A century ago it wasn’t a virus whose spread was eliciting reactions around the world, but an idea. As Russia’s 1917 October Revolution distended itself across north Asia and reverberated globally, socialism acted – not unlike today’s pandemic – as a Rorschach test revealing divisions in societies and politics, and to some offering cautious hope for a new world which might be constructed in the aftermath.
’s meticulously detailed Revolution Goes East: Imperial Japan and Soviet Communism
(Cornell University Press, 2020) shows that Japanese responses to Soviet socialism during the 1920s and 30s were no exception to this. Indeed given the country’s situation at the time, the diversity of views on the revolution held by various government factions, the military, and society at large was especially diverse. But whether seeing this moment as an ideological or a geopolitical cataclysm, a threat or an opportunity for Japan’s growing imperial domain, or a fillip for the leftist ideas percolating through intellectual circles at this time, every Japanese observer of ‘Red October’ and its aftermath revealed something vital about Japan itself at this pivotal time.
Ed Pulford is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Amsterdam. His research focuses on friendships and histories between the Chinese, Korean and Russian worlds, and northeast Asian indigenous groups.