Main Body

The Popular Front Against Fascism and Kawai Eijirō

In which the author returns to the Genri Nihon assault on Tōdai, most noticeably on Kawai Eijirō. The authorities used the Comintern’s adoption of Popular Front tactics (1935) and Japan’s war in China as pretext to crack down on dissent. Kawai continued his criticism of Japan and refused to allow his books to go out of print (the authorities had hoped he would agree). In October the authorities acted to ban Kawai’s four books. Direct pressure on university president Nagayo proved unavailing, at least in the short term. The author suggests that Kawai’s defense against the charge that he backed the Popular Front was disingenuous.

Criticism of Liberalism

On February 1, 1938 Professors Ōuchi, Arisawa, and Wakimura were arrested. This, the second Popular Front Incident (or Faculty Group Incident), became the occasion for all-out attack on Kawai by government officials and the right wing. At the time of the emperor-organ issue, Diet member Ida Iwakuzu had been in the vanguard of the attack on Minobe, and on February 16, in a plenary session of the House of Peers, Ida stood up once again and raised the university issue—why this evil omen at Tōdai? He traced its roots for nearly three hours, from morning into afternoon, spanning the lunch recess; his long-windedness was part speech, part question.

Ida asserted that having been taken over by the “anti-fascist Popular Front struggle” under the direction of the Comintern, Tōdai had betrayed the kokutai and become a den of liberalism, democracy, and anti-statism; word for word, his speech echoed assertions Minoda had developed earlier in Genri Nihon. In fact, at virtually the same time as this speech, Genri Nihon published State and University: A Scholarly Critique of the Democratic, Anti-State Thinking of the Faculty of Law of Tokyo Imperial University,[1] assembling all of Minoda’s attacks on Tōdai up to that point; this speech was taken from that book. In the speech Ida named Kawai, Suehiro, Yokota, Tanaka, Miyazawa, Yanaihara and used direct quotations from their books to attack them. And he did attack: “Two Tōdai faculties—Law and Economics—are the Popular Front ‘on parade.’” “In fact, the Tōdai Faculty of Law and the Faculty of Economics are the den, the training ground, the research institute of the anti-statists.” The attack on Kawai was particularly tenacious, holding that the third-stage liberalism Kawai espoused (the first stage was liberal laissez-faire; the second, social betterment) aimed at the realization of socialism, and charging that it was only a hair’s-breadth away from communism. The society it aimed for was the same; the difference lay merely in Kawai’s rejection of violent revolution and the dictatorship of the proletariat. Kawai said, “In Japan, too, providing it abandons violence, the Communist Party should be permitted political activity,” and Ida deemed that inexcusably pro-communist. Moreover, Kawai’s sharp criticism of statism, advocating its liquidation and collapse, was anti-kokutai ideology absolutely irreconcilable with Japan’s kokutai, which was an absolutist structure of sovereign-nation unity centered on the emperor.

Kawai described his own ideas as idealistic social democracy, and the Comintern’s new Popular Front tactic emphasized joining hands with social democrats and liberals to form an anti-fascist united front: the chief enemy was statism, so form a united front on that single point, anti-statism. It was precisely anti-statist social democrats such as Kawai who were in accord with the Comintern’s thrust, and the liberalism, democracy, socialism that Kawai preached were now the breeding ground of communism. Tōdai, where such a professor was serving as dean (in fact, Kawai had stepped down as dean in mid-1937), had become the headquarters of the Popular Front; the highest university of all was now the “national headquarters of the Popular Front.” Ida’s rhetoric was heated: now, in the war in China, officers and men were carrying on the battle immersed in water eighteen hours out of twenty-four, so at such a time it was not permissible that in universities at home, Popular Front ideology was in full flood.

As I mentioned earlier, Kawai was famous as an anti-Marxist, so much so that the Ministry of Education had sent him on lecture tours to higher schools throughout the country to spread anti-Marxism; so up till then, it was wholly unthinkable that anyone apart from the radical right like Minoda Muneki would dare label Kawai a communist sympathizer. But with Ida’s speech of February 1938, voices criticizing Kawai’s liberal ideas surged up. Of course, only two weeks earlier, three Tōdai professors—Ōuchi, Arisawa, and Wakimura—had been arrested, so the speech took place soon after the most earthshaking event in Tōdai. The assertion that two faculties—Law and Economics—had become the headquarters of the Popular Front made the man in the street think, Yes, of course!

International Politics and the Popular Front

In content, Ida’s speech was a carbon copy of the charges Minoda Muneki had been making, but its impact was incomparably greater. Genri Nihon reached only a very few readers, but Ida’s attack on Kawai made headlines in the general press.




This three-line, four-column headline speaks eloquently of the swift change in Kawai’s standing. “Denunciation as reactionary” referred to the denunciation higher-school students had showered on him when the Ministry of Education had sent him out as an instructor to lead people into the right way. The denunciation of Kawai had swung from left-wing cries of “Reactionary!” to right-wing cries of “Popular Front!”

