Wohlforth Archive   |   ETOL Main Page

Tim Wohlforth

Periodicals in Review

(Spring 1962)

From International Socialist Review, Vol.23 No.2, Spring 1962, pp.62-63.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

A Japanese Festival float

An American psychologist, Robert Jay Lifton, gives us an interesting insight into current Japanese radical politics. In the course of his article Youth in Postwar Japan (Daedalus, Winter, 1962) he describes an interview with one of the radical leaders of the Zengakuren student organization.

“A student leader (whom we shall call Sato) in his early twenties described to me the following dream: ‘A student (political) demonstration is taking place. A long line of students moves rapidly along ... then at the end of the line there seems to be a festival float which other students are pulling’ ... Sato emphasized that in his dream he was a bystander, standing apart from both the political demonstration and the festival-like activities. This he associated with his recent displacement from a position of leadership within the student movement (because of a factional struggle) and with his feelings that he had failed to live up to his obligations to colleagues and followers in the movement. One meaning he gave to the dream was his belief that the student movement, now in the hands of leaders whom he did not fully respect, might become weak and ineffectual, nothing more than a ‘festival.’”

That Sato’s dream symbolically stated a very real problem facing radicals in Japan can be seen clearly from a close study of the fine symposium, Currents in Japanese Socialist Thought, featured in the Winter, 1962 issue of New Politics. It is clear from this symposium that militant workers and younger intellectuals in the immediate postwar period were attracted in great numbers to the Communist Party. While the Socialist Party receives a larger vote in elections and has the support of the dominant trade union organization (Sohoyo) it has a relatively small active membership (only 0.5% of total vote).

Over the past ten years large sections of the intelligentsia and significant numbers of workers have broken away from the CP because of the organization’s conservative approach to Japanese politics. Even the centrist Socialist Party finds itself to the left of the CP. One of its leaders, Hiroo Wada, states in his contribution to the symposium:

“Our principal point of theoretical dispute with the Communist Party today concerns the question of what rules Japan, i.e. what is our principal adversary. The Socialist Party posits unequivocally that the principal contradiction confronting Japan now is that of monopoly capital, consequently that the revolution which we must carry out is a socialist revolution. In contrast to this, the Communist Party holds that the revolution facing Japan is a new democratic revolution against ‘the two enemies, American imperialism and Japanese monopoly capital,’ and that for the achievement of socialism a second revolution will be needed.”

This two-stage theory leads the Communist Party to oppose any political actions in Japan which tend to break through capitalist confines, that tend to raise the question of socialism itself.

Many of the students who have been in the leadership of the powerful Zengakuren organization and a smaller but significant number of trade unionists have broken from the Communist Party because of this refusal to struggle directly for socialism. Needless to say these radicals see no alternative in right wing socialist opinion. Yoshihiko Seki of the Democratic Socialist Party writes in the symposium with the defeatist tone of a man who finds himself in a small minority.

“Among Japanese intellectuals the number who are democratic socialist is small,” he states, and “since before the war right wing socialists felt intellectually inferior to Marxists, very few attempted to take issue with them on theoretical grounds.”

Of course, the left wing Socialist Party is more attractive to these dissident CPers but its amorphousness and lack of a clearly worked out Marxist program lead these radicals to seek something more.

Many of the students have been turning towards Trotskyist ideas. Kenichi Koyama, a former president of Zengakuren, sums up the outlook of these former Cpers:

“It is our feeling that the entire history of the Russian Revolution and subsequent developments in the Soviet Union should be rewritten, elaborating on the lessons of the October Revolution, the views of Trotsky, Stalin’s mistakes, the historical and social background which makes it possible for Stalinism to dominate Russia and the international Communist movement, analyzing the popular front in Spain, German Fascism, etc.”

Along the same lines Ikutaro Shimizu, a well know Japanese intellectual of the older generation, comments:

“There is a recognition that Trotsky was the first and greatest critic of Stalinism, and although the groups (oppositional formations of those who have left the CP – T.W.) have ideological differences, they share a common conviction that a rigorous and radical criticism of Stalinism must be undertaken in order to dissolve the sacrosanct aura in which the Communist Party is shrouded.”

Of course the contributors to this symposium are quick to make clear that, while there is widespread interest in Trotsky in Japanese radical circles, only a section of these dissidents have actually become Trotskyists. These include, Professor Lewis Feuer notes in his introduction, Shiokawa, who was president of the Zengakuren in 1958 and who became one of the organizers of the Revolutionary Communist League which is affiliated with the Fourth International.

