H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-22 on Linkhoeva. Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and Soviet Communism

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H-Diplo Roundtable XXIII-22

Tatiana Linkhoeva.  Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and Soviet CommunismIthaca:  Cornell University Press, 2020.  ISBN:  9781501748080 (paperback, $27.95).

24 January 2021 | https://hdiplo.org/to/RT23-22
Editor:  Diane Labrosse | Commissioning Editor: Masami Kimura | Production Editor: George Fujii


Introduction by Curtis Anderson Gayle, Waseda University. 2

Review by Roger H. Brown, Saitama University. 5

Review by Frank Jacob, Nord University. 11

Review by Junya Takiguchi, Ryukoku University. 15

Response by Tatiana Linkhoeva, New York University. 18




At the dawn of the twentieth century, Japan’s victory over imperial Russia in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) helped set in motion the first serious attempt to overthrow the Romanov Dynasty. When a successful revolution did come, in 1917, its impact could be felt in many places, including Japan, for decades to come. In this crucial sense, it was a dramatic and modern upheaval whose influence travelled far beyond any one nation or region. In writing the introduction to this H-Diplo Roundtable review of Revolution Goes East, I am impressed by the depth and scope of Tatiana Linkhoeva’s book and found the reviews to follow to be well-balanced and thoughtful. Each of them deals with what is perhaps the core focus of the book, namely, how Japanese political figures and intellectuals sought to come to terms with the aftermath of the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution. One can easily understand the reasons for apprehension among those in Japan who not only saw socialism and Communism as a threat to Japan’s overseas ambitions and gains, but also as a spark for the rise of a new regional, and perhaps global, power under the banner of Communism.

For those in Japan whom we would call socialists and Communists, the dramatic inauguration of the Soviet Union posed a number of challenges. The left in Japan were both galvanized and divided as to how the revolution and the new Soviet state would affect their own ideological positions and interests. It was here that the Russian revolution shook politics and ideology in Japan to their very foundations and caused many to recalibrate their own positions and where they stood on questions such as the Japanese empire and the role of Japan in Asia. Although there are a number of insightful studies in English on prewar and postwar Marxism in Japan,[1]  it is clear that not enough has been written about the impact of the Russian revolution across a wide array of figures, minds, and ideas in interwar Japan. Revolution Goes East represents a noteworthy attempt to do just this.

Roger Brown begins his penetrating review of this book by declaring that “Tatiana Linkhoeva’s investigation of Japanese reactions to the Russian Revolution” and to the overall “influence of Soviet Communism is a welcome contribution to the historiography of interwar Japan and East Asia.” He praises the author’s consideration of “pre-1917 Russo-Japanese ties” and her focus on the ways in which “precedents established then and subsequent Japanese assessments of the revolution and Communism” impacted relations between Japan and the Soviet Union during the 1930s and 1940s. In particular, Brown lauds her “chapters on anarchism, Communism, and National Socialism” for “revising the portrayal of Japanese Communist theorists as backward or mere automatons following the orders of the Comintern.” Brown also affirms Linkhoeva’s argument that “important proponents of Pan-Asianism viewed the Soviet Union as a potential anti-Western ally in their quest for Japan to realize its destiny to overturn a global status quo dominated by the Anglo-American powers and bring about an Asian renaissance.” At the same time, however, he does levy several critiques that touch upon “Linkhoeva’s categorization and contextualization of nationalist activists and their opinions on the Russian Revolution and Soviet Communism,” in particular noting that the Russian Revolution did not have a uniform impact on Japanese Pan-Asianism: some Pan-Asianists viewed Russia and Communism as “mortal threats to the Japanese Empire and domestic polity.” In fact, “professions of Pan-Asianism were so prevalent within the interwar nationalist movement” that any sweeping generalizations should be treated with suspicion. Brown also points out that Revolution Goes East is an “important contribution” in that it challenges “established assumptions about relations between Imperial Japan and Soviet Russia on both the diplomatic and ideological fronts,” concluding that the book provides an important contribution to the ongoing debate about “the complex Japanese reactions to Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, and Soviet Communism.”

In likewise acknowledging its importance, Frank Jacob notes that Revolution Goes East is “an important contribution” to the “understanding of the global networks that spread revolutionary ideas after 1917,” the value of these ideas “in non-European contexts,” and “our understanding of the struggles and problems related to the interpretation of this revolution in its Japanese context.” This reminds us that the Russian Revolution, in some ways that are not completely unlike Japan’s victory over imperial Russia in 1905, did have a global impact in its challenge to those empires which had divided and seemingly conquered much of the globe by the early twentieth century. Jacob also points out that the “debate about Soviet Russia and its Communist ideology became a debate over what constituted modern Japan.” There was, however, no consensus over what developments in Russia meant for Japan: Linkhoeva shows that while some elites in Tokyo feared “the spread of politically dangerous ideas, the Imperial Army and the Foreign Ministry understood the current events as a window of opportunity to expand Japan’s influence on the Asian mainland,” illustrating that while for some Moscow was to be feared, for others it provided the winds of momentum for Japanese imperial expansion in Asia. Following this line of argument, Jacob surmises at the end of his review that there was anything but a consensus within the government or among left-wing or right-wing intellectuals as to what the Russian Revolution meant for Japan and for its future. Although Jacob does suggest that Revolution Goes East could have had “deeper historiographic contextualization,” he ends by noting that “Linkhoeva’s book is an important and extraordinary contribution to several fields of historical study and is highly recommended to scholars working on the Russian Revolution and/or Japanese history.”

Junya Takiguchi’s review shows an impressive understanding of source materials that need to go into any academic rendering of the Russian Revolution’s impact on Japan. On the one hand, he makes it clear that Revolution Goes East is “an indispensable book for the study of Japanese history of the 1920s” and “a very welcome addition to the study of Japanese anarchism and Communism.” Yet, Takiguchi also takes issue with Linkhoeva’s use of source materials. For example, he notes that “in contrast to the extensive use of first-hand sources concerning the Japanese leftists,” in the book “the examination of the Russian Revolution and Soviet history in its early years is predominantly based on Ronald Suny’s The Soviet Experiment, which was published in 1998.” For Takiguchi, Linkhoeva “does not refer to any recent works on this topic, and consequently, her description of the Bolshevik vision of the world revolution seems one-dimensional.” He adds that she might have considered some of the materials in the “Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI), such as fonds on the JCP, on the plenums of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, and on the Comintern Congresses.” This notwithstanding, neither Takiguchi nor the other reviewers deny the value of this book as an important and timely reference for future research. Ultimately, for Takiguchi, “in adding to our knowledge of Japan in the 1920s” as well as in scrutinizing “different reactions and interpretations of the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik regime, and the Comintern by contemporary Japanese politicians, military officials, and left-wing activists in the 1920s,” this book “will become a must-read monograph for students of Japanese modern history and the Japanese left.”



Dr. Tatiana Linkhoeva is Assistant Professor of modern Japanese history at the Department of History, New York University. Her book, Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and the Soviet Union was published by Cornell University Press in 2020. Her next project deals with the Japanese and Soviet colonial policies in the Mongolian lands.

Curtis Anderson Gayle is Professor in the Faculty of Social Sciences at Waseda University in Tokyo. He received his doctorate in modern Japanese history from the Research School of Pacific and Asian Studies at the Australian National University and has taught at the University of Leiden and Japan Women’s University. He has published Marxist History and Postwar Japanese Nationalism (London: Routledge, 2002) and Women’s History and Local Community in Postwar Japan (London: Routledge, 2010). Other publications include “China in the Japanese Radical Gaze: 1945-1955,” Modern Asian Studies 43:5 (2009) and “The World of Modern Japanese Historiography: Tribulations and Transformations in Historical Approaches,” in Prasenjit Duara, Viren Murthy, Andrew Sartoi, eds., A Companion to Global Historical Thought (Hoboken: Wiley-Blackwell, 2014).

Roger H. Brown is Professor of modern Japanese history in the Graduate School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Saitama University in Japan. He earned his Ph.D. in history from the University of Southern California. His research focuses on wartime Japan, and his publications include “Cold War Ambassador: Edwin O. Reischauer and the ‘Broken Dialogue’ with Japan,” Saitama University Review (Faculty of Liberal Arts) 41:1 (2005), “Shepherds of the People: Yasuoka Masahiro and the New Bureaucrats in Early Shōwa Japan,” Journal of Japanese Studies 35:2 (2009), “(The Other) Yoshida Shigeru and the Expansion of Bureaucratic Power in Prewar Japan,” Monumenta Nipponica 67:2 (2012), and “Perceptions of Fascism and the New Bureaucrats in Early Shōwa Japan,” Saitama University Review 54:1 (2018). He is currently completing a monograph tentatively titled A Confucian Nationalist for Modern Japan: Yasuoka Masahiro, 1898-1983.

