The Anti-Western Revolution
An alliance of the Japanese people with the peoples of the Soviet Union would be a decisive step on the way to the liberation of the East. Such an alliance would mean the beginning of the end for world capitalism. This alliance would be invincible.
—Stalin’s interview to Tokyo nichi nichi newspaper, July 1925
Sometime in the spring of 1922, three men—two Japanese and one Russian—met in a boardroom in central Tokyo to discuss how to advance stalled negotiations between Japan and Soviet Russia. The two Japanese men were a member of the House of Representatives, the national populist Nakano Seigō (1886–1943) and a pan-Asianist journalist, Mitsukawa Kametarō (1888–1936). The Russian man was the communist Vasily Antonov, who officially arrived in Tokyo in March 1922 to establish a branch of the telegraphic agency of the Far Eastern Republic (DALTA), but who unofficially acted as a representative of the Soviet government. At the meeting, Mitsukawa asked Antonov whether Soviet Russia intended to pursue the world socialist revolution. Antonov replied that the Soviet government, as a matter of fact, did not plan to instigate world proletarian revolutions but would morally support national revolutions in Asia. Greatly satisfied with the answer, Mitsukawa informed the readers of the prestigious magazine Tōhō jiron about the Soviets’ benevolent intentions in Asia. In the same issue, at Mitsukawa’s recommendation, Antonov’s article “The Nature of the Russian Revolution” (Rokoku kakumei no seishitsu) was published, which largely emphasized Soviet support of the liberation of colonial peoples.1
Mitsukawa, Nakano, and Antonov talked a great deal more about the Russian Revolution and the intentions of the Soviet government during the course of Antonov’s one-year stay in Tokyo. The content of these conversations was surely identical to what Mitsukawa reported in his article, as Antonov’s mission in Tokyo was to convince Japanese decision makers to reconsider their view of the Soviet government. In June 1922, Antonov met with Matsudaira Tsuneo, the director of the Anglo-American Department in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and passed on to him Moscow’s wishes to resume the halted negotiations. As a result, Japanese and Soviet delegations met in September in Vladivostok to set up a further conference. At the same time, Gotō Shinpei, then mayor of Tokyo, reached out to the Soviet government to arrange an unofficial visit to Japan of its representative, Adolf Ioffe. With Ioffe’s arrival in Japan in February 1923, Antonov’s mission was over, and he bid farewell to his acquaintances Mitsukawa and Nakano. Gotō’s work, however, had just started. Gotō, Mitsukawa and other pro-Soviet politicians and public commentators now had a task: to accomplish rapprochement with Russia in a way that would convince the public, the Foreign Ministry, the army, and other doubters, including in China and the United States, at a time when the last Japanese soldiers were still evacuating from mainland Russia.
The Soviet dual and contradictory diplomacy, conducted by both the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Comintern, muddled Japan’s response to the Russian Revolution. As we have seen, the first state response to the Bolshevik takeover was formulated by the military and the Foreign Ministry and resulted in the failed Siberian Intervention. But as the Bolshevik regime showed no sign of collapse, and quite to the contrary engaged in feverish activities in China, many in Japan campaigned for a qualitatively new relationship with Soviet Russia. This campaign was deeply entangled with the unfolding issues of domestic economic policies, as well as Japan’s foreign policies vis-à-vis the Asian continent and the United States. To convince the doubters, especially liberals and conservatives from the Home and Justice ministries (discussed in chapter 4), the Japanese proponents of the rapprochement with Russia, inside and outside the government, preferred to focus on the USSR as a state—whose leadership, they argued, had abandoned its revolutionary zeal and slogans in order to survive in the hostile international environment. Pan-Asianists, who are discussed in the first half of this chapter, considered the Russian Revolution as an anti-Western revolt that, they argued, made Soviet Russia an obvious ally of Japan. Regarding Western imperialist powers as Japan’s biggest enemies, pan-Asianists agitated for Soviet-Japanese cooperation, and even for the creation of a Eurasian bloc, in order to resist the Anglo-American world order that was undermining Japan’s (and, by extension, Asia’s) safety and well-being. This was a powerful argument, and it gained strong, influential supporters in government and business circles during the interwar and wartime periods. The second part of this chapter deals with Gotō Shinpei, and the subsequent efforts of the government to find grounds for peaceful coexistence with Soviet Russia in East Asia. Pan-Asianists’ and pro-Soviet politicians’ coordinated efforts thus demonstrate not only the fact that Soviet Russia loomed large in Japan’s overall foreign policy, but also that foreign affairs began to be viewed as the key and only solution to Japan’s domestic issues.
The Russian Revolution, with its vision of international solidarity and an alternative social order, coincided with the rise of another movement in Japan— pan-Asianism. Pan-Asianist ideas in Japan date back to the end of the nineteenth century, when terms such as “pan-Asianism” (Han-Ajiashugi, or Zen-Ajiashugi), “Asian solidarity” (Ajia rentai), and “Raising Asia” (kō-A) were coined and employed by various political organizations and individuals concerned with Japan’s foreign policy vis-à-vis Western powers and Japan’s Asian neighbors.2 There were two fundamental concepts underlying most strands of Japanese pan-Asianism. First, as Mitsukawa explained, pan-Asianism was based on the belief that “Asia constitutes culturally, politically, economically, geographically and racially a single community that shares the same fate.”3 Second was the conviction that Western imperialism threatened Asia, and that the only defense against Western encroachment was the unity of Asian peoples. As a political vision of a united front of Asian nations against Western imperialism, pan-Asianism had strong links with Asian anticolonial nationalism. In most Japanese versions of pan-Asianism, however, Japan was imagined as the leader of an Asian alliance, but the form of the union and the nature of Japan’s leadership varied.4
Pan-Asianism became a viable and eventually mainstream approach to foreign politics in the post–World War I period, which seemingly exposed the decline of the Western liberal-capitalist and imperial global order and presented the chance for alternative programs to be realized. The Russian Revolution made an especially strong impact on pan-Asianists because it presented itself as a radical break from and challenge to Western capitalism and imperialism. This chapter explores the Soviet moment in Japanese pan-Asianist circles during the 1920s, centered on the writings of Mitsukawa Kametarō, who extensively addressed the issue of the relationship between the Japanese Empire and Soviet Russia on the Asian continent. Mitsukawa was a well-known journalist, the founder of a number of important right-wing societies, and an educator with extensive connections—from liberal university professors to senior military officers, and from Chinese and Indian revolutionaries in exile in Japan to the tairiku rōnin, Japanese pro-expansionist adventurers in China.5 As a member of an Indian liberation fighters’ support group, in 1916, Mitsukawa met Tōyama Mitsuru (1855–1944), leader of the nationalist Gen’yōsha (Dark Ocean Society); Uchida Ryōhei (1879–1937), founder of the nationalist Kokuryūkai (Black Dragon Society); nationalist politician Nakano Seigō; Home Minister Gotō Shinpei; and the infamous Ōkawa Shūmei (1886–1957). Moreover, as a journalist for the naval publication Kaikoku shinpō, Mitsukawa grew close to the highest echelons of the navy, among whom were Admiral Saitō Makoto, later the president of the Russo-Japanese Society after the death of Gotō Shinpei, and Admirals Nakazato Shigeji and Sakonji Seizō, who became presidents of the North Sakhalin Oil Enterprise.6 These influential groups—Gotō Shinpei, the navy, the Meiji nationalist organizations, fishery business, and pan-Asianist circles—finally formed a pro-Russian lobby, pushing successfully for the normalization of Soviet-Japanese relations in 1925.
The pan-Asianism of Mitsukawa, Ōkawa, and other members of their circle initially grew out of their encounter with the plight of Indian anticolonial exiles, which fed their already brooding anti-British and in general anti-Western attitudes.7 Mitsukawa and Ōkawa founded a number of important rightist organizations, such as the Rōsōkai (Old and Young Association, established in 1918) and the Yūzonsha (Society of Those Who Yet Remain, established in 1919), with the infamous radical nationalist Kita Ikki (1883–1937), among others. More consequential, however, was the fact that both Mitsukawa and Ōkawa worked at Takushoku University (Colonial Development University since 1919, formerly known as Oriental Society Technical School), where Gotō served as president. Takushoku University was tasked with educating administrators for Japan’s colonial empire and, in fact, Professor Ōkawa was later promoted to researcher, and then director, of the SMR Research Institute, which Gotō founded in 1906.8 Mitsukawa also had a very close relationship with Gotō. What makes Mitsukawa an especially significant figure is that he became the author of the memorandums on Soviet-Japanese relations that Gotō used in his arguments with the Cabinet and the Foreign Ministry, while pushing for stronger cooperation with Soviet Russia. Mitsukawa also worked closely with Gotō when he was preparing for his trip to Russia at the end of 1927 to meet Joseph Stalin and People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Georgy Chicherin. What then were Mitsukawa’s ideas about Soviet-Japanese cooperation on the Asian continent that would inform his work with Gotō?
In 1918, having for some time questioned the justness of the Eurocentric international order, Mitsukawa, Ōkawa, and other like-minded anti-imperialist pan-Asianists enthusiastically supported the Russian Revolution as a major assault on Western imperialism, appropriating along the way the categories of the Marxist-Leninist critique of imperialism. Mitsukawa expressed genuine admiration for Lenin and the Bolsheviks, lauding them as true patriots who saved Russia from total disintegration and destruction.9 Ōkawa also admired how the Bolsheviks won despite foreign intervention, the counterrevolution, and conquered hunger and devastation by conviction and bravery alone, “teaching us that with this degree of faith and bravery the impossible can become possible.”10 In this regard, Mitsukawa, as well as Ōkawa and Kita Ikki, saw parallels between the Russian and Meiji revolutions: both were simultaneously modernizing and national revolutions; the former was accomplished by a group of Bolsheviks under the leadership of Lenin, while the latter was a coup d’état of lower samurai and a dedicated civilian elite. Kita Ikki, for example, wrote: “Those who jump to the conclusion that a coup d’état is an abuse of power on behalf of conservative despotism ignore history… . We see in the present Russian Revolution the example of Lenin using machine guns to dissolve a parliament filled with obstructionist forces.”11
Mitsukawa’s support of the Russian Revolution found its way into a political pamphlet he published in May 1919. Titled Why Do We Make Bolsheviks Our Enemy? (Naze ni Borushevizumu wo teki to nasu ka), the pamphlet argued for Japan’s cooperation with Soviet Russia and the immediate withdrawal of Japanese troops from Russian territory.12 Mitsukawa asserted that Bolshevism was not a threat to the Japanese Empire and nation: “Against those who argue that Bolsheviks are like pests and that, if you touch them, the empire’s kokutai would be in danger, I say that making the Bolsheviks an enemy exposes the empire to even graver danger.”13 Alienating the Bolsheviks could potentially be a grave mistake with serious repercussions for domestic life and foreign affairs. Mitsukawa also suspected that the foreign intervention in Russia was designed by the Anglo-American powers to constrict the Japanese presence in Asia.
