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BackgroundFirst Japanese Civil War (1865–1867). Key personalities of social nationalism mainly were the descendants of the former Japanese ruling class of gakke that lost its prominence after Emperor Tōbu reformed the political system of Japan in 1871. Gakke is the class of Japanese scholars that dominated the imperial bureaucracy for about a half of century. Unlike the aristocratic kuge, gakke titles were not conferred on a hereditary basis and instead through state-sponsored civil service exams based on the Confucian tradition. While the kuge was responsible for only the religious and imperial rites, the gakke was running the country's bureaucracy and mainly responsible in the development of Japanese Confucian doctrines.
When Japan's influences over neighbouring countries declined in the 17th century and it secluded itself from the foreign influences, the gakke started to go against the Neo-Confucianism that regarded as "Sino-centric" and "un-Japanese". Japanese ancient literature was re-studied by the gakke and the interactions between Japanese mythology and neo-Confucian rationalism and materialism created the intellectual form of Japanese folk religion, called kokugaku. Kokugaku contributed largely to the revival of Japanese mythology as a national creed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that would serves as the core of Japanese nationalist movement.
The conflict between isolationist gakke and the wealthy merchants from shōnin class came ahead in 1850s, which later culminated into the First Japanese Civil War. When the Western bureaucracy system was implemented by Emperor Tōbu in 1875, all members of aristocratic kuge and bureaucratic gakke was merged and formed new aristocratic class called kazoku (華族). Although the gakke formed a part of kazoku, many former gakke families lost their prestige within the society as Japanese political system was Westernized and the ancient institutions abolished during the reform. Followed by the land nationalization by the shōnin liberal government, most of gakke families was impoverished and instead fell into the rank of commoners or the heimin.
However, the political struggle between the shōnin and the gakke was transformed into an ideological one where Gakke isolationism then combined with the ideas of anti-modernism, national exceptionalism, and romantic nationalism. Initially, gakke ideology was identified as "ultra-reactionary conservativism" opposed to shōnin "conservative liberalism". However, it was never endorsed by any major Japanese political party during Tōbu era, although many gakke elites within kazoku circles did join or support Rikken Teiseitō, the main Japanese conservative party at that time.
More populist gakke ideology emerged in 1890s among low-born gakke descendants. Japanese defeat in the Spanish-Japanese War (1898–1901) resulted to the awakening of new Japanese nationalist movement. Many low-born descendants of gakke had served at the army and experienced a harsh war in the Philippines. As a consequence, that low-born descendants increasingly became more socialist in ideology. Among of that low-born gakke is Nagayama Yoshida who later wrote an article on Tokyo Asahi Shimbun in 1901 which criticized the Tenno system, government's expansionist policy, Taisei oligarchy, and parliamentarian system of government as well social inequality and a huge gap between the rich and the poor.
In 1907, Nagayama and fellow nationalist activist, Kita Ikki, founded the Konkikai, a nationalist organization that consisted mostly by the veterans of the Spanish-Japanese War with gakke family background. The Konkikai’s political ideology was a syncretic amalgamation of militant nationalism, Pan-Asianism, social progressivism, economic socialism, right-wing and left-wing anarchism, and democratic republican ideas. The party’s programs itself were calling for the liberation of Asia under Japanese guidance, forming the East Asian Economic Bloc that will consists of Japan, Korea, and China, nationalization of the railways, creation of the citizens’ army, the improvement of the workers’ welfare, land reform, and universal suffrage.
Konkikai then joined the mainstream Japanese politics by merged with Kensei Hontō and other smaller parties to form the socially liberal Constitutional Nationalist Party in 1910. Within the Constitutional Nationalist Party, former members of Konkikai, including Nagayama Yoshida and Kita Ikki, created Toseiha (統制派; literally means “control group”) political faction due to its advocacy of civilian control of the navy and army, nationalization of the railways, land reform, and cause of the working classes, which positioned it as the party’s left-wing. Toseiha faction gained its support mainly from the labour unions and tenant farmers.
After half of the Constitutional Nationalist Party defected to join the newly founded New Constitutional Party (憲政黨 Kenseitō) under Katsura Taro in 1913, Toseiha faction came into dominance within the Constitutional Nationalist Party. The party then adopted most of Toseiha’s progressive programs.
- Life is a big survival for every living being and Nature only selecting the fittest among them. Humans are the most supreme and most perfect among other living beings. Human's natural instinct is to race toward supremacy over another in its own race [...] By competing, violently or peacefully, each nation in the world contributed to the progress of world humanity, culminating the best civilization over another, subjugating the weaker ones by incorporating them into the winning civilization.
----- Nagayama Yoshida, "Understanding the Concept of Nation" (1897)
While not rejecting the Marxist concept of class struggle, Social Nationalism promoted instead a Social Darwinian concept of national struggle. The concept of national struggle was first proposed by Nagayama Yoshida on his article on Asahi Shimbun in 1897 entitled "Understanding the Concept of Nation", which further developed on his 1904 book, The Renaissance of the Japanese Nation.
According to Nagayama, the true struggle within the history of humanity is a struggle between the nations and civilizations where one nation must subjugate or conquer the other in order to survive. Both war and territorial conquest are seen as the simplest reincarnations of national struggle. In the condition where no war is present, the struggle will evolve into an economic one in the form of state capitalism. If the State ceasing to be the main economic actor, then its position will taken over by the few who owning capitals and lands. In this case, the national struggle will replaced by a class struggle between the capital owners and the working classes.
