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The New International, December 1942

Francis Taylor

Facts About Japan

A Review of Four Books


From New International, Vol. VIII No. 11, December 1942, pp. 337–339.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Tanaka Memorial
International Publishers, 47 pages

The Japanese Enemy
by Hugh Byas
Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 116 pages

Year of the Wild Boar
by Helen Mears
J.B. Lippincott Co., publishers; 346 pages

When Japan Goes to War
by O. Tanin and E. Yohan
The Vanguard Press, publishers. New York; 271 pages

It is better for women that they should not be educated, because their lot throughout life must be in perfect obedience; and the way to salvation is only through the path of three obediences – obedience to a father when yet unmarried, to a husband when married, and to a son when widowed. What is the use of developing the mind of a woman or of training the power of her judgment, when her life is to be guided at every step by a man? ... For her no religion is necessary either, because her husband is her sole heaven, and in serving him and his lies her whole duty. (The Greater Learning for Women (17th Century Japan), quoted in Year of the Wild Boar, page 257)

The destinies of imperialist Japan and imperialist America are interwoven in most curious fashion. In Japan, a nation whose structure and civilization are diametrically contradictory to that of our country, history is reckoned from a Before-Perry or After-Perry standpoint, signifying the symbolic meaning of the opening of that country to the capitalist world by the Admiral. In America, embracing Japan in a struggle to the death, history is now reckoned from a Before-Pearl Harbor or After-Pearl Harbor standpoint. The Japan of gay kimonas, exotic Geisha girls, cherry blossoms, snowy Mount Fujiyama has become a land of sadistic beasts, grinning toothy apes and sly monkeys swinging from jungle trees. When business, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of oil, scrap, machinery, gasoline, munitions, etc., was good, we were fed the first portrait; now it is the second. Both, of course, are typical imperialist frauds and deceptions.

But Japan is still somewhat of a mysterious place that, apparently, resists even the penetrating tools of Marxist materialist analysis. The reason for this has become clearer in recent years. Japanese imperialism, the last and most recently-born of the modern imperialist states, so uniquely illustrates the Marxian law of irregular and uneven historic development that, accustomed as we are to drawing analogies and making comparisons between the different great powers, we have forgotten the flexible facet of the law which demands that we seek the peculiarities and specific features of Japan. In one respect the “mystery” of Japan is easily explained. Japanese imperialism, resting upon a materially impoverished base and with a state structure burdened by feudal survivals and hangovers, is a power desperately in need of foreign conquests and expansionist victories. The dictum of “expand or die” applies with categoric force to Japan. It accounts for the especially vicious and exploitative character of Japanese rule, once conquest has been achieved. In the famous (and rarely read) document of Baron Tanaka, known as the Tanaka Memorial, we have the following passage illustrating the brazen, cynical and ruthless nature of this imperialism.

When Koreans come into this region (Manchuria – H.J.) we should finance them through our trust and other financial organs with a view to gaining for these organs the actual ownership while the Koreans may satisfy themselves with the right of farming only. Ostensibly the ownership of land must reside with the Koreans. It is a convenient way of securing rights from the Chinese government. Henceforth the trust companies and financial organs should give them full backing when our own and Korean subjects wish to gain land ownership ... Unnoticeably we shall gain control of the better rice fields which we may give to our own immigrants. They shall displace the Koreans, who in turn may go on opening new fields, to deliver to the convenient use of our own people. This is the policy with respect to the colonization of rice fields and bean farms. As to the policy for herd farming, the Development Company would be especially entrusted gradually to expand, eventually placing all the wealth of herds at the disposal of our country. This same company may also take care of horse breeding and select the best out of Mongolia for the use of our national defense.

The more one studies Japan, the more he will understand that the peculiar savagery and militarism associated with this power flows from the weakness of its entire economic structure. Japan, much like a weakling who attempts to cover up and conceal his weakness by bluff and play-acting, hides itself from the world through the mask of super-racialism and imperialism. It plays the politics of conditioned compensation, that is, compensation for its inferiorities.

The Tanaka Memorial is a brilliant illustration of this. In our opinion, its true nature has not been accurately described. It is generally summarized as a document expounding the thesis and program of world domination as the aim of the Japanese ruling class. It is true that Baron Tanaka does utter some sweeping remarks about conquest of Alaska, California. India, etc. It is even true that the document, in a general way, describes the path of conquest followed by Japan – subjugation of North China and Manchuria, the overrunning of China proper and then the turn southward to the South Pacific isles. This general line of expansion could have easily been foreseen by anyone understanding the organic weakness of Japanese economy and is, indeed, explain in the document itself:

  1. Japan, lacking a base of raw materials, must first create one for itself. This was done by winning Korea (coal and iron ore); Manchuria and North China (coal, ores, food, etc.)
  2. This accomplished – that is, the raw material base now organized – these supplies must be shipped home to Japanese mills, factories, etc., to be converted into finished commodities.
  3. These commodities must have a market – the great, undeveloped land of China with its 425,000,000 people. Just as industrial England needed India, so industrialized Japan needed China to exploit.
  4. But modern Japan, beset by stream-lined American and British competitors, must have other raw materials in addition to those of the industrial period of capitalism. Oil, rubber, aluminum, modern ores, tin, more food, etc. Therefore, finance-capital Japan launches its drive for the Far Eastern sections of the British, French and Dutch colonial empires.

