Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Fourth International, May-June 1952


V. Grey

Wall Street’s Dilemma in Japan


From Fourth International, Vol.13 No.3, May-June 1952, pp.83-89.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The allies and enemies of the last war have changed places with the usual air of cynicism, and with considerably more than usual degree of rapidity. Underneath these dazzling changes, which make heroes out of villains – and vice versa – the main, the preponderant influence, is not the mutual interchange of strength among the imperialists themselves, so much as the absolute and relative weakening of imperialism as a whole before the revolutionary movements of the world. This proposition acquires a special emphasis in the relations between the United States and its former arch-enemy and “stab-in-the-back” antagonist, Japan.

The real purpose of the Japanese-American rapprochement is becoming obvious enough to the careful reader of ihe daily capitalist press. The helter-skelter search of the Wall Street brass for allies and bases is dutifully reported in the newspapers. And Japan, from this point of view, is just one of a series of military bastions of US imperialism. The Japanese “Peace” Treaty, as everyone at San Francisco last fall all too clearly understood, was in reality a war alliance between the United States and Japan.

However, the laws of contradiction apply to this treaty in another respect too. Not only is it not for peace: it is also not quite a treaty. That is to say, this new alliance is already coming apart at the seams. The Japanese bourgeoisie, who one might think, should be the most obliging and subservient to Wall Street, are strongly opposed to a large part of the perspective laid down for them. The only thing they found attractive about the treaty was that it gave them limited sovereignty – i.e. allowed them to set up shop again.

On the other hand, a strong alliance is of paramount importance to Wall Street. The short-range calculations of Japanese business men, even a large section of them, must not be allowed to conflict with the long-range plans and interests of the new, self-constituted center of world capitalism. Japan is far more important to these interests than as a mere military base. If Japan were to play the role of a more or less independent neutral, trading with the continent of Asia, Japanese capital and Chinese independence would grow at the expense of Wall Street. And if Japan’s economy were too restricted and throttled, and the Japanese workers were to overthrow capitalist tyranny, the whole of Asia would have to be written off by imperialism.

If this is a correct statement of the case, then a rationalist might say, with impeccable logic:

“Why not give concessions to the Japanese workers, thus taking the sharp edge off the social conflict, while at the same time reinforcing the purges of the economic rulers, and ‘priming the pump’ to make a more cooperative and beneficial economy?”

The Reactionaries Return

But Wall Street, like the Church of England, can allow 38 of its 39 articles of faith – or logic, as the case may be – to be attacked with democratic impunity, but cannot allow one thirty-ninth of its property to be endangered. The logic of events and class interests has already determined the answer to the question before our courageous liberals have posed it. The US State Department is already collaborating with the Japanese rulers in the most savage repressions of the masses. It is re-installing the most vicious reactionaries and all-powerful bureaucrats into high office.

As early as February 1951 John Foster Dulles, while laying the groundwork for the “peace” pact, demonstratively visited with Ichiro Hatoyama and Tanzan Ishabashi. These two gentlemen were supposedly out of public life, having been purged by the Japanese ruling circles themselves, as much in response to the indignant protests of the masses as to the suggestion of the Occupation authorities.

Hatoyama had been purged from his high office, and membership in the Liberal Party, but was still a good friend and supporter of that party’s president, Yoshida. In his time, he was also an enthusiastic supporter of – Hitler.

Ishabashi was the Minister of Finance at the end of the war. He so manipulated Japanese currency between the surrender and the arrival of the American troops (a two-week period conveniently allowed by the conqueror) that the monopolist Zaibatsu recouped most of their fallen fortunes, and the poor masses paid for this in an artificially intensified inflation. (Ishabashi was de-purged about ten weeks after Dulles’ visit, not at the initiative of the Japanese, but at the express order of Ridgway’s office.)

The significance of Dulles’ visit was not lost on the Japanese workers, who momentarily experienced a wave of despair. Nor was it lost on the Japanese monopolists, who proceeded with gatherin steam to de-purge many of their military friends. The Japanese war rulers have been steadily returning to power. On March 2nd of this year, the Japanese Government de-purged none other than Saburo Kurusu, the special envoy who was in Washington discussing peace during the Pearl Harbor attack – without any noticeable disapproval in the Capital from those who once had hurled the country into war to avenge “the sneak attack.”

