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Spartacist English edition No. 58

Spring 2004

The Origins of Japanese Communism, Debate over “Two-Stage Revolution” and the American Occupation

The Meiji Restoration: A Bourgeois Non-Democratic Revolution

Appendix: Historical Documents

This article follows the standard Japanese practice of listing family names before given names. With the exception of the Japanese Communist Party, which is always given in English, the names of Japanese institutions and organizations are rendered in romaji transliterations. The first time a transliterated name appears, the English translation is given in parentheses.

Today, Germany and Japan are second only to the United States as the major capitalist-imperialist powers in the world. In the mid 19th century, both these countries underwent “revolutions from above” which removed the feudal (in Japan) and feudal-derived (in Germany) obstacles to their subsequent development as modern capitalist societies and states. In Germany, Prussian chancellor Otto von Bismarck waged a series of wars from 1864-71, unifying the country under the Hohenzollern monarchy and modernizing the state structure. Bismarck’s actions greatly strengthened an already economically ascendant industrial, financial and commercial bourgeoisie. In Japan, a section of the old warrior caste, wielding the image of the Emperor Meiji, ousted the feudal regime in 1867-68 to build up the Japanese military and enable it to stand up to the encroachments of the Western powers. In the following decades, they created a Japanese industrial bourgeoisie. By the beginning of the 20th century, Germany had become the strongest industrial capitalist state in Europe, Japan the only industrial capitalist state in Asia.

Both Western and Japanese academics have long recognized the substantial similarity of the course of development of Germany and Japan. However, when the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) was founded in 1922, Japan was much more backward in all major respects—social, economic and political—than Germany; not only the Germany of the interwar Weimar Republic but also the pre-1918 Germany of the Hohenzollern monarchy. The emperor ruled not merely “by the grace of god” but as the descendant of the sun goddess, the mythical founder of the Japanese nation. Half the Japanese labor force was still engaged in agriculture, for the most part utilizing pre-industrial technology.

While the leaders of the early Communist International (CI, or Comintern) sometimes referred to Japan as the “Prussia of the East,” there was no unanimity on the nature of Japan as an advanced, industrial society qualitatively similar to Germany. The main CI leader assigned to help the Japanese party, Nikolai Bukharin, insisted that Japan remained “semi-feudal.” Beginning in the fall of 1922, the CI sought to impose on the JCP cadre Bukharin’s analysis of Japan, and with it the two-stage schema of revolution which the CI was then imposing on all the young Communist parties of the East. The JCP was instructed to fight for a bourgeois-democratic revolution in which the Communist Party would join with the liberal bourgeoisie and the peasants in overthrowing the monarchy; it was only with the completion of the bourgeois-democratic stage that the Communist Party was to begin the fight for socialism. Moreover, those in the CI leadership responsible for the JCP failed to straightforwardly apply the lessons of Bolshevik organization under tsarist repression—the need for a stable émigré leadership center and network of couriers to maintain contact with and provide propaganda for underground party cells in Japan. Thus the JCP was set up to be destroyed by the severe state repression.

Under the impact of the burgeoning bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet state and party, the Communist International in the fall of 1922 was showing the first signs of abandoning its internationalist purpose (see “Rearming Bolshevism: A Trotskyist Critique of Germany 1923 and the Comintern,” Spartacist No. 56, Spring 2001). The isolation of the Soviet Union and the extreme backwardness of the old tsarist empire—made worse by the destruction wrought by World War I and the Civil War of 1918-20—led to the development of a bureaucratic caste within the world’s first workers state. This bureaucracy usurped political power from the proletariat at the Thirteenth Party Conference in January 1924 and toward the end of that year Stalin propounded the dogma of building “socialism in one country,” the theoretical rationale for this conservative, nationalist layer.

Over the next decade the zigzags and increasing class collaborationism of the Comintern’s policies, first under Zinoviev and then under Bukharin and Stalin, led to disaster after disaster as the Communist parties were gradually transformed into border guards for the Soviet Union and instruments of its foreign policy. Trotsky fought the CI’s growing misleadership of revolutionary struggles. Standing on the political heritage of the Comintern’s first four congresses, he built the Left Opposition in battle against the CI’s abandonment of a revolutionary perspective, especially in China. There the program of “two-stage revolution” provided the cover for the subordination of the interests of the Chinese proletariat to those of Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang (with which the Soviet Union was seeking an alliance against British imperialism). The result was the strangling of a nascent proletarian revolution in 1925-27: the “first stage” was the Chinese Communists’ political liquidation into the bourgeois-nationalist forces, the “second stage” was the physical extermination of the Communists and advanced workers at the hands of these same bourgeois forces, most notably in the Shanghai massacre of April 1927.

Forcibly exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929, over the next decade Trotsky built a movement which resulted in the founding of a new communist international, the Fourth International, in 1938. The Comintern’s degeneration culminated in the adoption of an explicit program of class collaboration (the “popular front”) at the Seventh CI Congress in 1935. In 1943, Stalin dissolved the Comintern in the interests of his World War II alliance with British, American and French imperialism.

Trotsky did not write specifically about Japan until the 1930s, and then only infrequently and mainly in articles about the military situation in the Pacific leading into WWII. By this time the JCP had been crushed by state repression. In a 1933 article Trotsky commented that the Meiji Restoration represented “not a ‘bourgeois revolution,’ as some historians say, but a bureaucratic attempt to buy off such a revolution” (“Japan Heads for Disaster,” 12 July 1933). However, Trotsky viewed Japan as a full-fledged imperialist power, standing on a qualitatively higher level of social and economic development than semicolonies like China. He defended China against Japanese imperialist invasion in the 1930s. A resolution adopted at the founding conference of the Fourth International stated with regard to Japan: “Bourgeois property relations and the capitalist system of exploitation, extending over both the proletariat and the peasantry, decree revolutionary overthrow of the ruling class and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as the only reed of salvation for both workers and peasants” (“The War in the Far East and the Revolutionary Perspectives,” September 1938, Documents of the Fourth International).

Taking off from Trotsky’s 1933 comment about the Meiji Restoration, the Spartacist Group Japan (SGJ), Japanese section of the International Communist League, had the position that the Meiji Restoration represented an “incomplete” bourgeois-democratic revolution. For example, the SGJ wrote that “The Meiji Restoration was not a bourgeois revolution, but a defensive measure by the feudal bureaucracy for themselves” (Spartacist [Japan] No. 16, May 1994).

This present article is the result of some extensive research and discussion within the ICL on the development of Japanese capitalism and the history of the early JCP, in the course of which the Japanese comrades have come to change their understanding of the Meiji Restoration and its implications. However, we recognize that our article is limited because the research is based mainly on English-language sources, as well as some newly published material from the Comintern archives (see endnote).

Social Origins of the Meiji Restoration

Japan’s revolution from above in the late 1860s resulted from the intersection of two deeply rooted historical developments: the slow decay of Japanese feudalism caused by its own inner contradictions and the violent intrusion of Western imperialism in East Asia.

The Japanese feudal polity was marked by a curious dualism between the emperor and the shogun (generalissimo or commander). The emperor was universally recognized as the supreme authority of the Japanese nation. However, throughout the history of medieval Japan real power was wielded by the shogun, a member of one of the most powerful feudal clans. The emperor remained secluded, often forcibly, in Kyoto, a semi-mystical figure uninvolved in the actual course of political events.

In 1600, Tokugawa Ieyasu defeated his rivals in the famous battle of Sekigahara and established the Tokugawa shogunate (or Bakufu), which ruled Japan for the next two and a half centuries. Through a policy of rigid national isolationism, Japan preserved its independence during the first phase of Western imperialist expansion in the era of mercantile capitalism. The Bakufu also effectively suppressed the warfare among the daimyo (feudal lords) which had been endemic to medieval Japan. However, the very successes and stability of the Tokugawa state set in motion social forces which eventually led to its overthrow.

With an end to the continual warfare, the hereditary warrior caste, the samurai, lost its traditional role in Japanese society. Barred from engaging in trade, many samurai became impoverished and deeply alienated from the existing order. Some became ronin (wandering men), or masterless samurai, owing fealty to no lord and professing no fixed occupation.

The long Tokugawa peace, the Bakufu’s construction of a network of roads connecting different parts of the country, and the development of coastal shipping all facilitated a substantial and steady increase in agricultural production and handicraft (pre-industrial) manufactures. The main beneficiary of this economic growth were the shonin (merchants), especially the big rice dealers of Osaka like the Mitsui family. Many a daimyo and samurai found themselves deeply in debt to the powerful merchant families.

However, the further development of mercantile capital in Japan was blocked by the prohibitions on foreign trade, restrictions on the purchase and sale of land and the division of the country into hundreds of han (feudal domains), each with its own border guards and currency. By the first decades of the 19th century, the frustrated ambitions of the great merchant houses and their allies in the cities converged with the discontents of nationalistic, modernizing elements among the samurai. Historians have called this the union of “the yen with the sword.”

E. Herbert Norman wrote in 1940 a pioneering study on the origins of modern Japan, Japan’s Emergence as a Modern State (Toronto: UBC Press, 2000 [1940]), which drew heavily on the rich historical scholarship of Japanese Marxist intellectuals. Norman explained:

“The chonin [townspeople] felt that their own prosperity was closely tied to that of the warrior and noble classes, their customers and debtors. For this reason the chonin never dreamed of making a frontal assault on feudalism as a system, although they were prepared to finance a political movement against the Bakufu in concert with rival feudal elements.” (emphasis in original)

The son of Canadian Protestant missionaries, Norman spent his childhood in rural Japan in the 1910s and ’20s. Under the impact of the rise of fascism in Germany in the early 1930s, he was attracted to the left and briefly joined the British Communist Party while a student at Cambridge University. For this, among other reasons, Norman’s book was buried, particularly by American academics, during the Cold War. Then a member of the Canadian diplomatic corps, Norman was hounded to his death by the American McCarthyites, finally committing suicide in 1957.

According to the traditional feudal hierarchy, the peasants stood below the samurai, but above artisans and merchants. The growth of trade and a money economy undermined the traditional structure and stability of the Japanese village, with a few peasants becoming richer and others falling into penury. A growing population of urbanized (propertyless) manual laborers came into being. Early 19th-century Japan saw a rising incidence of peasant revolts against feudal exactions and also rice riots in the cities directed against merchant speculators and the government officials who protected them.

The growing social tensions in late feudal Japan were brought to a critical point, resulting in civil war, by the direct threat of Western military conquest. In the 1840s, the Japanese ruling classes looked on with shock and trepidation as Britain defeated and humiliated China in the Opium War, annexed Hong Kong and reduced the “Celestial Kingdom”—the center of East Asian civilization since time immemorial—to semicolonial subjugation. In 1853, an American naval fleet under Commodore Perry forced its way into Tokyo Bay, demanding trade concessions. Unable to resist militarily, the Tokugawa shogunate agreed to unequal commercial treaties with the United States and the European powers and granted Western nationals extraterritorial legal rights in Japan.

These concessions led to an organized opposition to the Bakufu expressed in the slogan: “Revere the emperor! Expel the barbarian!” In other words, only a strong central government ruled directly by the emperor could preserve Japan’s independence. The anti-Bakufu forces were concentrated in the domains of 86 tozama (“outside” lords), the historic enemies of the Tokugawa dynasty. These oppositional han now came under the de facto leadership of modernizing samurai who built up their military strength along Western lines.

The decade-long maneuvers and struggle for power between the Bakufu and the tozama—with four clans, Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa and Hizen, in the leadership—culminated in 1868 in a brief civil war which ended with the defeat of the Bakufu. Breaking sharply with Japanese feudal tradition, Choshu enrolled peasants and other commoners into its army. The victors established a new government in the name of the supreme authority of the Emperor Meiji. Hence this historical event is called the Meiji Ishin (Restoration). However, the leaders of the new regime mostly governed independently of the emperor, who was seen to be above the political battles of the time.

Over the next few years, this regime introduced a series of measures amounting to a revolutionary transformation of broad scope: recognition of the legal equality of all classes, abolition of feudal dress, establishment of state schools, reform of the calendar, formal emancipation of the forebears of the Burakumin (considered a pariah caste because they dealt with dead animals and leather tanning), removal of the feudal ban on alienation and partition of land, establishment of the freedom to choose one’s occupation, etc. Japan imported the most modern industry and technology. In the 1870s, more than 2,000 experts—mathematicians, scientists, engineers—were recruited to teach the basic sciences that made modern industry possible. For training in engineering, government technical schools were established with foreign instructors, while the best Japanese students were sent abroad to master the most up-to-date techniques.

While the forces leading the Meiji Restoration were internal to Japan, their success was strongly conditioned by favorable international circumstances. The main rival Western powers were unable or unwilling to intervene decisively at this critical juncture in Japan’s history. Tsarist Russia, which had ambitions toward the Kurile Islands on Japan’s northern fringes, was still recovering from its defeat at the hands of Britain and France in the Crimean War of the 1850s. The United States was internally preoccupied with the deep political fissures and profound socio-economic dislocations of its own momentous Civil War a few years earlier. The interventions of Britain and France in Japan in a sense cancelled each other out, with the latter supporting the Bakufu and the former the anti-Tokugawa forces.

More generally, for all of these Western states China was the main target and great prize in East Asia, with Japan regarded as relatively poor pickings. As Norman put it, “It was the sprawling prostrate body of China which acted as a shield for Japan against the mercantile and colonial greed of the European Powers.” Thus in the historical short run, the Japanese ruling classes had a wide latitude to radically restructure their state.

