Revolution and Intervention
Workers, prepare for the last assault!
Slaves, unbend your knees and spines!
Proletarian army, rise in force!
Long live the revolution
with speedy victory,
The greatest and most just of all the wars
Ever fought in history!
—Vladimir Mayakovsky, Vladimir Ilich Lenin, 1924
On March 18, 1917, the leader of the majority Seiyūkai party and future prime minister Hara Takashi (1856–1921) wrote in his diary, “a revolution has erupted in Russia, and the tsar has abdicated. The situation in Russia is strange. Just as [we saw] in the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War, a revolution has once again come and constitutional politics are taking hold in Russia. This time, the abdication of the tsar is truly a great political change. There are complicated reasons for this change, but it seems to emanate from the rise of the pro-German [antiwar, pacifist] group.”1 Little did Hara know that the February Revolution anticipated events that would drastically reshape the history of the world, including Japan, in the twentieth century. Hara Takashi’s remark reveals that the Japanese political elite saw similarities between the February uprising and the Russian Revolution of 1905, which forced the tsarist autocracy to pull out of the Russo-Japanese War, issue Russia’s first written constitution, and establish a parliament. While welcoming the prospect of Russia’s political modernization, Japan was concerned about whether Russia could continue to contribute to the ongoing Great War despite its escalating domestic chaos. At the same time, Japan came to be interested in exploring opportunities for expansion in northeast Asia as Russia’s power waned in that region. Between 1917 and 1922, the army and the Foreign Ministry formulated a plan for engaging with the Russian Revolution, which included the following objectives: eliminating Russian influence in East Asia, extending Japan’s own economic interests in China and the Russian eastern territories, and forestalling the spread of Bolshevism in colonial Korea and China.
On March 8 (February 23 according to the Julian calendar in force at the time), what came to be called the February Revolution broke out in the Russian capital of Petrograd.2 The insurrection was simultaneously a workers’ strike and a soldiers’ mutiny. The incompetent reaction of the authorities revealed the imperial state’s structural decay as well as the elite’s lack of commitment to the tsarist regime. World War I, in which the Russian army had already lost more than two million troops by 1917, had a direct and decisive impact on the Russian revolutionary events of that year and on the subsequent Civil War, which lasted from 1918 to 1922. During the Great War, workers’ strikes grew in frequency and militancy, while the influence of the radical revolutionary parties increased among workers and soldiers. During the February uprising, amid lawlessness and chaos, two centers of power emerged: the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies, and the Provisional Government. The radicalized majority of the Provisional Government was in favor of destroying the monarchical system and founding a republic in Russia. Deserted by his supporters, the last tsar of Russia, Nicholas II, abdicated on March 15. As there was no longer a unified tsarist authority to hold the empire and its people together, state power disintegrated. The February Revolution thus marked both the end of the old regime and the beginning of a new revolutionary process.3
In early 1917, Japan had looked anxiously at the events in Russia, contemplating the future of the war, the prospects of the Russian imperial state, and what Japan should make of the unfolding situation. Numerous reports, telegrams, and letters were exchanged between Japanese diplomatic and military officials in Russia and Japan. However, because the February Revolution occurred in the midst of the most destructive war in history, its foreign contemporaries, including the Japanese, perceived it as an episode in that war rather than an event in its own right. Initially, Japanese journalists, diplomats, and military staff reported from Russia that the February uprising was being carried out by patriotic masses who believed that only a total reorganization of the government would bring victory over Germany.4 The Allies and the Central Powers alike welcomed the February Revolution. The former (Japan, Britain, France, Italy, and the United States) hoped that the removal of an unpopular tsar would make it possible to reinvigorate Russia’s war effort; the latter (Germany, Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Empire, and Bulgaria) hoped it would take Russia out of the war altogether. The Japanese government, together with other West European governments, quickly acknowledged the Provisional Government because it promised to “sacredly observe the alliances that bind us to other powers.”5 The diplomatic archives reveal that the Japanese government had high hopes for the revolution, anticipating that it would encourage Russia to modernize and consequently make it better able to continue the war.6 Thus, both the political elite and the general public welcomed the February uprising and the end of imperial authority as a sign of Russia’s belated entry into the modern age, rather than the beginning of the end of the established international and domestic order.
Remarkably, in the midsummer of 1917, Japan’s political and military establishment expected that the Provisional Government would not hold on to power for long and that most probably the Bolshevik group would attempt a coup. The pro-German pacifist group Hara mentions in his March 1917 diary entry was none other than the Bolsheviks led by Vladimir Lenin, and thus the Bolshevik coup did not come as a total surprise to the Japanese establishment. The Japanese government and the army were well informed about the situation in Russia from the reports sent by Uchida Kōsai (1865–1936), the Japanese ambassador to Russia between December 1916 and February 1918, the consulates in Vladivostok and Harbin, and numerous intelligence officers operating inside Russia. Uchida Kōsai witnessed firsthand the revolutionary upheaval and supported the people’s cause against the corrupted tsarist government. In his reports to Foreign Minister Motono Ichirō (1862–1918), Uchida also expressed doubt about the authority of the Provisional Government and concern over the growing strength of the pacifist Soviet Council. Japanese military officers, although supportive of the February Revolution as an act of the “people” against the corrupt tsarist government, regarded militant pacifist workers as ideologically aligned with Germany. Ishizaka Zenjirō, army major general and military attaché at the Japanese embassy in Petrograd, expressed his enmity toward Lenin and the Bolshevik group for their alleged collaboration with Germany. Generally, diplomatic officials and the military were most concerned with the situation in the Russian army and were horrified at the demoralization suffered by Russian troops as a result of prolonged war and lack of patriotism. They were also concerned that arms might become widely available to the civilian population. And since the Russian people had a “very low level of literacy and were ignorant and volatile,” the only possible outcome, they warned, would be widespread violence.7
Concerned about the CER and the Trans-Siberian Railway, Foreign Minister Motono sent the president of the SMRC, Kawakami Toshitsune (1861–1935), to Russia, where he remained between June and October 1917. Kawakami delivered his report to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on November 15, 1917, eight days after the start of the October Revolution, but it was based on his observations in the preceding few months. In many ways, his report was an informative and accurate depiction of the social and political situation in Russia. Besides commending the February uprising as a democratic revolution against tsarist despotism, Kawakami informed the Japanese government of the wide spread of socialist ideas among the working class and the army. Kawakami pointed out that the army and railway workers were thoroughly radicalized and had been sabotaging the war effort. Reporting after the November 6 storming of the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg, Kawakami predicted that the militant Bolshevik party would most likely stay in power and conclude a separate peace with Germany. In Kawakami’s account, and in what became the general understanding of the 1917 events among the Japanese ruling elite, the popularity of socialist ideas in Russia was due to the Bolsheviks’ promise of peace with Germany, which exposed the “unpatriotism” and dangerous internationalism of socialist theory in general.8
What the Japanese army and Foreign Ministry were really interested in, however, was how to make best use of the opportunities that had opened up in northern Manchuria and the Russian Far East, as the Russian central authority in those places, remote from the capital, was rapidly disintegrating. As early as March 1917, Ishizaka advised the Tokyo government to seriously consider exploring new opportunities in Siberia and Harbin because the Russian influence was bound to wane there.9 However, throughout 1917 both Uchida and Ishizaka strongly advised against armed intervention, hoping to avoid a full-scale war.10 Kawakami, in contrast, recommended that the Japanese army enter the Russian Far East if and when Russia concluded a separate peace with Germany. Concerning Russian public opinion, he predicted that anti-German “patriotic” Russians would welcome the Japanese forces. As Russia was disintegrating, there was no state authority to prevent the country from plunging into the kind of chaos and disorder that could affect neighboring countries. Therefore, Kawakami insisted, in order to maintain peace in the region, Japan had every right to colonize the Russian Far East, Siberia, and northern Manchuria, or at least to acquire special rights in those territories.11 Kawakami’s ideas were echoed in the press. The newspaper Osaka Asahi shinbun speculated as early as the summer of 1917 that the Bolsheviks’ rise to power would lead to Russia becoming a sort of German colony, which would endanger Japan and its colonies and therefore justify the deployment of troops to the Russian Far East.12 It was not Uchida’s recommendations but Kawakami’s observations, derived from the vital interests of the SMR in northern Manchuria and the Russian Far East, that shaped subsequent attitudes and policies of the Foreign Ministry toward revolutionary Russia. Kawakami’s report, and the position of the Foreign Ministry in general, reveals that Japanese decision makers viewed Eastern Siberia and northern Manchuria as one territory, and that control over the railroads was a major factor in Japan’s foreign policy. Chinese claims to Manchuria were ignored, and it was assumed that territories formerly under Russian influence would and should be brought under Japanese influence.
