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New Revolutionary Agenda: The Interwar Japanese Left on the "Chinese Revolution"



To achieve socialist revolutions in Asia, the Third Communist International (Comintern) recommended to Asian revolutionaries the strategy of a united front comprising the proletariat and the national bourgeoisie, which would prioritize the anti-colonial and anti-imperialist struggle. The early Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (1922-1926) resisted this recommendation, which lumped together colonized India and semi-colonized China with the only empire in Asia, Japan. The JCP insisted on the priority of the domestic national struggle, arguing that without toppling the imperial government at home by means of a socialist revolution, there could be no dismantling of Japanese imperialism and therefore no Chinese Revolution. After the outbreak of Japanese aggression in China in 1927 (the first Shantung intervention in May of that year) and the rise of popular nationalist support for the empire at home, members of the Japanese Left recognized that they had failed to properly engage with Japanese imperialism in Asia. Based on Comintern archives and the writings of leading Japanese Communists, this article argues that, as a strategy to rebrand and redeem itself in the new critical situation in Asia, the Japanese Left began to regard the Chinese Revolution as the only path to liberation, not only for Asia but for Japan as well.
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New Revolutionary Agenda: The Interwar Japanese Left on the “Chinese Revolution”
Tatiana Linkhoeva, New York University
To achieve socialist revolutions in Asia, the Third Communist International (Comintern)
recommended to Asian revolutionaries the strategy of a united front comprising the
proletariat and the national bourgeoisie, which would prioritize the anti-colonial and anti-
imperialist struggle. The early Japanese Communist Party (JCP) (1922–1926) resisted this
recommendation, which lumped together colonized India and semi-colonized China with the
only empire in Asia, Japan. The JCP insisted on the priority of the domestic national struggle,
arguing that without toppling the imperial government at home by means of a socialist
revolution, there could be no dismantling of Japanese imperialism and therefore no Chinese
Revolution. After the outbreak of Japanese aggression in China in 1927 (the first Shantung
intervention in May of that year) and the rise of popular nationalist support for the empire at
home, members of the Japanese Left recognized that they had failed to properly engage with
Japanese imperialism in Asia. Based on Comintern archives and the writings of leading
Japanese Communists, this article argues that, as a strategy to rebrand and redeem itself in the
new critical situation in Asia, the Japanese Left began to regard the Chinese Revolution as the
only path to liberation, not only for Asia but for Japan as well.
Keywords: Japanese Communism, Chinese Revolution, Comintern, Japanese imperialism
The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) was established in the summer of 1922 in the
midst of the ongoing Russian Revolution, Russian Civil War (1918–1922), and Foreign
Intervention into the Revolution, which included Japanese interventionist forces (White 1950;
Ullman 1961). With the aim of expanding its formal and informal control over the territories
formerly under the Russian imperial sphere of influence, Japan deployed considerable armed
forces to the Russian Far East, eastern Siberia, and northern Manchuria between January
1918 and 1925.1 Consequently, the Russian Bolsheviks viewed imperial Japan as a major
threat to the survival of the Soviet state and the world proletarian revolution, most
importantly in China and Mongolia, and regarded the struggle against Japanese imperialism
as the main objective of the Communist movement in East Asia. The Russian Bolsheviks
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hoped that Japan, as the only industrially advanced country in Asia, would be a receptive
environment for a Communist and anti-imperialist revolution because the Japanese
proletariat—“the best organized and strongest force” among the Eastern countries—would
strike “the first decisive blow against foreign and predatory imperialism and imperialist
coercion.”2 At the same time, the Russian Bolsheviks offered ideological and financial
support to Korean and Chinese national liberation movements against Japanese imperialism,
and encouraged revolutionary networks between Japanese and Asian radicals. Intent on
escalating such movements into a world revolution, the Soviet government created the Third
Communist International (Comintern) in March 1919, which became instrumental in
establishing Communist parties in Japan in 1921–1922, China and Outer Mongolia in 1921,
and Korea in 1925.
The fact that the JCP was officially created as a Comintern branch has led historians,
both inside and outside of Japan, to argue that the JCP depended from the start on Comintern
instructions, which were not, however, based on adequate knowledge of Japanese society and
history. Japanese historians explained the collapse of the prewar Japanese Communist
movement by referring to Japan’s initial lack of independent Marxist theorists and
experienced domestic agitators. Consequently, they argued, the Communist movement failed
to develop indigenous roots, remained alien to Japanese society, and did not succeed in
organizing a significant resistance to the authoritarian state.3 This opinion was echoed by
Soviet scholars, who used to point out that, given the low level of societal development and
paucity of socialist thought in Japan, the establishment of the JCP in 1922 might have been
premature (Kovalenko 1979). Western scholars have also described the creation of the JCP as
a case of forced importation of revolution from Soviet Russia, with the JCP functioning as an
obedient subsidiary of the Comintern. Political scientist Robert Scalapino has argued that the
ideological heterogeneity of JCP members and their immaturity as “true Marxist-Leninists,”
combined with the ignorance among Soviet and Comintern authorities regarding the situation
in Japan, resulted in the collapse of Japan’s Communist movement (Scalapino 1967;
Swearingen 1968; Beckmann and Okubo 1969). Recently, Japanese historians have renewed
their interest in the history of the prewar Japanese Left, while moving away from the previous
national perspective to the imperial context (Kurokawa 2014). In Anglo-American
scholarship, however, the perception that the Left in Japan was theoretically unoriginal and
practically insignificant is still prevalent, and thus little work has been done on Japanese
leftist thought in recent decades.4 The Japanese Communist movement is still treated in
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Western scholarship as marginal in comparison to the liberal-democratic movements of the
interwar period.