A positive outlook on the Bolshevik takeover was shared by most nationalist-minded commentators. The first ever publication of Trotsky’s writings in Japanese was his article “Bolsheviks and World Peace,” translated by Endō Kichisaburō, a radical nationalist and renowned oceanologist from Hokkaido University, published in December 1917 in the rightist magazine Dai Nippon, where Mitsukawa worked. Arguing that the Bolsheviks’ goal was to pull Russia out of the war and restore its national strength, Endō berated the hysteria in the Japanese media about the Bolsheviks being pawns of Germany.14 But despite considering the Meiji and October revolutions as similar in causes and objectives, for Mitsukawa, Kita, Endō, and other nationalists, the key to the success of the Meiji Revolution was the powerful unifying force of the Japanese imperial institution. Unlike Western or Russian monarchies, Mitsukawa wrote, the Japanese monarchy had the innate character of goodwill toward its people, and only it was able to mobilize the whole nation and restore its unity. In this regard, pan-Asianists upheld a commonly shared view that the Romanov dynasty was more equivalent to the feudal Tokugawa rule rather than the Meiji monarchy.15
In the first postrevolutionary years, the Yūzonsha group, formed by Mitsukawa, Ōkawa, and Kita Ikki in 1919, also embraced revolutionary fervor. Mitsukawa saw that Japan was in danger of adopting of a Western, capitalist way of life: the chase after profit and the pursuit of selfish individualism, which in foreign policy manifested in politicians, oligarchs, and big business bowing before the Great Powers and abandoning Japan’s national interests. Mitsukawa’s 1918 article on this subject, “The Coming of the Age of Revolution” (Kakumei jidai no tōrai), begins by characterizing the late 1910s as an era in which the old Meiji revolutionary spirit and order were finally exhausted: people’s thoughts and actions were morally depraved and money-driven, politicians were corrupt, and the emperor had fallen out of touch with the Japanese people due to the usurpation of state power by wealthy oligarchs. Postwar economic depression, the resentment felt by impoverished peasants and workers toward the new rich (narikin), the Rice Riots, and people’s discontent with the Siberian Intervention, Mitsukawa and Ōkawa claimed, would together serve as the impetus for a social revolution.16
Ideas espoused by Mitsukawa and other members of the Yūzonsha were part of what the historian Itō Takashi called the emerging “national renovationist” (kokka kaizō) movement.17 As Ōkawa himself explained, fervor for national renovation was embraced by different political groups united by concern over Japan’s domestic policies and international standing.
During World War I, following the rapid development of Japanese capitalism, social problems and social movements were on the rise. Second, under the impact of World War I, the Russian communist revolution, the collapse of Austria-Hungary, the Spanish revolution, and the Italian fascist dictatorship altered social structures all around the world. Because of these developments, various reconstruction organizations sprang up in Japan. This reconstruction movement can be divided roughly into the following segments. First was anarchism, whose leader was the now deceased Ōsugi Sakae. Second was the communist party, and third were social-democratic organizations that later developed into various proletarian parties. Fourth was national socialism [kokka shakaishugi], centered around Takabatake Motoyuki. Fifth was the Yūzonsha group, whose political program echoed that of national socialism. Despite this resemblance, the spiritual foundations of the Yūzonsha were different, as it was based on Japanese tradition.18
Here Ōkawa explained that by the end of World War I, pan-Asianists, nationalists, communists, and national socialists had shared the call for a radical revolution to end the rule of the “corrupt privileged strata” (bureaucratic, financial, and political party cliques) that enslaved the people. The goals of a reformed state were a reduced bureaucracy, state regulation of big business, elimination of party politics, and rule by a dedicated group of politicians in the name of the emperor. The revolution’s purpose thus was to “purify” the corrupted body politic, “cleanse” and revitalize the state, and return society to its original premises.
Mitsukawa offered an even cruder distinction between postwar political groups in pointing out that contemporary opinion about the management of society split into two approaches: kokkashugi (statism), which included socialists and pan-Asianists, and minshushugi (democracy), espoused by proponents of Western-type liberal democracy.19 Pan-Asianists’ main objection to the “democracy” movement was not that it was a political theory of an essentially foreign intellectual and political tradition. To the contrary, pan-Asianists and nationalists actively supported the universal suffrage movement. Their main fear was that Japan’s liberal-democratic movement and its leaders could be used by Western imperialist powers to gain influence over the hearts and minds of the people of Japan and other Asian nations. Instead of a liberal-democratic program, the “renovationists” offered a better solution, what Mitsukawa called totalitarian politics (dokusai seiji).20 In envisioning a centralized state beyond party politics, based on a planned economy and military-industrial base, it is no wonder that “renovationists” expressed greater sympathy with Soviet state-building.21
The impact of the Russian Revolution can be detected in the new vocabulary that pan-Asianists began to employ in the early 1920s. Although they often publicly dismissed communist ideas, especially those pertaining to class warfare and the abolition of monarchy, in many instances they appropriated the Leninist framework of world revolutionary struggle. Pan-Asianists perceived the West and the East to be engaged in different historical tasks: Europe was undergoing social revolutions, while Asia was undergoing national liberation revolutions. Both depended on each other, and together they amounted to a world revolution.22 Their argument very much resembled Lenin’s claim that revolutions in the West would result in the immediate establishment of a socialist or communist order; in the East, in colonial and semicolonial countries, the bourgeois-democratic movements would play the leading role in national liberation.23 There are also striking similarities between Lenin’s and the pan-Asianists’ classification of nations. At the start of World War I, Lenin argued that the world is divided not only into different social classes but into different nations as well: the entirely exploiter bourgeois nations and the entirely exploited proletarian nations. Pan-Asianist thinkers seized on Lenin’s distinction and identified Japan as a “proletarian” state, oppressed by Western capitalist imperialism, sharing this status with the likes of China, India, Egypt, and Soviet Russia. Hence, for pan-Asianists the idea of Asia was not just based on a shared language, culture, or religion—“Asia” was composed of every region that suffered at the hands of Western imperialism. In relation to Russia, Mitsukawa argued that the Russian Revolution transformed Russia from a Western imperialist power into a proletarian, oppressed, and therefore—by definition—Asian nation.24
Moreover, the idea that Russia was geographically and culturally part of Asia was not, of course, novel and was in fact developed by Russian philosophers and literati in the late nineteenth century as part of their critique of Western modernity. Mitsukawa and other pan-Asianists were aware of Russia’s Eurasianism—that Russia was not of Europe nor of Asia but constituted a separate geographical and civilizational entity, Eurasia—according to another member of the Yūzonsha, Shimano Saburō (1893–1982), one of the pioneers of Russian studies in Japan. As a student of Russian language and literature, Shimano spent the years between 1911 and 1918 in Vladivostok, Moscow, and Saint Petersburg, at one point on a scholarship from the SMRC, whose president, Kawakami Toshitsune (another supporter of rapprochement with Russia), Shimano personally knew. He was a student of the Russian philosopher Semyon Frank and the famous Buddhologist Fyodor Shcherbatsky, and he was acquainted with the religious philosophers Nikolai Berdyaev and Sergei Bulgakov, whose critique of the Russian Revolution, combined with the assertion of the uniqueness of the Russian civilization, made a big impact on Shimano’s political outlook. After witnessing the February and October revolutions, Shimano relocated to Siberia in 1919, now as an SMR employee in the role of Japanese army translator and messenger attached to Ataman Semenov’s army in Transbaikalia. After witnessing the dark side of the Bolshevik Revolution in the capital, and the atrocities committed by both the Red and the White armies in Siberia, Shimano was intensely averse to revolution as a political method but never identified himself as an anticommunist. After his return to Tokyo, he continued to work for the SMR, but his career largely revolved around translation of Russian Eurasianist émigré literature, most notably Nikolai Trubetskoy’s Europe and Mankind (1920), a devastating critique of Eurocentrism. Shimano’s reports on Eurasianism and his translations appeared mainly in the journals of the SMR, but many were reprinted later by pan-Asianist publishers.25 However, we can only speculate to what extent his views influenced Japanese pan-Asianist thought on Russia. But what is undeniable is that Japanese pan-Asianists were aware that a similar tradition of viewing world history as a confrontation between the East and the West existed in Russia as well.
The Russian Revolution’s uniqueness lay in the fact that it was, for pan-Asianists, not a class war against capitalism but the first successful anti-Western, anti-imperialist revolt. In Stolen Asia (Ubawaretaru Asia, 1921), Mitsukawa declared that globally the post–World War I years were a time of liberation of societies from the oppression of wealth and liberation of nations (minzoku kaihō) from the oppression of foreign powers. It so happened that Russia became the leader of these two movements because of the success and strength of the Russian Revolution. Mitsukawa wrote in 1921:
What is the world revolution? It is the destruction of the egoistic and selfish desires in the whole world, and the creation of ideal states on earth where justice and peaceful coexistence would be fulfilled. It is the elimination of racist discrimination, resolution of uneven development, and realization of fairness of existence of the humankind. This world revolutionary spirit was affected by the Great War, brooded by it, nurtured, and then erupted as an independent movement. The old powers must be replaced by the new. The forerunner of this movement was without doubt Russia, where the global revolutionary spirit broke out in March 1917. The first page of the history of the world revolution begins in Nordic snowy Russia.26
In other words, the Russian Revolution was the first in a series of upcoming global revolutions that together would alter the course of world history by superseding the Western hegemonic order.27 The Bolsheviks’ support of anticolonial movements in Turkey, Persia, and Afghanistan in 1921 seemed to support the pan-Asianists’ conviction that the Russian Revolution was part of the emerging Asian awakening.28 By emphasizing the anti-imperialist and therefore pro-Asian impulse of the Russian Revolution, Mitsukawa and Ōkawa intended to defuse its perceived threat and even express affinity with its objectives. Their attitude reveals the great confidence that the pan-Asianists had in the stability of Japanese society and polity—a confidence that the national socialists, for example, lacked, likely because they were more acutely aware of the country’s social contradictions. Mitsukawa’s pro-Soviet position, his claim that Soviet Russia did not pose a threat to Japan’s monarchical body politic (kokutai)—or, for that matter, to any statist principles because it was itself built on them—as well as his personal friendship with many renowned socialists, led some to even label him a communist.29
Pan-Asianist commentators somewhat qualified their view once the Soviets successfully established their first two satellite states—the Tuvan People’s Republic (est. in 1921, joined the USSR in 1944) and the Mongolian People’s Republic (est. in 1924)—and gained control over Central Asia in the years between 1919 and 1925. If before the pan-Asianists had stressed the anti-imperialist impulse of the Russian Revolution, from the mid-1920s on they argued that the abolition of capitalism within Russia did not mean that Russia had abandoned its imperialist pursuits and interests abroad. In his reappraisal of the Soviet regime, Mitsukawa reproached: “Moscow people do not want to be called imperialists, but as long as they control the vast territory of Siberia and Mongolia, they cannot deny they are being imperialist.”30 In fact,
There is no difference between imperialism and socialism. The opposite of imperialism is the small country principle; the opposite of socialism is capitalism. Russia and the U.S. are both big countries and big powers and, as such, both practice imperialism. We wrongly used to think that capitalism alone requires imperialist tactics to increase its economic power and that, on this basis, it is the enemy of socialism. [We also used to think that] imperialism was equated with monarchy. Postrevolutionary Russia does not replace tsarist Russia and is as imperialist.31
However, for pan-Asianists, there was still a qualitative difference between Soviet and Western varieties of imperialism. The former was dictated by its geographical circumstances, largely originated in resistance to the latter, and therefore was moral and justified. Western imperialism, in contrast, was predatory. Having vindicated the USSR’s foreign policy, Mitsukawa insisted that the Soviet advance in Asia was reminiscent, and in fact a continuation, of tsarist foreign policies, which were not incompatible with Japan’s benevolent imperial designs for the same region.