Domestically, news of the February Revolution caused quite a stir, and the event was quickly linked by the Japanese liberal press to the country’s ongoing domestic problems. The February Revolution—an uprising of the people against a corrupt feudal government and its bureaucracy—coincided with the rise of agitation in Japan for the Taishō Revolution, the aim of which was to empower the people through universal suffrage. In 1917, Japan was in the middle of a general election campaign. The Kokumintō (National Party), organized by Inukai Tsuyoshi and Ozaki Yukio as an oppositional party to the landlord-backed Seiyūkai, advocated British-style parliamentary politics and attracted a variety of business owners and liberal supporters in big cities. However, in April 1917, Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake, former governor-general of Korea (1910–16) and a leading member of the Yamagata Aritomo clique, extended his support to the Seiyūkai, making it the majority party in the Diet. The general public was greatly dissatisfied with the election and questioned the entire Japanese constitutional order, in which the victory of the ruling party was predetermined. In the summer of 1917, students of the prestigious Waseda University occupied the campus to foment a “Waseda Revolution.” The strike committee compared the aging prime minister Terauchi to Alexander Kerensky, leader of the Provisional Government, and cried out for a Japanese Kerensky.13 For the Osaka Asahi and Tōyō Keizai Shinpō newspapers, the Terauchi government was an embodiment of all that was currently wrong in Japan. The liberal journalist Ishibashi Tanzan (1884–1973) wrote:
Count Terauchi, his cabinet, and their bureaucrats have violated the people’s right to be loyal to their sovereign and love their country [chūkun aikoku] by arbitrarily designating whatever does not suit them as lèse majesté and a crime… . They have perpetrated despotic oppression no better than that of the Russian bureaucracy. I speak freely from deep concern for the security of the throne and hope that the bureaucrats, especially Prince Yamagata and Count Terauchi, will reflect on this situation.14
The newspapers, however, did not extend their critique of the political system to the emperor or the institution of the monarchy. Instead, bureaucracy and oligarchy were blamed for usurping and abusing power. The liberal Yoshino Sakuzō, for example, argued that Japanese and British constitutional monarchies were modern, democratic, and progressive, whereas the Romanov and the Habsburg monarchies were feudal and backward and therefore destined to disappear. Even Ishibashi supported the Japanese monarchy as the country’s unifying principle because it proved to be very useful and effective during the Meiji Restoration. When a Russian in Saint Petersburg asked the journalist Ōgimachi Suetada if the Japanese also wanted to abolish their monarchy, Ōgimachi answered that the Romanov tsar and the Japanese emperor were completely different and no comparison between them was even possible.15 It is striking that no one in Japan, not even Japanese socialists, thought about comparing the ruling dynasties in Russia and Japan, let alone following the Russian example in overthrowing the monarchy. In this context, the February Revolution was often compared with the Meiji Restoration of 1868, which represented, in its official interpretation, the defeat of a feudal military samurai regime and the victory of modernizing revolutionaries under the leadership of the emperor. Hence, in the popular view the equivalent of the Russian autocracy was the feudal Tokugawa government, not the Japanese emperor. The Japanese media repeatedly pointed out that Russia lagged some half a century behind Japan in terms of civilizational development. The perceived backwardness of the obsolete Romanov monarchy explains why the Japanese and the rest of the world reacted with relative indifference to the execution of Nicholas II and his family in the summer of 1918. The Japanese government and media dismissed the murders as simply another consequence of the ongoing violent revolution.
Japanese commentators did not fail to remark, however, on the importance and value of socialist ideas and organizations. In an interview with Jiji Shinpō, the Waseda professor Nagase Hōsuke (a former editor for the General Staff attached to the Balkans and a historian of France) compared the February Revolution with the French Revolution, in which people demanded not simply bread but freedom.16 The journalist Ishibashi also pointed out that the driving force of the democratic February Revolution was a “socialist party” and that the soviets were the main authority—which would be successful, he predicted, in pushing for a separate peace between Germany and Russia. In mid-1917, Nobori Shomu, a professor of Russian language at the prestigious military academy, published a book under the title The Russian Revolution and Social Movement (Rokoku kakumei to shakai undō), in which he examined the history of the Russian revolutionary movement and the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party and insisted that the revolutionary changes in Russia would not stop there. For the next few years, the book was widely read not only by the increasing number of radical students and intellectuals but also by members of the Japanese Cabinet, the Home Ministry, and War Ministry, where Nobori started serving as a consultant in 1919.17 The most penetrating analysis came, unsurprisingly, from the Japanese socialist circle. The socialist Takabatake Motoyuki (discussed in chapter 7) emphasized the central role of the workers’ and soldiers’ soviets and, starting in the summer of 1917, focused his attention on the new political group, the Bolsheviks. Takabatake pointed out that the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin’s antiwar position meant not only withdrawal from the imperialist war but also recognition that such a withdrawal “is impossible … without the overthrow of capital.” As such, Takabatake predicted, the February Revolution was not the end of revolutionary upheaval in Russia, but just the beginning.18
On the night of November 6–7, 1917, the Bolsheviks seized power through a military insurrection. They occupied key governmental institutions without much resistance, taking over telegraph offices and railroad stations and surrounding the Winter Palace, where the Provisional Government was in session. The all-Bolshevik Council of People’s Commissars assumed the central governmental functions, with Vladimir Lenin as its chairman and Leon Trotsky as the people’s commissar (minister) of foreign affairs. Lenin immediately proposed a declaration of peace with Germany and signed a decree nationalizing all agricultural land. The Bolsheviks, however, organized the uprising through the Military-Revolutionary Committee of the Petrograd Soviet, and news went out that it was in fact the soviets, not the Bolsheviks, that had taken power. Indeed, the soviets immediately took power in the provinces, and local soviets were not always dominated by Bolsheviks.19 Socialists from a wide range of leftist factions supported a government consisting of all socialist parties and resisted the Bolsheviks’ claim to dominance. In January 1918, the Bolsheviks dispersed by military force the elected Constituent Assembly and established a single-party Bolshevik regime, declaring war on everyone who was unwilling to accept their rule. Following Marxist doctrine, Lenin expected that the international proletarian revolution would soon break out and come to the aid of Russia, which was economically and socially backward and unable to build socialism on its own. Until the international revolution happened, the Bolsheviks’ task was to hold on to power by establishing a dictatorship of the proletariat.20
In their declared war against capitalist imperialist countries, starting in late November 1917 the Bolshevik government began disclosing secret treaties concluded between tsarist Russia and foreign powers, including the Russo-Japanese secret treaty of 1916. Exposing these secret treaties, the Bolsheviks rightly thought, would reveal the predatory capitalist and imperialist nature of the great powers to the international public. At the same time, despite internal opposition, Lenin went through with his promises to end the war with Germany. The armistice from December 15, 1917, and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed on March 3, 1918, brought the long-awaited peace to Russia, but it also gave great advantages to Germany. According to the treaty, Russia ceded to the Central Powers Finland, the Baltic states, Russian Poland, the Ukraine, much of Belorussia, as well as territory in the Caucasus; which together accounted for one-third of Russia’s cultivated land, half of its industry, and 80 percent of its coal production. Concerned with the rogue start of Bolshevik foreign diplomacy and panicked at the prospects of Germany’s ascendance, Britain and France began to agitate in December 1917 for military intervention against Russia.
The October Revolution became an international problem not only with Russia’s withdrawal from the war, but also when Bolshevized railway guards in Harbin and the soldiers’ and workers’ soviets attempted unsuccessfully to seize power over the administration of the CER in November 1917 and oust its leader, General Dmitry Horvath. The British, French, and American consuls in Harbin feared that Bolshevik control of the CER would prevent future delivery of essential war matériel stockpiled at Vladivostok and Harbin, and that the Japanese would immediately seize the opportunity to gain control of the CER and expand its influence in East Asia. The Allies thus encouraged Chinese troops in the region to fight the Bolsheviks off, occupy the area, and assert Chinese authority in place of the previous Russian control, which they did in January 1918. A year later, in the spirit of the new Bolshevik doctrine based on open diplomacy, nonannexation of territories, and the self-determination of peoples, the Soviet government renounced Russia’s right to the CER without compensation and relinquished all previous Russian concessions in China (the infamous Karakhan Manifesto of July 1919).21 This created a sensation in China and greatly alarmed the Japanese government. Although the Soviet government almost immediately (in March 1920) denied that such a generous offer was ever issued, the Japanese government feared that the soviets’ meddling in China’s affairs would come at the expense of Japan’s interest in the region and encourage the Beijing government to reclaim concessions given to Japan. As these events demonstrated, since late 1917 the CER and northern Manchuria were becoming the main focus of the renewed rivalry between Japan, Soviet Russia, and China and thus one of the most crucial factors in determining Japanese attitudes toward Soviet Russia.
