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Fourth International, July 1946


Review of the Month

Japan Today


From Fourth International, July 1946, Vol.7 No.7, pp.198-199.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


Radicalization Of Working Class

Japan today furnishes the most striking example of the process of radicalization which is taking place among the working class all over the world. No sooner had the last shot been fired in the imperialist war than the workers began reforming their trade unions and political parties which had been wiped out years before by the Japanese ruling class. Tremendous popular demonstrations were held. On May Day this year more than half a million workers demonstrated in Tokyo alone. In the country as a whole it was estimated that at least two million workers went out on the streets. International working class solidarity, and the advancement of radical demands, formed the keynote of the gigantic Tokyo demonstration.

Meanwhile, ever since the end of the war, large sections of the workers have translated their revolutionary sentiments into the ringing coin of action. They have established their own control in a large number of diverse industrial plants in order to enforce their demands for higher wages and better working conditions. The Japanese capitalists, like capitalists everywhere, refused wage increases on the ground that the economy could not bear such additional burdens. They sabotaged production in some factories, closed down others, in an attempt to force the workers into submission. The workers responded by seizing control of production. They marketed the finished products and from the proceeds paid their own wages, in some cases raising them by as much as 300 percent. Inflation has hit the standard of living of the workers ‘in Japan as it has everywhere else. Prominent among the demands of these workers is “A Minimum Wage Regulated by Living Costs” – in other words, a rising scale of wages to meet the rising cost of living. This slogan, combined with the seizure of productive control, is evidence of the keen revolutionary mood of Japan’s proletariat, one of the most oppressed and poverty-stricken in all the world. It is also remarkable testimony to the objective correctness of the Transitional Program of the Fourth International, in which the slogans of workers’ control of production and the rising scale of wages occupy a prominent place. It is doubtful if the Japanese workers, suppressed for so many years by a brutal military-police regime and cut off from all international contacts, have ever heard of the Transitional Program of the Fourth International. Yet here, in the very first stage of the renewed proletarian struggle, these very slogans are shouted from millions of throats and translated into life by direct action.

Still another remarkable manifestation of the leftward trend is the action of newspaper workers in establishing a large measure of control over the big capitalist metropolitan dailies and preventing them from printing-reactionary anti-labor material. This control operates through the Nippon Press and News Agency Employees Union, an industrial union which embraces all the workers, both technical and editorial, in the newspaper business. The three largest dailies, the Tokyo Asahi, the Osaka Mainichi and the Tokyo Yomiuri-Hochi have a combined circulation exceeding 7,000,000. All are held under workers’ control.

The militancy, the alertness, the self-confidence of Japan’s industrial proletariat, as compared, for example with the relative passivity of the German workers, cannot be explained solely on the basis of their terrible conditions of life, which are certainly no worse than those of the German workers. A most important factor is the remarkable survival of Japanese industry despite the terrible bombings to which the big cities were subjected. Martin Bennett, a consulting engineer of Washington, D.C., who recently visited Japan as a member of the Reparations Commission, declares that Japan still possesses the greatest productive capacity of any country in non-Soviet Asia and cites figures showing the enormous extent of undamaged industry, both heavy and light, and the generally excellent condition of Japan’s railroads. The remarkable state of industrial preservation, he makes clear, is “no reflection on the effectiveness of American bombing but rather a testimony to the enormous overdevelopment by which Japan prepared itself for war.” Here, then, is the difference between Japan and Germany: In Germany the physical destruction of industry has wrenched the bulk of the workers away from their economic base; in Japan there is a huge intact industrial machine needing only labor and raw material with which to produce the people’s needs and the Japanese workers want to operate it in – their own interests and those of the masses generally.