Frank Jacob (1984) is Professor of Global History at Nord University, Norway. He received his Ph.D. in Japanese Studies in 2012 from Erlangen University, Germany. After holding a tenure-track position at the City University of New York (QCC), he was offered a tenured full professorship in Norway in 2018. His main research foci include modern Japanese history, the transnational history of anarchism, and revolution theory. Jacob has authored or edited more than 80 books, including The Russo-Japanese War and Its Shaping on the Twentieth Century (Routledge, 2018; Russian translation currently in preparation), Emma Goldman and the Russian Revolution (De Gruyter, 2020, open access), and 1917: Die korrumpierte Revolution (Büchner, 2020, open access).

Junya Takiguchi is Associate Professor of History at Ryūkoku University, Japan. His research interests include the political and cultural history of the Bolshevik Party from 1917 to 1941 and the Comintern. He has published articles in Japanese and English, including “Spreading the Revolution, Assembling Information and Making Revolutionaries: The Bolshevik Party Congress, 1917-22,” in Christopher Read et al. eds., Russia’s Home Front in War and Revolution, 1914-1922, Book 4: Reintegration – The Struggle for the State (Slavica Publishers, 2018); “Sta-linizmu no Hyōshō to Shakai Douin [Representing Stalinism and Social Mobilization],” in Roshia-kakumei to Soren no Seiki 4: Ningen to Bunka no Kakushin [The Russian Revolution and the Era of the USSR vol. 4: The Revolution on People’s Mind and Culture] (Iwanami Shoten, 2017).



Tatiana Linkhoeva’s investigation of Japanese reactions to the Russian Revolution and the influence of Soviet Communism is a welcome contribution to the historiography of interwar Japan and East Asia. [2] The author details how various Japanese observers grappled with what the emergence of Bolshevik Russia and the invigoration of Communist ideology meant both at home and within the empire. She argues that because of the Russian Revolution, “socialism began to be seriously considered in Japan as a solution to economic and political problems and an alternative to capitalism” (3). She contends further that “more and more public commentators and policy makers” linked this path toward domestic reform to a new departure in foreign relations whereby the “new Soviet state, with its radical anticapitalist and anti-imperialist ideology, came to be seen by many in a new—and positive—light, as an alternative to the Western hegemonic order” (3). Linkhoeva also maintains that “in Japan’s responses to the Russian Revolution, both geopolitical and ideological factors played equally important roles” (3). Although focusing the book primarily on the 1920s, the author also examines pre-1917 Russo-Japanese ties and considers how precedents established then and subsequent Japanese assessments of the revolution and Communism affected relations between the two great powers during the 1930s and 1940s.

Linkhoeva argues throughout her book for the existence of two main approaches for dealing with the new Communist state. The first reflected a cynical realism that took the Soviet Union to be another “selfish and imperialist” state with which Japan could peacefully co-exist, and the second revealed a perception of Japan’s revolutionary neighbor as “truly radical” and determined to “make the world ‘red’” (6-7). In the first two chapters of Part One of the book, the author argues that this split between pragmatic engagement and perpetual antipathy predated and then transcended the Bolshevik Revolution, thereby constituting a remarkable thread of continuity in Russo-Japanese relations. Chapter Three presents the nationalist Mitsukawa Kametarō as exemplifying “Pan-Asianists, who,” she asserts, “considered the Russian Revolution as an anti-Western revolution that … made Soviet Russia an obvious ally of Japan” (68). Turning to domestic politics, Linkhoeva portrays liberal observers like Yoshino Sakuzō and conservatives, such as bureaucrats within the Home and Justice Ministries, as the allied protagonists behind an “anticommunist trajectory” that “culminated in the implementation of the Peace Preservation Law of 1925” (101).

The second part of the book focuses on the impact of the Russian Revolution on anarchism, Communism, and National Socialism. The author argues that the rejection of Marxism and Russian Communism by anarchists resulted in a failed “strategy of general strikes (anarcho-syndicalism) [that] changed to individual terrorism driven by despair” (128). Regarding the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), Linkhoeva disagrees with the view of the JCP as theoretically immature and “an obedient subsidiary of the Comintern” (160), arguing instead that, far from being Soviet stooges, Japanese Communists were sophisticated and autonomous in their thought and action. She also sees little focus on abolition of the monarchy until the resolution of internal ideological discord within the party and the “escalating imperialist actions of the Japanese government in China” (183) led to acceptance of the Comintern’s Theses of 1927 and 1932. In the final chapter of Part Two, Linkhoeva considers the thought and activities of Takabatake Motoyuki, contending that the National Socialism he pioneered is best comprehended as exemplifying “the interwar non-conformist Left” (185). Recognizing that National Socialist concepts exerted important influence in interwar Japan, she attributes the inability of national socialists to develop an effective political movement to their failure “to convince the Japanese Left to abandon the proletariat and the notion of class struggle as its revolutionary concern in favor of the nation” and to the fact that the “existing state, despite its internal fractures, managed to keep its monopoly on power” (186-187).

Linkhoeva regularly touches on the implications of her argument for Japan’s domestic order and foreign policy in the 1930s and explains these consequences in her conclusion. Therein she posits the legacy of “a liberal-conservative anticommunist alliance preoccupied with the coherence of domestic society” and “the anticommunism of the army absorbed in the defense of the empire,” viewing the former as “inadvertently responsible for the emergence of a police state in the 1930s and 1940s” and the latter as “the driving force behind the army’s imperialist expansion into Asia” (211). She concludes, however, that this anti-Communist impulse was “countered by the opposite trend within the establishment,” an inclination she attributes to “the political realists at the other end of the spectrum who recognized that Japan’s interests in China could not be secured without cooperation with the Soviet Union” (214-215). These political realists, she contends, represented the accommodationist approach that “governed Japan’s relations with imperial Russia between 1905 and 1917 and forced it to recognize communist Russia in 1925” (215). Carrying this idea of Soviet-Japanese cooperation forward to the wartime era of the late 1930s and early 1940s, Linkhoeva argues that the New Order for East Asia declared by the cabinet of Prince Konoe Fumimaro in November 1938 “did not conceive of the Soviet Union as a force to be kept out of East Asia” but as one that would “support Japan’s own ‘revolutionary’ challenge to Anglo-American world dominance” (216). She contends further that “the Soviet-Japanese Neutrality Pact of April 1941 once again confirmed the traditional division of influence” and concludes that this “Soviet-Japanese status quo, reminiscent of the division of the spheres of influence in East Asia between imperial Russia and imperial Japan before 1917, remained intact until the summer of 1945” (217).

Linkhoeva’s reconsideration of Japanese reactions to the Russian Revolution and Soviet Communism brings the reader to grips with the intriguing mix of pragmatism and ideology animating various commentators, activists, and officials. Her argument for paying greater attention to the continuity at work in the relationship between these two neighboring powers and for recognizing the complexity of the ways in which socialist thought came to permeate Japanese elite society is not only well taken but will hopefully stimulate more research in these areas. Linkhoeva particularly excels in her chapters on anarchism, Communism, and National Socialism and in revising the portrayal of Japanese communist theorists as backward or mere automatons following the orders of the Comintern. Considering National Socialists to be part of the non-conformist Left also strikes one as a productive way to understand their motivations and to ponder the intriguing overlap between the radical extremes of the interwar Left and Right. [3] Similarly, there is no doubt that important proponents of Pan-Asianism viewed the Soviet Union as a potential anti-Western ally in their quest for Japan to realize its destiny to overturn a global status quo dominated by the Anglo-American powers and bring about an Asian renaissance.

Nevertheless, while commending the author for these historiographical contributions, this reviewer also feels compelled to make a few criticisms. The first of these regards Linkhoeva’s categorization and contextualization of nationalist activists and their opinions on the Russian Revolution and Soviet Communism. While Mitsukawa provides the best illustration of pan-Asian sympathy for the Russian Revolution as an anti-Western revolt, it remains true that other Pan-Asianists viewed Russia and Communism as mortal threats to the Japanese Empire and domestic polity. For example, Yasuoka Masahiro, one of Mitsukawa’s most prominent young colleagues during the 1920s, preached a staunchly anti-Communist and anti-Soviet version of Pan-Asianism throughout his career as a conservative advisor to the leading political elites of prewar Japan. Nor can the deeply conservative Yasuoka be reasonably classified as a national socialist, thus eliminating him from the group which Linkhoeva perceives as the primary non-military source of anti-Communist nationalists.[4] Even some advocates of National Socialism expressed pan-Asian sentiments and objectives. This includes Kita Ikki, whom the author contrasts with her pan-Asian faction as a key example of anti-Communist and anti-Russian nationalism.[5] In sum, professions of Pan-Asianism were so prevalent within the interwar nationalist movement that the label is of doubtful utility for categorizing nationalist activists and their attitudes to the Soviet Union.

