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The Passionate “Tachiagare Nippon (Rise up, Japan)” Generation: Thinking about the Asian Socialist Conference of 1953

Sachiko Hirakawa
Assistant Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

With the cherry blossoms in full bloom this year, I was surprised at the entrance ceremony of our university to find that almost all the freshmen were wearing black suits that were made for job hunting. The students looked conservative and stiff. Still more surprising was the brilliant fashion sense of their mothers, who accompanied them—a sense of great sophistication that they had acquired over the years. It looked as if the generation that had enjoyed the “Sweet Female University Student” boom in the 80's had cheerfully returned to their alma mater, and these mothers clearly seemed to be the central figures of the day. I think, however, that just the opposite is true.

As clearly demonstrated by the foundation of a new political party “Tachiagare Nippon (the official English name is the Sunrise Party of Japan),” the most passionate generation in Japan is not the younger generation, but rather the middle-aged and elderly generation at present. Compared to the young lawmakers of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), who look thoroughly ordinary, the founders of the new party are clearly sages. Their assertion that Japan is endangered now assumes growing importance because it is made by the generation that went through Japan's stormy half century from the defeat of the Second World War to the postwar period. They took action as an anti-DPJ, non-Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) force.

As a researcher studying regional integration in Asia, I consider the Asian Socialist Conference held in 1953. Just hearing the name may remind some people in the senior generation—romantics who were young once—of the enthusiasm of the day. This conference was also an international meeting centered on the idea that, Asia is endangered. Rise up, Asia. In those days, many of the Asian countries which had just attained independence were involved in the Cold War between the Unites States and the Soviet Union, and they were extremely anxious about the likelihood that Asia might be victimized and turned into a battlefield by the Great Powers again. They tried to take a unique approach to uncertain international circumstances from an anti-Communist and non-Western point of view.

In addition, the conference was intended to find a place for Asian socialists. In 1947, the Soviet Union founded the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in a bid to contend with the global strategy of the United States, and communist forces throughout the world joined it. In response to this, then, social democrats founded the Committee of the International Socialist Conference (COMISCO) which was proposed by the UK Labour Party. The COMISCO regarded the countries in the communist bloc as totalitarian countries, and aimed to realize socialism not through a revolution but through parliamentarianism. It was then reorganized as Socialist International in 1951, comprising 16 countries, which were all Western countries except for Japan and Israel. Socialist International was actually an organization of social parties in European countries. It naturally had little interest in social democratic movements or in colonial liberation in Asia, but put a major emphasis on an armed peace, which embraced the principle that military buildup was acceptable “in order to protect the liberal bloc.”

These actions by Socialist International caused a fierce backlash among socialists in Asia. In 1952, the Japan Socialist Party (JSP) declared in its party lines a shift to newly independent Asian nations advocating a nonalignment policy because the social parties in India, Indonesia, and Burma (currently known as Myanmar) seemed to advocate policies closer to the JSP's than those in other European countries did. In the same year, socialist parties in Burma, India, and Indonesia held a preliminary conference in Rangoon, the capital of Burma which was under socialist rule, and the JSP attended as an observer. The General Secretary of the Burma Socialist Party, U Kyaw Nyein, explained that the intention of the foundation was that “activities in Asian countries should be combined and organized to cope with the many problems that can be solved only at the Asian [regional] level.”

In January 1953, the Asian Socialist Conference was held at the city council house in Rangoon. More than 200 socialists in total attended the conference from three organizations and 14 countries, and had a heated debate over a period of ten days regarding the establishment of an independent organization, the position of socialism, and many other problems encountered in Asia.

This conference did not, however, yield any actual results, yielding only ambiguous resolutions and statements. Controversial political terms associated with foreign policy, for example, such as “the Third Force” and “neutral,” were deleted and replaced with ambiguous expressions like “we oppose either end of the political spectrum.“ Burma, the host of the conference, tried to avoid asserting itself, and was dedicated solely to its role as conference organizer.

In the end, what the Asian Socialist Conference produced was a sense of regional togetherness or unity as Asia. On behalf of Socialist International, the former British Prime Minister Clement Richard Attlee participated in the conference as an observer in an attempt to inhibit separation from European countries. Since Attlee had granted independence to British colonies during his administration, he was expected to have considerable influence in Asian countries. The Asian socialists, however, did not listen to the persuasion of this powerful politician, who celebrated his 70th birthday in Rangoon—far away from his hometown—and instead established an organization unique to Asia.

Clearly being Asian was important to them, but the question was what Asian meant. It is certain that Asian does not represent a given geographical area. It comprises many elements, including a developing stage in economic terms and a challenge against racism. The priority of the day, however, was to create a less restricted and more peaceful moral space called Asia irrespective of traditional European ideas.

Though the Asian Socialist Conference itself did not last long, this movement led to a historic achievement two years later, the Bandung Conference. As the founders of the “Sunrise Party of Japan” belong to the generation who remember the mood of those days, I hope that they will lead the way through this uncertain era. Further, the DPJ opposition should display its individual character as soon as possible, something which has proven to be a challenge for some time.

Sachiko Hirakawa
Assistant Professor, Faculty of International Research and Education, Waseda University

The author is currently a junior researcher in the Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies at Waseda University and an assistant professor in the Waseda University Global COE program: Global Institute for Asian Regional Integration. She graduated with a graduate degree from the Department of Economics in the School of Political Science and Economics at Waseda University. After experience including working in publishing, Professor Hirakawa received her master's degree in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, and then received her doctoral degree in international studies from the Graduate School of Asia Pacific Studies at Waseda University. She specializes in East Asian international relations and history, Japan-China relations, and China-Taiwan relations. Her primary published papers include "Asian Regional Integration and Cross-straits Controversy," in International Relations, Vol. 158 (Dec, 2009)(in Japanese), "Diplomatic Framework to Solve the Two-China Dilemma: Analyzing the Adaptation and Acceptance of the 'Japanese Formula'" in International Relations, Vol. 146. (Nov. 2006)(in Japanese), and “Portsmouth Denied: The Chinese Attempt to Attend” in Edited by David Wolff et al, The Russo-Japanese War in the Global Perspective: World War Zero II (U.K. Brill, 2007).