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JAPAN'S ratification of the London Naval Treaty shows not only that the majority of the Japanese people are thinking along the same lines as the peoples of England and America, but also that her vital interests are forcing her to adopt a definite policy in regard to world problems. Why was limitation of armament so popular in Japan, and why did her newly emancipated democracy support so strongly the policy of concert with England and America? The reasons are political, economic and intellectual. I propose to take up briefly these three phases of Japanese national life and then to consider how far and how long Japanese democracy will follow this line of foreign policy. These are questions of international interest, for they have a direct bearing upon the future peace of the Western Pacific and eventually of the whole world.
Politically, Japan can be said to be entering upon a second period of modernization. The constitution of 1889 did not have such far-reaching effects as were expected, owing to the absence of a strong, awakened democracy to support the spokesmen of the masses, and also owing to the efficiency and integrity of the bureaucratic rulers of those days. Party government did not make much headway in the first period of constitutional government. But with the promulgation of the universal manhood suffrage law in April 1925, Japan entered upon the second period of her political life. The voting population jumped from three to thirteen millions. The sheer increase in the number of voters, however, was not so important as the change that had come over the economic fabric of the nation through its industrial revolution and the new intellectual currents that had followed closely on industrialization and the introduction of Occidental thought.
When the first general election under the new law was held, in February 1928, the whole nation was naturally agog with excitement. The election resulted in a stalemate between the two major parties and, contrary to expectations, very little new blood was infused into the legislature. The people's major interest was centered upon the first appearance of labor representatives in the political arena. But as there were only eight laborites, they were too small a contingent to make a profound impression. The election had some bright aspects, such as the greater freedom of speech, the increased influence of the press, and the large number of votes cast -- 81 percent of the total voting population. However, the nation as a whole was disappointed, for it had expected that the new voters would work a miracle and break the strength of the old machine politics. The result was just the reverse. The party machines succeeded in electing a greater percentage of former members than in previous elections. Contrary to the hopes of the enthusiasts, election expenses, the curse of Japanese politics, showed an unmistakable increase. There is no way of obtaining accurate figures, but it is safe to say that the average cost per member was around 50,000 yen (or $25,000). Undeniably, too, some portion of this was spent in buying votes. Another disappointment was that universal suffrage, instead of decreasing the average age of the members, increased it. The record of the House was not a happy one, and popular feeling turned against it as well as against the Tanaka Cabinet.
Therefore, when the present Hamaguchi Cabinet came into existence on July 2, 1928, supported by the second strongest party in the House, the Minseito, there arose at once a demand for a new general election. It came in February 1930, and resulted in a complete victory of Minseito, which obtained 272 members out of the total of 466 and outdistanced the party of Baron Tanaka, the Seiyukai, by 98. The previous election had given Seiyukai 218 seats and the opposition party (Minseito) 216, leaving the balance of power with the small blocs outside of the two major parties. In a way the election of 1930 meant a repudiation of the election of 1928.
The outstanding feature of the 1930 election seems to me the manifestation of Japan's political-mindedness. After two years of experiment the people realized that without a substantial majority behind it no party cabinet can function well, and so it wanted to give the Hamaguchi Cabinet a safe working majority. Issues of policies there were, but they did not figure so largely in the mind of the people as its desire to give a lesson to Seiyukai by a great defeat. In order to attain this end, it had to give the government party a substantial majority and not split the political power by giving votes to labor candidates or independents. Accordingly, not only Seiyukai but labor candidates as well as independents lost heavily. Labor dropped from eight to five, and the independents from seventeen to six. Mr. Muto's Business Men's Party returned six and the Reform Party three.
Some outsiders concluded from this that Japan had reverted to the two-party system of government. But this is too sweeping a statement and needs a careful examination of facts, which I propose to undertake at the end of this article. The second general election was a more wholesome one than the first, and we notice many signs of progress on the part of the new democracy of Japan. There was a great deal more freedom of speech. The election issues were clearer than before. People knew that their votes would directly and immediately affect the life of the cabinet, because it was quite obvious that Premier Hamaguchi would resign if he did not get the people's mandate. The actual amount of votes cast increased from 81 to 84 percent of the electorate.