As the struggle between the classes co-exist with the struggle between the nations, both kind of social struggles are able to transform itself into another. If the class struggle has ended, whether through the victory of one class or through the mediation by a third party, the national struggle will immediately take its form. For example, after the victory of Bolshevik Party in 1922, the Soviet Union that dubbed as a “proletarian nation” harboring the conflict with other nations, such as the United Kingdom where the labors participated on the parliamentary system that has set up by the ruling aristocracy and Nazi Germany that ended its class struggle by running a corporate state which mediated the workers, the capital, and the middle class people under the autocratic leadership of Adolf Hitler.
Then after a nation either lost or won its national struggle, the class struggle will resurfaces again in a new form. Nagayama cited Japan prior to the Taisei Reform and after World War I as an example for this kind of transformation. Before the Taisei Reform of 1867, Japan lost most of its imperial possessions to other nations and its credence amongst the Asian nations during 200 years of Seclusion Era. Then, the merchants that unsatisfied with this condition took arms again the ruling elites. A similar condition was repeated on 1918. While Japan gained the Philippines during the war, the economic crisis that resulted from post-war inflation then triggered a civil disturbance by the peasants and the workers against the ruling elites of Empire of Japan.
- My loyalty is not to the glory of Japanese Empire, but to the welfare of Japanese kokumin.
----- Nagayama Yoshida, On the Russo-Japanese War (1906)
Both Nagayama and Kita does not entirely rejected the concept of "common blood". For example, Nagayama argued that the Japanese, the Philippine peoples, the Takasago aborigines, the Malays, the Vietnamese people and other Austronesian peoples are originated from a common ancestor. However, as the time progressing, each of those peoples developed different national identities, different languages of communication, and different civilizations as a result of different political events. Social Nationalism does not seek to unite that peoples of common blood and promoting instead the "contemporary nationalism" in the existing territorial entity.
- There will be no true kokumin without a minkoku (people's state).
----- Nagayama Yoshida, On the Chinese Revolution (1913)
The concept of People's State (minkoku) commonly misinterpreted as "republicanism" since the term minkoku can be translated as "republic" in Japanese and cognate with Chinese word minguó (民國) and Korean minguk (민국). This term can be found in the formal native name of Japan (ダイワミンコク "Daiwa Minkoku"), of China (支那民国, "Zhīnà Mínguó"), and of Korea (고려민국, "Goryeo Minguk"). However, the Social Nationalist concept of People's State is not equal with the Western concept of Republic as a People's State does not necessarily have to have a republican form of government.
The theory of People's State is derived from the Fabianist ideology of Society for the Study of Socialism that Nagayama Yoshida joined in 1897. According to this concept, the State is obliged to protect the people's welfare and well-being and, in reverse, the people must pledge their loyalty to the State. The class struggle viewed resulting from the failure of the State to protect its people's livelihood. In this sense, the People's State can be said as a "socialism from above".
The People's State concept also denounces parliamentarian democracy as "a confusing, chaotic system" and instead promotes a "healthy, constructive democracy". While the right to create a political party is guaranteed, all political parties and political activities must be controlled and supervised by the State to make sure that their loyalty is only to the State, not to their respective ideologies. A nation that divided along political lines is believed can not fully function as a kokumin. In this sense, the People's State can be said as an "authoritarian democracy".
Following the 1917 Russian Revolution and the 1922 Fascist March on Rome, Social Nationalism incorporated the tenet of vanguard party into the People's State concept. In order to create a People's State, the people must be mobilized along the mass line of national unity by a small elite of revolutionary intellectuals, which called by Kita Ikki as a "new aristocracy" or "aristocratic revolutionary". The membership of this elite, however, must be completely open to the people who seek to participate in the government of the State. This elite must be organized along a strict organizational discipline, while all decisions from this elite must be taken through an open, democratic process.
- War can be eliminated and peace can be achieved only if the State does not run by the class of traders and businessmen who care only for their own benefits.
----- Nagayama Yoshida, "The Russian Revolution and Its Effects on Japan" (1917)
Social Nationalism denounces the liberalism of laissez-faire capitalism and support the State Capitalism as a solution to end both the class struggle and national struggle. Social Nationalism believed that the State must take over the trading classes role on economy and control all major economic sectors through the so-called "economic bureaucracy". With State's extensive participation in economic activities, the socioeconomic conflicts between the rich and the poor will be eliminated completely, thus securing the national solidarity within a kokumin. State capitalism is also viewed as a better alternative for war and imperialism as a primary mode of national struggle.
- The only faith we must have is the faith for the State and the kokumin.
----- Kita Ikki, in a letter to Kagawa Toyohiko, the leader of Christian People's Party (1936)
Social Nationalism has varied views regarding religion. Japan, Korea and Cambodia, for example, employing the national mythologies on their official propaganda works, such as the personification of Japan as Amaterasu or the cult of personality of Norodom Sihanouk in Cambodia as the “people’s Boddhisatva.” However, there are significant movements within Social Nationalism that held a hostile view regarding religion. While most of them favor a secular state modeled after Kemalist Turkey, some of them are even militantly atheistic.