Figure 1. Group of young Japanese socialists. Yamakawa Hitoshi is in the upper row, third
from left. Source: Nihon Kindaishi Kenkyūkai (1964, 12:44).
But a close look at Russian Comintern archives and the writings of the JCP’s main
theoretician, Yamakawa Hitoshi (1880–1958), suggests that, in fact, the early JCP (1922–
1926) retained a degree of independence from the Comintern (figure 1). Early Japanese
Communists concluded that the Russian model of socialist revolution was not applicable to
Japan’s conditions and therefore resisted the Comintern’s guidance, which, they rightly
suspected, was tailored for semi-colonial China and unsuitable to the conditions in imperial
Japan. By tracing the evolution of the JCP’s agendas of the early and late 1920s, I
demonstrate that, despite the Comintern’s instructions to prioritize the anti-imperialist
struggle, the early JCP had a different understanding of the nature and goals of their social
and political struggle. The Japanese Communists sought to engage with the national capitalist
and political system in order to bring about social and moral regeneration as well as
economic and political justice—but in the metropole rather than in the colonies. In other
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words, they maintained that the Japanese Revolution should take precedence over revolutions
in the Asian colonial and semi-colonial world. However, in the late 1920s the JCP’s
revolutionary priorities changed, in part due to the departure from the JCP of its early
theoretician Yamakawa, and in part because of Japan’s growing commitment to imperialism
on the Asian continent. Assistance to the Chinese Revolution—one of the Comintern’s main
international slogans—emerged in 1927 as the primary objective of the JCP. Faced with the
new critical situation in Asia, the Japanese Left began to regard China and the Chinese
Revolution as the only path for liberation, not only of Asia but of Japan as well.
The Comintern’s View on Japan
The Comintern exhibited an ambivalent attitude toward Japan. Traditionally Asian,
with a large agrarian sector and imperial institutions, Japan was also industrially developed,
had never been colonized, and was the biggest imperialist threat to the Soviet Union. The
Comintern’s difficulties in assessing the nature and degree of Japan’s capitalist development
stemmed largely from the fact that Japan was regarded by the Bolsheviks simultaneously as
an imperialist country, on par with advanced Western countries, and as a semi-feudal state
with an Asiatic despot as its head. At the Fourth Comintern Congress in November 1922, a
Comintern Commission on Japan concluded that the Meiji Revolution of 1868 was an
incomplete bourgeois revolution, and that “Japanese capitalism still demonstrates
characteristics of the former feudal relationships. The greater part of the land is today in the
hands of semifeudal big landlords, and the biggest of all is the emperor.”5
The conclusion that Japan was a backward and semi-feudal country enabled the
Comintern to propose virtually the same strategy for Japan, India, and China, Japan’s clearly
superior economic development notwithstanding. The Comintern thus envisioned that the
completion of a bourgeois revolution would be the first necessary step, which would result in
the emergence of a sufficiently powerful proletariat and revolutionary peasantry. Only after
the bourgeois revolution was complete, and the bourgeoisie had established its domination,
would a proletarian revolution aimed at the realization of proletarian dictatorship be in order.
Known as the two-stage revolution, this model presupposed the revolutionary character of the
bourgeoisie and its leading role in the upcoming revolution in Japan. It was also expected
that, in Japan as well as in China and India, the first stage would involve collaboration of all
other “oppressed” classes with bourgeois revolutionaries, and that this would take the form of
a united anti-imperialist front. The policy, therefore, assumed corresponding interests among
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proletarian, peasant, and national-bourgeois classes. Once the Japanese bourgeoisie was in
power, the Comintern hoped, Japanese imperialism—a product of the military, big
landowners, and semi-feudal Asiatic absolutism—would crumble. In other words, in the eyes
of the Comintern, the JCP’s task was to reinforce the Japanese peoples’ and workers’
opposition to Japanese imperialism and to cooperate with the Japanese progressive
bourgeoisie in the promotion of democracy and the anti-imperialist struggle.6
Furthermore, the Comintern’s position was that in the colonial and semi-colonial
world—to which Japan belonged, in the Comintern’s somewhat convoluted view—no
socialist revolution would succeed without the destruction of the colonial system in the
region as a whole. In the Comintern’s understanding, the domestic revolutionary struggle of
the Japanese socialists would therefore need to go hand in hand with their struggle against
Japanese imperialism in Korea and China. In a letter dated May 27, 1920, Sebald Rutgers, a
high-profile Comintern member, remarked to the Japanese socialist Sugiyama Shōzō that
Japanese socialists must collaborate with Chinese socialists and assist them in their anti-
Japanese struggle. Rutgers insisted that the task of the Japanese socialists was to prevent the
spread of Japanese imperialism by creating a united front with Chinese activists (Yamanouchi
2009, 133). Indeed, there were numerous leftist organizations, such as the Socialist League
(Shakaishugi Dōmei, 1920–1921) and the Cosmo Club (1920–1923), that provided a platform
for Chinese, Korean, and Japanese leftist radicals and students to meet and collaborate. But as
historian Ishikawa Yoshihiro has pointed out, it was Chinese and Korean anti-imperialist
socialists, rather than Japanese Communists, that forced issues of Japanese imperialism and
national liberation to the forefront of Japanese domestic leftist debates (Ishikawa 2013, chap.