Supporters of Asian regionalism began actively to work and lobby for Japan’s rapprochement with Russia. Another vocal supporter of the Bolsheviks, Nakano Seigō had, since his election to the Diet in 1920, been advocating for replacing the Japanese-British alliance, which would expire in 1922, with a Japanese-Russian alliance. In 1922, he and Ogata Taketora, another influential journalist and later right-wing politician, created the organization Yūshinsha (New Society), whose purposes were to advance the withdrawal of Japanese troops from Siberia, recognize the USSR, cancel all Russian debts, and promote cooperation between Russia, China, and Japan. Nakano and Mitsukawa, also a member of the Yūshinsha, became deeply involved in the Russo-Japanese negotiations, regularly meeting with Soviet representative Antonov during his stay in Tokyo in 1922–23, and acting as intermediaries between the Japanese government and Soviet state representatives.32
One episode in particular reveals the Yūshinsha’s role as an important intermediary. The anarchist Takao Heibē, during his trip to Russia in the winter of 1922, met Lenin himself and (possibly at Lenin’s request) made contact with his old acquaintance, none other than Nakano Seigō, in order to reach influential politicians through him. Nakano and Takao met at a Rōsōkai group, established by Mitsukawa and Ōkawa in October 1918, and kept in contact based on their shared support of the Bolshevik regime and opposition to the Siberian Intervention. Nakano, in turn, contacted Gotō Shinpei. Although Gotō had received information about the situation in Russia from the SMR research institute, he was unaware of the full intentions of the Soviet leaders. According to Takao’s communication, Lenin and other Bolshevik leaders wanted to assure the Japanese government that they had no plans to incite a revolution or support a military takeover in Japan. Instead, the Soviet government was interested in the normalization of diplomatic relations in order to focus on rebuilding the country, which had been devastated by the revolution and previous wars. The historian Matsuo Takayoshi speculates that this information convinced Gotō and other influential politicians to move toward recognizing the USSR.33
What is remarkable about this episode is not only the ease with which an anarchist vagabond (Takao) could communicate with a nationalist Diet member (Nakano) and one of the most prominent politicians of the time (Gotō), but also the friendly relations and mutual accord that existed between people from presumably opposite ideological positions. How unconcerned Gotō was about mingling with leftist circles, and how normal this was at the time, can be gleaned from the fact that when Soviet Foreign Deputy Adolf Ioffe arrived in Japan in February 1923, Gotō used the anarchists Takao and Taguchi Unzō (the Japanese representative to the Third Comintern Congress) as his go-betweens with Ioffe.34 Gotō, in fact, knew the leftist circles very well. His adopted daughter was married to the eldest brother of a top communist leader, Sano Manabu, named Hyōta, and it was known that Gotō personally funded the most famous Taishō anarchist, Ōsugi Sakae.35 Very suggestive is the fact that as Gotō, in his capacity as foreign minister, was authorizing the dispatch of troops to Siberia, he was making contact with the very influential liberal politician Ōzaki Yukio in 1919 to create a workers’ party—which, they agreed, would become part of a new government orientation toward implementing a policy of state socialism. Their plan and negotiations were known to the public, which indicates that at that time the inclusion of socialist ideas in a political program was rather an acceptable norm.36
Mitsukawa’s support of the recognition, however, split the Yūzonsha. When Ioffe arrived in Japan to discuss the terms of Japan’s recognition of the USSR, disagreements erupted between Ōkawa and Mitsukawa on one side, and Kita Ikki on the other.37 Kita used Ioffe’s visit as an opportunity to vent his long-held antipathy toward Russia, largely because he followed with alarm the growing Soviet influence in Chinese politics. Kita’s view of Russia was further influenced by the way the Russians had treated his close friend and disciple (deshi) Iwata Fumio. On Kita’s suggestion, Iwata traveled twice to Siberia (in July 1921 and September 1922) for intelligence gathering for the Japanese army; on his second trip, he was captured and imprisoned in the Siberian town of Chita for six months. Kita attended a celebration after Iwata’s return from Chita in January 1923, just a week or so before Ioffe’s visit to Japan. Importantly, however, it was Gotō who pleaded with Ioffe to release Iwata. Ioffe, in turn, requested from Moscow the release of Iwata in order to facilitate the recognition negotiations.38 Whether Kita was aware of Gotō’s role in the release of his friend is unknown.
Nevertheless, in his “Open Letter of Warning to Ioffe,” thirty thousand copies of which were distributed across Japan, Kita compared Ioffe to a cat and likened Gotō and other Japanese politicians who had invited him to Japan to rats. Kita urged Ioffe to go home while he still had his life and stated that his main concern was Russia’s aggressive advance in China. For Kita, Russia was an enemy to China, and thus an enemy to Japan. Any cooperation or alliance between Russia and Japan was impossible. To his mind, postrevolutionary Russia was the heir to tsarist Russia, as the Bolsheviks claimed all former Romanov-controlled territory as their own while refusing to take responsibility for Russia’s former international obligations. To stop Soviet Russia, which he regarded as essentially imperialist, Kita even proposed an economic alliance with the United States as a prerequisite to a possible war with either Britain or Russia. In contrast, Ōkawa and Mitsukawa seemed more concerned about the United States, because they believed that Japan had more fundamental disagreements with the American liberal-capitalist order and therefore faced an imminent war with it.39
Kita Ikki had a very negative view of the Russian Revolution and the popularity of socialist ideas in Japan from the beginning. Divergent assessments of the revolution and Soviet Russia contributed, among other factors, to a split within the pan-Asianist movement in 1923. In a letter from February 1920, addressed to his closest friend, who had been arrested for anarchist propaganda, Kita regretted that the brightest young people in Japan were captivated by the Russian Revolution, socialism, and anarchism—all of which, he insisted, were foreign intellectual products and thus inapplicable to Japanese reality. Karl Marx and Pyotr Kropotkin were utopian and old-fashioned, Kita thought, and implementing their ideas of class struggle, internationalist proletarian brotherhood, and destruction of centralized institutions could bring only harm to a nation.40 Moreover, he recalled that Kropotkin had supported the Russian war effort in World War I and had therefore abandoned proletarian internationalism. Kita then proceeded to discredit the world significance of the Russian Revolution. He did not understand, he wrote, why “people admire an inferior revolution of an inferior people.” Russia was a barbaric country, he argued, with 80 percent of its people illiterate, cruelly treated by their own government, like animals. Lacking the capacity to govern themselves, they were dependent on the Germans to manage them. “These are different things—the battle of gods and the battle of people in hell,” he wrote. Before admiring the revolution, he advised his friend that one first needed to study Russia and its history. The revolution was an internal political reorganization that brought an outsider group to power; but in terms of foreign affairs, Kita predicted, Russia would maintain its expansionist and imperialist drive.41
Kita’s view, however, was in the minority, while the pro-Russian, pan-Asianist trend gained ascendancy. Kita has received more attention in English scholarship than Mitsukawa and Ōkawa, as one of the “founders of Japanese fascism,” and for his alleged influence on various terrorist right-wing groups, such as the Ketsumeidan (Blood Brothers Band) and the Sakurakai (Cherry Blossom Society), both composed of young army officers who, in the 1930s, sought to bring terror to Japan’s high politics and big business. Regarded as the inspirational mastermind behind the failed coup of February 26, 1936, Kita Ikki was executed in August 1937. Historians, however, have raised doubts about the degree of his involvement in and influence on the terrorist acts of the 1930s.42 After the collapse of the Yūzonsha in 1923, Kita Ikki lived in reclusive isolation and devoted himself to the practice of apocalyptic Nichiren Buddhism. In contrast, Mitsukawa and Ōkawa remained at the center of political life in the capital. Ōkawa continued to enjoy respect and influence among intellectuals, politicians, the military, and various Asian exiles. Besides lecturing to future colonial administrators at the Takushoku University and acting as the director of the highly influential research institute of the SMR, he taught at a small private academy on the grounds of the imperial palace. Among his students were army officers such as Araki Sadao, Hata Sanetsugu, and Watanabe Jōtarō—all of whom later attained the rank of general and had a great influence on Japan’s foreign and domestic policy in the 1930s.43 Mitsukawa also remained politically active, expanding his network to high military and political echelons. The acme of his political career was his membership in the famous Dai Ajia Kyōkai (The Greater Asian Association), which included Prime Minister Prince Konoe Fumimaro and General Matsui Iwane, and acted as a “brain trust” for the cabinet, similar to the better-known Showa Kenkyūkai. Thus, within the pan-Asianist group the faction that advocated for Soviet-Japanese rapprochement and a regional Asian bloc became the most active and politically influential throughout the interwar period. Pan-Asianist discussions became closely entangled in Soviet-Japanese negotiations, initially promoted by Gotō Shinpei.
In December 1917, the new Soviet government had already approached Japan’s ambassador to Russia, Uchida Kōsai, regarding recognition and new trade treaties. Despite the tense situation in Siberia, in June 1918 and again in February 1920 the Bolsheviks offered Japan concessions in Siberia and the Far East, including in the fishery and oil industries. On February 24, 1920, People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Chicherin published an open letter to the Japanese foreign minister, “Soviet Peace Offer to Japan,” which stated: “The peoples of Russia cherish no aggressive designs against Japan. The Soviet government has no intention of interfering in the internal affairs of the Japanese people. It fully recognizes the special economic and commercial interests of Japan in the Far East, interests surpassing in several respects those of other countries.”44 For the time being, the Japanese government left the Soviet note unanswered.
But as the other powers were beginning to negotiate with Soviet Russia, Tokyo realized that to continue to ignore Soviet proposals for negotiations would leave Japan at a disadvantage. Concerned with securing its interests in the Russian Far East, northern Manchuria, and Inner Mongolia, in 1921 the Japanese government entered talks with the Bolshevik government via the Far Eastern Republic about the withdrawal of its troops, economic concessions, and recognition of the Soviet government. As one historian succinctly put it, “while the commanders of the Japanese forces were burning Bolsheviks alive, Tokyo diplomats were systematically trying to find out whether the comrades of these victims of Japanese brutality might not come back to the political path of Nicholas II’s alliance with Japan.”45 This new, reversed diplomatic approach was based, however, on a certain understanding of what communism was and would do, and what Soviet leaders were and would do.