Outside the two capitals, Petrograd and Moscow, the new Bolshevik government was weak. By the end of 1918, the Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic (RSFSR) was the same size as medieval Muscovy, and few people believed that the regime could survive. News of the October coup did not reach remote areas of Siberia and the Russian Far East for weeks, and people in the north of Siberia remained in ignorance of it for months. In November and December 1917, the minor but very militant Bolshevik groups tried to take power in several Siberian and Far Eastern cities with mixed success, finally resorting to a fragile coalition with non-Bolshevik socialist groups.22 The first counterattacks against the Bolsheviks and the socialist coalitions came in early 1918 from Cossacks and tsarist army officers in Transbaikalia and the Russian Far East. This separate offensive coincided with the birth of several White Armies in European Russia. In Siberia, the son of a Transbaikal Russian Cossack and a Buryat-Mongol mother, Grigory Semenov, a Cossack captain himself and a military commissar of the Provisional Government in Transbaikalia, emerged as the leader of the anti-Bolshevik forces. In Western Siberia in the city of Omsk, in September 1918 a provisional all-Russian government was established, which came under the leadership of Admiral Alexander Kolchak in November 1918.23 Lacking coordination and plagued by internal rivalries, especially between Kolchak and Semenov, the anti-Bolshevik forces had little chance of success without major support from abroad. Although hoping initially for British and American support, in the end it was Japan that proved to be their most willing partner.
There was confusion and uncertainty among Japanese decision makers about what to make of the new Bolshevik regime. What do the Bolsheviks want? What do they intend to do? Can they be trusted? Following the example of its Western Allies, Japan refused to formally recognize the new government, and official diplomatic relations consequently lapsed. However, the attitude of the political and military establishment was not univocal, and by early December 1917 opinion on the matter split. The army and Foreign Ministry insisted on taking advantage of the power vacuum in East Asia to expand Japan’s colonial control, both formal and informal, into Siberia and the Russian Far East. The civil government opposed this move, reluctant to meddle in Russian internal affairs and risk jeopardizing relations with the United States and Britain.
As I demonstrate in this chapter, there was little awareness on the Japanese side that the Bolshevik takeover was the harbinger of a radically new ideology, and in fact, little interest in learning about it. The Japanese government considered the October events a reaction to the Great War, and like its European allies was deeply suspicious of the Bolshevik regime. The suspicion was based, however, not on hostility to their radical ideology but rather on the perception that the Bolshevik upstarts seemed to be extremely pro-German, and perhaps even acting on German orders.
The reality was that Japan’s eventual intervention in the Russian Revolution in the summer of 1918, its deep involvement in the Russian Civil War, its military brutality and the subsequent memory of it in Russia, and the overextended stay of the Japanese army on Russian territory (the last Japanese troops left Russia in 1925) were one of major factors in transforming the initial Bolshevik rule into a militarized bureaucratic regime, ready to resort to coercion, even terror, to remain in power, as well as in winning popular support. The Civil War was fought on many geographical fronts, among which the Siberian and Far Eastern were one of the bloodiest and most prolonged. The success of the revolution and the survival of the Soviet regime would thus be secured not in the west but in the east, by the ousting of the Japanese army.
Few among Japanese decision makers foresaw in early 1918 that the ill-planned invasion of Russian territory for the purpose of immediate territorial gain would unite Russian, Korean, and Chinese pro-independence and nationalist activists, validating and strengthening Soviet communist appeal in East Asia. It is within this context—as the revolution was starting to pivot toward a struggle against Japanese imperialism, drawing into its orbit Asian national independence movements—that the attitude of Japanese establishments toward Soviet communism took form. In the end, Japan’s response to the Russian Revolution contributed to what this revolution eventually became.
Because of the disruption of telegraph lines in the first two weeks of the revolution, news of the ongoing events in Moscow and Petrograd reached Japan with delay. The government had its first contact with Uchida Kōsai only on November 23, when the telegraph line with Petrograd was restored. The Japanese consul in Moscow managed, however, to telegraph on November 9: “I received news from the Russian capital that on November 7 the Social Party’s [shakaitō] radical group [kagekiha] occupied imperial banks, post offices, telegraph and telephone offices, train stations, released prisoners, arrested the prime minister from the Kadet [Constitutional Democratic] Party. Petrograd’s soviets are restless too and considering preventive measures.”24
Japanese officials and the general public learned about the revolution largely from Japanese newspapers, which in turn obtained information from their partners in London, Harbin, and Shanghai. On November 11, Tokyo Asahi shinbun finally identified Lenin and Trotsky as leaders of the Bolshevik Party and informed its readers that the main demands of the Bolsheviks were an immediate truce with Germany and distribution of all land to the propertyless. Confusion and false rumors continued to circulate in Japanese media through November; reports of Lenin’s overthrow, his exile to Finland, and arrest in Germany occasionally made the headlines.25 Drawing from British sensationalist reports, Japanese newspapers detailed rumored atrocities committed by the Bolsheviks, their new policy of “nationalization” of women, and pogroms—as well as rumors of an international Jewish conspiracy, in which Lenin, Trotsky, and Grigory Zinoviev acted on behalf of Jewish world bankers. The most persistent stories were that Lenin and the Bolsheviks were, in fact, German agents. Lenin’s actions, in particular, promulgated this rumor; it was a known fact that Germany, interested in supporting factions opposing the war, let Lenin and other members of the radical émigré community cross Germany from Switzerland by train in April 1917.26 Newspaper reports described the October Revolution as a bloodless coup that happened without mass participation and was therefore illegitimate, in stark contrast with the February uprising. The Bolsheviks were seen to be lacking a mass political base: a power-hungry, militant group doomed to collapse soon. Their success was deemed largely accidental and in no way was the coup considered an epoch-changing event.27 Not unlike their Western counterparts, Japanese media condemned Lenin and the Bolsheviks for their egoism, the selfishness of their anti-Allied actions, and their lack of patriotism, while hysterically predicting the imminent arrival of German troops at Japan’s door via its new Russian colony.28
The government chose the tactic of waiting to see what the reaction of other countries would be. On November 13, the Advisory Council on Foreign Relations (Rinji Gaikō chōsa iinkai), composed of the highest-ranking politicians and responsible for Japan’s foreign policy, held its regular meeting, during which the Russian Revolution was not even mentioned. What was discussed, however, was the conclusion of the purchase of the rail line between Harbin and Changchun—presumably from the old tsarist government. Even after Trotsky announced the start of armistice negotiations with the Central Powers on November 21 and the immediate urgent meeting of the Allied Powers, where France pressed for a joint intervention, Japanese policy makers remained undecided about what to do. Foreign Minister Motono instructed the Japanese ambassador in France on November 29 not to criticize Lenin and the new Soviet regime publicly and not to call Lenin a usurper. That same day, Motono authorized Uchida in Petrograd to make contact with the new regime—without, however, publicly recognizing this act. When during the Allies’ meeting on December 3, France further pressed Japan to agree on a joint occupation of the Trans-Siberian Railway, the Japanese ambassador declined, arguing that the occupation would mean an open war with Russia, which Japan wanted to avoid.29
Motono’s position, however, began to alter as it became more evident that the Bolsheviks were going to stay in power. On December 9, Trotsky announced that the new government was canceling all obligations and debts of the tsarist and provisional governments, including vast sums owed to Japan from the arms trade. The Bolshevik cancellation of foreign obligations and debts damaged major Japanese enterprises such as Mitsui and Mitsubishi, whose property was subsequently confiscated. Moreover, the Soviets published secret tsarist diplomatic archives, including a secret Russo-Japanese anti-American agreement from 1916, which unnerved many in the Foreign Ministry. In the meetings of the Advisory Council on December 17 and 27, Motono raised for the first time the question of intervention in Russian territory, arguing that Lenin’s peace and violation of international responsibilities were serious grounds for an intervention. To support his argument, Motono appealed to Kawakami’s report written during his tour in Russia. Besides, Motono argued, Japan must intervene to stop German military advance into the East and protect the huge stockpile of war matériel in Vladivostok’s port.30 The latter concern was genuine, but the government, and especially the military, were more concerned about the matériel falling into the hands of increasingly restless Korean independence groups than with the Germans.
Leader of the majority Seiyūkai party Hara Takashi, Prime Minister Terauchi Masatake, and Yamagata Aritomo rejected Motono’s arguments, stating that the intervention would worsen relations with the United States, already suspicious of Japan’s Asian policy after the Twenty-One Demands to China. They added, however, “If the Bolshevik wave reaches the Russian Far East and northern Manchuria, our empire cannot remain tranquil in the face of German penetration of our side,” thus indicating that the government was ready to resort to military action if the empire’s interests were challenged by other powers.31 The Advisory Council authorized the drawing up of plans for potential objectives in Siberia and the Far East, which included the acquisition of Sakhalin, attachment of the CER and the rail line south of Harbin to the SMR (if the Allies objected to Japan’s control of the CER, joint control by a British-French-American consortium would be considered), and the army’s sole control of the Trans-Siberian line in Eastern Siberia. The Cabinet and the council, however, still hesitated and in March 1918 once again rejected Motono’s persistent push to intervene, arguing that currently there was no threat from either Germany or Soviet Russia to Japan’s national security, and that it would be foolish to invade another country without clear reason and jeopardize peace in the region.32 Defeated, Motono resigned in April and died four months later from cancer.