Linkhoeva’s treatment of the personal relationships among Mitsukawa, Kita, and Ōkawa Shūmei also contains puzzling contentions. Mitsukawa’s diary, for example, suggests that he remained a trusted ally of Kita until Kita’s arrest in the aftermath of the attempted coup of 26 February 1936 and had distanced himself from Ōkawa since the mid-1920s.[6] As such, differing views of the Soviet Union clearly did not serve as a point of significant division leaving Kita on one side and Mitsukawa and Ōkawa on the other. Further, to suggest that Mitsukawa and Ōkawa formed the hub of a significant “pro-Russian, pan-Asianist” (78) movement in the 1930s is to ignore that Mitsukawa withdrew from pan-Asian activism into Shintō fundamentalism in the early 1930s and died in May 1936, and that Ōkawa’s supposed “students” (79), Generals Araki Sadao and Hata Shinji, were important leaders of the fiercely anti-Soviet Imperial Way Faction (Kōdō-ha) (Linkhoeva does identify Araki as a “hardened anticommunist” on page 214). Moreover, both officers would be better described as Ōkawa’s one-time patrons, and they were retired by late 1936 (although Araki did return as Education Minister from 1938-1939). The other supposed student she names, General Watanabe Jōtarō, was assassinated in the 26 February Incident. Failing to account for such realities undermines the author’s argument for the existence of an ascendant pro-Russian, pan-Asian faction “that advocated for Soviet-Japanese rapprochement and a regional Asian bloc [and that] became the most active and politically influential throughout the interwar period” (79).

Similarly questionable is Linkhoeva’s contention that anti-Communist sentiment and a preference for the political and economic status quo is enough to cast liberals and conservatives as political allies. For instance, numerous conservatives throughout the period lambasted liberals, regarding them, too, as a sinister threat to the stability of the Japanese polity. Conservatives also harbored deep concerns over the prospect of party rule; the very objective liberal commentators and party politicians sought to make the constitutional norm (kensei jōdō) and appeared to be on the cusp of achieving in the late 1920s. [7] Moreover, in her discussion of conservative views, Linkhoeva too often relies on passing mention of mostly anonymous, anti-Communist “conservative bureaucrats” (68, 100, 111-112) in the Home and Justice Ministries or simply to “the conservative bureaucracy” (100, 116, 146). Meanwhile, despite the central role of party politicians in governing Japan during this period, the parties as a political force do not constitute much of a presence in this book. These lacunae plus the fact that not all bureaucrats in these ministries were hide-bound conservatives—Home Ministry officials, for example, were instrumental in researching social problems and seeking to harmonize labor and management—suggest that closer attention to such larger political dynamics is necessary to convincingly demonstrate the existence of any liberal-conservative alliance.[8] Such engagement may have also allowed Linkhoeva to strengthen her case for Soviet-inspired radicalism having been a leading alternative vision for Japan’s domestic and foreign policies. Relatedly, although the author states that Japanese reactions to the Russian Revolution reflect more broadly how Japan in the 1920s lacked “both a core programmatic vision for its society and national state, and a single, coherent policy of regional integration” (11), surely a close approximation for these was provided by the Meiji constitutional order and the Japanese Empire. The former set the parameters for the competition for power and influence at home, and the latter provided the framework for extending Japanese power abroad.

Another area of reservation regards the implications Linkhoeva sees in her argument for our understanding of Japan’s foreign relations in the 1930s and 1940s and episodes of pragmatic diplomatic engagement between Imperial Japan and Soviet Russia. First, there are important realities that contradict the author’s suggestion that Japanese leaders were content with a powerful Soviet presence in East Asia. The diplomacy of the New Order drew on the pan-Asian-inspired “Asian Monroe Doctrine” and sought to establish Japanese dominance over “Greater East Asia.” [9] Consequently, the author’s contention that the Konoe cabinet’s Declaration of a New Order for East Asia in November 1938 welcomed a Soviet sphere of influence within that region is not convincing. While concurring with the author that anti-Communism was not the primary motivation behind the war in China, such sentiment was nevertheless an integral part of the declaration and other official statements justifying the conflict. For example, when reformist politician and Communications Minister Nagai Ryūtarō kicked off the National Spiritual Mobilization Campaign (Kokumin seishin sōdōin undō) in October 1937, he warned bluntly of “the Bolshevik revolutionary schemes that, taking advantage of … inequality and dissatisfaction, are being carried out around the globe.”[10] While such statements often named the Comintern or Communism in lieu of the USSR, surely this was more diplomatic nicety than significant distinction. Similarly, Foreign Minister Matsuoka Yōsuke’s interest in accommodating Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin in early 1941 and in concluding the neutrality treaty seems best understood not as a serious effort to bring the Soviet Union into the Tripartite Alliance but rather as a tactical ploy facilitated by the existence of the Nazi-Soviet Pact and directed at countering American pressure and securing Japan’s northern flank in preparation for advancing further into Southeast Asia. This view of Matsuoka—whom one historian has recently described as deeply distrustful of the Soviets yet less ideological than other pro-Axis diplomats such as Shiratori Toshio—also helps explain his volte-face two months later when, following Germany’s invasion of Russia, he immediately dropped his support for advancing south to advocate a strike north to aid Germany in destroying the common Soviet foe.[11]

Second, while Linkhoeva understandably places the army at the heart of anti-Communism and expansionism, certain key developments do not receive the attention warranted before offering the larger interpretation of that institution’s role in the 1930s. Anti-Communist and anti-Soviet sentiment is accurately attributed to General Araki and the Imperial Way Faction, but following the 26 February Incident both he and other leading Imperial Way generals, most significantly General Masaki Jinzaburō, were purged from active duty. Linkhoeva astutely notes the presence of so-called Control Faction (Tōsei-ha) staff officers and their affinity for Soviet-style planning as a useful tool for national mobilization. Similarly keen is her observation that to combat Chinese nationalism, the army was “ready to cooperate with the Soviets when necessary”; however, Linkhoeva further contends that the Control Faction “specifically” was “willing to accept the traditional division of the sphere of influence” (215). What is missing here is consideration of the fact that these were the officers in de facto command of the army after the 26 February Incident who then proceeded to implement advances in doctrine and training to prepare for fighting Japan’s primary military rival on the Asian continent: the Soviet Red Army. Similarly, the immediate objective for building the “high-grade national defense state” (kōdo kokubō kokka) these men had envisioned since at least the late 1920s was to be prepared for war with the Soviet Union. By the late 1930s, most army officers concurred that this fight would be necessary and hoped to be ready for the conflict by 1942 or 1943.[12] Nor did the neutrality treaty eliminate these preparations. Once German leader Adolf Hitler unleashed Operation Barbarossa in late June of 1941, even the precedence given to the Southern Advance at the Imperial Conference of 2 July did not stop officers on the General Staff, such as Major General Tanaka Shin’ichi, from dramatically expanding the ranks of the Kwantung Army for so-called special maneuvers in August that were in fact preparations for an offensive against the Soviet Union. Although the occupation of southern Indochina and resulting freeze of Japanese assets in the United States precluded anything more than mobilization, hardline staff officers continued to yearn for the chance to destroy Soviet power on the Asian continent sometime after the completion of operations in Southeast Asia. What prevented such an offensive and held the neutrality treaty in place until the summer of 1945 was primarily the worsening war situation for both Germany and Japan, rather than any widely shared affinity among Japan’s leaders for a Soviet sphere of influence in East Asia.[13]

Before concluding, I should note that this book contains more basic errors and inconsistencies than should exist in a manuscript vetted by one of the major publishers of monographs on modern Japanese history. For instance, Italy was not defeated in the Great War (187), Hiranuma Kiichirō was never head of the House of Peers (116, 205), and the Imperial Rule Assistance Association was not established in 1936 (209) but in 1940. Throughout the book Rikugun daijin and Rikugunshō are rendered as both Army Minister and Army Ministry (56, 206, 207) and War Minister and War Ministry (44, 55, 84, 214), an inconsistency that could be interpreted as inferring that these are distinct posts and institutions, when they are in fact one and the same.