1). The issue of anti-imperialist struggle was therefore borne out of the cooperation with the
Asian radicals, whose role in the internationalist character of the JCP has long been
Yamakawa Hitoshi on the First Tasks of the JCP
From the start, Japanese Communists challenged the Comintern’s proposal for a
unified course of action for China and Japan (Kishimoto and Koyama 1962). Yamakawa
Hitoshi’s understanding of Japanese political and economic development provided the
theoretical grounds for such a challenge and had far-reaching implications for the JCP’s
revolutionary strategy at home and in Japan’s colonies. Concerned with understanding the
logic of the capitalist development of the Japanese state and society, Yamakawa in the end
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rejected the view that foreign capitalism was superimposed on the internal contradictions of
Japanese feudalism. In his view, the country’s internal trajectory of economic development
would provide solutions to Japanese imperialism abroad. Yamakawa claimed that the Meiji
Revolution was in fact a bourgeois revolution, which had been already completed by the
great capitalist development in Japan during World War I. His disagreement with the
Comintern’s view of the incompleteness of the Meiji Revolution, and his subsequent
insistence on the existing political and economic domination of the powerful capitalist class
in Japan, was the beginning of a decade-long debate about the nature of that event,
culminating in the late 1920s in a series of seminal debates over Japanese capitalism (Nihon
shihonshugi ronsō).
Yamakawa outlined his perspective in the Manifesto of the Preparatory Committee of
the JCP (April 1921) and in the Program of the Communist Party of Japan (September
1922). In the 1921 Manifesto, Yamakawa proclaimed that the Meiji Revolution of 1868 was a
bourgeois-democratic revolution, and that it had laid the foundation for capitalist
development in Japan. He observed that, particularly after World War I, Japanese industry
and trade were growing steadily, the bourgeoisie were gaining more economic and political
power, and the country was moving surely toward greater democratization based on its rapid
capitalist development. The new bourgeois generation began to demand more political rights
and to break with existing bureaucratic-military political structures. In the aftermath of the
Great War, Yamakawa argued, a modern capitalist state was finally coming into existence in
Japan, bringing with it the completion of the bourgeois democratic revolution. In his scheme,
the imperial institution, military, big landlords, and oligarchy were merely “feudal remnants”
(Yamakawa [1920] 1967e, 2:159). Therefore, Yamakawa insisted, the primary task of the
JCP was to foment a proletarian revolution that would overthrow the capitalist system at
home. He remarks in the Program: “The Communist Party [of Japan] 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.”7 Yamakawa here explicitly rejects the two-stage revolution thesis
offered by the Comintern, rightly suspecting that the Soviet leadership had merely exported
its plans for China to Japan. Instead, he called for a one-stage proletarian revolution that
would “establish the Proletarian Dictatorship based on the Soviet of the workers, peasants
and soldiers.” His one-stage revolution implied that the main target of the Japanese
proletarian struggle was the modern Japanese bourgeoisie. Yamakawa completely rejected
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the Comintern’s proposal of a united front and declared that any collaboration or
cooperation—even with the progressive bourgeoisie—would be detrimental to the Japanese
proletariat. He pointed out that even the well-meaning leaders of the universal suffrage
movement, Yoshino Sakuzō and Ōyama Ikuo, who claimed to represent the interests of the
whole nation, did not understand the antagonistic class nature of society—the continuous
oppression of one class by the other. In his view, the cooperation (kyōdō) of national
interests, which Yoshino was hoping for, really meant the interests of only one class: the
bourgeoisie (Yamakawa [1922] 1967b).
Furthermore, Yamakawa pointed out, it was the bourgeoisie that, in tandem with the
military, had pushed for imperialism abroad (Yamakawa [1920] 1967a). Noting the
entanglement of capitalism, imperialism, and militarism, Yamakawa argued that big business
and the military had carefully orchestrated popular nationalist and patriotic sentiments among
the masses, and that the proliferation of such sentiments had enabled Japanese capitalist
imperialism to carry out its objectives. Addressing the issue of anti-Korean sentiments among
Japanese workers during the economic recession in the post–World War I period, when many
Korean laborers were hired in Japan, albeit at lower wages than those for Japanese,
Yamakawa called for a union of the Japanese and Korean proletariat against the Japanese and
Korean capitalist class. He appealed to Japanese workers to abandon their prejudices and
nationalism, and to embrace Koreans as their brothers, because Japanese, Korean, and
Chinese masses were all victims of the Japanese capitalist imperialist state (Yamakawa
[1922] 1967b, 4:280, 356–376).
However, Yamakawa was highly suspicious of what he perceived as virulent Korean
nationalism, which he felt was not in sync with internationalist and modern socialist
movements. In the JCP Program of 1922, he remarks:
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 this act but is taking every
available step for the emancipation of Korea. The majority of the Korean
patriots, fighting for the independence of Korea, is not free from the bourgeois
ideology and nationalist prejudices. 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.8
Yamakawa maintained that the Korean national independence movement should abandon its
aim of national liberation and instead rise up against Korea’s own capitalist class under the
guidance of the more progressive Japanese socialist movement (Yamakawa [1933] 1967d,
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6:259–260).9 Years later, Yamakawa would argue that the Chinese Revolution, too, had a
major flaw, namely that it was driven by nationalist rather than proletarian aims.10 Japan, on
the other hand, as the only modernized country in Asia, possessed an industrial proletariat
that had attained an advanced level of proletarian and internationalist class consciousness.
Therefore, he argued, the Japanese socialist movement alone was capable of leading and
representing other colonial workers. Yamakawa did not see himself or the Japanese people as
aggressors against Korea and China, since he did not identify the Japanese masses with the
imperial state.
The primary goal of the JCP, as Yamakawa envisioned it, was the dismantling of the
capitalist system and the imperial government at home by means of a socialist revolution.