The American State Department actually became convinced in 1948 that there could be no alliance with a liberal Japan. They became convinced that the popular good will toward the United States was relatively unimportant for the new power considerations, Japanese capitalist society being what it was, divided between the overweening rich and the desperately poor. The ulcerous condition of this capitalism had been more or less understood in the period 1945-48 as well, of course. But the earlier gestures of liberalism – even by MacArthur – were conditioned wholly by the Wall Street power politics of that time.

In the interests of American hegemony in the Pacific, in the interests of the contemplated American business hegemony over apparently prostrate China, it was necessary to strip Japan of its war-making power. The American experts correctly understood that Japan’s war-drive emanated from its monopoly capitalist rulers, and was personified in its totalitarian military government. Therefore both of these had to be removed in the interests of the victor. How monopoly capitalists can be destroyed without destroying capitalism itself, was not discussed. But the so-called reform program was nonetheless carried out more energetically than an American radical, acquainted with the reactionary Mac-Arthur, might have predicted.

Although the purge of the top military figures must have gone against the grain of MacArthur and his whole military staff, this purge was extremely widespread, and more than mildly effective. True, most of the many thousands of purged upper officers merely whiled away their time on country estates, while the millions of rank-and-file veterans who had been dragooned into the army, many of them now cripples, most of them unemployed, were reduced to public beggary. But the military’s active role in public life was stopped.

The restrictions on monopolies and cartels were somewhat more ludicrous, but they had at least the effect of causing the monopolists themselves to lie low, and do their best from behind the scenes. This gave a measure of freedom to the bourgeois-democratic forces, more, as a matter of fact, than the Occupation had bargained for. Nearly all classes in Japan had such a hunger for freedom, and such an economic need for it, that they were quick to wedge open even the narrowest crack in the totalitarian wall.

Not only was the Diet reconstituted, with some actual power, as opposed to the formerly all-powerful cabinets, but labor unions became legalized, and mushroomed into enormous membership and activity. Suffrage was universalized for the first time – to include not only younger men, but women as well. Land reforms were started. Freedom of speech and criticism was restored. Radical parties were legalized, in a sense for the first time. Douglas MacArthur, butcher of the bonus marchers of 1932, signed the order for the release of the Communist Party members from prison. As a matter of fact, the amazing popularity of Mac-Arthur in the early days of the Occupation, was in large part due to the fact that the workers, peasants, and middle class regarded him as their champion against the old rulers.

China Enters the Picture

Even without any change in the international situation a break was bound to occur between the democracy preached by MacArthur, and the democracy practiced by the Japanese masses. This came in the spring of 1947 with the threatened strike of hundreds of thousands of government and railroad workers. MacArthur, with an order backed by the large occupying army against a disarmed people, prevented, and broke, this strike. It was not until at least the end of 1947, however, nearly a year after the Truman Doctrine was announced, that Wall Street’s policy makers began to realize that the Far East was subject to the same laws of social development they had perceived in Europe the year before.

It was bad enough that their own brand of capitalist liberalism in Japan was being misunderstood by 1he workers. It was bad enough that these workers were joining the newly constituted radical parties, and striking forcibly in unions that somehow took their new rights too seriously. All this was bad enough. But now, hardly an hour’s flight to the west, the Soviet Union, even under the usually accommodating Stalin, was organizing the economy of Manchuria and North Korea. The civil war in China was taking an alarming turn. It was becoming clear that American capitalism, from a defensive, as well as from an offensive, point of view, must inevitably apply the Truman Doctrine to the Far East.

The whole Pacific war had been fought over who was to exploit China. Now China was threatening to remove herself from the grasp of any imperialist exploitation. Mow clearly this was understood at the time, is a question, considering the debate in the State Department then, over the character of the Chinese Stalinists – ”agrarian revolutionaries – or tools of the Soviet Union.” If the former, they would presumably set up a bourgeois-democratic regime, trade with the US, and inevitably come under the influence of Wall Street. But “Mr. X,” George Kennan of the State Department, had already generalized the problem and sufficiently crystallized the policy, with his plans for “containment.” This policy was tactically directed first against the Kremlin, but strategically it was meant to uphold the imperialist status quo of the whole world from all revolutionary assaults.

The imperialists are seldom guilty of feather-headedness or wish-thinking in world politics – for long. (How brutally they have rejected Owen Lattimore! and in so doing, rejected his thesis of a development of laissez faire capitalism in Asia.) They are unacquainted with the laws of the permanent revolution, but they very soon responded in their own way to the situation in Asia.