Allow me to finish by reiterating the important contribution of Revolution Goes East in challenging established assumptions about relations between Imperial Japan and Soviet Russia on both the diplomatic and ideological fronts. There is indeed much about the complex Japanese reactions to Imperial Russia, the Soviet Union, and Soviet Communism that need further study, and Linkhoeva’s provocative argument helps address this need and should prove of great value in spurring more research.



When American journalist and New York Times Correspondent in Moscow after the Second World War, Harrison E. Salisbury, toured the United States in 1967, 50 years after the Russian Revolution, he was sure that a majority of the American people knew quite a lot about the events of 1917 and their consequences.[14] Regardless of his impression, the centennial in 2017 showed that many questions still remain, especially when one considers the global impact of the Russian Revolution. Tatiana Linkhoeva has written an important book that explains and further emphasizes the transnational consequences, which could also be felt in Japan after 1917. There, the answer to the “profound question” of whether socialism would be “a means to promote national unity and wealth” or if it should “achieve global human liberation from both capitalism and imperialism … was even more complicated” (1). In the Japanese context, the revolutionary events of 1917 “provoked fierce debates among supporters and opponents alike about the relationships among the state, society, individuals, and the national community; and finally, the objectives of the Japanese imperial project” (1). Linkhoeva argues that these discussions were more than political, as the “debate about Soviet Russia and its communist ideology became a debate over what constituted modern Japan” (1). While the revolutionary ideals were adopted as part of an anti-imperialist struggle in other parts of East Asia, i.e., China, Korea, and Mongolia, the Japanese Left was confronted with a crux, as not only did Japan interfere in the Russian Civil War during the Siberian Intervention, but the Bolsheviks assumed that the industrialized country would soon face a revolution as well.

Although these hopes were not fulfilled, the Russian Revolution stimulated the genesis of many “[n]ongovernmental grassroots organizations.” Even more, “[u]nder the revolution’s impact, socialism began to be seriously considered in Japan as a solution to economic and political problems and an alternative to capitalism” (3), although, and this should be added here, not by a majority of the Japanese people. Linkhoeva’s main argument is that in “Japan’s responses to the Russian Revolution, both geopolitical and ideological factors played equally important roles” (4). It “brings together Japan’s interwar foreign policy and domestic political and ideological changes, and it highlights their entanglement in Japan’s responses to the Russian Revolution” (4), thereby offering a broader view of the transnational impact of the events and developments in Soviet Russia and the later Soviet Union on Japan. This is an important contribution to several fields, including our understanding of the global networks that spread revolutionary ideas after 1917, the import and adjustment of these ideas in non-European contexts, as well as our understanding of the struggles and problems related to the interpretation of this revolution in its Japanese context,[15] especially when one considers the reaction of the Japanese politicians and military decision makers, who did not understand the revolution as a national event in Russia, but feared its impact in Asia, especially in Korea and China (4).

The first part of the book takes a closer look at these policy-makers and the extent to which they responded to the revolutionary impact after 1917. After discussing the Russo-Japanese relations until 1917 (15-38)—the first chapter hardly offers any new insight to the expert but is important for a general reader who may be unfamiliar with the topic—, the second chapter discusses the Japanese intervention in Siberia (39-66). Linkhoeva is able to show that “there was little awareness on the Japanese side that the Bolshevik takeover was the harbinger of a radically new ideology, and in fact, little interest in learning about it” (47). The decision-makers in Tokyo instead believed the Russian Revolution to have been triggered by the First World War, and considered the Bolsheviks to be German agents instead of world revolutionaries. Rather than fearing the spread of politically dangerous ideas, the Imperial Army and the Foreign Ministry understood the current events as a window of opportunity to expand Japan’s influence on the Asian mainland (47). The U.S. invitation to participate in an armed intervention on 8 July 1918 therefore “finally granted the Japanese army a new opportunity to realize its long-cherished plans for assuming control over the whole of Manchuria, while control over the Russian Far East was an unexpected bonus, which the army was not going to let slip by” (56; on the intervention itself, see 56-62)

In contrast to the political and military circles, pan-Asianists in Japan considered the revolution to be anti-Western in nature, a view discussed in the first half of the third chapter (67-99), which “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” (69). For the journalist Mitsukawa, as Linkhoeva shows, “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” (75). Although Soviet Russia/the Soviet Union showed its imperialist ambitions while expanding its influence during and after the Civil War, “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” (76). The second half of the chapter then discusses the debates about Communist ideology as a possible threat to the national strength and integrity of Japan and shows how, in the early 1920s, the respective governmental authorities as well as the Japanese police forces “were preoccupied with the domestic communist movement” (87).

The fourth chapter then analyzes the “Anticommunism Within” (100-123), and while “none of the interwar anticommunists cared about the communists’ anticapitalist agenda,” Linkhoeva argues, “[w]hat they did care about was the shape of future politics, and who would determine it” (101). International Communism offered an alternative for Japan’s future, especially since it seemed to offer an alternative to the existent weaknesses of Japan’s liberalist political and social order (102). Soviet Communism was analyzed by Keio University professor Fukuda Tokuzō (1874-1930) (106-107), Aoki Seiichi, an influential veteran (108-109), and journalist Ōba Kakō (109-110), among others, with different results, and while some feared its impact, others appreciated its possibilities for reaching true equality. Like in many other national contexts, these debates were dependant on information from Soviet Russia and were often based on assumptions and interpretations rather than hard facts. Japanese views on the Russian Revolution were therefore quite different, although “Japanese liberal commentators did not fail to emphasize the potential danger communist ideology posed to Japanese society, in which a majority of its people were disenfranchised” (110). In contrast, “[c]onservative bureaucrats understood communism as a foreign ideology that threatened Japan’s cultural traditions and its unique national structure” (112) and therefore reacted aggressively against the influx of this ‘foreign ideology.’ This chapter in particular offers important insights on the early debates about the Russian Revolution in Japan and should be taken into consideration when comparatively analyzing the impact of the revolutionary events as a transnational trigger from a global perspective.

After a description of the governmental measures to contain Communist forces within Japan in the 1920s and 1930s (112-123), the second part of the book takes a closer look at the interrelation between the Japanese Left and the Russian Revolution, and Linkhoeva argues that “[d]espite its characteristic inward orientation and preoccupation with domestic politics, … Japanese leftist debates were greatly influenced by international politics of the day” (4). Chapter 5 discusses Taishō anarchism’s ambivalence, i.e. its roots within the Japanese socialist movement on the one hand, and the influence Bolshevism should have on it, especially after 1917, on the other. (127). Like in many other national contexts,[16] the Japanese anarchists  did neither share a unanimous view on the revolutionary events, nor on Bolshevist ideas (128). As examples, Linkhoeva discusses mainly the views of Ōsugi Sakae (1885-1923) and Takao Heibē (1895-1923), who “were among the first Japanese radicals to go to Shanghai, the Siberian towns of Chita and Irkutsk, and Moscow to make contact with Russian Bolsheviks and Asian radicals and establish regional revolutionary networks” (128). Regardless of the network that was established across East Asia, the anarchists eventually lost influence and ground within the struggle for interpretative sovereignty “because of their fundamental disagreement with the premises and the course of the Russian Revolution, Japanese anarchism developed in a seemingly dead-end direction” (158).

The next chapter takes a closer look at the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and its connection with the Comintern and “examines the initial contacts between the Comintern and the JCP, and their differing views on revolutionary strategy in Japan, by looking at the writings of the socialist Yamakawa Hitoshi (1880–1958)” (159). The JCP was connected to Moscow via two routes, an eastern and a western one (160), and the former was especially important for the formation of communist parties in East Asia, i.e., Korea (May 1921), China (July 1921), and Japan (July 1922) (163). However, Japan was initially not really important for the Bolsheviks’ considerations with regard to Asia, as “in [Bolshevik leader Vladimir] Lenin’s developmental scale of revolutionary progression, Japan was slotted into the semicolonial category and therefore afforded only a secondary place in the coming world revolution” (168). Due to these considerations, the JCP was supposed to act according to a two-stage revolutionary model, which caused a debate, and “[i]n 1922-23, the JCP was preoccupied less with the monarchy than with the revolutionary strategy for Japan” (169). Yamakawa and the JCP, in contrast to the Comintern’s evaluation, “always insisted that their ultimate goal was the capture of political power, establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, and creation of a soviet government” (171). To further complicate the debate, the Comintern also had not achieved a concurring view about the role of Japan for the world revolution in general and that of the JCP in particular (177-182).