With the Popular Front Incident of December 1937, the official policy for controlling the left changed dramatically. Up till then, the structural sine qua non for invoking the Peace Preservation Law was advocacy of changing the kokutai or refusal to recognize private property; so only members and sympathizers of organizations affiliated with the Communist Party (that is, affiliated with the Comintern) were subject to control. Their crime: the intent to pursue an illegal goal. But the 7th World Congress of the Comintern (1935) had adopted the Popular Front tactic, and from that time on, even Marxists of the non-Communist type (the Rōnōha), who up till then had not been the object of control, became linked to the Comintern through the Popular Front and were subjected to control under that rubric. Thereafter officials used the Popular Front concept adroitly, broadened the Comintern connection to include non-Marxist socialists and social democrats, and seemed to think that all of a sudden they could cast their net even over people they deemed insolent for words and actions inappropriate in time of crisis. And they apparently tried to make Kawai their greatest symbolic target. Kawai believed in socialism, but what was nearest his heart was social democracy on the order of the English labor movement; he was about as far left as today’s Japanese Democratic Party. Moreover, he always stated publicly in regard to Marxism and the Comintern that he was clearly “anti-.” But it was a reality of the European Popular Front movement that the Comintern did reach out to that part of the left. Depending on country and party, there were successes and failures; but that the Comintern reached out is fact. As officials came to understand that fact, they claimed that they had to extend oversight, too.

For the officials, this was convenient. Why? In Kawai’s case, it was clear he acted from an anti-Comintern standpoint, so they hadn’t been able to pull him in under the “intent to pursue an illegal goal” often invoked under the Peace Preservation Law. But if they pushed the Popular Front logic, they could bring him under control. Kawai’s continuing speech and action—criticism of the military, fascism, totalitarianism, statism, support for university autonomy, and the like—were an annoyance; now that increasingly stringent control had shut down the activities of the Communist Party and the activities of the Rōnōha, Kawai was likely the target the officials most wanted to control.

The Popular Front did not exist as a concrete organization in Japan, but Ida’s speech was an attempt to ensnare Kawai in the Popular Front in the broad sense, as vague ideology. For all its wordiness, if you read the speech carefully, it’s hard to say what the point was; its exact meaning was shrouded. But in attacking Kawai he did use the words Popular Front repeatedly, and the implication was that Kawai’s thought, not to mention his very existence, was Popular Front-ish.

It’s clear from the following episode that the key words ‘Popular Front’ were at the root of the official attack on Kawai. At the time, Kawai’s publisher Nihon hyōronsha had issued most of Kawai’s work; Ishidō Kiyotomo was head of its publishing division, and in an essay entitled, “At the Time of the Blacklist,”[2] he writes as follows. In 1937, with the beginning of the China-Japan War, strict thought control came into effect, and the Books branch of the Home Ministry established a “Friendly Gathering about Publications” that brought together representatives of all the publishers. There officials “set out the guidelines for policing publications and explained publication bans and other punishments.”

Its second meeting took place on December 15, 1937. That was the day that throughout the country over four hundred people were arrested at one go in the first Popular Front Incident. “In conjunction with the ‘Popular Front’ arrests conducted on the same day, the secretary of the Metropolitan Police Board lectured on ‘The Current State of the Popular Front.’ Here for the first time the policy was made clear that from then on, no matter what their point of view, those who shout ‘Down with fascism!’ would be considered sympathizers of the Comintern movement and subjected to control. [Emphasis: Tachibana] … The Comintern’s united anti-fascist front had been active since 1935, but the Home Ministry initiated its tough stand in 1937 because in that year the anti-fascist United Front movement was at high tide internationally; what worried me most of all was the likelihood that Kawai’s Critique of Fascism would be targeted for frontal attack.” As here, the sudden heightening of official alarm about the Popular Front at the time was because the Popular Front movement (the united anti-fascist front) was succeeding in some places, and officials worried that its influence would spread to Japan. In 1936 in France the anti-fascist Popular Front grabbed power, and in Japan too there were special issues of journals—in Kaizō, “The Popular Front and Japan,” in Chūō kōron, “The Birth of Japan’s Popular Front.” Nosaka Sanzō and Yamamoto Kenzō, who had been in the Moscow Comintern, wrote a joint “Letter to Japan’s Communists,” calling on Communists to cease their schismatic activity and join the Social Mass Party. Under this impetus, activities of the united Popular Front picked up, and in the general election in 1936 the Social Mass Party gained thirteen seats, going from five seats to eighteen; in the general election in the following year, 1937, it gained again, to thirty-seven seats. These events alarmed officials. Moreover, in response to heightened anti-fascist activity internationally aimed at German and Japanese military acts in Asia and Europe, the Japan-Germany Defense Agreement was concluded in 1936 (it was broadened the following year to include Italy). As its name indicates, this was an anti-Comintern pact; it aimed to suppress state-level Comintern activities centered on the Soviet Union and included various agreements to suppress domestic Comintern anti-fascist united front activity in the signatory states, to exchange information, and the like.

