Notes for a history of the workers' movement in Japan, part iii
The Comintern and Japan
Although the working class conquered power in Russia in October 1917, it took revolutionaries in Japan a long time to establish direct contact with the centre of the revolution and the international movement. There is no evidence of contacts between Japanese and Russian revolutionaries in 1917 and 1918. At the founding congress of the Communist International in March 1919 there was no delegation from Japan. Although S. Katayama – coming from the USA – was to be a delegate for Tokyo and Yokohoma, he could not attend the congress either. And, although in November 1918 and 1919 the first and second congresses of “Communist Organisations of the East” were held in Moscow, where delegates from Japan were invited, nobody from Japan attended them. At the Baku Conference in September 1920 a Japanese participant came from the USA. He was a member of the IWW, but had no mandate from any organisation in Japan and had come of his own accord.
The reason for the prolonged isolation of revolutionaries in Japan from the rest of the world can be partly explained by the fact that the overland connections between Russia and Japan were largely interrupted because of the civil war, since the Japanese army – as one of the most ruthless opponents of the workers revolution – fought until 1922 in Siberia. But the political weaknesses of the revolutionaries themselves was the main explanation. There was no group among them that acted as the driving force for the construction of an organisation and for its integration into the international revolutionary movement. There was no reference point for the Comintern, which was looking intensively for contact in Japan.
The absence of a faction that would have laid the basis for a new organisation turned out to be a big weakness. The preparatory work, which a faction accomplishes for the construction of the party, is itself a result of a long process of maturation and of a hard combat for a Marxist understanding of the organisation question. It was after the movement had reached its height and was going into a retreat that the Comintern made desperate and opportunistic attempts to contribute to the setting up of an organisation.
After the Comintern opened the Far East Secretariat in Shanghai in 1920, where revolutionaries from Korea and China were active, contact was established in October 1920 with the Japanese anarchist Osugi. He received a fund of 2,000 Yen from the Comintern Far East Secretariat, because he committed himself, vis-a-vis the Comintern delegates, to set up an organisation in Japan.
But what programmatic and organisational credibility did an anarchist have for the construction of a communist party? Osugi himself demanded autonomy for each “national section” and only agreed to the foundation of an international co- ordination office. Moreover, he had no mandate from any group. When he returned from Shanghai, Osugi founded the paper Rodo Undo (Labour Movement). The other, still dispersed, revolutionaries showed no great determination at the turn of 1920/1921 to found an organisation. Osugi, who remained faithful to his anarchist principles, when following developments in Russia called for the overthrow of the government after the events at Kronstadt in 1921. The Comintern then refused any further contact with him. Efforts to set up an organisation with Osugi had failed.
In Japan itself Yamakawa, Sakai and Arahata made more efforts to regroup forces from the end of 1920 on. In August 1920 the August League (Hachigatsu Domei) was founded, which in December 1920 became the Japanese Socialist League (Nihon Shakai-shugi Domei). Different currents of different theoretical-programmatic backgrounds had merged. Some 1,000 members had joined. The official newspaper was Socialism (Shakaishugi).
From the very beginning the police wanted to repress the organisation. Between August and November 1920 6 preparatory meetings were broken up by the police, and on December 9th 1920, the scheduled founding conference in Tokyo was also broken up by the police. The attempt to set up an organisation failed because of strong police pressure. Thus dispersal and fragmentation prevailed and the process of clarification and regroupment could not make a breakthrough. Instead the different groupings continued to publish different papers – such as Studies in Socialism – edited by Sakai and Yamakawa, Japan Labour News by Arahata, and Labour Movement by Osugi. In May 1921 the Socialist League was officially forbidden.
The Socialist League which should have played the role of a pole of regroupment, was unable to establish a clear demarcation, to bring about a selection through clarification, or to lay the foundations for a revolutionary organisation. Instead the trend of different personalities, each of whom was regrouping elements around them and each of whom was publishing a paper, continued to dominate.
After the fiasco of contact with Osugi the delegates of the Shanghai office of the Comintern suggested to Yamakaw in April
1921 that he start preparations for the foundation of a party. Until then Yamakawa and Sakai, who was very close to him, had an attentist attitude. But now, Yamakawa, Kondo and Sakai started to work on a platform and they elaborated the statutes of a “communist preparation committee”. But even in spring 1921 these comrades still did not have the intention of setting up a communist party at that time. The concept of a communist organisation as an organisation of combat, which would have to play a vanguard role in the revolutionary struggle, had not yet been anchored sufficiently. The emphasis was still on the spreading of ideas and communist propaganda only. However, these comrades were willing to intensify contact with the Comintern.
