Konoe Fumimaro and the Communist Conspiracy
Yagami, Kazuo, Southeast Review of Asian Studies
Konoe Fumimaro [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (1891-1945), a direct descendant of the distinguished Fujiwara court family and the author of the controversial and sensational article "Reject the Anglo-Saxon Centered Peace," served three terms as prime minister of Japan during the turbulent period of 1937-41 (Konoe 1936, 233). As prime minister, Konoe tried to save Japan from a doomed confrontation with the United States. Failing in this, he worked vigorously to bring the Pacific war to an early end. Konoe's attempt to end the war was less motivated by his sense of inevitable defeat than by his concern that Japan might eventually fall prey to communism. In fact, Konoe repeatedly stated that Japan would be able to reinvent itself following military defeat as long as it resisted the communist system; communism, on the other hand, would mean national ruin and the end of the Japanese polity.
From the beginning of his political career, Konoe--a right-wing nationalist and court noble with close ties to the royal family--felt that communism was one of the greatest threats facing Japan. He outspokenly opposed the structure of international politics and economics, which he felt favored the interests of the British and the United States and contributed to the ructions of the 1930s. Konoe was more concerned with the menace of communist incursion in Japan.
In keeping with these concerns, Konoe opposed the generally accepted policy of advancing Japanese troops toward the south in order to secure Japan's access to Southeast Asia's raw materials. Along with the Kodo-ha [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (the Imperial Way Faction), Konoe believed that Japan instead needed to respond to Soviet-led Communist expansion in the north.
This explains why Konoe was deeply dismayed when the Kodo-ha lost its dominant role within the military in the aftermath of the February 26 Incident in 1936. Konoe later wrote that the debacle of the Kodo-ha eventually made it possible for its rival faction, the Tosei-ha [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII.] (the Controlled Faction), to carry out the decision to move southward (Konoe 1946, 7).
Though he believed that communism was the greatest menace facing Japan, it is interesting to note that during the war years Konoe seemed unconcerned by the domestic communist movement. Sharing the fate of many other nations, Japan was subject to the worldwide communist advance, with communist-afiliated groups and individuals quietly working for the communist cause, but neither Konoe's own writings nor contemporary accounts give any indication that he took the rise of domestic communism seriously as a national threat.
Konoe's concern with domestic communism, however, took a drastic turn as Japan inched closer to ultimate defeat in the early summer of 1945. Konoe began to argue that Japan's military aggression during the 1930s, starting with the Manchurian Incident in 1931, was triggered by elaborate conspiracies of the Japanese left. The supposed goal was to embroil the country in war with the idea of instituting a communist system in the aftermath.
This was a radical and rather sudden alteration of Konoe's prior view. As indicated by his own writing, Konoe had, throughout his political career until his death in 1946, pointed to the inegalitarian dynamic of the world economy and politics as the basic engine of instability and conflict. This explains his passionate involvement in international affairs. Konoe took part in the Paris Peace Talks in early 1919 as a young activist, hoping for the triumph of Wilsonian Democracy as a means of lessening this world inequality (Konoe 1919, 167-68). In the early 1920s, he became a fervent critic of the Washington Conference System, which he considered a mechanism for maintaining the status quo of "haves and have-nots" (Yagami 2009, 67-80). Upon becoming prime minister in the summer of 1937, Konoe began to promote an idea of "Asia for Asia" as one response to problem of world inequality. …