Toward a Dialectical Understanding of the Meiji Restoration

How can one characterize the Meiji Restoration as a bourgeois revolution if it was not led by the bourgeoisie? The bourgeoisie did not directly lead the French Revolution either—the Jacobins were led by lawyers like Robespierre and other petty-bourgeois professionals, supported by the urban artisan masses and land-hungry peasants. However, it was the commercial and financial bourgeoisie who were in a position to benefit from the overthrow of the monarchy and the abolition of feudal impediments to national economic development, laying the basis for a nascent industrial bourgeoisie within two generations. The lower samurai, who spearheaded the Meiji Restoration, could legitimately be described as a military-bureaucratic caste or stratum. In order to survive as a nationally independent ruling class, they had to transform Japan into a modern industrial capitalist country and therewith foster the development of an industrial bourgeoisie. Their policies and actions led within two generations to the development of an industrial/financial bourgeoisie as the dominant social class in Japan.

Here it is instructive to look at the Bismarckian “revolution from above” in Germany. In doing so it is also necessary to recognize certain fundamental differences, as well as important parallelisms, between Germany and Japan in the late 19th century. Germany stood at a qualitatively higher level of economic development, with a substantial industry and an already economically dominant bourgeoisie which, however, confronted a rapidly growing, socially and politically conscious proletariat.

The extension of the socio-economic achievements of the French Revolution to western and southern Germany through military conquest under the Napoleonic empire gave a powerful impetus to the development of industrial as well as commercial capitalism. On the eve of the Revolution of 1848, Engels wrote of the German bourgeoisie:

“Although its advance during the last thirty years has not been nearly as great as that of the English and French bourgeoisie, it has nevertheless established most branches of modern industry, in a few districts supplanted peasant or petty-bourgeois patriarchalism, concentrated capital to some extent, produced something of a proletariat, and built fairly long stretches of railroad. It has at least reached the point of having either to go further and make itself the ruling class or to renounce its previous conquests, the point where it is the only class that can at the moment bring about progress in Germany, can at the moment rule Germany.”

— “The Constitutional Question in Germany” (June 1847)

However, during the upheaval of 1848 the bourgeoisie’s fear that a radical democratic revolution would be but a prelude to a “red revolution,” centrally based on the urban working class, drove it into an alliance with the forces of monarchical reaction. Marx and Engels concluded that the European bourgeoisie had already turned reactionary. As a result, Marx ended his address of the Central Authority to the Communist League in March 1850 with the famous cry for “The Revolution in Permanence.”

With the further rapid development of industrial capitalism, the main body of the German bourgeoisie formed an alliance with the Prussian landed nobility (the Junkers), which laid the basis for Bismarck’s “revolution from above” in the 1860s. Bismarck began as a political representative of the Junkers and had been an extreme reactionary in the Revolution of 1848-49. But he represented this feudal-derived class in the era of industrial capitalism, in which Prussia confronted more advanced bourgeois states: Britain and France. Bismarck came to understand that only the industrial/financial bourgeoisie could transform Germany into a comparably advanced state and thereby ensure the survival, and indeed prosperity, of the old landed classes as well.

In the late 1880s, Engels wrote in this regard:

“A person in Bismarck’s position and with Bismarck’s past, having a certain understanding of the state of affairs, could not but realise that the Junkers, such as they were, were not a viable class, and that of all the propertied classes only the bourgeoisie could lay claim to a future, and that therefore (disregarding the working class, an understanding of whose historical mission we cannot expect of him) his new empire promised to be all the stabler, the more he succeeded in laying the groundwork for its gradual transition to a modern bourgeois state.”

—Engels, The Role of Force in History (1887-88)

The Prussian Junkers became large-scale agrarian capitalists and the Hohenzollern monarchy operated effectively free of parliamentary control. While the Reichstag (parliament) had some influence over domestic policies, it had no effective control over foreign affairs and the military. As Engels wrote in 1891: “The German empire is a monarchy with semi-feudal institutions, but dominated ultimately by the economic interests of the bourgeoisie” (“Socialism in Germany”).

Considered dialectically, the Meiji Restoration was led by a bourgeoisie in the process of becoming. This understanding was expressed in one of the earliest Soviet studies of the subject, written in 1920:

“We may conclude that Japan, having changed its economical structure, still did not possess the class of bourgeoisie which could take over the rule of the country. It was the class of feudal lords that remained in power. They acknowledged the changes which had happened in Japan, rejected all outmoded feudal norms and started the rapid development of capitalism.... Hence, the term ‘revolution’ may be used in relation to the Meiji Ishin only conventionally. It may be called ‘bourgeois’ only from the viewpoint of its results, which does not mean at all that the bourgeoisie played the most important role at that time.”

— O.V. Pletner, The History of the Meiji Era, quoted in Julia Mikhailova, “Soviet-Japanese Studies on the Problem of the Meiji Ishin and the Development of Capitalism in Japan,” in War, Revolution and Japan (1993)

A Bourgeois-Democratic Revolution Was Precluded by History

For Marxists, a bourgeois-democratic revolution is centrally defined by its socio-economic (i.e., class) content, not by a change in the form of government. The classic bourgeois-democratic revolutions in England in the 1640s and France in 1789-93 overthrew absolutist monarchies that were the political organs of the landed nobility. Mobilizing the peasantry and urban lower classes, the mercantile (i.e., pre-industrial) bourgeoisie achieved political power through the Cromwellian Commonwealth in England and the Jacobin regime and later Napoleonic empire in France.

To view the classic bourgeois-democratic revolutions as a template for all subsequent capitalist development—as did the Mensheviks in their stagist schema for tsarist Russia, and subsequently Stalin/Bukharin in the case of the semicolonial countries—is ahistorical and undialectical. When in July 1789 artisans, shopkeepers and day laborers in Paris stormed the Bastille, France was the strongest absolutist (i.e., late feudal) state in Europe. The revolution greatly enhanced the economic and military resources of the French state, enabling Napoleon Bonaparte—a onetime protégé of Robespierre—to conquer and transform much of Europe. The masses had to be mobilized to break a path for capitalist development in France (and earlier in England). This was also partially true in a somewhat later period in the United States and Italy. But it is not true for Germany or Japan. There is no necessary connection between democracy and the development of capitalism.

The “bourgeois revolutions from above” in late 19th-century Germany and Japan were not exceptions to some historic “norm” set by the French Revolution. They were instead the outcome of the intervening history since the French Revolution. The only way for the ruling classes in Germany and Japan to avoid invasion and subjugation by Britain, France or the United States was rapid industrialization. They were able to propel their nations into the ranks of the imperialist powers by clearing out the feudal obstacles to capitalist development from above, in the process transforming themselves into capitalists. By 1900, with the world and its markets more or less divided between the five existing imperialist powers, that road was closed to other late developing bourgeoisies.

Japan in the mid 19th century was a pre-industrial (though in many ways relatively advanced) feudal state confronting far more powerful industrializing capitalist states. It was the well-grounded fear of succumbing to China’s fate that galvanized decisive sections of the Japanese feudal nobility, especially the lower echelons of the samurai, to overthrow the old order and restructure the Japanese economy and state along Western lines. Though he himself viewed the Meiji Restoration as an “incomplete” bourgeois revolution, E. Herbert Norman also understood that the conditions confronting the Meiji rulers immediately after the revolution ruled out a bourgeois-democratic road:

“The speed with which Japan had simultaneously to establish a modern state, to build an up-to-date defense force in order to ward off the dangers of invasion (which the favorable balance of world forces and the barrier of China could not forever postpone), to create an industry on which to base this armed force, to fashion an educational system suitable to an industrial modernized nation, dictated that these important changes be accomplished by a group of autocratic bureaucrats rather than by the mass of the people working through democratic organs of representation.”

Op. cit.

Could this social transformation have been accomplished by a revolutionary upheaval? Let us assume that the civil war between the Bakufu and the tozama had resulted in the mutual destruction or disorganization of any effective military force in the hands of the feudal nobility. A power vacuum formed, allowing a mass peasant rebellion, refusal to pay tribute to the daimyo, and also uprisings of the lower classes in the cities. In short, Japan was engulfed by revolutionary anarchy.

What would have been the historical outcome? The Japanese daimyo and shonin would have invited and facilitated the military intervention of the Western powers to suppress the peasant rebellion. In the aftermath Japan would have been reduced to colonial or semicolonial subjugation. A section of the daimyo, samurai and merchant class would have been transformed into a comprador bourgeoisie, such as then existed in China, totally subservient to the Western imperialists.

One need only look at the Taiping rebellion in China in the 1850s and early 1860s. This massive peasant revolt, which lasted over a decade, took over much of the Yangtze Valley and established a capital in the major city of Nanjing. Since the decadent Manchu rulers were incapable of suppressing the revolt, the Chinese gentry (landlord class) turned to the Western powers. An American adventurer, Frederick Townsend Ward, and a British officer, Charles “Chinese” Gordon, trained and commanded an elite Chinese force which finally defeated the Taipings.

A peasant rebellion in Japan at this time, even if initially successful, would have suffered a similar fate. This is not to say that following the Meiji Restoration the future course of Japanese history was predetermined for the next several decades. Some greater degree of social egalitarianism and political liberalization was certainly possible in late 19th- and early 20th-century Japan. But what was not possible was a radical bourgeois-democratic revolution on the French model.

The 1873 Land Tax

The leaders of the Meiji Restoration expressed their intent to modernize Japan with such slogans as “Prosperous Nation, Strong Military” and “Increase Production, Promote Industry.” But how were these slogans translated into reality, given that Japan at the time was far more economically backward than the Western capitalist states that threatened its independence? In brief, by maintaining an exceptionally high level of exploitation of the peasantry, but now channeling the resulting economic surplus into the rapid construction of an industrial-military complex. The 1873 Land Tax was the main mechanism in late 19th-century Japan for what Marx termed, in speaking of West Europe (centrally England) in the 17th and 18th centuries, the “primitive accumulation of capital.”

In 1871, the new Meiji regime, through a combination of military threat and financial inducement, pressured the daimyo into “returning” their han to the authority of the central government. They were compensated with long-term government bonds. At the same time, the government took over the stipends, though at a diminishing rate, which the former daimyo had paid to their samurai. The Land Tax provided the bulk of the revenue for the interest and redeemed principal on the government bonds as well as the stipends to the former samurai.

In this way, the state treasury became a conduit between the economic surplus extracted from the peasantry and a developing industrial/financial bourgeoisie drawn from the former feudal nobility and the old merchant class. By 1880, 44 percent of the stock of Japan’s national banks was owned by former daimyo, and almost a third by former samurai. These banks then went on to finance the rapid development of Japanese industry.

The central role played by the state treasury in the initial industrialization of Japan also resulted, paradoxically, from the restrictions imposed upon Japanese economic policy by the Western imperialist powers. Under the threat of American and British military action, in the late 1850s and ’60s the Tokugawa shogunate signed unequal commercial treaties which prohibited Japan from charging tariffs of more than 5 percent of the value of Western imports. The Meiji government was therefore unable to protect its newly developing industries behind high tariff barriers, as Germany and the United States were able to do in the late 19th century. Instead the Japanese ruling class had recourse to direct government ownership and subsidies.

American economic historian G.C. Allen stated: “There was scarcely any important Japanese industry of the Western type during the latter decades of the nineteenth century which did not owe its establishment to state initiative” (A Short Economic History of Modern Japan [1981]). By the end of the century, almost all state-owned industrial enterprises and other assets had been sold off, usually at nominal prices, to politically favored entrepreneurs. The most successful of these formed the zaibatsu, the great industrial/financial empires like Mitsubishi and Mitsui which came to dominate and continue to dominate the Japanese economy.

Just as Meiji Japan saw the rise of a new class of industrial/financial capitalists, it also saw the rise of a new class of agrarian exploiters. As increasing numbers of peasants were unable to meet their tax payments and/or repay their debts at usurious interest rates, they were forced to sell all or part of their land, typically to rich peasants or village merchant/moneylenders. Many were forced to send their daughters to work for textile manufacturers in the city, thus providing workers for early Japanese industry. An advance on the daughters’ wages would be loaned to the peasant families to meet their tax burden. Interest and principal on these loans, together with payments for the daughters’ food and lodging, consumed most of, if not more than the wages, forcing rural families further into debt. By 1903, 44 percent of all agricultural land in Japan was worked by tenant farmers who paid over 50 percent of their crop, usually in kind, as rent to the landlords.

Here it should be emphasized that the landlord class in early 20th-century Japan was not in the main derived from the old feudal nobility. An American student of Japanese agrarian history explained:

“Although most former daimyo remained wealthy and as members of the House of Peers gained a direct voice in the political system after 1890, they were no longer a landed aristocracy with the power to control local affairs.... They invested in forest land, in new industrial enterprises, and perhaps most of all, in banking. Even if part of their income was derived from agriculture, it was generally a small part, overshadowed by their other interests. They no longer exercised political control over the land they owned, and although they were represented in the House of Peers, that body was at no time the center of political power.”

— Ann Waswo, Japanese Landlords: The Decline of a Rural Elite (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977)

The lower house of the Diet, which approved the government budget, was elected by the wealthiest male property owners.

A new landlord class arose through the economic differentiation of the peasantry and other sectors of the rural petty bourgeoisie. In the 1930s, a visiting American academic contemptuously described typical Japanese landlords as “lately merchants, owners of inns and brothels, masters of road repair crews, and persons of similar status” (quoted in ibid.). Furthermore, wealthier landlords increasingly reinvested the rents collected from tenant farmers in bank deposits, government bonds and corporate securities. By the 1920s, the wealthiest families in rural Japan were getting as much, if not more, of their income from their financial assets as from their agricultural holdings.

Thus the landlord class in interwar Japan was in no sense feudal or semi-feudal, but was thoroughly integrated economically and in many cases socially into the dominant urban industrial economy.

The 1889 Meiji Constitution

While the Meiji Restoration was a revolution from above, it necessarily produced powerful reverberations from below, awakening among the peasants and urban laborers expectations of a better and freer life. The two decades following were a period of great social and political turbulence.