Kondo was sent to Shanghai in May 1921 in order to plan further steps with the Comintern. Kondo, whose political development had been influenced by the IWW while in the USA, and who had previously worked on Osugi’s paper Labour movement ( Rodo Undo), exaggerated the progress that had been made when he spoke to the delegates of the Comintern, because in reality very little progress had been made in the setting up of an organisation. Impressed by Kondo, the delegates promised financial help. Kondo returned with funds worth 6,500 Yen but failed to use the money for the construction of an organisation.1
Upon his return to Tokyo contrary to agreements with the Comintern, Kondo founded his own group Gyomin Kysanto (Enlightened People’s Communist Party), and became its chairman in August 1921. Yakamawa and Sakai rejected his proposal to shape the Communist Propaganda Group into a party, since they still had not digested the setback of the dissolution of the Socialist Party in May 1921. After a police raid in December 1921 Kondo’s group was outlawed and dissolved. A delegate of the Comintern, Grey, who was arrested at the same moment, was also carrying funds of the Comintern with him and a list of contacts. Both fell into the hands of the police.
Another set-back for the Comintern in its efforts to help build a party
At the time of the 3rd Congress of the Comintern in summer 1921, there was still no delegate from Japan. The only Japanese comrades present came from the USA (Gentaro was a member of the Japanese Socialist Group and Unzo was a member of the IWW). As a consequence revolutionaries in Japan were once again cut off from the central debate in Moscow around the course and the methods of the Comintern. At this congress the delegates of the currents which later became known as the Communist Left fought against the growing opportunist trend of the Comintern.
In the meantime, the Comintern itself had set up some committees with Radek as their co-ordinator with Japan. They decided on a campaign for the introduction of general voting rights. This occurred even though the 1st Congress of the Comintern had denounced in 1919 the dangerous role of bourgeois democracy and parliamentarism, and at the 2nd and 3rd Congresses the comrades of the Italian and Dutch-German Left warned against the attempts to try and use parliamentarism.
At the 3rd World Congress Taguchi Unzo, a member of the IWW, also opposed this campaign.
In autumn 1921 the Comintern called for a Conference of Far Eastern Peoples, which was planned as a direct counter- conference to the summit of the imperialist powers in Washington in Nov 1921, where the latter planned to carve up their zones of influence in the Far East.
Different groups from Japan were invited to attend the Far Eastern Conference. Both the group around Yamakawa as well as Kondo‘s Enlightened People’s Communist Party sent delegates, two anarchists and more individuals joined the delegates from Japan. At the Conference, which finally started in January 1922 in Petrograd, Takase, who spoke on behalf Kondo’s Enlightened People’s Communist Party, claimed a communist party had already been formed. Obviously this was a bluff. Impressed by the congress the anarchist Yoshida announced he had been “converted” to communism; but on his way back to Japan he took up anarchist positions again.
At the conference Bukharin demanded that the next phase of workers‘ struggles should focus around the construction of an entirely democratic regime, instead of aiming immediately at the setting up of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Moreover, the main goal should be to abolish the imperial system. In January 1922 Zinoviev still spoke of Japan as an imperialist power; but only a few months later, when the Communist Party of Japan was going to be founded, Japan was no longer considered an imperialist country.
Despite the efforts of the revolutionary forces gathered in Petrograd in January 1922, revolutionaries in Japan continued to remain dispersed.2
Difficulties in making any decisive progress in the construction of an organisation were compounded by the year-long isolation and the insufficient efforts to establish links beyond Japan. The Comintern hardly knew the different components of the revolutionary milieu in Japan, let alone the more serious ones. The underestimation of the organisation question amongst the most serious elements, their lack of initiative in establishong contact, although in the most difficult circumstances, also account for the failures of the Comintern.
If the Comintern put its confidence in the anarchist Osugi and the very individualistic and unpredictable Kondo this was because the most serious elements in Japan had not yet grasped the need to take up contact directly with the Comintern. They themselves left this step to the anarchist and least serious elements.