Here I argue that throughout the 1920s, a faction of politicians, business leaders, and nongovernmental groups began to advocate rapprochement with the communist state based on the convenient separation in the official rhetoric of, on one hand, communism as an international ideology, with its organ the Comintern as an international revolutionary organization and, on the other hand, the Soviet Union as a national state. Soviet officials also did their utmost to distance themselves from the Comintern, which, they claimed, was an international organization that had nothing to do with the USSR. This basic separation was also instrumental in the 1930s—when Japan claimed that the Anti-Comintern Pact of 1936 was directed against the international organization of the Comintern, not the USSR—and later, when in pursuit of a nonaggression pact (finally settling on a neutrality pact) with the Soviet Union, Japanese officials claimed that the Neutrality Pact of 1940 was signed with the USSR as another “normal” state, not with a rascal revolutionary outsider. Certainly, this understanding was not universal. As will be discussed in the following chapters, the military and national socialists did not distinguish between the Soviet state and communist ideology. But even then, it was hard to tell where the military’s hostility toward communism ended and where its traditional agitation against “the neighbor from the North” started.
Government policies relating to Russia were not limited to Soviet-Japanese relations but were placed in the larger context of Japan’s policy vis-à-vis China, Britain, and the United States. For Gotō Shinpei, the rapprochement with Soviet Russia was important most of all to secure Japanese interests in Asia.46 In his memorandum to the Cabinet from March 1923, Gotō identified Japan’s foreign policy tasks as follows: “1) to solidify the foundations for undertaking economic development in Asiatic Russia; 2) to eliminate the source of future troubles by forestalling possible American moves toward Russia; and 3) to prevent any machinations on the part of the Chinese before they can achieve a rapprochement with Russia.”47 There was a growing concern about the United States’ intentions in Manchuria and the Russian Far East, especially after its acquisition of concessions in Sakhalin.48 But most of all, Gotō feared that a Sino-Soviet rapprochement would result in Japan’s isolation in East Asia. He blamed the Foreign Ministry for relying on cooperation with Britain and the United States at the expense of Japan’s interests on the continent. In truth, Gotō argued, only a collaboration between Soviet Russia and Japan would be able to bring some order to the chaos that was Chinese politics, an effect of which was to allow an opening to the United States to penetrate Chinese market.49
If a Japanese-Soviet rapprochement can be realized, it will be instrumental in the first place, in forestalling the plot the Chinese are now engineering and, second, in bringing about a favorable situation for us for getting easy access to economic concessions. To advance national interests, Japan took steps to establish friendship with Russia in the days of tsarist Russia without questioning its aggressive policy.50
The Balkanization of China, as Gotō remarked, threatened Japan’s economic position, and to prevent such disintegration, cooperation with Russia (be it imperial or Soviet) was an absolute prerequisite.
Considering Japan’s vital interests on the continent, Gotō appealed to geography. No one canceled the fact that part of Soviet Russia’s territory was in Asia, and that it had extensive borders with China, Korea, and Japan, wrote Gotō. As such, the Bolshevik regime inherited from the tsarist government the same sets of concerns and objectives. One has only to remember how the Soviet government denied the Karakhan statement from 1919 about giving up the CER and began to assert its legal heritage of the tsarist concessions in China’s territory. Therefore, Gotō continued, it was more natural for Japan to ally with Soviet Russia and pursue a common China policy and shared interests on the Asian continent, rather than to align with geographically distant Anglo-American powers.51
For Gotō and other pro-Russian influential groups, potential economic and political gains overshadowed concerns about communist subversion. Marxist doctrine and the political character of the Bolshevik regime were not considered insurmountable obstacles for a mutually beneficial economic and political partnership. This view reached its ascendancy when Gotō served as home minister in the cabinet of Yamamoto Gonnohyōe (in office September 1923–January 1924). But even before that, since 1922 Gotō’s position had been backed by Prime Minister Takahashi Korekiyo (November 1921–June 1922), who resolved on the “peaceful development of the continent” under the “tōa keizai ryoku” (Asian economic cooperation) policy, which required cooperation with the Soviet Union. The next prime minister, Admiral Katō Tomosaburō (in office June 1922–August 1923), was also Gotō’s supporter, himself driven by the navy’s desire for concessions over Sakhalin’s oil resources, on which it was coming increasingly to depend.52 Incidentally, the North Sakhalin Oil Company presidency was occupied by people from the navy, who were eager to maintain nonconfrontational relations with the new Soviet government.53 Not coincidentally, it was the navy’s initiative to have the Imperial Defense Policy revised in 1923, identifying the United States as Japan’s chief “hypothetical” enemy, and thereby initiating a reassessment of relations with the Soviet Union. The army resisted these changes and insisted that the wording be modified to include the possibility of war against two or even three enemies at once, which meant keeping the Soviet Union on the list of hypothetical enemies (albeit not as the chief one), along with the United States and China.54
In addition, behind Gotō stood the formidable support of the business community, especially the fishery business, which was the least preoccupied with communist ideology. In fact, it was the same business circles that pushed the Japanese government to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union after 1945. Representatives of the Far East Business Development Corporation (established in 1919 to explore business opportunities in Russia during the Siberian Intervention), and which included all major business companies of the day—Mitsui, Mitsubishi, Furukawa, Kuhara, Sumitomo, the SMR, Yokohama Bank, Bank of Colonial Korea, and many others—visited Ioffe during his stay in Japan and expressed interest in metallurgy, forestry, railroads, and especially in establishing a Soviet-Japanese shipbuilding company.55 The Soviet government welcomed these prospects eagerly, and the subsequent development of the Russian Far East was to a great extent funded by Japanese money.
Related to this was the support Gotō received from the old Meiji nationalist groups. On one hand, the Gen’yōsha and Kokuryūkai had always regarded the Siberian Intervention as harmful to Japan’s interests and openly supported the recognition of the USSR. Although expressing some concern over communist propaganda, these groups were deeply involved in the fishery business and had a keen interest in oil concessions in Sakhalin. High-ranking members of the Gen’yōsha and Kokuryūkai were employed in different fishery companies or had large investments tied to the fishery industry. According to Ioffe’s reports, in November 1922 in Beijing he met with a member of the Kokuryūkai who proposed to buy Sakhalin Island, which Ioffe refused to discuss. Nevertheless, the Meiji nationalist groups acted as intermediaries and were inconspicuously involved in inviting Ioffe to Japan.56
On the other hand, Gotō’s pro-Russian activities drew criticism from newly established nationalist groups that had proliferated since 1919. Most vocal among the critics was Kita Ikki, discussed above. Unlike the old Meiji nationalist groups, the Taishō nationalist groups were often organized around anticommunist ideas and were backed by the Home Ministry and/or on the payroll of the police, who were growing anxious about the domestic communist movement. One of the nationalist groups, the Sekka Bōshidan, in February 1923 twice attacked Gotō’s house, smashing furniture and doors and injuring Gotō’s eldest son, who met them in place of his father.57 As a friend of Gotō’s, the military officer Satō Yasuburo warned Gotō that the new radical right was manipulated by his political enemies. Satō called the agitating nationalist groups crazy and deranged and advised Gotō to be very careful. He also recommended starting a counterpropaganda attack that would emphasize the advantages of the alliance with Soviet Russia and Gotō’s explanation of communism.58 Spurred by the reluctance of the Foreign Ministry to go ahead with the recognition, as well as by indirect attacks from the Home Ministry, Gotō resolved to address the issue of communism publicly.
The opportunity for a counterattack came immediately. Gotō made public his views on communism in the introduction he wrote to the Japanese edition of a work by a prominent American historian, Charles A. Beard, titled Cross Currents in Europe Today, published in Boston in 1922. The Japanese edition, titled The Political Situation in Proletarian Russia after the War, was published by numerous newspapers on February 7, 1923, and quickly became in Japan the most authoritative interpretation of the Bolshevik regime. Ioffe gave Lenin a copy of the English edition of Beard’s work after Ioffe’s return from Japan. Ioffe mentioned with annoyance in his reports that Gotō gave public speeches and interviews about the Soviet Union, using Beard’s “ridiculous misconceptions” about Soviet communism—adding that he, Ioffe, had to repudiate them in his own interviews.59
What mostly annoyed Ioffe was Gotō’s denial of the uniqueness of the Russian Revolution. Instead, Gotō saw the Russian Revolution as modernizing and nationalist in the manner of the Meiji Revolution. Gotō argued that if one looked at the first years of the Bolshevik regime, one could not help but see similarities between the October Revolution and the Meiji Revolution. Both, Gotō judged, had the same objective: to “expel barbarians” (foreigners) and restore the country by promoting “loyalism” to the state and its leaders.60 In 1927, Gotō likened Trotsky, ousted by Stalin, to the hero of the Meiji Revolution, Saigō Takamori, who in opposition to the Meiji government went into exile and died during the Satsuma Rebellion in 1877.61 Gotō wisely refrained from looking for analogies to Lenin and Stalin in recent Japanese history.
In terms of communist ideology, using Beard’s writings Gotō argued that international communism was not sustainable, was illusory at best, and would not be able to eventuate in a state form. Socialists had already failed when the majority of them supported the Great War in 1914, and communists had failed in bringing about a world proletarian revolution. The Japanese leadership carefully followed the internal struggles of the Russian Communist Party but took them as signs of the party’s decline and degeneration. For example, in 1926 Gotō cheerfully reported that Grigory Zinoviev, who served as the first head of the Comintern, had just been released from his duties. Gotō argued that Zinoviev’s loss of power signified the decline in importance of the revolutionary Comintern.62 During his trip to Russia in the winter of 1927–28, Gotō confirmed in his reports long-circulated rumors of the struggle between Trotsky and Stalin.63 Gotō, in fact, arrived just a few days after the infamous Fifteenth Party Congress (December 2–19), which expelled supporters of the Left Opposition to Stalin, led by Trotsky and Zinoviev. As Gotō was taking the Trans-Siberian Railway back to Japan in January 1928, Trotsky and his family were taking the same railroad to his exile in Kazakhstan.
Trotsky was no less well known in Japan than Lenin; the two were frequently mentioned together as the makers of the Bolshevik Revolution. In fact, in November 1923, War Minister Tanaka Gi’ichi himself, in an interview that he gave in fluent Russian to a Russian representative of the Russian Telegraph Agency (ROSTA), professed his great admiration for the organizational skills of his colleague in Russia, Leon Trotsky. Tanaka finished the interview, which was published in the hugely popular newspaper Tokyo nichi nichi in commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the Russian Revolution, with the words: “Please tell your people, I am a friend of Russia.”64 Nevertheless, Trotsky was associated with the old revolutionary guard and the idea of a permanent world revolution, while Stalin emerged by 1927 as the more conciliatory figure, a more proper partner for Japan in its ambitions in Asia. The downfall of Trotsky was greeted therefore by many in Japan as another sign of normalization of Soviet Russia.
