Paul Mattick 1936

The Story of Japanese Imperialism

Review of Eastern Menace, The Story of Japanese Imperialism. Published by the Union of Democratic Control, London.
Source: International Review, New York, November 1936;
Transcribed: by Adam Buick;
Proofed: and corrected by Geoff Traugh, July 2005.

This document is addressed to the British “public,” which is to be warned against the wiles of Japanese imperialism. It aims to influence British policy (by which yellow imperialism was “half supported and half feared”) so that the English may come out openly against Japan. The latter, we are told, “is organizing a Yellow Empire with the avowed policy of ending the rule of the white man in the East, and if she does fight Russia, the war will probably involve us all.” The Union of Democratic Control prefers the rule of the “whites” to the rule of the “yellows,” and it is glad that “the onward march of the Japanese has been temporarily checked by the enormous military preparations of the Soviet Union on her Far Eastern frontiers.” However, “Japanese aggression would still further be checked if Great Britain, the U.S.A. and Russia were willing to cooperate in the Far East. The U.S.A. and Russia have already shown their willingness. The determining factor is the policy of the British government, which has helped Japan to become the most serious rival of British trade and the biggest threat to peace in the Pacific.” The rising yellow competition — with the exception of the similarly yellow Chinese, whose favor is courted — is to be met by a united front of the white imperialists.

The authors lay stress upon the peculiarities of Japan brought about as a result of its retarded development along the path of capitalistic imperialism, and which they attack with the usual arguments about dumping, low wages and military rule. In order to assert itself against the world in which capitalism has already taken firm root, Japanese capital was obliged, in spite of its feudal backwardness, to adopt an extreme centralism. The close union of Capital and State, which first appears as a result of the “normal” process of capitalist development, was in Japan the necessary presupposition of successful capitalization. Closely connected with this circumstance are the fascist character of Japanese policy and the numerous inner contradictions that are an expression of the difficulties of adapting the various class and group interests to the rapidly changing economic situation. The stronger, however, the inner friction, the greater is the urge to outer expansion and the more pronounced the nationalism of the country. The more aggressively the policy of expansion is conducted, the more intensively must the workers and peasants be exploited and the greater in turn must be the development of imperialism. Japanese imperialism is not a special form of phenomenon; it comes forth more unequivocally because at each step it comes into conflict with the imperialisms already established.

In order to make this competitive struggle agreeable to the English workers, they are told that their unemployment is due in large part to the unfair competition of the Japanese; they must defend themselves against Japanese imperialism. What, however, will the unemployed of Japan be told in case Japan should be beaten down by the united front of the whites? In reality, whether it is Japan or England that exports cotton pieces to India should be a matter of indifference to the working population, for considered as a whole it makes no difference whether the Japanese or the English workers are without jobs. It never occurs to the Union of Democratic Control that the working class is quite in a position to do away with the entire dependence on the laws of the market and could thus completely dispose of the problems discussed in the pamphlet. Ostensibly, Japanese imperialism is a particularly bad imperialism. Its competition is especially evil. It is combatted in the interest of the more respectable imperialisms. The stupidity of such a position makes it inconceivable that the publishers of the Eastern Menace themselves believe in it. We are rather presented here with the preparatory war propaganda, directed against the enemy of Russia. It is desired to mobilize the workers, together with their capitalist exploiters, for the defense of Russian interests. The only objection that may be made here is that the struggle against imperialism in Japan presupposes the struggle against one’s own imperialism in other capitalist countries. If one strengthens his own imperialism, as the Union of Democratic Control endeavor to do, he necessarily strengthens also the Japanese. But, of course, these people have in reality nothing against imperialism itself. They merely want to eliminate that of their opponents. That is to say the Union of Democratic Control represents the Western Menace as against the Eastern.