Even if the Comintern tried to offer all sorts of possible help to revolutionary forces in Japan, the indispensable conviction of comrades in the country itself cannot be replaced. The responsibility of revolutionaries towards their class is never a “national” one, limited to the geographical area revolutionaries live in, but must be based on an international and long-term approach.
Thus it was all the more tragic that the critical attempts to draw the lessons of decadence in relation to the question of parliamentarism were unkown because revolutionaries in Japan had no contact with the forces of the Communist Left, which were emerging at the same time. The consequences of these difficulties in overcoming their isolation contributed to their political and programmatic confusion.
When the revolutionary wave in Japan entered into reflux in 1920, the working class in Japan had fought without any real intervention by revolutionaries at its side. Thus the wave of struggles ebbed, without a real faction, not to mention a party, having arisen. When the Comintern had already embarked upon an opportunistic course, the Comintern managed to regroup revolutionaries in Japan, who wanted to participate in the construction of a party.
This is why the foundation of the Japanese Communist Party on July 15th 1922 took place at an inauspicious time, that is under the influence of growing opportunism.
The foundation of the CPJ
The party was a regroupment of leaders and members of different groups, who had little organisational experience and without a real Marxist wing – in particular there was no Marxist wing on the organisation question. Old revolutionaries, inspired by the Comintern, joined, such as Sakai Yamakawa, Arahata, and with them the groups they had headed until then, such as Yamakawa’s Wednesday Society Group and the publication Vanguard, the circle around Sakai’s The Proletariat, the Enlightened People’s Communist Party Group, members of Sodomei (the League of Japanese Trades Unions, formed in 1921). In 1923 there were some 50 members. But the very concept of membership was a problem, since individual members did not belong to the party but to one of the groups that comprised the party. Moreover, there was no platform and no statutes. No central leadership was elected. The party members were active above all in their former groups, with the groups around Yamakawa and Sakai having the greatest number of members.
Instead of working towards the construction of a single united body, party life was going to be fragmented and influenced very strongly by these groupings and the weight of the former leading personalities.
Since programmatic clarification had not advanced sufficiently, no programme had actually been elaborated.
Moreover, the party did not have a press and because of illegality it did not issue any public statements. Instead individual members took position in different political publications. It was only in April 1923 that three papers – Vanguard, The Proletariat, Studies in Socialism, merged into one – Red Flag – (Sekki), which was to act as a party organ.
At the same time the party aimed at becoming a mass party. Following the orientations of the Comintern, Yamakawa called for the formation of a mass party. This mass party was to encompass all “organised and unorganised workers, peasants and lower strata of the middle classes and all anti-capitalist movements and organisations”. The CPJ thus took up the orientation that the Comintern had opted for, but which was an expression of opportunism. The period of mass parties was over – as was most explicitly analysed by the German KAPD at the time.
In November 1922 a programme on Japan was drafted by a commission of the Comintern, with Bukharin at its head. While the draft dealt with the fast economic development of Japan during World War I, it emphasised above all that “Japanese capitalism today still shows residues of feudal relationships of the past. The biggest left over is the emperor (mikado) as the head of government... The residues of feudalism also play a dominant role in the entire structure of the present-day State. The organs of the State are still in the hands of a block, which is composed of different parts of the commercial and industrial bourgeoisie and big landlords. The special semi-feudal nature of the State is above all illustrated through the outstanding leading role of genro (nobility – feudal landlords) in the constitution. On this background, forces who are directed against the State, arise not only from the working class, the peasantry and petty-bourgeoisie, but they also emerge from the broad layers of the so-called liberal bourgeoisie – whose interests are also opposed to those of the present government... The completion of the bourgeois revolution may became the prologue /prelude of the proletarian revolution, aiming at the domination of the bourgeoisie and the setting up of proletarian dictatorship... The struggle between feudal lords and the bourgeoisie will certainly take on a revolutionary character.” (Houston, p. 60).
Whereas at its founding congress the Communist International in its manifesto put proletarian revolution on the agenda everywhere, the degenerating Comintern started in 1922 to ascribe different historical tasks to the proletariat according to the different parts of the world.
Placing Japan, China and India on the same level, since there was still a higher proportion of peasants in Japan and above all because there was still an emperor and feudal remnants, the Comintern proposed that the working class in Japan should set up an alliance with bourgeois groups. The Comintern and also the CPJ underestimated the real development of state capitalism that had already occurred in Japan.
