Sen Katayama


Japan and the Coming Imperialist War

(March 1922)

From International Press Correspondence, Vol. 2 No. 22, 21 March 1922, pp. 162–64.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive

Moscow, March 1922

The capitalist countries are rejoicing over the great success of the Washington Conference. The result of this conference about which they talk with ever-growing admiration is but a smokescreen to conceal the preparations for a new imperialistic war. Many, however, say that the Washington conference has accomplished nothing that is good; that is true if looked upon from a radical standpoint. The conference was called to solve questions that threatened imperialistic war in the Far East and for that the Washington Conference has done nothing. Perhaps the fact that they agreed on a naval holiday will give the capitalistic countries a breathing spell better to prepare themselves for the coming struggle and it is also true that the situation in the Far East has somewhat changed on account of the result of the Washington Conference. The agreement among the capitalistic countries will retard the coming imperialistic war somewhat but that does not mean that the imperialistic war will not come – maybe only after 10 or 15 years as they agreed, but it will come with greater force and greater vehemence than the one expected sooner because they will have better prepared for the new imperialistic war. They are now free to prepare for this new war since they have drawn a smokescreen before the eyes of the people by the statement that this peace will rule for some time to come.

The next war will not be fought with big ships that they have agreed to stop building, but by airplanes, bombs, and other scientific means, the convenience and effectiveness of which they found out during the last war. They have put no limitation at all on any effective fighting means.

I shall speak now only for Japan concerning the result of the Washington Conference. Japan will play a big role in the coming imperialistic war which must be fought in the Far East. Japan stands now in a far better position for the coming struggle than before the Washington Conference. Before the Washington Conference Japan had to compete in a moderate scale with America in dreadnought building which was a heavy burden, and Japan’s financial resources were all sacrificed to this building of big ships. But now, fortunately, Japan does not need to bother with big ships. She will go on with other minor, and as I said, more important effective fighting means such as airplanes in the use of which Japan is backward compared to America or European countries. Thus she is free to develop her own fighting apparatus or fighting means more freely than she was before the conference.

Financially speaking, Japan is in far better condition than before, especially before the Chinese-Japanese war of 1894 and the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. Her national finances are also taxed and Japan as a nation became richer by many hundred times than Japan of 1890–1900, that is, before the two wars. For instance before the European war (1913) Japan’s entire wealth was estimated at 32,043,130,000 yen. In 1920 it was estimated at 86,777,000,000 yen – an increase in 8 years of 54,340,000,000 yen. Japan before the war was a debtor nation, now she has become a creditor nation on a small scale. She is not in debt but has lent money to other countries. Moreover, her industry has grown to many times its former size.

Her gold bullion was about 2 to 3 hundred million yen, at the end of last year it was over 2 billion and, including silver, 2.250,000,000 yen.

Japan was struck by a financial and industrial crisis about the 15th of March 1920. Within a year the crisis had developed to such an extent that prices had gone down 40% to what are considered to be bedrock prices in Japan. Since then, they have gone up about 15 % so that prices are still about 25% lower than before the big crisis.

During the last two years Japan has suffered because of a decrease in foreign trade, especially with Europe. Japan developed her industry on a war basis, and now she cannot compete with European nations because her industry is not far enough advanced.

However, she has retained her gold possessions almost to the same amount as they were before the crisis. Her home market has also revived and prices for manufactured goods for home consumption have gone up while prices of raw materials have gone down, so that in reality Japan is in a much better position than any of the European countries, especially the defeated countries.

Japan will have about 200,000,000 yen free to use for other purposes than armament as a result of the Washington conference. This surplus can be used for the improvement of such industries as are auxiliary to her war industries. Another result of the Washington Conference is the free hand that Japan received in the exploitation of Korea and Manchuria and the extension of her influence in Siberia. This is why Japan so readily gave up her Shantung rights and yielded to the proposals to give up her absolute control over Yap. Japan hopes to exploit China in cooperation with other imperialistic nations. This, however, does not mean that the imperialistic conflict of the different nations concerned will be avoided; it will only accelerate the coming crash because so far their cooperation has not been successful. Their interests in the Far East are antagonistic and each one of them is trying to obtain a monopoly for the exploitation of those countries. This can be obtained only by means of war and since none of these countries is now prepared to enter into an armed conflict they have decided to sign an armed truce; for they could not do better in the Washington Conference than the compromise of the Four Power Pact.

Now I wish to point out another feature which may change the course of imperialistic policy of the world. I mean the liberal and social movement of Japan which has been growing for the last few years. Assisted by the Washington Conference this movement has developed rapidly. For the first time in the history of the country the Japanese people have become interested in the foreign policy of their government. The questions that have come up for public discussion among the Japanese people are the disarmament and other questions which were to be discussed at Washington. Many organisations were formed to discuss and study the position of Japan at Washington. For the first time since Japan has assumed an imperialistic policy Japan has had a disarmament movement. The reduction of the army and navy was influenced by a prominent statesman, ex-minister of Justice Ozoki, and he had nation wide support for his movement. This is the first sign showing how much the Japanese people lost confidence in Japanese imperialism and militarism when they saw how the imperialism and militarism of Germany were crushed by the Allies. There was talk within the intellectual classes that for Japan imperialism is no longer good and it was proved that the same opinion is held among the masses when the Washington Conference was called and the Japanese people supported the idea of disarmament and started a movement for the reduction of the army and navy. It was, in one sense, a victory for the disarmament movement in Japan.