Japan’s advance is damaging to the interests of the various capitalist nations with imperialistic ventures in China. It also stands in the way of independent Chinese endeavors at building a capitalist economy. It is likewise injurious to the Asiatic interests of Russia. Japan is using China because she needs raw materials and favorable capital investments. In order to remain strong, Japan is obliged, like all other capitalist countries, including Russia, to grow stronger and stronger. It is only additional capital that makes secure the capital already at hand. It is only aggressiveness that protects it from disturbance. Anyone who has begun the capitalist invasion is obliged to continue it. Japanese expansion is bound to menace Russia. Russia is forced to build up her strength and herself become an imperialist power in order to assure her position.

From the protection of the frontiers there comes about the shifting of the frontiers. From peaceful trade with the neighboring countries there develops the struggle for their control. The struggle between Russia and Japan is not a struggle between communism and capitalism, but between two imperialisms, a struggle which of necessity results from capitalist production, whether this latter is under private or State direction. In this struggle, each of the parties looks for allies. Just as Japan has assured herself of the aid of Germany, so Russia turns now to England, as formerly to America.

The great advance of Japan began with Manchuria. Then came North China, which is “in many respects an essential complement to Manchuria.” And “from North China she can attempt to consolidate her position in Inner Mongolia.” Mongolia, however, is “the largest importer of Russian goods in the East, and tables of Russo-Mongolian trade show an increase in the percentage of the Mongolian raw materials, which are imported by Russia.” Mongolia under the control of Japan would enormously strengthen the military potentialities of the latter against Russia. Stalin has therefore warned Japan “that if she ventured to attack the Mongolian People’s Republic and sought to destroy its independence, Russia would help that Republic.” Now the Union of Democratic Control realizes that “there are some who would say that Soviet-Mongolian relations were based on ‘Red Imperialism’.” This, however, it says, is not the case, because “Mongolia has long objected to Chinese rule.” And for this reason alone “Japan would find that a war with the Mongolian Republic will be a very different thing from fighting Manchuria. It would mean fighting a Soviet-equipped army.”

This pamphlet contains, on the one hand, continual references to the enormous power of Russia, by which Japanese imperialism will surely be wiped off the map. On the other hand, there is an endeavor to present the Eastern Menace as being enough of a danger to necessitate a united front of the “white” imperialist nations. Furthermore, there is an attempt to arouse the resistance of China against Japan. The favor of the Communist-killer Chiang Kai-shek is courted, and the authors wonder “whether he is the great leader who can rally the people of China around his banner, or just another Chinese General who plays for positions?” If Chiang Kai-shek really wants to proceed against Japan, he can do so only on condition of “ending the war against the Communists, and securing their neutrality or even obtaining their support.” And, logically, the Communists also must then put an end to their struggle against Chiang Kai-shek, and then we have once more the great “national struggle of liberation,” which can end only in a bloodbath for the workers.

In this connection it must be borne in mind that when Chinese Communists are mentioned in this pamphlet we have to do with tendencies which in reality have nothing to with communism. As is brought out in a report quoted by the authors: “The general emphasis of the program of the Chinese Communists is eminently practical; aiming at the elimination of the most glaring abuses and disparities of the old system. Its immediate effects have undoubtedly been to create a more widely distributed set of vested interests for whose protection the beneficiaries will fight fiercely. The Chinese Communists leaders, however, have retained control of certain key positions within the economic structure, such as government lands, marketing supervision, cooperative trading and credit societies and bank, which may be utilized to extend the development of a socialized economy.” So that China’s struggle against Japan is to be carried on under communist slogans, yet capitalistically. Accordingly, in case Japan should be driven back, it would then, sooner or later, be a strong China that would have to be combatted as a new “Eastern Menace.” But the future is indefinite, and no one worries about its eventualities. Today the enemy is Japan. The struggle against the “Eastern Menace” turns out, however, to be nothing more than the struggle against a certain capitalism. The reference to the Eastern Menace has the same rounds as those by which the pronounced Japanese nationalism finally determined. Behind both phrases is concealed the struggle between the different capitalist powers. The menace to the working class is not Japan and is not to be sought in the East. It is capitalism.