There is one peculiar feature in Japanese elections and politics in general: the influence of the press. Very few people outside of Japan realize the unique position of the Japanese press. Some of the papers have enormous circulations; for example, there are two papers in Osaka whose daily circulation is around one and a half millions each, and there are a number of dailies in Tokyo with circulations between half a million and a million. And these are all independent newspapers. They derive the major portion of their revenue not from advertisements but from the sale of papers. Therefore they have to cater to the interest of the subscribers, who are the common people. Any paper that had party affiliations or was a government organ always has lost its circulation. Sheer business needs, therefore, have made the leading Japanese papers independent of all political and economic connections. They are very free in their criticisms. Then, again, there is another Japanese trait: our love of unity, which makes us look up to leadership and makes the people willing to follow leaders. This leadership is gradually passing to the press. It was plain in the election of 1928, and was truly remarkable in 1930. The popularity of the present cabinet with the press was one of the chief reasons for its phenomenal victory this year.
However, there were some disappointments in this election. One was a further increase of election expenses. Another was a further increase of the age of the members returned.
In 1930 Minseito made a masterly bid for the conservative, liberal and moderate radical votes, and succeeded. It skilfully juggled up a comprehensive platform to include liberal policies as well as some new-fangled radical planks. It made an appeal to liberals who previously had supported the independents, as well as to moderate radicals who would support social democrats, the right wing of labor. The united press support completed the sweeping victory. Hence the cabinet is in a very strong position, with the people, the press and the majority party behind it. It was with the support of these three elements that the cabinet fought the Privy Council, the naval general staff and Seiyukai in the matter of the ratification of the London Naval Treaty.
But how long will these conditions last? For an answer we must turn to a more basic discussion of the economic life of the Japanese nation and its intellectual currents.
The forces that ushered in political democracy in Japan were twofold, economic and intellectual. The downfall of the Tokugawa Shogunate in 1867 had three causes: (1) The inefficiency of the Shogunate itself, which was built upon a strict hereditary system and excluded abler men from the seats of power in government; this resulted in an utter failure to promote the economic welfare of the people and called forth the revolt of young men who belonged to the lowest stratum of the Samurai class and were excluded from power. (2) The growth of a new economic system based on nation-wide commerce, challenging the old economic system of feudalism based on the agriculture of self-supporting villages. (3) The impact of the capitalistic nations of the West. Therefore, when the new Meiji government was organized by these young enthusiasts, it had to face an acute economic situation. It had to organize a national system of economy in place of a village system and prepare the nation for an international economic competition. It was a sudden contact of an agricultural nation, which had lived a self-contained and self-contented life of seclusion for over two centuries, with the highly industrialized nations of the world. The only way the country could be saved was to make it, too, go through an industrial revolution. So almost frantically the young leaders plunged into the new venture of industrializing the country. They imported new machines from the West, created factories of all kinds, educated the people in the new machine arts and encouraged all branches of industry. It was a paternalistic industrial revolution. It was the rear guard of feudalism serving as the vanguard of industrialism. It arose, not from the people, as in the West, but from the top. Begun in the early 'seventies, the industrial revolution of Japan was completed by the end of the nineteenth century. The agricultural Japan of 1868 with an annual export of fifteen million yen, 95 percent of it raw materials and silk, emerged in 1900 as an industrial nation with an export of over two hundred million yen. The export of raw materials fell in these years from 54 percent to 23 percent, and that of manufactured goods rose from ½ percent to 18 percent.
Thus the years that followed the Russo-Japanese War of 1904--5 found Japan a very prosperous industrial nation, flushed with successes in the political, economic and military fields. This was the heyday of modern Japan. The economic prosperity and political expansion quickened the intellectual blood of the nation and, as in England in the days of Queen Elizabeth, art and literature began to bloom in all their glory. In the number of great poets, novelists, painters and men of letters, no previous era in the history of Japan was richer. The compulsory system of education diminished illiteracy to less than 5 percent of the population and created a great market for imaginative literature and science.
The rapid progress of the industrial revolution in Japan may be attributed to: (1) Facilities for importing scientific knowledge and machines from the West. (2) The existence of undeveloped natural resources at home. (3) Low wages. (4) Propinquity to the vast markets of China, the South Seas and India, which had no industries of their own. The industrial prosperity and military success, which synchronized with the ascendency of the bureaucratic system of government, were due to the endeavors of bureaucratic rulers. The idea of party government could not make much progress in those days, for the people liked the efficiency and integrity of the bureaucratic rulers who gave economic prosperity at home and political security abroad.
