From Fourth International, Vol. I No. 3, July 1940, pp. 70–72. 
Republished in Workers’ International News, Vol. 3 No. 8, August 1940, pp. 4–8.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The Japanese face a momentous decision in their imperialist looting of the Far East. Shall they begin their long-awaited expansion southwards or is the time not yet opportune? The notorious Tanaka memorandum to the Mikado set forth the innermost urges of Japanese capitalism and laid down a long-range plan of conquest. Manchuria was to be the first victim, to be seized, if necessary, even at the risk of war with Soviet Russia. In the course of this war, if it occurred, the Maritime Provinces of Siberia were to become the next prey. From Manchuria, Japan would then proceed at its leisure to swallow up all of China. But the ambitions of nationalist imperialism, of whatever country, are boundless. Hence after landing China in her net, Japan would then fish in the troubled waters of the South Pacific. Faithfully the militarists of Nippon have adhered to this plan. Their intention is clear. The “New Order” in Asia, the Monroe Doctrine of the Far East, means complete domination by Japan and the ousting of all rivals.
The present situation seems as if created by destiny for the fulfillment of Japanese aims. With the European imperialists bleeding each other to death, the coast is left clear for Japanese capitalism. The tremendous strain on her economic and human resources entailed by the invasion of China, did not deter Japan from seizing Hainan Island, which dominates the coast of Indo-China, with the obvious purpose of making ready to oust France at the earliest opportunity. England is engaged in a life and death struggle in which her entire empire is at stake. The English imperialists are completely helpless to counter any blow delivered against their interests by the Japanese in the Far East. So the latter have succeeded in all but taking Hongkong, which has been made more or less useless as a naval base by the disposition of Japanese forces around it. Now comes the seizure of Holland by Germany which leaves the most important equatorial country in the world, the largest insular empire, the Dutch East Indies, suspended, politically speaking, in mid-air. The temptation for the unappeasable appetites of the expansionists – on both sides of the Pacific – maybe gauged by a brief survey of these islands.
Dutch Borneo alone is as large as France and it is less than one-third the total area of the islands. Sumatra is larger than California. The eight million Dutch in Holland ruled over sixty-five million slaves in the East Indies, of whom forty million inhabit the Island of Java, perhaps the most densely populated country in the world. The economic importance of the East Indies has risen by leaps and bounds in the twentieth century. Besides their status in supplying sugar and rubber, these isles produce 95% of the world’s quinine, 50% of its tobacco,20% of its tin, 10% of its petroleum, 50% of the world’s coconut oil, 70% of its pepper, 60–70% of its sisal. Add to these products, rice, tea, coffee, iron, silver, gold, teakwood, ebony, sandalwood – and one begins to understand the stakes of imperialism in this one section of the Pacific area alone. The Dutch had over four billion florins invested in this portion of their empire and they squeezed each year half a billion florins of profit (at an average rate well over twenty percent) out of their Indonesian slaves. The Netherlands received a yearly tribute of some one hundred and fifty millions of dollars from the Dutch East Indies.
But the problem of these islands of the Malayan Archipelago is bound up with all the economic and strategic problems of the Pacific. Once the East Indies are in the hands of the Japanese, the innumerable islands that dot the South Pacific would pass under Japanese control one after the other. The Philippines, also part of the Malay Archipelago, would be flanked on both sides and could be taken at will. From the Dutch East Indies the way would be open for an assault on the entire British Empire in the East. The great naval base at Singapore lies at the eastern end of the long Strait of Malacca between the English Straits Settlement and the Dutch Sumatra. At Malacca and Sunda Strait (between Sumatra and Java) all the trade routes from East to West converge, the routes from India, from all of East Africa, from Australia, from the China Seas, Japan and Malaya. Here the English built Singapore to defend their colonial loot, including Hongkong, Malaya and, more distantly, Australia. In a world of capitalist robbery and exploitation, the fate of Singapore determines the fate of Malaya first of all. Acre for acre British Malaya is the richest English possession on the face of the globe. Its annual foreign trade is over one-half billion dollars. It produces half the world’s rubber, a third of its tin. Japan takes a million tons of iron ore a year from this possession. In all these islands of the Pacific and on the mainland of Asia, Japan seeks raw materials and also a vast market for cotton goods. No wonder the Japanese imperialists covet the Dutch East Indies! They would be a cornerstone for an empire in the South Pacific to include all of the Malay Archipelago, British Malaya – and at a later stage, Australia and India!
It was the first World War that set Japan on her path of empire in China. In 1913,just before that war broke out, Edward Grey bargained with Ambassador Kato for Japanese support in the coming struggle. The price demanded by Kato so alarmed Grey that he did his best to prevent Japan from entering the war at all. But in the end he was forced to give Japan a free hand in China. In the second World War Japan need no longer seek British support. On the contrary the Mikado is on the other side of the fence threatening to cut off vast slices of the French and British empires. In the period between the two wars, England prepared to defend her colonial loot by building tremendous naval bases at Colombo, Singapore and Hongkong. But these bases cannot be manned by the English fleet which is entirely occupied in the Atlantic. In the first World War, England paid a price for assigning to Japan the defense of her empire in the East. Since the break with Japan, England has had to seek new political alliances to try to find a new defender for her empire in the Pacific. Naturally she turned to the United States. The more Japan encroached on the mainland of Asia, elbowing aside all competitors, the closer England and the United States were driven on the world arena. Thus when Singapore base was formally opened in January 1938, the only other country invited to participate was the United States. Three American cruisers not only participated in the exercises but, following them, in joint maneuvers with the British forces in the Pacific under British command. Shortly afterwards it was stated openly in the House of Commons that in the event of war England would “lease” her bases in the East to the United States. This is one of the prices necessarily demanded by the United States for aid to the British Empire. It is the entire situation in the stormy Pacific that determines the major policies of American imperialism. For generations the United States had cast its eyes towards China and the East, preparing to lay the foundations of empire across the Pacific. Now, when more than ever before, the country with the greatest forces of production in the world seeks ore outlets, when these forces clamor for expanded markets and fields for investment, the American capitalists see themselves frustrated by Japan. Short of actual war, United States diplomacy has done everything possible to hinder and thwart the Japanese. In the most recent period loans and supplies have gone to Chiang Kai-shek to encourage his resistance to the Japanese war lords. The cancellation of the trade agreement was a clear threat of a complete embargo against any trade with Japan, So largely dependent is Japan on this country for her raw materials and for her markets, that such an embargo would tend to strangle Japanese economy. For that very reason it would result in the briefest time in open hostilities.