The final chapter then provides a deeper insight into the third politically left force and its perception of the Russian Revolution, i.e. Takabatake Motoyuki’s (1886-1928) views and Japanese national socialism (kokka shakaishugi) (185-210). These ideas or “national socialist doctrines,” as Linkhoeva refers to them, “resembled radical ideas about the relationship between the state, society, and the individual” (185). In contrast to anarchist and Communist views on the Russian Revolution, Takabatake was more successful in finding support for his ideas beyond the Japanese left, as his “influential interpretation of the Russian Revolution as a national, statist, and anticapitalist revolution made those who were not necessarily on the Left—politicians, reform bureaucrats (kakushin kanryō), and even some among the military—look favorably at the Soviet communist project” (186).[17]

All in all, Linkhoeva’s book is an important and outstanding contribution to the field, as she, in her detailed analysis, shows “that there was no agreement in the 1920s, either among factions of the government and bureaucracy, or among members of socialist and rightist movements, about the significance of the Russian Revolution and what to make of Soviet Russia” (211). It thereby emphasizes that, and at the same time explains how, the Russian events forced a debate upon Japan that went far beyond the theoretical sphere of leftist thinkers and intellectuals. It rather “overlapped with domestic agitation for reforms that aimed to extend political rights to outsider groups, rein in the exercise of arbitrary power, and find a solution to the colonial problem” (218). If there is something to criticize, it is not intended to diminish the value of Linkhoeva’s work but to further stimulate some general debates. It would have been important—although U.S. publishers, academic presses in particular,[18] do not seem to be much in favor of it—to provide a deeper historiographic contextualization for the work instead of redundantly repeating the aim of the book.[19] While there are only some minor flaws in the text,[20] one aspect deserves some actual criticism. Linkhoeva uses the terms Meiji Revolution and Meiji Restoration (Meiji ishin) quite interchangeably (1, 17, 70, 83, 129, 164), even though the latter can hardly be characterized as a revolution. Of course, contemporary Japanese thinkers have compared the Restoration with the Russian Revolution, but if Linkhoeva is in agreement with with their classification, i.e. the term Meiji Revolution, this choice should have been made clear. As it stands, this remains a rather uncritical use of both terms that avoids a clear position on this theoretical question. That said, one can, however, only conclude that Linkhoeva’s book is an important and extraordinary contribution to several fields of historical study and is highly recommended to scholars working on the Russian Revolution and/or Japanese history.



Tatiana Linkhoeva’s monograph, Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and Soviet Communism, tackles the ambitious goal of examining variegated interpretations and reactions by contemporary Japanese politicians, military officials, and left-wing activists about the Russian Revolution in order to illuminate that this became “a debate over what constituted modern Japan” (1). Overall, Revolution Goes East achieves its goal as it offers a detailed examination of disparate interpretations of the Russian Revolution by various groups of people in Japan. The title of the book, Revolution Goes East, is somewhat misleading as the text includes few descriptions of the means by which the Bolshevik vision was transported to the East or the process by which the revolution spread to Japan. Nevertheless, Revolution Goes East is an indispensable book for the study of Japanese history of the 1920s when Japan was “at a crossroads,” according to Linkhoeva (11). This review primarily focuses on the book’s examination of Japanese leftists and their interplay with the Comintern, which are discussed in Chapter 5 (anarchists) and Chapter 6 (Communists).

Since the opening of the archives of the Soviet Communist Party, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), and the Comintern, historians and political scientists have produced numerous monographs and articles that have helped expand our understanding of how politics work in the USSR, the Eastern bloc, and Communist Parties across the world.[21] However, until very recently, the main focus has been on Communist Parties in Europe and North America. For example, the edited collection of a comparative study on the Stalinization of Communist Parties had no chapters on Asian cases.[22] There are excellent examinations by Japanese scholars of the history of the Japanese left and the Japan-Soviet relationship during the interwar years, based on archival materials. These include monographs by Kurokawa Iori, Tomita Takeshi, and Yamanouchi Akito, but they are with a few exceptions unmentioned in works published in non-Japanese languages.[23]

Linkhoeva’s monograph provides detailed analyses of the Japanese left in the 1920s, drawing on numerous first-hand sources and archival materials. It also deserves special credit for a referring to recent works by the aforementioned Japanese scholars and others as well. Revolution Goes East is certainly a very welcome addition to the study of Japanese anarchism and Communism, in addition to making a substantial contribution to disseminating the important findings of Japanese scholars to a wider readership.

The ebb and flow of Japanese anarchism is discussed in Chapter 5, which argues that its nature, which was rooted in anti-authoritarianism and individualism, prompted its downfall. Linkhoeva suggests that Japanese socialists initially saw the Russian Revolution as “an anarchist revolution” (135). As the years progressed, a leading anarchist, Ōsugi Sakae, became a critic of the Russian Revolution because of the Bolshevik repression of Russian anarchists and the adoption of the New Economic Policy (140). Ōsugi was especially critical of the theory of the Leninist vanguard party, which brought about the famous ana-boru debate. The deaths of the leading anarchists, Takao Heibe and Ōsugi in 1922-1923 resulted in the isolation of the anarchist movement in Japan from the international movement and propelled Japanese anarchism in the direction of sporadic individual terrorism.

Chapter 6 offers a detailed examination of the interplay between the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the Comintern during the 1920s, focusing on the writings of Yamakawa Hitoshi, one of the founding members of the JCP. The most significant part of this chapter lies in its detailed treatment of the differing views of the JCP and the Comintern officials on the stage of the revolution that Japan had reached. From the very beginning, according to Linkhoeva, there existed a fundamental disagreement between Yamakawa and the Comintern officials over what Japanese Communists should do. The Comintern did not acknowledge the Meiji Revolution as a bourgeois revolution; hence, the prime task of Japanese Communists was to establish a united front and overthrow feudalism. Yamakawa, on the other hand, had a strong belief that Japan had already achieved as much democracy and industrialization as Western countries had. He and some of his comrades did not see the Russian Revolution, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin’s theory of the revolution, and the revolutionary party as models that Japanese communists should follow. The discrepancy became more pronounced when the JCP was re-established and Yamakawa refused to join, deciding instead to form Rōnō-ha with Arahata Kanson and Sakai Toshihiko. When the Comintern shifted its attention to the situation in China, the friction between the key members of the first JCP and the Comintern reached an unmediated point. The 1927 thesis by Nikolai Bukharin, the prominent Bolshevik theoretician and the leading figure of the Comintern at that time, explicitly criticised Rōnō-ha’s stance. The Comintern expelled the Rōnō-ha group from the JCP in early 1928, which was propelled by the Comintern’s leftwards-turn at the beginning of Stalinism. Linkhoeva argues that the subordination of the JCP to the Comintern finally came into effect at this point, marking the end of the Russian Revolution in Japan (159-184). 

Chapters 5 and 6, in addition to others, provide excellent examinations based on substantial first-hand accounts by contemporary Japanese anarchists and leftists, such as by Ōsugi, Kanson Arahata, and Yamakawa, some of which have not been sufficiently highlighted by historians.[24] Particular credit should be given to the vivid descriptions of the incipient years of the anarchists and the JCP with much attention to their tumultuous relationship, both between each other and vis-à-vis the Comintern.

Chapter 6 is worth further praise for its comparative study on the Communist Parties between two world wars. Linkhoeva seeks to challenge the conventional understanding of the relationship between the JCP and the Comintern, in which the JCP was primarily depicted as a mere docile organ. She successfully demonstrates a certain degree of independence of the JCP from Comintern control until the late 1920s, and this constitutes a very valuable addition to the present historiography of the topic.[25]

Linkhoeva claims that the opening of the archives enables historians to have a better grasp of the Communist Party, in that it allows them to distance themselves from ideological preoccupations during the Cold War. It is hard to cast doubt on this statement, and Linkhoeva’s reference to some of the archival materials certainly bolsters the arguments. However, in contrast to the extensive use of first-hand sources concerning the Japanese leftists, the examination of the Russian Revolution and Soviet history in its early years is predominantly based on Ronald Suny’s The Soviet Experiment, which was published in 1998.[26] Suny’s monograph is undoubtedly valuable in the historiography of the early Soviet Union, but it is by no means the sole study on the subject. Historians on the Russian Revolution and the USSR have developed their views of such a conventional topic after the opening of the archives, which embraces the multifaceted visions and internal contestation of the early Bolshevik regime.[27] Linkhoeva does not refer to any recent works on this topic, and consequently, her description of the Bolshevik vision of the world revolution seems one-dimensional.  