This implied, however, that the anti-imperialist struggle in the colonies was a matter of
secondary importance. In other words, for Yamakawa there could be no Chinese Revolution
without a Japanese Revolution first (Nomura 1970). He firmly believed that the proletarian
struggle in Japan must be independent from and not subsidiary to the revolution in China or
Europe. The Japanese proletariat, he argued, must formulate its own goals and fight for its
own demands. Despite the Comintern’s early call to prioritize the anti-imperialist struggle in
Japan and East Asia, under Yamakawa’s guidance Japanese socialists insisted on the priority
of the domestic national struggle, which they believed would eventually benefit all of
colonized Asia. The downside of this position, however, was a certain indifference on the
part of the early JCP regarding the question of imperialism and the role of Japan’s empire in
The Reorganization of the Party and the 1927 Theses on Japan
In June 1923, the police arrested more than one hundred socialists and members of the
JCP. Thirty party members, including Yamakawa in 1924, were brought to trial under the
Public Peace Police Law. Yamakawa’s case was dismissed for lack of evidence, but the other
men were found guilty and received sentences from eight to ten months in length. Another
blow to the Japanese socialist movement occurred in the aftermath of the Great Kantō
Earthquake of September 1, 1923, which killed around 120,000 people. In the ensuing chaos,
Japanese army reservists and civilian volunteers murdered several thousand Korean and
Chinese residents in a kind of pogrom fueled by rumors that the Koreans and Chinese, aided
by Japanese anarchists, were burning houses, killing people, and stealing money and
property. The murders accomplished by the working-class mob sent shock waves among
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Japanese socialists, forcing them to reconsider the readiness of the Japanese proletariat for an
internationalist socialist revolution. Adding to the shock were the murders of a number of
known leftists, including the anarchist Ōsugi Sakae, by the military police. At a meeting on
October 22, 1923, the remaining members of the JCP, demoralized by the arrests, murders,
and general devastation of the city, decided to disband the party. In March 1924, members of
the JCP who managed to escape to Vladivostok and Shanghai established the foreign bureau
of the Japanese Communist party in Vladivostok, which acted as an intermediary between
Moscow and the remaining Communists in Japan.11
Figure 2. The early JCP on trial, February 17, 1925. Source: Nihon Kindaishi Kenkyūkai
(1964, 13:60).
The first reaction of the Comintern to the disbandment of the JCP was issued not by
the Moscow headquarters but by Grigory Voitinsky (1893–1953), head of the Far Eastern
Bureau of the Comintern in Shanghai between 1920 and 1927 (figure 2). In the so-called
Shanghai Theses of 1925, Voitinsky criticized the JCP’s decision to ignore the Comintern’s
recommendations, thus missing an opportunity to launch a broad anti-imperialist movement
in tandem with Chinese revolutionaries. On the other hand, Voitinsky had some criticism for
the Comintern’s headquarters in Moscow, too. He urged the Comintern decision makers to
distinguish between conditions in China and Japan, and to modify their recommendations
accordingly. He declared that Japanese capitalism had reached its ultimate stage and that its
emerging crisis would soon establish preconditions for a proletarian revolution.12 In other
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words, Voitinsky diverged from the Comintern’s vision of a two-stage revolution in Japan
and endorsed Yamakawa’s call for a Japanese socialist revolution. However, for complicated
reasons that had to do with lack of information about the political and economic situation in
Japan, the Comintern’s commitment to the alliance of the Chinese Communists with the
Guomindang nationalists, and an ongoing inner-party struggle within the Russian Communist
Party, the Comintern did not pass a new resolution on Japan.
The Comintern’s ambivalence in regard to Japan is particularly well reflected in the
following incident. In February 1926, at the 6th Enlarged Plenum of the ECCI [the Executive
Committee of the Communist International], the Japanese delegation proposed to move Japan
to the Anglo-American regional secretariat because, they argued, Japan’s conditions were
different from those in colonial and semi-colonial countries and more closely resembled the
advanced capitalist stage of Western European countries.13 The Japanese delegation, led by
Kazuo Fukumoto (1894–1983), the new leader of the Japanese Communists, insisted that
Japanese capitalism had entered its final stage, characterized by the creation of a fascist
dictatorship. However, the Comintern leadership chose to keep Japan under the eastern
branch of the Comintern. Voitinsky’s suggestions, outlined in the Shanghai Theses of 1925,
were not taken into consideration.
The Japanese Communist Party was formally reestablished in December 1926. To
coordinate the program of the JCP and resolve internal struggles, a delegation of the JCP
visited Moscow starting in February–March 1927, where it stayed for approximately six
months. In Moscow, a committee on Japan was formed—including Nikolai Bukharin
(chairman), C. Kuusinen, Bela Kun, J. T. Murphy, Sen Katayama, O. Piatnitsky, B. Vasiliev,
and Karlis Janson—and mandated to write a new program for the reorganized JCP. The JCP
issued its official request for a new program in a letter dated June 10, 1927, to Bukharin, a
member of the political secretariat of the Comintern and its de facto leader (figure 3). The
following is the letter in its entirety:
Dear Comrade Bukharin! Knowing well that you are very busy with many
important matters to attend, nevertheless we, on behalf of the CP of Japan,
kindly ask you to write the Political Theses on the Japanese question. We
make this comradely request because the Theses must lay down the very
foundation upon which the CP of Japan shall be established. And, secondly,
because the Japanese question is not only very complicated but also closely
related to the Chinese question. With Communist greetings, Moscow, June 10,
1927. Sen Katayama, Seki, Y. Kawasaki, Asano, Akita, Chiba, Mori, Kuroki,
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The letter suggests that Japanese Communists recognized the interdependence and, in fact,
the priority of the Chinese Revolution for the Japanese socialist movement. Within a month,
Bukharin was ready to present his theses—which came to be known as the “1927 Comintern
Theses on Japan”—to the Executive Committee of the Comintern. The most curious feature
of the Theses is that they acknowledged the political and socioeconomic distinction between
Japan and China, and between their revolutionary strategies and goals, but still recommended
that the JCP prioritize assistance to the Chinese Revolution.
Figure 3. Letter to N. Bukharin from the Japanese Communist delegation, June 10, 1927.
Source: Adibekov and Wada (2001, 408).