For the first time in Japanese history, women rebelled against their traditional subservience and demanded democratic rights. Several villages and municipalities set up local councils, and women were allowed to run for office (provided they had their husbands’ permission). Women militants toured the country giving speeches calling for suffrage, birth control and the right of inheritance.

The forces of social radicalism found their main organized expression in the People’s Rights Movement, which demanded a democratic, representative government. Rural agitation centered around this movement climaxed in 1884, in a rebellion in the mountainous district of Chichibu in central Japan, northwest of Tokyo. Peasants sacked the homes of moneylenders, stormed government offices to destroy debt records, and intimidated the rich into making donations for poor relief. The uprising was crushed by the army and shortly thereafter the People’s Rights Movement was broken through a combination of state repression and the government’s success in buying off many of its leaders.

The consolidation of a strong repressive state apparatus laid the political basis for the 1889 Meiji Constitution, which was modeled on that of imperial Germany. Government ministers were appointed by the emperor (actually by the Meiji oligarchs acting in the emperor’s name), not by the majority party in the Diet.

Taking the concept of ie (family household system) as the basis for the new hierarchical social structure, the 1898 Civil Code adopted the Confucian-based values of the samurai class as its foundation. The emperor stood at the apex as the head of the entire nation and, in turn, the husband was absolute ruler over his individual family. Primogeniture was mandated for all classes. Wives were treated as minors, and the code insisted that “cripples and disabled persons and wives cannot undertake any legal action.” Women were banned from participating in political activities. Yet women workers were the backbone of the developing industrial economy—especially in the textile industry, which produced 60 percent of the foreign exchange in the latter part of the 19th century and in which women made up 60 to 90 percent of the workforce.

The emperor system enshrined in the constitution was not a surviving feudal institution representing the interests of a landed nobility (which no longer existed at all). Rather, the traditional authority and mystical aura surrounding the emperor were now used to legitimize a state apparatus which first and foremost acted to protect and further the interests of the industrial and financial capitalists, represented at their apex by the zaibatsu.

World War I and Industrialization

The First World War changed the structure of the Japanese economy and working class, while the 1917 Russian Bolshevik Revolution changed the political character of the Japanese left. Prior to 1914 Japan’s heavy industrial sector, closely tied to the military, remained dependent on government financial support. Japan exported light manufactures—mainly cotton textiles and silk—and imported industrial machinery and much of its steel from Europe and the United States.

The war totally disrupted the existing pattern of world trade, enabling Japan to move up into the first rank of industrial capitalist countries. A Japanese academic Marxist, Takahashi Masao, pointed out:

“With the European nations devoting themselves entirely to the war effort, the arteries of commodity exchange in the world economy were completely stopped....

“Although there was a great difference in the scope and degree of industrialization, both America and Japan were able to rapidly and extensively develop their economies. They were in a similar position in that they were both able to develop those kinds of manufacturing for which they had previously been dependent on Europe. And thus they functioned as suppliers of industrial products for underdeveloped areas, as well as of goods of various kinds for the belligerent nations.”

Modern Japanese Economy Since the Meiji Restoration (1967)

Between 1914 and 1921, Japan’s output of steel doubled; the production of electrical motors increased in value from 9 million to 34 million yen. Overall, industrial production multiplied almost fivefold!

This brought about a corresponding change in the social weight and character of the Japanese working class. The proportion of the manufacturing labor force engaged in heavy industry, characterized by large-scale factories, increased from 13.6 percent in 1910 to 24.2 percent by the end of the war. In the early 1920s there was a large permanently urbanized industrial proletariat in Japan, heavily male, employed in steel mills, shipyards, chemical factories, auto and truck plants, etc. Nonetheless, Japan was the only major industrial capitalist country in the interwar period in which peasant struggle against landlords was an important arena of social conflict.

The changes in workforce composition combined with the inflation that accompanied the World War I industrial expansion resulted in an upsurge in labor militancy and social unrest, capped by the 1918 “Rice Riots.” The price of rice doubled from 1917 to 1918, and after the wives of fishermen in Toyama Prefecture raided rice shops in August 1918, rice riots spread throughout the country. The government called out troops to quell the riots, killing more than 100 protesters. The surge of unrest led to a mass movement for universal suffrage. The poll tax was decreased in 1919 (increasing the voter rolls from one to three million), but the government refused to grant universal suffrage. Strikes and labor unrest also spread, and Japanese socialists began to gain influence in some major Japanese unions.

Early Japanese Communists

Early Japanese Socialists were largely Christian and confined to small propaganda groups. After 1906 an anarcho-syndicalist current developed, but its membership periodically collaborated with the more reformist-minded Socialist movement. In 1910 the best-known anarchist, Kotoku Shusui, and 26 supporters were arrested and charged with plotting to assassinate the emperor and his family. Following the so-called Great Treason Trial, Kotoku was executed in 1911, along with eleven others, including his companion Kanno Suga. After this the organized left virtually ceased to exist.

Katayama Sen, a leader of the evolutionary, pacifist wing of Japanese socialism, had previously spent time in the United States and returned there in 1914. There he worked with the Socialist Party, took a special interest in the fight against black oppression, and eventually founded the League of Japanese Socialists. Won to the Bolshevik banner after the Russian Revolution, Katayama sent many League members back to Japan to help found a Japanese Communist Party. He himself went to Moscow in late 1921, playing a major role in the Comintern’s dealings with Japan from 1922. However, the extent to which Katayama broke from his Christian, pacifist origins remains questionable. During the Stalinist degeneration he espoused the bureaucracy’s various twists and turns with unfailing loyalty. In 1928 Trotsky wrote, “Katayama is by nature a complete mistake.... His conceptions form a progressivism very lightly colored by Marxism” (“Who Is Leading the Comintern Today?”, September 1928). Nevertheless, the supporters he won in the United States played an important role in the early Japanese Communist movement.

The core leadership of the early JCP, however, came from the anarcho-syndicalists like Yamakawa Hitoshi, Sakai Toshihiko and Arahata Kanson, who began to propagate Bolshevism (as they understood it) as early as May 1919. They were joined not only by Katayama’s supporters, but also by individual student recruits from a burgeoning post-World War I academic Marxist trend that was tolerated by the government for most of the decade. Despite the authority won by anarcho-syndicalists in the union movement after the war, the early Communists had very slim roots in the working class.

Japan was the first imperialist country to invade the territory of the world’s first workers state in April 1918. Its troops were the last to leave in November 1922, and even then Japan retained control of Sakhalin Island, agreeing to evacuate its troops from Northern Sakhalin only in 1925, when diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia were finally established. Japan continued to occupy Southern Sakhalin until its troops were driven out by the Red Army at the end of World War II.

While the Bolsheviks made efforts to establish contact with Japanese militants attracted to the Russian Revolution’s banner, foreign military intervention and the Civil War, which raged in the Russian Far East, made such contact extremely difficult. Moreover, Yamakawa and Sakai were originally reticent to establish contact with the Comintern, fearing to draw the attention of the very efficient Japanese secret police. It was not until April 1921, when the Korean Communist Yi Chung-rim, who had been a student at Meiji University, was sent to Tokyo by the CI that Yamakawa agreed to establish a “Preparatory Committee” for a Japanese Communist Party. At this point the Japanese Communists constituted a loose circle that overlapped with the anarcho-syndicalists.

The opening of the Comintern Archives in Moscow has made available a wealth of new material on the Japanese Communist Party, which sheds light on the early years of the party. We publish three of the newly available JCP documents as appendices to this article, including the April 1921 Manifesto of the Preparatory Committee of the JCP, which was authored by Yamakawa, working with Katayama protégé Kondo Eizo. The 1921 Manifesto makes clear that the early Japanese Communists considered the Meiji Restoration to have laid the basis for a capitalist Japan and did not subscribe to a two-stage schema.

The first delegation from the Japanese Socialist/anarchist milieu did not arrive in Moscow until late 1921. They came to participate in the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East, which took place in January-February 1922. The Congress included not only Communists, but also bourgeois-nationalist forces (the Chinese Guomindang was present), journalists and other disparate forces. Bukharin, Zinoviev and Stalin were appointed by the Russian Political Bureau to be the Commission in charge of directing the Congress. Zinoviev convened the event and played a very public role there. Bukharin helped draft and present the resolution on Japan. Stalin met with the Japanese delegation and is credited in at least one account with being among those who won over some of the anarcho-syndicalists. Stalin retained his interest in the Far East for the rest of the decade, and it is clear that he worked closely with Bukharin in developing the “two-stage revolution” dogma and pushing it upon the Communist parties of the East.

The Congress was held on the eve of Lenin’s first stroke and just as Stalin, Zinoviev and Kamenev were beginning to establish their alliance against Trotsky. The Zinovievist school of politics as bombast and maneuver was infecting the Comintern. However, it had not yet triumphed. The “Tasks of the Japanese Communists” adopted at the Congress clearly states, “A proletarian dictatorship, the replacement of the military-plutocratic monarchy with the power of the Soviets—that is the goal of the Communist Party.” At the same time, the resolution asserted that “the configuration of class forces in Japan allows us to expect the success of a radical democratic overturn” and argued that the JCP orient itself accordingly.

The resolutions and proceedings of the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East introduced certain ambiguities into the tasks of the Asian Communist parties, but this was by no means a full-blown schema of “two-stage revolution.” The CI leadership did not recognize that the disruption of trade with Europe during WWI had led, not just to an expansion of Japan’s industrial base, but also to the development of a burgeoning industrial proletariat in colonial and semicolonial countries like China and India. Thus, the main report on the national-colonial question, delivered by G. Safarov, was based on the premise that the proletariat in most Eastern countries did not have the social weight to play a leading role in a revolutionary upsurge. Japan was recognized as an exception to this pattern—a full-blown imperialist country with a proletariat which was the key to liberating the entire East. Safarov insisted that the Japanese proletariat must ally itself with the nations struggling to liberate themselves from Japanese imperialism. He called for the absolute political independence of the proletariat from the bourgeois-nationalist forces with whom they might collaborate.

The JCP and “Two-Stage Revolution”

The Japanese Communist Party was formally founded in July 1922, some six months after the Congress of the Toilers of the Far East completed its work. One month later, in August 1922, the Comintern made the decision that the young Communist Party of China should enter the Guomindang. Three months later, in November, during the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, Bukharin authored a draft program of the Japanese party which did not mention the Meiji Restoration, let alone seek to evaluate its import. He wrote:

“Japanese capitalism still demonstrates characteristics of former feudal relationships. The greater part of the land is today in the hands of semifeudal big landlords....

“Remnants of feudal relationships are manifested in the structure of the state, which is controlled by a bloc consisting of a definite part of the commercial and industrial capitalists and of the big landlords. The semifeudal character of state power is clearly shown in the important and leading role of the peers and in the basic features of the constitution. Under such conditions the opposition to state power emanates not only from the working class, peasants, and petty bourgeoisie, but also from a great segment of the liberalistic bourgeoisie, who are opposed to the existing government.”

— “Draft Platform of the Japanese Communist Party,” November 1922, published in George M. Beckmann and Okubo Genji, The Japanese Communist Party, 1922-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969)

The program went on to insist:

“The party of the working class cannot remain indifferent to a struggle against the imperial government, even though such a struggle may be conducted under democratic slogans. The task of the Communist Party is to constantly intensify the general movement, emphasize all slogans, and win the dominant position in the movement during the struggle against the existing government.

“Only after this first direct task has been fulfilled and some of the former allies have begun to move to the side of the defeated class and groups should the Japanese Communist Party strive to advance the revolution, deepen it, and make efforts toward the acquisition of power by soviets of workers and peasants.”


The standard histories of Japanese Communism do not mention, however, that there was another draft JCP program written two months prior to Bukharin’s. This draft (published as an appendix here) was authored in Japan by Arahata and Sakai. Arahata and Sakai label Japan “the Germany of the East,” and their program begins with the clear statement that “The Communist Party of Japan, a section of the Third Communist International, is an illegal, proletarian political party, whose aim is the overthrow of the Capitalist regime through the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat based on the Soviet Power.” There is not a hint of stagism here.

Bukharin’s draft treats the democratic program it puts forward as a temporary agenda for the Communist Party during the struggle to overthrow the “existing government”—as if by draping itself in democratic clothing the JCP could fool a wing of the rabidly anti-Communist Japanese bourgeoisie into collaborating with it! The Arahata and Sakai draft, in contrast, correctly (if abstractly) calls for combining the struggle for bourgeois-democratic rights with the struggle for proletarian revolution to overthrow the capitalist system as a whole.

Bukharin’s 1922 draft was greeted with significant opposition in the JCP and was never officially adopted by the party. We publish as our third appendix a May 1923 report by Arahata, written for the Third Enlarged Plenum of the Comintern Executive Committee (ECCI) held in June, which describes the dispute that developed in the JCP over Bukharin’s draft. This report was published in Russian in The VKP(b), the Comintern and Japan, 1917-1941 and to our knowledge has not previously been available to students of Japanese Communism.

As is apparent from Arahata’s report, at least some of the opposition to Bukharin’s draft was due to residual anarcho-syndicalist prejudices. Active in a series of increasingly violent strikes in 1921 and 1922, the JCP continued to collaborate with the anarcho-syndicalists in the Sodomei, the main trade-union federation. The cadre who went on to form the JCP had ignored the struggle for universal suffrage; the question of whether or not to even support the suffrage demand was under debate in the party as late as the end of 1923 (when Yamakawa finally abandoned his opposition to it). Reformist impulses were apparently also in play: Sakai at least did not want to raise the demand for the abolition of the emperor system, fearing that this would bring down further state repression on the young party.

