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The New International, January 1941


Sherman Stanley

Future of the Japanese Empire


From New International, Vol. VII No. 1, January 1941, pp. 13–16.
Transcribed and Marked up by Damon Maxwell for ETOL.


IT IS AN AXIOM of capitalist economics that those countries and powers which came to age in the modern world of imperialism at the latest stage are precisely the ones that experience the greatest difficulties in solving their inner economic problems. The colonial areas of the world do not expand, but rather contract. Furthermore, increased resistance by the colonial peoples (witness China for 3 years) makes the successes of imperialist wars of conquest doubtful.

It is significant that Japan, the last of the imperialist powers to put in its bid, was about the first actually to participate in the present war for world redivision. Its wars in Manchuria and China over the last decade have been but introductory and, at present, parallel phases of the Second World War. It was not until 1868 that the restoration of the Emperor Meiji by means of a coup on the part of the small Japanese bourgeois class wrested Japan out of the grip of total feudalism (rule of the Shogunate) and launched the industrial revolution under the slogan of “Westernization.” The Russo-Japanese war which ended in 1905 was a blunt military communiqué to the effect that henceforth the Western powers would have a formidable rival in the Far East.

But with 1905 began Japan’s imperialist woes and tribulations. There are numerous important reasons for this: the natural poorness and poverty of the small island Empire; its notorious lack of basic resources needed by a modern military power; the early and incredible monopolization of its economy by the “Two Families” – a result of the fact that Japan never had a bourgeois revolution but had to build its capitalist structure on a rotten feudal base; the intense competition of better equipped rivals; the proximity of the Russian Revolution, etc.

For Japan therefore, there could be no peaceful internal development or “normal” expansion overseas. Almost from the start it had to butt and fight its way around in the imperialist world. Japan’s property class has faced one constant crisis; its masses have suffered to such an extent that its living standards and standards of life have always been comparable to those “enjoyed” by a foreign-dominated, colonial people. It is only natural to expect, given the existence of capitalism in the country, that Japan would early experience the technique of economic autarchy, currency manipulation, export jobbery and total reaction in its political and social structure. The stage of liberal, laissez-faire bourgeois democracy passed like a fairy’s magic wand over the Land of Cherry Blossoms, without touching the soil. It existed in the minds of the liberal intellectuals, the masses never even heard of it!

But does it not appear now as if the reward for the “blood and sweat” regime of the past 70 years is close at hand? Korea is conquered and subdued; Manchuria is conquered and in process of conversion into Manchukuo; China has been partly defeated, at any rate, and a treaty giving economic monopolies has been signed with the Nanking government; and, above all, the most important foreign rivals (America, England and France) are all in such embarrassing difficulties that there appears to be no alternative but for each of them to toe the mark drawn by Japan. Is not Japan’s day finally at hand?

So it would appear to superficial observation. Lush, ripe plums are about to fall to Japan. Will not some of the rich juice dribble down into the parched mouths of the long patient masses of Dai Nippon? The answer is an emphatic No! The economics and politics of world imperialism cry out, “Too late!”

What is the concrete case with Japan today? Planning fresh adventures which we shall describe below, it must store up huge supplies of basic materials (coal, iron ore, oil, gasoline, armaments). This requires equally huge expenditures of fresh capital by a poor nation. Most of this is spent without reproducing itself – that is, thrown down a bottomless pit. For example, the upkeep of the army of 1 and ¼ million men in China, plus another million in Manchukuo along the Soviet frontier.

Then, after a particular area has been conquered fresh capital is needed once more. In the process of conquest a large percentage of those things sought after (mineral and metal mines, factories, plantations, etc.) are totally or partly destroyed. Again, fresh capital for reconstruction is needed – likewise to reestablish smashed communications. But Japan cannot do this! For example, although conquered several years back, those sections of Shanghai, Nanking and Canton caught in the military struggle still have the appearance of ruined cities. Ruined and blasted factories dot the landscape – as they were 3 years back. Finally, expansion and further development of occupied territories has proved a total failure. If Japan cannot reconstruct, surely it cannot construct! Exploiting monopolies with long-winded names are set up. They shrivel and wither away for lack of investment capital. Japan’s conquests – particularly in the case of China – simply pays no dividends. Meanwhile, the Yen sinks lower; the need of raw materials for finished products to ship abroad and obtain American dollars to prop up the Yen, increases but the amount available declines due to the war; the demand for capital grows with each fresh event – in a word, a vicious cycle is strangling the country. One can only say that Japanese imperialism is self-consuming; it is devouring itself.

