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Jack Weber

America and the War in the Pacific

(August 1934)

From New International, Vol.1 No.2, August 1934, pp.33-35.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

CAPITALIST peace is an armed truce constantly threatened with being disrupted by the under-handed or overt acts of aggression of one or the other of the imperialist powers. The incident that finally precipitates war is merely the indication that diplomacy, as an instrument for peaceful expansion of the robber interests of finance capital, is powerless when faced with a problem of fundamental contradiction between two national capitalist states. Such a situation has now been reached in the Far East; at any moment the volcanic pressure of productive forces clamoring for expansion in a capitalist world will bring a violent explosion. Whether the next war, for which all countries are feverishly preparing, breaks out in the Pacific zone of conflict first – as seems most probable – is of little consequence, for it will inevitably become world-wide in its scope.

From the point of view of imperialism, the problem of the Pacific is reducible to quite simple terms. On one side of this vast ocean stands the most powerful capitalist nation on earth, the United States, with its tremendous resources and its supreme technique of production. On the other side lies a continent with more than half the world’s population, just beginning to develop, offering a fabulous market for commodities and for capital investment. But in between lies Japan, also seeking, as a matter of life and death for its capitalism, sources of raw materials, markets for its finished goods, fields for investment of finance capital. Japan threatens to subjugate entirely for its own purposes the greatest market still undivided, to make of China a colony, to close the door in the face of United States imperialism. A problem of such vast and profound importance to both these capitalist powers can only be “solved” by war. That has been clear to the ruling classes of both America and Japan ever since the victory of Japan in the Russo-Jap War. It was perfectly clear to Lenin when in October 1920 he granted (what he did not possess) to the American adventurer Washington Vanderlip a seventy-year lease to four hundred thousand square miles of territory, including Kamchatka, to exploit its rich oil, coal and fishery resources. Let the imperialist dogs fight over the bone and leave the Soviet Union alone!

A long history of conflicts between the two Pacific powers leads up to the present situation. It took thirty years for Japan to wrest Manchuria from China and completely shut out all other rivals. America felt this loss keenly. Back in 1906 US Special Agent Clark, sent to Manchuria, reported:

“Manchuria is a very important market for American flour, oil, tobacco, etc. and especially for American cotton 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 US than to any other nation, with the possible exception of Japan.”

It was the Japanese success in closing this trade to the US that led to the Hays’ formulation of the Open Door policy, the only method at the time by which American capitalism could oppose Japanese penetration. Needless to say, American imperialism would be the first to violate this policy if it secured the upper hand. The Japanese capitalists consistently bow to this policy in words, the better to violate it in deeds by the methods of railway rebates to Japanese business, by the prompt delivery of Japanese goods and the holding up of foreign goods on the railroads, by the forgery of trade marks, by the opening of mail and cables, by the use of diplomatic pouches to dodge taxes, – in short, by all the tricky methods taught by American and world capitalism.

The ousting of American business from Manchuria raised a storm of obloquy in the American press against all things Japanese. In San Francisco Japanese children were excluded from the ordinary schools and were forced to attend special schools for Orientals. Japanese resentment over this caused Theodore Roosevelt to send the US fleet into the Pacific in 1908 for a “tour” of the world, in precisely the same fashion as the present Roosevelt sent the fleet to Hawaii recently upon the final seizure of Manchuria. The friction over immigration finally resulted in the “Gentlemen’s Agreement” of 1912 by which the Japanese agreed to withhold passports from laborers on condition that no exclusion law were passed. But the US violated this agreement when the California Alien Land Law of 1920, preventing Japanese from owning land, and the Supreme Court decision shutting the Japanese out from becoming citizens, led up to the Exclusion Law of 1924.

The conflict over loans and railways in China presents a Gordian knot in the economic battle for supremacy in the Far East. The American railway magnate, Harriman, tried to purchase the South Manchurian railway in 1905. This attempt proving futile, Secretary Knox then tried to “neutralize” Manchuria by making its railways “international”, a move the only result of which was to bring about a 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 in 1919 approved the “consortium” for loans to China. In every case, however, Japan has outmanoeuvred United States imperialism in this sphere.

The World War intensified the struggle for mastery of the Pacific. The United States opposed the infamous 21 demands forced by Japanese imperialism on China in 1915, and the attempt of Japan to seize the Siberian Maritime Provinces in the 1918-1921 intervention. Owing to American cable and wireless interests the United States opposed the ceding of the Island of Yap to Japan as a “mandate” after the war. 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.