It is clear from newly available Comintern documents that the disparate forces that came together to form the JCP never gelled into a real collective. The early debate between the pro-Bolshevik and anarcho-syndicalist elements was never fought out to a conclusion; nor was the dispute on universal suffrage ever resolved. The decisive lesson of the Russian Revolution—the need for a programmatically homogenous party of professional revolutionaries—was clearly not assimilated by the early JCP leaders. The party did not have a central organ which carried the party’s line; the closest thing was Zen’ei (Vanguard) which carried only signed articles and was seen as Yamakawa’s personal responsibility. Personal animosities often overlapped with political disputes and muddied the issues. The young JCP desperately needed education and help in fighting through its differences and forging a political line and cadre committed to implement it. But in 1922-23 the CI was already beginning its slide toward degeneration and did not provide the kind of political clarity that had been given to the young and fractious American Communist movement from 1919-1922 (see James P. Cannon and the Early Years of American Communism: Selected Writings and Speeches, 1920-1928 [New York: Prometheus Research Library, 1992]).

While Japan was not “semi-feudal,” the undemocratic nature of its transition from feudalism to capitalism continued to reverberate in a myriad of ways. The government promised to introduce universal male suffrage at the end of 1923; the law wasn’t promulgated until 1925 and then the vote was only granted to males over the age of 25. At the same time, there was an increase in repressive measures. The 1925 Peace Preservation Law made it illegal to participate in any organization with the “objective of altering the national polity or the form of government, or denying the system of private ownership” (quoted in Beckmann and Okubo, op. cit.). A resolution of the Privy Council motivated the new law: “Since putting universal suffrage into effect will result in a worsening of dangerous ideas, the government must establish and put into effect laws and regulations for the rigid control [of dangerous ideas] and must exert itself to prevent evil abuses and practices” (quoted in Peter Duus, Party Rivalry and Political Change in Taisho Japan [1968]). The Peace Preservation Law was the legal basis for the vicious repression against the JCP through WWII.

With the feudal legacy shaping so many aspects of the Japanese bourgeois order, the weight of democratic demands is necessarily greater in the proletarian revolutionary program. From its inception in 1988 the Spartacist Group Japan has called for the abolition of the emperor system and the establishment of a workers republic in Japan (our British section also calls for the abolition of the monarchy and a federation of workers republics in the British Isles). Unfortunately, the idea of a workers republic, a slogan which had been raised by the Irish revolutionary James Connolly as early as 1898, seems to have been absent from the lexicon of the early Communist International.

The CI’s “Workers and Peasants Party” Orientation and the JCP’s Liquidation

The political lines were muddied further in 1923 by the CI leadership’s insistence that the JCP form a legal “workers and peasants” party, which was to include representatives of the liberal bourgeoisie. This was part of a general orientation toward such parties, including in the U.S., pushed by the Comintern under Zinoviev’s leadership. The model of such a workers and peasants party was Chiang Kai-shek’s bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang (a version of which the CI leadership was proposing for Japan), which drowned the Chinese Revolution of 1925-27 in blood.

From the start, Trotsky fought the “two-class” party perspective. In 1928, he subjected the misleadership of the world Communist movement to a scathing and comprehensive attack in his Critique of the Comintern draft program written by Bukharin. Trotsky’s Critique, a defining document of world Trotskyism now known as The Third International After Lenin, contains an important section, “On the Reactionary Idea of ‘Two-Class Workers and Peasants Parties’ for the Orient”:

“Marxism has always taught, and Bolshevism too, accepted and taught, that the peasantry and proletariat are two different classes, that it is false to identify their interests in capitalist society in any way, and that a peasant can join the Communist Party only if, from the property viewpoint, he adopts the views of the proletariat....

“The younger the proletariat, the fresher and more direct its ‘blood ties’ with the peasantry, the greater the proportion of the peasantry to the population as a whole, the greater becomes the importance of the struggle against any form of ‘two-class’ political alchemy. In the West the idea of a workers and peasants party is simply ridiculous. In the East it is fatal. In China, India, and Japan this idea is mortally hostile not only to the hegemony of the proletariat in the revolution but also to the most elementary independence of the proletarian vanguard.”

Arahata spoke on the floor of the June 1923 ECCI Plenum against the perspective of forming a legal workers and peasants party in Japan. Zinoviev responded, “We shall insist that our Japanese comrades learn a lesson from the American Communist Party, and try to organize a legal Communist party in Japan.” The American Communist movement had gone underground in response to a wave of arrests and deportations in 1919-20 known as the “Palmer Raids,” but conditions quickly returned to the norms of bourgeois democracy as the American ruling class figured out that its rule was not fundamentally threatened. The legal party formed by the American Communists in December 1921 was the Workers Party, which had an openly communist program. (The American Workers Party also went on to follow CI directives in 1923 and join in the founding of a short-lived Farmer-Labor Party on a populist program.)

Replying to Zinoviev, Arahata correctly argued, “The case of the American Party is not the same as with us.... Our Party is a secret organization not because we want underground work but the situation compels us to be so” (transcript of Arahata’s speech on 14 June 1923, in the Comintern archives in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History). Japan in 1923 was not a bourgeois democracy nor about to become one. The government promised to introduce expanded suffrage that year, but the first election held under universal (male) suffrage didn’t occur until 1928. A legal Communist Party was not possible. Indeed, a legal party could not even call for abolition of the emperor system.

As if to mock Zinoviev’s fatuous remark, the Japanese government struck out with a wave of arrests of Japanese Communists in June 1923, on the eve of a meeting between Soviet diplomat Adolf Joffe and Japanese government representatives in Tokyo. The severe repression cut short the discussion of Bukharin’s draft program. Joffe had been careful not to get involved with the JCP (the Bolshevik leadership had evolved a correct and necessary separation between the Comintern’s revolutionary activities and the diplomacy of the Soviet state). But the arrests were obviously meant as a statement of hostility to any red influence in Japan. At the time, powerful bourgeois circles opposed all negotiations with the Soviet state. Though Joffe remained in Tokyo for several more months, his negotiations were unsuccessful.

A few leading Japanese Communists were able to escape arrest and get out of Japan, establishing a Japanese Bureau in Vladivostok in August 1923 with the approval of the Comintern. In fact, an émigré center was a vital continuing necessity for the JCP. The party needed a leadership collective out of reach of the Japanese state in order to produce a regular newspaper in Japanese, as the Russian revolutionary Marxists had in an earlier period published the newspaper Iskra (Spark) and the theoretical journal Zarya (Dawn) to smuggle into the tsarist empire from European exile. A stable JCP exile center would have been able to organize political debate, collect information, and keep contact with those working underground in Japan. Constant political debate over the real work of the party is a crucial aspect of forging revolutionary communist parties.

However, the CI Japanese Bureau had barely begun functioning when a horrific earthquake devastated much of Tokyo on 1 September 1923. In its wake, the country was shaken by pogroms in which over 6,000 Koreans and hundreds of Chinese were massacred. Communists, anarchists and labor leaders were hunted down and killed; some were murdered in police stations. A wave of arrests of leftist and labor leaders followed. In the aftermath, the Comintern made the criminal decision to order most of the Japanese cadre in Vladivostok back to Japan, thereby liquidating the Japanese Bureau and ending any chance of establishing a stable political and organizational basis for the JCP.

At that time, all the attention of the CI leaders was focused on a potential proletarian revolution in Germany. Those who made the decision to liquidate the Japanese Bureau, knowing the full extent of the carnage and arrests in Japan, wantonly neglected the need to create and preserve a programmatically coherent JCP leadership like that which had been forged in exile by the Russian Marxists, first under Plekhanov, and later by the Bolsheviks under Lenin. More concerned with Soviet diplomatic initiatives than preserving the JCP leadership, G. Voitinsky of the CI’s Eastern Bureau sent a directive to the party that concluded:

“The drawing together of Japan and Soviet Russia after the catastrophe must be made the most popular slogan among the masses of Japan, since it is only from Soviet Russia that unselfish aid can come in the form of raw materials needed for Japanese production. The party must pose the drawing together of Japan and Russia as the alternative to the economic and political enslavement of Japan by Anglo-American capital.”

— “Directive Telegram by G. Voitinsky to JCP,” 14 September 1923, published in The VKP(b), the Comintern and Japan, 1917-1941 (our translation)

The Japanese cadre were sent back to Japan with no confidence that they would have an impact. The ECCI representative to the Japanese Bureau, I.I. Feinberg, wrote:

“I believe that activists are better sent to work in the country than kept idle in Vladivostok.

“From the information that we do have it is clear that the earthquake is fraught with the most severe economic consequences and will place Japan into dependence on foreign capital.... We need to take this fact into account in our policies. I believe that the instructions we prepared work towards this end. The only question is how to realize them. Speaking frankly, I don’t have any great optimism. Our forces in Japan are still quite weak and inexperienced, so it doesn’t make sense to expect very much from them.”

— “Letter by I.I. Feinberg to G.N. Voitinsky,” 20 September 1923, published in ibid. (our translation)

This criminal decision set the JCP up to be destroyed by repeated waves of state repression.

The Japanese Communists, many of whom were released from prison just before the earthquake hit, were in no position to lead any kind of public campaign. The arrests had devastated the tiny party; the earthquake’s destruction compounded the problems (for example, the party’s illegal press was destroyed).

Instead of following the CI’s instructions to increase their public activity, the leading Japanese Communists made a decision to liquidate the JCP in favor of concentrating their efforts on forming a legal workers and peasants party. Yamakawa, who seems to have done a political about-face at this time, abandoning his remaining anarcho-syndicalist prejudices in favor of the fight for universal suffrage and a parliamentarist approach, was the ideological inspirer of the liquidation. The JCP was formally liquidated in March 1924; it was not reconstituted until December 1926. In the interim the Japanese Communist movement functioned in loosely coordinated circles, overlapping with the academic Marxist milieu, but under the ostensible direction of a central bureau.

The Comintern opposed the liquidation of the JCP from the moment the news reached Moscow. Katayama and other CI leaders mobilized to organize Yamakawa’s opponents (among whom numbered, at least initially, Arahata) to re-establish the JCP. But the liquidation was simply the logical political conclusion of Zinoviev’s insistence that the JCP concentrate on legal political activity in the form of a workers and peasants party. During the period of liquidation the Japanese Communists—both the supporters of Yamakawa and the supporters of the CI—joined the Japan Peasant Union and Sodomei trade-union federation in forming two workers and peasants parties. The first was dissolved by the government immediately after it was founded. The second, Rodo Nominto (Labor-Farmer Party), was formed in March 1926. The reformist Sodomei leadership withdrew from Rodo Nominto within months, refusing to cooperate any longer with the Communists, and formed its own farmer- labor party. This left Rodo Nominto as a legal, “democratic” front group of the Communists. Yamakawa and Sakai were active in Rodo Nominto, even as they refused to join in any efforts to reconstitute the JCP.

Continued Controversy over Meiji Restoration and “Two-Stage Revolution”

The controversy over Bukharin’s 1922 draft was never formally resolved; nonetheless, the two-stage schema was adopted as the official program of the JCP. Even so, the nature of the Meiji Restoration and the coming revolution in Japan continued to be a source of controversy. Fukumoto Kazuo, who gained leadership of the Japanese Communist movement in 1926-27, argued that the Japanese Constitution of 1889 (not the Meiji Restoration) constituted Japan’s bourgeois-democratic revolution, though this “was artfully concealed from the masses.” Fukumoto correctly noted that the Japanese bourgeoisie had turned reactionary, and he asserted that the Japanese state “has today developed in itself the germ of fascist dictatorship.” Too much of an independent mind for Moscow’s liking, Fukumoto was deposed, falsely accused of being a “Trotskyist.”

In 1927 new programmatic theses on Japan were adopted by the Comintern. Again this was authored by Bukharin. This lengthy and contradictory document argued: “The revolution of 1868 opened the path for capitalist development in Japan. Political power, however, remained in the hands of the feudal elements.” Bukharin now had to admit that the period since the Meiji Restoration had seen “the transformation of the old Japanese state into a bourgeois state.” In contradistinction to the 1922 draft program, he wrote that “Japan is governed by a bloc of the bourgeoisie and landlords—a bloc under the hegemony of the bourgeoisie. This being so, illusions that the bourgeoisie can in any way be utilized as a revolutionary factor, even during the first stage of the bourgeois-democratic revolution, must be abandoned” (“Theses on Japan Adopted in the Session of the Presidium of the Executive Committee of the Comintern on July 15, 1927,” in Beckmann and Okubo, op.cit.). Yet the 1927 theses still set as the aim of the JCP a bourgeois-democratic revolution which would “rapidly grow into a socialist revolution”!

The 1927 theses provoked an open split with founding Communists Yamakawa, Sakai and Arahata, who formed the Rono-ha (Labor-Farmer Faction). They opposed the two-stage schema, insisting that the coming revolution in Japan would be a proletarian one. But far from being a left opposition to Stalinist opportunism, the Rono-ha faction insisted that the activity of Japanese Communists be limited to legal work under the guise of a workers and peasants party. The debate between Rono-ha and what became known as Koza-ha (the official pro-Moscow party) on the development and nature of Japanese capitalism went on for years and encompassed thousands of pages. But it is clear that Rono-ha’s insistence that the bourgeoisie ruled in Japan, while correct, was largely a theoretical justification for its refusal to call for the abolition of the emperor system or engage in any other illegal activity. Acknowledging Rono-ha’s willingness to stay within the limits set by the Japanese bourgeoisie, the state allowed Rono-ha supporters to function legally until 1937, while savagely repressing the JCP. Arahata and Yamakawa played leading roles in forming the Japanese Socialist Party under the U.S. Occupation in 1945 (Sakai died in 1933).

