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Japan: Its Rise from Feudalism ...

Jack Weber

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

(December 1932)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 49, 3 December 1932, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Commercial Rivalries

China forms the battleground of the nations and exposes the utterly hopeless contradictions of imperialism. Even back in 1908 U.S. Special Agent Clark, sent to Manchuria, reported: “Manchuria is a very important market for American flour, oil, tobacco, etc., and especially for American piece goods. It is the only section of China in which American piece goods practically monopolize the market ... The trade of Manchuria is of more importance to the U.S. than to any other nation, with the possible exception of Japan.” It was the successful Japanese methods of closing this trade to the U.S. that led to the Hays formulation of the Open Door policy, a policy consistently accepted in words by Japan and broken in deed by the methods of railway rebates to Japanese business, by the prompt delivery of Japanese goods and the holding up of foreign goods, by the forgery of trade marks, – in fact all the methods taught by capitalism. The foreigners pay full duties on goods entering Manchuria, the Japs evade these duties. It was fundamentally this conflict that led to the “political” outcry against the Japs in the U.S.

Pacific Shipping

A deadly conflict is constantly being waged for control of Pacific shipping. Here the low wages of Japanese seamen give Japan an advantage although she is at the peculiar disadvantage of requiring eleven sailors for every eight needed on U.S. ships due to the lower stature of the Japs. Both countries use the shrewdest “catch-as-catch-can” methods in this conflict. Despite all its disadvantages (older and fewer ships) the Japs control the shipping of 80 percent of their own freightage (imports and exports).

Controversies with the U.S.

The period from the Russo-Jap War to the present is sown with innumerable seeds of conflict. The ousting of American business from Manchuria raised a storm of obloquy in the press here against all things Japanese. In San Francisco, Japanese children were excluded from the ordinary schools and were forced to attend special schools for Orientals. The Japanese agitation about this matter caused President Roosevelt to send the U.S. fleet into the Pacific for a “tour” of the world (1908). Continued friction over immigration led to the Gentlemen’s Agreement of 1912, the Japs withholding passports from laborers if no exclusion law were passed. But the California alien land law of 1920 and the Supreme Court decision shutting the Japs out of citizenship led up to the exclusion law of 1924.

The conflict over loans and railways in China present a Gordian knot in the economic battle for supremacy in the Far East. Harriman tried to purchase the South Manchurian railway in 1905. This attempt being futile, Knox then tried to “neutralize” Manchuria by making the railways “international”, a move whose only fruit was the secret partitioning of Manchuria between Czarist Russia and Japan. In 1913 came the attempt to grant an international loan to China for the purpose of building a rival railway to the South Manchurian in Shantung. The State Department approved the “consortium” for loans to China in 1919. However, in every case Japan has outmaneuvered the U.S. imperialists in this sphere.

The World War intensified the struggle for mastery. The U.S. opposed the 21 demands and the attempt of Japan to seize the Siberian Maritime Provinces in the 1918–1920 intervention. Owing to American cable and wireless interests, the U.S. opposed the ceding of the Island of Yap to Japan as a “mandate”. American militarism saw with dismay the handing over to Japan of the strategic Caroline and Marshall Islands and there has been constant friction over the secret building of naval bases in these islands. Finally the United States called Japan to order at the Washington Conference in 1921 where Japan was forced to retreat temporarily. At this conference the U.S. forced the abrogation of the Anglo-Jap alliance of 1902 which formed a threat to the U.S., but which had also become embarrassing to England. At the present time Stimson continues the policy of opposition, by refusing to recognize Manchukuo. Here is Tanaka’s view of recent developments:

“The Nine Powers Agreement is exclusively the reflection of the spirit of trade rivalry, England and America wanted, by means of their great wealth, to smash our influence in China. The proposal for the limitation of armaments is merely a means of curtailing our military power and depriving us of the possibility of conquering the huge territory of China.”

Chinese Trade

The share of the U.S. in Chinese trade is on the increase. It controlled 17 percent of Chinese imports in 1928, the Japanese controlling 26.4 percent. Japan’s share is also increasing at the expense of England. The struggle of the U.S. against the strengthening of Japan’s influence in China is reflected politically in the alliance with Chiang Kai-Shek. The Americans feel that their strongest ally would be the growth of a unified Chinese bourgeoisie. Aerial developments, radio communication, transport are being furthered rapidly by U.S. capitalism.

The Strategy of War

Why has not war resulted long since between Japan and the U.S.? The answer lies in the immense distances involved. So long as Japan controls her inland sea and the open routes to China, she has nothing to fear from the U.S. with its nearest naval base 5,000 miles away. The effective battle radius of modern fleets from their bases is considered to be only 500 miles. Whether aircraft can revolutionize the situation remains a problem of the future. Japanese control of the Caroline and Marshall Islands means a threat to the flank of any invading navy over 2,000 miles of its route by submarines. Only with the help of a capitalist Russia could the U.S. hope to emerge from an impasse in case of war with Japan.

(To be continued)

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