While the emperor still played a role as a political representative, this did not change anything about the class composition of Japanese society and it did not alter the world historical tasks that the working class was facing.
Private industry was certainly less developed in Japan than in other industrial countries. This was due to the way capitalism unfolded in Japan. But ever since the expansion of the capitalist mode of production, - this specificity of Japanese capital - the relatively weak proportion of private in relation to state owned capital was “compensated” by the early rapid growth of the State. From a very early stage the State played a very active and interventionist role to defend Japanese national interests. Behind this position of the CPJ and the Comintern there was a serious underestimation of the level of state capitalism which had taken on much bigger proportions and which was to some extent more developed in Japan than in most western countries.
Even if, due to the weak development of the private capitalist sector during the ascendant phase there were not as many bourgeois parties as in Europe, and if on the whole parliamentarism had less weight and influence than in other countries this did not mean that the working class in Japan was facing different historic tasks and would have to fight for bourgeois democratic parliamentarism.
This orientation of the CPJ came up against resistance within its ranks. Thus Yamakawa said that although there was no bourgeois democracy in Japan, it was nevertheless ruled by bureaucratic and military cliques. But unlike the Comintern, he said, there was no need of catching up a bourgeois revolution. He took a position against mobilisation for parliamentarism.
The theses were discussed at a party conference on March 15th 1923, but no decisions were taken. Sano Manabu suggested an alternative platform, with the main idea that proletarian revolution was also on the agenda in Japan. There were also divergences regarding the demand for general voting rights. The same Sano Manabu rejected participation in parliament. Yamakawa also spoke up against participation in elections.
Since Left Communist voices from Europe could not be heard in Japan, which might have helped to deepen the framework of this critique, it could not be developed and based on a more profound programmatic base.
Since the wave of revolutionary struggles was already on the decline, both internationally and in Japan, the CP was spared the test of intervention in the heat of the struggles. Considering its limited organisational experience, its politically confused and opportunistic positions, it can be assumed that the party would have had great difficulties to act as an organisation of combat and to play a vanguard role.
The strategy of the Japanese bourgeoisie was that of any other ruling class: the use of repression and infiltration of the CPJ. On June 5th 1923 the party was forbidden, some 100-200 members were arrested and all party members known to the police were thrown into prison.
In March 1924 the party was finally dissolved. Arahata opposed its dissolution, defending the need to fight for its existence. Yamakawa and Sakai backed up its dissolution, saying that an illegal vanguard party was no longer necessary or desirable. According to Yamakawa such a party would be alienated from the workers and could only fall victim to bourgeois repression. Revolutionary Marxists should join mass organisations such as unions and peasants organisations and prepare a legal proletarian party of the future. Thus the first CP, which was never a solid body but rather a regroupment of different personalities, having no organisational tissue and working without a party spirit, was never able to accomplish its tasks.
After the worldwide reflux of struggles, revolutionaries were facing the same task. Whereas the degenerating Comintern put forward the slogan of the construction of mass parties and the policy of the united front, thus further increasing the confusion amongst the increasingly tired and disoriented workers, revolutionaries were in fact faced with the task of pursuing the work of a faction.
However, once again revolutionaries in Japan were to face great difficulties in fulfilling this task. No fraction emerged from its ranks fighting against the degeneration of the Comintern and laying the basis for a future party.
Rising counterrevolution in Japan
The bourgeoisie used the international balance of forces, which was bending in its favour, in order to increase its attacks against the working class in Japan.
Whereas the working class during World War I and in the ensuing revolutionary wave had not been very radicalised and only took part in a peripheral manner in these struggles, the working class was to be hard hit during the 1920s by rising counterrevolution. After the banning of the party in 1923, the government seized the opportunity of the effects of the devastating earthquake which shook Tokyo on September 1st 1923, when more than 100,000 people were killed and large parts of the city were destroyed, to increase repression against the working class. A special “thought police” (Tokko) was established. In the following years there were repeated mass arrests of workers: 1928: 4,000; 1929: 5,000; 1932: 14,000; 1933: 14,000.