The Bismarckian Thinkers

Japan therefore had to be viewed, not as a defeated enemy imperialism, but as a potential ally of American imperialism. On August 20, 1951, the N.Y. Times, in an effort to sell the coming Japanese “Peace” Treaty, coldly explained some of the facts of life regarding capitalist power politics, in their leading editorial:

“The Far East can be considered as a triangle formed by Japan, China and Asiatic Russia. When these powers are relatively equal in strength in the Far East, there is peace ... It is our role in the coming years to do in the Far East what England did in Europe during the three centuries and more between the defeat of the Spanish Armada and the wars of this century ...

“From another point of view it could be said that we are setting up Japan as a counterweight to Communist China. Thus, as Russia is today throwing her weight into the balance on the side of Communist China, so we are throwing ours onto the Japanese side.”

The first paragraph contains the word “peace.” But it would take an extremely careless reader to assume that there might be three hundred years of it. On the contrary, the whole history of England’s “balance-of-power” politics was one of intrigue, bloodshed, and war after war, some

of the wars lasting for decades. The second paragraph hits the mark a little closer. The new Japanese-American relationship is to be a war alliance against the alliance of the Soviet Union and China. There is no “balance” here, but a front to front antagonism ... and “we” are “setting up Japan.”

Needless to say, the Bismarckian wisdom of the N.Y. Times is not here directed toward the State Department, but toward middle and upper class laymen in politics. The State Department and the most responsible capitalist politicians have been aware of this problem in the Far East at least since 1853 when Perry opened the closed ports of Japan with his gunboats. And more especially since Theodore Roosevelt invited both Russia and Japan to Portsmouth, N.H. in 1905 and covertly dictated the treaty which ended the Russo-Japanese War.

The first 50 years of American relations with Japan were characterized by a struggle between England and the US for influence over a more or less helpless semi-colonial people. Imperial Russia, which had been pushing toward the Pacific for over a century, could not, as a land power, be so aggressive as the imperial England or the dollar-minded US who were both naval powers. By the time Russia was able to get into the act, Japan itself had emerged from its subordinate status and amazed the world by its showing against the troops and ships of the Czar. For many years thereafter, it was a corner of the so-called “power-triangle” in the Pacific.

The Balance Altered

But no balance can last forever. The very essence of a balance is a combination of imbalances, one of which must sooner or later overcome the other. Japan’s growing industrial might demanded first raw materials, and next the control of the source of those raw materials. A production of commodities for sale growing up overnight, as it were, without producing any internal market to buy those commodities, demanded, sooner than in all other capitalist countries, markets abroad. And given the very finite limits of the world market, demanded the control of at least some of these markets. Capitalist Japan had to expand or die. It could only expand at the expense of China. And translating this truism into imperialist politics: also at the expense of those countries with interests in China, i.e., the Western world, including Russia.

The first concrete evidence of Western alarm at Japan’s growing strength was shown at the Washington Conference of 1923. Here the big powers made the famous 5-5-3 stipulation which limited Japan’s navy to three-fifths of that of England or the United States. This treaty validated a new relation of forces. But even while the new relationship was developing, finally to explode at Pearl Harbor, and again at Hiroshima, a still more fundamental change in the relationship of forces was emerging, of which the Korean war is the result rather than the cause.

The victory of the Russian Revolution in 1917 had already changed the balance of power in the Far East to an extent that wasn’t clearly recognized in the US for many years. Soviet Russia was not even invited to the Washington Conference of 1923 (which was to deal with problems of the Far East) where Czarist Russia would certainly have been. Even at that late date the imperialists were not convinced the Soviet revolutionary victory was definitive – and still calculated on an early overthrow. But in spite of its weakness as a world power, the USSR’s enormous attraction as a revolutionary force exerted a great pull on the colonial peoples of the time.

This helped lay the basis for many strategic and revolutionary developments of today. At the same time, however, the revolution removed the Czarist threat of expansion into Manchuria, Korea and China, at a time when the nationalist movements in those countries were still relatively weak. This “unbalancing” of the Far East was further reinforced by the victory of Stalin in the Soviet Union which brought with it the defeat of the Chinese workers and peasants in the mid Twenties.

This “power vaccum,” as they call it nowadays, whetted imperialist Japan’s appetite all the more for China. But it was only after Chiang Kai-shek had defeated and apparently exhausted the revolution of 1925-27 that the Japanese dared to move. The Tanaka Memorial (see FI, June 1941), outlining the subsequent plan of empire was submitted to the Emperor precisely in 1927. Manchuria was conquered in 1931; China was invaded six years later.

