Against Japanism presents Part 2 of an interview with Dr. Gavin Walker about the history of Marxism in Japan, focusing on the postwar period starting in the late 1940s.
First, we discuss the reason behind the Japanese Communist Party’s re-emergence as a mass party in the immediate postwar period. As mentioned in Part 1, in the 1920s and 30s, the JCP was a member of the Communist International or the Comintern (also known as the Third International) headquartered in the Soviet Union. Throughout its existence, members of the Comintern, who were representatives from communist parties from around the world, debated the meaning of fascism and how communists should respond to this rising far right movement.
As capitalism went into a series of crises during this period, they initially adapted a position that capitalism was in its final days and revolution was inevitable, and saw reformist social democracy as the primary enemy of the working class blocking the path to proletarian revolution. This was called the thesis on social fascism, equating social democracy and fascism as two sides of the same coin. However, with the rise of the Nazi Party to power and the subsequent anti-communist repression in Germany, the Comintern shifted its anti-fascist strategy to seeking broad based alliance with non-communist forces. This period of the Comintern’s existence is known as the Popular Front period.
While this debate was also taking place in Japan, it was cut short due to the intense state repression culminating in the Com Academy Incident of 1936 and the Popular Front Incident of 1937 (The former was a mass arrest of the Koza-ha Marxists and the latter the Rono-ha despite its renunciation of the Comintern and underground organizing). It was not until the 1945-1947 when the Japanese left experienced a brief moment of relative freedom under the US-led Allied Occupation that the JCP was really able to put the Popular Front policy into practice in the form of “democratic people’s front” (which was however largely rejected by its rival Socialist Party of Japan controlled by right wing social democrats).
Seeing the resurgence of militant labour movement in Japan and confronted with the spectre of communism in Asia, the US reversed its previous de-fascisization policy to turn Japan into a bastion of anti-communism. In doing so, they severely restricted civil liberties and workers’ rights on the pretext that social movements and labour unions are a hotbed of communist organizing, while releasing the wartime fascist leaders from prison and restoring them to power. Once again driven underground, the JCP turned to armed struggle in 1951.
We discuss how the Chinese Revolution and Maoism influenced the JCP of this period and the Japanese New Left, and how the JCP’s abandonment of armed struggle in 1955 and subsequent turn to reformism shaped the political landscape of the 1960s and 70s. We also discuss how the postwar Japanese left grappled with the questions of nationalism and internationalism. Finally, we conclude our interview by discussing how we can study and write history differently, not to idealize or trivialize the past, but to critique the present in the service of class struggle and revolution.
Intro Music: Cielo by Huma-