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International Socialism, Winter 1962


Kan-ichi Kuroda

Marxism in Japan


From International Socialism, No. 11, Winter 1962, pp. 21–25.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Kan-ichi Kuroda was born on 20 October 1927. He was one of the founders of the Japanese Revolutionary Communist League (discussed in the article) in 1957 and has written a number of works on marxist philosophy and economics despite the handicaps imposed by semi-blindness. His published works include: Hegel and Marx (460 pp., 1952), Economics and Dialectics (260 pp., 1956), An Inquiry into Ideological Stands (200 pp., 1956), The Foundations of a critique of Stalinism (150 pp., 1956), Peace and Revolution in the Modern World (200 pp., 1959).

The two major events of 1956 – Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin at the 20th Congress of the CPSU and the Hungarian Revolution – were epoch-making not only for the world Communist movement but for the Japanese revolutionary movement as well. The attitude adopted to these events has became the touchstone of all left-wing politics for Japanese revolutionaries and progressive intellectuals.

The left-wing, including the Japanese Communist Party, was initially too shocked by the denunciation of Stalin and too barren intellectually to seek to analyse the situation. The leadership of the Party was unable to offer an analysis of the new situation created by the Kremlin and at the same time remain loyal to its instructions. They sought, in defence, to delimit ‘destalinization’ to no more than a recitation of Stalin’s crimes, a rejection of the ‘cult of personality’, of dogmatism in theory and bureaucratism in organization. There was no attempt at either a theoretical or practical critique of Stalinism itself or of how it could even occur.

Khrushchev’s new course – a strategy of ‘peaceful coexistence’ and tactics of ‘the peaceful transition to Socialism’ – was received as unquestioningly as were Stalin’s policies, this time as interpreted by the Chinese Communist Party. In effect, ‘destalinization’ was simultaneously a recognition of Khrushchev’s new regime and, secretly, the substitution of a Lenin cult for the Stalin cult. However, the effects of destalinization in Poland, and the outbreak of the Hungarian revolution changed the situation.

The fact that the Hungarian workers took to arms in the furtherance of destalinization, that they created workers councils in every factory and district, and were then crushed militarily by the Kremlin, raised crucial questions: what was the nature of Communism and of Stalinism?

The Stalinists and their associates were at one in ascribing events in Hungary to imperialist provocation and aggression. As, however, it was undeniable that the Hungarian workers fought for ‘destalinization’ and self-government; as, also, not withstanding the counter-revolutionaries who may have attained positions on Workers’ Councils, one had to support this struggle against bureaucratic power, a revolutionary Left Opposition slowly developed inside the Japanese Communist Party, and began a critique of the new situation and a practical attempt to re-evaluate socialism and eliminate Stalinism.

I. Development of a Revolutionary Movement

The crushing of the Hungarian Revolution shook the Japanese left-wing more severely than did the denunciation of Stalin. At the same time it precipitated a new revolutionary Marxist movement which broke with Stalinism, and adopted a proletarian, scientific socialist analysis of the spontaneous uprising and of the abortive revolution.

There was no revolutionary tradition for the Left oppositionists in Japan to fall back on, since the Japanese Communist Party was established under the aegis of the post-Lenin Comintern. Regrettably, Trotsky was merely a pseudonym for anti-Soviet theories, anti-communism and counterrevolution. The events of 1956, however, permitted a restoration of Trotskyism, and its re-examination has since made considerable headway in the Japanese revolutionary movement (This tendency must be clearly distinguished from that of orthodox Trotskyism.) The crucial step at that tune was, not the direct introduction of Trotskyism from without, but the working out in our own experience of a critique, derived from a marxist basis, which could be consciously applied to the Japanese revolutionary movement. In this way only could we free ourselves from the curse and falsity of Stalinism, from the myth of Stalin’s ‘Socialism’; only then could we change and build once more a true socialist movement. This is what we termed the ‘standpoint of revolutionary marxism’. Japanese materialist philosophy since the second World War was enriched not by orthodox, Stalinist thinkers but by the various non-Stalinist marxists who were condemned as ‘revisionists’ by the Stalinists. They paid careful attention to the actual tradition and practical theory of the young Marx and contributed to the study and development of theories of consciousness, technology, and non-Stalinist economics. Such, for example, were the writings of Prof A. Kakehashi, K. Umemoto (philosophy), Prof M. Taketani (atomic physics) and Prof K. Uno (economics). The development of these unconsciously non-Stalinist tendencies arid their reconstruction as a conscious non-Stalinist theory, and the development of a non-Stalinist theory of revolutionary strategy and tactics were the preconditions of a Japanese revolutionary marxist movement. This conscious, independent approach jelled in the autumn of 1957 when the railway workers’ struggles provided the momentum for the launching of a revolutionary organization inside the Japanese Communist Party.