The US, which had helped to build Japan as a buffer against Czarist Russia, so as to facilitate the “Open Door” policy in China, now found Japan closing the door on all the other imperialists, especially the US itself. The same development which opened up the possible conquest of China to Japan, thus led to the US turning against Japan, thus dictated the alliance between the US and China, and to a large extent, the alliance between the US and the Soviet Union. Indispensable premises of these alliances were a static Soviet Union and a dependent China.

But by the end of World War II, history was rapidly picking up the threads she had dropped in 1917. Not only were the great Asian masses on the march, but the relationship of the powers was changing more drastically than the warmakers had foreseen. The nearer Japan came to defeat in the war, the closer Wall Street’s frontiers approached the Soviet’s. The atomic bomb was far more of a warning to the Soviet Union than a death blow to imperial Japan.

With Japan, the former buffer, temporarily reduced to a zero, the United States and the Soviet Union stood face to face. And the Soviet Union was unexpectedly strong. China, which might have been a new buffer between the two remaining giants, was taking an entirely different road. Wall Street tried frantically, not to keep a balance, but to weight the balance in its own favor, by eleventh-hour efforts to control China. The cataclysmic failure of this attempt was only fully revealed, and the real recriminations begun, after Korea revealed the changed positions on the power map and in the class struggle. These changed positions, even in a less tension-ridden world, would have created their own tensions; even without the “Cold War,” would have dictated a new policy toward Japan.

The State Department does not dream, however, as the N.Y. Times seems to imply, that there will be a new constitution of the “triangle” in the Far East, which the US can manipulate from afar. The old theory of the triangle power balance – Asiatic Russia, China, Japan – assumed an, independent Japan, and an exploited, but more or less un-allied China. Now Japan must be built up and armed by the United States with a concentration of US troops still in that country, and a possibly greater concentration of them in near-by Okinawa. China, far from being un-allied, is less likely than ever to break its ties with the Soviet Union.

It is significant that all bourgeois press speculation on a Chinese Tito ceased after the Japanese “Peace” Treaty. And well it might. If the Chinese-Soviet alliance alarmed Wall Street, then the Japanese-American alliance has provided the firmest binding cement for the two countries against whom it is primarily directed.

When Dulles spoke to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee on January 22 to urge ratification of the “peace” treaty, he said among many similar comments:

“Never before in our history have we adopted a defeatist attitude toward despotism (clearly meaning the government of new China – V.G.) and I see no reason why we should, do so now. We must adopt a positive policy, and get away from the idea that the overrunning of China is the final, last word.”

The “positive policy,” of” course, here refers to the Japanese “Peace” Treaty. This statement of the chief architect o| that treaty makes it as clear as noonday that the peace treaty with Japan is an instrument of war against China. This point is at least equally clear to China, which suffered the most and the longest in the war against Japan and was not even invited to the “peace” conference. And in disposing of Japan’s former colonies, the treaty does not even mention Formosa, the present drill-ground ef the Chinese counter-revolution with its more than six hundred highly specialized American drill masters. Small wonder that the Chinese and Korean leaders distrust a truce with the same rulers who dictated the Japanese “Peace” Treaty! And small wonder that they feel they need the USSR’s assistance fully as much as the Soviet Union needs theirs!

Let us make it quite clear, and say again, that it is not Japan who is now so anxious to invade China and take on the revolutionary movement there. Those are the snows of yesteryear to this year’s scrambling Japanese financiers. The initiative comes from Wall Street from both wings of the capitalists; from Acheson-Truman, as well as from Taft-MacArthur.

But this unanimity of American capitalists strikes but a muffled responsive chord in the breast of the pragmatic Japanese capitalist. It is pretty well understood by now that there is going to be a great international showdown in the near future. And it is also understood that the capitalist countries will line up behind the United States. But each capitalist country has its own fish to fry as well. Each has its own contradictions, its own problems. These considerations may not be strong enough, nor the inter-imperialist tensions sharp enough, to cause any of them to line up on the other side. But they considerably alter the idyllic picture Wall Street is trying to draw. They slow down Wall Street’s high-powered war chariot, and may even give it serious motor trouble in the middle of the conflict. This is especially true of Japan.

