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Henry Judd

The Dilemmas of Dai Nippon

(December 1941)

From The New International, Vol. VII No. 10, November 1941, pp. 265–7.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

NO COUNTRY in the modern imperialist world is beset by so many difficulties and dilemmas as Dai Nippon, the Japanese Empire of the Far East. No imperialist power is driven to so many deceitful extremes; no bourgeoisie is so tormented and tortured as that of Japan. Things that came with relative ease to young, ambitious imperialisms in bygone days are either denied to the Japanese, or are obtained only after back-breaking efforts. Furthermore, the broad horizon of the empire – represented at its extreme by the Tanaka program – constantly narrows as immediate aims and objectives become slimmer and fewer. The Japanese Empire is decidedly an empire that remains on the defense when confronted by its rivals.

On September 27, 1940, Japan formally joined the Axis partnership, thus creating a new “Triple Alliance.” This was barely a year ago. With boastful flourishes, the signatories to the Triple Pact proclaimed that this union of the principal “have-nut, proletarian” powers sounded the death knell of the “plutocratic imperialisms”; that theirs was an aggressive, militant alliance aiming at a redivision of the earth – Europe, Africa and Asia.

But one year later, as the press of Dai Nippon prepared the world tor a special session of the Diet (held on November 15) we find major emphasis laid on the following two characteristics of the pact: (1) That it contained an oral “escape” clause, applying to the Pacific area, which meant that Japan was not obliged to assume any responsibilities or obligations for events occurring in the Pacific that involved the other Axis partners; and (2) Clause III of the pact – obligating Japan to give military aid to Germany if the latter was “aggressed” – could be interpreted broadly to suit the national needs of Japan. In a word, the Triple Alliance was a scrap of paper!

It is our objective in this article to review briefly some of the important events that have occurred in Japanese history during the first year of the “Triple Alliance” – events that have largely nullified this branch o£ the Axis and have brought Japan to the most crucial stage of its permanent dilemma.

* * *

Premier Tojo, current leader of Japan’s military ruling circles, has given an excellent formulation and description of the generalized dilemma that constantly eats away at the core of the empire. In a speech he stated, “Japan must either fulfill its mission of organizing a co-Asiatic prosperity sphere or become a second rate power.” This is simply the Nipponese translation of the famous dictum uttered by Mussolini with respect to Italy: “Expand or die.”

In more concrete forms, this dilemma is expressed by (a) the constant drive to get raw materials which brings Japan smack up against its imperialist rivals (England and America) ; (b) the constant drive to get foreign currencies, through export trade, to bolster the yen or else submit to still further inflation at home; (c) the constant drive to supply and replenish the armies in the field and the navy or else automatically lose every territorial gain since the war of 1905 and (d) the constant drive to find surplus exportable capital so that some profit may result from exploiting the conquered territories.

The net effect of these dilemmas and contradictions is to keep Japanese imperialism in a state of turmoil bordering on panic, in which political crisis and cabinet crisis follow on the heels of one another. The current crisis of Dai Nippon is expressed more specifically in the negotiations and discussions with the United States which have gone on for almost a year – that is, since Japan joined the supposedly all-powerful Axis.

To say that Japan is “stalling for time” in these negotiations is to say a half-truth. It does not explain two essential points: (1) Why the Japanese are stalling; (2) Beyond the most successful “stalling period” lies nothing but the same dilemmas and insoluble problems. What reason is there to believe that a long drawn-out “stall” will better the empire’s position vis-à-vis America and its allies?

Japan stalls because it dares not face the possibility of a war with America; a war which every sane Japanese imperialist knows can only end in defeat and disaster; a war in which Japan is doomed from the first shot. Herein is expressed the historic dilemma of the empire in its most acute form. Shall it be reduced to a miniature imperial power by the strangulation process of the ABCD powers (American, British, Chinese and Dutch), or shall it attempt to burst out of its steel encirclement by major military action?

