1920s >> 1920 >> no-193-september-1920

The Position in Japan

The “Daily News” of July 10th included an article by A.G.G., the gist of which was a plaintive appeal against the renewal of the Treaty of 1902 between Japan and England, and in the course of his screed the writer accuses Japan of using the peculiar conditions brought about by the outbreak of the great war to her own advantage, implying in addition the use of her natural proximity to China to the disadvantage of that country, keeping in mind the fact that the remainder of the Allies had their hands too full in Europe to exercise any sort of control over her actions.

It is not intended here to go into the question as to whether possible acquisitions in China were a part of the bribe held out to Japan in order to secure her adhesion to the Allied cause, although the Versailles Peace Treaty has made it reasonably clear that all the smaller nations who were induced to participate in the conflict had certain concrete inducements offered to them as a quid pro quo,

In passing, a scrutiny of this Peace Treaty will also show that the bribes that were offered were all at the expense of the smaller nations for whom “we” affected to be so much concerned. Further in this connection, it might be suggested that offering the property of others is a very cheap form of bribery, as it leaves in the balance the question of being able to fulfill the obligation, and when it is fulfilled of course it has the additional beauty of being expensive only to the bespoiled party.

It may not be generally known that the Treaty of Alliance of 1902 between England and Japan had as its specific objective the maintenance of the integrity of the Chinese Empire in the following terms (as quoted by “A.G.G.”):

What are its objects ? They are three:

(l) The maintenance of the general peace in the regions of Eastern Asia and of India ;

(2) The preservation of the common interests of all Powers in China by insuring the independence and integrity of the Chinese Empire, and the principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China ;

(3) The maintenance of the territorial rights of the High Contracting Parties, and the defence of their special interests in Eastern Asia and India.

These terms can be called safe, seeing that they provide for the “preservation” of the common interests of all powers, and the “principle of equal opportunities for the commerce and industry of all nations in China.” This form of phrase is typical of all treaties between great Powers wherein the superficial assumption would be concern for the lesser Power in that the interests are always open to be enforced, so that the blatant hypocrisy of the whole business is always likely to be shown.

In the camp of the “High Contracting Parties” all is peace until such time as one begins to think that the other or others are getting too large a share of the loot, or so long as each is satisfied that it cannot do better by itself. But when this state of things becomes disrupted the trouble begins, and we find our gallant champions of the smaller nations are simply brigands out on the grab.

“A.G.G.” accuses Japan of having grabbed more than she should, and wishes US, you and me, fellow worker, to give the year’s notice required for the termination of the Alliance.

There is not much that can be said about the Japanese politician and diplomat that cannot be said about those of any other nation. They are doing the bidding of the Japanese section of the capitalist class in the same way that the politicians and diplomats of other nations are accomplishing the purposes of their capitalist masters, and the impulse behind it all is not regard for the rights of small nations, or respect for treaties.

What they prate of as “justice” is merely their idea of what will best further their efforts in the struggle for the world’s markets. This struggle, it is now clear to all intelligent people, precipitated the ghastly war through which we have just passed.

The writer of this article had occasion to take up a temporary residence in Japan recently, and during his stay had reason to travel up and down the country very extensively. He found all those social phenomena which are to be found here just as obvious there applying both to the workers and the masters. The struggle for existence is pretty well as keen there as here, the qualifying term being used advisedly owing to the fact that the Japanese master class have not quite rid themselves of the old patriarchal idea—there is still a glimmering of the principle behind Japanese industry that the worker is a responsibility of the master and as such the attitude does not appear to be quite so ruthless as it does in countries in which capitalism is not of recent development.

For instance, one will often find very old men working in some of the largest and most up-to-date plants in the country ; these men are looked upon largely in the light of pensioners, and when they are unable to muster the requisite energy to crawl to their daily toil some small pension is generally allotted to them so that they do not have to fall back upon the charity of their relatives. As a matter of fact, as there is no such thing in Japan as a workhouse or parochial Union, it will be understood that the Japanese worker, without some support from the master for whom he has spent his life’s blood, would be compelled to fall back upon the charity of his friends and relatives because no other resource would be open to him.

As a further illustration of this point it may be said that the beggars which abound in the land of the rising sun are all diseased or blind and are brought up from infancy to begging as a profession. No attempt is made by the Japanese Government to control the beggars as such. They have merely to conform to the ordinary law which applies to all workers, and they have their own union. The difference which strikes one between the beggars of this and other Western capitalist countries and those of Japan is that the former are nearly always industrial “throw-outs” while the latter seldom are.