Striking illustration of this inability of Japan to reap dividends from its conquests are furnished by its turning to the lowest and vilest imaginable methods to obtain some profits. Unable to exploit their Empire through the “normal” methods of imperialism, the government and monopolistic companies foster the opium and hashish den, the licensed brothel, the gambling house, the saloon. The most shameful degeneracy is encouraged among the colonial people, although no Japanese is permitted to engage in or “enjoy” these privileges. Not only does it bring profit but it helps break the will of the population. Manchukuo’s opium dens and Shanghai’s “Badland” gambling houses are the best known examples. If one may distinguish varying degrees of imperialist corruption, that of Japan has reached the lowest point yet.

Manchuria – The Great Failure

Japan instituted a “planned economy” in Manchuria after its conquest. That is to say, it handed over this rich territory to monopoly exploitation and closed the door to all exports but Japanese. What have the results been – for Japan and for Manchuria?

Faced with severe shortages of raw materials, capital and consumption goods, Japan can neither maintain her export level to Manchuria nor provide its colony with funds and supplies necessary to transform it into a gigantic Far Eastern military base directed against the Soviet Union. Since 1938 it has been found necessary to constantly curtail allotments of capital and materials to Manchuria. The China war made necessary a definitive postponement of many important military and industrial developments that had been scheduled.

After nine years of Manchurian “planned economy” the Yonai Cabinet of recent date was forced to reduce investments for 1940–1941 by 24%. This affected 105 special corporations of Manchuria. Now, the Konoye Cabinet no longer denies the necessity of further reductions in capital outlay. The value of Japanese exports for the current year is below the average of the last few years. The Fushun coal liquefaction plant construction has been indefinitely postponed; metal-factories, instead of being erected in Manchuria, are being transported from Japan. As for the corporations of the Northeastern Provinces, so unsuccessful have they been that the Hsinking regime in a recent press release announcing their forthcoming re-organization admits, “There has been a tendency of these concerns to be pitted against each other, resulting in great waste of materials, funds and personnel and the irregular development of industry.” It speaks of “reckless use of materials, funds and personnel,” but what is really meant is that capital is lacking.

As for Manchuria proper – inflation in recent months has been even more rapid than in Japan. The level of officially controlled prices has increased almost 100% over pre-China war level, while actual prices are much higher. A shortage of rice, sugar and other food staples has resulted in the issuance of food and ration cards. Japan cannot export to its colony, but it permits no other powers to export. At the same time, payment of low monopoly prices to Manchurian farmers caused a distinct reduction in cultivation, particularly of the soya bean crop which is the standard crop. Manchurian agriculture, too, is caught in the same vicious cycle. The only real business successes appear to have been in the opium and hashish trades.

Renovation Of The Superstructure

Precisely at the moment when one might expect a slight relaxation of the war-time economy due to the favorable international situation, Japan is tightening up, particularly where its masses are concerned. These measures fall basically into two categories –measures preparatory for fresh military adventures in the South Pacific and/or participation directly in the European War; measures for the final “totalitarianization” along Japanese lines of the governmental and state structure.

The first measures call for storing up of supplies, favorable disposition of troops and naval forces, lowering of general living standards. The second measures demand erasure of last democratic remnants, keen political maneuvering, bureaucratic reorganization. The first step in this direction was taken early in August when unprecedented power was given into the hands of Prince Konoye, the new Premier. Coinciding with his assumption of supreme power over the army and navy, an “Advisory Council” of his personal aides was created. Its objective? This was explained in a Tokyo cabinet statement of August 1 which called for reorganization of the Empire so as to mobilize the whole of its resources for the establishment of a “new order in East Asia, which must be made self-sufficient in the interests of a larger life devoted to the state.” General Koiso, special envoy to the Dutch East Indies, became more specific on August 4 and stated that “The Netherland East Indies should definitely form part of the economic sphere of Created East Asia envisaged by the new order to be established by Japan.” And finally, drawing practical conclusions, the Tokyo Hochi announced that Matsuoka, new Foreign Minister and Minister of Overseas Affairs had decided to establish a “national company” with an initial capital of Yen 500,000,000 (ap. $125,000,000) to develop Japanese interests in the South Seas. Modelled on the monopolistic South Manchuria Railway Company, it will have authority over industrial and commercial development, with particular emphasis on collecting raw materials needed by Japan.