Even after the split with Rono-ha, the question of a stagist perspective was not settled within the JCP. In 1931, after Stalin had purged Bukharin from the CI leadership and embarked on the sectarian adventurism and left posturing of the Third Period, the JCP developed new programmatic theses which described the Meiji Restoration as “a bourgeois-democratic revolution that paved the way for the development of capitalism” and argued that the coming Japanese revolution would be a “proletarian revolution that involves extensive bourgeois-democratic tasks” (“The Political Theses of the Japanese Communist Party, April-June 1931,” ibid.).

The hint of clarity provided by the 1931 theses did not, however, last very long. Frightened by the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Stalinist bureaucrats in the Kremlin refused to give up the illusion that a more Soviet-friendly bourgeois regime could come to exist in Japan. The CI demanded that the 1931 theses be thrown out. New theses on Japan adopted in 1932 argued for the “overthrow of the monarchy by the victorious people’s revolution,” after which “the main task of the Communist Party will be the struggle for the rapid development of the bourgeois-democratic revolution into a socialist revolution” (“Theses on the Situation in Japan and the Tasks of the Communist Party, May 1932,” ibid.). By this time, state persecution had so devastated the JCP that it had virtually ceased to exist. The party was revived only in the aftermath of Japan’s defeat in World War II.

Did the American Occupation Carry Out a “Supplementary Bourgeois Revolution” in Japan?

The JCP used the two-stage schema as part of its justification for initially supporting the post-WWII Occupation led by American imperialism, which had indiscriminately firebombed most major cities in Japan and leveled Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atom bombs. The JCP’s groveling effort to ingratiate itself with the Allied authorities also represented the continuation of the support which pro-Moscow parties around the world had given to the so-called “democratic” imperialist war effort after Germany invaded the USSR in 1941. The American Communist Party condemned U.S. workers who went on strike during the war as allies of Hitler and the Mikado (the emperor) and supported the internment of Japanese Americans. In 1945, the American CP hailed the atom bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki!

The JCP hailed the Occupation authorities for moving against the so-called “feudalistic elements” of the Japanese ruling elite. In late 1945, a veteran JCP cadre, Yamamoto Masami, exulted that under the Occupation, “the military cliques were eliminated, the bureaucratic cliques were finally losing their relative independence,...the so-called familistic zaibatsu were also beginning to be dissolved, and even the landownership of parasitic landlords was being touched” (quoted in Germaine Hoston, Marxism and the Crisis of Development in Prewar Japan [Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986]). The JCP retained a conciliatory approach to General Douglas MacArthur and his occupation forces even after the Cold War began in earnest in 1947. The Japanese Stalinists did not call for an end to the occupation until Moscow publicly denounced them for not doing so in 1950, and then they did so in the name of Japanese nationalism. In the 1970s, the JCP broke with both Moscow and Beijing in favor of overt social democracy.

The view of the American Occupation as some kind of “democratic” revolution remains the predominant view on the reformist Japanese left. A few years ago, the journal of the Trotsky Research Institute (TRI) wrote:

“The postwar reforms that were carried out by the American Occupation army were on the one hand almost thoroughgoing bourgeois reforms in a country that had a belated industrial structure and a strong state that was invasion hungry while simultaneously being in revolutionary turmoil. It was a situation where [in the prewar period] landowners ruled over semi-feudalistic villages, factory workers received very low wages and there was an absence of rights. On the other hand, the American Occupation army removed in one breath the dictatorial emperor system, unleashing a flowering movement from below which they then had to suppress and force back into the framework of a bourgeois state. Thus, because the Meiji Restoration was a ‘bureaucratic semi-bourgeois revolution from above’ which prevented a bourgeois revolution from below, the postwar reforms carried out by the American Occupation army were a ‘supplementary bourgeois revolution from above’ to prevent a socialist revolution from below. Thus Japan set a rare precedent against Trotsky’s prognosis that backward capitalist countries, in order to join the group of advanced capitalist countries, would have to go through the experience of permanent revolution.”

— Nishijima Sakae, Torotsukii Kenkyu (Trotsky Studies), Summer 2001 (our translation)

The Trotsky Research Institute was formed in 1990 primarily by members of the Japan Revolutionary Communist League (JRCL), part of the international pseudo-Trotskyist tendency led at the time by Ernest Mandel. The Mandelites drew into their misnamed anti-Trotskyist endeavor some JCP intellectuals, like Nishijima Sakae, who wrote the article quoted above.

There was no avowedly Trotskyist group in Japan during Trotsky’s lifetime. It was only under the impact of the 1956 Hungarian political revolution that disparate elements from the JCP and independent Marxist intellectuals leaning toward Trotskyism came together to form the heterogeneous JRCL in 1957. Emerging in the context of the virulent anti-Sovietism of 1950s Japan, with no historical link to Trotsky’s International Left Opposition, the Japanese “Trotskyists” rejected Trotsky’s analysis of the bureaucracy as a contradictory caste and refused to militarily defend the USSR. Thus, they were fundamentally crippled from the beginning. Misidentifying Trotskyism as a simple democratic opposition to Stalinism, the JRCL and their JCP allies in the TRI joined the virulently anti-Soviet Japanese bourgeoisie in hailing the destruction of the Soviet Union and the deformed workers states of East Europe.

Before considering what actually happened in Japan under the U.S. Occupation regime of General MacArthur, it is first necessary to address a common confusion at the theoretical level. Liberals and social democrats often assign the label “bourgeois-democratic revolution” or simply “democratic revolution” to any political upheaval which results in a change to a parliamentary system, whether effected by external forces or internally. But the concept of a bourgeois revolution in an advanced capitalist country is a contradiction in terms. Thus the uprising led by the Social Democrats in Germany in November 1918 which overthrew Kaiser Wilhelm II, in the wake of Germany’s defeat in the First World War, was not a bourgeois-democratic revolution. It was an incipient proletarian revolution. The working class not only demanded the overthrow of the Kaiser, but created workers and soldiers councils—soviets—all over the country. However, the Social Democratic leadership in bloc with the army high command and right-wing paramilitary forces bloodily suppressed the organs of proletarian dual power and exterminated the revolutionary vanguard of the German working class represented by Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht. In the aftermath, a parliamentary government (the Weimar Republic) was established, which lasted until it was replaced by the Nazi regime of Adolf Hitler in 1933. The successive governments of Kaiser Wilhelm II, the Social Democratic leader Friedrich Ebert and the fascist Adolf Hitler all politically represented the German financial and industrial bourgeoisie personified by Siemens and Krupp.

In Italy and western Germany as well as Japan, the post-1945 American-led military occupation brought about parliamentary governments. Unlike the Japanese emperor system, the bourgeois character of the Italian and German fascist regimes was manifest, certainly to Marxists, even though Italy retained the monarchy. Mussolini and Hitler originally came to power under conditions of fragile parliamentarist regimes shaken by massive social turbulence. Decisive sections of the Italian and German bourgeoisies supported the fascist movement out of fear of “red revolution.” Thus leading German capitalist magnate Alfred Hugenberg, a former director of the Krupp empire, played a key role in installing Hitler as chancellor.

The emperor system of Hirohito was obviously of a different political character than the fascist regimes of Mussolini and Hitler. Not only was it derived from the feudal epoch, but Japan had never experienced parliamentary democracy. Nonetheless, the government of Hirohito and General Tojo politically represented the dominant sections of Japanese financial and industrial capital.

Neither the economic dominance nor the composition of the upper echelon of the Japanese bourgeoisie changed under the American Occupation. U.S. authorities initially talked about breaking up the zaibatsu, as part of a plan to wreck any possibility of Japan’s re-emergence as an industrial power. In the end nothing was actually done in this regard. The conventional identification today of Japanese capitalism with the names Mitsubishi, Mitsui, Sumitomo et al. testifies to the continuity of the Japanese ruling class from the Meiji era through the present.

The U.S. Occupation regime also preserved the continuity of the Japanese civilian (as distinct from military) political elite. Hirohito remained emperor, although forced to publicly abjure the claim of divine lineage. Yoshida Shigeru, the prime minister during most of the Occupation and also the first post-Occupation years, had been a senior diplomat in pre-1945 imperial Japan, serving among other posts as ambassador to Britain. The other top Japanese officials under the Occupation had career résumés similar to, if less exalted than, Yoshida’s.

Below the level of the top government officials, the civilian state bureaucracy, including its extensive police apparatus, was preserved intact and served as the administrative agency which implemented the policies of MacArthur’s General Headquarters (GHQ). Even members of the notorious Tokko (Special Security Police), commonly known as the thought-control police, were simply reassigned to other ministries. No doubt, many of them were instrumental in carrying out the “red purge” undertaken by the U.S. authorities in the later years of the Occupation.

In Italy and western Germany, the changes effected during the American-led occupation were mainly limited to the political superstructure. There were no substantial changes at the economic base of these societies. In Japan, however, the U.S. Occupation regime carried out a land reform that transformed the mass of tenant farmers into small and middling agrarian proprietors. Announcing this reform in late 1945, MacArthur, a right-wing American militarist, declared it would “destroy the economic bondage which has enslaved the Japanese farmer for centuries of feudal oppression” (quoted in R.P. Dore, Land Reform in Japan [London: Oxford University Press, 1959]).

As we have seen, the main body of Japanese leftists, represented by the JCP, had long maintained that feudal forms of exploitation continued to predominate in agriculture. To assess the specific import of MacArthur’s land reform, it is necessary to consider the overall policies of the American Occupation regime, especially as they interacted with the escalating Cold War in East Asia marked by the 1949 Chinese Revolution and the Korean War of 1950-53.

The Labor Upsurge and the U.S. Occupation

The Occupation can be divided into three phases. The first, “liberal” phase saw a massive upsurge of working-class radicalism. This was followed by a period, dubbed the “reverse course” by historians, of political reaction and repression combined with economic austerity. The final period, precipitated by the outbreak of the Korean War in June 1950, marked the formation of the alliance between American imperialism and reviving Japanese imperialism against the Soviet Union and China.

The labor upsurge was sparked in September 1945 by a strike of Chinese prisoners of war and Korean forced laborers in the mines of Hokkaido. The Japanese government and mine owners hired thugs to instigate racist attacks, but their attempts to turn Japanese workers against their Chinese and Korean class brothers met with defeat. The courageous actions of the Hokkaido miners sparked a wider strike wave. By December 1946, 92 percent of the miners in Japan were organized. A year and a half after the war’s end, nearly 4.5 million workers were enrolled in trade unions, compared to fewer than a half million at the prewar peak.

The Communist Party was the only major political organization in imperial Japan that had opposed the imperialist drive toward colonization and world war. Consequently, its leaders and cadres emerged from prison or returned from exile with enormous moral authority extending well beyond the party’s previous base of support. One American liberal historian recounts in his major study of the Occupation:

“That the most principled resistance to the war had come from dedicated Communists gave these individuals considerable status. When Tokuda Kyuichi and several hundred other Communists were released from prison, they became celebrities and instant heroes in a society whose old heroes had all suddenly been toppled. Similarly, [JCP leader] Nosaka Sanzo’s arrival in January 1946 after a long journey from China attracted a great crowd. He, too, received a hero’s welcome; even conservatives, it was said, joined in.”

— John Dower, Embracing Defeat, Japan in the Wake of World War II (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1999)

The public meetings which greeted the release of the JCP leaders attracted large numbers of ethnic Koreans. Korean JCP leader Kim Ch’on-hae played a central role in organizing the militant Korean organization Chouren; he toured the country urging Koreans to join Chouren and the JCP. JCP militants won leadership of the most militant union federation, Sanbetsu. The working class was clearly on the offensive. The most dramatic and significant aspect of labor radicalism in this period was the formation of “production control” committees which took over factories and challenged the traditional authority of management and ownership. An American left-liberal publicist who visited Japan at the time wrote:

“In the early days of the occupation most disputes were settled quickly, and usually with a victory for the union. Employers were stunned by the defeat, disorganized and uncertain, fearful of antagonizing the occupation forces, and in some cases, no doubt, apprehensive of revolutionary developments.”

— Miriam S. Farley, Aspects of Japan’s Labor Problems (New York: The John Day Company, 1950)

Land Reform and the Defeat of the Postwar Upsurge

The land reform program implemented by MacArthur was explicitly designed to prevent the rural masses from joining forces with the urban working-class upsurge. On May Day 1946 three million workers and peasants participated in nationwide demonstrations. With a growing food crisis, Citizens Food Control Committees were springing up in various parts of the country. On May 19, a Food May Day was held in Tokyo with 300,000 workers and poor farmers surrounding the prime minister’s office and demanding his resignation.

These events frightened the Occupation forces, and in response they hurried to bring out a land reform program, which was finally announced in October 1946. A third of all arable land in Japan (just short of two million cho—almost five million acres) was transferred from landlords to tenant farmers. Landlords were required to sell this land to the government, which in turn resold it at the same purchase price to their tenants or other working farmers. The financial side of this operation was greatly facilitated by the high rate of inflation at the time. Both the government and the farmers who purchased land from it were able to pay in rapidly depreciating yen. Most tenants did not need recourse to long-term loans but were able to buy the land outright for cash in a year or two.

The proportion of land cultivated under some form of tenancy arrangement declined from 45 to 10 percent. And the number of purely tenant farmers (i.e., those who did not own any land) declined from 28 to 5 percent of all farmers. There was thus a substantial change in the structure of land ownership and a reduction in the surplus value (rent and interest) extracted from the rural toilers. This defused unrest in the countryside and allowed MacArthur to concentrate on defeating the working class in the cities.

Meanwhile, in the cities labor and the Japanese government were headed toward a major confrontation. The economic situation continued to disintegrate, with prices of basic necessities increasing nearly four-fold. Discontent was also fed by the sense that nothing much had changed in the political structure of the country. Sanbetsu called for a general strike on 1 February 1947, demanding not only higher wages but the ouster of the right-wing, widely despised Yoshida government, and for the establishment of a “people’s government,” demands that were enthusiastically supported by all three major union federations representing some four million workers. But the Japanese Stalinists, like their counterparts in West Europe, were unwilling and unprepared to fight for political power. Frightened, but desiring to save face, they asked MacArthur’s headquarters to issue a written order forbidding the strike, which MacArthur did. At literally the eleventh hour, Ii Yashiro, head of the strike committee, called off the strike in a radio announcement.