Treaty Without Trade

Shigeru Yoshida, the main spokesman for the treaty in Japan, is presently enjoying the lowest degree of an already low popularity for so prominent a capitalist statesman. Newspapers, business, manufacturing and middle-class interests are all pouncing on him for promising too much to Wall Street in his eagerness to ratify the treaty. Why so? It is not the actual provisions of the treaty, primarily, that the Japanese bourgeoisie object to. It is the implied condition that they must end their trade with China. And Yoshida apparently agrees with the US on this point.

This question was somewhat muted last fall in the noisy hurrahs for the “beneficent,” the “non-vindictive” treaty. But it is coming into the open now. Money, like murder, will out, it appears. And Japanese business does not stand to make much money if it is denied trade with China. The American Senate, faithfully reflecting (if not embodying, in its millionaire personnel) the position of Wall Street, refused to ratify the treaty without assurances that Japan would boycott and embargo trade with China.

Yoshida took it upon himself to give this assurance, by writing Dulles on December 24, 1951, that the Chinese-Soviet alliance was “virtually a military alliance aimed against Japan. In view of this (and other) considerations I can assure you that the Japanese government has no intention to conclude a bilateral treaty with the Communist regime of China.”

But Takeo Mikki, leader of the Conservative Democratic Party (not much more conservative than Yoshida’s reactionary Liberal Party) accused Yoshida of being “secretive and dogmatic” (N.Y. Times, Jan. 12), in making arrangements with foreign powers on his own initiative. And the bourgeois Kyodo News Agency said that Yoshida’s gratuitous concession “prejudiced major interests of the Japanese nation.” “The inability to trade with Red China,” this agency truthfully declared, “is a definite obstacle to the rehabilitation of the national economy.”

Wall Street has indicated that Japan can make up for the lost trade with China by cultivating Southeast Asia and Indonesia. But this involves a keen competition with British trade, a rivalry which neither Britain nor Japan views with great relish. Britain has already conceded too much, in the opinion of British shipbuilding interests, by allowing the re-establishment of Japan’s shipyards. These yards, though considerably smaller than Britain’s, are the third largest in the world and are taking many foreign ship orders away from Britain. Japan is already endangering the British textile trade in India. British textile merchants are more than willing that Japan should trade with China instead of India. And they consequently have the same curses for Churchill’s secret deals with Truman on the Far East, as their Japanese cousins have for Yoshida.

It is only because the world situation is so tense, because politics today supersedes the economics on which it is finally based, that Yoshida, like Churchill, gets away with his commitments to the “enemy.” But the opportunists in the Kremlin are not so unrealistic when they woo the Japanese bourgeoisie with the possibilities of Asiatic trade. And the extremely pragmatic capitalists of Japan, are somewhat more inclined to the theory of “co-existence” than their intransigent American mentors, particularly since it is the only profitable – and safe – perspective they can see for the immediate future.

One-fourth of all Japan’s pre-war trade was with China alone. Sixty-six percent of her exports in the year 1947 were to Asiatic countries. (MacArthur himself was compelled to wink at the Chinese trade even after China had entered the Korean War.) And some of the most important strategic materials for industry come from China. Japan is lacking in iron ore and coking coal, the very guts of modern industry. For many years these have come from Manchuria. If Japan is to fully revive industrially, it must deal with Asia, on one basis or another.

Japan and the West

It should be remembered that Japan’s “Asia for the Asiatics” slogan was only partially demagogy. Ousting the Western imperialists was a prime necessity – if only because they were rivals who restrained Japan’s advancement by their own exclusive exploitation of the Orient. In a sense, economically speaking, the ouster of the Western Powers was more important to Japan than the subjugation of the people.

This ouster, combined with the subjugation, would have given the Japanese imperialists limitless vistas in Asia. Neither of these goals was achieved. But the very attempt of conquest, with all its attendant “disorder,” the opposition movements encouraged by Japan against the West, and by the West against Japan, the pre-occupation of the imperialist overlords themselves with other battles, all combined in their own way to aid the basic colonial drive for freedom. The colonies began to oust Western imperialism on their own. Thus an important half of Japan’s imperialist program was realized, in spite of Japan – and in a revolutionary way!

The present Eastern situation gives defeated Japan more than a ray of hope. China has not changed from a potential preserve of Japanse business to a preserve of American business, as both Japanese and American ruling classes had expected at the end of the war. On the contrary, China itself has leaped into independence. And the victorious US has been cheated of the prize of victory (China) more drastically than even Japan was cheated by the United States and other powers, of its victory over China in 1894.