In various manifestoes, press statements and speeches Prince Konoye and Foreign Minister Matsuoka amplified the meaning of the “new policy.” “... it goes without saying that the South Seas areas should not be left out in speaking of the welfare of East Asia. Our aim thus includes not only Japan, Manchukuo and China, but French Indo-China and the Netherlands East Indies as well.” “Japan will therefore develop ... towards the fulfillment of this policy by swiftly setting up an unshakeable national structure ...” “The Government will strive for the replenishment of armaments for the execution of national policies ...” “Laying the foundation of National defense economy of which the keynote will lie in the autonomous development of the economy of Japan, Manchukuo and China, with Japan as the center.” “Reorganization of the foreign trade policy ...” And finally, the totalitarian appeal to ultimate national unity. “The aim of the new national structure,” declared Prince Konoye on August 28, “is the uniting of the total energies of the State and people to make one living whole of our 100,000,000 fellow countrymen and to enable them to fulfill perfectly their duties as the Throne’s subjects ... Whether or not Japan can establish such a strong national structure will decide the very rise or fall of the nation.” We must not neglect to include the religious touch! “The new structure is to construct a new order in East Asia in accordance with the principle of the eight comers of the universe under one roof (Hakko Ichiu), thereby contributing to the establishment of world peace.” Thus Shintoism, Japanese version of Indian Buddhism, gives its idealistic touch to the plan. “The universe under one roof!”

Shintaisei – The New Structure

A preparatory committee consisting of 30 representative leaders of the Army, the Navy, disbanded political parties, finance, economy, universities and the press are now drawing up principles of the new structure. Although nothing has been completed, preliminary outlines of the scheme in so far as it affects Japan’s internal regime make it quite dear that another totalitarian swindle is on the fire. Amidst the confusion created by ornate Japanese diplomatic double-talk the following essential points can be picked out:

(1) All political parties (actually, there were only two bourgeois parties) are to be dissolved. This step has already been consummated. Their place is to be taken by the as yet nameless “New Structure”, with ex-party leaders receiving posts in various departments and secretariats.

Wherein does this differ from the one-party structure of Nazi Germany? Konoye has gone to great lengths to explain that such is not the plan. Germany’s system is “un-Japanese,” and besides even a “one-party structure” may clash with the Throne and the State. In reality, the sole distinction is that totalitarianism in Japan is to be carried to a degree not even reached by the Nazis. The “one-party” of the imperialists, the monopolists, the exporters and the gigantic State bureaucracy which carries out the bidding of Japan’s bourgeois class is to be merged into one tightly knit unit. Behind the whole structure stands Japan’s “Two Families.”

In the “New Structure” the most important core will be the “Council of Key Industry Control Organizations,” possessing decisive weight in the nation’s economy. Who makes up this Council? Representatives of the iron and steel, power, coal, shipping, shipbuilding, Portland cement, etc., industries. Japan’s “New Structure” is but the political counterpart of the country’s unprecedented economic centralization.

(2) The Diet – Japan’s elective Legislative body – will be reduced to the status of the German Reichstag. First, no party tendencies are permissible. More important, an appointed “Central Guiding Body” of the “New Structure” will control “the Diet, economic, cultural and other divisions ...” “The Central Guiding Body,” incidentally, will be nominated by the chairman of the Preparations Committee – that is, Prince Konoye!

(3) The “New Structure” will have branches and units all over Japan. Everyone must join, as an individual. Instead of a selected totalitarian “party” stratum – as in the Soviet Union or Germany – the object in Japan, apparently, is to totalitarianize the entire population!

(4) The head of the “New Structure” will likewise be the head of the government – that is, the same Prince Konoye.

(5) The effectiveness of male suffrage is apparently to be nullified. The all-important “Central Guiding Body” is, as noted above, to be nominated by the Premier. Half of those selected will be persons recommended by Prefectural (district) Councils of the “New Structure.” Thus, all the authoritative sub-bodies are non-elective.