The preparations for the coming war in the Pacific have made of that ocean a tremendous battlefield. Feverishly the United States prepares defenses along the route over which it expects to transport men and supplies. The Pacific is now dotted with airplane bases, including Midway and Wake Islands on the direct route to Japan and to the Philippines. The myth of Philippine independence will be quickly dispelled the moment hostilities commence. The discussion over the fortification of Guam has to do not in the slightest with any opposition to the oncoming war, but with a difference in judgment as to whether Japan would permit its fortifying without at once acting to seize it as well as the Philippines, or as to whether once fortified, it could be defended from attack. The Panama Canal has vast strategic importance for war purposes. Hence the vast sums allocated to its defense. But since Panama cannot be safely used to passthrough battleships of forty-five thousand tons, shortly to become commonplace, preparations are under way for building a new and wider canal through Nicaragua.
But as was stated, the United States lacks the greatest essential of all to conduct war against Japan for the conquest of vast spoils. In the Far East she has no main bases without which a navy would be helpless. Because England needs United States help in Europe, as well as in Asia, Singapore, perhaps Hongkong, may go to the United States. For that very reason Japan would like to seize these bases before they can fall into the hands of America. The temptation for her to swallow the Dutch East Indies is therefore all the greater. Fearful that Japan would act in Blitzkrieg fashion with respect to this rich plum, Roosevelt Dispatched the entire fleet post-haste to Hawaii, and perhaps also to Guam, to act as a Pacific Maginot Line against any Japanese fleet movement. It seems fairly certain that war will result in this fundamental imperialist clash of interests if either fleet moves towards seizure of the Dutch eastern empire. Perhaps the only declaration of war will have been Hull’s warning to Japan to keep hands off.
The United States has made little pretense of being neutral in the second imperialist World War. Her imperialist stakes in the Pacific bring her temporarily together with England on the world arena. For that reason Germany, anxious lest America enter the European struggle quickly and weigh the scales in favor of the Allies, encourages Japan to take the Dutch East Indies. That would keep America too busy to exert a preponderant influence in Europe. Hitler has also attempted to act as the broker between Russia and Japan. Stalin would not mind seeing Japan involved in war with the United States since Japan could not then attack Siberia. It is an interesting speculation whether Stalin would not try to play the same role in a war of the Pacific that he played in Europe; namely, giving Japan assurance of benevolent neutrality. Certainly without such assurance the Japanese militarists would hesitate to become involved in war with the United States. The war in China has tended also to exhaust Japan economically. It is doubtful therefore whether the Mikado’s generals would dare to take the risk of immediate war by trying to annex the Dutch East Indies, considering that the United States will probably not now take the initiative for such annexation herself. The situation may thus develop a temporary “stalemate” as on the Western Front before the “real” war opened.
What then of the Dutch East Indies? There is one factor that the imperialists do not take into account: the natives of the Indies. A strong many-millioned nationalist movement exists in the Dutch colonies. Just after the first World War this movement was not only proletarian in composition, but it was in close alliance with the communist movement. A communist party was organized in Java in 1919, before that of the United States. In January of 1927 there occurred an uprising under the leadership of the Red Proletarian League. The revolt was put down with bloody suppression and several hundred leaders were deported to the wilderness in New Guinea. Since then the nationalist movement has taken the road of reformism. It is, however, closely in touch with the Hindu nationalist movement, sending delegates to the Hindu Congress. It was closely in touch with the Chinese nationalist movement in the revolutionary phase of its development. The first World War saw the tremendous growth of the East Indian nationalist movement. The second World War will have a similar influence, particularly in view of the threat made by both Japan and America to establish domination over these colonies in place of the Dutch. It is to be expected that the compact population of Java (with as many people as England or France) with a proletariat, fearfully exploited, organized into trade unions of considerable power, and with a nationalist movement one wing of which demands complete independence, will not remain quiescent under new threats of enslavement. A movement towards independence, for throwing off the imperialist yoke, in any section of the Far East, will have profound repercussions everywhere else in the colonies. This is the factor that the imperialists will have to take into account before their war for spoils is over. The imperialists who hope to profit in the break-up of English, French, Dutch empires, will have first of all to prolong their war into one of suppression of vast colonial revolts. This will be no easy task, particularly if the working class movement at home revives in one or more of the great capitalist countries in Europe, or in the United States. A revolt in the colonies would aid in bringing such a revival, particularly in the defeated imperialist countries.
1. Jack Weber was a pseudonym used by Louis Jacobs in the United States.
Last updated on 26 February 2016