The Theses reflected the worsened Soviet-Japanese relations and geopolitical situation
in China. The establishment of diplomatic relations between the USSR and Japan in January
1925 to a certain extent lifted the tension in the region, but the relations deteriorated as soon
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as the known anti-Communist general Tanaka Gi’ichi was appointed prime minister in April
1927. From that time on, the Soviet leadership began to receive more frequent reports
through various channels about Japanese plans to attack the USSR, and also about a new
course of the Japanese government aimed at the “unification of the peoples of Asia… against
the USSR” (Adibekov and Wada 2001, 20). Japan’s direct involvement in the Chinese
Revolution—when it sent military forces to Shantung in May 1927 in order to stop the
Chinese Northern Expeditionary forces, led by Guomindang (GMD), further antagonized the
Soviets against Japan.
On the other hand, since 1925, the Chinese Revolution had been gaining momentum
with anti-Japanese strikes in Shanghai (the May Thirtieth Movement) and anti-British strikes
and boycotts in Canton and Hong Kong. In April 1927, the new prime minister, General
Tanaka Gi’ichi, initiated an aggressive course in China that would “separate Manchuria and
Mongolia,” confirm Japan’s special position in both areas, and prevent the Chinese
Revolution from spreading to Manchuria (Hata and Coox 1989, 287). In May 1928, Japanese
and Chinese forces clashed at Tsinan (in the so-called Tsinan Incident), and in June 1928
officers of the Kwantung Army assassinated Chang Tso-lin, warlord of Northeast China,
paving the way for the future takeover of Manchuria by Japanese forces. In 1931, the
Japanese seized all of Manchuria; in January 1932, Japan virtually annexed the Hongkew and
Yangtzepoo districts of Shanghai. These were the first salvos in the Sino-Japanese struggle
that, in 1937, led to a full-scale Japanese invasion of China.
The Soviet leaders, even more so in 1927, saw in Japanese imperialism an urgent
threat to the world revolution and to the Soviet state, so knowledge of Japanese society and
the correct interpretation of Japanese imperialism were thrust to the forefront of their
concerns. The 1927 Theses on Japan were designed therefore in accordance with new
domestic and international developments, as well as with the practical concerns of the Soviet
state. The most important message of the Theses was that the main task of the JCP was the
struggle against Japanese imperialism in China, on the one hand, and against Japan’s
preparation for war against the USSR, on the other. In his speech at the meeting of the
Presidium of the ECCI on July 15, 1927, Bukharin articulated the Comintern’s new vision of
Japan’s role in East Asia and accordingly formulated the new goal of the JCP. The speech
outlined the main points of the Theses on Japan, which were adopted the same day.15 In his
speech and in the Theses, Bukharin focused on two issues: Japanese imperialism and the
nature of the Japanese state. He claimed that Japanese imperialism had a peculiar nature that
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made it different from the more familiar Western version. Japanese imperialism, Bukharin
argued, was getting stronger and more aggressive largely due to the wide support of the
Japanese masses, who were being duped by the government’s promises of land and job
opportunities for them in mainland China.
The second issue raised by Bukharin in his speech pertained to the nature of the
Japanese state. Importantly, Bukharin overturned the Comintern’s previous assessment that
Japan was a semi-feudal state and that a bourgeois-democratic revolution was consequently
in order. Bukharin perceived that the recent rapid growth of capitalism and imperialism had
propelled Japan’s bourgeoisie to power, and that the country’s feudal absolutism had
developed into a bourgeois monarchy. Therefore, insistence on a two-stage revolution and a
united front with the bourgeoisie was no longer a valid strategy. Bukharin acknowledged that
the two-stage revolution tailored for China was being mechanically—and perilously—applied
to Japan. In his remarks, he went on to outline the differences between China and Japan.
Whereas semi-feudal China still had to go through a bourgeois revolution under the guidance
of the national bourgeoisie, develop its industrial proletariat, and actively engage the
peasantry, Japan was facing a completely different situation. Japan, Bukharin argued, had all
conditions in place for a social coup and a dictatorship of the proletariat. Immediate political
takeover, and subsequent building of socialism, was feasible, although “subjective” obstacles,
such as the overt nationalism and patriotism of the Japanese masses, would need to be
overcome first.16
The Theses acknowledged that Japan had a mature proletarian class that was steadily
moving toward a proletarian revolution. And yet the Comintern insisted that the revolutionary
struggle in Japan be led not by a legal proletarian party, but by the illegal, militant JCP. The
new JCP, as Bukharin put it, would have to be “steel-like, ideologically mature, Leninist,
disciplined, centralized, and a mass Communist party.” 17 So, despite Bukharin’s
acknowledgment of Japan’s advanced capitalist stage, the political and socioeconomic
differences between Japan and China, and Japan’s readiness for a proletarian revolution, the
Comintern kept the JCP’s strategy and goals subservient to its policy for China. The priority
of the Chinese Revolution for Japanese Communism was reflected in the hierarchy of its
designated tasks. In the text of the 1927 Theses, the first four tasks listed had to do with
Japanese imperialism, while only the fifth task pertained to the dissolution of the Diet,
followed by the abolition of the monarchy. The Chinese Revolution was the key to the
success of the Japanese Revolution.