The only serious distinction between this totalitarianization of Japan’s political superstructure and that of other fascist powers is one of secondary importance, flowing from the important feudal hangover that still remains. In some respects it is a modernization of the old military-dominated Shogunate – remodeled to suit the imperialist needs of today. In this sense only is it “typically Japanese.” It has already been suggested – and dark hints in Konoye’s speeches have been pointed to – that the “New Structure” will be a permanent thing and its officialdom hereditary, like that of the Shogunate and the Imperial Throne. The sinister shadow of a hereditary, feudal-imperialist Asiatic barbarism is arising in the gentle “Land of the Lotus Flower.”

The Royal Road to Adventure

We have examined the economic motivations and the political preparations behind Japan’s Asiatic aims, the construction of an East Asia Japanese Empire. Military preparations in the form of strategic shifts and placements, are taking place daily. Wherever possible forces from the Chinese and Manchurian armies are withdrawn and placed in position elsewhere. Supplies are mobilized in essential centers of operation. The mysterious Japanese Navy has shifted the bulk of its unknown power southward, around Hainan island and the Tonkin Gulf. It is worth our while to list some of the concrete imperialist adventures planned by the High Command, in conjunction with the “Two Families.”

(a) Shanghai: Final occupation of China’s most important commercial and industrial city. The British bugle has already sounded “retreat” – only the Americans, in addition to the capitulatory French Concession authorities, remain. The taking of Shanghai is simply a “mopping-up” operation that can be effected at the proper moment.

In addition, so far as China is concerned, completion of the process of molding its putty, Nanking puppet regime. This is about to be finished. With regard to the Chiang Kai-shek Chungking regime, a policy of armed “peace,” stalemate.

(b) Hongkong: It is not difficult to believe that before long the same bugle call heard in Shanghai will ring out over Hongkong island, gateway to England’s Pearl River Valley sphere of commercial and industrial influence in China. All British naval forces have been withdrawn and large-scale evacuation has taken place. The island is ringed by 50,000 troops of Dai Nippon. Its occupation is a necessary step in Japan’s China program.

(c) French Indo-China: The press has been filled with the story of Japan’s ineluctable penetration into this rich colony. Only determined and overt German-Italian opposition or a successful colonial uprising by the Annamite masses can prevent completion of the process within the next few months. Indo-China, a necessary stage on the road to Singapore, is in itself a valuable raw material source for hard-up Japan.

(d) Singapore-Malay: Here the situation differs only in the sense that the present holders, the British, will probably fight for mastery and also that American imperialism may become deeply involved. Upon reaching this area of the South Pacific Japan begins to tread deep and dangerous waters, with a major imperialist war rearing its head.

But the famous peninsula’s strategic merits, plus its rich tin, rubber and rice products beckon Japan on. Long ago Japanese “fishermen” spied out the island, with its hidden naval base and four airfields. No doubt plans of conquest already exist. But this will not be so easy, its costs will drive deeper into Japan’s economic body the knife of exhaustion and poverty.

(e) The Dutch East Indies: These immeasurably rich islands – to a large extent still undeveloped – constitute the apple of Japan’s imperialist eye. Precisely because of their richness in oil, rubber, rice, medicinal products and food staples the East Indies are the sorest point in the southward expansion program. Therefore, the approach to them is correspondingly cautious and delicate. The optimistic variant of Japan is that they fall without a struggle, due to collapse of England and engagement of America elsewhere. The pessimistic variant is one of involvement in a gigantic Pacific Naval War to settle the question of oceanic hegemony for a long time.

In the interim, “slow speed ahead” is the word, with the weather eye on the European War.

This, in outline, is the program staked out by the leaders of Dai Nippon. While its speed and tactics will be influenced by events in Europe, such events can only produce secondary variations. The main course has been dearly laid down. It follows the line of least possible resistance and the line which heads unerringly in a direction most likely to fulfill Japan’s insatiable needs.

A Super-Asiatic Empire?

Assuming the success of today’s program, much speculation is heard regarding future and further expansion. In line with the famous “Baron Tanaka program,” mention is made of the Philippine Islands, Hawaii, Australia, Thailand, Siberia, India, etc.

In our opinion this is idle “journalistic” speculation. First, in typical bourgeois fashion it assumes the passivity of the colonial masses in the countries involved. Actually, these colonial masses, whom the imperialists of all nations bargain away like so many sides of bacon, will be the decisive element in all cases. Secondly, Japanese realists understand that today’s program is far from fulfilled and that imperialism lives a precarious, day-to-day existence. Finally, Japan – no matter the success – simply does not have requisite power for hemispheric programs of conquest. It is a dying, not a vital imperialism!