It is very difficult indeed to get a true perspective of Japanese working-class life beyond the knowledge that the basis is the same as in all other capitalist countries, owing to the impossibility of reading the Japanese printed matter. It is comparatively easy to gain a smattering of the colloquial tongue, but this only enables one to find one’s way about, as it were, and does not open up the possibility of entering into detailed exchange of opinions. The fact that the literature is inaccessible is due to the fact that a lifetime of study would be necessary to gain a reading knowledge of the language. Therefore the only resource of the European who wishes to examine Japanese conditions through literature is the European Press of the country, which from day to day publishes extracts from the native Press. It can be readily understood what point of view is presented in these extracts, and what value, consequently, is to be credited to the information to be culled from such source.

There are, of course, many Japanese who speak English, but these, amongst the workers, are more or less what would be termed “middle class,” and one gets from them very much the same views as from their prototype here.

Among the workers the iron of capitalism is biting deeper and ever deeper. Rice, the staple food of the whole nation, has risen in price by more than 400 per cent, during the last two years, and although wages have risen in practically the same degree, helped by the favourable position that Japan has occupied during the war, now that, other countries are entering into competition with her this favourable condition of things will necessarily be modified, and is already making the struggle for existence show itself in a more marked degree.

The signs of unrest are becoming increasingly evident, and a constant succession of strikes, with a growing membership of the labour unions is in progress. Such a thing as a strike was hardly ever heard of before the war, but the writer scarcely remembers one large engineering firm in the whole of the Japanese Empire that was not held up by strikes for longer or shorter periods during his stay. One of the characteristics, however, of strikes in Japan is their unanimity. Such a thing as a blackleg is scarcely known, and on this account once the call for a withdrawal of the workers is issued the whole plants involved are closed down. A particular instance of this occurred in Kyushiu last December, and the Imperial Steel Works—a Government works employing over 24,000 workers—was shut down for more than three weeks, much to the delight of the American importers of steel. There was the usual batoning and imprisonment of those prominent in the strike, in spite of which the Imperial authorities had to climb down, and by large promises and small concessions persuade the workers to resume.

“A.G.G.’s” allusion to Japan “leaving the war severely” alone is very pathetic but does not touch those workers who understand their position in society. It is obvious that the impulse either of action or of inaction in that regard was the same with every nation, whether belligerent or neutral, and when he expatiates on this point and continues as follows: “no thought of the interests of the Allies, no thought of the interests of China, only the fear that if China became one of the allied States her interests would be better safeguarded in future,” one still remains unmoved, knowing what treaties are drawn up for.

The fact that China finally declared war against the Central powers is not mentioned in the article under discussion, otherwise our scribe would have to explain why it was that even after that occurred China’s interests were not better guarded than before.

It is quite common knowledge that Japan has been and is still doing her level best to disrupt the internal economy of the Celestial Empire, and maybe the fact that Japan is for the time being foremost in that field is what is causing so much concern to our servant of the cocoa kings !

The whole diatribe against the Japanese absolutely misses the vital points. This is not a matter for surprise, as the literary hacks of the master class are not concerned with fundamentals. The struggle for trade expansion necessitates control of new markets, and the acquisition of new territories in which to settle “surplus” populations. Consequently the Japanese Government have to follow any line which will give them control of new spheres, and more openly than in the past proclaim the imperialist policy adopted by the other big capitalist countries. These fundamental points are carefully evaded by our author.

In the case of Japan, of course, the necessity for an outlet for the teeming population is urgent, and this will be readily understood when it is mentioned that the population of the country is close on 60 millions, while the habitable portion is probably less than that of Great Britain. Although the area of the country is considerably larger than that of the British Isles, the country is largely covered with mountains, in fact, it has been computed that seven-eighths of its area is thus covered,

The fact of density of population strikes one wherever one goes. The workers’ houses have no yard or garden, simply being separated back and front by the streets. When a two-storey house is mentioned it implies two separate dwellings as far as the workers are concerned. It is easy to understand how detrimental to the workers such a condition of living is, and when Government statistics acknowledge tubercular cases to equal 25 per cent, of the population no doubt can remain of the serious effects of this massing together of large numbers of people in limited areas.

To summarise, therefore, it can be said that sooner or later, treaties or no treaties, Japan will be compelled to find fresh territories, and there will be war. There is no need to make any bones about this point of view. The only hope of the workers lies in the establishment of Socialism, and it is only by Socialism, and not by treaties, that the British and the Japanese workers alike can save themselves from disastrous conflicts in the near future.

Socialism, of course, can only be brought about by Socialists, and it is satisfactory, therefore, to remember that Socialism is becoming more and more discussed in Japan, although, owing to police restrictions it is very difficult indeed for an outsider to get into touch with the organisations to ascertain immediately their point of view in order to allow of comparison with the position of the S.P.G.B.

D. W. F.

(Socialist Standard, September 1920)