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The JCP’s new course was part of the Comintern’s policy for the defense of the
Chinese Revolution, which culminated with the Sixth Congress of the Comintern (July–
September 1928). At the Congress, three representatives of the Japanese delegation—Sano
Manabu (figure 4), Kenzō Yamamoto, and Ichikawa Shōichi—outlined the three main tasks
of the Japanese proletariat: the struggle against a new imperialist war, the defense of the
Chinese Revolution, and the defense of the Soviet Union. The JCP, proclaimed Sano, had an
“especially great responsibility in carrying out these tasks in view of the active role played by
Japanese imperialism in the Pacific.”18 As a strategy, Japanese Communists proposed to
transform the imperialist war into a civil war in Japan, which would evolve into a world
proletarian revolution. At the conclusion of the Congress, a resolution on the tasks of the JCP
was adopted, which was written together by the Russian and Japanese members of the
Comintern Committee on Japan and approved by the Eastern Secretariat of the Comintern.19
The resolution maintained that the struggle against the future Japanese imperialist war must
go hand in hand with the struggle against the monarchy and the bourgeois dictatorship at
home, and that, among other things, the JCP must assist the League against Intervention in
China (discussed below). Moreover, the resolution stated that:
The Party [JCP] must widen its work aimed at liberating colonial people by
establishing a very close relationship with and the total support of the
Communist parties in the Japanese colonies (Korea and Formosa). The most
serious tasks [of the JCP] are systematic and tireless agitation for the right of
self-determination and even independence of the colonial people, fight against
chauvinism, which still has deep roots among Japanese workers, selfless
[Communist] work among Japanese soldiers and workers in the colonies to
demand the immediate withdrawal of the Japanese troops, defeat of the
imperialist homeland, fraternization with the revolting colonial people and the
revolutionary armies of the colonies. (Adibekov and Wada 2001, 473)
Thus, by the late 1920s, Japanese and Russian Communists finally agreed that the Chinese
Revolution would have a significant impact on Japan’s domestic situation; therefore, the
future of the revolution in Japan would need to be discussed in relation to the Chinese
Revolution. Both reasoned that if the Japanese empire could be brought down in the colonies,
the Chinese Revolution would rapidly gain strength and its success would inspire socialist
movements worldwide, including in Japan. In other words, the socialist movement in Japan
would be aided by the success of the CCP’s struggle on the mainland.
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Figure 4. Sano Manabu. Source: Nihon Kindaishi Kenkyūkai (1964, 13:60).
The Turn to China
Japanese Communists accepted without reservation the 1927 Theses, with their stress
on the Chinese Revolution and insistence on the illegal status of their party. Several factors
contributed to the JCP’s acceptance of this new course. First, starting in the mid-1920s, and
due to the extremely complex situation within the Soviet Union’s leadership, the Comintern
began increasingly to demand that its members conform ideologically and organizationally to
the ruling party of Russia (McDermott and Agnew 1996, 41–80). The Comintern’s increased
centralization and bureaucratization left little space for Japanese and other foreign
Communists to voice their opposition. The JCP’s diminished independence was also the
result of the departure from its ranks of its main theoretician, Yamakawa Hitoshi. In
December 1926, Yamakawa publicly opposed the decision to reorganize the JCP, which
amounted to a public critique of the Russian Communist Party ([1933] 1967d, 59).
Yamakawa had two bones of contention with the new direction of the Japanese
Communist movement. First, the enactment of universal male suffrage in 1925 raised
Yamakawa’s hopes that the workers’ legal struggle was becoming possible; however, his
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expectation was counterbalanced by the enactment of the Peace Preservation Law (Chian iji
hō) in the same year, which targeted leftist radicals and criminalized the expression of any
ideas that aimed to alter the national polity (kokutai). Nevertheless, Yamakawa put great
effort into radicalizing legal leftist organizations, unions, and parties, and saw them as the
main conduit of the future proletarian revolution. Yamakawa’s main concern was that the
illegal JCP would endanger the whole proletarian movement by provoking intense state and
police repression. The repression would drive the entire proletarian movement underground
and make it harder for Japanese Communists to organize and recruit new members.
Secondly, Yamakawa disagreed with prioritizing the Chinese Revolution and
continued to hold the position that, because Japan’s historical condition and capitalist
development was different from China’s, its revolutionary program and strategy could not be
subsumed by the latter. In fact, Yamakawa believed that the Japanese Revolution must
emulate an advanced Western European socialist revolution rather than that of backward
Russia or China. That is, the proletarian struggle in Japan should be legal, mass-based, and
not ancillary to proletarian developments in other countries, be they in Western Europe or
Historian Sandra Wilson has argued that after Yamakawa and his faction (which
included Arahata Kanson, Sakai Toshihiko, and Inomata Tsunao, among others) were
expelled, the core members of the JCP were “by definition loyal to the Comintern” (Wilson
1998, 285–286, 290). It is true that, due to Yamakawa’s departure and the centralization of
the Comintern, the critical impulse within Japanese Communism diminished. However, I
want to emphasize that the JCP’s increasing loyalty to the Comintern was seriously affected
by the escalating imperialist actions of the Japanese government in China. The subsequent
intense pressure on the leftist opposition at home by the police and the government, the
proliferation of radical and conservative right-wing organizations, and the changing
economic and political structures at home dictated by the demands of Japan’s intervention in
China made it obvious to the JCP that the futures of China and Japan had become
Starting in 1927, the JCP adopted initiatives aimed at opposing the dispatch of troops
to China. It published handbills and pamphlets and sponsored antiwar meetings. One of its
most visible successes was the creation of the League against Intervention in China (Taishi
hikanshō undō) in April 1927. The league was officially formed by three legal proletarian
parties: Shakai Minshū tō (the Social Democratic Party), Nihon rōnō tō (the Japan Labor-
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Farmer Party), and Rōdō nōmin tō (the Worker-Farmer Party). All three parties had ties to the
illegal JCP. The league organized a commission to investigate Japanese military actions in
China. Its twelve members were, however, arrested in Fukuoka en route to Shanghai in
August 1927.
Figure 5. Women distributing the Communist newspaper Musansha shinbun on the streets of
Osaka, January 9, 1926. Source: Nihon Kindaishi Kenkyūkai (1964, 13:63).
