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Jack Weber

Japan’s Dilemma –
Dare It Attack the USSR Now?

(September 1941)

From The Militant, Vol. V No. 39, 27 September 1941, p. 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Unsettled Pacific

The attempt of a desperate Japan to “negotiate” her differences with the United States for a moment eased the crisis in the unsettled Pacific. It would be highly interesting for us to know just what was said in the conversations between the August Mikado and the All-Highest Roosevelt. Not only were the Japanese and the American people left outside the sphere of diplomacy, but – more important – the Chinese were not consulted in any way whatsoever. Yet it was the fate of the Chinese people, more than of any other perhaps, that was under discussion. This fact alone throws the clearest light on the nature of the imperialist conference, as well as on the meaning by application of the Churchill-Roosevelt eight points.

Both the Japanese and the. American ruling classes find themselves in an insoluble dilemma. The Japanese dare not face a war on all fronts at once. Their next move in the looting of the Pacific area would almost certainly bring war, a war which in the shortest time would find Japan on one side, and America, England, China, the Dutch East Indies and Soviet Russia on the other. The outcome of such a war can hardly be doubted, with Japan already weakened by the never-ending war in China. It thus devolved on Japanese diplomacy to try to separate the enemies, the most powerful being the U.S. Japan would like to be ready for an instant assault on Siberia, since the advances of the German armies in the West encourage such a move more and more. Put in the most blunt terms, the Japanese therefore explored the question: what would Roosevelt demand as his price for permitting the Japanese to make the attack on Russia without interfering?

Roosevelt would like nothing better than to have some sort of temporary settlement of the Pacific problems so as to move the entire navy into the Atlantic. But what settlement is possible? The future of United States capitalism is as much involved in the Far East as in Europe, although the war in Europe will decide the fate of the world including the Far East. American imperialism cannot allow the Japanese to swallow up all of Asia, especially China, despite the menace of Hitler. Japan demands too high a price of the United States for a temporary agreement in the Pacific – a free hand in China and in Siberia.

The Price the U.S. Wants

But the United States also demands an impossible price of the Japanese imperialists; namely, no attack on Siberia while Stalin is engaged with Hitler, and some form of settlement of the “Chinese incident” that would mean even less for Japan than the present status quo. If it were merely a matter of sacrificing the interests of the Chinese people, there would be no hesitation on either side. But the clash of interests of the two powers is far too fundamental to permit even a temporary agreement at the most critical stage of the second World War. The Japanese may hesitate a little longer before making their “sudden” move into Siberia. But the postponement is not expected to be long, as is seen by the removal of Soviet nationals from Japan.

The development of the second world war follows basically the same line of economic, imperialist interests that clashed in the first world war. While the United States and England were deeply involved in Europe, the Japanese generals sent their forces into China and then into Siberia (after the Bolshevik Revolution) to gobble up all they could at the expense of the other powers while the situation permitted. Wilson knew very well that the Japanese intended to keep the territory they grabbed if they had the power to do so. Wilson feared then what Roosevelt fears now: that the Japanese would establish themselves so firmly on the Asiatic mainland as to make it impossible for the United States to dislodge them. That is why the American troops sent to Siberia primarily preoccupied themselves with obstructing the Japanese Army there.

Roosevelt remembers that it was only after extreme pressure, and as late as 1923, four years after intervention had begun and five years after the end of the “official” war, that the last Japanese soldier was removed from Siberia. This time Roosevelt does not propose to consent to Japanese invasion. On the contrary, he will oppose it with force if necessary – and it will be necessary. The United States will be helping Russia not out of any altruistic love for the Russians, certainly not out of friendship for Stalin or for the revolution which he betrayed, but because of its own imperialist interests.

The breakdown of the conversations between the two powers that hope to dominate the Pacific is clear evidence that both feel that matters of life and death for imperialism are involved. In such a case no basis for agreement, even temporary agreement, exists. The United States navy has already received orders to shoot at German and Italian submarines and naval ships. It is extremely likely that the Pacific squadron will receive like orders with respect to Japanese battleships. The Japanese will hardly attempt to invade Siberia without at the same time trying to shut off all supplies for Russia. Vladivostok will be declared under blockade. The United States will then become involved in the war by attempting to break the blockade, using its navy for the purpose. Imperialism cannot solve its problems peacefully. The methods of diplomacy inevitably give way to the methods of force so long as capitalism continues to dominate the earth.

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