Recently, one of the political parties, Kokuminto declared for the reduction of the army by half as the party policy. This army reduction is bound to become popular in Japan because the Japanese people have been long oppressed by the army clique much more than by the naval clique. It has long been the belief of the Japanese that their country must have a large navy since it is surrounded by water, but they have different opinions now since the Washington Conference has reduced the navy and stopped its expansion. The Japanese army and navy have been competitors as to who could increase their sphere of influence in the country, but now the international agreement is to stop the expansion of the navy, and it is the business of the Japanese people to make the army proportionate to the navy. One of the reasons why the delegations agreed so readily to the Washington proposals of navy reduction is that Japan is still in the hands of the army clique, that is, the military class has stronger power than the naval class. Now, since the navy is being reduced, the naval people will try to reduce the army as well, in order to be in a better financial position for the coming struggle.

So far I have spoken only about the results of the Washington Conference which affect Japanese national policy. There is yet another great factor which has been shown by recent developments in Japanese national life. One is the assassination of Premier Hara. Another is the assassination of one of the biggest bankers, Yasuda. Of course, these were deeds of conservative individuals representing old-fashioned ideas. Still, the assassination of the premier means a great deal to Japan. It is quite different from the anarchist killing of kings and czars.

Japanese history points out that the assassination of a premier has always been the signal for revolution. It is a sign of the overthrow of the existing government. People read it thus and are expecting a change. So it was in the revolution of 1868.

It is a sign of the coming revolution and at the same time a sign that the existing government is crumbling. People feel unrest, this was only accelerated by the death of the greatest Genro-Prince Yamagata, who had ruled Japan for 50 years in the most conservative, autocratic, and military way. The death of Prince Yamagata and also the death of Okuma will change the course of political development. Okuma apparently represented the liberal aspect of Japan, yet in his declining years became conservative and was a faithful puppet of the military clique. Everybody expects that the death of Yamagata will change things in Japan, especially that the military power which has been so strongly built up by past decades will crumble away. Then the emperor has become feeble-minded and the young crown prince is Regent, all of which means that the politicians will go on ruling in their old way. Japan now stands in danger of being blown up by the discontent and unrest of the people.

Judging from the political development of Japan, a political revolution is nearing and many petty-bourgeois and even the big bourgeois are expecting political changes from the present militaristic to a liberal government. So the political parties which are in opposition to the present government are taking a more and more popular stand and are pursuing the popular course of political issues chief of which is universal suffrage. Not infrequently prominent statesmen declare that democracy should be established in Japan. Professor Soeda lecturing at Hawaii declared that Japan must establish democracy, otherwise Japan will become Red; and as soon as he gets back to Japan it is his intention to work for the universal suffrage movement. He is considered to be one of the educated liberal spokesmen of Japan and is quite influential among the upper classes. Thus, everything is set for a political change in Japan.

There is another Feature which we must consider as a result of the awakening of the Japanese workers.

I have had an opportunity to show how the Japanese workers have been awakening since I916. When the great rice riots occurred: there were spontaneous uprisings all over the country. Since then workers have been striking, sabotaging, and making radical demands. I shall give only one instance as to how the Japanese workers utilize the present-day facts in their own interests.

For instance, last December 500,000 government employers met at Osaka to demonstrate their position as a result of the Washington Conference. They knew that, as a result of naval reductions, tens of thousands of workers will be dismissed from the government and privately-owned shipyards, the employees of which alone are about 150,000 in number. In the meeting they approved of disarmament, but at the same time they sent a most radical note to the government asking it to remedy the situation of the workers. They also took advantage of the occasion to make a labor demonstration through the city. A similar meeting was held in Tokyo and a radical, outspoken manifesto similar that at Osaka was passed, which is remarkable because the workers of the government enterprises are very conservative and have always hitherto sided with the government. They are also better treated by the government than the workers in private enterprises. From these few instances we can see that the workers are rapidly awakening The advanced vanguard of the Japanese proletariat is making progress in Socialist and Communist propaganda work.

The present rather bright financial position of Japan will not exist long. it is bound to change, and then from bad to worse. When we look into the future, we see and feel the uncertainty. This surplus of 200,000,000 yen, gained by the reduction of the navy, will only last about two years. Were it not for that, Japan would be obliged to resort to new taxation in order to keep up her armament programme, and that would mean bankruptcy the future prospect of Japan looks dismal, and last year also had its hardships. The rice crop which has just been harvested was small, and the cost of living will inevitably rise. This year’s crop is 3,000,000 koku under the average, and it is 8,500,000 koku less than last year’s. There is the higher cost of living and increase of unemployment owing to the stagnation of general industry.

There is also extreme discontent, unrest and dissatisfaction with the government’s oppressive measures against not only the Communist and radical workers, but all the workers and peasants. All this creates more discontent than ever before on the one hand, and on the other, the militaristic, well-organised and greedy capitalist class will always strengthen and pursue its reactionary and oppressive policy. Thus the revolutionary movement is having its hard struggle, but in the end it will gain the victory and be in a much better position to meet the coming imperialistic war in the Far East.

What I want to impress upon the proletariat of other countries is that the Japanese workers will surely utilize the political revolution which is sure to occur within a short space of time and we Communists want to stimulate and cooperate with these radical revolutionary elements of Japan in order to prepare for the coming imperialistic war so that when the crash comes the Communists all over the world will be able to utilise the opportunity for the cause which is our common one both in the Far East and in the Far West.

Last updated on 1 September 2019