Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Labor Action, 27 February 1950


Leo Del Monte

Japan’s Socialist Party Splits; Rightists Out

Pro-Marxist Wing Wins Control but Unclear on Stalinist Issue


From Labor Action, Vol. 14 No. 9, 27 February 1950, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The latest national convention of the Japanese Socialist Party, which convened on January 16 ended in a left-right split occasioned by the mass walkout of the right wing. The background of this split was as follow:

The first general election under the new Japanese constitution which was held in April 1947 gave the SP a plurality and a representation in the lower house of the Diet (which is significant, since the upper house serves merely a decorative purpose) of 143 seats out of 466, The nearest runner-up, the Democratic Party, had something over 120 seats. By the defection of several deputies from the Democratic to the Liberal Party (whence the change in name) the Liberal Democrats advanced to second place, leaving the Democrats in third.

All this time the SP, which Shared the government with the Democrats and Popular Cooperatives (representatives of the better-off farmer class) did not dare to propose one bit of socialist legislation, for fear of offending its bourgeois bedfellows and upsetting the political apple-cart. In addition, it distinguished itself by complete indifference to the interests of the working class, collaborating by default. with the bourgeoisie and by design with the occupation.

The majority of organized labor at the time, for reasons that will be taken up briefly below, was under Stalinist control. Whenever the Stalinists were about to pull a major labor offensive (in which they generally had the support of the rank and file because of the miserable living conditions of the working class), the government, headed by social-democrats, instead of acting on the side of the workers, and refusing even to bargain with them in good faith, called upon the occupation to put down the strike. Thus the attempted general strike of the summer of 1948 resulted in the loss of the right to strike and to bargain collectively for all government employees (approximately 25 per cent of the Japanese working class)! The social-democracy, far from protesting, seemed to approve.

Leader Disgraced as Bribe-Taker

Then, in the autumn of 1948, came the Showa Denko scandal. Showa Denko, a firm which had produced chemical products for Japan’s war machine, was engaged after the war in the production of chemical fertilizer, producing 15 per cent of the nation’s sulphur and 45 per cent of its calcium nitrate. Hinohara, president of the firm, obtained a loan of almost three billion yen in less than a year from the Reconstruction Finance Bank to finance the rebuilding of the bombed-out Showa Denko factories. To obtain this loan he had to go through the Reconstruction Finance Commission, on which sat representatives of all the cabinet ministries.

Hinohara worked a deal with the chief of the Finance Ministry’s Accounts Bureau, the chief of the Economjc Stabilization Board, and a few other individuals, whereby he promised them a considerable chunk of the money if they would swing the loan for him. Of the 2.7 billion ($7.5 million at the official rate of exchange) lent him. Hinohara pocketed 900 million; 400 million of this went to the above-mentioned officials, and out of this sum they paid off the bureaucracies of the Socialist and Democratic Parties to keep their mouths shut.

One of the principal figures in this affair was Suehiro Nishio, veteran right-wing social-democrat with a record of several decades of activity in the labor movement of Southwestern Japan. Nishio, then vice-premier and cabinet chief secretary, as well as secretary general of the SP, was arrested and convicted of accepting One million yen in hush money. One can imagine how the SP’s stock stood after that.

In the meantime, the first evidences of factionalism within the social-democracy made themselves felt when both extreme tips of the SP split to form independent parties in 1948. Twenty right-wing members of parliament, led by Sato, formed the Social Reform Party, a group with a primarily agricultural constituency. Then 12 left-wing members of parliament formed the Farmer-Labor Party, with a primarily working-class constituency. The SP now no longer had a plurality in the House of Representatives.

Left Wing Captures Leading Body

The general election of January 1949 changed the political picture Completely. AU of the political parties, with the exception of the Liberal Democrats and the Stalinists, shrank. The SP interpreted this defeat at the polls—correctly, as subsequent events shpwed—as proof of the bankruptcy of the right wing, and at the party convention held the following April the left., wing captured all of the posts except that of party chairman. (This post remained in the hands of right-wing Presbyterian Tetsu Katayama, who might be palled the Norman Thomas of the Japanese social-democracy, if the analogy is not pressed too far.) Most important, the post of secretary general went from the discredited Nishio to the left wing’s most articulate spokesman, Mosaburo Suzuki.

The year 1949 exhibited a series of important political changes in Japan. For one thing, decisive control of the labor movement passed from the control of the Stalinists. The vice-chief of the CP’s trade union bureau, Matsuta Hosoya, had already quit the party in a huff and initiated the formation of the so-called Democratic League within the Sambetsu (National Congress of Industrial Organizations) to fight the Stalinists on their own ground. The Mine Workers’ Union had already disaffiliated from Sambetsu because of its distaste for CP control. Kokutetsu (National Railway Workers’ Union) followed suit later.