Professor Feuer’s introduction and Koyama’s contribution give us some indication of why a number of these revolutionary students have thus far resisted becoming Trotskyists despite their complete rejection of Stalinism from a revolutionary point of view and their sympathy with Trotsky’s ideas. Feuer states that Shiokawa felt that “only the residue of fear of Trotsky’s name, derived from Zengakuren’s Stalinist past, prevented the students from becoming Trotskyists.” This may well have been true several years ago. However, in the interim, those young radicals who did not embrace Trotskyism fully are beginning to show the effect of being isolated from the Japanese working class. Some of these have expressed “Blanquist” sentiments, Feuer states. That is, they are seeking to replace the role of the working class in the revolutionary process with their own actions. “They are self-conscious representatives of the intellectual elite; disaffected by the passivity of the Japanese workers and farmers, they look to their own courage and intelligence to remake society,” he states. It has been this trend which seems to have dominated in the Zengakuren leadership the last couple of years. The students have expressed this outlook by their sole reliance on demonstrations conducted without mass support from the working class as the means of revolutionary struggle. Perhaps this is what Sato had in mind in his dream when he referred to the transformation of these demonstrations into ritualistic festivals.

Other young intellectuals seem to be drifting in the direction of “New Leftism” – that is a tendency to be content with an intellectual circle existence rather than seeking to help in creating a party with serious roots in the working class. This mood seems to prevail, at least in part, in Koyama’s contribution.

Professor Feuer notes that the Trotskyists in Japan have insisted that revolutionaries must concentrate on rooting themselves in the working class, insisting that only the working class can carry through the socialist revolution. The festival float can be no substitute for the revolutionary class and its struggle. Perhaps as political events unfold in Japan more of the young intellectuals will recognize their own weakness as an independent force.

Koyama concludes his article by stating,

“When the revolutionary thought of the ‘New Left’ begins to influence the mind of the Japanese working class, it will become a mighty power that will shake Japan and the world.”

But for this to happen the “New Lefters” will have to create, together with these workers, a common party based on a solid foundation of revolutionary Marxist thought and action. This is what Shiokawa and his friends are seeking to do. Then Japan will do a bit more than shake – capitalism itself can be toppled.

* * *

We simply cannot put down the Winter issue of New Politics without commenting on two other articles. Maximilian Rubel, who we gather is a prominent French scholar of Marxism, has written his Notes on Marx’s Conception of Democracy as a defense of the following theses:

“I would say that Marx was a revolutionary communist only in theory, while he was a bourgeois democrat in practice.”

In order to substantiate this theory, Rubel quotes, at length, excerpts from bourgeois democratic authors that Marx copied into his notebook while he was a student in Berlin in 1841. After devoting several pages to such impressively esoteric matter, Rubel sticks in one short, confusing paragraph summarizing Marx’s analysis of the Paris Commune. It was precisely in his analysis of the Commune, which Marx wrote at the height of his political development, that he spelled out clearly his revolutionary approach in practice to the conception of democracy. And these academicians are supposed to be the ones that are “objective!”

Perhaps the strangest bedfellow of all those connected with New Politics is Paul Mattick. Mr. Mattick, who also writes for Dissent, contributes a warm defense of the views of Anton Pannekoek, the old ultra-left communist who was singled out in Lenin’s The Infantile Disorder of Left Communism. Mattick fervently defends such concepts of Pannekoek’s as his prohibition against work in the trade unions and his opposition to participation to parliaments. All that Mattick seems to share with other contributors of New Politics and Dissent is his rabid anti-Leninism. However this cement has bound together some quite disparate elements before.

On and From the Youth

The current issue of Studies on the Left (Vol.II, No.2) features a lengthy article by Daniel J. Stern, a young psychologist, titled Defensive Reactions to Political Anxiety: The American Anti-Communist Liberal and the Invasion of Cuba.

“The purposes of this essay,” Stern informs us in the first sentence, “are: 1) to provide a theoretical framework for the analysis of the psychological aspects of ideology as it relates to social change, and 2) to illustrate the theoretical formulations with a sample case.”