What was behind Motono’s push for the intervention? He did not leave behind any diaries or personal records, but we can make reasonable speculations about his motivation. Motono was the longest-serving Japanese ambassador to Russia (1906–16). Except for Tanaka Gi’ichi, Motono knew Russia better than any other Japanese government official. He was personally responsible for the Russo-Japanese treaties of 1907, 1910, and 1916. In his ten years in Saint Petersburg, Motono learned to speak fluent French and acquired many friends in Russian high aristocratic society. He did not speak Russian well and was not interested in Russia outside of the imperial court—he had no knowledge of Russian writers, nor he was interested in the liberal or radical intelligentsia. According to the memoirs of Satō Naotake (1882–1971), titled Two Russias (Futatsu no Roshia, 1948), Motono was deeply shaken by the collapse of the Russian Empire and was driven by his desire to save aristocratic Russia and by his hatred of the new regime.33
Or so wrote Satō. Documents in the archives of the Foreign Ministry, however, make it clear that it was actually Satō Naotake himself, then consul-general in Harbin, who had pushed Motono to advocate for the intervention in his reports and telegrams.34 In Satō’s memorandum from April 1918 to the Advisory Council, he claimed that further inaction would mean the de facto recognition of the Bolshevik regime, which in turn, due to Siberia’s geographical proximity to Japan, would pose a grave threat to Japan’s social independence (shakai dokuritsu). Satō reminded the government of the High Treason Incident of 1910, when a group of anarchist-socialists plotted to assassinate the emperor, and warned of the destruction that socialist thought could wreak on domestic society. He stressed that Bolshevik authority and the military were weak, and therefore the time was opportune to strike.35 Besides Satō, the head of the Japanese trade mission in Vladivostok, Shimada Gentarō, had been pleading for an urgent intervention since December 1917, claiming that the Russian population in the Far East was open to the idea of secession from Russia and the establishment of a separate state.36 The sense of urgency in Motono’s outlook created by the reports from Harbin and Vladivostok was exacerbated when he learned about British plans to intervene in southern Russia and support the White general Alexei Kaledin to crush Bolshevism and keep Russia in the war.
Better understanding of the Foreign Ministry’s position vis-à-vis Russia can be gained by examining the views of Motono’s successor, Gotō Shinpei. Known for his pro-Russian position and his opposition to the intervention as home minister (1916–18), Gotō began to advocate for the intervention on assuming the foreign affairs portfolio. This sudden change of position may be explained by Gotō’s decision to put his individual opinions aside and represent the Foreign Ministry’s outlook. In his first meeting with the press, Gotō announced:
The penetration of Eastern Siberia by a country hostile to Japan constitutes an imminent danger to Japan, China, and the Allies, and that is why at this point we cannot ignore it. There are no changes in our and the Allies’ understanding that Russia is a great country, and we are committed to helping Russia reform and restore its state institutions. I believe it is Japan’s duty and responsibility to offer help to Russia’s reconstruction.37
Gotō’s pronouncements, however, repeated almost word for word Motono’s arguments. This was hardly a coincidence because both Motono’s and Gotō’s memorandums to the Advisory Council and the Cabinet, as well as their speeches at press conferences, were prepared by the same middle-rank Foreign Ministry officials: Kimura Eiichi (1879–1947), an Asian specialist in the Foreign Ministry who became the director of the South Manchurian Railway in 1930; and Matsuoka Yōsuke (1886–1946), then secretary to the foreign minister. The latter, of course, was the infamous Matsuoka Yōsuke, the future wartime foreign minister, who pulled Japan out of the League of Nations in 1933 and concluded an alliance with Nazi Germany in 1940 and the Neutrality Pact with the Soviet Union in 1941. Importantly, Matsuoka and Kimura advocated intervention not for any ideological reason but rather out of concern over the possible economic penetration of Siberia by the United States. They were sure that the United States would eventually send troops to Siberia, which, coupled with the dispatch of US railway technicians (who were, in fact, invited by the Russian Provisional Government just before its collapse), would enhance its position in the region and prevent the expansion of Japanese influence on the continent.38 Echoing these concerns, Gotō urged the Advisory Council to adopt an independent foreign policy without being bound by considerations regarding the relationship with the United States and Britain. He also emphasized that the intervention was not aimed against the Russian people or the new Soviet regime but was rather meant to ensure Siberia’s independence by providing economic and military relief.39
Regarding Bolshevik ideology, Gotō did not consider it to be a threat to Japan, or even China, and thus he never regarded the Russian Revolution as an epochal event. He thought the whole communist idea of abolition of private property was against human social nature, and that therefore the regime would not last long. He, like many others, believed that the Bolshevik regime was politically and militarily weak and lacking mass support, and that anti-Bolshevik forces were more numerous, stronger, and enjoyed wider approval.40 Crucial for our understanding, however, is Gotō’s remark that Siberia must be kept independent—not so much from Germany’s military advance as from “dangerous” German ideas. The Japanese army’s task in Siberia would be to prevent German radical socialist ideas and their promoters from entering the Asian continent. With this aim, Gotō proposed to tighten the Japanese border, prevent any contact between German/Russian radicals and Japanese socialists, and establish stricter censorship of the Japanese press.41 In fact, since January 1918, as the Korean independence movement was gaining momentum both in the Korean diaspora in the Russian Far East and in colonial Korea, the Japanese military and some members of the government suggested that the pro-independence movement was the work of German radical agents, not Russians. Therefore, in the first few months after the revolution, both the October coup and the Korean independence movement were considered likely to be the workings of the German socialist party rather than the Russian Bolshevik Party.
Although strongly opposed to Motono’s and then Gotō’s plan for intervention, Japanese Ambassador Uchida Kōsai also believed that Germany and German socialist ideas were behind the October Revolution. After witnessing firsthand the two revolutions in Petrograd during his stay there between February 1917 and February 1918, Uchida returned to Japan via the Trans-Siberian Railway. On arriving in Harbin, he gave a series of candid interviews that generated great interest in Japan and abroad.42 Regarding communist ideology, Uchida stated that Bolshevism’s main tenet was the abolition of private property, and that the origins of this idea lay in the German radical tradition. This German intellectual invention was able to “contaminate” Russia because Russia had found itself in a grave situation: the inept autocratic government, the toll of the Great War, and the lack of political will among statesmen and the military meant that there was no resistance to the spread of German socialist ideas in Russia. He further pointed out that traditionally Russian thought and literature had been concerned with social problems, which made it susceptible in the current historical context to the German socialist solution. Curiously, he blamed German prisoners of war for disseminating communist propaganda, which, Uchida claimed, he witnessed with his own eyes during his trip back home on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
However, Uchida also said that the German threat to Japan, which the newspapers had covered with much sensationalism, was insubstantial; and that despite the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Germany would not dominate Russian territory or politics. Uchida was in a better position to judge than the government at home: after leaving Petrograd, he stopped in the town of Vologda for a week to observe the Russo-German negotiation of armistice. The Bolshevik regime, Uchida continued (again contradicting media reports), had mass support because it promised peace, not because the Russian people supported socialist ideas, and was likely to be the only centralized authority that would remain after the dust had settled. He largely blamed the Bolshevik takeover on the incompetence of the imperial and provisional governments but had no doubt that Soviet Russia would emerge again as a major power in world politics. Uchida also criticized the Western media and politicians for spreading false rumors about Japan’s ill intentions toward Russia, causing anti-Japanese feelings among the Russian people and leadership. Uchida also declared that the recognition of Soviet Russia by world powers was only a matter of time and that the Japanese government must stay on friendly terms with the Soviet government. However, although opposed to intervention, Uchida did not call for the immediate recognition of Bolshevik Russia but advised waiting for revolutionary fervor to subside and for the revolutionary government to stabilize.43
The Foreign Ministry’s position, as expressed by Motono, Gotō, and Uchida, was largely unconcerned with communist ideology per se. Communism was regarded not as the consequence of internal economic and social tensions or a reaction to capitalist industrialization but largely as the result of foreign— specifically German—socialist propaganda. Since communism was brought in from outside, the Bolshevik regime was considered to be either temporary or ideologically superficial. The Japanese leadership, therefore, was careful to distinguish between the Bolshevik ideological elite and the Russian people, declining to recognize the former for the time being, but making sure to express their encouragement and support to the latter.
