Trotsky’s long lost preface to the Japanese edition of 'Problems of Everyday Life'

By Seiya Morita, Kokugakuin University

June 6, 2022  — Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal — The following is an English translation of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s preface to the Japanese edition of Problems of Everyday Life, which he began writing in August 1925 but never completed. In 1925, two Japanese editions of this work were published. One was translated from the Russian original and the other from the English translation. It is likely that the publisher or translator of one of them sent a letter to Trotsky in the Soviet Union in the first half of 1925, asking him to write a preface to the Japanese edition. Trotsky readily agreed and began writing the preface, but for some reason it was interrupted, left unfinished, and later housed in the Trotsky Library at Harvard University.[1] To my knowledge, this is the only preface to any Japanese edition written by Trotsky himself. Incidentally, another Japanese translation of Problems of Everyday Life was published in 1927, which means that three different Japanese translations of this work were published in prewar Japan.

There is a general perception that prewar Japan was a despotic state ruled by militarism and theocratic Mikado. That is not wrong, but at the same time, even under the repression and oppression of such a tyrannical regime, bourgeois intellectuals and newborn Marxists translated and published the literature of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, Karl Kautsky, Rosa Luxemburg, Joseph Stalin, Nicolai Bukharin and many other Marxists. Prewar Japan was the country that published the most Marxist literature in the world, apart from the Soviet Union. It even surpassed Germany, the homeland of Marx and Engels. Before the Russian Revolution, only a few Marxist works had been published, but in 1927, ten years after the 1917 Russian Revolution, more than 230 translated Marxist books and pamphlets had been published. In the end, more than 2,300 translations (not including journal articles) were published in Japan before 1941, when it became completely impossible to publish Marxist literature.

As part of this Marxist translation boom, a significant number of Trotsky's works were also translated and published. In total 200 writings by Trotsky (including more than 30 books and more than 170 journal articles) were translated and published, including three different editions of The Revolution Betrayed (all in 1937) before 1941. One of these was the translation of his Problems of Everyday Life of 1925. Trotsky's Literature and Revolution was also translated and published that year. Trotsky's arguments on literary and cultural issues were enthusiastically accepted by Japanese Marxists and liberal intellectuals, and had a strong influence on them. Before the end of the Asian-Pacific War, there was not a single Trotskyist in Japan nor a single Trotskyist organization (an extremely rare phenomenon compared to other Asian countries). Nevertheless, Trotsky's books, pamphlets and articles continued to be systematically translated and published in prewar Japan. This was true not only when Trotsky was the leader of the Soviet Union, but also after he was expelled from the Communist Party and exiled from the Soviet Union as a traitor. 

After December 1941, when the war between the United States and Japan broke out, Marxist literature became completely unpublishable, and for several years after the war ended in August 1945, leftists in Japan were under the complete control of Stalinism. As a result, Trotsky’s presence in prewar Japan was completely forgotten, and neither postwar researchers nor Trotskyists attempted to research Trotsky's influence in prewar Japan. Trotsky's unfinished preface to the Japanese edition presented here may serve as a resource to restore the forgotten memory of Trotsky in prewar Japan.

Finally, a few words about the contents of this unfinished preface are in order. In this short fragment, we can see that Trotsky emphasized above all else the “awakening of human personality”. Capitalism produces a general tendency toward the awakening of personality among people, but it cannot realize a rational society that would make it real. Here is where the manuscript ends, but what Trotsky was trying to write about is that socialism is what makes this possible. Trotsky may have been trying to argue that what the Japanese people lack above all else is this “awakening of human personality,” and that to realize this, it is necessary to transform Japan along a permanent- revolutionary trajectory. In fact, his theory on the awakening of human personality was one of Trotsky's ideological cornerstones and a red thread that ran through his thought from his youth, when he was an ardent critic of culture and literature, to his later years, when he fought to the death against Stalinism and fascism. Most people, including Trotskyists, do not understand this (even if Gramsci did somewhat). Although the fragment I have translated here is very short, rather precisely because it is, it sharply shows his point of view.


[1] Коммунистическая оппозиция в СССР, 1923-1927, том 1, Редактор-составитель Ю. Фельштинский, "TERRA", 1990,

[2] MORITA Seiya, ‘Marxism and Trotsky in Pre-war Japan’, Oriens Extremus, vol. 57 (2018-2019),

Trotsky’s preface to the Japanese edition of Problems of Everyday Life’ (unfinished)

I was very happy to get the news that my book Problems of Everyday Life is going to be published in Japanese. Of course, it is not suitable for Japanese readers in every way. The difference in social conditions is great. I wrote my essays on everyday life under the direct pressure of the facts and the need for our revolutionary society, dwelling not only on the big issues, but also on the small ones of its daily life. Much of what is said in my pamphlet will, perhaps, not be interesting enough for the Japanese reader, and some things will remain unclear to them. But I would like to hope that the general approach to the problems of everyday life, found in this booklet, can find its application in the conditions of Japanese life, too.

In the old feudal society, the problems of everyday life did not exist as questions. The social and domestic conditions of feudalism took shape over the centuries. For Japan, this historical epoch coincides with the time of the feudal-military empire, the Shogunate [feudal overlordship], spanning about a millennium. Of course, during this time there were changes, both in the structure of Japanese society and in individual-family relations. But these changes took place slowly, unnoticed by the individual generations, and the forms of life were inherited with the same imperviousness as the organization of the beehive passes from one generation of bees to another. Under these conditions, the individual, as a personality, does not yet exist. It is entirely bound by the traditions, the customs, and the norms of the caste. This kind of social environment is deeply conservative and therefore hostile to all external influences. Tough, solid, and conservative Japan resisted the invasion of American and European ideas and attitudes until the second half of the 19th century.

The year 1868 is considered the year of the Great Transformation. This political crisis coincided with a turning point in the life of Europe and America. In the United States of North America, there was a civil war between the North and the South over the abolition of slavery (1861-1865). Russia abolished serfdom in 1861. Italy raised the sword for its national unification. Thus Japan's Great Transformation introduced Japan to a world of new, bourgeois relations and ideas. Japanese social life follows the line of compromise between the old feudal relations and the new bourgeois ones. This compromise can be seen in economic relations, in the state system and in private life. The development of capitalist relations breaks the old feudal class relations, awakening the human personality. This awakening takes different forms in different classes. What is common, however, to a certain degree in the classes of bourgeois society is that individuals tend to cast off the shrouds of tradition and set for themselves independent aims and tasks. A critique of domestic relations and a desire to reconstruct them on new, more sensible foundations develops on the basis of capitalist society. But, while giving birth to these aspirations, capitalism deprives people of the opportunity to realize them. …[unfinished]

L. Trotsky

August 13, 1925