Whereas in Europe there was a weak and short economic recovery in the 1920s, Japan was hit by the world economic crisis earlier, which led to increased attacks against the working class in Japan. Prior to the start of the big crisis in Japan, which began in 1927 two years before the crash of 1929, production had already fallen by 40% in the main industrial areas. The value of Japanese exports shrunk by 50% from 1929 to 1931. Japanese capital was again heading for military conquests. The military budget, which by 1921 – at the peak of the intervention against Russia – reached some 50% of the state budget, was never really reduced after World War I. Unlike Europe or the USA there was no real demilitarisation. Whatever cuts in the military budgets were decided the money was immediately invested in modernisation of the weapon systems. Unlike Europe, where the working class – although increasingly being weakened – blocked the road to war until the end of the 1920s, the working class in Japan was only able to offer a weaker resistance against the capitalist attacks and its militaristic course. On this background in Japan the State took over the leading positions in the economy much earlier than the State in Europe and started developing a widespread state capitalist regime and embarked upon a determined course of military conquests.
Workers’ living standards, which were much lower than in Europe, were reduced even more. Workers’ real incomes dropped from an index of 100 in 1926 to 81 in 1930 andto 69 in 1931. In the countryside there was widespread hunger.3
In the context of a weakened working class, with capital on the offensive, it was fatal for revolutionaries to want to try and overcome the disadvantageous balance of forces at all costs by provoking struggles artificially and by trying to build a mass party.
The CPJ becomes a lackey of Stalinism
After the end of the revolutionary wave in 1923 and as Stalinism within Russia and the Comintern grew stronger, more and more Communist Parties submitted to the rule of Moscow and became its tools. The development of the CPJ illustrates this glaringly.
The Comintern tried to build a new party at all costs, which would defend Russian interests. After the dissolution of the party in March 1924 the Comintern founded a new Communist Group in August 1925, which proclaimed a new party on December 4th 1926 that was nothing but a parrot of Moscow. In 1925 the Comintern stated the positions and the work of the former party in the Shanghai Theses. The Comintern’s orientation was that the bourgeois- democratic revolution, which had been inaugurated with the Meiji-restoration, should be terminated, since feudal remnants (above all of the feudal landlords) and the bourgeoisie still subsisted. The Comintern placed emphasis on feudal remnants, although it had to admit: “The Japanese state itself is a powerful element of Japanese capitalism. No European country has advanced so much in the introduction of state capitalism as Japan, where some 30% of all investment in industry and in the financial sector are financed by the state” (Houston, p. 67).
Nevertheless, according to the Comintern, the Japanese state would still have to become really bourgeois- democratic. Yamakawa opposed this analysis. He insisted on the amalgamation of the State with big finance capital. He claimed that the bourgeoisie had been holding power in Japan for a long time and that the proletariat should set up an anti- bourgeois alliance with the peasantry, rejecting the “two-stage revolution” as it was defended by Moscow. Yamakawa supported the idea that a left wing within the workers‘ movement or a workers- peasant-party could take the place of the prohibited CP. Yamakawa started to publish a paper in December 1927 RONO (Labour- Farmer).
The Comintern continued to practice the policy of “undermining and conquering the trades unions”. The CPJ gained a big influence in the Labour Union Council of Japan, Nihon Rodo Hyogikai, founded in May 1925.
In the parliamentary elections of 1928 the CPJ defended a “united front” with the other “left capitalist” parties, whose number had increased and out of which seven had joined to form the Musantaishuto (Proletarian Mass Party).
After another wave of repression in March 1928 all left parties were forbidden and their leaders sent to jail. The death penalty was threatened if political activities were continued underground. However, once the police had imprisoned the former CPJ leaders, Moscow could “staff” the party again in November 1928 and supply another central committee, which followed the instructions of Moscow. The central committee and the politburo of the CPJ were replaced in the ensuing years whenever the Comintern changed its course. After the respective repressions and arrests a new leadership was always sent by Moscow. The party was kept alive “artificially” by Moscow but despite Moscow’s efforts it never managed to increase its membership significantly. The CPJ had become a complete lackey of Moscow.
When in 1928 the Comintern declared “socialism in one country” as its official policy and threw out all the remaining Left Communist remnants and kicked out the Trotskyist left opposition forces, the CPJ saw no reason to speak of a betrayal of the working class interests by the CI. The CPJ, staffed for five years by Moscow, organisationally and programmatically a totally loyal defender of Moscow, never produced a force of resistance against this. In 1927, a group of arrested members of the CPJ, led by Mizino Shigeo, had already rejected internationalism and started to defend the idea of “national socialism”.