Besides the Foreign Ministry, the main progenitor of the intervention was the Japanese Army General Staff (Sanbō Honbu) under the leadership of Field Marshal Uehara Yūsaku and his deputy, General Tanaka Gi’ichi. As Uehara revealed in his memoirs, the General Staff’s plan to dispatch forces to Siberia was intended to “rebuild stability in Siberia, and enhance Japan’s pre-eminent position on the continent.”44 The General Staff proposed the creation of an independent, communist-free Siberian state to the east of Lake Baikal, which would flourish economically through an alliance with Japan. The idea that the Bolsheviks were, in fact, German agents and carriers of German radical social ideas permeated military circles as well. In the spring of 1918, in a position paper probably written for presentation to the army minister, Tanaka advocated a policy of support for Asiatic Russians willing to “defend their fatherland against the eastward advance of German-Austrian influence,” by which he meant Bolshevism. Tanaka asked that all continental diplomatic and military representatives be instructed to make this policy clear to the Russian people and to work toward securing their cooperation.45 A Siberian buffer state would thus come into existence, protecting China and Korea from German/Bolshevik ideological and military expansion. Moreover, the establishment of a Siberian republic, the General Staff reasoned, would increase pressure on China to accept Japanese economic and strategic influence in Manchuria and Inner Mongolia. Considering that Finland, Poland, and the Baltic states gained independence after the Russian Revolution, such plans seemed not unrealistic to the Japanese military.
As the government was reluctant to intervene and concerned with the United States’ reaction, the army took matters into its own hands. In mid-November 1917, the General Staff developed a plan to intervene under the pretext of protecting Japanese residents in the Far Eastern territory. The plan was to send troops to Vladivostok and Khabarovsk in Russia, and to Harbin and Chichihar in northern Manchuria, and take control of local railway and telegraph lines.46 In early December 1917, Tanaka gave orders to send secret agents (tokumu kikan) to all major stations along the Trans-Siberian Railway between Irkutsk and Vladivostok. Major-General Nakajima Masatake, reassigned from his post in Petrograd, became the operational chief in Vladivostok. Nakajima’s task was to establish contact with anti-Bolshevik forces and, if necessary, provide arms, cash, and technical advice. In February 1918, Nakajima made a wager on Ataman Semenov, who with Japanese backing emerged as the major anti-Bolshevik force in Siberia.
Meanwhile, the army’s plans for Russia were tightly entangled with its objectives in northern Manchuria. In December 1917, Tanaka urged the cabinet that Japan “must take over” the CER after the Russian withdrawal. Disintegration of Russian power in the East, he argued, offered an excellent opportunity to gain a foothold in Harbin and over the CER for any future expansion in northeastern China and Asiatic Russia.47 With this aim in mind, the General Staff began to work on winning over the White forces on the CER. In March 1918, Nakajima and Kawakami Toshitsune, still the president of the SMR, met with General Horvath in Harbin and pledged their support in return for major concessions to Japan on the CER. The future war minister Araki Sadao, then a lieutenant colonel fresh from his assignment in Russia, became the Japanese army’s representative in Harbin attached to Horvath.48 Araki’s stint in Russia and later in Harbin during the first years of the revolution were formative in his later rabid anticommunist and anti-Soviet position. The Japanese government eventually gained what they wanted, albeit not for long. Although the CER had been under Chinese control since January 1918, the Japanese army was successful in compelling the Chinese government to sign the Sino-Japanese Joint Defense Agreement in May 1918, which allowed Japan to gain better control over the CER and establish a strong foothold in northern Manchuria.49
The Bolshevik advance into the Russian Far East prompted the Japanese government to react swiftly. After the establishment of Soviet rule in Vladivostok in January 1918, the Japanese government authorized the dispatch of two battleships to the port of Vladivostok to protect Japanese residents and businesses. The navy, however, was prohibited from engaging in any further actions. After the murder of some Japanese residents by a Russian mob, in April the marines landed in Vladivostok and occupied the city. The General Staff pressed for further intervention, but both the Ministries of the Army and the Navy and the Cabinet rejected the proposal, giving stern instructions to the consulate in Vladivostok not to interfere in Russian domestic affairs.50 The landing, however, made a huge impact on the Russian population, spurring nationalist feelings and strong anti-Japanese sentiments. In turn, the Bolsheviks used this opportunity given them by the Japanese military, skillfully manipulating the public’s fear of Japanese invasion. Consequently, the Bolsheviks eliminated competition from other leftist factions and by the summer of 1918 established an exclusive Bolshevik authority in the Far East, albeit temporarily before the renewal of the Japanese offensive.
In the first half of 1918, the General Staff’s efforts to push for a full-scale intervention were futile because the majority of the government and the council— among whom the leader of the Seiyūkai party, Hara Takashi, and the elder statesman Yamagata Aritomo were the most vocal—strongly opposed the intervention. They warned that it would cause financial disaster and jeopardize relations with the United States, and that Japan was not equipped to conduct a large-scale war without economic aid from the United States and Britain. The consensus was that Japan would not intervene unless the Unites States accepted its share of responsibility for the decision. For a while, the government managed to keep control of the General Staff, which steered clear of implementing its plans in Siberia. With the appointment of Tanaka as army minister in the Hara Cabinet in September 1918, the government brought the General Staff under its control. For the most part, the General Staff and the Army Ministry followed government orders but were irked by the requirement that the United States give its approval to their actions in East Asia.
By June 1918, it seemed that the intervention would not happen—the retreating German troops did not represent a threat anymore, nor did the struggling Bolshevik regime seem to be a source of any real danger. The 1918 summer events in Siberia, however, fundamentally changed the situation. In May 1918, some thirty thousand to fifty thousand former Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war, known as the Czecho-Slovak Legion, clashed with the Bolsheviks in Western Siberia and, with Allied encouragement, sealed off the whole of Siberia along the Trans-Siberian Railway from Soviet power. The rescue of the legion became a convenient rallying point for the governments of Britain, France, Japan, and the United States to officially join the intervention. Woodrow Wilson was hostile to the Bolshevik leadership, especially after the peace treaty the Bolshevik regime concluded with Germany, but did not want to get involved in the Russian Civil War and resisted British-French pressure for a Japanese-American expedition to the Russian Far East. However, the evacuation of the Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war and, more importantly, the need to restrain and keep an eye on Japanese activities in the Russian Far East and northern Manchuria convinced the US leaders to send troops. On July 8, 1918, the US government invited Japan to undertake a joint armed intervention.51
Wilson’s decision enabled the General Staff, the army, and the Foreign Ministry to proceed with their own agenda. Their opponents in the Japanese government could not object to the US invitation and could not let the United States conduct the operation without Japanese participation. And so, between 1918 and 1922, approximately 125,000 soldiers, belonging to the armies of ten countries, were deployed to Siberia and the Russian Far East as part of the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War.52 Despite the agreement among the Allied intervention forces that the number of troops be limited to seven thousand, and despite the opposition from the Cabinet and the Privy Council, the Army General Staff, asserting the “right of supreme command” (tōsuiken), launched a full-scale assault deploying more than seventy-two thousand troops (one-third of all of Japan’s active service troops) to Vladivostok and the Transbaikal region. By the end of October 1918, the Japanese army had occupied the region between Irkutsk and Vladivostok along the Trans-Siberian Railway and the city of Nikolaevsk at the mouth of the Amur River (some 1,600 kilometers to the north of Vladivostok), as well as the Chinese Eastern Railway line in northern Manchuria, including the city of Harbin. The US decision to intervene finally granted the Japanese army a new opportunity to realize its long-cherished plans for assuming control over the whole of Manchuria, while control over the Russian Far East was an unexpected bonus, which the army was not going to let slip by.
The Japanese government officially announced its decision to intervene in Russia on August 2, 1918. The draft of the announcement was reworked several times, but with results that were satisfactory to few. The main reason for the intervention was ostensibly the rescue of the Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war. In addition, Japanese troops were to provide assistance to the Russian people, “tired” of revolutionary events. Notably, Bolshevism and the threat it presented were not mentioned—the Japanese government was very careful not to include any confrontational statements against the Soviet government. Any mention of northern Manchuria, which seemed to be included in the erased drafts, was also suppressed. Gotō clarified that the Siberian Intervention was a foreign war with a just cause, while the interventionist force was a “new Salvation Army,” “in accordance with the new principle of people of the world being all brothers,” and that their goals were thus completely different from that of a punitive expedition and invasion.53 It was presumed that the Japanese troops were in Russia to “save” it, yet no one in the government or the Diet publicly identified from whom or from what Russia must be saved. The declaration promised withdrawal once order was restored and renounced any desire to infringe on Russian territorial sovereignty and Russian internal affairs. There was cheerful confidence among many in Tokyo that the Bolshevik regime was not to survive the intervention, and that Japanese plans for the region certainly would be realized.
The Japanese “offensive” was both economic and military. To obtain local Siberian support for Japan and to counteract US relief efforts, an economic mission was organized to provide relief to the local people and spur economic activity in the region. A Special Commission for Siberian Economic Aid (Rinji Shiberia Keizai Enjō Iinkai), largely run by Matsuoka Yōsuke and Kimura Eiichi, worked closely with the Japanese army on the ground.54 The commission was “to establish a basis for Japanese economic activities in opposition to the acquisition of concessions by the United States and other countries.” The commission’s agenda thus reveals Matsuoka’s fears (not entirely unjustified) of US penetration in the region, in terms of finance and trade. In December 1918, the commission set up the Russo-Japanese Trading Company; in 1919, the Far East Business Development Corporation and the Russo-Japanese Bank were organized for the purpose of entering the mining, oil production, forestry, fisheries, and related transport industries. All major players of the day—including the business conglomerates Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Sumitomo, Kuhara, and Furukawa—were involved in the activities of the commission, injecting a large amount of money into Siberia and fully cooperating with the army.55 It must be added that the Foreign Ministry had ultimate control over the commission, and Minister Uchida and Deputy Minister Shidehara Kijūrō would often check its overly aggressive economic plans for Russia.56 It was during this period, while working together on Siberian affairs, when the moderate Shidehara (whose conciliatory style of diplomacy would later be dubbed “Shidehara diplomacy”) and the more aggressive Matsuoka developed fundamental disagreements about Japan’s foreign policy that would later play out in a more visible and dramatic way.