At the same time however, we sought to absorb, critically, the traditions and theory of Trotskyism. We had already established the Japanese Trotskyist League on 27 January 1957, but the League’s initial membership totalled only three (T. Kurihara, E. Uchida, and K. Kuroda.)

After the Hungarian revolution, revolutionary socialists, led by the Japanese Trotskyist League made efforts to promote discussion of theory and to organise both inside and outside the Communist Party. We bypassed the demoralized ‘official left-wing’.

II. The Struggle against Pabloism

At the same time we had of necessity to combat the dogmatism of self-styled ‘pure Trotskyists’. From the start, the League contained, albeit with difficulty, supporters of M. Pablo, General Secretary of the Fourth International, and the Revolutionary Marxist Group (RMG) organized around the journal Tankyu. A dispute broke out within the League over the thesis of the Tenth World Congress of the Fourth International; the main points of contention in 1957–8 being as follows:

i) Lenin’s and Trotsky’s theory of revolution:

Our own group (RMG) maintained that there was an essential difference between the two Bolsheviks despite protestations to the reverse by Trotsky himself, a difference between Lenin’s theory of democratic dictatorship and Trotsky’s permanent revolution; in addition both theories were vague and phenomenalistic, and so a theory of contemporary world revolution must be evolved by us, though still acknowledging its basis in Marxism-Leninism. At the same time we aimed to clarify Khrushchev’s new course – a combination of mild Stalinism and social democracy. This neo-Stalinism followed from the strategy of ‘peaceful co-existence’, which itself was a historical and logical consequence of Stalin’s theory of ‘Socialism in one Country’. The same theory entails the encouragement of parliamentary illusions and the parliamentary road to Socialism outlined by Khrushchev. These studies were useful in exposing and criticizing the nationalism, the appeasement and the parliamentarism in the program of the Japanese Communist Party with its combination of a Stalin-Bukharin two-step strategy and Khrushchev’s new course.

ii) The organizational tactics of the revolutionary communist:

Those who have a tendency to dogmatize Trotskyism tend also to fall into opportunism and sectarianism. Sectarian Trotskyists have declined it precisely because they practice complete entry into the Socialist or Communist Parties wherever they happen to be. Admittedly, even the cleverest platform outside the labour movement would have no success if separate from genuine revolutionaries opposing the Stalinists and social-democrats within the labour movement. But the actual practice of the sectarian always amounts to no more than a superficial claim to leadership. This is the reason why contemporary Trotskyists have not been able to build their own independent organization at all. They have become necessarily a small sect of ‘social-democratized Trotskyists’.

By contrast the RMG would attempt to build a new proletarian party opposed to the official left parties, rejecting he method of injecting current Trotskyism into existing organizations. In practice, we followed a middle course, directing our efforts within the existing workers’ organizations towards the achievement of our long-term aim – the new proletarian party.