In the current negotiations – the “successful” or “unsuccessful” conclusion of which will solve nothing for the Japanese ruling clique – Japan seeks (a) To gain time in which to breathe and further explore its situation in the world; (b) To lift the freezing order clamped down by the United States and the British and Dutch empires; (c) To make further preparations if a major war becomes unavoidable; (d) To regain some foreign trade concessions and (e) To salvage something from the wrecks of the Manchurian and Chinese adventures. Naturally, a further stiffening of the home front by new autarchic and militarist measures is being attempted in preparation for the worst possibilities. Indeed, there is little genuine confidence or hope in any strata of the Japanese ruling class!

On the Home Front

(1) Politics – Blunder After Blunder: As Japan’s position worsens her ridiculous bourgeois politicians grow more boastful and pretentious. They announce the projection of a railroad running from Berlin to Tokyo! They urge a bond issue to float its initial capital! Theoretically, bourgeois parliamentary parties have been disbanded and their functions replaced by Shintaisei – the “New Structure” organized by ex-Premier Konoye. But this new structure has as much reality as Hitler’s “New Order.” Divisions, confusions and conflicts within the ruling class have simply been transferred to wrangling cliques and intriguing groups that revolve around the Emperor’s palace in Tokyo.

One of the important “New Structure” creations – the Throne Aid League – openly criticizes the entire Konoye program as a failure and went so far as to advocate its own disbanding! The Japanese Diet serves no function beyond that of supplying a battleground for the warring factions of the military, naval and capitalist cliques. Thus, it meets for three days, adopts ready-made tax bills and adjourns! As cabinet succeeds cabinet it is frankly acknowledged that each fresh successor is but a “temporary” expedient.

(2) Social and Economic Conditions. These may be considered under two separate headings: (1) Situation of the general population; (2) Situation with regard to preparations for waging a major war against the “democratic” war camp.

Naturally, Japan’s imperialists place the burden of the crisis they have brought about on the shoulders of the long-suffering masses. The living standards decline toward a dead level of semi-starvation. Finance Minister Koya announces, “to lower the standard of living of the people as much as possible so as to divert surplus capital to industrial (war) production” – that is the aim of his department. These gentlemen are amazingly candid.

Today the Japanese people lack adequate rice rations, sugar, cooking-oil, fish, matches and a dozen and one daily commodities. In truest totalitarian fashion, each individual has been mobilized into one or more of the various national “fronts.” Little recreation is permitted – not even the pleasure of a cigarette or smoking tobacco (there is none), or a moving picture after 9 p.m. Of course, the food situation is most crucial of all. Premier Tojo admits that Japan will have sufficient rice only if the exports from Thailand, Indo-China, China and Korea continue – a dubious if when placed against the background of the current situation. A makeshift plan introduced by his cabinet to plant cereal crops to replace the mulberry groves of the silk industry will not suffice to make up for shortages. Japan fears starvation in naval warfare far more than Britain does because Japan has no American Navy to convoy for it.

The recent session of the Diet imposed new taxes, ordered by the new cabinet of Premier Tojo. These include:

These additional taxes – like all taxes promulgated by the reactionary capitalist regimes – affect the Japanese workers, peasants and middle class professionals.

Japan, perhaps more than any other important power in the world, depends on its export trade and commerce. The economic blockades of the ABCD powers have been almost fatal blows to the two principal export industries, silks and textiles. No figures on unemployment have been released, but it is known that approximately 6,000,000 Japanese families (peasants and workers) were engaged in 6ne or another aspect of the silk industry. America bought 90 per cent of Japan’s raw silk in 1940! In addition, America bought huge quantities of printed textiles and fabrics. It is not difficult to imagine the dislocation that a brusque cutting off of this trade has had upon Japanese economy. In the city of Osaka (3,500,000 population), hundreds of thousands of women and children labor in the textile mills. What has happened to them since the wiping out of Japan’s export trade?

As for the war economy of Dai Nippon and preparations for major warfare, the situation is simple and precise. Japan is living on accumulated stocks and reserves.

“Planning fresh adventures ... (Japan) must store up huge supplies of basic materials (coal, iron ore, oil, gasoline, armaments).” (The New International, January 1941.) Has Japan succeeded in this task? Absolutely not! She has been cut off from access to all raw materials and metal ores with the exception of those flowing in from Korea and Manchukuo. Take, for example, the question of oil – a material without which the Japanese Navy cannot budge. The empire itself produces (northern Sakhalin island) in one year the amount of oil it uses up in one month. The balance (92 per cent) has to come from outside sources. No oil has been exported from the United States or the Dutch East Indies (previous principal sources) for the past four months. The same crisis with regard to dwindling reserves holds true for every basic material utilized in modern warfare.