In his communications with the Cabinet and his public addresses, Gotō repeatedly noted that things said and promised during a revolution are rarely realized, and that this was true for Russia, which by now had lost its original hostility to capitalism and, in fact, was implementing economic reforms that were not too far from state capitalism. The economic reforms that Gotō and many others in the government viewed positively were specifically centered around the New Economic Policy (NEP), which allowed “capitalist relations” in Russia.65 Gotō made sure to stress in his public speeches and interviews that because of NEP, Soviet Russia had not a communist but a state capitalist system. Charles Beard went even further and claimed that under NEP Russia was transforming into a state capitalist country, where petty industries would flourish under private initiatives, and large industries, railways, and natural resources would be exploited by foreign concessionaires under state supervision.66
As the declaration of world revolution was a thing of the past, Japan had no cause for concern, Gotō reassured his audience. He criticized his own country’s narrow-minded, anticommunist so-called patriots, asserting that they lacked confidence in their history and tradition.67 “If we need to be concerned over the spread of communism, it means we have weakness inside our own country to be taken care of.”68 He continued elsewhere: “It is ridiculous to think that our country can become red because of the establishment of relations with Russia. It is obvious that, just as we did not become a republic because of the relationship with the United States, we will not become communist because of relations with Russia.”69 Gotō was not alone in his critical commentaries. Mochizuki Koraō, a member of the Diet, wrote in the magazine Taiyō in April 1923:
The national character of Japan and the traits of her people, which are unchanged since the foundation of the country, may be likened to the color of the sun that absorbs all colors, red or white, and in the veins of the 65,000,000 nationals there is not a drop of blood that forgets the nation, for the souls of the Imperial ancestors repose in them … If the rulers of the country … see to it that the living conditions of the people are stabilized, then a thousand Ioffes are not to be feared.70
Gotō further pointed out that in many West European countries communist parties exist and act within the law, which has the power to limit their activities should they become a threat to national security.
Echoing pan-Asianist arguments, Gotō underscored the benevolent objectives of the Russian Revolution. “Since communist Russia has stood for the cause of opposition to aggression and of coexistence and co-prosperity with other nations, there is no reason to fear bad effects from a rapprochement and to hesitate to open trade with the Soviets.”71 Gotō’s supporter, the politician Mochizuki Koraō, was even more unequivocal: “Many of the world powers, while chanting paeans to justice and humanity, do not really give equal treatment to different races, but Russia has no racial prejudice, and since the establishment of the Moscow dynasty 300 years ago equal rights have been extended to all races as an expression of the traditional spirit of the Russian people.”72 Communist Russia was one of the mistreated nations of the non-Western world and as such a natural ally for Japan. Gotō pointed out that fears of communist subversion were based on scant knowledge of Russia and argued that Japan ought to develop academic studies of Russia. In fact, Gotō lamented, to date there had not been a sober and extensive analysis and public discussion of the Russian Revolution in Japan, which made it difficult to dispel popular misconceptions about Soviet good intentions.
Meanwhile, in 1924, Gotō’s earlier warnings about the possibility of Sino-Soviet rapprochement and subsequent isolation of Japan were coming true. The Soviets scored two important diplomatic victories in China in 1924, which added a sense of urgency to Japan’s recognition of the Soviet Union, even from the previously reluctant Foreign Ministry and the military, especially Tanaka Gi’ichi. The first Guomindang Congress of January 1924 formally launched the Comintern-designed alliance between the Guomindang and the Chinese communists, propelling Russian and Chinese communists to greater importance within the Guomindang Party. Meanwhile, in May 1924, the Beijing government recognized the USSR and decided that although the CER should be redeemed by China, its future would “be determined by the Republic of China and the USSR to the exclusion of any third party or parties.” The Beijing government and Soviet Russia agreed to joint management of the CER under a Russian manager and five Chinese and five Russian directors.73 The Japanese government realized that in this situation—active Soviet policy in China and China’s positive response to it—a new diplomacy was in order, actively involving communist Russia.
Although the Taishō period is considered to be the era of party politics, much of the foreign policy course depended on personalities. The Foreign Ministry’s reluctance to recognize the USSR was largely due to its minister, Uchida Kōsai (in office September 1918–September 1923). He and Matsudaira Tsuneo, director of the Anglo-American department, resisted Gotō’s efforts. Although realizing that recognition of the USSR became inevitable once Britain established trade relations with Soviet Russia in 1922, Uchida preferred not to rush for rapprochement and the signing of a treaty. Some historians have attributed this to the Foreign Ministry’s preference for cooperative diplomacy with Western powers at the expense of Russo-Japanese relations. Another reason, however, was Uchida’s concern over communist ideology. Uchida, and especially his assistant Matsuoka Yōsuke, criticized Gotō and the successive prime ministers for overlooking the seriousness of communist ideology in their preparations for recognition.74 Tōgō Shigenori, then the chief of a section under Matsudaira and a future foreign minister, explained the basis for divergent opinions among the decision makers: “While Prime Minister Katō Tomosaburō and Mr. Gotō did not seriously concern themselves with communist activities, preferring to consider policy toward the Soviet Union in terms of accommodating conflicting interests in the Far East, the foreign ministry approached the Russian question more broadly, insisting that ideological issues also be taken into account.”75
Besides Uchida’s personal experience in Russia, another possible reason for delaying rapprochement was the Foreign Ministry’s greater knowledge of the developments in Asia. The Foreign Ministry’s concern with international communism was fed by continuous reports from its consulates in Korea and China and by its extensive intelligence network. As Eric Esslestrom explains, since 1919 the main task of the Japanese consular police in China and Korea had become the suppression of growing Korean and Chinese nationalist and communist movements and prevention of their interaction with Japanese communists. Foreign Ministry archives reveal that its staff members were aware that as early as May 1920 a meeting had taken place in Shanghai between a Japanese socialist, Korean revolutionaries, and anti-Japanese Chinese. In 1921, reports presented evidence that Korean communists in Shanghai had conspired with Japanese communists to obtain financial support, that some Japanese communists resided in Shanghai, and that certain Koreans had traveled to Tokyo to establish contacts with the nascent Japanese Communist Party (JCP). Between the late spring of 1920 and the summer of 1921, several meetings between Japanese anarchists and communists and Korean Comintern envoys took place in Tokyo and Shanghai, of which the Foreign and Home ministries were aware. Intimate knowledge of subversive activities of colonial and Japanese subjects at home, and in Korea and China, informed Uchida’s view that international communism—which brought together Russian, Korean, Chinese, Mongolian, and Japanese leftist radicals—posed a direct threat to the stability of metropolitan society itself.
During Uchida’s term, the Foreign Ministry began to cooperate closely with the Home Ministry and the police, who were preoccupied with the domestic communist movement. To bolster domestic security forces and combat widespread escalation of Comintern activities, which found fertile ground in Shanghai, the Home Ministry requested in April 1921 the joint appointment of a Home Ministry police superintendent as a consular police superintendent in Shanghai. In effect, the consular police in China and Korea came to serve as the local branch office of homeland state authority. After the JCP was established in the summer of 1922 as a Comintern branch and a communist network linked Vladivostok, Shanghai, and Tokyo, the Foreign Ministry cooperated to ensure that Japanese police power was unhindered outside national boundaries, as it was within them.76
But once Uchida resigned in September 1923 and the new foreign minister, Shidehara Kijūrō (in office June 1924–April 1927 and July 1929–December 1931), came into office, the Foreign Ministry’s outlook changed dramatically. Shidehara’s first term coincided with the recognition of the USSR by Britain, Italy, Austria, and other countries, and Japan thus felt more confident about following their lead. But Shidehara’s personal view on communism should be taken into consideration as well. Shidehara was neither an anticommunist nor a sympathizer; rather, he was concerned about whether communist ideology and its Russian agents could penetrate China. The new leadership in the Foreign Ministry also noted that the growing anti-imperialist agitation was not specifically directed against Japan. Shidehara concluded that fears of the “Bolshevization” of China were greatly exaggerated. First, relying on intelligence reports from China, Shidehara pointed out that the Comintern’s agents—especially its main envoy, Mikhail Borodin—did not have much influence and authority within Chinese nationalist circles. Shidehara believed that there was more division than unity within the Guomindang Party, as well as between the Guomindang and the Chinese Communist Party (established in the summer of 1921), and that their alliance was rather a tactical maneuver by the Guomindang nationalist leaders. As the consul general at Canton reported, anti-imperialist agitation was undertaken by the Guomindang mainly to increase its influence and support, rather than to enunciate serious anti-Japanese policies.77
Shidehara and Gotō shared the belief that China, in fact, could never become a communist country. In 1924, Shidehara told the US ambassador, Edgar A. Bancroft, that “he did not think Sovietism would take any hold on the Chinese: the Chinaman loves money and has his little property and is the greatest individualist and it is wholly unlikely that he would accept communism; while Dr. Sun [Yat-sen] was a radical idealist and for this reason his political career had been a failure, he did not think Sun was favorable to communism.”78 In April 1927, in conversation with the British ambassador John Tilley, Shidehara repeated that he absolutely did not believe China could ever become communist. And even if a communist government were installed in China, private property and international trade would still be likely to exist there, as the Soviet example (i.e., the ongoing NEP) had shown.79
Gotō shared the same view, which he openly professed to the Soviet leadership during his visit to the USSR in December 1927–January 1928. In his meeting with Stalin in January 1928, Gotō had a revealing conversation about China. Stalin asked why Japan had so far resisted Russia’s cooperation in establishing order in northern China. Gotō replied that there were still influential groups in the government that favored cooperative diplomacy with the United States and Britain, rather than with Russia. These groups also believed that chaos (randō) in China came from the communist movement (sekka undō), directed by the Soviet Union. Gotō quickly added that he did not think the Soviet Union was involved in Chinese affairs. However, he indirectly warned Stalin that communism would never take root in China because, he argued, the four-thousand-year-old Chinese civilization was incompatible with the principles of communism. Stalin replied that the Japanese leadership had still not understood the true nature of Chinese nationalism—namely, that it was a reaction to Western and Japanese imperialism, similar to the Japanese nationalist movement during the late Tokugawa upheavals. According to Stalin, revolutionary changes in China, whether nationalist or communist, were rooted in current problems China faced, which had nothing to do with its ancient civilization.80
As the above conversation suggests, even though Shidehara and Gotō downplayed the strength and influence of Soviet communism in China and Japan, they could not ignore the issue of communist propaganda. The spread of communist propaganda in Japan, Korea, and China was perhaps the most pressing concern of Soviet-Japanese relations, and opponents of the rapprochement regularly used this issue to their advantage. In his communication with Russian colleagues, Gotō tirelessly insisted on the futility of their efforts to convert China and Japan to communist principles. As he tried to convince Stalin in 1928 to give up the “Bolshevization” of China, so he tried to do in 1923 in regard to Japan, in the wake of Japan’s recognition of the USSR. In his letter to Chicherin from August 10, 1923, Gotō wrote that it was unfortunate that Soviet Russia initially took a hostile position and threatened to spread the communist revolution across the globe. He continued to explain in his letter to Ioffe on the same date (August 10, 1923) that Japan had a peculiar social system: “From ancient times, Japan was one big family, the emperor was the father of the family, all land belonged to the state, and private property was forbidden.”81 Even during the feudal period, private property had never been recognized. After the Meiji Restoration, Gotō continued, patriarchy (kachōshugi) was promoted by the government and permeated all social classes. Though ancient Japan had a social system reminiscent of the communist organization of society, in the Meiji period Japan had been transformed into a modern state by the deliberate adoption of the European private property system. Gotō implied, therefore, that the government-promoted patriarchy (or family-state system) and the system of private property (capitalism) were the twin foundations of Japan’s remarkable modernization. Therefore, Russian communist propaganda (kyōsanshugi) in Japan was useless and indeed harmful.82 In his answer, Chicherin foreshadowed Stalin’s reply in 1928, pointing out that communist ideas naturally arise where there is discontent with social injustices and where the national movement is taking root—similar to what Japan had experienced in the early Meiji period. However, in addressing the issue of Comintern propaganda, Chicherin, and later Stalin, insisted that the Soviet government was neutral and did not have any relations with Comintern activities. They reminded the Japanese leaders that the Comintern was an international organization that included communist parties from around the world, while the Soviet government concerned itself with matters of national Soviet interest.83 To this, Gotō’s reply to Stalin in 1928 was “I choose to believe your [Stalin’s] words.”84
Choosing to believe that the Soviet Union was a normal state adhering to norms of international diplomacy, the Japanese government recognized the USSR, and on January 20, 1925, concluded the Soviet-Japanese Basic Convention. The terms of the convention remained largely in force through 1945. Significantly, Japanese and Soviet negotiators formally recognized all former treaties concluded between Japan and tsarist Russia. To quell anxieties over communist propaganda, most notably within the Home and Justice ministries, in article 5 of the convention the Soviet Union pledged to forbid subversive activities in Japanese territory in return for Japan’s promise not to recognize anti-Bolshevik organizations in Japan.