III. On the present character of the USSR

Initially we discussed whether the Soviet Union today could be characterized as a degenerated workers’ state, or as a ‘red-imperialist state’, but at the time we could not develop an interpretation beyond the one contained in Trotsky’s Revolution Betrayed. However about a year later this problem arose again in connection with the strategy of the Fourth International, since the slogan ‘unconditional defence of the USSR’ in the Fourth International program is derived from the theory of the present character of the Soviet Union and the strategy of world revolution. In the event, as a result of a theoretical dispute with the Pabloite group on these questions, the RMG changed its name to ‘Japanese Revolutionary Communist League’ (JRCL), in December 1957. Then following on from an article by K. Kuroda [1], a full debate began. The Fourth International maintained its traditional position of unconditional defence of the workers’ state while calling for a political revolution against the Soviet bureaucracy. The RMG met this slogan with one of its own, evolved during the debates: ‘Anti-imperialism, anti-Stalinism’. As a result of these disputes over the various problems of a revolutionary program and its practical application, those who supported the defence of the Soviet Union were defeated, and consequently split from the League in July 1958. This was the first disruption of the JRCL.

Meanwhile the Japanese students’ movement (Zengakuren) whose leadership was definitely influenced by the Communist Party (especially the Left Communist group) was strongly influenced also by the ideas propounded in Tankyu. This led to the disintegration of the Japanese Students’ League against War and the establishment of the Japanese Students’ Socialist League on 25 May 1955. Although opposed to official Communist Party policy the organization was still left-Stalinist in essence. The leadership of Zengakuren, driven to despair by the inadequacy of the sixth Congress of the Japanese CP, tended to favour Trotskyism, and in December 1958 it formed a new political organization, the Communist League (CL), independent of the JRCL.

However the fundamental approach of the former (CL) was roughly the same as the Tankyu group in the latter (JRCL). The CL comprised a large part of the leadership of the Zengakuren. Despite their adoption of the slogan ‘anti-imperialist, anti-Stalinist’, they still clung to a certain degree to their previous left-Stalinist tactics, and so could be accused of adventurism; indeed sometimes during the campaign against the Japanese-US security pact, or when they advocated a new International without any organizational basis – they tended to blanquism (élitism).

From August 1959 the JRCL was divided in two – the JRCL National Committee and the Revolutionary Communist League (Nishi Group). This last faction finally split from the League; it was a more or less economist and pragmatist group, supporting the American Trotskyist James Cannon. Despite adherence to Cannon in immediate tactics, they were also Pabloite in policy and stood for the unconditional defence of the USSR and of the colonial revolution. From this time they began to decline rapidly as a group along with the Pabloites (Japanese committee of the Fourth International, and first group to break from the League). The JRCL National Committee on the other hand was a new political formation of the RMG. Its organs are the Zenshin and Communist. The JRCL National Committee based itself on the slogan ‘anti-imperialism, anti-Stalinism’ and began the attempt to form an independent fighting revolutionary workers’ organization. It aims at not only the building of a new communist party, but also the creation of a new non-Stalinist revolutionary marxist international.

IV. The Revolutionary Left-Wing in the Anti-Pact Struggle

The Japanese Students’ movement (Zengakuren) played a decisive role in the campaign against the new Japanese-US Security Treaty in 1960. At the time the Zengakuren leadership was strongly influenced by the Communist League, but the students grouped around the Revolutionary Communist League itself sought not only to fight together with the students of the Communist League, but also to criticize the faulty leadership of the Zengakuren. They ultimately hoped for the establishment of a Japanese Marxist Students’ League led by the RCL.

This general situation was described in an article about the anti-Pact movement, in this journal (No. 2, Autumn 1960). An anti-Government mass movement on this scale had never been seen in Japan before. However, the absence of a real revolutionary leadership was openly demonstrated both in the non-Stalinist left-wing and in the Zengakuren. The traditional leaders of the left-wing, the Socialist Party and the Communist League, showed in a practical way the weakness of a Popular-Front type movement as carried on by the People’s Council against the Pact.

Both the Socialist and the Communist Parties’ representatives on the People’s Council attacked the violence inspired by Zengakuren. The Japanese Communist Party was particularly hostile to the activities of the students. Again and again they denounced the ‘provocation’ of the Trotskyists. But the bankruptcy of the self-styled ‘Vanguard’ itself was quite clear to the workers involved in the campaign.