In every union in which the Stalinists had entrenched themselves, whether through chicanery or through the workers’ dissatisfaction with the social-democratic labor policy, a Democratic League was formed. The Stalinists, who had built up a considerable reservoir of good will among the workers, as could be seen in their jump from 4 to 35 seats in the election, were draining the reservoir dry by a resort to suicidal adventurism.

And finally the government, at the behest of the occupation, discharged all of the leading Stalinist trade-union functionaries from their jobs as government employees, and Hosoya and his crew of left social-democrats, ex-Stalinists and the like were left with the leadership of the Japanese labor movement. Circumstances forced them to become more militant in order to maintain their position with respect to the rank and file. Furthermore, like Walter Reuther in his more militant period of a few years ago, they could AFFORD to be more militant. The anti-Stalinist record of Hosoyo, Mitamura, Ochiai and others was too well know to be denied. When they pressed their demands they could always say to the bourgeoisie, the government and the occupation: You can’t accuse US of being Communists; but ignore our demands and you will be driving the workers right back into the arms of the CP!”

But this movement had a political aspect as well, for these new labor leaders felt that the labor movement, freed from the domination of the Stalinists, needed a political vehicle of its own. With this end in view they joined the SP with the hope of making it over in their own image. The result, as of the time of writing, is that thirty-two national unions, with a total membership of five million (roughly 70 per cent of the Japanese working class), support the SP officially. When the left wing walked into the most recent party convention, it had good reason to feel sure of itself.

The underlying differences between the left apd right wings were never actually expressed at the convention. They expressed themselves rather in a dispute over the procedure to be observed in electing convention officials. But this dispute became so heated that Katayama threatened to resign from the chairmanship of the party if the wrangling did not cease. Suzuki told Katayama almost in so many words that he would not be missed, and at that point the right wing walked out en bloc to set up its own convention.

New SP Has Chance to Head Working Class

The SP has 47 members in the lower house. Fifteen of these are right wingers, 19 are left wingers and 13 are “centrists,” i.e., opposed to the split and trying to effect a reconciliation. However, chances of a reconciliation are slight, and if the split becomes definitive the centrists are expected to adhere to the right wing. A reconciliation would in fact be to the right wing’s advantage since it has no social base, while the left wing is acquiring more and more of a trade-union base all the time.

But the cleavage is so fundamental that unity is hardly possible. The left wing, for instance, insists that the SP must become a working-class party with a Marxist program; the right wing openly repudiates the theory of the class struggle and stresses national unity.

What, then, are the perspectives of the left wing of the Japanese social-democracy? If the official support of 32 trade unions is an indication of REAL working-class support, the left wing can take over the SP and become Japan’s working-class party in the fullest sense. But in order to do that it must clarify its position on two things: the American occupation and the Stalinists.

The new SP, to be a genuinely socialist, party, must (as best it can under the circumstances) indicate its unequivocal opposition to the occupation and make it clear that it does not recognize the right of the U.S. army to maintain itself in Japan. Furthermore, it must stop regarding Stalinism as a left-wing disease (or as a left-wing anything) and recognize it for what it is: a new species of reaction.

In Japan the healthy development of an independent left was hampered by two things. First, neither a left opposition nor a fight opposition ever developed within the Japanese Communist Party. Furthermore, a reign of terror against the political action of the working class, which had existed since the Meiji Restoration but was particularly heightened during the late 20s and early 30s, so isolated the Japanese radical movement that it was possible for the Stalinists to pose in the immediate post-war period as the extreme left. The same isolation had retarded the degeneration of the CP, which made it all the easier for them to fill that role.

As the post-war political drama began to play and the Stalinists were gradually unmasked, two tendencies appeared within the Japanese left social-democracy: one was to shun radicalism (which was becoming identified with Stalinist degeneracy); the other was to move closer to the CP in united-front activity and the like whenever the social-democracy was compelled by external circumstances to adopt a more radical position. The left-wingers in the Japanese socialist movement still have to learn that it is possible (and under the circumstances necessary) to be both genuinely radical AND uncompromisingly anti-Stalinist at the same time.

There is always the possibility that in spite of the ferment in the upper bureaucracy of the Japanese labor movement, the Stalinists still have a considerable rank-and-file following. The director of the Japanese NLRB said as much during a recent visit here. That, however, is a question that this writer is unable to answer. It is to be expected that the answer to that question, as to many others raised or suggested in this article, will be given in the next general election.

Top of page

Main LA Index | Main Newspaper Index

Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

Last updated on 9 March 2023