All the above is clearly stated in the Tanaka Memorial. But this occupies only a minute section of the lengthy document.

The greater part of its space is devoted to a detailed and exhaustive plan for the exploitation and development of Manchuria. Rarely has imperialism so cynically and barbarically planned the ruination of tens of millions of people as did Japan lay its plans for the tens of millions of Koreans, Manchurians and North Chinese. Railroads, financing, trade, crops, mining and industrial enterprises, the use of one racial group against another (we have given an example of this in our previous quotation from the document), administration and general supervision. Hardly a thing is missing from the plan of Dai Nippon’s imperialists, militarists and administrators. The general schema is clear: Manchuria must become the proxy base for the island kingdom; in its rich resources and reserves must be found the life-fluid of Japanese imperialism, a constant flow of which is required to keep the mainland alive. This is the true face of Japanese economy, the weakness and impoverishment of its economic base that forced it, from birth, on the imperialist road.

As Byas points out in his brief book, although the Japanese militarists and leaders may be fanatics as individuals, as a group they are “cautious, calculating and deliberate.” The Memorial illustrates well this division of labor and proves how carefully Japan inched forward before embarking on major undertakings. The care with which matters were planned in Manchuria likewise indicates how vital a blow to Japanese imperialism would be a colonial revolt in that territory; it would play the rôle of a super-Irish Rebellion and would stagger Japan to its knees. It is worth nothing, as an aside, how little Washington understands this. It is not even worth Roosevelt’s trouble to demagogically encourage the Korean People’s League, whose bourgeois spokesmen plead, in vain, to Washington for recognition. Is it because Chiang Kai-shek wants Korea back as a part of post-war bourgeoisie China?

In many other respects Japanese imperialism also follows the traditional line of imperialist policies. The M-Day-like plans for war drawn up by the military agencies and described at great length by Tannin and Yohan, Soviet journalists, in their book, When Japan Goes to War, follow a familiar pattern. Undoubtedly the major reason behind the fierce driving power of Japanese aggression has been the preparedness of its heavy industry for war; the channelizing long ago of consumers’ commodity production into the stream of war production (at the expense of reducing living standards to a semi-colonial level) and the systematic accumulation of war stocks and equipment. So carefully did this imperialism plan its future that during 1937 a trial, one-month period of industrialization was held. During this test period, industry was given additional, surplus war orders, imposed upon its regular production program, and forced to carry out the government contracts. Of course, the results were achieved by the expedient of length[en]ing the working day (from ten to twelve hours), but this “dictatorship of finance-capital merged with military dictatorship” (Tannin and Yohan) has only succeeded in advancing itself precisely through such totalitarian methods.

So much for the elements of Japan’s economic structure. As Trotsky once remarked, the Western world forced capitalism on Japan and thereby created an imperialist Frankenstein, caricatured in its own image.

What Makes Dai Nippon Run?

We have in my country a genuine anachronism. There is our mythological Japan, a deeply rooted agricultural civilization; and then, there is also a small concentrated twentieth-century mechanized civilization that its using mythological Japan for its own ends. (Year of the Wild Boar, page 207)

But the inner failings of Japanese economy are not enough to explain its imperial successes and its strength. In a previous article (The New International, May 1942) we have tried to explain these successes by drawing a comparison (in goals and content, not in form or methods) between the Nazi Party of Germany and the organized, secret societies of the Japanese militarists, aristocrats and oligarchic feudalists. Hugh Byas speaks of the “five-fold expansion” of Japan’s economy in the last forty years (during and since the Russo-Japanese War). It is true that the economic force behind this rapid expansion was the primitive accumulation of capital arising from the nation’s swelling international trade and commerce and that the “Five Families” of Japanese capitalists (Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, etc.) which had already seized power over the new capitalist state stood behind the drive, pressing forward by means of a super-exploitation of the Japanese people. But something additional was needed, and here we come to the problem of Japan’s peculiar super-structure: the ideological set-up of its regime.

Miss Mears’ book, Year of the Wild Boar, furnishes us many clues to this problem and is, indeed, rich in sociological insight, regardless of her inability to grasp the relationship between the Japanese state and the imperialist-capitalism upon which it is based. This book, describing a year’s stay in 1935 of the author and her association with Japanese middle class and intellectual elements – interspersed with social research into Japanese farming and factory-labor conditions – is by far the most valuable of the books listed above, with the possible exception of the revealing Tanaka Memorial. The author, tries to understand the Japanese people, the inculcation of ancient mythology and racialism, the superficial “Westernization” of the Japanese petty bourgeois intellectuals, the reactionary doctrines of Japanese imperialism.