Under the leadership of the Council, the campaign against the Pact although it was praised by the Socialist Party and many intellectuals as a ‘gigantic advance for the people’s movement’; and the Communist Party hailed it as a ‘victorious struggle for right and patriotism’, the campaign against the Pact declined into a pacifist and constitutionalist movement under the leadership of the Council. The leadership of the Communist League (which had inspired the violence of Zengakuren) first justified the ‘victory of the anti-Government movement’, without being aware of the limits of this type of radicalism but then, after the campaign, disintegrated into three separate factions (late July 1960). Thus the Communist League ended its brief and unhappy career.

By contrast, the RCL fought within the anti-Pact movement for the creation of a revolutionary students’ movement, opposed the opportunism of those Trotskyists who co-operated with the Communist leadership, and criticized the leadership of the Zengakuren by the Communist League; at the same time, it sought to organize the revolutionary workers who both possessed a high level of consciousness and could promote a genuine campaign against the inadequate leadership of the official left-wing.

After the campaign against the pact, the RCL directed its efforts towards forming a strong cadre of revolutionaries within the Workers Front, around the slogan – ‘Towards a new Workers’ Party’. In addition, the RCL sought to establish a new young workers’ organization to combat the influence of the Communist and Socialist Party youth organizations. After some six months’ effort the Japanese Marxist Young Workers League was formed (January 1961). It worked closely with the Japanese Marxist Students’ League, and played an important role in the wage-struggles of the Spring of 1961. From this time forward, the Japanese non-Stalinist revolutionary movement was clearly separated from its primary source as a movement of rebellion against Stalinism by intellectuals and students.

Meanwhile, the RCL attempted to achieve the dissolution of the Communist League, divided as it was between three groups, none of which were aware of the limits of bourgeois radicalism and the need to overcome left-Stalinism. As a basic contribution to this end, the National Committee published several documents : Against Stalinism, The Campaign Against the Security Pact, and Theory of Organization (K. Kuroda). As a result of this campaign, in January 1961, the RCL absorbed the Senki (Fighting Flag) group, the most revolutionary of the three sects of the old Communist League.

But we could not achieve the full unification of all revolutionary Marxist elements so long as there persisted a basic ignorance of the deficiencies of Left-Stalinism. To combat this the National Committee initiated a campaign at the end of March, 1961, as a result of which the leadership of Zengakuren passed from the Communist League to the Marxist Students’ League. Under the new leadership, the mass Zengakuren movement, which had continued in some confusion after the anti-Pact movement, began to rebuild on the basic principles: ‘anti-imperialism; anti-Stalinism’. This new change opens up a perspective which could overcome the divisions in the non-Stalinist Japanese left.

V. The Japanese Communist Party and the Right-Opposition

During and after the struggle against the new Security Pact, it was important that the non-Stalinist left-wing expose the demoralization of the traditional established left-wing. From then onwards, the influence and prestige of the Communist Party began to decline. The decline spread rapidly and began to erode the influence of the Communist Party over intellectuals. Some of them condemned the bureaucracy and anti-stalinist activities of the Party and called themselves the New Left. Like the New Left in England, his tendency possessed only a shallow radicalism. It condemned the established left, but failed to advance a fundamental analysis of Stalinism itself. Some members of this tendency gathered around Mr Ikutaro Shimizu, who had been consistently sympathetic to the Party for a long time. The group, successful only so long as the non-Stalinist left failed, began to decline after about a year.

The decline in its influence, the collapse of the pro-Communist intellectuals’ front, and the development of the non-Stalinist left precipitated a crisis in the Japanese Communist Party. The dispute primarily concerned the strategy for a Japanese Revolution, and was a reflection of the wider conflict between the policies of Mao Tse-Tung and Khrushchev, between orthodox Stalinism and social-democratized Stalinism. The dispute appeared as an organizational split shortly before the Eight Congress of the Party in July, 1961.

The Opposition (Kasuga faction )opposed both the bureaucracy and the nationalism of the JCP, but simultaneously was the leading proponent of severe sanctions against Trotskyists. It was silent at the denunciation of Stalin and during the Hungarian Revolution – so showing itself to be a Right Opposition, concerned only with a little more democracy in the Party, and unaware of the key fault in Stalinism, namely Stalin’s theory of Socialism in One Country.