The Japanese League against Intervention in China also had international ties. In
February 1927, the First Congress against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism was
convened in Brussels, Belgium, by various anti-colonial activists with the support of the
Comintern, marking the official establishment of the League against Imperialism and for
National Independence (LAI). One Japanese and four Korean delegates attended the
Congress. Three delegates from Japan attended the first general council meeting of the LAI in
December 1927: Yosano Yuzuru (Japan Labor-Farmer Party), Senda Koreya (Worker-Farmer
Party), and Katayama Sen (JCP). Inspired by the international network, in 1927–1928 the
League against Intervention in China merged into the League against the War (Hansen
Dōmei), later renamed the League against Imperialism (known in Japanese as Kokusai Hantei
Dōmei), which operated as an official branch of the LAI. The guiding principles of the
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League against Imperialism were to oppose Japanese imperialism, endorse colonial
independence movements, and protect Soviet Russia. In particular, the league focused on
supporting independence movements in Korea, Taiwan, and China. By the fall of 1931, the
league had twelve hundred active members in Tokyo, in addition to several hundred members
in other cities, and was justifiably listed by the Japanese government as “Communist-
dominated” and “subversive” (Tanaka 1994).
The Chinese Revolution also caused mass conversion to Communism among the
Japanese students of the Tōa Dōbun Academy, a Japanese university in Shanghai and one of
the main suppliers of future colonial administrators and staff members of the South
Manchurian Railway. By the late 1930s, Tōa Dōbun had become a major recruiting ground
for Japanese members of the Chinese Communist Youth League; they were also members of
the Japanese Communist Youth League and acted as conduits between the two organizations
for coordinated activities. Japanese students of Tōa Dōbun participated in the creation of the
Japan-China Struggle League (Nisshi Tōsō Dōmei) in December 1930, which also included
Chinese, Koreans, and Europeans. The Japan-China Struggle League was short lived, but its
members went on to become prominent Communists in China and Japan. Needless to say, it
was one of the organizations that physically brought together Chinese and Japanese leftists
(Johnson 1990, 55–59). On the other hand, the Chinese Revolution, and the place of Japanese
imperialism in it, also boosted interest among Japanese youth in Communism and Marxism in
the metropole.
The JCP’s internationalist activities were cut short by mass arrests of Communists in
order to quell opposition to the army’s actions in China. In March 1928, 1,500 people—JCP
members and Communist sympathizers—were arrested and 450 were indicted. Sano Manabu
escaped to Shanghai but was captured and deported to Japan in August 1929. In 1932–1933,
many Korean members who occupied executive posts in the League against Imperialism in
Japan were arrested, and by 1935 the league was nearly defunct (Yoshida 2017, 19–20). The
JCP went deep underground; its top leaders found themselves either in prison or in exile in
Russia and China. The JCP’s activities since the late 1920s make it obvious that the Chinese
Revolution in particular, and the anti-imperialist struggle in general, had become the main
purpose of Japanese Communism.
Being a Communist in Japan in the 1930s was different than being a Communist in
the early 1920s. The motives for joining and the goals of the struggle were distinct. While the
early JCP fought to expand the political and social rights of the Japanese people, Japanese
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Communists of the 1930s set their sights on curbing Japanese imperialism abroad. The
Chinese Revolution of 1924–1927 was a struggle that many people, including Westerners and
Chinese nationalists, interpreted primarily in economic, Marxist-derived terms. Thus, in order
to understand the Chinese Revolution, it was considered proper to also study Marxism and
the pronouncements of the Comintern (which had guided the CCP into an alliance with the
Guomindang). To leftist revolutionaries, idealists, and intellectuals everywhere, the Chinese
Revolution of the late twenties was the single greatest movement of the Comintern period
until the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939). The JCP itself became committed to the Comintern
more than ever, as its members came to believe that only the Comintern could provide a
framework for international cooperation and struggle.
Tatiana Linkhoeva is assistant professor of Japanese History at New York University.
1 Out of 125,000 soldiers belonging to armies from ten countries, Japanese forces
constituted 72,000 troops (one-third of all of Japan’s active service troops). In
addition, Japan deployed 60,000 troops to northern Manchuria. See, in Japanese,
Hosoya (1955) and Hara (1989); in English, Morley (1958).
2 “The Interrelation between the National Revolutionary Movement and the
Revolutionary Proletarian Movement” (Safarov’s statement at the Tenth Session of
the Congress of the Toilers of the Far East on January 27, 1922) (Joukoff Eudin and
North 1957, 229).
3 In Japanese the literature is extensive, but for some classic studies see Iwamura
(1977) and Inumaru (1982; 1993).
4 Exceptions are Harry Harootunian’s Overcome by Modernity (2002) and the recent
volume edited by Joyce C. H. Liu and Viren Murthy (2017).
5 “Draft Platform of the Japanese Communist Party, November 1922” (Beckmann and
Okubo 1969, 279).
6 For the whole English text of the 1922 draft platform, see Beckmann and Okubo
(1969, 279–282).
7 “The Program of the Communist Party of Japan(Katō 1998, 45). See also Doc. 284
(Adibekov and Wada 2001). The document was signed by the top leaders of the
Japanese socialist movement, Arahata Kanson and Sakai Toshihiko, but the historian
Katō Tetsurō has persuasively argued that the draft was written by Yamakawa.
8 “Program of the JCP,” Doc. 284 (Adibekov and Wada 2001, 282–285).
9 In the same fashion, Yamakawa called on the outcasts of the anarchist-leaning
Suiheisha (Outcast) movement to abandon their “instinctive” approach and create
instead a centralized organization (Yamakawa [1924] 1967f, 5:453–456).
10 See Yamakawa’s first publication on China, “Shō Kaiseki wa fukkatsu suru ka?”
[Shall Chiang Kai-shek come back?] (1927).