In terms of the use of sources, Linkhoeva could have done more in tracing the original documents of the Soviet leaders. Lenin and Stalin’s views on Japanese imperialism (97), which are the centrepieces of the book, are relatively easy to trace back to the original writings, rather than only drawing on Boris Nicolaevsky’s article.[28] It is difficult to determine whether the quotes and observations at these points are based on Nicolaevsky or on the words of the Soviet leaders.

Further, Linkhoeva’s reference to archival materials solely relies on the published document collections of the Comintern and the JCP. The ROSSPEN’s document collection (VKP(b), Komintern i Iaponiia) and its translated volume in Japanese (with some additional Japanese materials)[29] certainly include substantial materials from the fonds on the Politburo of the Bolshevik Party (Rossiiskii gosudarstvennyi arkhiv sotsialno-politicheskoi istorii [Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History: RGASPI], fond 17, op. 162) and on the JCP in the Comintern archives (RGASPI, fond 495, op. 127), among others. However, there is no indication that Linkhoeva referred to the original materials from any of the archives. It would have been beneficial if Linkhoeva had delved into some of the important fonds of the Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI), such as fonds on the JCP, on the plenums of the Executive Committee of the Comintern, and on the Comintern Congresses. This would have provided a more comprehensive argument in the book. Microfilmed copies, or parts of them, from the fond of the JCP or the Comintern are not difficult to access; many can be found at some university libraries and archives in the United Kingdom, the United States, Japan, and elsewhere as well as in Moscow.

Notwithstanding these few limitations, Revolution Goes East adds a great deal to our understanding of the history of Japan in the 1920s, as it scrutinizes different reactions and interpretations of the Russian Revolution, the Bolshevik regime, and the Comintern by contemporary Japanese politicians, military officials, and left-wing activists in the 1920s. It will become a must-read monograph for students of Japanese modern history and the Japanese left.



First, I want to thank Roger Brown, Frank Jacob, and Junya Takiguchi for their thoughtful and careful reading and perceptive comments on my book, and Curtis Anderson Gayle for writing the introduction. I am humbled to know that the reviewers had positive reactions to my interpretation of interwar Japan’s relations with Soviet Communism and the Soviet Union.

Let me address important questions raised in the reviews and in the process reiterate some core arguments of my work.

The book was conceived originally to investigate the radical changes the Bolshevik Revolution caused within the Japanese left. In the process of my research, the scope of my analysis expanded beyond the leftist circle to include the political establishment and nationalist circles. To demonstrate variegated perceptions, excitement, hopes, misconceptions, anxiety, and frustrations among the Japanese elites and leftist intellectuals about the Communist revolution, I placed those elites within the fast-changing domestic and international contexts of the 1920s. The focus, therefore, was always on the Japanese rather than the Soviet side of the story; in other words, I was more interested in what the Japanese thought about Communist Russia and Russian Communists and not in what the Soviet Communists thought about Japan. The book is not based on material from the unpublished Russian archives, but rather utilized published documents mentioned by Junya Takiguchi in his review. Still, the published sources demonstrate well the general trend of the Japanese Communist Party’s (JCP) engagement with the Soviet government and the Comintern, that is, its intellectual independence in outlining the future of Japan. I will certainly be glad to see an academic work in English that engages more deeply with the Russian archives to illuminate the institutional history of Soviet-Japanese Communist relations, but I believe that such a work would not contradict my general conclusions.

Roger Brown asks whether the basic strategy for domestic and foreign policies formulated by the Meiji leaders did not remain in place during the Taishō and Shōwa periods. This resonates with Frank Jacob’s question on the Meiji Restoration/Revolution. The Meiji Restoration of 1868 was a revolution and was understood as such by Meiji reformers and by the subsequent generations who grappled with the various issues of the Japanese modern project. Whether we describe the Meiji revolutionary developments and the resulted political structure using the term “restoration” or “revolution,” or whether we speculate about what kind of revolution it was, “aristocratic (Thomas Smith), “passive” (Antonio Gramsci), or something else, the fact remains that after the First World War and the Russian Revolution imperial Japan faced new domestic and international realities. In particular, under the impact of the Soviet moment (to use Akira Iriye’s description) and unprecedented challenges it posed, imperial Japan had to reconsider its basic ideological, political, and economic premises accordingly.[30]

I absolutely agree with Brown that the terms “pan-Asianist” or “Pan-Asianism” obscure probably more than they illuminate, and I did want to demonstrate how our labels and terms should be applied very carefully when discussing interwar Japan. For example, throughout the 1920s the definitions of the terms “left” and “right” were much less stable and more fluid than we acknowledge (something that Brown perceptively notes in his review). It is in the same vein that I tried to give more nuance and complexity to our common understanding of what was interwar Pan-Asianism. We all know it was nationalist, imperial, and imperialist in its intentions, and that many of its proponents in the 1930s eventually slid into imperial worship, Shinto fundamentalism (Mitsukawa Kametarō), or the military adventurism (Ōkawa Shūmei).[31] But is it the only story we can tell about those people, and is anti-Communism, or anti-Sovietism, the most helpful characteristic to describe their aspirations? During the 1920s, major cities in Japan buzzed with the political activities of different sorts of people. Socialists mingled with the Army officers, Asianists met with anarchists, anarchists talked with the prominent politicians, liberals partied with national socialists; friendships were forged and broken and forged again. Ideological disagreements (for example, between Mitsukawa, Ōkawa, and Kita Ikki) did not preclude friendly relations, or even marriage (the daughter of one of the most prominent politicians Gotō Shinpei married brother of the top JCP leader Sano Manabu). In any case, the fact that Mitsukawa composed numerous pro-Soviet writings, that Ōkawa Shūmei approved of the Communist revolution, that Kita Ikki engaged even negatively with Communist Russia and its supporters in Japan, and many others, are not known outside of Japan. I think paying attention to these aspects makes Pan-Asianism a richer and more complicated movement, and deserve further study from this angle.

The political buzz of the 1920s, or what I call a prolonged ideological earthquake, happened in many ways in reaction to the Soviet declaration of human liberation and equality, anti-imperialism, and anti-racism. Nationalists, Asianists, liberals, and many other concerned groups of different colors had to grapple with the question of what imperial Japan (the imperial institution, the military, the Diet, etc.) could offer to its domestic audience, to its colonies, and to the region that it aspired to dominate, and how it would bring about justice, equality, liberation in comparison to what the Soviet Union promised. Due to many factors, not least, I argue, because the Japanese elites and political activists figured out for themselves the meaning of the communist revolution, the dust settled by the late 1920s and early 1930s. I ended the book with this assumption in mind, along with the idea that the 1930s–40s were less about the revolution and Communism per se, but more about the changing geopolitical situation in the region and in the world. 

As for whether there was a convergence of anti-Communist sentiments among the liberals, party politicians, and the conservative bureaucracy, I believe we can discern this tendency and I outline it in the book. Despite the fact that during the 1920s social bureaucrats in the Home Ministry were preoccupied with the issue of poverty, their solutions were ultimately conservative in nature. For example, “moral suasion commissioners” implemented the Ministry’s drive to “encourage household savings, promote loyalty to the emperor, and cultivate good morals” among the poor and the working class.[32] The liberals, on the other hand, were ready to give up on many social issues in order to achieve their immediate goal of universal suffrage. As I show in the book, liberals did tacitly approve the anti-Communist Peace Preservation Law in 1925 and scaled down their critique of the government after the Universal Suffrage Law was implemented.[33] A separate study that is centered on the various meanings of anti-Communism among the different factions of the prewar elites is certainly necessary, and the topic could not of course be satisfactorily addressed in my book, which is wider in its scope.[34]

The Army’s consistent anti-Sovietism is undeniable, and the Kwantung Army was ready to engage in a military conflict with the Red Army. I made a distinction between anti-Sovietism and anti-Communism and argue that the Army was concerned with Japan’s strong imperial neighbor (because the Soviet Union was a reincarnation of the Russian Empire for them), rather than with the Communist ideological message (although they understood perfectly its appeal in colonial Korea and China). The Army’s anti-Communist agitation before 1935 is best understood by Japan’s desire to acquire the Chinese Eastern Railway, which it successfully did in 1935.[35] After the border conflicts of 1938–39 (the Changkufeng and Nomonhan incidents), which were largely due to the weakness of international law and unclear border demarcations rather than the military’s anti-Communism, the Army abandoned further plans to engage with the Soviet Union. Historians also agree that a non-aggression pact would have been signed in 1939 had the outbreak of World War II not occurred on September 1 of that year.[36] Nevertheless, despite the preparedness and anti-Soviet agitation, did the Kwantung Army start a war with the Soviet Union in 1940, 1941, 1942? Even though anti-Soviet and anti-Communist groups within the Army were vocal, they were restrained by other power groups, such as the Navy and the Foreign Ministry, which advocated for peaceful cooperation with the Soviet Union. Last, Matsuoka Yōsuke is a complicated figure, and his activities as a Foreign Minister were acts of political maneuvering in a fluid international situation. There are historians in Japan who do take Matsuoka’s plans for a Eurasian bloc seriously, but I will leave this discussion for another occasion and for other experts since the Army and the foreign policy of the late 1930s are outside of the book’s intention.[37]