The High Contacting Parties solemnly affirm their desire and intention to live in peace and amity with each other, scrupulously to respect the undoubted right of a State to order its own life within its own jurisdiction in its own way, to refrain and restrain all persons in any governmental service for them, and all organizations in receipt of any financial assistance from them, from any act overt or covert liable in any way whatever to endanger the order and security in any part of the territories of Japan or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.85
There were warning signs, however, that things would not go as smoothly as the Japanese had hoped. For example, Lev Karakhan, author of the controversial Karakhan Manifesto and the Soviet ambassador to China in 1925, told Japan’s ambassador to China, Yoshizawa Kenkichi, that since the Comintern and the Soviet state were legally different entities, article 5 did not have an effect on the activities of the Comintern. The Japanese government, however, ignored Yoshizawa’s report, and took it for granted that article 5 was binding for both the USSR and the Comintern. More embarrassing was an “unconfirmed report” to the Foreign Ministry that the first Soviet ambassador to Japan, Viktor Kopp, en route to Tokyo announced to the Provincial Committee of the Communist Party at Harbin that the Soviet-Japanese Convention, “as [an alliance] with a country with an imperialist system, it is not particularly solid; it will be a mythical treaty … merely giving us the possibility for the legal existence in the territory of Japan of the leading organ of the vanguard of the revolution.” Kopp continued, “I leave the conduct of the political work in Japan entirely in the hands of the Japanese socialists, giving them only moral support in getting rid of defects, permitted by Japanese workers in party building, again I repeat, making use of Japan as a threat to America in the far East.”86 The Japanese government preferred to ignore this report as well. Despite these warning signs, the Japanese government resolved to establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union—while swiftly passing in the Diet the anticommunist Peace Preservation Law only a month later, in February 1925.87 But even then, despite having proof of Comintern activities in Japan, the Japanese government never resorted to breaking diplomatic relations with Soviet Russia—unlike Britain, which severed relations in 1927 after Comintern propaganda activities were exposed.
From the other side, Russia’s objective was to be at peace with Japan as much and for as long as possible. Assuring the Japanese government of communist noninterference in Japan’s domestic affairs, Foreign Minister Chicherin announced in the main Soviet newspaper Pravda: “There exist deeply rooted differences in form between our political regime and Japan’s, and consequently the policies of the two states are based on different principles. We are confident, however, that the Japanese government will loyally adhere to the treaty that has been signed… . We are also confident that each contracting party will strictly follow the rule of noninterference in the internal affairs of the other.”88 In fact, in 1924–28, the Comintern scaled down communist propaganda in Japan, as well as in Manchuria and Korea.89 As discussed in later chapters, the early JCP collapsed in 1923, although not at the Comintern’s initiative. Revived in 1926, the JCP strove for nonmilitant, legal working relationships with proletarian parties. It adopted a more confrontational approach, including the abolition of the monarchy clause, only after the 1932 Comintern Theses on Japan, which were, in turn, issued in the wake of the Manchurian Incident. Meanwhile, in 1926 Chicherin issued instructions to Soviet cultural institutions to circulate positive views on Japan, publish popular and academic books on Japan and its history, increase cultural and scientific ties, and greenlight finalizing agreements on timber, oil, coal, and fishery concessions.90
But what was most important, and what overshadowed any potential concerns over communist propaganda, was hinted at in article 2, which recognized the Treaty of Portsmouth, signed after the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. This treaty deprived Russia of South Sakhalin and the southern half of its railroad network in Manchuria, but acknowledged Russia’s—and subsequently the USSR’s—control over the CER. In effect, by this action Moscow and Tokyo formally re-created the Russo-Japanese spheres of influence that now divided East Asia into Soviet and Japanese parts. Japan retained unhampered control over Korea, southern Manchuria, and eastern Inner Mongolia, while the USSR received Japanese assurances that its claims over Outer Mongolia, northern Manchuria, and western Inner Mongolia would not be challenged by Japan. The Basic Convention was therefore less about economic gains, contrary to what most Western scholars have argued, and more about the political settlement of East Asia.91
The impact of the renewal of the Russo-Japanese secret treaties in Asia was significant. Japan agreed to withdraw the last of its troops from the northern part of Sakhalin Island in return for important oil concessions, which marked the end of the period of the Foreign Intervention and the Russian Civil War. Despite China’s (albeit secret) protests over the clauses of the convention, the Soviet Union’s ambassador to China, Lev Karakhan, also secretly recognized the validity of Japan’s Twenty-One Demands to China, and moreover demanded that China recognize unequal treaties signed between China and imperial Russia in regard to the CER.92 In addition, Japan remained neutral during the 1925–26 and 1929 Sino-Soviet conflicts over the CER, and the USSR remained neutral during the Manchurian Incident. As the Soviets acknowledged, “Without the establishment of normal relations with Japan it would have been impossible to hope for a complete restoration of our rights to the Chinese eastern railway.”93 Both the Soviets and the Japanese fully realized the mutual advantages of cooperation.
The Soviets also realized that Japanese decision makers were irritated by the United States’ recent policies—American pressure for Japanese withdrawal from the Russian Far East during the Washington Conference, its anti-Japanese immigration policy of 1924, and growing economic and political competition in China.94 As Karakhan stated, “For Japan this agreement has at present probably a still greater importance than for us. The threat of isolation is removed by the existence of a power on the Asiatic continent friendly to Japan.”95 The Basic Convention guaranteed Russia’s neutrality in case of a Japanese conflict with a “third power,” and the delivery of oil to the Japanese navy in such an event—a provision that greatly alarmed Britain, the United States, and France.96 The convention’s division of East Asia undermined the Washington Conference’s resolution to enforce the open door policy in China. The Japanese leadership sought to exploit this neutrality clause in the Basic Convention once it began preparations for a war with the United States, and the leaders succeeded in signing a neutrality pact with the Soviet Union in April 1941.
So confident were the Japanese leaders in the benign intentions of their new communist friends that between 1924 and 1929 the government seriously considered the possibility of Japanese immigration to the Russian Far East. As Mitsukawa made plain, the root of social problems in Japan was the overpopulation of the islands. He argued that an overpopulated Japan had no choice: it had to either “expand or perish,” which is why it “must expand overseas, no matter what.”97 His solution to the problem of overpopulation was the colonization of China. However, because “when we think of China, we think of Russia,” Japan had to deal with Russia, too.98
In 1924, Gotō hinted to Chicherin that the exploding population on the Japanese islands presented a serious concern. He complained that the United States, the Pacific islands, and Africa were closed to Japanese immigration and called for a Soviet-Japanese agreement to be a model that would also shame the US government’s anti-Japanese legislation. As a conciliatory gesture, the Soviet government made a public offer of a land lease in 1925 through its media arm, the newspaper Pravda.99 In June 1925, Gotō proposed to Soviet Ambassador Kopp a detailed plan for the immigration of two million unemployed Japanese to Siberia, in addition to more than two million acres (860,000 hectares) of land leased for seventy-five years. The proposed plan was circulated in Japanese newspapers beginning in early 1926.100
Tanaka Gi’ichi continued to press the Soviet government for land concessions during his visit to Moscow in 1926, explaining that Japanese peasants could be relocated to cultivate rice, which Russia needed, and would teach the local Russian and indigenous population how to grow the crop. The Soviet government was tempted, aware that economically the region needed Japanese investments, but hesitated.101 Chicherin openly explained to Tanaka that in the Far East, memory of the Japanese intervention was still strong; only four years before, Japanese troops had controlled the region, most of the time by brute force. The Soviet authority there was still shaky (which was true), and it could not guarantee the safety of Japanese peasants. Instead, Chicherin offered territories on the northern bank of the Amur River for the immigration of 325,000 Japanese men and women. After some consultation, Tanaka declined the offer because the proposed territory was too far removed from Japan. After some back-and-forth negotiations, the Soviets withdrew from the arrangement out of fear that the Japanese might overwhelm the sparsely populated area and that the territory would become a channel for penetration into the region by the Kwantung Army, which was stationed relatively nearby.102 Moscow’s decision caused disappointment in Tokyo. The area on the Amur River was finally offered to socialist Zionists, and in 1928, on territory that could have been populated by Japanese immigrants, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast was established.