Kawai Rejects Publication Ban

As far as influence on Japan is concerned, the creation in China of an anti-Japanese people’s United Front was hugely important: the Chinese Communist Party accepted the directive of the Comintern, stopped for a while its fight with the Guomindang, and proposed a policy of national unity to fight off the Japanese invasion that had spread from Manchuria into China proper; This was the greatest factor that turned the China-Japan War into a quagmire. Three countries—Japan, Germany, and Italy—had been designated enemies of the international anti-fascist Popular Front, so when the war began, those involved in the Popular Front movement in Japan were considered to be cooperating with the enemy, secret colluders. Until the general election of April 1937, there had been movement in Japan, too, in the Popular Front direction; but after the July incident at the Marco Polo Bridge, that movement came to a dead stop. That was a direct result. Because of the intensification of the wartime order, officials exercised strict control over all such movements (all anti-war words and deeds). The climax came with the Popular Front Incident at the end of 1937 and the Faculty Group Incident at the beginning of 1938. Strong pressure on Kawai, too, began as one aspect of that broader trend (except that Kawai belonged to the faction actively cooperating with the war). But it’s not the case that the movement to ban his books began right after Ida’s speech. Ishidō writes as follows: “After the May meeting broke up, I was directed to stay behind and was approached by three officials for a ‘consultation’ at the bureau chief’s small side table. The thrust: couldn’t we voluntarily stop printing Critique of Fascism? Neither publisher nor author, I thought, wanted to cease publication, and when I asked why they were making an issue of it, they answered that the book had no specific passages whose content infringed the publication law, but there was strong pressure from a certain quarter, and if they did nothing, they feared something untoward might happen to Kawai, our ‘respected teacher.’” “A certain quarter” was of course the Army.

After the February 26 Incident, only Kawai—in “Critique of the February 26 Incident”—had criticized the army directly and eloquently.[3] Nor was that the only time. Shortly thereafter, Torinaka, chief of Chuō kōron press, came to visit and said he’d like someone to write a “Letter to the Military.” At first, Kawai declined—“I’d better mind my own business…” but later changed his mind and wrote “My Thoughts on the Crisis.”[4] This was far longer than the first essay and once again criticized the military sharply. As Tsuchida writes,[5] “He developed his argument at length, eloquently and scathingly, bitterly attacking the military’s forcible intervention into politics.” This essay later was included in the book The Crisis of Liberalism; along with the three other books, it was banned a year and a half later (in October 1938). Reading it today, I’m astonished that back then so biting a book was allowed to stay in print for a year and a half. And when the four books were banned, Tsuchida writes, “It’s clear that Kawai’s resolute critique of the military and attack on statism, especially in The Crisis of Liberalism, greatly exercised the military and right-wing forces.” As in the above passage from Ishidō, Crisis of Liberalism, too, evoked a bitter reaction among the military, so the army suggested that the press let it to go out of print voluntarily. Later, when these two books were banned, the stated reason for banning them was that they were “propaganda for socialism and against the military.”

Superb Insight

Why did the military react so strongly against Critique of Fascism? Because in that book Kawai analyzed Japanese-style fascism and sharply criticized the fact that its most important characteristic was that the military formed its core. Unlike European fascism, which arose spontaneously as a political movement of civilians, the Japanese military—from the very first, an institution whose existence was guaranteed by the constitution—put down roots firmly in the very heart of power. Moreover, via the right of supreme command, it was an institution directly subordinate to the emperor, so its power was incomparably greater than that of all other governmental organs. Because of the right of supreme command, the military could not be checked by government or by Diet. All in all, it is a superb analysis: when such an organization is central to and impels the fascist movement, it “submerges itself in the political machinery and can advance its goals by directing that machinery.” In other words, Kawai feared that the military would highjack the entire state structure from within. Japan’s politics had already reached that stage: the Five Ministers’ Council and the Inner Government Council were created with the military as members, and they become mechanisms for deciding important state-political issues—they are, he argues, fascism’s first appearance. Meanwhile, advancing further, fascism is not content to enter only one sector of power; it may come to seize all power. Neither in the Manchurian Incident nor in the May 15 Incident had fascism reached that point, and in those incidents steps were taken quickly to restore order; but at that point, fascism “became conscious of its own power to terrorize the entire governmental apparatus.” In Japanese society, “it is considered impossible to root out the disasters of fascism, so instead the hope comes bubbling up that ‘the military’ will carry out social reforms.” As a result, “carrying the people’s hopes,” the military may decide to “topple cabinets.”

Along about here, when you think of subsequent political developments, you realize how insightful this narrative truly is. Though this book appeared in 1934, long before the military toppled cabinets using the system that only active-duty generals could serve as Army Minister, before the February 26 Incident arose, before the Tōjō Cabinet, when the military controlled the entire country, he had already foreseen those developments.