China, like the other former colonies, wants an industrial development which the Chinese themselves will control. But even political independence and national freedom do not add up to economic self-sufficiency. More than ever, China will require assistance from more developed industrial nations. Japan could be on the ground floor of a big boom in trading industrial goods for soy beans, Manchurian coal and ore, and other strategic raw materials.

The class nature of the coming war must line up capitalist Japan on the side of capitalist Wall Street. But in the meantime Japanese capitalism must show a profit. While it must stand or fall with world capitalism, it is not in a position to see this as clearly as the US wishes, and in any case is not at all averse to making a few dollars out of somebody else’s fall.

True, there have been a series of reports since Christmas (since the time of Yoshida’s letter to Dulles) about Japan’s “shunning Communist China” and desiring cooperation with Chiang Kai-shek. But these reports emanate as much from the Dai Ichi (formerly Ridgway’s headquarters) as from the Diet. And now that Japan has actually begun negotiations with Formosa, it appears that the vocal criticism is more or less stilled, and the die is cast.

Whose interests are being served, however? The British Foreign Office stated on January 16 that “no pressure should be put on the Japanese, and they should be left free to decide their future relations with China according to their own best interests and in full sovereignty.” Since British capitalism is desirous of Japan’s dealing with China rather than poaching on what Britain considers its own preserves, the British suspicion of the nature of the pressure and the source of the pressure is clear.

The centrifugal tendency of Japanese capitalism away from the Wall Street center, generates more positive action by Wall Street, possibly a faster, certainly a more determined, drive for war. It pushes them toward Chiang Kai-shek, toward an even more unpopular war than before.

The Japanese ruling class resists? Well, there is more than one way of skinning a cat, says Wall Street! If the immediate business interests of Japan are not in harmony with ours, the Zaibatsu may be addressed in other language than that of the dollar, and “the worse may prove the better cause.” Such a line may not prove as viable as a more perfect harmony of economic interest, and it may prove less palatable to Japanese and American liberals. (The Americans have long since shut their mouths.) But it will serve ...

Zaibatsu Gets Its Way

Immediately after Dulles left Japan last spring, Yoshida’s party asked the Zaibatsu what changes they desired in the Occupation’s policy (as if they didn’t know!). These arch-monopolist war leaders answered coolly: “An end to the purge, repeal of labor standard laws, abolition of anti-monopoly and fair trade legislation, and revision of the land reform laws.” (Robert Martin, writing for the Overseas News Agency.) In a word, a return to the unchallenged rule of the feudal-capitalist-imperialist coalition – a return to the most savage repression known to capitalist nations.

It is not enough that the Liberal Party is backed by the Mitsuis and the Conservative by the Mitsubishis. These rulers do not want any political parties at all. And from the point of view of maintaining Japanese capitalism they are quite right. But the Occupation, in giving them their way, not only buttresses the tottering economic system of Japan, but directs its energies as much as possible, in the direction of war. That is why just two months after the above news was released, no less than a hundred and fifty thousand of the old military bureaucracy were taken off the purge list (three-quarters of the total).

Wall Street intends to overcome, in this simple way, the constant stream of opposition issuing from the limited democracy embodied in the present Diet. They intend to overcome the voluble opposition of the more or less representative and extremely vociferous newspapers of Japan. These phenomena, like labor unions, Wall Street figures will soon be things of the past.

But Wall Street, whose very best experts misjudged the situation in China, and are now reversing themselves in Japan, will not find the iron hand so much more suitable than the velvet glove. Last November, three thousand students at the University of Kyoto asked the visiting Emperor Hirohito: “Will you, as Emperor of Japan, which has renounced war, resist rearming if and when it is forced upon us?” And they surrounded the imperial limousine singing the workers’ Internationale. The usually cautious Associated Press said the incident was of “possibly historic significance.” It is undoubtedly that, considering what the Emperor institution is in Japan. And it is a portentous to Wall Street as to the Emperor.

On February 22nd of this year, a whole series of protest demonstrations flared up in. Tokyo and other cities of Japan. Eleven thousand of the newly enlarged police force were mobilized against them. [Since this article was written, there occurred the May First demonstration of 500,000 in Tokyo, militantly anti-American in character.]

Will the Peasants Fight?

