Far Eastern Imperialism: 3. Japan

S. J. Rutgers

Published: International Socialist Review, vol. 16, no. 5. November 1915. Pages 286-288.
Transcription/Markup: Micah Muer, 2021.

Japan was the first to make an aggressive war upon China; it was Japan who first broke the peace among the rivaling robbers in the Far East, by declaring war upon Russia; Japan joined the European war without being formally obliged to do so by treaty and even without giving the traditional lies about national honor, etc. So we find the youngest among capitalist states foremost as to imperialism and aggression.

This seems to be rather wonderful at first view. Imperialism being the result of highly developed capitalism, why should Japan be in the front line? Japan, with about fifty millions of inhabitant sand a density of population in Japan proper surpassing that of France and Germany, has an industrial development that is relatively small, whatever astonishing may have been accomplished in the last fifty years. There certainly are some big industries, but there are comparatively few industries of a middle class size and a great number of very small home industries and handcrafts. And especially the articles for common use are greatly produced in the old primtive [sic] style.

So there are vast possibilities for capitalists to develop the inland market in adopting a more western way of living, which is already much appreciated among the upper classes. And instead of doing this, we find the most unbounded imperialism and militarism, so as to bring the state on the verge of bankruptcy. Is there not a conflict with the conception, that export of capital chiefly results from the fact that the accumulated capital cannot be invested in home industry without a fall in the profits? By no means, and Japan in its modern expansion is in perfect harmony with the rest of imperialistic capitalism, if we only understand that economic features, although conforming in general outlining, will be different as to details, in each different historical situation.

Japan has developed a big capitalist industry only in certain branches, of which are the most important weaving and spinning, shipbuilding yards, breweries, match factories and mining industries, such as copper and coal, and for these industries the home market is already insufficient; they greatly depend upon export. Developing the home market, however, would mean better houses, better furniture and clothes, etc. It would mean higher wages and less big profits to a small class of financial capitalists in control of the government.

In Japan we find already over 400 millionaires, and among the 22 millionaires credited with over 10 millions each there are not less than 16, or 75 per cent, who "earned" their fortunes within the last 40 years. Those big capitalists take no fancy in gradually developing the home market, together with new needs and higher wages, and the existing export industries cannot swallow all the accumulated profits. So there is a cry for expansion, not only to increase the export of products, but also to invest capital in foreign countries. Some of the big industries being state-owned, or at least strongly influenced by government, this highly increases the danger for imperialistic wars.

So we find in Japan, like everywhere else, that financial capital, the highest form of capitalistic development, is the principal promoter of an aggressive politic. And also conform to other parts of the world, this imperialism is strongly supported by important groups among the middle class parties. In Japan there has already been growing a big army of intellectuals, this being essential for the development of a modern industry. A great many of those intellectuals have been made functionaries, but there is already a surplus, as shown by comparing the number of students with that of jobs. The intellectuals themselves acknowledge the danger, as I learned from different Japanese engineers, when in Japan, and many of them look to imperialism as to the only way to get out of the misery, on account of the increase of employment, especially for intellectuals and middle class people.

Of course, some among the learned proletariat will find another way out of the trouble in joining labor, and this may help to start a new socialist reformistic party. And although Europe has recently learned us that there is much danger in socialism under the predominant influence of "leaders," it may prove a necessary stage of development in Japan like elsewhere. The greater part, however, of modern intellect in Japan, as well as all over the world, will give its support to imperialism, at the same time denouncing it again and again, such dualism being the fate of all middle classes.

The forces pushing towards imperialism being essential, the same in Japan as elsewhere, there, however, is less resistance in Japan, resulting from the fact that there is no such a thing as organized labor, conditions being somewhat alike to those in England at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Although it is rather difficult to get exact facts about labor conditions, we may gather some idea about the state of things, if we listen to a few remarks made by a doctor in a capitalist paper, "The Japanese Chronicle," of March, 1914. Those remarks deal with female workers, but we must remember that it is a special feature of Japanese industry that 70 per cent of labor is done by women, which makes the following picture all the more important:

"Female workers in Japanese factories number 500,000, of whom 300,000 are under 20 years of age. Out of this army of women operatives 400,000 are engaged in the spinning, weaving and dyeing industries. Seventy per cent of these women live in the factory quarters, which means a sort of confinement. Work in the raw silk factories lasts 13 to 14 hours a day on an average, and that in the weaving mills, 14 to 16 hours. The remaining hours are devoted to sleeping, bathing, toilet, etc. It is not surprising that the health of these young women is seriously injured by such conditions. With regards to the spinning mills, female workers are put to night work every seven or eight days. Night work affects the workers' health so severely that at the end of a week they lose considerable weight. This loss may be partly recovered during the succeeding week on the day shift, but the night work, though intermittent, ultimately wrecks the health of the workers. None can stand the strain for more than a year, when death, sickness or desertion is the inevitable outcome. The consequence is that eighty per cent of the female workers leave the factories every year through various causes, but this loss is immediately replenished by new hands.

"The food provided by the factory boarding houses may be tolerable to the class from which the women are recruited, but as to the other accommodations, they are simply sickening. The women on the night and day shifts are obliged to share one bed, which is neither aired nor dusted, and never exposed to the sun, since as soon as one leaves it, another takes her place. Consequently consumption spreads among the operatives like an epidemic.

"The women who are recruited as factory workers reaches 200,000 every year, but of these 120,000 do not return to the parental roof. Either they become birds of passage and move from one factory to another, or go as maids in dubious tea-houses or as illicit prostitutes. Among the 80,000 women who return to their homes, something like 13,000 are found to be sick, about 25 per cent of them having contracted consumption. The death rate from consumption of female factory operatives is, as reported to the police, 8 per 1,000; but the death rate from the same disease after their return home is 30 per 1,000."

We need hardly say that under such conditions the difficulties to organize labor are overwhelming. There has been some beginning, of which a trade-union of 2,000 iron workers and mechanics in Tokio, organized by the well-known socialist Sen Katayama, was the first serious effort in 1897. It soon disappeared, however, as well as an organization of mechanics, started in 1898 as the result of a partially successful strike, and an organization of typesetters in Tokio, of which there only remains a faint shadow nowadays. We can get some idea about the difficulties to labor, if we learn that in 1914, there being made an application to the Home Office to form a labor party (by no means a socialist party, the latter being suppressed the very day of its constitution in 1901), this demand was rejected on account "that the promoters were men devoid of means, education and credit, and hence disqualified to form such organizations."

There may be found, however, a promise for future activity of the workers in a number of smaller strikes, of which the tying up of the tramway traffic in Tokio on New Year's day was the most prominent, and certainly there can be no doubt as to the final result. Nevertheless, it will be clear, that at the present moment Japanese labor cannot resist imperialism in any efficient way. Hence the more open and more direct way in which Japanese aggression is practiced.

European labor, it is true, did not prevent war, but at least there had been some resistance before the war started, there still is some resistance during the war, and there will be a growing resistance after the war will be over. The situation after the war most probably will not be favorable to the somewhat monopolistic position of craft labor unions with their tendency towards bureaucracy, and even towards imperialism. Financial capital, the only really successful conqueror in this bloody war, whatever maybe its issue, will force the overwhelming part of labor on one low and miserable level. If this does not mean the end of all, it will have to mean a more revolutionary fighting on a solid international base.

American labor has already some slight experience about the methods practiced by financial capital, and should at least take advantage of the experience. For the strengthening of the position of financial capital will be all over the world, in America as well as in Europe, in Japan as well as in the old capitalist world. And labor will have to intensify its struggle accordingly.