Later, when the publication ban trial began, Kawai reread Critique of Fascism to prepare for it and at the time reflected in his diary (March 18, 1939), “If I do say so myself, it’s well-written and I admire it.” In fact, read today, it compels admiration: “Amazing that he was so clear-eyed back then!” But at the time, in 1937, as we saw earlier in Ishidō’s account, officials still hadn’t reached the point of prohibiting publication highhandedly, trying instead the underhanded method of asking the press to suspend publication voluntarily.

Ishidō immediately reported the request to Kawai. Had he gone along with it, perhaps the prohibition of all four works the following year wouldn’t have happened. Ishidō probably communicated that implication to Kawai, but Kawai refused firmly: “That same evening I reported the request from the Books Section to Kawai. He said the following. He still believed what he’d been communicating to his students up to now was accurate. Voluntarily ceasing publication was equivalent to admitting it had been mistaken, and as scholar and as educator, he absolutely couldn’t do that. The Home Ministry has the power to forbid publication—that’s their decision, and it’s out of his hands.” Kawai added: “The previous year the prosecutor’s office had communicated confidentially to the Tōdai Faculty of Economics that if Yamada and Ōmori resigned voluntarily, the prosecutor wouldn’t arrest them. At the time there were various opinions within the faculty; I argued they shouldn’t resign. If they stayed in their positions to the bitter end, their colleagues could fight alongside the two in defense of academic freedom. If, however, they offered their resignations, I argued, it would weaken that fight, and despite his verbal promise, the prosecutor would surely arrest them… In the end the two submitted their resignations, were arrested, and Faculty Meeting couldn’t do a thing.”

The two men were Ōmori Yoshitarō, whose resignation was sought in the March 15 Incident in 1928, and Yamada Moritarō, who was questioned in 1930 for infringing the Peace Preservation Law by giving financial support to the Proletarian News. Even though he resigned, Yamada was arrested and indicted, as Kawai indicates; but Ōmori was neither arrested nor indicted. Until he was arrested in the Popular Front Incident in 1937, he stayed out of public office, continuing to speak and be active. But Kawai did think the thoughts he mentions, so later, when on the issue of publication prohibition he was urged strongly by presidents Nagayo and Hiraga to resign, Kawai himself refused adamantly to engage in such ambiguous, “Japanese-style” dealings and did not resign. So the issue worsened steadily, and in the end in the Hiraga Purge, he shared the fate of Hijikata and the others. After telling this story, Kawai said to Ishidō, “Integrity is more important than stratagems.” Kawai was able to stick so strongly to his principles because by the time he came to write this bitter essay, he had long since foreseen the worst possible outcome for himself and had hardened his resolve and resignation.

In “My State of Mind of Late,” written on January 6, 1939,[6] when he was virtually cornered by the Hiraga Purge (he was placed on administrative leave on January 31), he writes, “The difficulties within the faculty began soon after my return to Japan in 1933, and when I reread today the diary I’ve kept since returning, I think it’s unbelievable I’ve lived in such a place! I’ve thought also that I should chuck it all and lead a solitary life. Moreover, since the Minobe Incident and the February 26 Incident, my diary shows repeatedly that I’m resigned to the worst, so that’s why I’m so calm now. None of this started today; it’s all a crystallization of the last several years.”

Kawai began criticizing the military in his “Critique of the May 15 Incident,”[7] but in fact on the day of the May 15 Incident, he was studying in Germany and learned of the incident only from newpaper reports. He wrote “Critique of the May 15 Incident” for the Bungei shunjū issue of October of the following year, 1933. Perhaps because it wasn’t immediately after the incident, he wasn’t under much strain in writing it. He writes in his diary: “October 3. Last night finished ‘Critique of the May 15 Incident’ for Bungei shunjū. 70 pages. It’s a bit dry, and I’m not satisfied. With that, and thinking that it may well stir up some unpleasantness, I was a bit nervous. But once I’d finished it and soaked in the tub, I felt relieved, as if I’d gotten a load off my chest.”

On the way home by ship from Europe, he had reached a certain state of resolve and resignation. Of course, he was urgently determined and tense when he wrote “Critique of the Minobe Issue.”[8] In April 1935 in “On the Minobe Incident,” he wrote as follows:[9] “I left Europe, and on the ship coming home, I thought: I’ve lived forty-three years, I’ve lived pretty much as I liked, selfishly; no matter when death comes, I’ll have no regrets. I felt all that again the year before last when thinking about Japan while I was sick. I felt it again in October 1933 when I wrote “Critique of the May 15 Incident.” So now I’ve already crossed that bridge. Then an incident arose before my very eyes involving my close friend Minobe, and the peripheral conditions, conditions threatening complete collapse, were completely different from before.”