However, when the twentieth century rolled into its second decade, symptoms of a great change began to loom on the horizon. One was the rising power of the moneyed class, bankers and industrialists. Symptoms of the same old fight of bourgeoisie with feudalism began to appear. The weapons in the hands of the bourgeoisie were money and political parties. Engaged in ambitious ventures on the Asiatic continent, the bureaucratic rulers were very often in need of money. They had to go for this to the industrial and banking world, which was not slow to avail itself of the situation and push its way forward. After the Russo-Japanese War the political prestige and social position of the captains of industry and financial magnates began to rise very fast. The boom of the World War bestowed upon them unmistakable power in the public affairs of the country. Then a new affiliation began to take form between the moneyed class and the political parties. Or it can be said that the allegiance of money was gradually turned from bureaucratic rulers to party politicians. The power of political parties kept on increasing, and even the iron hand of the late Prince Yamagata, the head of Genro, with all his aversion for the political party, could not stem the tide. The Terauchi Cabinet of 1916--18 was perhaps the last stand of the bureaucracy of Japan, and when it was succeeded by Hara's Seiyukai Cabinet the glorious days of bureaucracy were gone from Japan, never to return.
Another cause that accelerated the rising power of political parties in Japan was the growing influence of the press. With the spread of education and the arrival of prosperous and independent middle and labor classes during the business prosperity of the World War, papers began to improve their financial positions and increase their power. In the fight between the bureaucracy and party government, the weight of the press was thrown on the side of the latter. Hara's Seiyukai Cabinet (later under Takahashi) was followed in 1922 by three short-lived cabinets of non-party complexion. When, therefore, Count Kato's Coalition Cabinet of three political parties was organized in 1924, it confirmed the notion conceived at the time of the Hara Cabinet that party government had arrived in Japan to stay. Party leaders have been heading cabinets ever since and apparently they are going to continue to do so. The election of 1930 was particularly convincing in this respect and the alliance of the political party, the moneyed class and the press seems to be firmly in the saddle.
One of the very significant features in Japan at present is the precipitate entrance of the abler brains, which used to serve bureaucracy, into the political parties. The whole country is more and more divided along party lines. It was this new régime that changed the election law and invited the ever-growing forces of the middle and labor classes to its side in the final struggle with bureaucracy. No wonder that the House of Peers, the stronghold of bureaucracy, held out to the last moment against the passing of the new election law. The party leaders began to share honors with business men and to show greater consideration to newspaper men. It was this new régime that accepted the Versailles Treaty, the Washington agreements and the London Naval Treaty, lessening the burden of the people by cutting down military expenses. Intent less on political designs and more on the expansion of trade, it changed its policies toward China. In the days of imperialism, at the time she entered world politics late in the nineteenth century, Japan tried to play the game in the imperialistic spirit. Similarly, in the changed world where trade and international banking are ascendent, she is now trying to play the new rôle. Is it the same old apish mimicry of a soulless Japan, or is it the decision of wise statesmanship to accept the reality of things ungrudgingly and to try to protect and promote the interest and heritage of the Japanese people in harmony with the will of the majority of humanity?
There were and still are people in Japan who are fighting a rear-guard action against the so-called undoing of the work of the glorious leaders of the Restoration. But they are borne away in the new tide of surging democracy whose interests and desires are fast changing. But does this mean that Japanese politics has found a new equilibrium of forces to continue its path of undisturbed progress? Does it mean, again, that party government as it exists at the moment will probably satisfy the new desires and new ambitions of the emancipated millions? In short, is party government to stay in Japan in its present form?
Here we enter upon the discussion of the third phase of the country's national life.
There are two outstanding issues now before the nation -- the business depression and its attendant unemployment. The solution of these, I think, is the test by which the party politicians newly installed in power will stand or fall. Will they succeed as did their predecessors, the bureaucrats, in giving the people two things it needed, economic prosperity and political integrity? The future of party government in Japan will be decided as they succeed or fail. For the new democracy is restive. Under the unruffled surface flows a social current of unknown designs and unmeasured strength with ever-increasing speed and volume.
Critics may say that depression and unemployment are world phenomena and are not peculiar to Japan. That is true. However, there are peculiar situations that brought about these things in Japan and there are also peculiar reactions of the Japanese people to these universal phenomena. In the first place, the depression has been chronic in Japan since the business panic in the spring of 1920. In the second place, the unemployment is more due to the increase in population than to the sudden disorganization of business. In the third place, the unemployment hit the educated people especially hard and is augmenting radicalism in intellectual circles.