The JCP handed the working class a huge defeat, negatively shaping the post-WWII social order. They also lost an enormous opportunity to cut through the virulent Japanese nationalism which had tied the working class to its rulers. Chouren had collected money and organized strike support committees, writing in its newspaper, “The February general strike planned by the Japanese working class, which is in our mutual interest, should be our struggle. Their victory will be our victory and their defeat will be our defeat.” Chouren wasn’t even informed that the strike was called off! The Stalinists soon lost their positions of strength and authority throughout the country.

The U.S. Occupation regime now moved to break the leftist-led labor movement. In 1948, MacArthur’s headquarters banned all strikes by government workers, who had heretofore been in the forefront of labor militancy. This was followed by a major “red purge.” Some 20,000 Communist Party activists and other leftists were fired from their jobs. As a result, the membership of Sanbetsu plummeted from over a million in mid 1949 to less than 300,000 a year later. The social democratic-led unions, too, lost members in this period.

Japan emerged from the Occupation with the weakest labor movement of any major advanced capitalist country. In 1953 a strike at Nissan was defeated. In the aftermath, the private industrial sector workers were organized into company-financed and -controlled “unions.” In this way it was the repressive policies of the “reverse course,” not the “progressive” reforms of the earlier period, which contributed greatly to the Japanese “economic miracle” of the 1950s-’60s.

Agriculture, the Cold War and the Japanese “Economic Miracle”

The claim that the land reform implemented under the American Occupation constituted some kind of bourgeois revolution is most often based on the argument that the pre-1945 agrarian system blocked Japan’s further modernization. This argument has two components. The first is the belief that the impoverished condition of the rural toilers limited the domestic market for industrial products. The second is that the development of a modern agriculture sector was essential to Japan’s development and that the poverty of the pre-WWII tenant farmers blocked this development since they lacked both the financial means and economic incentives to invest in modern technology.

In the historical short term, the increase in disposable income among farm households as a result of the land reform was spent, predictably, almost entirely on consumption rather than investment. To a large extent the increased consumption of former tenant farmers and their families simply replaced that of their former landlords. In any case, the increased consumer demand for manufactured goods in the rural villages was at most a minor contributing factor to Japan’s rapid industrial growth in the 1950s.

The second component of the argument also does not withstand scrutiny. The leaders of Meiji Japan pursued a policy of agricultural self-sufficiency for the same reason they effectively barred foreign investment and built up a modern military-industrial complex: to protect Japan’s independence against the threat of Western imperialist states. In the 1890s, the leading Meiji statesman, Tani Kanjo, a onetime minister of agriculture and commerce, declared that Japan had to be able to feed itself in the event of war, that self-sufficiency in basic foodstuffs was even more important than self-sufficiency in modern weaponry.

However, it was inefficient and contrary to the dynamics of the world capitalist market for Japan to retain a significant agricultural sector. Thus a major economic motive for Japan’s colonialist expansionism into East Asia, from the 1890s through the 1930s, was to obtain secure sources of relatively cheap, basic foodstuffs as well as raw materials for industry. When in late 1941 Japan went to war with the U.S., 31 percent of its rice and 58 percent of its soybeans came from Manchuria and the other occupied regions of China, in addition to Japan’s older Asian colonies of Korea and Formosa (Taiwan).

The most significant effect of the land reform sponsored by the American Occupation authorities was at the political, rather than economic level. In the 1920s and early 1930s, tenant farmers and other peasant smallholders had engaged in mass, organized struggle under the leadership of Communists and other leftists against the rapacious landlords and village moneylenders. When in the mid to late 1940s Japanese peasants acquired their own land along with government-subsidized loans, they became politically conservative. Rural villages provided a large (though gradually diminishing) fraction of the votes which have kept the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in governmental power in Tokyo for all but a brief period in the mid 1990s. The LDP continues to retain a farming sector for political reasons. This entails not only a high level of protectionism, but also massive economic subsidies and rural public works programs which are a drain on the overall economy.

The “red purge” and union-busting offensive initiated in 1947 by the U.S. Occupation regime initially coincided with and were reinforced by a program of economic austerity. This was known as the “Dodge line” after its main architect, a right-wing Detroit banker, Joseph Dodge. Under Dodge’s orders, the Japanese government slashed expenditures while the supply of money and credit was sharply contracted. As a consequence 500,000 workers were laid off in both the government and private sectors. An estimated third of all small businesses went bankrupt.

Yet two decades later it had become commonplace to speak of a Japanese “economic miracle.” The root cause of Japan’s dramatic change of economic fortunes lay in world-historic events on the Asian mainland. When in 1945 the U.S. defeated Japan, the American imperialists believed they had finally gained control of China, the great prize for which the Pacific War was mainly fought. U.S. ruling circles looked to Chiang Kai-shek’s regime in Beijing as their main point of support in East Asia. This was indicated at the diplomatic level by making China one of five permanent members of the Security Council of the newly formed United Nations. In line with Washington’s China-oriented strategy, Japan was to be kept down, prevented from again becoming a major (and potentially rival) capitalist power in the Far East.

When, however, in 1949 Mao Zedong’s peasant-based People’s Liberation Army routed Chiang’s forces in the Chinese civil war, American imperialism’s plans for domination of East Asia were thrown into disarray. The U.S. rulers moved to build up Japan as their main strategic ally in the region, a move greatly accelerated by the Korean War. It was this major war between American imperialism and the Asian Communist countries which finally pulled Japan out of its prolonged post-1945 economic depression.

Mitsubishi, Toyota et al., became quartermasters for the American expeditionary forces in Korea, supplying them with a wide array of matériel, from trucks and ammunition to uniforms and pharmaceuticals. During the first eight months of the war, steel production increased by almost 40 percent. Japanese industry was also mobilized to provide repair facilities for U.S. naval vessels, aircraft and tanks. Prime Minister Yoshida exultantly described the Korean War as “a gift of the gods.”

Thus began the Japanese “economic miracle” that would last another two decades. During the 1950s-’60s, Japan consistently ran large balance of trade surpluses with the U.S. The powers that be on Wall Street and in Washington accepted this at the time as part of the overhead costs of maintaining their strategic alliance with Japan against the Sino-Soviet states. Not until the early 1970s did the U.S. move to stem the flood of Japanese manufactured imports through various protectionist devices. This marked the beginning of the end of the Japanese “economic miracle.” In the decade since the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, Japan has been mired in a prolonged economic slump.

Forward to a Japanese Workers Republic!

When the JCP—under pressure from Moscow—finally began to oppose the Occupation, it contended that the Allied troops had turned Japan into a dependency, even a “semicolony,” of American imperialism. In 1950, JCP Secretary General Tokuda Kyuichi compared Japan to pre-1949 China under the American puppet regime of Chiang Kai-shek! Under the pretext that an “anti-imperialist” revolution is necessary to rid Japan of its dependent status, to this day the JCP continues to promote the two-stage schema:

“The present state of Japan is marked by its state subordination to the United States, which is extraordinary not only among the developed capitalist countries but in international relations of the present-day world, in which colonization is history. The U.S. domination of Japan clearly has an imperialistic character because it tramples on Japan’s sovereignty and independence in the interests of U.S. global strategy and U.S. monopoly capitalism....

“A change Japanese society needs at present is a democratic revolution instead of a socialist revolution. It is a revolution that ends Japan’s extraordinary subordination to the United States and the tyrannical rule by large corporation and business circles, a revolution that secures Japan’s genuine independence and carries out democratic changes in politics, the economy and society.”

Nihon Kyosan-to Koryo (Japanese Communist Party Program), adopted at 23rd Congress, January 2004 (JCP draft translation)

A 1956 article in the Rebel, a direct precursor to the pseudo-Trotskyist JRCL, described Japan in language similar to the Stalinists as “a special dependency which lies between a colony and a dependency.” This is a view which pervades the reformist Japanese left. Thus the “New Left” group Kakumaru, which originated as a virulently Stalinophobic split from the JRCL in 1958, fulminates that:

“The Koizumi regime accepts all political, economic and military requests demanded by the Bush regime.... While Koizumi may wear a headband with a hinomaru [rising sun] on it, his underpants are oversized stars and stripes trunks and his shoes are U.S. military boots.”

Kaiho (Liberation), 19 January 2004 (our translation)

With its overwhelming military superiority, the U.S. remains the predominant imperialist power on the face of the planet. But in the face of growing tensions with the U.S., particularly since the counterrevolutionary collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the Japanese bourgeoisie has dramatically increased its efforts to build up its military to match its economic power and to demonstrate its determination to protect its own imperialist interests throughout Asia. Japan dispatched naval vessels, aircraft and 1,000 military personnel to the Indian Ocean to aid the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001. It has a contingent of approximately 500 soldiers participating in the occupation of Iraq. In portraying Japan as being under the thumb of American imperialism, the pseudo-socialist left shows itself to be mired in Japanese nationalism, playing into the hands of the most extreme revanchist elements of the Japanese bourgeoisie.

At the First Congress of the Toilers of the Far East in January-February 1922 Zinoviev correctly declared, “The Japanese proletariat holds in their hands the key to the solution of the Far Eastern question.” While the proletariat now has real social weight in other Asian countries, the Japanese working class remains the powerhouse of the region. If Japanese workers are not to be plunged into mass unemployment or new imperialist adventures, they must join with the workers of Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand, China and the Korean peninsula in the fight for a socialist Asia. In particular, this means rallying to the military defense of the states where capitalism has been abolished in Asia—China, North Korea and Vietnam—despite their Stalinist leaderships. A proletarian revolution in Japan would be a powerful impetus to the Chinese proletariat to throw out the bureaucrats who are opening the country up to imperialist exploitation and the threat of internal counterrevolution. But this means breaking with the virulent nationalism that is the ideological justification for Japanese imperialism.

In his 1933 article, Trotsky noted that “The hasty mixture of Edison with Confucius has left its mark on all of Japanese culture.” Japan today continues to be marked in myriad ways by the feudal past. Article 1 of the postwar constitution declares that the emperor is “the symbol of the State and of the unity of the people” and he continues to serve as a powerful rallying point for all the reactionary forces in Japanese society. All official dates, both government and commercial, are figured in terms of the year of the current emperor’s reign. The state continues to base itself on Shinto mythology, with its racist notion of the superiority of the Yamato peoples. Japanese citizenship is not automatically granted even to fourth- and fifth-generation Korean and Chinese born in Japan.

There continues to be discrimination against those whose ancestry is Burakumin. Because the majority of Burakumin are forced to live in segregated neighborhoods, the address on the state’s familial registration papers immediately identifies them. Burakumin children are bullied at school, adults are denied jobs, and in many cases lovers are separated by reactionary relatives who still believe the Burakumin are subhuman.

Japan—home to the bullet train, Sony PlayStation, robotics and developer of state of the art precision technology—has the technological capability, if placed in the hands of the world’s working class, to tremendously accelerate the elimination of hunger, want and disease. But women are still prohibited from entering tunnels under construction for bullet trains out of fear that the “mountain goddess” will become jealous. Nor can they step inside a sumo dojo (wrestling ring), because they are “impure.” The Japanese language continues to have a demeaning four-tiered structure requiring different levels of submissiveness depending on the class, age, sex and social status of the person one is addressing. Onna kotoba, a separate spoken language for women, deliberately promotes obedience and submissiveness and is required for all public functions and for use inside the family when a woman addresses her in-laws. The SGJ fights for the elimination of status, age and sex discrimination, and their concomitant reflection in demeaning language.

In almost all social indices Japanese women place at the bottom of the advanced industrial countries. Just over half of Japanese women work, compared with 70 percent of their Western counterparts. The “good wife, wise mother” ideology is codified in law and corporate practices. Most companies provide male workers with family allowances if the wife does not work; these allowances are often more than a married woman working part-time could make. Seventy-seven percent of all part-time workers in Japan are female. On average, women’s salaries are just 60 percent of men’s, and this percentage has remained steady since women first entered the workforce as textile workers in the late 1800s. The social pressure exerted on a woman who hits 30 to marry and assume her “appropriate place” in society is immense. Older unmarried women are referred to as makeinu (losing dogs) and motenai onna (unwanted females).

The International Communist League stands on the heritage of Trotsky’s Fourth International, studying with a critical eye its programmatic and political decisions in order to arm ourselves for future battles. Similarly, a critical approach to our legacy from the first four congresses of the Communist International has led us to have left reservations about some of the decisions made at and around the Fourth Congress. The Spartacist Group Japan continues the fight to forge an authentically communist party in Japan. This party can only be built on the basis of uncompromising struggle against recrudescent Japanese chauvinism, resurgent militarism, and the horrible oppression of women. The Sasebo dock workers who refused to load military goods onto Japanese military ships bound for the Indian Ocean in 2001 provided a powerful example to the proletariat internationally. Abolish the emperor system! Japanese troops out of Iraq, the Indian Ocean, East Timor and the Golan Heights! For an end to the discrimination against the Burakumin and Ainu! Throw the family registry into the trash bin! For full citizenship for ethnic Koreans and Chinese and all who live in Japan! Tear up the gaijin (foreigner) cards! Equal pay for equal work! For free, safe birth control and free, 24-hour childcare and nursing care for the elderly! The Spartacist Group Japan champions demands such as these as part of its overall program for socialist revolution. It is only on this program that the revolutionary proletarian party which can lead the fight to overthrow capitalism in Japan can be forged. Forward to a Japanese workers republic!