11 Doc. 303 (Adibekov and Wada 2001).
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12 The authors of the Shanghai Theses were Grigory Voitinsky, Sanō Manabu, and other
members of the Japanese Communist Bureau in Vladivostok (Doc. 303 in Adibekov
and Wada 2001). Katō Tetsurō argues that the Japanese were not included in the
writing of the Theses, and that it was solely authored by Voitinsky. For the text, see
Beckmann and Okubo (1969, 84).
13 Doc. 321, 379, note 2 (Adibekov and Wada 2001).
14 Letter from the Japanese Communists to N. I. Bukharin. Moscow, June 10, 1927.
Doc. 333 (Adibekov and Wada 2001).
15 The Theses were written in Russian and published on August 19, 1927, in Pravda, the
official newspaper of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Japanese
translation of the full text appeared in February 1928 in the journal Social Thought
(Shakai shisō). See Doc. 338 (Adibekov and Wada 2001, 450–461). The Theses were
published in English in a faulty translation in International Press Correspondence
(no. 2, 1928). For the full text in English, see Beckmann and Okubo (1969, 119–125).
16 “Bukharin’s report at the meeting of the Presidium of the ECCI on the Japan
Question,” Moscow, July 15, 1927. The text is in German. Doc. 335 (Adibekov and
Wada 2001, 436–448).
17 Doc. 335 (Adibekov and Wada 2001, 436–448).
18 Beckmann and Okubo (1969, 166–167).!
19 For the whole text of the resolution (original in Russian), see Adibekov and Wada
(2001, 471–479).
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Full-text available
Wacana anti imperialisme menjadi salah satu tema yang diangkat dalam karya sastra oleh sastrawan yang berafiliasi dengan kesusastraan proletar di Jepang, termasuk Kobayashi Takiji. Di dalam cerpen Kyuuchou no Negai, disajikan narasi sebagai bentuk pandangan dunia pengarang dari Kobayashi Takiji terkait dengan wacana anti imperialisme. Guna mengkaji wacana anti imperialisme dalam cerpen Kyuuchou no Negai pada tahap pengumpulan data diterapkan metode kajian pustaka, pada tahap analisis data diterapkan metode analisis isi, dan pada tahap penyajian hasil analisis data diterapkan metode informal. Hasil analisis menunjukan bahwa ideologi anti imperialisme disajikan dalam wacana 1) biaya perang yang tinggi menciptakan kemelaratan bagi masyarakat Jepang; 2) masyarakat dituntut mendukung imperialisme sebagai bentuk pengabdian kepada masyarakat; 3) imperialisme bertentangan dengan nilai kemanusian; dan 4) imperialisme Jepang dapat memicu revolusi di dalam negeri.
Official Chinese narratives recounting the rise of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) tend to minimize the movement's international associations. Conducting careful readings and translations of recently released documents in Russian, Japanese, and Chinese, this book builds a portrait of the party's multifaceted character, revealing the provocative influences that shaped the movement and the ideologies of its competitors. The book begins the story in 1919 with Chinese intellectuals who wrote extensively under pen names and, in fact, plagiarized or translated many iconic texts of early Chinese Marxism. Chinese Marxists initially drew intellectual sustenance from their Japanese counterparts, until Japan clamped down on leftist activities. The Chinese then turned to American and British sources. The book traces these networks through an exhaustive survey of journals, newspapers, and other intellectual and popular publications. It reports on numerous early meetings involving a range of groups, only some of which were later funneled into CCP membership, and it follows the developments at Soviet Russian gatherings attended by a number of Chinese representatives who claimed to speak for a nascent CCP. Concluding in 1922, one year after the party's official founding, the book clarifies a traditionally opaque period in Chinese history and sheds new light on the subsequent behavior and attitude of the party.
In the decades between the two World Wars, Japan made a dramatic entry into the modern age, expanding its capital industries and urbanizing so quickly as to rival many long-standing Western industrial societies. How the Japanese made sense of the sudden transformation and the subsequent rise of mass culture is the focus of Harry Harootunian's fascinating inquiry into the problems of modernity. Here he examines the work of a generation of Japanese intellectuals who, like their European counterparts, saw modernity as a spectacle of ceaseless change that uprooted the dominant historical culture from its fixed values and substituted a culture based on fantasy and desire. Harootunian not only explains why the Japanese valued philosophical understandings of these events, often over sociological or empirical explanations, but also locates Japan's experience of modernity within a larger global process marked by both modernism and fascism. What caught the attention of Japanese thinkers was how the production of desire actually threatened historical culture. These intellectuals sought to "overcome" the materialism and consumerism associated with the West, particularly the United States. They proposed versions of a modernity rooted in cultural authenticity and aimed at infusing meaning into everyday life, whether through art, memory, or community. Harootunian traces these ideas in the works of Yanagita Kunio, Tosaka Jun, Gonda Yasunosuke, and Kon Wajiro, among others, and relates their arguments to those of such European writers as George Simmel, Siegfried Kracauer, Walter Benjamin, and Georges Bataille. Harootunian shows that Japanese and European intellectuals shared many of the same concerns, and also stresses that neither Japan's involvement with fascism nor its late entry into the capitalist, industrial scene should cause historians to view its experience of modernity as an oddity. The author argues that strains of fascism ran throughout most every country in Europe and in many ways resulted from modernizing trends in general. This book, written by a leading scholar of modern Japan, amounts to a major reinterpretation of the nature of Japan's modernity.
VKP (b), Komintern i Yaponiya [All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik), the Comintern, and Japan
  • G Adibekov
  • Wada Haruki
Adibekov, G., and Wada Haruki, eds. 2001. VKP (b), Komintern i Yaponiya [All-Union Communist Party (bolshevik), the Comintern, and Japan]. Moscow: Rosspen.