At the time of Japan’s first contact with the Western capitalist world – less than 100 years ago – a section of the old Samurai, feudal ruling class realized that Japan must either continue its hermetically sealed state or seek to catch up and outstrip the capitalist nations. For many years Japanese ruling circles were torn apart between the new bourgeois groups and those who fought to remain as before. The rising Japanese bourgeoisie, however, did not win a clean-cut victory over the feudal elements, but deliberately and consciously compromised with the reactionary groups by taking over their feudal, religious and racialist ideology and converting it to its own purposes. That is, there was no completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution, but rather an installation of capitalism (from the start it had a statified, monopolist character) with a perverted feudal superstructure. This transition was effected with relative ease, particularly since a substantial section of the Samurai class became converted into – business men! This is what is meant when “two Japans” are spoken of. The modern, imperialist, finance-capitalist Japan, with its feudal ideology. In order to make effective this preachment and glorification of the dim, backward past some peculiar twists were necessary – with equally queer results.

  1. First of all, clique, family and parental authority are played up beyond one’s imagination. In the family proper, it is the father; in the family clan, it is the elder; in the factory, shop or office, it is. the boss; in the state apparatus, it is the bureaucrat or official; in Dai Nippon, the Empire, it is the Emperor – father of his people. Thus runs the hierarchy of authority. Tribal, clan, dynastic and heavenly sources are cited as authority.
  2. Poverty, the “natural” poorness of the country, its bad climatic conditions, its limited variety of food, resources, etc., are all turned into “virtues.” Here, perhaps, lies the origin of Japanese Oriental “fatalism” and the delicate artistic sentiments of the Japanese people. “We must make the best of everything.” Everything is done on a small scale, cut down to the stark material limitations of the tiny islands on which 75,000,000 people dwell.
  3. Japanese mythology – distinguished by its emphasis that all that one imagines as existing actually exists (a refusal to differentiate between myth and reality) – fits neatly into this material poverty. As Trotsky once explained the attraction Hitler has for every petty bourgeois German by pointing out that Hitler personifies what he, the frustrated petty bourgeois, would like to be, so Japanese racial psychology and mythology conjure up dreams of glory for the repressed Japanese urban middle class and intellectuals. “The four corners of the earth under the Emperor!” We do not have rice to eat, says the Japanese farmer starving on his one-acre holding, then we shall have an elaborate rice-ceremony – as our forefathers did – as a substitute. It is noteworthy that, as Japan’s involvement in world affairs increased and as the war dangers grew, the Japanese government began to lay growing emphasis on Japan’s past, shokun (custom), the dream-world of the nation’s mythological creation. This is why, when one meets Japanese students or intellectuals, he has the impression of dealing with an unreal being, with his feet in this world (imperialistic, racially arrogant, bureaucratic), but with his mind deep in the past (feudalistic, religious in the mythological sense).
  4. We said above that the behavior of Japan’s ruling circles is deliberately conditioned to conquer the environment it lives in. This implies, of course, an inhibited ruling class, conscious of its historic frustration, and leading to a “politics of desperation.” Unfortunately, for too long and perhaps for years to come, this perverted spawn of Oriental capitalism has spoken and acted in the name of the Japanese masses, including the workers and peasants. The backwardness of the Japanese people, from the viewpoint of its lack of modern culture and class consciousness, cannot be better illustrated than by pointing to the fact that no one has ever made a first-hand, intimate study of the industrial proletariat of Japan, nor the agricultural laborers. No one could ever get that close to them! The Japanese bourgeoisie still sits tight upon the lid of the box within which they have been corked up. Still greater experience must be undergone by these submerged workers and peasants before they will be able, for the first time in their history, to act under their own initiative and break loose from the narrow militarists, bigoted feudalists and thwarted imperialists who stand at the head of the Japanese Empire.

To summarize, then, the books upon which this article is based:

  1. The Tanaka Memorial – This classic document of imperialism must be read by every student of modern capitalism; it is right out of the horse’s mouth!
  2. When Japan Goes to War – It gives a good statistical estimate and description of Japan’s war industries, but it is written around a strategic axis whose failure to materialize invalidates much of the book.
  3. Year of the Wild Boar – By far one of the most valuable and penetrating studies of Japan; even though lacking a mass of statistical data (and Japanese statistics are highly deceptive), it goes far deeper than abstract studies in explaining the Japanese petty bourgeois and the lot of the workers and farmers.
  4. As for the superficial, journalistic pot-boiler of Hugh Byas, written in an excited moment after Pearl Harbor, we need but quote the author to the effect that “Marxist ideology ... produced the military socialism which today rules Japan” (page 21). Mr. Byas also thinks that the Japanese Army is independent of every other group in the country. He has a reactionary, anti-Marxist axe to grind and tediously does so, using one of the scimitars of the ancient Samurai.

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