At first he refrained from acting, thinking he shouldn’t rush to take the lead on what was another faculty’s business. But one month passed, then two, and the all-important Faculty of Law took no action at all. When he met his friend Rōyama and asked about things in the Faculty of Law, he learned that the Faculty of Law was a lost cause; no one was about to do anything. At last, thinking, “There’s no need for me to wait any longer, and it’s been fruitless to wait till now,” he holed up in his Hakone lodging and at one fell swoop wrote three manuscripts: “At Hakone I took a day’s break and started writing without haste. I’d never before taken such care in writing a manuscript; while I was writing, the administrative sanction [against Minobe] was decided on, and there was the threat of legal punishment, too; on the train back to Tokyo, I saw (in the newspaper) an account of Minobe’s state of mind, and with the various stresses, my mood darkened. That night I wrote the next installment of Economic Comings and Goings first, then rewrote the first part of the Chuō kōron piece, then completed Economic Comings and Goings, and next morning I handed both in. On the 11th I was more exhausted than I’d ever been after pulling an all-nighter. Once I got home, I fell into a deep sleep, and in the morning I was fine. On the 12th I contacted the Imperial University News and it took me all of six hours, from one to nearly seven, to write twenty pages; they were more detailed and polished than ever before. With that I had got down on paper what had been bouncing around in my mind for more than a month.”

The Greatest Ideological Battle Since Meiji

            Before writing these manuscripts, Kawai had had doubts. after writing them, too, doubts were his fate. A minor matter: he was only 45, and he still had two years to go before his pension kicked in. A major matter: he could conceive of various dangers to himself:

The first danger…was the menace of thugs. The second was getting fired by government or university. No matter what, without conceding a thing, I’ll push forward. No matter what, I’ll never resign. At the same time I have to think about causing trouble for close colleagues. If I resign now in discouragement, nothing will happen. Rather than that, better to hold fast for even a little and fight….

As for the possibility of violence, I’ll go over that with the family. If I’m fired, I’ll keep silent for a year or so, study as I have up till now, and observe the situation quietly. Then it still won’t be too late to make plans for the long haul.

What I must do now is first of all never concede or evade. But on that score, I’ve got confidence in myself….

He worried because his opponent this time around was Minoda and his ilk and the band of right-wing state-essence believers around them, and they included dangerous and unpredictable folks. (In fact, Minobe had been beaten up by thugs.) Unlike academic battles, this confrontation required a certain resolve and resignation: fully aware of this, Kawai rose to the struggle. At the same time as “Critique of the Minobe Issue,” Kawai said the following:[10] “A certain intellectual who rejects the emperor-organ theory would go further and purge liberalism and individualism from our thought world, and that’s an ideological battle we haven’t had to fight since the Meiji era; he says this is the first step of the heralded Shōwa Restoration. In this sense, shaking himself abruptly free of the argument over the rights and wrongs of the emperor-organ theory, he declares war across the entire intellectual front. I want to accept his challenge.”

Kawai’s “certain intellectual” is of course Minoda, the central figure in the attack on the emperor-organ theory. Minoda ranked this as the greatest intellectual battle since the Meiji era and, as if possessed, fought desperately to uproot all liberalism and individualism.[11] It took considerable resolve to fight him, and Kawai volunteered for the fight with these thoughts: “What will be is for fate to decide. I don’t have the young man’s vigor of my twenties, nor am I an old man in my fifties or sixties; now I’m forty-five— truly a good age. For fifteen years the university has let me do the research I wanted to do. I’ve been fortunate on many scores. If someone like me doesn’t speak up now, who will? I’ll leave the rest to fate and wait with a smile, cheerfully.”

A Resolve Reached at the Time of the February 26 Incident

When Kawai had criticized the February 26 Incident, too, he’d done so having resolved and resigned himself. Here I’ll cite his mindset that day from an essay he wrote the following year:[12]

February 26 one year ago remains etched deeply in my heart even now.

My university work was finished, so I thought once the day’s Faculty Meeting ends, I’ll set off on a trip and do some work, and in the morning, carrying my suitcase, I got into a jinricksha. Snow was falling steadily. The jinricksha man said General Watanabe had been assassinated, but for a moment Watanabe’s name didn’t register….

Inside the train I heard no news. After I got into a taxi at Shimbashi, roads were sealed off in every direction, and at the palace barbed-wire barricades had been strung up, and rifle-bearing soldiers were standing: seeing that, I became more and more aware of how big this incident was….

The incident we’d foreseen since the May 15 Incident had finally come. My mind turned solely to the question, what will become of Japan now? But encountering such a big event, your thought process is hazy, and things don’t  come into focus. …

Snow was still falling. As I watched the scene outside the window, I was thinking only, what will become of the university now? What role should I play now?

After the meeting ended, I went back to my office and thought: set out now on the trip as planned? Or go home? … The car made slow progress on the snowy roads. Inside the car I thought of various things. People in my kind of position probably won’t suffer direct damage, but there’ll likely be pressure on my pen and tongue. The time has finally come—unwilling to submit, I’ll surely meet the fate to which I’ve resigned myself earlier.