Since the renewal of official relations between Japan and the Soviet Union, a policy of alliance with inclusion of China began to be entertained in Moscow and Tokyo. In a March 1925 article for Warekan titled “The True Significance of the Restoration of Russo-Japanese Relations” (Nichiro shinkō no shinkachi), Nakano Seigō argued that the recognition of the USSR and the implementation of universal suffrage were of equal significance.103 Both events, he claimed, were victories of public opinion. Moreover, the recognition of the USSR was a turning point in international politics, as it made possible an alliance between Japan, Russia, and China: “The autocracy of the league of imperialist powers has already overwhelmed Japan, Russia, and China, and is forcing them to create a league based on true equality and freedom.”104
Gotō openly declared in his letter to Chicherin, “that the united power of our two nations might correct mistakes and shortcomings of the Versailles, Washington, and other international conferences.” In his letters to Chicherin, Gotō also appealed to the historically special relations between Russia and Japan and to their shared interests:
The relationship between Japan and Russia is different from relations between Russia and Britain or the United States and other countries. Now not only educated people but the broader masses as well have realized that a good relationship between Japan and Russia serves not only mutual happiness but stabilizes the neighboring country, China, and secures its cultural existence. The relationship between Japan and Russia serves as the foundation for peace in East Asia, and consequently in the Pacific Ocean.105
Gotō asserted that the friendship of the Japanese and Russians signifies the friendship and reconciliation of Eastern and Western cultures, and therefore would eliminate mutual misunderstanding and serve as a vehicle for global peace. He agreed with the critics of Japan’s Foreign Ministry who did not believe that US and Japanese policies in East Asia could be harmonized. Gotō was a strong advocate of the need to maintain a balance between the “new continent” represented by the United States and the “old continent” represented by Japan, Russia, and China.106
It is important to underscore that the creation of a Russia-China-Japan bloc was not a novel idea but rather a revival of Japan’s old geopolitical plans for Eurasia. Already in 1915, Yamagata Aritomo had spelled out the necessity of an alliance with Russia to secure Japan’s interests in Asia. He believed that the future war would be a race war, between the yellow and the white races, on a much larger scale than the Great War. Japan needed to secure Chinese cooperation, but it also needed an alliance with one European power so as to prevent a union of the white nations in advance of the coming racial conflict. The main result of Yamagata’s thinking and actions, as we discussed above, was a defensive and offensive alliance with imperial Russia in 1916.107 In the military, Yamagata’s outlook was adopted by Tanaka Gi’ichi. Tanaka has most often been portrayed by Western historians as a rabid anticommunist, chiefly due to his update to the Peace Preservation Law in 1928, which stipulated the death penalty for communist activities. The flipside of the coin, however, was that as prime minister and foreign minister since April 1927, Tanaka actively sought an alliance with Russia. Prioritizing Japan’s economic and political expansion in China, Tanaka maintained that East Asia’s fate was now determined by three countries—Japan, China, and Russia. “We cannot think of them separately. When we think of Sino-Japanese relations, we must think of Russia, when we think of Soviet-Japanese relations, we must think of China.”108
To advance Soviet-Japanese cooperation, Tanaka sent his two envoys, Kuhara Fusanosuke and Gotō Shinpei, to Moscow; their tasks included the discussion of measures against the penetration of American and British capital into Manchuria, trade and fishery agreements, management of the CER, and the new important issue of a neutrality pact. Tanaka’s close friend, Kuhara Fusanosuke, went first. Kuhara was the founder of Kuhara zaibatsu, one of the largest copper producers in Japan, and because it had a mining business in Siberia, Kuhara actively supported the Siberian Intervention. In 1927, Kuhara retired and handed over his mining business to his brother-in-law, Aikawa Yoshisuke, who in 1928 turned their combined business into one of the biggest zaibatsu, Nippon Sangyō, or Nissan (Japan Industries).109 During his trip to Moscow in the fall of 1927, Kuhara attended the tenth anniversary celebration of the Russian Revolution, together with other invited guests from Japan, mainly people from the spheres of the arts and literature. In private, Kuhara met with Stalin and Anastas Mikoyan, the people’s commissar for external and internal trade.110 Besides negotiating fishery agreements, Kuhara’s task was to get Moscow’s approval for Japan’s plan to exploit the natural resources of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia.111Kuhara also ventured to propose to the Soviet leadership Tanaka’s project of creating in Manchuria and Eastern Siberia a demilitarized zone.112 This was a variation on Tanaka’s previous idea of a buffer state between Russia and Japan, which he pursued during the Siberian Intervention.
What Tanaka had in mind became clearer as his second envoy, Gotō Shinpei, was preparing for his trip to Russia in 1927. Before going to Russia, Gotō summoned Mitsukawa Kametarō and tasked him with writing a memorandum on the Russo-Japanese partnership in relation to Japan’s policy in China.113 Mitsukawa’s memorandum was circulated among influential political and business elites and used by Gotō in his trip to Russia as the basic outline of Japan’s propositions.
First, it stated that in 1927 it was safe to say that the world socialist revolution had failed. Mitsukawa pointed to the inconsistencies between the Bolsheviks’ internationalist claims and their statist politics and nationalist policies. The Russian Civil War and the prolonged foreign intervention had forced Lenin and the Bolsheviks to turn to statist principles as the only way to survive among hostile capitalist and imperialist countries.114 Gotō also publicly expressed admiration for the State Planning Committee, or Gosplan, which in 1927 launched the First Five-Year Plan, captivating the interest not only of Japanese reform bureaucrats and the SMR but also the military.115 Mitsukawa stressed in his memorandum that although Lenin and the Bolsheviks had initially claimed that the ultimate aim of the Russian Revolution was the elimination of the state and its institutions, as well as an uncompromising struggle against nationalism, the Bolshevik government’s only choice if it were to strengthen Russia was to adopt statism (kokkashugi) and nationalism (minzokushugi) as its founding principles.116 Moreover, Mitsukawa pointed out, the Russian Communist Party had degenerated, and the spirit of the revolution had been exhausted. As evidence of this change, as noted above, Mitsukawa singled out the emerging conflict for power between Stalin and Bukharin, on one hand, and Trotsky and Zinoviev, on the other: the so-called Left Opposition. Therefore, Mitsukawa concluded, Japan’s ruling elite and the Japanese people need not worry about the USSR’s ambitions for a global communist order. This plan had not been brought to fruition in Russia and would not succeed elsewhere either.117
Second, Mitsukawa and Gotō did not fail to mention the high hopes they had for Stalin and for his “scientific” pragmatic approach to foreign policies. In cooperation with the Soviet Union, Mitsukawa and Gotō argued, China could finally be pacified and convinced to accept its neighbors’ vital interests in it. The cooperation would also lock out other countries, namely the United States and Britain, as it did in the period between 1905 and 1917. In sum, Gotō and Mitsukawa advocated the creation of a political and economic bloc uniting Soviet Russia, China, and Japan against the world order dominated by the Anglo-American powers. The bloc, it was hoped, would create a sense of community in East Asia by overcoming Asian nationalisms, thus bringing stability to the Japanese Empire.
Moreover, Mitsukawa also spelled out plans widely entertained among policy makers to create a buffer puppet state in Northeast Asia. Mitsukawa specifically saw the puppet state also as a solution to Japan’s overpopulation problem. According to his plan, China would give up all of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia to the new state, while Russia would contribute the territory of Eastern Siberia (the territory east of Lake Baikal) and the Russian Far East. This plan was undoubtedly related to Gotō’s contemporaneous talks with the Russians about Japanese immigration to the Russian Far East, discussed above. In that vast common space, Mitsukawa proposed, two to three hundred million people—including Japanese, Chinese, Mongolian, Russian, and indigenous peoples—would live together in peace and build a new civilization. Its three pillars would be Russia, China, and Japan—although, Mitsukawa added, because China was weak, administration would in reality be divided between Russia and Japan.118 Mitsukawa did not see the acquisition of these territories as a result of military conflict but of diplomatic negotiation for mutual benefit. In addition, the claim on those territories was justified by the idea, widely disseminated within Japan, that Eastern Siberia, the Maritime Province, Inner Mongolia, and Manchuria (more accurately, the Three Eastern Provinces) had not historically been integral parts of the Russian and Chinese nations but rather colonies or distinct administrative and ethnic units within the Russian and Chinese Empires. According to this logic, Japan thus simply offered Russia and China an opportunity to co-rule and co-manage those territories more effectively and to the states’ mutual advantage.119 As for those who objected to Japan’s colonial policy on moral grounds, Mitsukawa declared that this policy was fundamentally different from the “evil” American and British versions of colonialism. He expressed the heartfelt conviction of many pan-Asianists that Japan was a moral empire (dōtoku teikoku), now teaming up with another “liberator of Asia,” the Soviet Union.120
By the mid-1920s, the Soviet leaders had greatly moderated their revolutionary rhetoric, thereby helping Japanese pan-Asianists and pro-Russian factions in the government to champion their cause. To a large degree, the change was precipitated by the death of Lenin in January 1924 and Stalin’s ascendance to power. In late 1924, Stalin and Bukharin began promoting a new policy of “socialism in one country,” distancing themselves from the “militantly internationalist and revolutionary policy that made Soviet socialism dependent on revolution abroad, and aiming toward a more national commitment to build a new socialist society within a single state.”121 In the general exhaustion of the postrevolutionary years, Trotsky’s notion of exporting the revolution was losing mass support, while the Soviet leadership under Stalin’s guidance worked hard on securing its borders even if it meant concluding treaties with capitalist countries and compromising its revolutionary message. In order to be fully accepted internationally as a state equal to the world’s great powers, the Soviet Foreign Ministry did its utmost to disassociate itself and the Soviet state from the Comintern.
In 1918, Lenin expressed the opinion of the majority of the Soviet leadership when he declared imperial Japan, above any other nation, to be the most dangerous threat to the Russian Revolution. “Japanese imperialism,” in Lenin’s words, was distinguished by an “unheard of bestiality combining the most modern technical implements with downright Asiatic torture.”122 To counter Japan’s threat, Lenin even entertained the idea of rapprochement with the United States by offering it the territory of Kamchatka, which would “drive a wedge” between the United States and Japan.123 Lenin and the Second Comintern Congress also explicitly criticized pan-Asianism and pan-Islamism. The congress defined the pan-Asiatic movement as one trying to combine “the struggle for liberation against European and American imperialism with the strengthening of the power of Japanese imperialism.” The Comintern Congress declared that it was the duty of all communists to fight against these movements.124
Although Lenin deemed Japan to be one of the worst imperialist powers, Stalin completely reversed Lenin’s assessment. Stalin and other Soviet leaders attempted to vindicate Japan’s foreign policy, mainly by claiming that it acted not as an independent imperialist force but as an appendage to other, economically more powerful countries. To appease Japan, Stalin even acknowledged that Japanese imperialism, and pan-Asianist ideas of regional integration under Japan’s leadership, might become a positive force in the development of revolution in the East, therefore contributing to fomenting a proletarian revolution! At the same time, the United States, which until then had been considered a “neutral” country in terms of the spread of the proletarian revolution in Western Europe, came to be regarded by the Soviet Union as its main political enemy.125 In July 1925, in an interview with the journalist Katsuji Fuse of Tokyo nichi nichi, Stalin (at that time the general secretary of the Communist Party) declared that Japan, by virtue of being an Asian country, was necessarily an oppressed nation, and that this could constitute the basis for an alliance between the two countries. Stalin said that the Japanese were “the most advanced of the peoples of the East” and that they “were interested in the success of movements for the liberation of subjugated peoples … An alliance of the Japanese people with the peoples of the Soviet Union would be a decisive step on the way to the liberation of the East. Such an alliance would mean the beginning of the end for world capitalism. This alliance would be invincible.”126 With this aim, beginning in 1925, Soviet representatives approached Japan’s Foreign Ministry and the army with a proposition to forge a formal alliance between the USSR, China, and Japan. In Moscow, Foreign Minister Chicherin discussed the issue with Japan’s first interim ambassador to Russia, Satō Naotake (the same Satō who while general-consul in Harbin pushed for the intervention in 1918). In Beijing in 1925, Colonel Suzuki Teiichi was approached by a Soviet representative with a plan to form an alliance between the USSR, Japan, and Germany to develop in tandem a revolutionary movement in China. Playing on Japan’s anxieties, these proposals necessarily included as their ultimate goal the rooting out of Anglo-Saxon power from the Asian region.127
After the Basic Convention of 1925, Stalin thus advanced the possibility of collaboration with imperial Japan based on its embrace of a pan-Asianist, anticolonial position. “Inasmuch as the slogan ‘Asia for the Asiatics’ means a call to a revolutionary war against imperialism—and to this extent only—there undoubtedly exists a common cause,” Stalin explained. Ioffe reiterated this view: “Probably nowhere else in the world does the Soviet Union enjoy the popularity that it enjoys in Japan. Even as the Japanese imperialist state adopts policies to suppress weaker peoples (Korea and China) in the Far East, so long as it comes into conflict with imperialism of still stronger powers it is prepared to turn its face toward the Soviet Union, the only large non-imperialist country in the world.”128 One should not underestimate, however, the sincerity of Stalin’s communist beliefs. In the same interview given to the Japanese newspaper, Stalin made a crucial critique of the pan-Asianist program:
The slogan “Asia for Asians” embraces not only that side. It also contains two additional elements that are absolutely incompatible with the Bolshevik strategy. First, it does not address the issue of Eastern imperialism, as if by considering Eastern imperialism better than Western, it is not necessary to fight against Eastern imperialism. Second, this slogan instills in the workers of Asia a feeling of distrust toward the workers of Europe, alienates the former from the latter, tears apart the international ties between them and thus undermines the very foundations of the liberation movement. The revolutionary tactics of Bolsheviks are aimed not only against Western imperialism, but against imperialism per se, including Eastern. They work not to weaken international ties between Asian workers and the workers of Europe and America, but to widen and strengthen those ties.129
Despite the nationalist bent that Soviet state building took under his guidance, Stalin was, after all, a true believer in communism and emphasized the imperialist nature of the Japanese capitalist state. However, if and when needed, Stalin was ready to collaborate with Japan to some extent.