In pursuit of its agenda, Japan became the only country that actively intervened in the Russian Civil War. In August–September 1918, a Japanese-Cossack offensive swept away Soviet rule in the Far East and Transbaikalia. In one infamous incident, the Japanese burned alive a local Bolshevik commander, Sergei Lazo, in the firebox of a locomotive. This incident became a cornerstone of Soviet revolutionary mythology and forever imprinted the negative image of the Japanese in Russian public memory. The Advisory Council and the Cabinet tried to curb the General Staff’s support of the White Cossacks—specifically, Grigory Semenov, Ivan Kalmykov, Ivan Gamov, and Roman Ungern-Sternberg, whose names became synonymous with the worst atrocities of the Civil War—but the command in Siberia and especially the secret intelligence officers not only ignored the order but continued to offer financial and military assistance to these leaders. Atamans, who controlled parts of the CER and played havoc with the communication and supply line between the Allied forces and the White Army in Western Siberia, were also a useful way for the Japanese to put pressure on the Allies and the White administration of Harbin to gain more control of the CER.57 The General Staff also tried to cultivate the national aspirations of the indigenous peoples, but they had little idea how to win them over. Despite the pan-Asianist rhetoric, they regarded Siberian indigenous people as simple “tribes” of “wild” peoples. Japanese soldiers and officers felt a cultural superiority in reference to them, and there were numerous cases of plunder by Japanese soldiers.58
The actions of the Japanese military in Siberia, however, backfired greatly. Japanese support for the atamans, as well as abuses by the Japanese army, drove the local population into the arms of the Bolsheviks. Japan’s ultimate failure to achieve its military and economic aims was the result of its inability to develop an effective political strategy in the region. The country’s economic efforts seemed insignificant or insincere against the backdrop of the Japanese army’s everyday brutality. The most significant economic gain was the establishment of Japan’s total monopoly over the Russian fishery industry, but this looked more like a plundering of resources than an effort to rebuild the Russian economy. All in all, Japanese efforts in Russia relied principally on military force and short-term alliances with local anti-Bolshevik forces, which did not lead anywhere due to persistent mutual suspicions.
In the summer of 1918, as the government was dispatching troops to Russia, the unprecedented scale of the Rice Riots, caused by the inflation of rice prices, seemed to some contemporaries to signal the coming of a leftist revolution to Japan. The biggest popular riot in modern Japanese history, the Rice Riots involved over one million people from Hokkaido to Kyushu, prompting the government to dispatch more than 100,000 men to 170 places in 23 prefectures to suppress the uprising.59 At the end of the day, thirty civilians were killed and five thousand rioters were tried. The protesters were far from trying to implement a leftist revolution and were not prompted to act by an emergent “class consciousness,” but some contemporary observers were unnerved by the timing—too close to the Russian Revolution—and by the possibility of connections to socialism. Although socialist leaders were not engaged in the riots, the police arrested or administratively detained several of them, including Ōsugi Sakae, Arahata Kanson, and Yamakawa Hitoshi.
After the riots brought down the unpopular Terauchi government, a new Cabinet came to power, with Hara Takashi as prime minister, Uchida Kōsai as foreign minister, and Tanaka Gi’ichi as army minister. Despite his earlier opposition to the intervention, Hara carried on with plans to create a buffer state between East Asia and Soviet Russia to deter the advance of communism—the influence of which, it was suspected, was present in the Rice Riots. Uchida, who had resigned from his ambassadorship in protest against the intervention, now too as the new foreign minister proceeded with implementing the government’s policy of aggression in Russia. For the Paris Peace Conference in January 1919, Uchida wrote a memorandum arguing that a Siberian republic, which Japanese military forces were assisting in creating, would serve as a bulwark against the communist revolution and expansion of Soviet power in Siberia and Outer Mongolia. In the new republic, the Japanese delegation assured Western powers in Paris that equality of opportunities for all foreigners would be ensured—the right to live freely, trade, and conduct business.60
With the aim of establishing a pro-Japanese buffer state, in mid-1919 the Hara Cabinet began its support of the Omsk government and its leader Admiral Kolchak. The main influence in Hara’s decision to support Kolchak and pursue the idea of a buffer state was none other than Satō Naotake, who had so much influence over Motono. Now an ex-consul-general in Harbin, Satō moved to Omsk to lend support to Kolchak and act as his adviser. As he had previously argued to Motono, Satō insisted that the Bolsheviks were kaji dorobō, thieves who take advantage of a conflagration. Satō pinned his hopes on Kolchak as the only force capable of uniting Russia and establishing order. Importantly, Kolchak promised to uphold all imperial obligations and repay all outstanding state debts, in addition to giving substantial concessions to the fish and oil industries, and offered assurances that Japan would retain control over the eastern part of the Trans-Siberian Railway and the CER.61
In addition, Hara disapproved of the General Staff’s support of the volatile Cossacks, especially after news of their atrocities with the help of the Japanese forces began to circulate in Europe and the United States. The political friction at home between the government (Hara and Uchida) and the army (Tanaka, Araki Sadao in Harbin, and the General Staff) had its counterpart in Siberia: Kolchak was supported by the former, and his rival Ataman Semenov by the latter. Nevertheless, both Japanese parties showed hesitation and lack of conviction that their actions were right. Kolchak’s regime proved to be short-lived, as it failed to mobilize grassroots support during its one-year existence, and by the end of 1919 his forces were defeated; he was executed in Irkutsk in January 1920. Semenov’s hold on Transbaikalia lasted as long as the Japanese forces were present in the region. As soon as they withdrew, Semenov’s luck ran out later in 1920. He followed the Japanese army to Vladivostok, Harbin, and later to Tokyo.62
The fall of Kolchak heralded a new phase of the Civil War and foreign intervention. The Red Army steadily advanced from the Urals to Eastern Siberia, and finally the Pacific. In contrast, the White armies and the interventionist forces were plagued by internal divisions and rivalries, confused and inconsistent policies, and domestic pressure in the Allies’ home countries to end the intervention, particularly after the signing of the Armistice in Europe in November 1918. In January 1920, the United States resolved to evacuate its forces from Siberia, and in April all Allied troops, except the Japanese, were withdrawn.
The Soviets were not ready to face the Japanese army because they were preoccupied with the raging Polish-Soviet war (1919–21). To avoid a full-scale confrontation with Japan, the Soviet leadership decided to create a temporary buffer state in the territory east of Lake Baikal. On April 6, 1920, the Congress of Toilers of the Baikal Region proclaimed the Far Eastern Democratic Republic (FER). In the wake of the approaching Washington Conference and mounting international and domestic criticism of the intervention, the Japanese government recognized the FER and in July 1920 started negotiations with its leaders.63 The Japanese army agreed to withdraw from Transbaikalia on the condition that the FER would remain democratic and free of communism. Limited now to the Russian Far East (where the army installed a pro-Japanese rightist government in 1921) and northern Manchuria, the Japanese army and government were determined to hold on to these territories.