Kawai settled in an inn on the coast near Odawara and read Yokomitsu Riichi’s Family Council and a biography of Rosa Luxemburg. And finally he wrote this: “Rosa planned a left-wing revolution and met her cruel death in the street. The same kind of violent revolution is being carried out around me as I read her biography, and several anti-fascist politicians have been slaughtered. As I thought of distant Germany and pondered close-at-hand Japan, my eyes never left the dark sea outside my window.” From then on, he reconciled himself to the possibility that he too might meet a death like Rosa’s.

He sometimes felt that personal danger was closing in on him. For example, there’s this in his diary for August 17, 1938: “In August a telegram came from M. [Maide] and I left for Tokyo; I sensed danger nearby. It was a bit like the end of last year and February this year. I’ll follow reason without fear or hesitation. And if I die in the process, it will be the doing of fate; but it’s also the case that sticking to principle is the only way I can survive.”

“The end of last year and February this year”: the phrase refers to the mass arrests of the Popular Front Incident and the Faculty Group Incident. This was the time when large-scale military collision broke out between Japan and Russia at Zhanggufeng (Japan’s dead and wounded: 1,400); at the drop of a hat, true war might have broken out between Japan and Russia. Maide had sent the telegram worried that the moment war broke out, the army or right-wing thugs might attack Kawai in the name of the ‘emergency.’

After the Faculty Group Incident, there was sharp disagreement within the Faculty of Economics on whether Ōuchi should be fired before he was indicted, the renovationist (Hijikata) faction arguing yes, what was left of the Ōuchi faction saying no. In that confrontation, the Kawai faction swung its support to the Ōuchi faction, with which it had been sharply at odds up till then. Maide of the Ōuchi faction became dean and stiffened Faculty Meeting and the University Council against acting against Ōuchi before he was indicted. This change in Kawai’s mindset led him to clasp hands with the Marxists, to whom until then he’d been opposed, in order to give priority to anti-fascism; so in conception, it was precisely the same tactic as the Popular Front. But what counted more for Kawai was the consciousness now of defending academic freedom and university autonomy no matter the cost. He sensed danger: these great principles were at risk; if you were a university person, they must be defended above all else. They alone must be defended at all costs—even letting bygones be bygones.

There’s an essay Kawai wrote at the time, “Crisis—University—Professors.”[13] In it, he says there are only three reasons that justify stripping a university professor of his status:

  1. If he speaks or acts against the kokutai;
  2. If he actually commits an illegal act; and
  3. If he offends against the ethical code of the academy.

It’s absolutely wrong to terminate a professor for any other reason. Moreover, even in those situations, the status of the professor should be changed by autonomous university decision of the faculty, and he argues forcefully that “interference by extra-university forces—for example, the government or an ideological group—should be barred.”

Why is it necessary to reject even governmental interference? Basically, the university should not be subordinate to the government because the university is in the position of leading the government. “The duty of university professors is not to cooperate with the government but to criticize and lead the government. Moreover, their duty is not to design state policy themselves but to educate and train the people who design state policy.” A faculty bunch (the renovationist clique) had emerged, centered in the Faculty of Economics; unsettled by the China War that had just begun, it took the lead in urging cooperation with state policy.

This essay denounced them sharply. Kawai called them the “crisis clique”: “Their minds are overwhelmed by the very size of the crisis, and they have forgotten the essence of the university.” Research in the university should not be overwhelmed by immediate short-term phenomena but must have as its goal inculcating in future administrators the ability to think of things in a longer time frame.

What university people should do now is not dream up state policy before being asked, but teach the students “to set the eternal against the contemporary, theory against reality,” to teach “the theory essential to recognize reality” and “the philosophy necessary to critique the present.” “Taking advantage of the crisis mood,” groups seized by “the hope that this is our chance to destroy university autonomy” have appeared inside the university and outside and seek to interfere in university autonomy. But Kawai stated firmly that the university “must never yield even one step” to these types. Kawai criticized outside folks such as Minoda and Ida, who in the name of emergency intensified the attack on the university, and the forces inside the university that tried to act in concert with the outside forces.

Diet Members and the Right Wing Apply Pressure on the University

Kawai referred repeatedly to the activity of forces outside the university because after Ida’s speech in the House of Peers, that activity came out into the open. In the same way as at the time of the Minobe emperor-organ issue, the same bunch began to strengthen communications among themselves, narrow the target to Kawai, and demand that he be fired. On August 26 these folks descended en masse on Tōdai president Nagayo. In Nagayo’s diary is the following entry:

Meeting with group of right-wing Diet members.

10-12:15 Meeting in the University Council Hall

Sakikata, Mimurodo, Ida, Inoue, Nakahara.

Minoda and several others had come, too, but as per last night’s agreement with Ida, I had them wait in a separate room.