In my work, I wanted to demonstrate a rich and contradictory landscape of imperial Japan in the 1920s, where one could simultaneously be anti-Communist and pro-Soviet, or anti-Soviet but pro-Communist. Evidence might be contradictory and can support opposite arguments, but what is obvious is that we cannot take the Japanese–Soviet ideological struggle for what the Japanese and the Soviets claimed it was. To conclude, the book is intended to introduce to the Anglophone readers the richness and importance of Japanese and international leftist thought, movements, and people beyond the history of Marxism and Communism. As Takiguchi points out (and I was very pleased that he called attention to this important issue), the robust Japanese scholarship on the left and its wider historical significance in Japanese society, domestic and foreign politics, and culture is largely ignored in non-Japanese scholarship. Despite the fact that the Japanese scholars have keenly engaged with the left’s broad social and intellectual outreach since the prewar period, very little has been published in English on the prewar left in comparison to the dozens of works on fascism and liberalism.[38] If my book serves as an introduction to the powerful political and intellectual currents that the Japanese and international left stimulated in modern Japan, and moves its readers to engage with the issues and interpretations the book raises, I will consider my work well done.

I want to express again my deepest gratitude to the reviewers, and my many thanks to Masami Kimura and H-Diplo for organizing this roundtable.


[1] Some noteworthy examples include George M. Beckmann and Genji Okubo, The Japanese Communist Party, 1922-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), Curtis Anderson Gayle, Marxist History and Postwar Japanese Nationalism (London: Routledge, 2003), and Germaine Hoston, Marxism and the Crisis of Development in Prewar Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

[2] Detailed explorations of the revolution’s implications for Japan’s diplomatic history remain surprisingly few in Anglophone scholarship, with the diplomatic context of World War One and the intervention in Siberia garnering the most attention; see, for instance, James Morley, The Japanese Thrust into Siberia, 1918 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1957), Frederick Dickinson, War and National Reinvention: Japan in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), and Paul Dunscomb, Japan’s Siberian Intervention, 1918-1922 (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2011). Akira Iriye’s classic study of efforts to implement a “new order” based on agreements concluded in Paris and Washington, After Imperialism: The Search for a New Order in the Far East, 1921-31 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965), incorporates the role of the Soviet Union. More recently, Frederick Dickinson has emphasized Japan’s embrace of liberalism and disarmament during the 1920s in The Triumph of a New Japan, 1919-1930 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013), while diverse regional perspectives are provided in the essays edited by Tosh Minohara and Evan Dawley for Beyond Versailles: The 1919 Moment and a New Order in East Asia (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2021). Attention is regularly given to the influence of socialism, liberalism, and Marxism upon political and intellectual developments, but for a standard overview, see Peter Duus and Irwin Scheiner, “Socialism, Liberalism, and Marxism, 1901-1931,” in Bob Tadashi Wakabayashi, ed., Modern Japanese Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), 147-206. For focused studies of the political and ideological impact of Marxism and socialism see, for instance, George M. Beckmann and Genji Okubo, The Japanese Communist Party, 1922-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1969), Germaine Hoston, Marxism and the Crisis of Development in Prewar Japan (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), and George Oakley Totten III, The Social Democratic Movement in Prewar Japan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1966).

[3] The most influential look at the intersection of the radical Left and Right in Japan was provided by historian Itō Takashi. See, for instance, his Taishō-ki “kakushin”-ha no seiritsu [Formation of the “Renovationist”-faction of the Taishō Period] (Tokyo: Hanawa shobō, 1978). In English, see his chapter “The Role of Right-Wing Organizations in Japan,” in Dorothy Borg and Shumpei Okamoto, eds., Pearl Harbor as History: Japanese-American Relations, 1931-1941 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1973), 487-509. For a consideration of Itō’s kakushin thesis in relation to debates over fascism, see Gregory J. Kasza, “Fascism from Above? Japan’s Kakushin Right in Comparative Perspective,” in Stein Ugelvik Larson, ed., Fascism Outside Europe: The European Impulse against Domestic Conditions in the Diffusion of Global Fascism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 183-232.

[4] On Yasuoka’s Pan-Asianism, see Roger H. Brown, “Visions of a Virtuous Manifest Destiny: Yasuoka Masahiro and Japan’s Kingly Way,” in Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann, eds., Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History (New York: Routledge, 2007), 133-150.

[5] For a concise consideration of Pan-Asianism in Kita’s thought, see Christopher W. A. Szpilman, “Kita Ikki: ‘An Unofficial History of the Chinese Revolution,’ 1915, and ‘The Outline of a Plan for the Reconstruction of Japan,’ 1919,” in Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, eds., Pan-Asianism, A Documentary History, Volume 1: 1850-1920 (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 271-277.

[6] For more on the relationships among these three men, see Christopher W. A. Szpilman’s commentary in Hasegawa Yūichi, Szpilman, and Fuke Takahiro, eds., Mitsukawa Kametarō nikki [Mitsukawa Kametarō Diary] (Tokyo: Ronsōsha, 2011), 265-285.

[7] For an overview of conservatism, including conservative attitudes toward liberalism and party government, see Szpilman, “Conservativism and Conservative Reaction,” in Saaler and Szpilman, eds., Routledge Handbook of Modern Japanese History (New York: Routledge, 2018), 160-183. The best account of the sources and limitations of party power and of the intricacies of intra-elite political competition remains that provided by Gordon M. Berger, Parties Out of Power in Japan, 1931-1941 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977). For recent looks at the contentious debates over what should constitute normal constitutional government, see Koyama Toshiki, Kensei jōdō to seitō seiji: kindai Nihon ni-dai seitō-sei no kōsō to zasetsu [Normal Constitutional Government and Party Politics: The Development and Collapse of Modern Japan’s Two-Party System] (Tokyo: Shibunkaku shuppan, 2012) and Yoneyama Tadahiro, Shōwa rikkensei no saiken [Reconstructing the Shōwa Constitutional System], 1932-1945 (Tokyo: Chikura shobō, 2015).

[8] Linkhoeva does note the era’s “social bureaucrats” (236n30), but they do not factor into her larger analysis. On the complexity of bureaucratic training and thinking through the 1920s, see Yūichirō Shimizu, The Origins of the Modern Japanese Bureaucracy, translated by Amin Ghadimi (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2020).

[9] For examinations of the growing influence of Pan-Asianism in Japan’s drive to establish a “new order” see Gordon M. Berger, “The Three-Dimensional Empire: Japanese Attitudes and the New Order in Asia, 1937-1945,” The Japan Interpreter 12:3-4 (1979), 355-383, and Eri Hotta, Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War, 1931-1945 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007). On the total war planning and autarkic economic objectives involved, see Michael A. Barnhart, Japan Prepares for Total War: The Search for Economic Security, 1919-1941 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987).

[10] Nagai Ryūtarō, “Ajia saiken no seisen [Holy War for the Reconstruction of Asia],” in Nihon bunka [Japanese Culture] 10 Naikaku jōhō-bu hen [edited by the Cabinet Information Bureau] (Nihon bunka kyōkai, 1937), 41. For the text of the declaration and related statements by Konoe, see Roger H. Brown, “The Konoe Cabinet’s ‘Declaration of a New Order in East Asia,’ 1938,” in Saaler and Szpilman, eds., Pan-Asianism, A Documentary History, Volume 2: 1920-Present (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011), 167-173.

[11] Hattori Satoshi, Matsuoka Yōsuke to Nichi-Bei kaisen: Taishū seijika no kō to zai [Matsuoka Yōsuke and the Start of the Japanese-American War: The Achievements and Failings of a Populist Politician] (Tokyo: Yoshikawa kōbunkan, 2020), 100-107.

[12] On doctrine and training in the late 1930s, see Edward J. Drea, “The Japanese Army on the Eve of War,” in Mark Peattie, Drea, and Hans Van De Ven, eds., The Battle for China: Essays on the Military History of the Sino-Japanese War of 1937-1945 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2011), 105-135. For a concise explanation of army thinking on mobilization planning and the prospect of war with the Soviet Union, see Tobe Ryōichi, Jikai no byōri: Nihon rikugun no soshiki bunseki [Pathology of Self-Destruction: An Organizational Analysis of the Japanese Army] (Tokyo: Nihon Keizai Shinbun shuppansha, 2017), 235-250.