The Washington Conference of 1921-2 served to emphasize the American policy of watchful waiting and of slow retreat before the aggressiveness of Japanese militarism. The purposes of American diplomacy at that conference were to limit naval armaments, particularly Japanese, to bring about the cancellation of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance then up for renewal, to attempt a settlement of troublesome Pacific Island questions and to obstruct Japanese imperialism in China and Siberia. Although Japan retreated from Siberia and yielded on the 5-5-3 capital ship ratio, she forced the US to forego fortification of the Pacific possessions beyond Hawaii and virtually forced a recognition of accomplished facts in China. Thus the Tsingtao-Tsinan Railway, seized by Japan in Shantung in 1915 and giving complete control to that province, remained in Japanese hands with a promise, never kept, to return it when “redeemed”. Japan has never repudiated, and recent events have demonstrated this amply, the 21 demands that Would make China completely a colony.

Has the Anglo-Japanese Alliance actually been broken? England entered into this alliance in 1902 because of the rise of industrial Germany and the naval race with German imperialism. Threatened with a German fleet in the North Sea and at the same time with a Czarist Russian thrust toward India in Asia, England was forced to concentrate her fleet in home waters and to permit the Japanese fleet to police the Pacific for her. In return the Japanese ruling class was given a free hand in North China. But with the post-war developments, Japan has become as much a threat to England as Germany or America. The Japanese Monroe Doctrine for Asia applies no less to England than to America. The British do not forget such statements as “the greater the consideration paid by Japan to India, the more should be the British concessions to Japan as regards China” in the Japanese press (Nippon-Ayobi-Nipponjin) or the famous statement of Colonel Misumachi to the Canadian missionaries in Chientao in which he warned them that Japan might give aid to the non-coöperation movement in India. To England mastery of China by either America or Japan means as a next step breaking of England’s strangle-hold on South China and loss of India.

The British colonies, Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and Australia, understand and fear this fact. England is faced with the dilemma that aid to Japan against the US in order to save her colonies from the American colossus may result in desertion by those very colonies – always outspoken against the Anglo-Jap Alliance. Thus D. Massey, when Prime Minister of New Zealand, declared that a war between England and the US would “smash the Empire into smithereens”. Similarly Hughes, as Prime Minister of Australia, stated that “he greeted with joy every battleship laid down in an American shipyard”. These alarmists of the Yellow Peril are themselves the greatest menace to the masses as the White capitalist Peril at home. But England has taken precautions and, on the advice of Admiral Jellicoe, has established the most powerful naval bases in the South China Seas, notably at Singapore and Colombo. Japanese diplomacy has aimed recently at balancing the US with England when the Japanese armies finally move on Siberia. In view of the intense rivalry in trade of Japanese capitalism with the English textile interests and the threat to British possessions by either victorious power, it is possible that England will remain neutral and attempt to capture the world’s trade during the conflict just as America and Japan did in the last war.

Even before America entered that last World War the US ruling class was already engaged in preparations for the next conflict, with Japan. Having captured the world market, American capitalism intended to maintain its hegemony after the war. Hence arose the Big Navy propaganda in 1916 when the US Congress inaugurated its three-year plan for building the largest navy in the world. President Wilson spoke for “incomparably the most adequate navy in the world”. In 1920 the Report of the General Board of the Navy stated the aim of creating “a navy equal to the most powerful maintained by any other nation in the world”. Japan was at the same time engaged in a naval race. The budgets of both countries set aside naval appropriations vastly in excess of any the world had hitherto seen. The Washington Conference arrested this race for a few years in its acutest form, but the present naval programs indicate that a “crisis” has arrived and that no more limitations will be acceptable.

Why has this “crisis” taken so long to mature? Why has not the US with its incomparably superior technology, come to grips sooner with its Japanese rivals? The answer lies in the immense distances involved in warfare in the Pacific. Unlike the World War, decided mainly by armies entrenched on land, this war concerns navies and naval strategy. The US could not send millions of soldiers overseas, nor could it support them if they could be sent. Unlike England, America has no first class naval base on the mainland of Asia. The radius of battle for the complex mechanism of a modern navy is dependent on the distance from such fueling and repair bases. In the last war this radius was five hundred miles and the US has no base nearer than five thousand miles from the scene of conflict, – Pearl Harbor in Honolulu. The Philippine Islands have several naval bases not very strongly fortified but even if well fortified the Japanese navy could very quickly seize these islands before the US could send sufficient forces to defend them. Even so the American militarists will hardly abandon the Philippines to be taken over immediately by Japan. The proposed “independence” of the islands is put ten years hence – and a good deal will happen in those ten years. Meantime the strategy of Japan has been directed towards complete control of all the sea lanes of the Western Pacific with the double view of exercizing complete mastery of Chinese trade and of making enclosed, well-protected inland seas of the waters adjacent to Japan and China. By keeping the route to Manchuria open, and to China, Japan can secure all that she needs in foodstuffs, coal and iron ore, etc. On her own soil the Island Kingdom is almost completely lacking in raw materials that arc absolutely essential to the conducting of war for any protracted period. The cutting of communications with Manchuria and China would be fatal to Japanese militarism, just as it would prove fatal for any Japanese armies left stranded in Manchuria without supplies from the home country.