The so-called Nikolaevsk Incident in the spring of 1920 provided an opportunity to prolong the Japanese intervention. Japanese forces had occupied Nikolaevsk in the summer of 1918, largely to protect the considerable Japanese fishery business in the region, until the town was attacked by guerrillas under Yakov Triapitsyn. In what is known as the Nikolaevsk massacre, more than seven hundred Japanese officers and town residents were killed, in addition to several hundred Russian inhabitants. The Japanese army seized this opportunity to start a propaganda offensive back home. Newspapers ceaselessly reported gruesome stories about the murdered five thousand Japanese citizens (rather than the actual seven hundred), including women and children. The number of murdered Russian people was omitted. Press conferences of war journalists attracted considerable crowds. Around the country, memorial services were held with members of the imperial family in attendance. The murdered military were enshrined in the Yasukuni shrine, where the spirits of executed war criminals would be enshrined in the postwar period.64
In 1920, self-defense became the new rationale for the Japanese military to remain in the Russian Far East. The military announced to the Japanese public that “Now we establish the region from the Russian maritime area to Vladivostok as our self-defense territory. This is separate from the expedition’s previous objective. It has been developed from the desire to clearly establish the region of Japanese self-defense.”65 Under this pretext, the Japanese army occupied and held the northern part of Sakhalin until 1925. South Sakhalin had been under Japanese control since 1905. Under the auspices of the navy, the extraction of natural resources (i.e., oil) in Sakhalin and colonization by Japanese settlers intensified.66 On one hand, the Nikolaevsk Incident bolstered the argument for Japanese annexation of a portion of the Russian Far East to shield the Japanese inhabitants of Manchuria and Korea from similar destruction at the hands of the Bolshevik Russians, Koreans, and Chinese. Soviet writers even expressed the opinion that the Japanese deliberately provoked the Nikolaevsk conflict to justify further occupation of Russian territory.67
On the other hand, the “self-defense” rhetoric had some grounds behind it. By 1920, the Japanese government seemed to have become genuinely concerned that the revolution was spilling beyond Russian borders into China and Korea, thus directly jeopardizing the security of the Japanese Empire.68 The Bolsheviks were active among Russian and Chinese railway workers at the CER. The railway’s communist party branch was responsible for numerous strikes and propaganda handbills and appeals, which were directed against the White tsarist management of the CER and Japan’s imperialist designs with respect to China. The communist branch also called for active support of the proletarian revolution in Russia.69 Reports of Korean anti-Japanese activities began to be dispatched to Japan in early 1918. Several thousand radicalized Koreans and Chinese in the Russian Far East joined some two hundred Bolshevik-led partisan groups numbering about fifty thousand people. Recent Korean immigrants with knowledge of the Japanese language served as translators, agents, and informants, providing invaluable help to the Bolsheviks.70 The FER’s national-revolutionary army had a Korean-Chinese regiment (later the International Regiment of the Fifth Red Banner Army), which was composed of 65 percent Chinese and 30 percent Koreans and had its own military academy in Irkutsk that by the end of the 1920s had trained 163 Chinese and Korean officers.71 A few hundred Koreans organized their own partisan groups, some of their members returning to colonial Korea to participate in the national liberation movement. Often they would conduct anti-Japanese guerrilla activities on Korean territory, then quickly retreat to Chinese or Russian territories.
Cities on the Manchurian frontier and in the Russian Far East also offered refuge to Korean independence groups committed to militant resistance. In 1922, the so-called First Chinese Revolutionary Division of Kirin Province was formed in the Russian Far East. Initially composed of around three thousand fighters, once they moved to northern China, according to Soviet reports, their numbers increased to twenty-one thousand (twelve thousand foot soldiers and nine thousand mounted fighters).72 As a German journalist informed the Japanese in September 1922, the Soviets established many propaganda schools in Moscow, Tomsk, Omsk, Irkutsk, and Tashkent with the aim “to stir up Korea against the Japanese rule.”73 Colonized Koreans hardly needed propaganda to spur their anti-Japanese sentiments; according to Soviet sources, the number of Korean volunteers was so high that the majority of them had to be placed on reserve. Historians have largely attributed the rise of Korean and Chinese pro-independence movements—the Korean independence demonstrations on March 1, 1919; the May Fourth Movement in China; and the proclamation of an independent Korean government in Khabarovsk in 1920—to the Wilsonian moment of 1919. However, it is obvious that Japanese contemporaries perceived those events quite differently—namely as the direct consequence of the Russian Revolution and the Bolsheviks’ plan to implement a world proletarian revolution. For the Japanese leaders, the colonized Koreans were the perfect “dagger” in the hands of the Russian communists pointed at the heart of the Japanese Empire.74
Foreign Minister Uchida Kōsai “ordered the consuls in Manchuria and Vladivostok to do everything possible to crush rebellious Korean organizations within their jurisdiction.”75 In 1919–20, the police force of the Korea Government-General repeatedly crossed the border and conducted raids on suspected radical camps in Manchuria. Japanese officials knew that many Koreans were enlisted in the Red Army and that “certain Koreans who were in collusion with the Bolsheviks had actually attempted an armed invasion of the Korean border and burned a Japanese consulate.”76 The Seoul Press reported on October 2, 1920, that three hundred to four hundred Koreans allegedly under the leadership of some Russians attacked and burnt the Japanese embassy in the town of Hunchun in the Jiandao region. In a matter of days, Chinese soldiers joined the rioters and again attacked Japanese troops and the Japanese embassy. Japanese officials insisted that the rioters were Korean Bolshevik partisans and included fifty Russians. A wave of protests spread around the whole of northern Manchuria, involving around forty thousand people. In response, the Japanese army in Korea crossed the border and joined Jiandao region consular police forces in what came to be called the Jiandao Expedition (Kantō shuppei). After a brutal and murderous large-scale military operation, the Japanese army retreated to Korea in the spring of 1921.77 After the events in Jiandao, Hara was so concerned with the susceptibility of the Koreans in Manchuria to Bolshevism that he entertained the idea of trying to annex the Jiandao area to Korea by lease or purchase.78 As another example of Japanese preoccupation with radicals on the borders, a Sino-Korean-Japanese security organization, the Manshū hominkai (Manchuria People’s Protection Society), was established to safeguard the borders against the guerilla Bolshevik Koreans. The Protection Society was basically a death squad; all apprehended were shot.79 On top of that, the success of the Korean communist organization in Shanghai, established in 1921 with the aid of the Comintern, as well as their position as a conduit between Japanese leftists and the Soviet Union (discussed in chapter 4), was considered by the Japanese Foreign Ministry and police to be a direct threat to the stability of metropolitan society itself.80
The greatest consequence of the Japanese government’s engagement with the radicals on the borders was, however, its decision to support the Manchurian warlord Chang Tso-lin, hoping with his help to protect Manchuria and Korea against Bolshevik subversion.81 Little did the Japanese foreign policy makers suspect that, eight years later in 1928, their own army officers would assassinate the “treacherous” Chang Tso-lin, which paved the way to Japan’s aggression in China in the 1930s.
For the common people in Japan, the objectives of the intervention were always unclear, and dubious at best. The Austro-Hungarian prisoners of war safely left Russia in 1919, the Great War was over in November 1918, Soviet Russia and communism were never identified as enemies, and the army’s aspirations for domination in northern Manchuria were never made public. The pacification of the imperial borders and suppression of Korean and Chinese anti-Japanese activities were not convincing arguments for the deployment of such huge numbers of armed forces and material resources. At home, the educated public was quite rightly concerned that the intervention would threaten peace in East Asia and incite hatred of the Japanese among Russian and Chinese people, thereby destroying the good relations rebuilt after the Russo-Japanese War.
In the general mood of antimilitarism and the growing demand for reducing the military budget, the intervention became hugely unpopular among members of the Diet and the public, concerned with the immense waste of money in a time of postwar economic recession. To the people, both the army and the navy looked like zeikin dorobō (tax robbers), and there was widespread criticism of them in Japanese society. The image of the imperial army was damaged so much that officers were often reluctant to wear uniforms in the streets. The Siberian Intervention (Shiberia shuppei) was often called Shiberia shippai (Siberian failure).82 By 1921, all three political parties—Kokumintō, Kenseikai, and Seiyūkai—joined in their call to limit the military budget. Even the prime minister, Admiral Katō Tomosaburō, joined the chorus in July 1922, blaming the army for conducting its own “double diplomacy” (nijū gaikō) and constantly interfering in diplomatic relations with China. Moreover, in the navy’s view, not only had the Siberian adventure wasted a great part of the state military budget that could have been allocated to naval expenditures, but it jeopardized the relationship with the United States, with whom the navy pursued a policy of détente.
The growing suspicion and antagonism in Europe and the United States about Japan’s continued occupation of Siberia finally led to increasing pressure on Japan to withdraw. Already during the Paris Peace Conference, the Hara Cabinet conceded and reduced troop strength in Siberia by one half. In addition, in March 1919, Japan relinquished its exclusive military control over the Trans-Siberian Railway and the CER and agreed to the establishment of the Interallied Railway Committee to control the CER. During the Washington Naval Arms Limitation Conference in 1921–22, under strong pressure from the former Allies, Japan promised to withdraw from Russian territory and trim naval expenditures. Finally, Chief of Staff Marshal Uehara accepted the military budget reduction and ended his opposition to the withdrawal from Siberia. On June 24, 1922, the Japanese government proclaimed the withdrawal of all Japanese troops from the Maritime Province of Siberia and from northern Manchuria. In November 1922, the Japanese evacuation was completed, except from Sakhalin Island where extraction of oil by Japanese companies continued. In December 1922, the FER joined the USSR, and communist rule was established in all of Russia’s territory. A year later, in 1924, control over the CER—so coveted by Japan—went from the Interallied Railway Committee to the USSR and China, after they signed the Sino-Soviet Agreement (discussed in the next chapter). The Japanese army’s Siberian adventure ended in a fiasco, taking the lives of more than two thousand of its own soldiers and many more Russians, Siberian indigenous people, Koreans, and Chinese.