It criticized the nationalistic tendencies of Mao Tse-Tung’s course, and praised the Parliamentary Road to Socialism CPSU. It was thus pro-Khrushchev, and, at the same time favoured the reformism known as ‘Italian Marxism’, after as outlined by Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Togliatti. It finally split from the JCP without waging any sort of campaign in the Party and adopted reformist socialism.

They were finally destroyed by the Russian nuclear tests of the Autumn of 1961, which they supported along with the leadership of the JCP, and by the existence of the non-Stalinist left.

This internal conflict was only a small edition of the wider differences between the Chinese and Soviet Parties which prevented the JCP leadership adopting a position on Khrushchev’s revelations of Stalin’s crimes or the provocational character of Kirov’s death. They gave the new Krushchev program adopted at the 22nd Congress and the rapid technological development of the Soviet Union unstinted praise, but they also paid careful – but secret – attention to the Khrushchev’s condemnation of the old Albanian Stalinists. For many of them were supporters of Mao Tse-Tung. To date no public statement on Sino-Soviet dispute has been made. All they can offer are lame excuses, although the same dispute exists within every Communist Party.

VI. The Development of an anti-war Movement

The Soviet nuclear tests in the Autumn of 1961 caused as strong a shock as had the Hungarian Revolution in 1956 – not just to the Japanese left-front but for progressives everywhere. They occurred at the time of the 22nd Congress of the CPSU.

Japanese pacifists and ‘progressive intellectuals’ and in particular the Japanese Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Gensuikyo) did not attempt to protest against these tests. – They still believed the Soviet Union to be the ‘socialist mother country’, ‘the fortress of peace’. Even now they remain sympathetic to the Soviet Union and express only a mild moral revulsion over the tests. Strongly influenced by the Japanese Communist Party, Gensuikyo refrained from any organized protest and confined itself to expressing regret. It thus precipitated a crisis within its own ranks.

The RCL set up in opposition a clear slogan: ‘Ban all tests, East or West’, and set about organizing the students’ mass movement to protest strongly against the Soviet tests, against the ‘nuclear-test for peace’ slogan, and to besiege the Russian Embassy.

What are our perspectives?

Both sides in the Cold war have maintained ad nauseam for some eight years that only negotiation and the signing of a treaty of general disarmament would end the situation. In fact, we all know that behind the screen of disarmament talks, they are both still competing in an arms race to achieve military superiority. In this situation, some have argued – notably the Titoists (in reality, right-Stalinists) and their sympathisers (for example, E.P. Thompson of the New Left in England) – that only independence from both blocs, neutralism, can solve the issue; only nations contracting out of the ‘logic of the Cold War’ could foster world peace. Neutralism, however, makes one the victim of ‘power-politics’, and does not end it.

To end it, we must found our position not on a basis which takes for granted ‘power politics’, but on one which seeks the end of those politics completely. We must organize to achieve international unity and a world campaign against the regimes of both West and the East, against exploitation everywhere. Such a world campaign is the only force capable of checking nuclear tests on both sides. Crucial to it is the slogan – ‘anti-imperialism; anti-Stalinism’. To this end, the attempt to create an International against War (the aim set out by the RCL in September, 1961) is of key importance. It could become the basis for a new socialist International.

Different sorts of anti-war movements, protesting against nuclear tests, have appeared throughout the world. A special feature of these movements (e.g. the CND in England) is that they are commonly non-Stalinist, are convinced of the failure of the traditional peace committees, but often do not have a clear non-Stalinist alternative to merely emotional humanism. It is our duty to press for a clear course on the lines outlined here.

In Japan, only the Zengakuren has continued to press for the creation of a new revolutionary anti-war movement. Slowly and gradually, the Japanese workers are beginning to establish their own forms of new socialist organization, based upon the advances made in the anti-war movement by the non-Stalinist left and the Revolutionary Communist League.


1. What is Revolutionary Marxism? ... On the organizational tactics of the revolutionary communist in the Japanese Revolution, (Tankyu, No. 3, January 1958).

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