But even counting only the Diet members, there were five people, and Minoda Muneki himself came along. Ahead of the meeting, the Diet members had sent to Nagayo a long message signed by a hundred sympathizers from all fields (politicians, military men, media figures, right-wing activists; the same list soon became the Alliance for a Tōdai Purge), along with other attacks on the university. Its content was cut from the same cloth as Minoda’s essays and Ida’s speech: in essence, Tōdai’s scholarly atmosphere is spreading communist-sympathizing Bolshevik ideas to all Japan, so let’s clean it up.

One passage linked Kawai with the Popular Front and criticized him specifically: “There are social democrats (Kawai Eijirō) who continue to speak out in favor of joining hands with communists, standing together in a Popular Front, and destroying statism.” This sentence owes its existence to an essay by Odamura Torajirō, at the time a student in the Faculty of Law and later professor at Asia University: “Courses at Tōdai Law and Student Ideology.”[14] An expose about the instruction he received in the Faculty of Law, it evoked great public response (among the right-wing public). At the start of this essay he writes, “April 20, in opening remarks to the ‘Social Policy’ course for which he is responsible in the Faculty of Law, Professor Kawai Eijirō said, ‘It’s a mistake that the Marxists have heretofore considered the liberals as enemies.’ Then, in fiery tones, ‘Now is the time we (that is, liberals) must join hands with the Marxists and together as a Popular Front lob shells at the right wing.’ He says this in class any number of times, but such statements are quite unproblematic in the entire university, of course, but even in the Faculty of Law, where one might expect objection.” Odamura makes it seem that Kawai praised the Popular Front in class. Genri Nihon, the Imperial University News, and the whole range of right-wing media quoted this account time and again. Criticism of “Kawai of the Popular Front” grew in volume, and in the end voices began to call for the Ministry of Education, too, to fire Kawai. The Ministry of Education began to take steps, inquiring the facts of Nagayo, and then suddenly, on October 15, the Home Ministry handed down the decision to ban publication of Kawai’s four works. Thereupon the pressure of the Ministry of Education (demanding his resignation) grew stronger still, and University officials moved to fire Kawai.

The matter got this far because the student Odamura was in fact a leader of Tōdai’s right-wing student group, and once this essay appeared, he did active propagandizing—for example, he sent off copy after copy to famous people in all fields (government officials, the military, the right wing). The course of events is very closely similar to the time when the emperor-organ issue spread quickly—Odamura looked up to Minoda as mentor, and the same people cooperated this time, too.

In his diary for the day after the visit of the Diet group, Nagayo noted that right-wing students led by Odamura had barged into the president’s office with the petition that he fire all professors who were conducting education sympathetic to Bolshevism and clean up Tōdai’s academic atmosphere. All of this activity was planned. In Nagayo’s diary for August 26, the day he met with the Diet members, there is this: “Inoue Kiyozumi asked silly questions—for example, why isn’t the university producing results? I didn’t take him seriously.” He didn’t deal with Inoue head-on. Soon, at the end of this unreal give-and-take, Ida said he wanted to hear President Nagayo’s frank opinion of this petition, so Nagayo said firmly: “I won’t respond one by one to the various issues, but I am absolutely unable to tolerate the last phrase—‘The source of the propaganda sympathetic to Bolshevism domestically is the Tōdai Faculty of Economics; in light of that fact, how can we subjects of the empire accept that situation in silence?’ In the past sixty years the Tōdai Faculties of Law and Economics (Law in particular) have sent tens of thousands of graduates out into the world. The world knows that in all areas of society these people (several prime ministers, countless cabinet ministers, and so on and so on) are making their contribution to the state and have labored honorably to construct today’s Japan. As president and with respect for these predecessors, I find it inappropriate to abuse Tōdai with these criticisms. Even if in the past, a few professors have caused problems, I am totally unable to accept these words directed at the Tōdai Faculty of Law. For the honor of Tōdai I reject these words.” It was “You folks keep criticizing Tōdai, saying that Tōdai has ruined Japan, but has any other university contributed as much to the state or accomplished as much in constructing today’s Japan?” When he said this, forcefully, Ida responded, “I quite agree,” and then, “A president who didn’t get angry wouldn’t be a good president. Let’s bring the formal meeting to a close. Thank you for your time.”

Nagayo did treat them coldly, but the very fact that the president received the protest of the right wing and held this kind of meeting was a first in Tōdai history; nor is there any later example. How was this meeting received within Tōdai? Yabe Teiji,  professor of politics at the Law Faculty, wrote this in his diary:

August 25, 1938

According to a radio report I happened to hear, tomorrow the Ministry of Education and the president will meet, and the fact that Minoda Muneki’s name was mentioned makes me unhappy in the extreme. More and more, news of madness[15] drives out sanity….