When the World War ended, the temporary business prosperity of Japan came to a sudden end. People thought, at first, that it was one of the ordinary economic cycles of prosperity and depression. But as good times did not return they began to realize that the roots of the depression were deep in the economic structure of the country itself.
In the first place, the conditions that had made the Japanese industrial revolution smooth and easy in the 'eighties and 'nineties were gone. The natural resources had all been used up. There was a limit to the importation and imitation of foreign machines. The rise of industries brought in its train the rise of wages and deprived Japan of her best condition for competing with Western nations. In the second place, the necessity of maintaining a large army and navy began to be a handicap to the economic progress of the country. In the third place, the rise of new industries on the continent of Asia began to cut into Japanese trade with China very seriously. The only alternative for a nation in such a situation lay in developing different kinds of industries, needing more skill and organization. This would bring Japan at once in direct competition with the more industrialized Western nations. And in this she was faced by fundamental difficulties because it touched the tap-root of economic imperialism and economic nationalism of the present-day world.
Japan lacked raw materials to create new industries that were immune from Chinese competition. Even if she had to purchase these raw materials from foreign countries, how could she find markets for the products in countries which raise their tariff walls every year? And who can tell that China will not raise her tariff wall now that she has tariff autonomy?
At this very moment another danger beset Japan -- the rise in the rate of increase in her population. In 1918 it was 6 per 1000, in 1919 it rose to 10, in 1920 to 12, in 1921 to 13.5 and in 1925 almost reached 16. It has come down ever since, but the annual increase is over eight hundred thousand and, taking 12 as an average, the population will exceed the hundred million mark in 1965. The area of Japan proper is smaller than that of California, and only 15 percent of the land is arable. Gradually birth control will meet the situation, but it cannot solve the immediate problem.
Thus Japan was caught unawares within three unsurmountable walls: the tariff wall, the emigration wall and the peace wall. The first wall excludes Japan's manufactured goods from other countries. The second cuts off the migration of her people. And the third prohibits the readjustment of the unequal distribution of territories among nations with different density of population.
To far-seeing Japanese the precarious situation of their own country is becoming clearer every day. The spread of education is making people more ambitious to raise their standard of living and the political emancipation is making them articulate. The pinch is felt by the whole nation, but the burden of life is falling heaviest on two classes of people: the farmers and the middle class. The limitation of the arable land makes the farmer's remuneration so meagre that the average income of a Japanese farmer for a day is only 97 sen (48 cents). As for the middle class, only a very small proportion of the college graduates can get forty dollars a month nowadays. Japan's strength has lain in the sturdy character of the farmers and the intelligence of the middle class. The present economic predicament of these classes will inevitably react on their votes at future elections.
In the election of 1930 these people voted mainly for Minseito in the hope that it would relieve the burden of their life by its liberal and progressive policies. But can Minseito live up to its election pledges? How can it? Can a party which was supported by contributions from big business and finance dare to touch seriously the grave problem of the distribution of wealth by taxation or regulation? The opposition party, Seiyukai, is attacking Minseito vigorously for its failure to alleviate the sufferings of the masses by a courageous handling of the situation. But can Seiyukai touch the economic structure of a modern industrial nation without destroying the foundation on which the party stands?
Is it after all the wisdom or stupidity of this or that individual public servant, or does the cause of all evils lie much deeper, in the system itself? Here lies a serious challenge to the present rulers of Japan. It must be giving them a number of sleepless nights. Look at the intellectual currents among some industrial workers, farmers, and young college graduates. Through the press, periodicals and books, as well as from platforms, they have been fed with biting criticisms of the economic system of modern capitalism. Are there many countries in the world where two complete translations of Marx's "Capital" are selling by hundreds of thousands of copies? Are there many countries where young newspaper reporters have such freedom to write sympathetically about radical labor movements? Are there many countries where novels and plays are so profoundly influenced by the new school of proletarian writers? Those who do not read the Japanese language cannot appreciate the place that the modern literature of Japan occupies in her national life. The novelists, poets and playwrights are the people who think ahead of their times, and by their pens the future destiny of a nation is directed. And some of them certainly are thinking in a new mood. In spite of rigorous suppression of the so-called "dangerous thoughts," these new leaders are being read and heard by hundreds of thousands of subtle and sensitive minds. In 1921 I asked a group of some fifty students of the Tokyo Imperial University in what foreign literature they were most keenly interested. None of them said English or American; all were for Continental literature, and over 90 percent for Russian. I then asked them in what foreign country they were most interested, and over 50 percent said Germany, because, they explained, it was there that an educated people were experimenting with socialism. These undercurrents do not appear yet on the surface, simply because these boys and girls are all young, and in a country where age is revered it takes time for a new element to become an actual force in politics. Also, these radical intellectual ideas could not influence the majority of the mature minds, who have not yet lost confidence in the ability of the present rulers and still think that the progress of Japan can best be secured by the normal process of constitutional government along liberal lines. And this was ably capitalized by Minseito in the last election.