To achieve both goals—a socialist revolution in China and the defense of Russia’s national interests through cooperation with imperial Japan—was hard but, as Soviet-Japanese relations in the 1920s proved, not impossible. The Soviet Union and imperial Japan agreed on a mutual task: to restrain political chaos in China. In 1925, Stalin predicted: “But [Chang Tso-lin] is ruined also because he built his entire policy on quarrels between us [the USSR] and Japan… . Only he will keep his position who builds his policy on the improvement of our relations with Japan and on a rapprochement between us and Japan.”130 During the 1920s, many Japanese decision makers could not agree more with Stalin’s statement. When the stakes were that high (and they were), communist ideology, I argue, never became a decisive factor in Japan’s foreign policy. Japan’s pro-Soviet foreign policy diverged, however, from the simultaneous anticommunist domestic crackdown, the theme of the next chapter.
. Sven Saaler, “Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Overcoming the Nation, Creating a Region, Forging an Empire,” in Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History, ed. Sven Saaler and Victor Koschmann (London: Routledge, 2007), 2. In Japanese, see Matsuura Masataka, “Dai Tōa Sensō” wa naze okita no ka: Han Ajiashugi no seiji keizaishi (Nagoya: Nagoya Daigaku Shuppankai, 2010).
. Christopher Szpilman, “Between Pan-Asianism and Nationalism: Mitsukawa Kametarō and His Campaign to Reform Japan and Liberate Asia,” in Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History, ed. Sven Saaler and Victor Koschmann, 91.
. Mitsukawa remains largely unknown in Anglophone historiography. See Christopher Szpilman, “Mitsukawa Kametarō: A Brief Biographical Sketch,” in Mitsukawa Kametarō: Chiiki, chikyū jijō no keimōsha, ed. Christopher Szpilman (Tokyo: Takushoku Daigaku Shuppankyoku, 2001), 512–20; and Szpilman, “Between Pan-Asianism and Nationalism.” In Japanese, see Fuke, Mitsukawa Kametarō.
. The language of Asian solidarity gained new momentum after the Russo-Japanese War, as Indian, Chinese, and Vietnamese anticolonial nationalists flocked to Japan. It was, however, Mitsukawa’s encounter with the Indian sojourners and anticolonial activists in exile in Japan (which by 1941 reached one thousand people) that proved to be formative for his subsequent political activities and outlook. See Mitsukawa Kametarō, Sangoku kanshō igo, ed. Hasegawa Yūichi (Tokyo: Ronsōsha, 2004), 128–32.
. Ōkawa Shūmei held a doctoral degree from Tokyo Imperial University in Indian philosophy, but by 1916 he had emerged as a leading advocate in Japan for India’s independence from British colonial rule because of the publication of his first major work on India, The Origin and the Present State of the Nationalist Movement in India (Indo ni okeru kokumin undō no genjō oyobi yurai, 1916). Ōkawa is credited as one of the first to use the term “Pan-Asianism” in 1917, which encompassed not only the traditional East Asian region (China, Korea, Japan) but also the South and West Asian regions. Ōkawa was prosecuted at the Tokyo Tribunal as a Class A war criminal but was acquitted as mentally unfit after he knocked the former prime minister, Tōjō Hideki, on the head during the trial. See Christopher Szpilman, “The Dream of One Asia: Ōkawa Shūmei and Japanese Pan-Asianism,” in The Japanese Empire in East Asia and Its Postwar Legacy, ed. Harald Fuess (Munich: Ludicium, 1998), 49–63.
. Matsumoto, Ōkawa Shūmei, 158. Although critical of the government’s handling of the Rice Riots, Ōkawa, unlike Mitsukawa, never openly criticized the Siberian Intervention or Japan’s Twenty-One Demands to China.
. Itō Takashi, Shōwa shoki seiji shi kenkyū (Tokyo: Tokyo Daigaku Shuppankai, 1969); Gregory J. Kasza, “Fascism from Below? A Comparative Perspective on the Japanese Right, 1931–1936,” Journal of Contemporary History 19, no. 4 (1984): 607–29.
. For example, Kanokogi Kazunobu, a professor of philosophy at Tokyo Imperial University and a member of the Yūzonsha, wrote about a totalitarian state, mass mobilization and planned economy since 1918, with often references to the Soviet state-building. For more on Kanokogi, see Christopher Szpilman, “Kanokogi Kazunobu: Pioneer of Platonic Fascism and Imperial Pan-Asianism,” Monumenta Nipponica 2, no. 2 (2013): 233–80.
. The argument that Russia was part of Asia gained even more traction after the establishment of Manchukuo, which was envisioned as a union of the East and the West and had a sizable population of Russian Slavic and other Asian (Kalmyk, Buryat, Bashkir, Tatar, etc.) émigré communities, which the Japanese administrators sought to integrate into the new state. See Mitsukawa, “Ishin kanreki to kyōsen jūnen,” in Mitsukawa Kametarō, ed. Szpilman, 1:239–49.
. In fact, not only Mitsukawa but other pan-Asianists as well had friends among Japanese communists. Ōkawa assisted a colleague at Takushoku University who was persecuted as a communist and arrested. Kita Ikki also helped provide accommodation for his Korean communist friend, who was escaping police. See Matsumoto, Ōkawa Shūmei, 7.
. Among the examples of how socialism can destroy people’s lives, Kita picked the idea of free love and the rejection of the institution of marriage. Kita cited the love triangle of Kōtoku Shūsui, Arahata Kanson, and Kano Suga, as well as the notorious private life of Ōsugi Sakae. See Kita Ikki’s letter to Yamaga Taiji in Mitsukawa Kametarō, Mitsukawa Kametarō shokanshū: Kita Ikki, Ōkawa Shumei, Nishida Mitsugi ra no shokan, ed. Hasegawa Yuichi, Christopher W. Szpilman, and Imazu Toshiaki (Tokyo: Ronsōsha, 2012), 78–79. Yamaga Taiji (1892–1970) was an anarchist and a close friend of Ōsugi Sakae, on whose advice he moved to China to work with Chinese anarchists. He lived in Kita Ikki’s house when he was young and was therefore viewed by Kita as his younger brother.
. Gotō had, to a degree, been known as Russia’s patron. As we may recall, Gotō was the first president of the SMRC between 1906 and 1908 and was the one who convinced Itō Hirobumi to go to Harbin in 1909 to meet with a Russian representative in Manchuria, where Itō was assassinated by a Korean nationalist. Gotō also obtained funds and the support of the government and the Kwantung Army to establish the Harbin Institute of Russian Studies (Harupin Gakuin) in 1920, whose graduates, it was hoped, would play as important a role in later Russo-Japanese relations as the students of Tōa Dōbun Shoin (East Asia Common Culture Academy) had done in Sino-Japanese trade and diplomacy. Gotō also served as a long-term president of the Russo-Japanese Society, an important venue for academic, business, and cultural relations.
. Hosoya Chihiro, “Japan’s Foreign Policy toward Russia,” in Japan’s Foreign Policy, 1868–1941: A Research Guide, ed. James W. Morley and James B. Crowley (New York: Columbia University Press, 1974), 392.
. Gaimushō [Japanese Foreign Office], ed., Nihon gaikō bunsho (Tokyo: Nihon Kokusai Kyōkai, 1953–64), 1:759–61, 821–55. Lenin granted a concession to the US oil company Sinclair in Sakhalin during the intervention. George A. Lensen, Japanese Recognition of the USSR (Tokyo: Sophia University, 1979), 106.
. Interestingly, the Soviet deputy Ioffe in his reports from Tokyo in the spring of 1923 mentioned that, considering present stable capitalist relations in Japan and the insignificant number of Japan’s industrial proletariat, no socialist or bourgeois revolution in Japan seemed to be possible (Katsura Taro, Goto Simpei i Rossiia, Doc. 57, 140).
. Nevertheless, economic gains were huge for Japan. Japanese businesses operated lumber, ore, and fur concessions, dominated banking and shipping in the Russian Far East, and controlled 90 percent of Far Eastern fisheries. Japanese fishery companies employed 22,600 Japanese in 1925 and 38,600 in 1930; in Kamchatka, seasonal Japanese workers outnumbered the local population. Smooth business operations were ensured by Japanese consulates in Khabarovsk, Blagoveshchensk, Petropavlovsk, and Aleksandrovsk (North Sakhalin). Basically, during the 1920s the Russian Far East was developed with Japanese money. See John J. Stephan, The Russian Far East: A History (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994), 163–77.
. For how serious the Soviet leadership was in regard to the issue of Japanese immigration and the general policy of appeasement of Japan, see the strictly confidential resolution “Voprosy nashei politiki v otnoshenii Kitaia i Iaponii” (April 1, 1926), in Grant M. Adibekov and Wada Haruki, eds., VKP(b), Komintern i Iaponiia, 1917–1941 (Moscow: Rosspen, 2001), Doc. 9, 28–34. The resolution also mentions the possibility of a Soviet-Chinese-Japanese alliance.
. Nichi nichi was one of Japan’s leading newspapers, with a circulation of about two million. The Russian text of Fuse’s interview with Stalin was first published in Pravda, Moscow, July 4, 1925 (Eudin and North, Soviet Russia and the East, 335–37).
. Wada Haruki, “Japanese-Russian Relations and the United States, 1855–1930,” in A Hidden Fire: Russian and Japanese Cultural Encounters, 1868–1926, ed. Thomas J. Rimer (Stanford, CA: Stanford Univerity Press, 1995), 213.
. See Stalin’s statement in his “Political Report for the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” at the Fourteenth Congress of the CPSU on December 19, 1925. Quoted in Lee, Revolutionary Struggle in Manchuria, 88. Stalin’s statement was carefully discussed and prepared at the China Commission (Kitaiskaia kommissiia) meeting of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on December 3, 1925. See Adibekov and Wada, VKP(b), Komintern i Iaponiia, Doc. 7, 27.