Harry Quelch March 1904

The Yellow Danger

Source: The Social Democrat, Vol. VIII No. 3, March 15, 1904, pp. 137-141;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Russophilism appears to be the predominant note in bourgeois circles on the Continent just now. Russian indebtedness to cosmopolitan financiers may have something to do with this, and Anglophobia still more; but the chief cause for the existing pro-Russian sentiment appears to be a fear of what is called the “Yellow Peril.” There is little doubt that to this fear it was due that Japan was prevented from reaping the fruits of her victory over China and the causes of the present conflict were created. The adaptability of the Japanese and their adoption of Western ideas and methods are viewed with suspicion and dislike, and there is a very general feeling that the ascendancy of any Mongolian race, even by such means and by the adoption of Western ideas, would be a menace to Western civilisation itself, and that everything which is calculated to hinder or prevent such ascendancy should be supported and encouraged. Thus, even the extension of the crushing Muscovite despotism is to be commended as a means of counteracting and defeating the Yellow Peril.

There are those among our friends, and this is specially true of Russian Social-Democrats, who hope and believe that the present conflict will result in the complete collapse and overthrow of the Russian bureaucratic and autocratic despotism. I should be glad to be able to share their hopes. I apprehend, however, that the fear of the Yellow Peril, the dislike and distrust of the ascendancy of a Mongolian race, will secure for the Russian Government sufficient European support, should any serious crisis arise in connection with the war with Japan, and will effectually prevent the latter from securing any material advantage from any victories she may achieve.

Even among Social-Democrats there are those who hold that this Russo-Japanese war is simply one between two capitalist States, in which we can have no sympathy with either the one side or the other, and in which our efforts should be solely directed to preventing a spread of the conflagration. English Socialists approve of the resolution of the International Socialist Bureau on the subject and agree that the Socialists of all countries should do their utmost to prevent other nations from being drawn into the conflict. Nevertheless, it can scarcely be admitted that this is one of the wars in which the measure of responsibility and guilt is equal on both sides, or one in which the issue of the conflict is a matter of indifference to us. Very much the same kind of thing was said in regard to the war waged by Great Britain against the Boers; but that did not prevent us from warmly espousing the cause of the latter in their valiant struggle against overwhelming odds in defence of their national independence. We are not more in love with Muscovite imperialism than with British, and it can only be the fear of the Yellow Peril, and the hatred and distrust of the Mongolian race therein implied, which has produced a change in the point of view in the present instance.

It is quite true that the Japanese occupy a more important position in world politics than did the Boers, and, in a capitalist sense, may be more advanced. It is also true that all wars to-day have their origin in economic causes. It may also be admitted that the extension of capitalist development in the Far East under the aegis of Japan is not, in itself, likely to be of any advantage to the international proletariat. It may further be conceded that war is generally to be condemned by Socialists. On the other hand, we would urge that if the Boers were right, as we held they were, in defending their national independence against Great Britain, the Japanese or any other people are equally justified in doing the same thing. It may be said that Russia never threatened the national existence of Japan. Precisely the same was said with regard to the intentions of Great Britain before the South African war. Annexation was then a thing undreamt of. All that was intended was such measures as would have reduced the Transvaal to the position of a vassal State, without a vestige of independence. Precisely the same would have been the result of the success of Russian policy as far as Japan was concerned. For us, therefore, it is not a question of merely regarding all wars as necessarily arising out of existing economic conditions; nor is it a question merely of a prejudice in favour of capitalist development being carried on by the Russian or the Jap; the question is once more that of imperial domination against national independence and the rights of the little peoples and of the so-called subject races.

While it is true that modern wars have their origin in economic causes it is impossible to eliminate the question of race. We might urge that if there is to be capitalist expansion in the Far East it had better be under the dominance of the Japanese than of the Russians. The former are certainly progressive enough to adopt with Western industrialism some of the chief political and other safe-guards against its worst evils; but in Russia capitalism is unrelieved by any of the influences which mitigate its horrors elsewhere. In no country in the world has modern industrialism developed more rapidly than in Russia during the past 20 years. Yet there the modern industrialism has been, as it were, grafted on to the old feudalism and so we have there autocracy without any of its duties, and an industrial proletariat without any of its rights; feudalism unchecked in its ferocity, and capitalism with no restriction on its rapacity. And it is this blighting despotism, adding all that is bad of modern capitalism to all that is worst of the old regime, which the Russophils, in their fear of the Yellow Peril, would see extending its sway over another large portion of the earth’s surface and over one of the most important sections of the human race.

Leaving on one side, however, all question of the respective merits or demerits of Russian and Japanese progress, civilisation or capitalism, the question resolves itself simply into one of race and of race supremacy in the Far East. The Russophils see or affect to see, in the defeat of Japan, the only escape from the Yellow Peril threatened by the progress, development and consolidation of the Mongolian race. On the other hand there appears to us a far greater danger to be apprehended from the suppression of the natural national aspirations of this race than by permitting them free outlet. The Yellow Peril of the future does not lie in the direction of Japanese victory and the reorganisation of the Chinese and the other sections of the Mongolian race; it lies rather in the defeat and subjugation of Japan and the subjection of that race. The real yellow danger is to be apprehended from the yellow race being added to the list of subject races. It is precisely these subject races which constitute the chief menace to future social progress. The colour question forms one of the gravest problems in America at the present time; but the problem of the American negro is as child’s play compared with that which will be presented by the yellow man later on, if the ascendancy of the Western nations is assured, as threatened. We are seeing something of what may be done in this direction in the importation of Chinese into South Africa. Given the subjection of the yellow race to the white, and the yellow man will be brought in to redress the balance between master and workman in Europe, as well as in Asia or the colonies. That is the real Yellow Peril, and the best way to escape that is to leave the yellow man free to work out his own salvation, in his own country, and in his own way.