It is precisely these reasons that caused the US to recognize the Soviet Union. Only an ally, a strong ally on the mainland, can assure victory to the United States, either through weakening Japan in preliminary warfare, or through a combined attack. Siberia would offer excellent air bases for raids on Japanese industrial centers such as Yawata Arsenal, so essential to Japanese militarism. The United States navy, following the northern route from Alaska along the Aleutians, could escape the submarine perils that would beset it along 2,000 miles of its course if it followed the lane parallel with the secretly prepared Caroline and Marshall Islands, veritable Japanese submarine nests. Soviet submarines could in turn threaten the Japanese lines of communication. From every point of view, as Radek pointed out long ago, American imperialism needs the aid of Soviet Russia. The Soviet Union, defending itself against imperialist attack, could utilize the contradictions in the camp of its imperialist enemies. The Japanese imperialists, faced with the threat of an alliance between two such enemies, was forced immediately to postpone its impending attack on the Maritime Provinces and Siberia.

But further postponement means further endangering the possibility of Japanese success. For Siberia is being rapidly colonized and built up into a very strong agrarian-industrial unit. Just as the Japanese were forced to take steps to seize Manchuria because of the tremendous influx of Chinese, thirty million of them, into a land that Japan hoped to use for colonization by her own people, so she will now be forced to act in Siberia before it is too late. But the US too can no longer afford to put off staking its fortunes on the sword. The vast surplus of commodities and of capital piled up by the most advanced capitalism in the world must seek an outlet beyond the national boundaries. The contradiction of overproduction by rapidly expanding forces of production, US capitalism hopes to solve in the world market by a redivision of that market. The crisis drives America, the hardest hit and the slowest to recover, inevitably on this adventurist road. Thus history may show the “combined” development of imperialist war between capitalist powers with a war of intervention against the Soviet Union starting in the East. But such a war will inevitably precipitate out all the contradictions between all the capitalist countries, and resolve also the fundamental contradiction of our epoch, that between a socialist system of society and the capitalist system. That solution depends, however, not on the desires of the imperialist bandits of capitalism, but on the masses of all countries.

The epoch of imperialism is the epoch of the deadline of capitalism, the era of wars and revolutions. The fierce competition in a world of ever more restricted markets means above all an unbearably intense exploitation of the masses of workers and farmers, a sharp lowering of the living standards of the toilers and the petty bourgeoisie. The largest war budgets are loaded on the backs of the toilers even while they starve, even while tens of millions are unemployed and unable to secure adequate relief. To carry through the program of imperialist war and plunder abroad requires a regime of reaction at home to suppress all opposition to the murderous schemes of big business. Bonapartism and Fascism are the inevitable concomitants of a regime of reactionary finance capital. The preparations at home for the program of imperialism abroad are not only technical, the mobilization of all industry for the war machine, but social in that all the elements of democracy, bourgeois and proletarian, must be suppressed to assure a smoothened path for dictatorial capitalism. In truth, far from “solving” any problem of livelihood for the masses, war means that they have everything to lose.

The way out of the all-embracing contradictions of modern capitalism is not along the road of imperialist war and its consequent redivision of the world, but by the advance of civilization to a new and higher plane through the hegemony of the proletariat. War is as much an attack on the working class at home as on the “enemy” abroad by the home bourgeoisie. If civilization is not to be destroyed in flames, if the masses are not to sink back into barbarism, then the machinations of the imperialist scoundrels must be resisted by the workers and farmers. The imperialist war must be turned into civil war! The working class must be taught to distrust all forms of justification for war, all manoeuvres to bring about “civil peace” before and during war. The first aim of the class struggle today must be to resist by mass action all attacks on workers’ democracy, on the trade unions, on the working class parties, because these Fascist blows mean the prelude to incalculable misery for all toilers, because they are the first step towards imperialist war. On the other hand, war itself will be used to further the interests of reactionary capitalism by giving greater impetus to the Fascist program.

Japanese capitalism and American capitalism rest on the volcano of the social crisis. At the first touch of war the Japanese peasants led by the workers may rise up against intolerable oppression, for Japan resembles nothing so much as Czarist Russia before the revolution. But in America, too, the masses face intolerable conditions, becoming ever more oppressive. The way out is not through war but through the dictatorship of the proletariat leading all the oppressed. We revolutionary workers of America greet our Japanese brothers; we shall extend our hands across the sea to the oppressed of Japan even during the war that inevitably approaches. Long live the solidarity of the international working class!

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