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Commercial Whaling is Not a Japanese Tradition

It was heartening to hear recently that Sea Shepherd had succeeded in forcing Japan`s whalers to prematurely bring this season`s slaughter to a close, a move which has angered the Japanese Government. This is of course but a temporary victory and, as Sea Shepherd is aware, the struggle continues. Unhappily, it will continue for as long as the world writhes under capitalism, so no end really in sight there: but some whales have been saved for now and the profiteers from slaughter have had their noses put out of joint.

This news item will have gone unremarked by most, other than those involved in conservation, animal rights, animal liberation etc. Also, it is to be hoped that many anarchists will have been gratified by it, excepting those, of course, who, like most Marxists, are indifferent to the suffering of other species under capitalist exploitation beside "Man" (and even vocally contemptuous of anyone who speaks up for nonhumans as well as humans suffering under capitalism).

On the animal rights and anti-whaling side too there will be those ignorant of history and of the nature of capitalism who will adopt a racist position (confirming, by doing so, the contempt of the anti-animal left!) and say "It`s those Japanese again!" There is a lot of this among the ignorant here in the UK, because the race argument is so much easier than having to read, learn, think and take the time to examine history or begin to understand the nature of capitalism. On the other side, the Japanese whalers will appeal to "our traditions" etc., and their supporters in Japan and elsewhere will appeal to the same and thus demonstrate their ignorance of the facts too.

When Britain ,and the United States especially, demanded in the middle of the nineteenth century that Tokugawa-ruled Japan open itself to "free trade", Japan had been largely closed to the outside world for over 250 years. The Japanese diet was for the most part vegan, although hunting was allowed for samurai on campaign and fishing allowed for coastal communities. This was due to the influence of Buddhism, and in Lafcadio Hearn`s history of Japan (Japan: An Attempt at Interpretation) we can read the edict handed down by an Emperor of Heian times largely forbidding the consumption of flesh and the prohibition of raising livestock: an edict that remained valid for a thousand years! As for whale hunting, if indeed it was done, it was on a par with the small, localised, whale hunts of the coastal native Americans. The building of sea-going ships was prohibited throughout the Tokugawa era.

By 1853, when Commodore Perry of the US Navy steamed for the first time into Uraga Bay near Edo with three warships, each the size of fifteen Japanese vessels and carrying seventy heavy guns, demanding that Japan sign a trade treaty "or else!", the US and Britain had been slaughtering the whales of the Atlantic Ocean to such an extent that "stocks" were badly depleted, and the US whale-slaughterers were eying the Pacific`s reserves. The US was also eager to secure the Pacific as a source of plunder generally, and Japan was given one year to mull over the treaty before Perry returned with more warships, or face war. The priority for the US at this time was to gain access to Japan`s ports for US whalers.

This sparked Japan`s capitalist revolution, since, in order not to be blown to smithereens and be enslaved as other Pacific populations had been, the Japanese Government of the day realised it would have to embark on capitalist exploitation and "free trade" in order to obtain the military wherewithal to defend itself from the foreigners.

Capitalism obliges all who serve it to pursue profit: the accumulation of capital (hence its name!) and this takes priority over life itself. Japan having taken its place among capitalism`s nation-states, pursued whaling as it pursued, and pursues, whatever is profitable to its capitalist class. If today the non-whaling nations pay lip-service to environmental concerns vis a vis whaling, it is left to brave and diligent activists such as Sea Shepherd to actually try and do something about it. (After all, Britain only abolished slavery when it had ceased to be profitable!) Either way ... the whale slaughter is NOT a Japanese tradition. Like the holocaust generally on the planet`s life, it is part and parcel of the capitalist system of rapacity and exploitation and has nothing to do with being Japanese, on either side of the fence.

Anthony Walker.

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