Now the Japanese bourgeoisie have this further problem: after the eight year experience with the undefeatable Chinese masses – in their pre-revolutionary period – the Japanese mlers are being asked to hurl their own awakening masses into a veritable maelstrom of revolution on the continent. Not only does Wall Street tell them not to make a profit from the Chinese revolution but demands that they risk being destroyed altogether by it. They were unsuccessful in fighting to enclose the “world under one roof,” the Japanese roof. Now they are expected to send their peasant armies to fight for the world to be under Wall Street’s roof – and in the bargain, to fight armies who have slaughtered their landlords and seized the land. This would demand a faith in the abject obedience and docility of the Japanese poor, which some Western bourgeois may fondly cherish, but which the Japanese ruling class never for a moment fools itself with.

The American land reforms, so-called, at their very height only comprised about a quarter of the land (the basis of the reforms was a 30-year payment sale program of 2½ acres to a farmer). And the wheel has been turning the other way for over three years now. The American overlord is beginning to exhaust his credit with the Japanese peasant whom he expects to fight his war. The grip of the formerly divine Emperor, whom Wall Street has hopefully maintained in power, may seem as strong as ever on the superstitious peasant. But the superstitions of the peasant have their limit. They may cause him to believe he will get land in heaven, but they do not eliminate his desire for it on earth. On the contrary, they often fortify it. Somewhere in his soul, the peasant feels that his worst enemy is, after all, his own landlord.

The Japanese capitalist-landlords and landed capitalists are well aware that Japan’s long history is marked by hundreds upon hundreds of the most explosive and destructive peasant revolts. To send these elemental masses to shoot down those who have dealt in a larger, more organized, more programmatic way, wifh their own landlords – this is certainly to court destruction.

It is no wonder the Japanese bourgeois hesitates. It is no wonder he resents the commands of the US. And yet his destiny pulls him down this mad course with the inevitability of one of his own classical morality piays. Only last month (March 17) the unpopular Yoshida was re-elected president of the Liberal Party on the very day he made a speech defending extra-territoriality for American troops. (Extra-territoriality is among the most hated of Western impositions throughout the Orient – particularly in Japan which has the proud record of having been the first country to throw it off, in 1899.) Yoshida’s re-election sets a seal on the inevitable.

The real last word, not only in Japan, but in a large part of the Orient itself, will rest with the Japanese masses. They have a far greater potential than is generally realized. They are much the largest working class in Asia, much the most cohesive, with much the highest technical level, and the closest connections to the peasantry.

The long-suffering peasantry, in spite of their long history of revolt, would not at this time dream of any such demonstration as the Kyoto University students staged against the still venerated Emperor. They are not armed with logic, or rationalism. But they will be armed with guns, by the unwilling Japanese bourgeoisie. And they think their own thoughts – slowly – but with finality. They have received the thoughts of the workers who have drifted into the countryside from season to season of city employment. They have been subject to the same oppression in imperialist Japan as their counterparts in colonial China.

Seething Volcano

Worker, peasant, white collar employee, all have endured the agonies of Japanese imperialism. These agonies have been compounded by the blows of American imperialism, and never really ameliorated by its subsequent reform program. Re-armament now brings new sacrifices, new miseries, cruelly shattering some of their last illusions, but, it is to be expected, also awakening them to their historic tasks.

Japan is the country, despite its explosive character, which least fits in with the present pattern of Asian revolt. Throughout that teeming continent, socialism is driving in to power on the old, but now more powerful vehicle of nationalism while Japan solved its purely nationalist problems many years ago. But it solved them in such a way, and at such a terrible cost to the masses that there remains from its “solution” a burdensome heritage of things undone. The rising of the oppressed must be more unanimous, their revolution more compressed in its stages, their vengeance more terrible, than any so far seen in Asia. As for the Japanese ruling class, it is now divided within itself, unsure of its path, unsatisfied with the only ally who can prop it up, afraid of its own military bureaucratic servants whom Wall Street has called back into the house, and above all frightened more than ever before in its whole swaggering modern history at the very thought of war. Here is indeed a “vacuum of power” which awaits only the Marxist leadership to fill it.

America pushed capitalist Japan to the edge of the abyss in World War II, then palled her back from the brink. This same capitalist America may yet push Japan over that brink, and let loose a social revolution which would not only further alter the world power map again in Wall Street’s disfavor, but would generate still newer and more vigorous currents in the revolutionary movements of the world.

Top of page

Main FI Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on: 26 March 2009