Language problems and the difficult access to texts of that time require us to be cautious in a definite assessment of the attitude of the CPJ, but at the time of writing this text, we do not know of any groups that were expelled or which split form the CPJ because they fought against Stalinisation and the introduction of the idea of “socialism in one country”. We can assume that the JPC did not produce any critical voices or even resistance to Stalinisation. At any rate, if there were opposition voices, they were not in contact with the opposition in Russia or with the Left Communist currents outside Russia. Even on the events in neighbouring China in 1927, which were debated very heatedly within the Comintern and internationally, as far as we know, there were no critical voices raised from Japan denouncing the disastrous policy of the Comintern.
Even if the party did not immediately betray following the declaration of “socialism in one country” by the Comintern, it was unable to give birth to any proletarian resistance, fighting for an internationalist position.
Japanese imperialism on the road to war: Stalinism eliminates the internationalist voice
Since Japanese capital had come up against a working class offering less resistance than the proletariat in Europe, it could therefore embark upon a systematic war course earlier than its European rivals. In September 1931 the Japanese army invaded Manchuria and set up a puppet state Manchuko.
While the course towards war was gaining momentum internationally, and whereas the war in Spain in the mid-thirties was the rehearsal for the confrontations in Europe and the 2nd World War, the war between Japan and China unfolded from 1937-45.
Japanese imperialism pushed the spiral of barbarism onto a higher level before World War II started. In 1937 more than 200,000 Chinese were massacred in Nanking within a few days. A total of 7 million people were killed during this war.
The Left Communist group Bilan, which was one of the few groups to defend an internationalist position (even at the price of a split) during the Spanish war served as the internationalist reference point to all revolutionary forces. In Japan, however, the precious traditions of internationalism during the war in 1905 between Japan and Russia and of World War I had been silenced by Stalinism. The Japanese State Socialist Party (Nihon Kokka Shakaito – comparable to the NSDAP in Hitler’s Germany) which was founded in 1931, and the Social Democratic Party of Japan openly supported the imperialist war course of Japanese capital. The Social Masses Party (Shakai – Taishuto) also spoke up in favour of supporting the “defence efforts” of the Japanese Army in October 1934, since the “army fights both against capitalism and fascism”. The party leadership of the Socialist Party (Shakai Taishuto) called the war against China “the sacred war of the Japanese nation”. The Japanese Trades Union Congress Zenso outlawed workers strikes in 1937.
Whereas only the Left Communist forces defended internationalism, both the Stalinist CPJ and Trotsky himself called for the defence of China against Japan.
In September 1932 the CPJ declared: “The war of Japanese imperialism in Manchuria marks the beginning of a new series of imperialist wars directed primarily against the Chinese Revolution and the USSR.... Should the imperialists of the whole world hurl their challenge at our fatherland, the USSR, we will show them that the world proletariat will rise in arms against them... Long live the Red Army of the Soviet Union and the Red Army of Soviet China” (Langer, Red Flag in Japan, 1968, S. 49). And under the slogans “Down with the Imperialist War”, “Hands off China”, “Defend Revolutionary China and the Soviet Union” the CPJ called for the support of Russia and China against Japanese capital. The CPJ had become a total lackey of Moscow.