The Siberian Intervention was a strange war: no clear enemy was identified, Bolshevism and communism were never mentioned, and no greater cause was declared. Although it was an obvious war against Russia and its people, as the violence became indiscriminate, the Japanese government tirelessly and cynically pronounced its friendship with the Russian people and insisted it was acting in their interest. Any mention of the Soviet state, either positive or negative, was carefully omitted in official documents, which presumed for the Japanese government the continuous existence of imperial Russia. After all, the imperial Russian embassy in Tokyo lasted the longest among all Russian embassies, closing its doors only in 1925.83 But at the same time, and more importantly, the Japanese government never publicly stated its opposition to or fundamental disagreement with the ideological principles of the new Soviet state.
By 1922, it was obvious to everyone (except perhaps the army) that Japan had lost its undeclared war on Soviet Russia. Lacking a clear and consistent approach to the Soviet Union and Soviet communism, the Japanese decision makers did not possess the inner conviction that their actions in Siberia were correct and quickly lost control over the escalating violence. As the Bolshevik regime gained political and military momentum in Siberia and the Russian Far East, not least because of the brutal and short-sighted actions of the Japanese interventionist army, the Japanese government had to accept the fact that the Bolshevik government would probably stay in power for the foreseeable future.
The initial military reaction to the Russian Revolution was undertaken by the army and the Foreign Ministry. Their motives, however, had less to do with a fear of the communist threat to the Japanese islands and more with the spread of communism and Soviet influence in Korea and China, where communism overlapped with national liberation movements and stimulated the fight against Japanese rule. Initial ambition for an informal empire in Siberia was consequently replaced by the urgency to keep the militant anti-imperialist/anti-Japanese ideology away from Korea and China. However, Japan’s initial strong response failed, and the alternative pro-Soviet approach began to be worked out among some influential Japanese political groups, signifying major dissolution of the consensus about expansion on the continent. The new approach required, however, a certain understanding and interpretation of Soviet and international communism, to which we now turn.
. Hara Takashi, Hara Takashi nikki, ed. Hara Kei’ichirō (Tokyo: Kangensha edition, 1950–51), 7:142. The first commoner and leader of a majority party in the lower house of the Japanese Diet to become prime minister, Hara Takashi served from September 1918 to November 1921. He was assassinated on November 4, 1921, by a disgruntled nationalist angry at the Hara Cabinet’s approval of the reduction of the army budget, another consequence of the Siberian Intervention.
. Asukai Masamichi, “Roshia kakumei to Nikō jiken,” in Taishōki no kyūshinteki jiyūshugi: Tōyō keizai shinpō wo chūshin toshite, ed. Inoue Kiyoshi and Watanabe Tōru (Tokyo: Tōyō Keizai Shinpō, 1972), 269.
. Mitsukawa Kametarō, Sangoku kanshō igo (Tokyo: Ronsōsha, 2004), 150–51. Waseda University became the hotbed of communist activities in Japan, accommodating early student communist groups and communist professors, among whom Sano Manabu, leader of the JCP, was the most famous.
. Quoted from Sharon Nolte, Liberalism in Modern Japan: Ishibashi Tanzan and His Teachers, 1905–1960 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1986), 152. Terauchi was forced to step down in September 1918 after the Rice Riots and was succeeded by Hara Takashi.
. Peter Berton and Paul F. Langer, “Nobori Shomu: A Pioneer in Russo-Japanese Cultural Relations,” in The Russian Impact on Japan: Literature and Social Thought: Two Essays, ed. Nobori Shomu et al. (Los Angeles: University of Southern California Press, 1981), 13–20.
. Kikuchi, Roshia kakumei, 48–53. The Japanese newspapers relied heavily on British Reuters and uncritically accepted the negative British position toward the October Revolution. See also Mitsukawa Kametarō on the general hysteria in Japanese newspapers about the October Revolution, Lenin, and the advance of Germany (Mitsukawa, Sangoku kanshō igo, 153–55).
. Concessions included the construction of a railway line for military purposes between Harbin and Chanchung, and construction in Harbin of a telephone line for the military (Tomita, Senkanki no Nisso kankei, 17–21). Araki did not trust the general because of his preference for US and British help and instead actively supported Ataman Semenov.
. For Japanese expansion into Chinese politics in 1918, see Itō Masanori, “Shiberia shuppei go no Tōshin tetsudō mondai (1924–1928): Nisso kankei no ichi sokumen,” Sophia Historical Studies 36 (1991): 29–50; and Guoqi Xu, China and the Great War: China’s Pursuit of a New National Identity and Internationalization (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 235–36.
. For more detailed discussion of the Siberian Intervention, see James Morley, The Japanese Thrust into Siberia, 1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1958); and Paul Dunscomb, Japan’s Siberian Intervention, 1918–1922: “A Great Disobedience against the People” (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011). In Japanese, Hosoya Chihiro’s Shiberia shuppei no shiteki kenkyū and Hara Teruyuki’s Shiberia shuppei are still the most authoritative studies. In Japanese scholarship interest has surged in the Siberian Intervention as the precursor to Japanese expansionism in China in the 1930s. See Asada Masafumi, Shiberia shuppei: Kindai Nihon no wasurerareta shichinen sensō (Tokyo: Chūō Kōron Shinsha, 2016).
. Four great powers were involved—Britain, France, Japan, and the United States. Britain and the United States intervened also in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, the northwestern part of Russia, in March and August 1918, respectively, to protect military supply matériel, believed to be threatened by German-supported Finnish forces. Although there was some fighting with the Bolsheviks, the northern front was not that important for the outcome of the Civil War. Britain also dispatched troops to Central Asia, fearing the Turks’ advance through Afghanistan to India. The French in Ukraine withdrew their forces in early 1919, without any fighting. Thus, the only important danger for the new Bolshevik government was the Japanese army in Siberia and the Russian Far East.
. Izao, Shoki Shiberia shuppei no kenkyū, 143–46; Shibata Yoshimasa, “Shiberia shuppeiki tairo bōeki gyōsha shiensaku to Nichiro jitsugyō kabushiki gaisha no katsudō,” Tōyō kenkyū 195, no. 1 (2015): 1–45.
. Gaimushō no hyakunen, 1:688. The Japanese government initiated a Japanese yen economic zone in northeast Asia by issuing and circulating banknotes of the Bank of Chosen (the central bank of Japanese colonial Korea), or gold-backed Japanese military notes in Manchuria, Siberia, and the Russian Far East. The bank had nine branches and offices in Siberia, and its currency was favored by the locals over the discredited Russian currency. It was used for tax payments in the Far Eastern Republic and subsequently in Soviet Russia. Around 4 percent of the banknotes issued were to be found in Siberia by the end of 1921, 17 percent of the bank’s total lending was in Manchuria and Siberia by the end of 1924. The Vladivostok branch of the bank operated until 1930. Eighty percent of the trade that passed through the port of Vladivostok was handled by Japanese trading firms. See Keishi Ono, “The Siberian Intervention and Japanese Society,” in Japan and the Great War, ed. Oliviero Frattolillo and Antony Best (London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2015), 103–4.
. Matsuoka’s proposal for the removal of restrictions on the rights of foreigners to hold land, mine and explore mineral deposits, harvest the forest, navigate inland waters, and engage in coastal trade in Siberia, and open Vladivostok as a free port were rejected by Uchida and Shidehara. See David J. Lu, Agony of Choice: Matsuoka Yōsuke and the Rise and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1880–1946 (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2002), 32–34.
. There were numerous reports that Japanese soldiers and officers did not pay in shops and would often beat shop owners with rifle butts if confronted. There were also reports about the rape of local women.
. See also Elena Varneck and Harold Fisher, eds., Testimony of Kolchak and Other Siberian Materials (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1935), 107–30. Semenov was captured by the Red Army in Harbin in 1945 and executed after trial in Moscow in 1946.
. Hara Teruyuki, “Japan Moves North: The Japanese Occupation of Northern Sakhalin (1920s),” in Rediscovering Russia in Asia: Siberia and the Russian Far East, ed. Stephen Kotkin and David Wolff (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 1995), 55–67.
. On the “Korean factor” of Japan’s intervention in Siberia, see Kan Dokusan, “Nihon teikokushugi no Chōsen shihai to Roshia kakumei,” Rekishigaku kenkyū 329 (1969), 37–76; and Hara Teruyuki, “Kyokutō Roshia ni okeru Chōsen dokuritsu undō to Nihon,” Sanzenri, no. 17 (February 1979): 47–53; Kobayashi, Nisso seiji gaikō shi, 213–24.
. The catchphrase “Korea lies like a dagger ever pointed toward the very heart of Japan” was first popularized in the 1880s and reflected modern Japan’s strategic anxieties and predatory interests in Korea. See Peter Duus, The Abacus and the Sword: The Japanese Penetration of Korea, 1895–1910 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995).
. Japanese fishermen were most in contact with the Russians and were thus often subjected to communist propaganda. “The propaganda was disseminated by pistol-packing Japanese and Korean Communists, who came to the Japanese fishing sheds allegedly under the protection of the Soviet secret police, made speeches, and distributed printed material” (Lensen, Japanese Recognition of the USSR, 349).