sixty persons. On the 15th of January, 1912, five of us were arrested and brought to the Tokyo local court and were examined and sent to prison on the charge of inciting workers to strike. Later three of us were tried and condemned to prison and we remained in prison for nine months. This was a blow to our movement. Although Comrade Fujita has continued the work, it has never recovered its former vigor and strength.

Now our socialists are still undergoing severe treatment by the brutal government. They occasionally revolt or attempt to throw off the pressure of the barbarous bureaucrats. The Red Flag Riot and the Anarchist Trials were the results of sufferings. Under the influence of oppressions, the comrades more and more forgot the past conflicts among themselves and divisions on tactics. A better understanding was brought about by the street car strike in which those comrades who were considered moderate and tame, caused by their agitation a great strike that shocked bourgeois society. There is only one group of socialists now and all are trying to work for the same cause.

Present and Future of the Labor and Socialist Movement

The Red Flag affair of 1908 made socialists the most unpopular creatures with the public, and this unpopularity gave the authorities a good pretext for suppressing the socialist movement. Then the court brought about the Anarchist Trials and the condemnation of our comrades caused the nation to doubt the wisdom of dealing in such a fashion and voices were heard objecting to this as "too harsh." But when the Street Car strike occurred Tokyo people felt extreme inconvenience because it was the busiest time of the year. As socialists were proved in court to be strike leaders, the people said that socialists were not only terrorists who intend to overturn society in some future time, but also inciters of peaceful workers to mutiny. So now every evil deed is attributed to socialists, and socialists are not very popular people in Japan.

A robber at Yamanashi prison committed suicide because he was insulted by his mate. The insult was in being called a socialist. A Tokyo daily, commenting on the case, points out that the robber convict in prison considers himself above a socialist, feels himself insulted because he was called by that title! Socialists are the most hated and despised people in Japan, as well as in this country among Japanese. Last autumn a daily (Japanese) at Seattle printed a statement that Mr. M. Furuya, a prominent Japanese merchant in that city, was an accomplice of F. Ota, a socialist illegally deported by the Japanese Consul there. This bit of a lie caused that gentleman to lose deposits from his bank amounting to some hundred and sixty thousand dollars. The Japanese settlers thought it unsafe to deposit their money in a Socialist's bank, so they took out their money in a few days. It shows how our government fostered hatred against socialists.

Will this state of affairs continue long?

I for one do not think it will continue much longer. There is, of course, no denying that of late our bureaucracy is growing more and more reactionary. It monopolizes the army and the navy and is taxing the people to the limit for the increase of armaments. This is not encouraging, but we have the consolation of looking into our history. Japan's history shows that her progress in the past was always made by means of revolutions. The coming revolution will be the proletarian revolution. The workers will throw off the capitalist yoke by a new revolution of the masses against their exploiters.