Workers Vanguard No. 1139
7 September 2018
In Memory of 平田素 (Hirata Motomu)
We recently learned that Hirata Motomu, a founding member of the Spartacist Group Japan, died in September 2016. Though we lost touch with him a few years after he resigned from the SGJ in 2005, we mourn his death and extend condolences to his wife, Toshie, and to his son, Ayumu.
Hirata became radicalized in the early 1970s as a college student, during a time of massive worker and student protest against the Japan-U.S. security treaty and U.S. imperialism’s war against Vietnam. He joined the pseudo-Trotskyist Fourth International Japan (FIJ). Japanese Trotskyism was crippled from birth, rejecting Trotsky’s characterization of the Soviet bureaucracy as a contradictory caste and refusing to militarily defend the USSR against imperialism and internal counterrevolution. Hirata was among those who formed a faction within the FIJ centrally based on defending Trotsky’s position on the Russian question.
After splitting from the FIJ, the faction underwent further fights and splits. The comrades who would go on to be the founding members of the SGJ formed the study group Rekken (Historical Science Research Group), which began a serious, years-long study of Marxism. In the mid 1980s they discovered a pamphlet containing the Declaration of Principles of the Spartacist League/U.S. in a leftist bookstore in Tokyo and contacted the international Spartacist tendency (soon to be the International Communist League). Written discussions and an exchange of visits culminated in an Interim Preliminary Agreement for Common Work in Japan (see Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 41-42, Winter 1987-88). In the summer of 1988, Rekken fused with the iSt to form the SGJ.
As Hirata stated at the fusion conference:
“For us the question of the defense of the Soviet Union was the biggest stumbling block to our coming together with the iSt. I also come out of the FIJ, and so I at least had read the basic documents of Trotskyism, Trotsky’s works, the works of the first conferences of the Comintern. And, so, I had thought that I had a familiarity with the basic tenets of Trotskyism.…
“It was only after much frustration and hard work that we eventually came over to the present position of defense of the Russian workers state.”
Hirata had a long political history. His parents were around the then-Stalinist Japanese Communist Party (JCP) during World War II; one of his brothers joined the JCP; and the other became a member of the left wing of the social-democratic Socialist Party. Unconventionally, his sister married into a family of Burakumin (Japan’s caste of “untouchables”). Being a child of the American Occupation, Hirata became a blues and jazz aficionado, and, with his bottle of whiskey and pack of Hi Lite cigarettes, he frequented clubs where legendary jazz greats such as Yamashita Yosuke or Watanabe Sadao would make surprise appearances. His interest in blues had led him to study the American black question, and he became a strong defender of the oppressed. In the SGJ, he always motivated publishing propaganda in defense of the Ainu (indigenous people), the Korean minority and the Burakumin. The SGJ’s first public event was a presentation to the Buraku Liberation League’s Osaka branch, a meeting that Hirata arranged.
Hirata was an artist. For many years, he made his living as a book and publication designer, and he was able to draw building blueprints by hand. He designed the “Hammer and 4” masthead for the SGJ newspaper and banners. Sadly, he never made the leap to computer design and was condemned to working in low-paying, non-union jobs.
Comrade Hirata had an in-depth understanding of Japanese history. He made a significant contribution to the article in Spartacist, the ICL’s quadrilingual theoretical journal, “The Meiji Restoration: A Bourgeois Non-Democratic Revolution” (Spartacist [English-language edition] No. 58, Spring 2004). Leading comrades of our tendency, such as Jim Robertson and Joseph Seymour, had long been interested in the Meiji Restoration of 1867-68. But it required extensive research in both Japanese- and English-language sources as well as considerable discussion to produce the article, which also dealt with the origins of Japanese communism and the debate over “two-stage revolution,” as well as World War II and the American Occupation. As part of preparing the article, Hirata was one of the comrades who gave an educational presentation for the SGJ. The article was published in Spartacist Japan Pamphlet No. 9.
Hirata was also crucial to circulating the Japanese translation of the 1997 Spartacist article, “The Origins of Chinese Trotskyism,” looking for every opportunity to intersect the Chinese population in Japan and introduce them to a Trotskyist understanding of revolutionary struggle in China. One of the finest articles he wrote was an obituary of Ozaki Hotsuki, brother of heroic Soviet spy Ozaki Hotsumi, who was executed along with Richard Sorge by the WWII Japanese government. We had met Hotsuki, a writer, during our annual trips to Tama Cemetery to honor these heroes.
Hirata was extremely proud to be a member of a democratic-centralist international Trotskyist organization. On sales, he would introduce our newspaper as the publication of the SGJ but would always add: We are the Japanese section of the International Communist League. As a party member, he held many posts—from minutes secretary and composition chief to Tokyo associate of the Spartacist League’s Prometheus Research Library. He was a wonderful educator.
Hirata was curious and observant, easygoing and cheerful. He said what he thought and let comrades fight with him to work through the political issues. In heavily male-chauvinist Japan, where a man typically expects his wife to look after him and the children, Hirata was made of a different fabric. In his own life, when his wife became chronically ill, he devoted himself to caring for her and their young son. We will miss him.
The Spartacist Group Japan