Yet we find Nichi Nichi – a leading organ of the imperialists – offering the following statement – half bluff, half threat. “If the United States means to avoid war in the Pacific and maintain her supply of rubber, tin, etc., now is the time for the United States to give serious consideration to Japan’s determination.” Naval warfare in the Pacific would have a far more serious effect upon Japanese supply lines than upon American.

On the International Front

With one exception, mentioned below, Japan has had a series of unbroken defeats in the field of political and economic maneuvering on the international front.

  1. The military offensive in China launched against Changsha resulted in a miserable withdrawal and abandonment of the campaign. In the past year no serious advance or dent has been made on the “frozen” military fronts in China. The Burma Road remains untouched.
  2. As already explained, formal membership in the Axis has had no concrete benefit upon Japan’s position.
  3. A “basic treaty” has been signed with the Wang Ching-wei puppet government of Nanking, granting Japan full economic rights over its own creation. But the Nanking “government” is an international scandal and farce – even failing to attain the stature of the Vichy-Petain regime. At the moment, according to the reliable China Weekly Review, it is paralyzed by an internal clique struggle over funds and revenues accruing from gambling houses maintained by this “government.” Even the Japanese press now largely ignores this chimera of the Japanese imagination. The “basic treaty” has failed to erect any stable regime in the occupied areas of China.
  4. The New International previously listed five territorial points that constituted concrete objectives in various “imperialist adventures planned by the high command” in its southward expansion drive. What has happened to this plan during the course of the last year? (a) The situation in Shanghai remains basically the same. A simple “mopping-up” operation and the city becomes a complete Japanese possession – yet caution is still exercised, (b) In Hongkong – British gateway to its sphere of influence – the status quo has been maintained, (c) Only in French Indo-China can the Japanese imperialists record a limited success. This former French colony has been large occupied and its economy has been fitted – in the form of economic treaties – into the war machine of the empire. The foothold in Indo-China is still tenuous and shaky, but it represents the one solid success of the past year, (d) Singapore-Malaya still remains as a formidable obstacle to the Japanese and it is decidedly stronger today than last year, thanks to American material aid. (e) The Dutch East Indies are as desirable – and remote – as they were one year ago. The sole difference is that today no supplies, not even those exchanged under more normal conditions (oil, rubber, rice, quinine, etc.) come from these islands, (f) With regard to Thailand (Siam), this prolongation of French Indo-China has passed out of Japanese influence and fallen into the Anglo-American-Malayan orbit, where – in the manner of the small nations of Europe – it will be torn to bits if a general Pacific war comes about.

* * *

This, in brief, is the unfavorable position of Dai Nippon on the home and international front. In ordinary, “normal” circumstances it would dictate the pursuit of a slow, hesitant policy of skillful caution – one at which the diplomats and politicos of Japan are adept. But the Second World War for world re-division and world re-mastery do not encourage policies of hesitancy and retreat. Encircled by the steel arms of its rivals, Japanese imperialism may shortly be forced to strike out in sheer desperation. Certainly the capitalist-militarist cliques which control the nation will not hesitate about such a step – even though they understand what its sole result can be – if the only other alternative is Japan’s reduction to a second-rate power, while the empire decomposes at a rapid pace. And this other alternative is all that is “offered” to them by the Anglo-American imperialists.

Under present circumstances, a major struggle in the Pacific is inevitable – and that in the near future! It will be a clear struggle for imperialist hegemony over the waters of the vast Pacific, China, the raw materials of the South Pacific and control of the China Seas. The defeat of Japan in such a war would, regardless of and despite the will of the “victorious” imperialisms, set loose elementary revolutionary forces within Japan itself. In a war between the Empire of Japan and the Anglo-American powers, the final word would belong to the defeated soldiers, the farmers and the working masses of Dai Nippon.

December 1, 1941

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