Yamakawa, Hitoshi


Yamakawa, Hitoshi
(1880–1958)
   Born in Okayama prefecture on 20 December 1880, he quit school in 1897 in protest over reform of the education system and left for Tokyo. There he published a magazine Abundant Sound of Youth but in the third issue a piece on the “human tragedy” of the crown prince’s marriage was judged to be guilty of the crime of lese-majesté and he was given three years’ hard labor and ordered to pay a substantial fine. In 1901 Yamakawa was put in Sugamo prison. After his release, he joined the Japanese Socialist Party in February 1906 and became the editor of the Daily Commoners News in January 1907. He was jailed again for his part in the Red Flag incident of 1908 but as a result avoided a death sentence meted out to other enemies of the state in a sweep of opponents of the government in 1910. After his release from prison he ran a pharmacy and married but his wife became ill and died in 1923. In 1916 he closed his pharmacy and returned to Tokyo where he resumed his socialist movement activities. He remarried Kikuei in the same year. Yamakawa’s Marxism became clear in the aftermath of the 1917 Russian Revolution when he criticized the official theory of people-based government which was an emperor-centered alternative to democracy. In 1919 he published Socialist Studies and was a major figure in the formation of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) in 1922. In the July/August issue of the party journal Vanguard he contributed an influential article “Changing the Direction of the Proletarian Class Movement” under the slogan “We should be among the masses” in which he criticized Japanese socialists who acted independently of the bulk of the working class and the masses, and argued that they needed to enter into struggle among the masses while maintaining theoretical purity. This argument had a big influence on social movements of the time and was later known as “Yamakawaism.” In 1923 he was arrested and tried in the First Communist Party incident but found not guilty.
   He was attacked by fellow communist theoretician Kazuo Kukamoto, and as a result of these criticisms and the publications of the 1927 theses which denied the role of the JCP as a vanguard party, Yamakawa cut his ties with the JCP and did not participate in the reorganization of the party in 1927. Instead, he created the journal Labor-Farmer with others who left the party in order to promote the idea of a party of mass struggle in the labor and tenant movements. For 10 years he was able to operate legally as a leading member of the Labor-Farmer group until he was investigated by the police once again in the People’s Front incident of 1937. In this incident the police investigated ties of university professors, including Itsuro Sakisaka (1897–1985) of Kyushu Imperial University and Kozo Uno (1897–1977) of Tohoku Imperial University. Even though the professors involved were later found not guilty, they lost their posts and Yamakawa and his fellow activist defendants were found guilty in their first trials. Eventually, however, the case was dropped during the appeal process when the Peace Preservation Laws, upon which their convictions were based, were abolished in 1945 at the end of the Pacific War.
   In 1946 Yamakawa became chairman of the Committee for a Democratic People’s Front which advocated a joint front of all leftist parties. However, his activities were hampered by illness and as confrontation between the socialist and communist parties became more intense in 1947, he abandoned the Front and eventually joined the Socialist Party. In 1950, when he and others created the Shakaishugi Kyokai, he was put in charge along with Tokyo University Professor Hyoei Ouchi, and the group became the premier theoretical body of the left wing of the Japanese Socialist Party. Yamakawa died on 23 March 1958 at the age of 78.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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