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Fourth International, November 1946


Review of the Month

The Class Struggle in Japan


From Fourth International, November 1946, Vol.7 No.11, pp.325-326.
Transcribed, edited & formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for ETOL.


The September General Strike

The class struggle in Japan, which broke through to the surface of social life with the military defeat of Japanese imperialism a little more than a year ago, acquired a new rhythm after the Diet elections which took place on April 10 of this year – a new rhythm and an accelerated tempo which reached their highest point in the political general strike of mid-September. This strike, remarkable both because of the huge number of workers involved and because of the radical goal which it set for itself, utterly confounded those who had seen in the April elections a swing of the Japanese masses toward “conservatism.”

On September 14, the Japanese Congress of Industrial organizations (CIO) ordered all its industrial affiliates to go out on strike and to stay out until “the reactionary government of Premier Yoshida collapses.” The strike call was issued to coal miners, steel and chemical workers, printers, machinery workers and others totalling more than half a million. Another half million workers on the government-owned railways had called a 24-hour strike. Seamen and dock workers to the number of about 100,000 had already struck. This grandiose strike movement expanded to include the most oppressed and exploited layer of the proletariat when the All-Japan Agricultural Union called out 330,000 unionized farm-hands.

During the thirteen months that had elapsed since the American imperialists took over control of Japan, some 3,000,000 workers had united in trade unions, and of these at least 1,000,000 were estimated to have gone on strike. As the stoppages became effective, the American occupation authorities apparently clamped down a censorship. Not a word about the progress of the strike appeared in the big daily press of this country. In aiming their massive blows directly at the Yoshida government, the Japanese workers were in reality aiming at the American imperialists who are the actual masters of Japan. Whatever illusions the Japanese workers entertained as to the alleged “democratic” purposes of the American occupation, they have shed them very quickly. The great strike wave began to rise only 12 days after MacArthur had issued an order prohibiting “strikes, walkouts or other work stoppages which are inimical to the objectives of the military occupation.”

The seamen set the wave in motion on September 10 when they tied up hundreds of ships to enforce a demand for a 100 per cent wage increase and to protest a government plan to dismiss 80 per cent of all seamen. The Seamen’s Union saw in this plan a “government effort to stunt the growth of the labor movement under the pretext of economic necessity.” The dock workers struck in support of the seamen, as did the Japanese crews of eight Liberty ships due to return to the United States. According to a September 17 Tokyo dispatch to the Christian Science Monitor, American crews aboard other Liberty ships in Yokohama sympathized with the Japanese strikers “and in some cases have shown a willingness to join the strike.”

Yoshida Government Backs Down

Japan’s 500,000 railway workers had threatened to walk off the job in answer to a government threat to dismiss 75,000 for “economy” reasons. This was the “solution” of the Yoshida government for a railway operating deficit of 27,000,000,000 yen. The Railwaymen’s Union charged that the government was concerned only with meeting interest payments on wartime bonds at the workers’ expense. The huge railway deficit, the union pointed out, was incurred by the Japanese government “for the purpose of waging war” and the workers refused to become fresh victims of imperialist greed. In face of the determined “No!” of the railwaymen, the Transport Ministry rescinded the dismissal order and the railways continued to operate under a “truce” agreement.

The CIO which had decided on a general strike in support of the seamen and railwaymen, went ahead with its strike plans, With keen class comprehension, the organized workers understood that what was involved was a government-capitalist onslaught on the whole working class which must be met by a united counter-offensive of labor. They knew that the puppet Yoshida Government, backed by MacArthur, is trying to restore economic stability and rescue bankrupt capitalism at their expense.

The strike of the farm laborers for wage increases and collective bargaining rights was equally significant. The agrarian problem, after a year of American occupation, is as acute as ever. The vast army of small peasants who are trying to eke out a living on minute plots of land; the sharecropping tenant farmers who must yield up the fruit of their toil to rich landowners: the rural proletarians who must subsist on starvation wages – all want a fundamental shake-up of the agrarian economy. The only solution to the land-hunger and misery of the rural population is the abolition of the big estates (including those of the Emperor, Japan’s richest landowner), expropriation of the rich peasants, an end to tenantry and sharecropping, the wiping out of the terrible burden of rural debt, the restoration of the land to those who work it. But the land reform program placed before the Diet by Yoshida, with MacArthur’s approval, scarcely touches the fringes of the problem. It envisages only the mildest reforms which will leave virtually intact the archaic land system which dates back to feudal times.

It is the simultaneity of class action by the urban proletariat and the rural poor which imparts a new rhythm to the unfolding revolutionary struggle. Here we see a gigantic combination of class forces on the move, needing only the leadership of a revolutionary party to knit them firmly together and project them along the road of revolutionary social change.

The April elections produced a capitalist coalition government of the Liberal and Progressive parties headed by Premier Yoshida. In a Diet of 466 members, this coalition holds 230 seats. Yoshida can continue in office only with the acquiescence of the smaller parties, including the Social Democrats and the Stalinists. The delicate parliamentary balance reflects, as we pointed out in our July issue, the unstable relationship of social classes. That is why we were able to predict that “fierce class battles are in the offing” at a time when the capitalist press in this country was gloating over what it believed to be a swing toward conservatism on the part of the Japanese masses.

MacArthur, at least, understands that Japanese capitalism lives over a social volcano. At the beginning of the occupation he was hopeful that a few superficial reforms, tossed like a bare bone to a starving dog, would serve to quiet social unrest and head off the movement toward revolution. That is why he stripped the Emperor of his “divinity” (leaving the monarchy as an institution intact) and permitted certain democratic liberties – a partial freedom of speech and press, the right of workers to organize and strike, relatively free parliamentary elections, etc., etc. Now it has become clear that mere reforms in the political superstructure which do not alter the old social-economic system of exploitation and oppression, serve to aggravate class antagonisms rather than mitigate them. That is why MacArthur retracted, or attempted to retract, the democratic rights granted in the first flush of “liberation.” That is why he prohibited strikes as a little earlier he had prohibited demonstrations. Here we see the true “democratic” face of American imperialism. The masses may enjoy the blessings of democracy only so long as they submit tamely to the robbery and the injustices of an outworn social system.

Need International Labor Solidarity

The Japanese masses are driven to seek revolutionary solutions by the very nature of their problems. Within the framework of the present order there are no solutions. Apart from their need for a revolutionary party to lead them in struggle, they need most urgently the help and solidarity of the international working class, above all the working class in America. American imperialism – the same gang of Wall Street cut-throats who are trying to smash the living standards of the workers in this country – stands like a huge road block in the path of the Japanese revolution. With this obstacle removed, virtually nothing would stand between the Japanese ruling class and its revolutionary Nemesis. That is why the American labor movement should raise the cry: “Withdraw the American army of occupation from Japan!”

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