A selection of documents from the Comintern archives on the JCP has been published in Russian in VKP(b), Komintern i Yaponiya 1917-1941 (The VKP(b) [All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik)], the Comintern and Japan, 1917-1941 [Moscow: Russian Political Encyclopedia, 2001]), which we consulted for this article. In 1998 and 1999, Professor Kato Tetsuro, a social-democratic, anti-Communist historian, published the results of his research into the JCP Comintern archives in Japanese in a series of articles, “1922.9 no Nihon Kyosan-to Koryo” [ue, shita]; “Dai Ichi-ji Kyosan-to no Mosukuwa Hokoku Sho” [ue, shita] (Ohara Shakai Mondai Kenkyujo Zasshi, Hosei Daigaku, Ohara Shakai Mondai Kenkyujo, 1998.12, 1999.1, 1999.8, 1999.11) (“1922 Program of the Japanese Communist Party” [Parts I and II] and “Moscow Report of the First Communist Party” [Parts I and II], Ohara Institute for Social Research Journal, December 1998, January, August, November 1999). The comprehensive collection of microfilmed documents, Comintern Archives: Files of the Communist Party of Japan, published in the spring of 2004 by IDC publishers in the Netherlands, was unfortunately not yet available for the preparation of this article.

by the Preparatory Committee for the Japanese Communist Party
April 1921

This document was written in English by Yamakawa Hitoshi and sent to representatives of the Communist International in Shanghai for transmission to Moscow. Unfortunately, the original English version could not be located in the Comintern Archives in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in Moscow. We translated this from the Russian version—first published in The Peoples of the Far East (No. 4, 1921)—as it appears in The VKP(b), the Comintern and Japan. The process of retranslation, while unavoidable, has no doubt introduced drift and perhaps inaccuracies.

At the time this manifesto was written, the Soviet Red Army was conducting mopping-up operations in the wake of its victory over imperialist interventionist forces and the counterrevolutionary White armies operating under their patronage. Anton Deniken, Peter Wrangel, Alexander Kolchak and G. Semenov—all former tsarist officers—were military commanders of the White forces. Alexander Kerensky was head of the bourgeois Provisional Government that had been overthrown by the Bolsheviks in October 1917. In the summer of 1918 Japanese imperialist forces invaded the Russian Far East, where they worked in league with Semenov; Japanese troops did not leave Vladivostok until November 1922.

Seiyukai (Association of Political Friends) was the dominant bourgeois party in Japan at the time. It was founded in 1900 after the decomposition of Jiyuto (Liberal Party), and evolved into a diehard conservative party. In 1900, Hara Takashi (also known as Hara Kei) joined Seiyukai and became its secretary general, running the party with several others through 1914. The so-called “People’s Cabinet” (Heimin Naikaku) refers to the cabinet in which Hara was prime minister, formed after the 1918 Rice Riots. Because Hara was neither a member of the peerage nor from any of the four domains (i.e., Satsuma, Choshu, Tosa or Hizen) that had dominated the government from 1868, he has been called the “commoner” prime minister. Hara’s popularity declined due to his relentless opposition to universal suffrage and he was assassinated in November 1921.

A spectre is haunting Europe, said Karl Marx at one time. Today, after 75 years, this spectre is haunting not only Europe, but the whole world. The powers of the whole world have united in one holy alliance to drive away the spectre of communism. The League of Nations, the League of Denikins, Wrangels and Kerenskys with French and British imperialists; the union of Kolchaks with Semenovs and Japanese militarists, just as thousands of other leagues and alliances, all bear witness to the fact that capitalism is placing its final decisive stake in its struggle for its existence.

The Revolution of 1867 was the victory of mercantile capital over feudalism. Capitalist relations had not sufficiently matured up to that point in time, however, and could not, for this reason, also correspondingly reconstruct the political system. Power went to the lower layers of the old privileged classes, instead of passing directly to the bourgeoisie. This circumstance became the reason for the rise of a most complex bureaucratic apparatus and despotic monarchy in Japan—instead of bourgeois republicanism.

Industrial capitalism continued to develop from this point on in Japan under the paternal wing of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy from its own side clearly took into account the fact that it could not survive without collaboration with the capitalists. Thus the past 50 years (from the moment of the 1867 Revolution) is the history of the development of capitalism under the sluggish and clumsy bureaucracy.

The Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese wars were decisive for the history of capitalism in Japan. We all remember how Japanese capitalism bloated, gorging on the suffering and blood of not only its own people, but of the proletariat of neighboring countries. On this basis militarism and imperialism with such determination sank deep roots into the sun-drenched islands of the Far East.

The four years of the great European war afforded enough time and opportunity for Japanese capitalism to enter the world arena fully armed.

The development of capitalism prior to its present state naturally found its reflection in the political situation of the country, as the so-called “People’s Cabinet” (Heimin Naikaku)—a government composed exclusively of representatives of the parties of large landlords and capitalists, “Seiyukai”—reached a dominant position, monopolizing parliament, the municipalities, stock market and banks. The hour had finally arrived, when the bourgeoisie of Japan could come out independently, no longer hiding behind or seeking the protection of the monarchical bureaucracy. From this moment of the bourgeoisie’s open entry into the arena, the proletariat of Japan understood what its own position was in society.

In this way, the progress of capitalism in Japan, true as ever to its historic mission, gave impetus to the proletarian movement. The sharp growth of the workers movement in 1918 and later on, the innumerable strikes and workers protests, the rapid awakening and development of class consciousness of the workers, the powerful, unstoppable spread of socialist doctrine throughout the country—all of this is the fruit of the economic development of Japan.

This development is typical not only for the cities and suburbs. The rural population has been drawn in as well. The rapid capitalization of land, the swallowing of small farms by large landlords have had the result of placing 60 percent of the population in the ranks of the proletariat. And today there is no doubt that a significant majority of the rural population will consciously go shoulder to shoulder with the urban proletariat in the coming battle for liberation. The decisive class differentiation between the proletariat and bourgeoisie in Japan—this is an already accomplished fact, and both classes are carrying on an intense struggle with each other. The “Rice Riots” that swept the country in the summer of 1918 and that within two weeks made the government tremble in their boots fired the revolutionary spirit of the broad masses. This was an indication that the moment of decisive struggle for the overthrow of capitalism has arrived.

Alongside the proletarian movement, the influence of socialism has grown in Japan as well. For an entire quarter of a century Japanese socialists courageously, but unsuccessfully fought with those mighty forces that were organized by the gigantic police apparatus of the militarist bureaucracy. But the time has finally arrived when we may reward ourselves for all the past sacrifices. We now have a truly revolutionary proletariat; the broad popular masses are seized by a spirit of indignation; we have in addition the Communist Party of Japan, the vanguard of the proletarian revolutionary army.

Further, at the same time as capitalist Japan has entered the arena of international capitalist exploitation, the Japanese proletariat has entered onto the broad road of World Revolution. When the proletariat of Russia overthrew its oppressors in the momentous October days, the left wing of Japanese socialists, in spite of vigilance of the police and spy networks, joyfully hailed the brilliant victory of their Russian comrades. We stated then, “The proletariat of each country must eliminate the bayonets aimed against the workers of other countries, and aim them against their genuine enemies in their own countries.”

We were too weak then to carry out our words in deeds, but we still firmly held the banner of international solidarity of the proletariat even in the period of vicious incessant attacks by the rabid capitalist government. Now we are able to greet the revolutionary proletariat of all countries in the name of the Communist Party of Japan.

Long Live the Proletarian Revolution!

Long Live the Communist International!

Long Live Communism!

Program of the Communist Party of Japan
September 1922

This program was written in English in September 1922 and sent to Moscow for the Fourth Congress of the Communist International, which was held in November-December 1922. We publish here the original English version found in the Archives of the Communist International in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in Moscow. We have added obvious dropped words, corrected obvious misspellings and use of definite articles and prepositions, but otherwise not changed the somewhat awkward English.

The document was sent to the Comintern over the signatures of Aoki Kunekichi (pseudonym of Arahata Kanson), as General Secretary of the JCP, and Sakatani Goro (pseudonym of Sakai Toshihiko), as the party’s International Secretary. They wrote that the program was approved by a national convention of the JCP held in September 1922, but we have found no other record that a JCP conference was held at that time.

The last section of the program opposes Japanese imperialist expansion in Asia. When the program was written, Japan still maintained troops in the Russian Far East, which it had invaded during the Russian Civil War. Japan had fought a war against China in 1894-95, winning Formosa (Taiwan) and economic control of Korea. In 1904-05, Japan fought tsarist Russia, seizing strategic Port Arthur in southern Manchuria and Southern Sakhalin Island. In November 1905 Japan declared Korea its protectorate, and in August 1910 annexed it outright.

The Communist Party of Japan, a section of the Third Communist International, is an illegal, proletarian political party, whose aim is the overthrow of the Capitalist regime through the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat based on the Soviet Power.

Japan has been the most powerful of the capitalist nations of the Orient, and the favourable position she occupied during the World War has brought about a sudden development and expansion of her capitalistic system. Under the pressure of the world economic crisis, Japanese Capitalism is struggling hard to tighten its grip of already unequalled exploitation and persecution upon the toiling masses, the workers, peasants, and other lower strata of the population. The Communist Party takes upon itself the task of organizing these proletarian masses into a powerful fighting body, leading them on to the Proletarian Revolution—the seizure of political power and system of production in the hands of the proletariat.

Labour Movement

The workers’ movement in Japan is still in an infantile stage. The trade union movement, under the yoke of the Japanese Tsardom, has not yet followed the normal line of development. Side by side with a large number of passive, intimidated, unorganized masses stands a minority of self-conscious, militant elements, whose temper and ideology are as revolutionary as those of the most advanced section of the European workers. Even among the unorganized, the feeling of instinctive revolt is as wide-spread and deep-rooted as among any brutally oppressed toilers. To these instinctive revolt and revolutionary demands the Communist Party strives to give a most clearly defined aim as well as the most effective methods of realizing it. For this purpose, the Communists must penetrate into every workers’ organization so as to take control of the union policies, maintain the closest contact with the unorganized masses so as to educate, guide and organize them for the proletarian struggle. In this difficult work, the Party, while holding fast the ultimate aim of establishing the proletarian dictatorship, must organize its legal activities with the view to an active participation in the daily struggles of the workers, pushing through at every opportunity the Communist tactics of the “United Front.” Only through its successful struggle along these lines can the Communist Party expect to acquire the character of a proletarian mass party, the true vanguard of the Proletariat.

Some of the more active, influential sections of the industrial workers have been infected with the infantile malady of the anarcho-syndicalist ideology. Naively cherishing an illusory idea of the “Free Workers’ Regime,” they are opposed to centralized organization and all “political” actions including the establishment of the Dictatorship of the Proletariat, and are still in a position to lead and influence a minority of workers, to the detriment of both the immediate need for undivided effort and the ultimate victory of the proletariat.

These revolutionary elements, while deserving no concession on the matters of our principles, must be approached by the party with utmost patience and generosity in order to win as many of them as possible over to our aims and tactics.

Agrarian Problems

In the domain of agriculture the process of pauperization has been steadily going on, resulting in a remarkable growth of tenancy and concentration of land. This tendency was accelerated by the sudden development and expansion of industries. Awakened by the rebellious action of the industrial workers, the rural toilers have started to organize and to fight their class enemy, and found their position strengthened by an acute labour shortage caused by the War. Even after the industrial depression has set in, the tenant farmers carry on their fight and organization. They demand a reduction of rent with the threat of quitting the cultivation; thousands of acres of land have been abandoned by the tenants; and the owners are being compelled to till it themselves with aid of hired labour and agricultural machinery.

In view of the situation, and particularly of the more fundamental fact that the small farmers and the tenants occupy nearly seventy per cent of the entire population, and without their aid the proletarian victory is impossible, the Communist Party of Japan should take initiative in the organization of tenants, carry on an untiring agitation and propaganda in the villages so that the rural workers may come to understand Communist ideas and see their only salvation in the Social Revolution.

Political Action

The political parties in this country are the parties of the Capitalist Class. Their rule, however, is checked by the influence of the Bureaucrats and Militarist Clique, the remnants of Feudal Japan. Thus, the conflicts and compromises of the two forces constitute the bone of the present day politics. Bourgeois Democracy has yet to see its palmiest [most flourishing] day, and universal suffrage has yet to be fought for.

The Communist Party, while convinced fully of the truth that the Parliamentary System as such is nothing but a bourgeois institution and in no way dependable as an instrument of proletarian revolution, nevertheless holds that its perfection constitutes an essential stage in the normal development of proletarian struggle. The party, therefore, organizes proletarian political action to help accelerate the “progress of Democracy.” Our political activities within and without the parliament, however, must remain a feature of our general Communist propaganda and agitation. They shall consist in broadening and intensifying the proletarian struggle on the one hand, and in exposing the hypocrisy and futility of bourgeois democracy, and demonstrating to the proletariat the necessity of creating their own machinery of Government on the other hand. Only thus, the Party believes, will the proletariat be convinced of the essentially political nature of their struggle and become ready to carry their fight to the finish, the seizure of political power. And only thus, we are confident, will the proletariat follow the lead of our party whose goal it is to establish the Proletarian Dictatorship based on the Soviet of the workers, peasants and soldiers.


The Japanese Empire, known as the Germany of the Orient, has its world-famous Militarist Bureaucracy. The Jingoes of Japan do not shrink from the idea of a war with the United States. And their natural allies are the bourgeois capitalists, whose greed for markets is insatiable.

The secret of the militarist influence lies in their patriotism. The patriotism which they have been so eager to preach in the schools and armies still has its hold upon a large mass of people. Blinded and deafened by the poison of patriotism, they are not yet able to realize that the real function of the army is to maintain capitalist rule, enabling the capitalists to exploit and oppress the producing masses ever and ever more effectively.