All this sounds quite impressive and it is followed by sections on “Conscious Suppression,” “Denial,” “Repression,” “Dissociation or Isolation,” “Rationalization,” “Reaction Formation,” “Displacement,” “Projection,” “Identification” and “Regression.” After many pages of this, Stern finally gets to a very effective polemic against Theodore Draper on Cuba. The author simply states the relevant facts related to the invasion of Cuba and shows how Draper distorts or ignores these facts in order to support his liberal apologia for the US Government’s actions.

As a polemicist Stern has proven to be very effective, but exactly what this has to do with his lengthy psychological “theoretical framework” it is hard for us to see. We long for the day when Studies on the Left will print one, openly partisan, frankly polemical article – just one! We are not asking for much. That day will mark the emancipation of at least one section of young radical intellectuals from their own academic pretences.

* * *

An older generation of professors devotes some 240 pages of a special issue of Daedalus (Winter, 1962) to an attempt to understand the younger generation under the general heading of Youth: Change and Challenge. Daedalus is the Journal of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and is edited by some of the most prominent academians in the country. One is forced to state, however, that one learns very little indeed about youth from this effort.

The problem of these authors seems to be that they try to analyze “youth in general” as part of “society in general.” They end up on such an abstract plane that young people as part of a capitalist society divided into social classes and racial groups with specific problems do not seem to be real to these professors.

Talcott Parsons, the Harvard professor who has perhaps done more than any other single individual to turn sociology into an obscurantist cult, expresses most clearly the prevailing spirit of the contributors in his Youth in the Context of American Society. Truly this is a contented man! He takes note of the fact that “American youth is in a ferment.” But he is not worried. You see, American society is “doing reasonably well (as distinguished from outstandingly) in implementing these (its own – T.W.) values. Our society as a whole seems to remain committed to its essential mandate.”

American youth, he feels, “expresses many dissatisfactions with the current state of society, some of which are fully justified, others are of a more dubious validity. Yet the general orientation appears to be, not a basic alienation, but an eagerness to learn, to accept higher orders of responsibility, and to ‘fit,’ not in the sense of passive conformity, but in the sense of their readiness to work within the system, rather than in basic opposition to it.”

Perhaps our professor has captured the mood of his students at Harvard, but is this a true picture of the feelings of the Negro youth in the South and in the Northern ghettos, of the young workers who find themselves frozen out of the labor market, of young Puerto Ricans in New York slums? This sociologist might do well to venture out of Harvard every now and then and get to know some of the people who make up the society he is studying.

The current issue of New Universities Thought is featuring an interesting article on Stock Ownership and the Control of Corporations by Don Villarejo ... The West Coast-based Root and Branch has come out with its first issue. It calls itself “an independent journal of politics and cultural criticism” and thus adds a literary element, missing from its competitors. Its first issue features Ferlinghetti’s poetry as well as other literary contributions and political articles .... Students at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, are publishing The New Freedom, a “bulletin of student social action.” The emphasis here is on reportage of student activities rather than theoretical matter ... Since most of these campus-based publications achieve only sporadic regional distribution we list their addresses and annual subscription rates: Studies on the Left, P.O. Box 2121, Madison 5, Wis., $2.50; New Universities Thought, 5478 S. Woodlawn, Chicago 15, 111., $2; Root and Branch, Box 906, Berkeley 1, Calif., $2.50; The New Freedom, Box 664, Ithaca, N.Y. $1.

Random Notes

Hidden in the back of a not particularly inspiring issue of Partisan Review (No.5-6, 1961) is an interesting article, The Cult of the Goldenarmed Oracle by Don W. Kleine. Kleine notes the growing idolization of the dope addict by some of America’s most talented writers and the popularity of their literary efforts among large sections of the middle classes. This trend finds its clearest expression in Jack Gelber’s apologetic for narcotics, The Connection. It is an interesting insight into the health of our society that those who flee from it in such a self-destructive nihilistic way as dope addiction are seen as the only ones who are “for real” .... The January, 1962 Liberation includes a fine article, Exiles at Home by Martin Oppenheimer. Oppenheimer depicts graphically the complete feeling of isolation of the white integrationist in the South ... A new monthly magazine in English, Cuba, is now being issued from Havana. It is quite interesting and we hope that it will continue to be published, as reliable information on Cuba is a rare thing in this country.

Wohlforth Archive   |   Trotskyist Writers Index   |   ETOL Main Page

Last updated: 25.9.2008