US Imperialists Alarmed

The great fighting spirit of the Japanese workers is the cause of fearful alarm among the Japanese capitalists – and their patrons and protectors, the American imperialists. It was, without doubt, the tempo of class struggle which caused MacArthur to schedule the general elections which were held last April 10. In the Fourth International for October 1945, in discussing American occupation policy in Japan, we pointed out that it was the purpose of the conquerors to carry through “a phony half-way revolution as a means of forestalling a thorough and fundamental renovation of Japanese society” by the masses. In the following issue, we detailed all the steps taken by MacArthur in this direction. The April 10 elections were intended as a political safety valve, part of the general plan to forestall revolution.

The election results were remarkable in many ways. Of the 36,000,000 registered voters (in a population of 67,000,000) some 70 percent went to the polls. Women voted for the first time in Japanese history and 38 women were elected to the Diet. Of the 466 members elected, the two conservative parties, the so-called Liberals and Progressives, captured 139 and 91 seats, respectively, the Social Democrats 92, the Cooperatives 16, the Communists (Stalinists) 5, independent candidates 84, and various minor parties 38. The new government has been formed of a conservative coalition.

How is one to explain the apparent rightward movement in the elections, which contradicts so sharply the revolutionary mood in the country? It may be said, in the first place, that MacArthur decided to hold the elections as an act of political diversion only because he felt assured that the conservatives would come out on top, winning at least sufficient seats to make a bourgeois coalition government possible. Why did he feel assured of the outcome?

For one thing, the Japanese masses have been kept out of the parliamentary arena for long years. With the bourgeois parties coming out under new and deceptive labels, disguising themselves as “Liberals” and “Progressives,” a certain amount of confusion and popular disorientation was inevitable. Then, since neither the Stalinists nor the Social Democrats came forward with a bold, consistent revolutionary program, there was no axis around which mass revolutionary sentiment could crystallize and make itself felt. A sign of the general confusion is to be seen in the fact that the Social Democrats, just as perfidious as the Stalinists in their class-collaborationist policies, were able substantially to increase their parliamentary representation. While the Stalinists made a poor showing, the Social Democrats gained 92 seats as compared to the 17 they held in the last freely-elected Diet.

People’s Frontism in Japan

The Japanese Communist Party emerged from prison and the underground with tremendous possibilities for growth. With a revolutionary class struggle policy it could have mobilized the millions of workers and peasants and become the leading political force in the nation. But while the workers were demonstrating against capitalism on the streets and establishing their own control over production, the Stalinist leaders skulked in secret conclaves. The axis of their policy was the formation of a “People’s Front” with the Social Democrats and left-wing independents – to preserve capitalism. The following devastating appraisal of the Stalinists was made by a Scripps-Howard staff writer in a dispatch from Tokyo on March 28, just prior to the elections:

Weakness of the Japanese Communists as a political force is more apparent as the April elections near. Less is heard of their aspirations, and conservatives who were once so fearful of Communist strength are beginning to ignore them. The Communist Party’s recent convention itself may have created the feeling that it need not be taken seriously this year. In the first place it disclosed that instead of the once estimated 100,000 adherents the party could claim less than 7,000 ... The Communist platform is full of generalities, offering nothing of immediate tangible benefit to the Japanese ... Sanzo Nozaka (CP leader) has shown in party councils and in relations with other groups a willingness to compromise and a tendency to moderation …. It has resulted in the alienation of many radical leaders.

Now that a conservative government is installed, albeit on a very unstable parliamentary base, MacArthur has taken the first step in cracking down on the revolutionary actions of the workers. An edict has been issued against “disorderly demonstrations” and “incitements to violence.” The cabinet quickly debated the enactment of new laws “specifically curbing what the Japanese call the ‘workers’ control of production.’” (NY Times, May 28). A new Ministry of Labor is to be set up.

The delicate Parliamentary balance in the Diet reflects the unstable relationship of social classes. The masses are seeking a radical solution of their problems. Fierce class battles are in the offing. But without a revolutionary party to lead the masses, the struggle cannot fructify. Such a party is the great need of the hour – the need of needs.

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