The Communist Party is determined to fight militarism. By breaking the spell of patriotism, it must upset the foundation of militarist power, and thus prepare the way to the organization of the Red army of the revolutionary proletariat.

Korean, Chinese, and Siberian Questions

The Communist Party of Japan is resolutely opposed to every species of the Imperialist policy. It is opposed to the intervention, open and secret, in China and Siberia, the interference with the government of these countries, the “Sphere of Influence” and “Vested Interests” in China, Manchuria, and Mongolia, and all the other attempts and practices of similar nature.

The most infamous of all the crimes of Japanese Imperialism has been the annexation of Korea and the enslavement of the Korean people. The Communist Party of Japan not only condemns the act but takes every available step for the emancipation of Korea. The majority of the Korean patriots, fighting for the Independence of Korea, is not free from bourgeois ideology and nationalist prejudice. It is necessary that we act in cooperation with them—necessary not only for the victory of the Korean Revolution but also for winning them over to our Communist principles. The Korean Revolution will bring with it a national crisis in Japan, and the fate of both the Korean and Japanese proletariat will depend on the success or failure of the fight carried on by the united effort of the Communist Parties of the two countries.

The three principal nations in the Far East, China, Korea, and Japan, are most closely related to one another in their political, social, and economic life, and thus bound to march together on to the goal of Communism. The international solidarity of the proletariat, and particularly of these three countries is the condition indispensable to the Victory and Emancipation of the Proletariat, not only of the respective countries but of the whole world.

Report on Differences at the Special Congress of the Japanese Communist Party
by Arahata Kanson
May 1923

This report on the 15 March 1923 JCP Congress was written in Japanese in Moscow for the Third Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International, which was held in June 1923. Unfortunately, the Japanese original could not be located in the Comintern Archives in the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History in Moscow. We have translated this from the Russian version which appeared in The VKP(b), the Comintern and Japan. This Russian text was translated from an English version which was made from the original Japanese by the Comintern. The process of translation from Japanese to English to Russian and back has no doubt introduced drift and perhaps inaccuracies.

Written using Arahata’s pseudonym of Aoki, this report sought to amplify a report that Sakai, as International Secretary of the JCP, had sent to the Comintern in March 1923. Sakai’s report detailed the differences that developed in the JCP over Bukharin’s 1922 draft JCP program and the “two stage” conception of revolution it propounded. The language in Sakai’s report, written under the name Sakatani Goro, is not as clear as that used by Arahata. In several places in this document, Arahata explains phrases used in Sakai’s report, which is also published in Russian in The VKP(b), the Comintern and Japan.

Arahata refers to a Mercantile Industrial Party led by Japanese textile manufacturer Muto Sanji. Muto’s short-lived, liberal bourgeois party is better known as Jitsugyo Doshikai (Businessmen’s Association).

Yuaikai (Friendly Society) was Japan’s first major labor organization, founded in 1912 by the Christian reformer Suzuki Bunji. Kagawa Toyohiko was also a Christian reformer and Yuaikai leader. Modeled on British friendly (mutual aid) societies, Yuaikai advocated collaboration between labor and capital, and concentrated on organizing craft unions. In 1919 Yuaikai was reorganized more along the lines of an industrial union federation and renamed Dai Nihon Rodo Sodomei-Yuaikai (Greater Japan General Federation of Labor-Friendly Societies). The name was later shortened to Nihon Rodo Sodomei (Japan General Federation of Labor), or simply Sodomei.

The Kakushin Kurabu (Reform Club) was a small party that represented the most liberal members of the Diet, having as its base of support the urban middle class and prosperous farmers. It advocated universal suffrage and a reduced military. Its ranks were divided over passage of the Peace Preservation Law of 1925, and the Reform Club was dissolved that same year, with most members joining the dominant bourgeois party, Seiyukai.

When Arahata’s report was written the Communist International was engaged in an international campaign against the French occupation of the Ruhr, which began in January 1923, after Germany defaulted on the reparations payments it was forced to pay France under the terms of the Versailles Treaty.

Certain points of the CC Report are insufficiently clear and require explanation.

The question of organizing a legal labor party brought out differences at our Congress. One part of the party insisted on an immediate founding of a legal political party, another part maintains that the moment for this has not yet arrived. The first tendency maintains that a bourgeois revolution in Japan is inevitable and believes that a proletarian revolution is only possible after a bourgeois [revolution].

They point to the movement for the founding of the Shoko-to (Mercantile Industrial Party), led by Japanese cotton king Muto Sanji, to the efforts toward a political workers party led by the chairman of the “Yuaikai” (Japanese Federation of Labor), Suzuki Bunji, and to an analogous tendency in the “Kakushin Kurabu,” as symptoms of the coming bourgeois revolution.

If there is not an active Communist Party that will take the leadership of the movement into its hands, the proletariat will fall under the influence of the bourgeoisie. It is for this reason that they insist on a legal political workers-peasants party, which must act to hasten the bourgeois revolution, which sooner or later must come about. This in turn would prepare the groundwork for the proletarian revolution that will follow after the bourgeois revolution. This political party must also include radical elements of the bourgeoisie, since at the present time the proletariat as a whole still remains under their influence and it would be difficult to ignore them.

The other part of the Congress supports the position that a purely bourgeois revolution, along the lines of the Great French Revolution or the March Revolution in Russia, is impossible in Japan as a result of the rapid development of the Japanese bourgeoisie during the imperialist war, and even before that.

In its developing stage, the Japanese bourgeoisie leaned on the bureaucracy, on the remnants of feudalism. But now it is already able to stand on its own two feet. In addition to which, the bureaucracy has become an obstacle to the further development of the bourgeoisie.

After the heavy blow that it took from the economic crisis that followed the war, the bourgeoisie came to the conclusion that the only course toward re-establishing its forces was the capture of economic and political power, tearing the latter out of the hands of the bureaucracy.

It is without a doubt that toward the bureaucracy the Japanese bourgeoisie is quite radical, but as soon as the question touches on the overthrow of the Mikado and the establishment of a genuine bourgeois democracy with republican forms of rule, it becomes thoroughly conservative. Thanks to the living example of Europe, the bourgeoisie understands full well that the beginning of any revolution will be its death knell. Just as the Mikado, in the hands of the bureaucracy, had been a tool for the enslavement of the popular masses, precisely so is the bourgeoisie using him as a tool for the defense of their interests. The bourgeoisie fully takes into account the attitude of the Japanese people toward the Mikado. Even though on the one hand the Mikado represents an obstacle to the bourgeoisie, in other respects he represents a valuable tool in their hands. In reality, the bourgeoisie only wishes to replace the present bureaucratic government. But it maintains that this must be done by completely constitutional means.

It is absolutely clear that, being unable to independently take power out of the hands of the bureaucracy, the bourgeoisie must enlist the popular masses to its side. It is exclusively for this reason that Muto has launched a movement for the aforementioned (Mercantile Industrial Party), whose central demand is universal suffrage.

For the same reason, Suzuki and the lackeys of the “Kakushin Kurabu” strive to form a labor party on this same platform of universal suffrage.

In this context, the basic question is what tactic should be used against them. We must very carefully monitor every attempt of theirs to win support from the masses. For the bourgeoisie to corrupt the masses is an everyday affair in all capitalist states. If we succeed in winning broad support of the masses and to lead them, then the hour of proletarian revolution has arrived. We must remain alert, but our vigilance must not lead us to prematurely form a political party that would include the most heterogeneous elements. This would be a tactical mistake.

From this standpoint, it follows that the coming revolution in Japan will be a proletarian revolution, since, as set out above, the bourgeoisie is extremely conservative on the question of the overthrow of the Mikado. A revolution like the Great French Revolution, or the March Revolution in Russia is unthinkable in Japan as long as the masses are not revolutionized; but when the masses do become revolutionized, then that is when the hour of the proletarian revolution will strike.

If we help the bourgeoisie in its strivings to seize power, are we not consolidating the foundations of bourgeois democracy, and are we not thereby holding back the development of the proletarian revolution? It is without a doubt so. That is why we must carry out a policy toward proletarian revolution, and concentrate all of our attention on this goal. (In the Report, the phrase “striving to the extent we can, to block the political revolution” should be understood in the sense of “conduct a policy and develop a movement that will block the consolidation of bourgeois power.”)

It is from this standpoint that there is opposition to the formation of a political party in which the worker-communists are to form a left wing, the social democrats the center, and the radical bourgeoisie, the right wing.

As to the question of founding a purely proletarian political party, the first part of the Congress maintained that this must be organized immediately. They believe that the danger of losing the sympathy of radical (syndicalist) workers by doing this is only a passing danger. The opposition of syndicalists to a political movement is actually prompted by the propaganda of revolutionary socialists in the past. Propaganda for a revolutionary political movement that we propose will without a doubt prove successful among them. On the other hand, they argue, if we don’t form such a party, the Labor Party that Suzuki and the lackeys of Kakushin Kurabu are striving to form will attract many moderate workers.

In counterposition to these views, the second part of the Congress declared that irrespective of whether we form a political party or not, it is absolutely inevitable that many workers will be drawn to the envisioned reformist Labor Party, and will wind up under its influence. This pertains as well, and even more so, to the peasantry, a large part of which consists, after all, of peasant landholders.

For instance, on the question of nationalization of land, the peasantry will support the program of nationalization with compensation, that is, the program that a radical bourgeois party is ready to adopt, but that stands in contradiction to the program of nationalization without compensation, the program put forward by the proletarian party. At the present moment the rural population is of course more backward in its political consciousness than the urban workers. In fact, we face an interesting paradox—the left wing of the urban working class is inclined against the founding of a political party, believing that such a party would be limited in its work exclusively to parliamentarism, while the best and most radical elements of the rural population support a political movement, proceeding from these very same assumptions.

The organized and class-conscious part of the peasants who rent and of rural proletarians represents just as small a portion of their class as the organized workers represent of theirs. And nonetheless, Suzuki and Kagawa Toyohiko, the reformist union leaders, who are gradually losing their influence among urban workers, preserve their influence among rural workers. In general, the majority of the working masses in the city, as well as in the village, are moderate, conservative, and even reactionary and for this reason may become easily ensnared by bourgeois influences.

For this reason our goal must be the winning of not the broad masses in general, but the winning of the radical, class-conscious part of the working class. But the radical elements of the working class are at the present hostile to political activity, while those elements who are not hostile are the indifferent ones. For example: Suzuki Bunji preaches that the class struggle can be ameliorated through universal suffrage, and has publicly declared that if his Labor Party manages to get into parliament the antagonism between labor and capital will be eased. Yuaikai, of which Suzuki is the chairman, at its congress last October adopted a resolution against universal suffrage and declared that if Suzuki joins the political movement, he will be expelled from the General Confederation of Labor (Sodomei). That is the situation in the Sodomei, which has more Communist elements in its ranks than any other labor organization. Of course this situation was created as a result of an overly narrow interpretation of political activity. The left wing cannot free itself of its syndicalist prejudices, and sees all political activity only as parliamentarism.

Nonetheless, those workers who are inclined against a political movement represent the very best and the most promising elements of the working class. Isn’t it true that in the majority of cases those who today join in the political movement are cheap politicians? Aren’t they simply paid agents of the Kenseikai party, or people bought with money thrown around by the lackeys of the Kakushin Kurabu? In spite of their traditional disorientation, we must not leave the best elements of the working class, and we must ourselves see to it that they do not turn from us. Being the vanguard of the broad masses, they will in the near future join us under the banner of Communism and will become true fighters in the front ranks of revolutionary battles. That is why we must teach them about politics through practical political activity that creates political discipline on their part, dispel their prejudices against political work, make a clear and unbroken connection between economic and political questions, and teach them that in order to attain the economic liberation of the working class, the proletariat must first of all seize political power.

The Central Executive Committee of the Japanese Communist Party has resolved to broaden its activity in economic questions. This plan entails the strengthening of trade unions, the improvement of the workers movement’s situation, the winning of workers to the party and the reinforcement of the economic and political sections of the party. Already in the spring of the previous year the party organized the “Hands Off Soviet Russia!” movement, it conducted a campaign opposing legislation against thought crimes, it is campaigning against the occupation of the Ruhr, and is at the present organizing a movement of the unemployed. Even though these campaigns have had only partial success, the party has managed to organize a trade-union committee as the leading body of these movements. In the end, this practical work (in the report the term that is used is “direct political action”) cannot but help to raise the class consciousness of the working masses. At first glance this method of work may seem protracted, but it will lead to great results in the future. Rather, it is the premature creation of a political party that will risk us our influence over radical trade unions. These are the important organizations of the proletariat, who are in principle hostile to the so-called political movement. In a country like Japan, where the Communist Party is still young and weak, this represents a very serious danger.

And so, opinions at the Party Congress divided into two: one part maintains that a bourgeois revolution is inevitable, while the other part does not. This naturally will lead to differences over tactical questions in the future. The Congress concluded, leaving these problems unresolved, tabling them to the party’s sections, departments, and cells for further detailed discussion.

In essence, there are actually no disagreements over the founding of a political party; opinions diverge only over whether this party should take into its ranks only purely proletarian elements, or others as well, and opinions diverge over whether such a party should be formed immediately, or do we need to go more slowly with this.

English Spartacist No. 58

ESp 58

Spring 2004


The Origins of Japanese Communism, Debate over "Two-Stage Revolution" and the American Occupation

The Meiji Restoration: A Bourgeois Non-Democratic Revolution

Appendix: Historical Documents


Fourth ICL International Conference, Autumn 2003

The Fight for Revolutionary Continuity in the Post-Soviet World


Forty Years of Spartacist

"Toward Rebirth of the Fourth International"


Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Woman, Anti-Sex:

U.S./UN Crusade Against "Sex Trafficking"

(Women & Revolution)