Introduction to the History of Japanese Labor

S. J. Rutgers

Published: International Socialist Review, vol. 18, no. 1. July 1917. Pages 37-38.
Transcription/Markup: Micah Muer, 2021.

We consider it a great privilege to be able to publish a history of the Labor Movement in Japan, written by the man whose life, more than that of any other, has been interwoven with, and forms part of, the history of Japanese Socialism. Before giving the facts as presented by Katayama, our readers no doubt will be interested to know something about the author.

Dr. Sen Katayama was born on December 7, 1858, on a farm and engaged in farm work until 1875, when he began to study at home, with only short periods of school education. In 1882 he went to Tokio to work in a printing house ten hours a day at 70 cents per day, making it $2.50 per month by overtime. Afterwards he worked as a janitor in a Chinese university in order to be nearer the Chinese classics.

Thirst for knowledge drove Katayama, in 1884, to the United States, where he landed with less than a dollar, and worked at all kinds of jobs. Once he understood a little English, he continued his studies in a Chinese mission in Alameda, entered Johns Hopkins Academy, Oakland, and a year later went to Maryville College, Tewalski. In 1889 he entered Grinnell College and graduated in 1892. After that he spent about two years at Andover and one at Yale University, to study social problems, which he found a most fascinating study at that time. Unnecessary to say that Katayama had to work all that time for a living in most differing branches of activity, finding that of cooking the most profitable employment.

Having saved two hundred dollars, he went to England in 1894 to study social problems and returned to Boston after three months, with five dollars in his pockets.

In 1891, studying socialism, he got hold of Lassalle and was inspired by the life of the man to devote his own life to socialism. His later activities in Japan, and especially his preference for organization rather than for theoretical discussions, harmonize with his sympathy with the active part Lassalle took in organizing the German workers.

Returning to Japan in 1896, he at once started to take an active part in the labor movement and his life becomes part of that movement as described in the following articles.

In 1903 he left Japan again to attend the International Socialist Congress in Amsterdam in 1904, and the National Socialist Party Convention in Chicago. Some of the American comrades will remember his addressing the Socialist picnic in Milwaukee in 1904. And many of us remember the historic handshaking of Katayama and Plechanov in Amsterdam as a demonstration against the Russian-Japanese war.

In 1906 Katayama went again to Japan and organized for the second time a Socialist party, but soon returned to the United States for a short visit. Back in Japan he found the party more influenced by intellectuals and more vigorously persecuted by the authorities, chiefly as a result of the strong anti-war stand of the party during the Russian-Japanese war. Katayama was put in prison as a result of a big strike in Tokyo, and nine months' cell life, with hard labor, greatly impaired his health. After being released he was persecuted and was constantly under police supervision. Detectives lived on both sides of his house and followed him wherever he went. Visiting a friend meant to place the friend under suspicion. His literary activities were interfered with and he was prevented from earning a living by writing and still more from engaging in any activity for the cause of labor.

This drove Katayama again to the United States in an effort to organize the Japanese in California. But here the detectives did not lose sight of him and the Japanese consul, who is very powerful among the Japanese because they need his help in all kinds of red tape, made his life not only unpleasant, but his work for organization impossible. Japanese who came in touch with Katayama were classed as suspects and those who lived in the same house were told to leave. The example of another Japanese who was simply kidnapped on a Japanese steamer and transported to a Japanese jail where he was released after eighteen months, made Katayama's friends fear that some day or other he might disappear as mysteriously.

The Day Laborers' Union, helped by Katayama, as one of its officers, was forced to denounce him. Not obeying the consul in this would mean interference in the life of the members by all kinds of formalities, and the practical impossibility of getting permission to marry a woman from Japan.

Katayama finally decided to go to New York, where he expected to be able to do some work of organization among Japanese and to continue more efficiently the publication of his monthly, already started in San Francisco, "The Heimin," written in English and Japanese. The Japanese in New York are of a class that is very hard to organize into unions and the work of Katayama even in New York was interfered with. In spite of all, he continued the publication of his paper, wholly dependent upon his own labor and a few subscriptions of fifty cents per year.

Katayama is now 58 years of age, but his spirit is young and his ideals unbroken. He has already conceived a plan for future activity among the Japanese in China in order to bring better understanding between Chinese and Japanese workers in a united effort to counteract the imperialistic schemes of the Japanese bureaucracy and money interests.

This interference, with any form of labor movement that had developed out of its own conditions, is organized in Japan very efficiently under the auspices of the Imperial government and a delegate of this organized movement to suppress labor unions has been sent to this country, welcomed and honored by Gompers and his A. F. of L. This being one of the most shameful episodes of the international relations of American labor, it is good to re-member the fact.

A certain Mr. Swanki, secretary of the millionaire banker, industrial king, Baron Shibusawa, was sent to the United States as representative of the Yu-di-Kai, with plenty of money of Japanese capitalists and the support of the Japanese government. The Yu-di-Kai in Japan is no labor organization but an organization of capitalists, professors and officers of the government. Its only purpose is to publish a paper to deceive the workers and break down real unions. Anybody subscribing to the paper is considered a member, and the most brutal Japanese capitalists encourage their workers to subscribe, admitting only this paper in their workshops. Even policemen are invited to subscribe.

The delegate of this imperial institution recently came to the United States, made same socialistic-sounding speeches, helped to crush whatever beginning of real unions was developing in California, and boldly came before the convention of the A. F. of L. to deceive the American workers, with Gompers assisting. The New York Call, which published a first warning by Katayama a year ago, now refused to expose Susuki, evidently because the A. F. of L. had already gone too far in its endorsement, and any crime was considered good enough to save the countenance of the A. F. of L. Gompers and Scharenberg solemnly accepted invitations to go to Japan to "teach" the Japanese workers how to organize.

From the History of the Japanese Labor Movement here presented it may be learned whether Japanese workers need the teachings of Mr. Gompers.

They certainly have shown by their deeds that they are willing and able to organize, provided only that the iron heel, of which Mr. Susuki is a tool, be shaken off their necks. The workers from Japan will complete this job in blood and pain and they will do it by their own efforts, inspired by their own martyrs, their own history. But it may have become more difficult to convince them to stand for international solidarity since the American workers, thru ignorance and the treason of their leaders, have supported the schemes of the Japanese exploiters.