But Trotsky also threw overboard his own position, which he held in World War One. Starting off from a totally mistaken view, that “The present Japanese adventure in Manchuria can lead to revolution in Japan” (1931), (“Can fascism really triumph? Germany – the key to the international situation”, 26/11/1931) – he called upon the Soviet Union to arm China: “in the present gigantic historical struggle (between China and Japan) the Soviet government cannot remain neutral, it cannot take up the same position in relation to China as to Japan. It is obliged to fully support the Chinese people.” Regarding the position that there were still “progressive wars possible”, he said: “If there is any just war in this world, then it is the war of the Chinese people against its oppressors. All working class organisations, all progressive forces of China, will without abandoning their programme and their political independence, fulfil their duty in this war of liberation” (30.7.1937),
“In my declaration to the bourgeois press I spoke of the duty of all workers organisations in China to participate actively and in the front line in the war against Japan, without renouncing in the least possible manner on their programme and their autonomous activities. But the Eiffelists4 call this ‘social-patriotism’. This means capitulation under Chiang Kaishek! It means turning your back on the principle of class struggle. ‘In imperialist war, Bolshevism stood for revolutionary defeatism. Both the Spanish civil and the Chinese-Japanese war are imperialist wars. (..) We take up the same position in relation to the Chinese war. The only salvation for the workers and peasants of China is to act as an autonomous force against both armies, both against the Chinese as well as against the Japanese‘. Just these four lines of the document of the Eiffelists4 of Sept. 1 1937 reveal they are either traitors or complete idiots. But when stupidity reaches such proportions, then this amounts to betrayal. (...) To speak of revolutionary defeatism in general without distinguishing between oppressed and oppressing countries means turning Bolshevism into a miserable caricature and to place this caricature in the service of imperialism. China is a semi-colonial country, which is being transformed by Japan into a colonial country in front of our eyes. As far as Japan is concerned it is leading an imperialist, reactionary war. As far as China is concerned, it is fighting a progressive war of liberation (...) Japanese patriotism is the abject hideous face of international banditism. Chinese patriotism is legitimate and progressive. To place these two on the same level and to speak of ‘social-patriotism’, means you have not read anything from Lenin, you have not understood anything at all about the attitude of the Bolsheviks in the imperialist war, and defending this therefore only means to insult Marxism (...) We have to underline with great emphasis, that the 4th International takes sides with China against Japan” (“On the Chinese-Japanese War”, Letter to Diego Riviera, 23/09/1937).
“The workers organisations of both countries cannot take up the same position (..) There is no doubt that Japan is leading a war of conquest, China is leading a national liberation struggle. Only conscious or unconscious agents of Japanese imperialism place both countries on the same level” (Trotsky 25/09/1937).
The whole tradition of a ruthless struggle against both imperialist sides was abandoned by Trotsky. Only the Left Communist groups defended a clear internationalist position in this imperialist confrontation. The group Bilan took up the following position on the war: “Experience has shown that when the internaional proletariat was led, by the Communist International and the Russian Soviet, to envisage the possiblity of bourgeois and anti-imperialist revolutions in China (in 1927), then in reality it sacrificed itself on the altar of world capitalism” (Resolution by the EC of the international communist left on the Sino-Japanese conflict, Bilan p.1449, Nov- Dec 1937).
“And it is in this historic phase, when national wars have been consigned to the museum of antiquities, that the workers are supposed to mobilise for a ‘war of national emancipation’ of the ‘Chinese people’.
Who today supports China’s ‘war of independence’ (...)? Russia, Britain, France, the United States. Every imperialism supports it (...) even Trotsky supports it, letting himself be carried away by the current of imperialist war and calling for support for the ‘just’ war of the ‘Chinese people’ (...)
On each side of the front there is a greedy ruling bourgeoisie, which wants nothing but to have the workers slaughter each other: on each site there are proletarians being driven to the abattoir. It is false, totally false, to think that there exists a bourgeoisie with which the Chinese workers can, however temporarily, ‘march side by side’, and that only Japanese imperialism need be defeated for the Chinese workers to struggle victoriously for the revolution. Everywhere, imperialism controls the game, and China is nothing but the plaything of the other imperialisms. If they are to find the road to revolutionary struggle, then Chinese and Japanese workers must find the class road which will lead them to find each other: the fraternisation which will cement their simulataneous assault on their own exploiters (...)
Only the fractions of the International Communist Left are opposed to all the currents of traitors and opportunists, and hold high the banner of the struggle for revolution. Alone, they will struggle for the transformation of the bloody imperialist war in Asia, into a civil war of the workers against their exploiters: fraternisation of Chinese and Japanese workers; destruction of the fronts of ‘national war’; struggle against the Kuomintang, struggle against Japanese imperialism, struggle against all the currents that act for imperialist war amongst the workers (...)
In this new war, the international proletariat must find the strength to escape from its executioners and traitors, and to express its solidarity with its class brothers in Asia, by unleashing its own struggles against its own bourgeoisie.
Down with the imperialist war in China. Long live the civil war of all the exploited against the Chinese bourgeoisie and against Japanese imperialism” (Bilan, “A bas le carnage imperialiste en Chine: contre tous les bourreaux: Pour la transformation immédiate de la guerre en guerre civile”, p.1415, Oct-Nov.1937).
This was the internationalist tradition of the Communist Left, that stood for the only and real continuity with the positions of revolutionaries during WW1. However, no revolutionary forces in Japan seem to have been able to hold up this internationalist banner.