Talk of naval conflict between Japan and the United States has never reached such voluminous proportions as today. While both powers have equally exploited the familiar technique of racial chauvinism, panic and war-mongering, nevertheless naval and military specialists are extremely cautious in predicting early warfare. Undoubtedly, there is a basic conflict for imperial hegemony over the Pacific between these powers, particularly with regard to the commercial needs and interests of America in the Far East. But there are many reasons tending to minimize immediate outbreak of hostilities.

First, the gloomy situation of England and the naval threat to the Atlantic coastline has sobered many an American chauvinist. Former Rear Admiral Yates Stirling, Jr. states this prospect with impeccable clarity. “If the war in Europe should end so disastrously that we can count no longer upon the help of the British navy then it may be necessary for us to abandon the Pacific to meet a combination of the German and Italian navies. Japan then surely would seize the possessions of Holland, France and Great Britain in the Orient. ...” This is unquestionably correct. As to the prospects of a two-ocean navy for waging war in both oceans, realist ex-Rear Admiral Stirling remarks, “Within the next 12 months, our fleet is not likely to be much stronger than it is now.” “If it [the navy] took the war to the enemy in Japan’s base-studded home waters – the only way to win such a war – it would do so at great risk and would at the same time leave our Atlantic coast defenseless against attack from Europe.” Finally, he points out that in expert naval opinion no less than a two to one superiority over the Japanese Navy is needed to wage naval warfare in the western Pacific because of Japan’s superior strategic position in that area.

This, of course, is the language of the “appease Japan” section of American militarists. But it rings mighty loud in the ears of the Roosevelt war regime! An unforeseen turn in history has apparently taken place in America. Preparing since 1918 for war with Japan, it may be vital – once the current confusion and uncertainty has passed – to effect a sharp change in its war orientation from the Asiatic world to the Old World. But meanwhile, let no on forget that Hawaii remains America’s greatest naval and military base, while construction in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, proceeds rapidly. At most, Yankee imperialism will suffer an embarrassing, but momentary delay in its world plans.

Conversely, the same difficulties face the Japanese Empire in any contemplated offensive war on the American west coast. It too must travel 7,000 miles by sea, possess a two to one naval superiority, meet the enemy at his strongest point. “... a major Japanese offensive to the eastward, where there are no Japanese bases, would be in the same category and quite as dangerous as would be an attack by our fleet in the Orient.” (Ibid.) Certainly Japan does not possess either the requisite strength or imperialist motivation for such an undertaking.

The greatest obstacles in Japan’s way today are its own inner weaknesses, the life-draining wounds of its feeble economic structure. If not for these contradictions, dearly it could go ahead at will. Rival imperialisms are in a previously unknown weak position but – and here is the irony that eats at the heart of the “Two Families” – Japan cannot make hay while the sun shines! Stephen Early presented Japan with a blank copy of the American Monroe Doctrine, but the men of Nippon are having difficulty cashing it. Any Empire it may build in East Asia will rest on day feet – a caricature in the epoch of capitalist decline of the once great British Empire.

Japan’s Ides of March

Strictest realism is demanded in any analysis of prospects for an early revolutionary overturn of the present regime. There is no organized opposition, even of a bourgeois-democratic character. Revolutionary proletarian tradition in Japan is lacking The Comintern in its best days never had a really serious Japanese section. Large sections of the petty bourgeoisie will be absorbed in the huge bureaucracy of the “New Structure,” or take flight “prospecting and pioneering” amidst the ruins of China and Manchuria. Women and children, forming a majority of the proletariat, are meek and long-suffering beasts of burden.

Of discontent, yes, there is plenty. It affects all layers, particularly the peasant army and the peasantry itself. And here we have placed our finger – in all probability – on the source of future revolutionary action. The soldier, the returning soldier who, upon arrival home, finds nothing but unemployment and his peasant family starving. The mere thought of his empty-handed return already causes the imperialist to tremble and cynically plan further assignments in the field of action. But a soldier’s furlough cannot be postponed forever, nor can the imperialist-feudal class of Dai Nippon forever evade the long-needed day of reckoning!

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