[13] For details on the August mobilization and the ultimately frustrated ambitions of these staff officers, see Hatano Sumio, Bakuryō-tachi no shinjuwan [Staff Officers’ Pearl Harbor] (Tokyo: Asahi sensho, 1991), 93-110, 143, 199, and Alvin D. Coox, Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939 (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1985), 1033-1074.

[14] Harrison E. Salisbury, Assistant Managing Editor, New York Times, and Nikolai V. Diakonov, Novosti Press Agency, Moscow, 15 November 1967, New York Times Company Records, Clifton Daniel Papers, MssCol 17789, 2007M10, Box 32, The New York Public Library, Manuscripts and Archives Division, Russian Revolution Anniversary, 1966-1967, file 18, 1-2.

[15] Some recent and forthcoming works related to these questions are, among others, Amiya Kumar Bagchi, “The Russian Revolution and Its Global Impact,” Social Scientist 46, no. 3-4 (2018): 45-54;  Francisco Dominguez, “The sui generis Impact of the Russian Revolution on Latin America,” Journal of Global Faultlines 4, no. 2 (2017/18): 123-137; Jean-Numa Ducagne and Alexandre Tchoudinov, “La Révolution comme modèle et miroir (URSS, Chine, Japon),” Annales Historiques de la Révolution Française 387, no. 1 (2017): 3-8; Sabine Dullin et al., eds. The Russian Revolution in Asia: From Baku to Batavia (London: Routledge, 2021, forthcoming); Matthew Rendle, “Making Sense of 1917: Towards a Global History of the Russian Revolution,” Slavic Review 76, no. 3 (2017): 610-618; Aaron B. Retish and Matthew Rendle, eds. The Global Impact of the Russian Revolution (London: Routledge, 2020); Brigitte Studer, Reisende der Weltrevolution: Eine Globalgeschichte der Kommuistischen Internationale (Berlin: Suhrkamp, 2020).

[16] For a broader comparative view, see Philippe Kellermann, ed., Anarchismus und russische Revolution (Berlin: Dietz, 2017). For an older but still important case study about anarchist attitudes toward the Russian Revolution, see Paul Avrich, “Russian Anarchists and the Civil War,” The Russian Review 37:3 (1968): 296-306, which also discusses the issues the anarchist movement had with the question of supporting or antagonizing the Bolsheviks.

[17] For Takabatake’s definition/explanation of “national socialism,” see 191-192.

[18] This seems to be related to the pressure of academic presses to reach a general audience and sell high numbers of copies.

[19] Under the revolution’s impact, socialism began to be seriously considered in Japan as a solution to economic and political problems and an alternative to capitalism” (3), and “Under its impact, socialism began to be seriously considered in Japan as a solution to economic problems and an alternative to capitalism” (9).

[20] E.g. “Russian communist propaganda (kyōsanshugi)” (89), “Dai Nihon Kokusuikai organization (Greater Japan National Essence Association)” (116).

[21] For example, see the articles in Silvio Pons, ed., The Cambridge History of Communism (3 volumes, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2017).

[22] Norman LaPorte, Kevin Morgan, and Matthew Worley eds., Bolshevism, Stalinism and the Comintern: Perspectives on Stalinization, 1917-53 (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). The present reviewer has pointed out the lack of attention of this edited volume to the Communist Parties in Asia in a book review published in European Review of History/ Revue europeenne d’histoire 18:5-6 (2011): 899-900. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13507486.2011.632214 .

[23] Kurokawa Iori, Teikoku ni kōsuru shakai undō: Daiichiji Nihon Kyōsantō no shisō to undō (Tokyo: Yūshisha, 2014); Tomita Takeshi, Senkanki no Nisso Kankei: 1917-1937 (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2014); Tamanouchi Akito, Shoki Kominterun to Zaigai Nihonjin Shakai Shugisha: Ekkyōsuru Nettowāku (Kyoto: Minerva Shobō, 2009).

[24] Ōsugi Sakae, Ōsugi Sakae zenshū: Roshia Kakumei ron vol. 7 (Tokyo: Gendai Shichōsha, 1963); Arahata Kanson, Arahata Kanson jiden (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1975); Yamakawa Hitoshi, Yamakawa Hitoshi jiden (Yamakawa Kinue and Yamakawa Shinsaku eds.) (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1961). See the book’s bibliography (257- 270) which provides full details of their writings.

[25] Andrew Thorpe, for example, has also shown that the British Communist Party acted more independently from Moscow than previous studies have argued. Andrew Thorpe, The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2001).

[26] Ronald G. Suny, The Soviet Experiment: Russia, the USSR, and the Successor States (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).

[27] On the development in the study of the Russian Revolution, see a historiographical survey by S.A. Smith, “The Historiography of the Russian Revolution 100 Years On,” Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History 16:4 (Fall 2015), 733-749. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1353/kri.2015.0065 (the other articles in the same volume of Kritika are also valuable). On the recent products concerning the Russian Revolution and the early years of the Bolshevik regime, see the various books in Russia’s Great War and Revolution series, general editors Anthony Heywood, David MacLaren McDonald, and John W. Steinberg (Bloomington: Slavica Publishers, 2014- ),  https://slavica.indiana.edu/series/Russia_Great_War_Series .

[28] Boris Nicolaevsky, “Russia, Japan, and the Pan-Asiatic Movement to 1925,” The Far Eastern Quarterly 8:3 (May 1949): 259- 295. DOI: https://doi.org/10.2307/2049357.

[29] Grant M. Adivekov and Haruki Wada eds., VKP(b), Komintern i Iaponiia, 1917-1941 (Moscow: ROSSPEN, 2001); Tomita Takeshi and Wada Haruki eds., Shiryōshū: Kominterun to Nihon Kyōsantō (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 2014).

[30] Akira Iriye, After Imperialism: The Search for a New Order in the Far East, 1921-1931 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965).

[31] Eri Hotta, Pan-Asianism and Japan’s War, 1931-1945 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007); Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann, eds., Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History (New York: Routledge, 2007); Sven Saaler and Christopher W. A. Szpilman, eds., Pan-Asianism, A Documentary History, Volume 1: 1850-1920; Volume 2: 1920–Present (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2011).

[32] Sheldon Garon, Molding Japanese Minds (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), 54. For the conservative nature of the social bureaucrats, see chapter 1, 25-59.

[33] Max M. Ward, Thought Crime: Ideology and State Power in Interwar Japan (Durham: Duke University Press, 2019).

[34] For anti-Communism among the postwar elites, see Reto Hofmann, “What’s Left of the Right: Nabeyama Sadachika and Anti-Communism in Transwar Japan, 1930–1960,” Journal of Asian Studies 79:2 (May 2020): 403–27; Reto Hofmann, “The Conservative Imaginary: Moral Re-Armament and the Internationalism of the Japanese Right, 1945–1962,” Japan Forum 33:1 (January 2021): 77–102.

[35] George A. Lensen, The Damned Inheritance: The Soviet Union and the Manchurian Crises 1924-1935 (Tallahassee: The Diplomatic Press, 1974).

[36] Anastasia S. Lozhkina, Yaroslav A. Shulatov, and Kirill E. Cherevko, “Soviet-Japanese Relations after the Manchurian Incident, 1931–1939,” in Dmitry Streltsov and Nobuo Shimotomai, eds., A History of Russo–Japanese Relations: Over Two Centuries of Cooperation and Competition (Leiden: Brill, 2019), 218–37; Stuart D. Goldman, Nomonhan, 1939: The Red Army’s Victory That Shaped World War II (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2013).

[37] For more detailed discussion in English, see Ryōichi Tobe, “Japan’s Policy toward the Soviet Union, 1931–1941: The Japanese-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact,” in Dmitry Streltsov and Nobuo Shimotomai, eds., A History of Russo-Japanese Relations, 201–17; Yukiko Koshiro, Imperial Eclipse: Japan’s Strategic Thinking about Continental Asia before August 1945 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2013), 40–44.

[38] Germaine A. Hoston, Marxism and the Crisis of Development in Prewar Japan (Princeton Princeton University Press, 1987). More recent works include Andrew E. Barshay, The Social Sciences in Modern Japan: The Marxian and Modernist Traditions (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007); Gavin Walker, The Sublime Perversion of Capital (Durham: Duke University Press, 2016). On postwar Japanese Marxism, see Curtis Anderson Gayle, Marxist History and Postwar Japanese Nationalism (London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).

Categories: Roundtable, H-DiploPub