In Europe the bourgeoisie launched the “popular fronts” in order to enrol the working class in the imperialist battle for the defence of the “democratic states” against fascist Hitlerite Germany. In order to mobilise the workers for war, the bourgeoisie needed to lure the workers into the defence of “democracy”. However, in Japan the working class had already been defeated sufficiently.
The initial calls by the CPJ for the setting up of a united front of the Left parties with the CPJ, in order to defend the Soviet Union, were rejected by the other Left parties, which had submitted to the interests of the Japanese state. The CPJ in turn had chosen its camp.
The residues of the CPJ, which had been prescribed once again before the Chinese- Japanese war started, called for the defence of the Soviet Union against Japan.
During the war, the residues of the CPJ called for the “destruction of the feudal-militaristic order in Japan through a bourgeois democratic revolution, [saying that] within this process active co- operation with the capitalist nations would be necessary”. On the basis of such arguments the CPJ supported the USA and Russia in their fight against “imperial Japan”.
In the winter of ‘45-‘46 the CPJ was re-founded as a political organisation under the US occupation. A programme was drafted, which as in the theses of 1927 & 32 contained a project of a “two-phase- revolution”. The immediate task was the “overcoming of the imperial system, the democratisation of Japan, a land reform”. This strategy offered a basis for co- operating with the USA in the demilitarisation and demobilisation of Japan. The Supreme Commander of the US-Allied Forces was a part of the progressive bourgeoisie, whose historic function was to accomplish the bourgeois- democratic revolution.
As in the rest of the world, the working class came out of the war weaker than before.
Reconstruction was undertaken with a heavily defeated and demoralised class. For decades the ruling class took pleasure in presenting the working class in Japan as a show case of a docile, subservient, defeated and humiliated class, working terribly long hours and receiving very little pay.
When, in 1968, after the massive strikes in Europe, in particular in France, the working class world wide managed to appear on the stage of history again, ending a more than 50 year long period of counter- revolution, the class gave birth to a series of small revolutionary groupings out of whom some managed to turn towards the tradition of the Communist Left. However, in Japan the groups of the capitalist Left completely dominated the political scene. As far as we know no forces have appeared which have established contact with the international and historical political proletarian milieu, i.e. the groups claiming to defend the tradition of the Communist Left.
Since the economy of what was once the showcase of the reconstruction period, has been in crisis and open recession for almost a decade, it is only a question of time before the working class in Japan will be forced to defend itself against the attacks of the crisis on a qualitatively higher level.
These class confrontations will require the most determined intervention of revolutionaries. However, for revolutionaries to fulfil this task, the emerging politicised proletarian elements
must establish a link with the international proletarian political milieu and conceive themselves as a part of this international entity.
More than 100 years of relative political isolation and lagging behind must be overcome. The conditions for tackling this task have never been so good.
1 Having arrived in the Japanese port of Shimonoseki, however, he missed his train to Tokyo. He had to spend the night in town – where he spent a part of the funds of the Comintern paying for a prostitute and alcohol. During the night he fell into the hands of the police, drunk, who confiscated the remaining money which the had not taken from him. Talking to a police spy in his prison cell he confessed about his mission in China. Nevertheless, he was released from jail.
2 At the same time as the Conference met in Petrograd, the group around Yamakawa started to publish a paper with the name Vanguard (Zenei). From April 1922 on, the group around Sakai published The Proletariat (Musankaikyu) from June 1922 on Labour Union (Rodo Kumiai) was also published. In the meantime, from January 1922 on, the anarchist Osugi had also started editing Labour Movement.
3 Hunger amongst the population in the countryside was widespread. Working hours in the textile industry were around 12 hours a day and more. In the 1930s there was still a 44% proportion of women working in the factories, and in the 1930s in the textile industry 91% of the female work force lived in dormitories, always available for exploitation.
4 Eiffel was the pseudonym of Paul Kirchhoff (1900-1972), a member of the KAPD. After the Nazis seized power in 1933 he emigrated to France, he worked in the German Trotskyist leadership in exile, but opposed the Trotskyist policy of entrism. During his stay in Mexico between 1936- 1940s he co-operated in publication of Comunismo, paper of the Grupo de trabajadores marxistas, see International Review n°10, 19, 20