According to the evening paper, the group meeting with the president to present its opinion is not the Ministry of Education but Mimurodo, Kikuchi, Ida, Inoue, and others—all of them notorious. But the president is the biggest imbecile of all for meeting with them in the first place…

According to the newspaper, five members of the House of Peers—Ita, Kikuchi, Mimurodo, Inoue, and Nakahara—met today with the president, the dean of Letters and the dean of Agriculture. It is shocking to hear from the dais of the House of Peers that the university forms a Popular Front with the Communist Party, is anti-Japan, hates Japan, and that the president exchanged words with these crazy people who spout crazy words.

To report on the results of this meeting, the Alliance for a Tōdai Purge rented Hibiya Public Hall for a “Report of Interview with Imperial University Officials—Lecture Meeting to Criticize the Atmosphere of the Academy;” according to an announcement from the sponsors, it drew a large audience of 2,800. According to “Notes from the Editor’s Desk” in the October 1938 issue of Genri Nihon, this lecture meeting went virtually unreported by the major newspapers. It said that was because most news reporters of the major newspapers were leftists who graduated from universities where the academic atmosphere was sympathetic to Bolshevism. To prove the lecture meeting was truly a great success, Genri Nihon ran two photos of the meeting. Judging by these, it does indeed appear to be well attended. Had the Tōdai uproar aroused serious interest in the world at large? Or was this an era in which a great many movers and shakers were right-wingers? By the way, this huge crowd included Maruyama Masao, assistant professor in the Politics section of the Faculty of Law. At the direction of Nambara Shigeru, he had gone to check things out.

Odamura’s Testimony: True or False?

Did Kawai in fact say in class what Odamura reported? As this issue became more serious, the perplexed Kawai said he had never said any such thing in class, that it was all Odamura’s fabrication. His claim was believed, and Odamura was punished by being placed on indefinite leave from the Faculty of Law. But I have my doubts about Kawai’s version. Maruyama Masao was Odamura’s classmate and took Kawai’s “Social Policy” course during the same semester. He spoke as follows about this matter:[16]

Fukuda: Even in Kawai’s own memoir he reflects that he was aware that fascism was the enemy, so the tactic should be to join hands with the Marxists as soon as possible to oppose fascism. His own principles never changed, but he picked the wrong time to oppose fascism.

Maruyama: In the course “Social Policy” I attended as a third-year student, too, the biggest mistake of Japan’s Marxists was to view liberalism exclusively as enemy and focus entirely on attacking it; basically, they should have cooperated with liberalism against fascism. Making an enemy of the liberalism it should have formed common front with against fascism—that was Japan’s Marxism: he said so time and again.

In fact, this is the same as his thinking about the Popular Front and matches pretty well Odamura’s memory. Moreover, among things that Kawai wrote at the time, there are several passages that deny the Odamura report, but none is a fundamental refutation, and they are all strangely inarticulate. The “explicitness, clarity, firmness of tone” that he always used to squelch an opponent in debate are almost completely absent. His chief evidence is the assertion that operating from his own clear fundamentals he wouldn’t be likely to say such a thing. There is only un-Kawai-like evasion cleverly organized as refutation. So—setting aside the issue of whether he actually said the words Popular Front that Odamura cited—I think he must have said something that could well be interpreted that way. Whether or not he actually used the word in that context, it’s indisputable that Kawai’s thinking at the time had become Popular Front-ish.

  1. Kokka to daigaku: Tōkyō teikoku daigaku hōgakubu no minshushugi mukokka shisō ni taisuru gakujutsuteki hihan, Tokyo: Genri Nihonsha, 1938.
  2. “Hakkin no koro,” Newsletter accompanying Vol. 3 of Kawai’s Collected Works Kawai Eijirō zenshū, 24 v., ed. Egami Teruhiko (Tokyo : Shakai Shisōsha, 1967-1970).
  3. “Ni-niroku jiken no hihan.”
  4. “Jikyoku ni taishite kokorozashi o iu.”
  5. “Kaisetsu,” Vol. 12 of the Collected Works.
  6. “Sakkon no shinkyō.”
  7. “Go-ichigo jiken no hihan.”
  8. “Minobe mondai no hihan.”
  9. “Minobe jiken ni tsuite,” Zenshū 20.
  10. “Minobe mondai no hihan,” Imperial University News; “Kaikaku genri to shite no shisō taikei, Chūō kōron.
  11. RHM: The Japanese term ‘possessed’ here is a homonym for Minoda’s personal name. “Crazy Minoda” is what his antagonists often called him.
  12. “Ninirokunichi no omoide,” Zenshū 17.
  13. “Jikyoku—daigaku—kyōju,” Nihon hyōron, April 1938.
  14. “Tōdai hōgakubu ni okeru kōgi to gakusei shisōseikatsu,” Inochi, September 1938.
  15. RHM: ‘Madness’ here and the repeated use of ‘crazy’ later in this diary are plays on Minoda’s given name: kyō (crazy) is a homonym for kyō, the Chinese reading of the character mune of Minoda Muneki.
  16. Kikigaki Kaikō Nambara Shigeru.


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Tokyo University and the War by Tachibana Takashi & Richard H. Minear is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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