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Japan: Its Rise from Feudalism ...

Jack Weber

Its Rise from Feudalism to Capitalist Imperialism
and the Development of the Proletariat

(October 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 41, 8 October 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

I. The Dearth of Raw Materials

Without ample coal and iron reserves no country can aspire to a place of first rank among modern industrial powers. Lacking in adequate home reserves of these essentials, Japanese capitalism is under the imperative necessity of importing them from abroad. In this respect and more generally, Japan ranks with Italy.

Influence of Iron Ores

In 1928 Japan produced 8% of the total iron ores she consumed. Of the 92% she imported 11% came from Japanese colonies and the remainder mainly from China and Straits Settlement. The known iron ores of the Far East, including Japan, Korea, Manchuria and China, are so small in quantity that if Japan were to consume these ores at the per capita rate of the U.S. the entire body of ores would be exhausted in 15 year’s. Manchuria has reserves whose metallic content is equal to that of Germany or of Great Britain, but these ores are of such low grade that they are hardly reckoned as ores in the U.S. Large outlays are necessary for the extra operation of preparing them for use since they must first be chemically treated to obtain a higher concentration of metal. Thus no solid metallurgical basis exists for a steel industry of enduring importance. Nevertheless, despite the cost handicap, Japan maintains her steel industry through tax exemptions, high subsidies and protective tariffs, obviously for armament purposes. The government arsenal founded at Yawata in 1900 produces ½ the steel used by industry but operates at a serious loss each year in spite of the high rates charged for the steel products; for example, round steel bars costing $43 to $51 per ton are sold in Germany for $25 to $30. Japanese capitalists submit quite willingly to this handicap to strengthen imperialist militarism which aims first of all to seize those parts of Asia which can supply basic raw materials and food.

The Problem of Coal

Measured in terms of coal production, Japanese industry is far from an advanced stage. The output is ½ ton per capita as compared with over 4½ tons for the U. S. and over 5 for the United Kingdom. Even if we include hydro-electric power (converted to tons of coal) Japan’s position is not improved. The coal reserves of all Japan are only 118 tons per capita, less even than those of British India, and far below the 4,070 tons for Great Britain and the 27,500 tons for the U.S. To make matters worse the coal that Japan does possess, while good as bunker coal on ships, is unfit for coking and therefore unfit for steel production. The high cost of coke is a major problem for the Japanese steel industry and renders her competition in this field utterly impossible under present technology. The cost of coke per ton of pig iron in 1927 was $3.25 in the U.S. and $7.50 in Japan. Only in China (with its 2,200 tons per capita reserves) is there coking coal in the Far East and even there not in large amounts.

Coal mining is far more difficult in Japan than in the other capitalist countries as the seams lie much deeper and are thinner. Less machinery being used, the output per miner is less. Thus each miner produced ½ ton per day in 1925 as against 4½ tons for the U.S. Nor is this cost made up by cheaper labor – the output being 1/9 as great but the wages being 1/5 those in the U.S.


Barred from rapid progress in the heavy industries by her lack of the necessary raw materials, Japanese capitalism has been forced – for other reasons as well – to turn to the lighter textile industries. Yet even here Japan is forced to import cotton, the raw material of greatest importance to her manufacturing. Supplied with an abundance of raw silk, Japan is nevertheless not a great manufacturer of silk but rather a source of raw material for the U.S. silk industry.

It is above all this poverty in raw materials that makes Japan a debtor nation, hyper-sensitive to world market conditions, unstable financially owing to difficulties of international payments.

III. The Imperialist Struggle for Markets

Japanese feudal-capitalism entered the world arena even later than German imperialism and her struggle for markets commenced at the very birth of her capitalism, particularly in competition with the powers in China. China and India, with half the world’s population, form a fabulous market. But India is pre-empted by England. More than any other power Japan depends on foreign markets, for no other country exports so large a percentage of the total production of goods. The desperate effort of Japanese imperialism to subjugate China as a colony to function as market and as source of raw material, is the reflection of the stifling action of capitalist world economy on the further growth of Japanese productive forces. But China is also essential to U.S. capitalism and Chinese capitalists desire to exploit the home market themselves. Young as is Japanese capitalism, it has already passed through many crises and has had to limit its productive capacities again and again due to the competition for markets. Japanese capitalism is faced with the task of carving out its own markets by seizing China or by wresting colonies from the established powers. This external struggle manifests the desperate effort of the feudal-capitalist combination to maintain the inner exploitation of the workers and peasants.

(To be continued)

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