However, there is one concrete difficulty of a serious nature. That is the undeniable tendency to concentrate wealth in a comparatively few hands. A parallel development is the gradual defeat of the middle class. On the one hand, 48 percent of all the bank deposits, trust company deposits and reserve funds of insurance companies, totaling 11,743,570,000 yen, is possessed by six great financial concerns, Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Yasuda, Kawasaki and the First Bank; on the other, the status of the middle class is being depressed to that of the labor class, which is under socialistic leaders. The question is, how long can the party politicians who wrested power from the bureaucrats retain it. It all depends upon whether or not they can maintain prosperity as the bureaucrats did. If they cannot, then a new alignment of social forces will gradually work itself out and the present majority of Minseito will vanish into thin air. We thus cannot accept the results of the election of 1930 as a substantial and final verdict of the people for the two-party system of government.
Now let us briefly summarize the political situation of Japan and cast a glance into the future.
During the first fifty years of political life in modern Japan, the people supported bureaucratic rulers because they gave them economic prosperity and political independence, by promoting a paternalistic industrial revolution at home and following vigorous foreign policies abroad. But the industrial revolution was their ultimate undoing. The newly arisen industrialists and financiers threw their weight on the side of political parties and the people demanded through the press a greater share in government and less burden from armaments. This resulted in the establishment of party government on the model of the liberal countries of the West. And Japan's foreign policies began to approach those of England and America, as the interests as well as the sympathies of these three nations became closer. But the economic situation of Japan was becoming so difficult for the common people that radicalism began to become a power in the intellectual field. Radicalism could not make any headway in the election of 1930 because people pinned such hope on Minseito's liberalism. Now the test is coming not only to Minseito but to all the political parties. Can they continue to give prosperity to the people through the policies of liberalism?
Constitutional government along liberal lines can function only when it is supported by an economically independent middle class and moderate labor. But in a country where the standards of the middle class are fast being pressed down to those of labor the gospel of "sweetness and light" will scarcely make a strong appeal. If the rescue does not come in time the middle class votes will gradually turn away from the liberal and conservative parties and go over to socialistic labor. And how can the rescue come? To my mind it will come only through one of two alternative developments. One is the gradual toning down of economic imperialism and economic nationalism at present practiced by the leading nations of the world and the adoption of more liberal policies by these countries in tariff and emigration matters. If this is not yet possible in the world as it is, then the alternative will be the serious consideration by the leading Powers of the world of a peaceful readjustment of territories so that nations with orderly governments and a high state of civilization can be given a chance to pursue the course of normal development along liberal lines. If these two alternate courses do not get serious consideration from nations with greater territories and proportionately small populations, then the motives of their so-called peace movement will be seriously questioned by the economically harassed nations and there will gradually be created in these countries a psychology which will challenge the present status quo of the world. In other words, the world will gradually be split into two camps of "haves" and "have-nots," one tending to be highly capitalistic and the other more and more socialistic.
It will take a long time for Japan to turn to a new orientation of policies, as the Japanese by nature and tradition are very cautious and moderate in the matter of government and diplomacy. The present position she enjoys in the world is the result of hard and painstaking endeavors. She will not risk losing it in exchange for fine theories and political and economic logic. In times of crisis it has always been our innate love of solidarity that has saved the situation, and we have not yet lost that trait. If a transformation ever comes over Japan, it will come not in a breakdown of the political and economic system, but in a complete change of national policies accepted by the majority of the people. Japan as a nation realizes her responsibility as a stabilizing factor in the Western Pacific and will try to continue her present policy of coördination with the liberal nations of the West. But the economic and psychological development of her national life has been such that she might be forced to evolve new policies, both internally and internationally, if the present liberal policies are found inadequate to solve her vital problems.