1940s >> 1942 >> no-454-june-1942

Japanese Background


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Japan has moved far since the United States Commodore Perry and his squadron of “black ships” arrived in 1853, forced concessions in the form of trade treaties, extra-territorial rights, fixed low tariffs and treaty ports and were followed by Britain, France, Russia and Holland on similar missions. The Allied naval demonstration necessary at that time to persuade an unwilling Emperor to agree to those concessions, is a far cry from the attack on Pearl Harbour and the sinking of the British battleships. Well might the descendants of those former missionaries reflect on the words of Macbeth:


” . … that we but teach

Bloody instructions, which being taught, return,

To plague the inventor.”


The romantic conception of Japan to the unthinking Westerner is a country of quaint, happy little people, cherry blossoms and kimonos. This myth is exploded by Jaya Deva’s informative book, Japan’s Kampf (Gollancz, 6s.).


Japan proper is the most densely populated country in the world, and of her 73 million people, 48 per cent, are engaged in agriculture and fisheries, whilst only 21 per cent, are employed in industry. The respective figures for Britain are 7 per cent, and 40 per cent.


Over 50 per cent, of all industrial workers in Japan are employed in small industries employing on the average five or less persons.


Three-fourths of the country’s finance and industry are in the hands of the Zabaitsu, the great family wealth cliques. The House of Mitsui, for example, owns over 200 companies and 1,300 enterprises, with a total capital of £600 millions, and a total family income of £3,000,000 per annum.


The other side of the picture is of millions of people with a standard of living lower than that of any other industrial country in the world, where sweated labour and child labour are in abundance. Eleven hours per day for women and children under sixteen is the maximum fixed by the Factory Law, but many toil for twelve or fourteen hours a day. It is admitted officially that over one million children under the age of fourteen work long hours under extremely harrowing conditions. These miserably paid workers increased the total output of goods by more than 37 per cent, between 1929 and 1936, and yielded an average profit over Japanese industry as a whole of 14.7 per cent.


Crushed by the burden of taxation, ground rent, and interest on loans, the majority of the peasantry cannot even afford to eat rice and fish, the principal food, but exist on cheap salt-water eel and sometimes even the bark of trees.


Most of the land is concentrated in the hands of a few rich landowners, the Emperor and his family owning 1½ million hectares, whilst the average size of a farm is 2½ hectares (a hectare is about 2½ acres.) Over half a million peasant families, however, exist on farms of half this size. Tenants and small farmers, unable to afford machinery or hired labour, produce larger families, which means more hands for work in the rice fields. The meagre budget of these families is increased by turning over child labour to the urban industries, while 90 per cent, of the Japanese troops are recruited from the peasantry. Like all Imperialist powers disclaiming territorial ambitions, Japan has managed to add considerably to her territory since she emerged from her period of seclusion, seventy odd years ago. The Tanaka Memorial (the blue print of Japanese Imperialist policy), which was formulated and presented to the Emperor in 1927, lays down the plans for expansion, and makes no apology for it. Japan’s policy in China is stated frankly in this remarkable document: —


” . . . we must beware of the day when China becomes unified and her industries become prosperous. Our best course is to take positive measures to obtain rights and privileges in Manchuria and Mongolia. These will put us in the position to develop our trade. This will have the effect not only of arresting the industrial development of China, but also the penetration of the European Powers.”


Japan’s chief obstacle to the establishment of the “Greater East Asia Co-prosperity Sphere” is the presence in the Far East of the Great Western Powers: —


“Altogether the U.S. alone has invested 800 million dollars in the whole Orient.”


Japanese imperialism challenges the hitherto undisputed right of the great Western Powers to exploit the vast resources and peoples of the Far East. This right Japan claims for herself, hence, her military expenditure for 1940/1, added to most of the new capital issues which went to finance war industries, amounted to no less than 37 per cent, of the total national income.


The Pacific rivalries were not permitted to obstruct legitimate business, thus to quote Deva : “It is said that during the last two years Japan bought 85 per cent, of her war material from Britain, United States and the Netherlands East Indies.” Business, after all, is business, and appeasement is an important political policy.


On the question of whether Japan is Fascist, Deva points to the intense nationalism, the absence of party politics (all political parties having “voluntarily” dissolved), suppression of labour unions, state control in factories, racial theories, patriotic youth movements, the New Order and alliance with the Axis. The expansionist policy of Japan determines the totalitarian character of her regime.


Space does not permit us to deal with the many controversial points raised in this book, but the author’s references to leadership merit attention. “In Japan,” he says, “there have been for some time all the objective conditions for a social revolution, but as the small group of militant workers of that country state, a correct political leadership of the masses has been conspicuous by its absence.” The Radical and Labour leaders of the reformist Social Mass Party are blamed for their failure to give the “correct” political leadership, and for their betrayal of the confidence placed in them by the working class. Leadership, correct or otherwise, implies a lack of political understanding on the part of the working class which is one of the objective conditions necessary for their emancipation. As Deva himself remarks, “historical forces are stronger even than Princes and Premiers.”


Deva shows a failure to understand the nature of capitalism when he writes: “Nippon knew she had only two alternatives. Having once set upon the purple path of expansion and war, she must keep on to it ‘in ever expanding progression,’ or she could turn back and return to a rational state of existence.”


Japan’s policy is determined by the demands of the underlying economic forces.


The problem of the Far East is not a problem of Japan, but of capitalism. Like similar problems in
other parts of the world, it can be solved only by the abolition of the capitalist system itself.


A. P.

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