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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. 43, 22 October 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

(Continued from last issue)

China at that period was completely self-sustaining. The Chinese were skilled handicraftsmen whose labor was so cheap that it was impossible to undersell her goods in her own market. China practised both silk and cotton weaving so that no cotton goods could be sold in the Far East by Europeans. The English tried to sell their most important manufacture, woolen goods, but this was a drug on the market.

The Smuggling of Opium

There was only one commodity that the English found they could sell in China – opium! Opium was grown extensively in India where it was used as a drink, but was little known in China. The English mixed the opium with tobacco brought from America and planted in Formosa. The Chinese learned to smoke this mixture, and then opium alone. As soon as its effects became known in China, its importation was strictly prohibited under penalty of death. But the Europeans, particularly the British, started, to smuggle it in using even the British Navy for this purpose. The traffic assumed such tremendous proportions that it literally drained the gold and silver out of China, gold and silver that the British traders used to pay for Indian cotton of which they imported one million lbs. a year by 1700 and 50 million by 1800.

So appallingly great became the illicit opium traffic – in time – that in sheer desperation the corrupt Chinese officials were driven to action. Around 1840 they seized a large number of chests of opium brought in by the English, and destroyed them. This was quickly seized upon by imperialist England as a good pretext for declaring war on China (the Opium Wars of the 1840s). China was forced to permit opium in and at the same time England was given a foothold in the Yangtse Valley at Hongkong.

Queerly enough, however, the British need for opium in China had ceased at the very time China was being coerced into its acceptance. The reason for this change must be sought in the industrial revolution. The cotton industry had given a great impetus to factory development and this in turn stimulated English mechanical inventions. In 1785 for the first time steam engines were used in factories. The spinning-mule and the power loom had come into existence. England was transformed from a country that imported cotton goods in 1700 to one that exported to the extent of over one million pounds sterling by 1800. Her exports went mostly to her colonies, – but now she could even undersell cheap Chinese labor due to the superior productivity of the machines. Hence opium was no longer needed to finance the purchase of raw materials.

Under the driving-force of profits, however, the opium traffic could not be stopped. It had now invaded China in the form of poppy-growing, the mercenary Chinese officials encouraging this under the pretext that it would help keep Chinese money at home.

Japan and Opium

History has repeated itself after a fashion. Today Japan seeks to finance her purchases of raw cotton from abroad. One of the means used to accomplish this, is the sale of opium and of manufactured narcotics to China. Manchuria has always been a base for this traffic. The Japanese, in ousting Chang-Hsiao-liang, have taken over his control of opium. But it is no longer merely raw opium but the cheaper manufactured narcotics, morphine and heroin. These are supplied by the “advanced” capitalist countries, the U.S., England, Germany, Switzerland to China via Japan. The privileged consular pouches and parcels post system of Japan in Manchuria, are freely used for this purpose.

The League of Nations in typical fashion, has convened bodies of “experts” to help “solve” the opium problem. Soviet Russia, invited to these fake conferences, replied: “The government of the U.S.S.R. has come to the conclusion that in connection with the task of fighting the spread of opium and other drugs, the various states are striving to satisfy their own commercial interests and gain material benefits. Under such circumstances, Soviet Russia considers that its participation would be useless.” Making a market for opium means “repeats” and how lucrative the business is, may be judged from the estimate that it amounts to some $600,000,000 per year in China! What chance is there that so vast a business will be abolished under capitalism? In 1917 Japan’s imports of morphine from England – intended for China – amounted to 600,000 ounces. The exact revenue derived from opium in India is unknown, a dark secret in the archives of a special revenue department. But it is known to supply 45% of the revenue in Straits Settlement, 21% in French Indo-China, 11% in the Dutch East Indies, 23% in Siam, 12 to 50% in Persia. The British government grants loans to farmers without interest to raise poppy, the government buying the entire crop. The price of poppy is regulated to spread the poppy acreage as against the competing crop – wheat! It is a foregone conclusion that capitalism will not solve this problem which will be liquidated only after the proletarian revolution and the elimination of the profit motive.

Cotton and the Swadeshi Movement

The industrial revolution not only permitted the English to undersell the Chinese but also the Hindus whose handicraft industry practically disappeared as a result. Gandhi, put forth by the Swadeshi movement to win over and mislead the Hindu masses, interprets the modern Swadeshi movement in terms of reestablishing this vanished art. Only the most gullible individual could swallow this pretense. The Swadeshi movement is the bid of the Indian national bourgeoisie for an alliance with the British imperialists in the exploitation of the Hindu workers – particularly in the newly rising cotton mills. All that the Indian bourgeoisie desire is a protective tariff to keep out competition until their “infant” industry is strong enough to stand on its own lusty feet (on the backs of the Hindu workers, of course). Back in 1907 Dr. R.B. Gosh, president of the first National Indian Congress, stated: “What reasonable man can doubt that the real strength of the Swadeshi movement is to be found in our national desire to nurse our own industries, which the Government of India, with their free trade principles, are unable to protect by building up a tariff wall?” On the British side at this same time Sir R. Lethbridge (India and Imperial Preference) advocated such a tariff for India – provided it was made to fit into a scheme of Imperial Preference. Under the stress of Japanese and U.S. competition, England has been forced to adopt exactly this policy advocated for 25 years. The Indian trade is the mainstay of the British cotton industry. To hold this trade and shut the door to all others has been the consistent policy of British capitalism. In their present desperation, Lancashire capitalists are trying to reduce costs by lowering the standards of living of English textile workers, so as to compete with Japan and America. Great Britain’s monopoly of the piece goods trade in India is under threat. Both U.S. and English capitalism are suffering from Japanese competition. The latter’s cotton textile industry has grown faster than any other country’s during the past 15 years. Measured by the amount of raw cotton consumed the industry grew slowly in Great Britain till 1913, then declined. The industry has grown steadily in the U.S. since 1870. In Japan it began during the war and has risen rapidly since.

(To be continued)

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