Against Japanism

Translating the Japanese Ideology: The Anti-Fascist Philosophy of Tosaka Jun w/ Robert Stolz - Part 1

April 03, 2021 Against Japanism
Against Japanism
Translating the Japanese Ideology: The Anti-Fascist Philosophy of Tosaka Jun w/ Robert Stolz - Part 1
Show Notes

In this two part series, Kota is joined by Robert Stolz to discuss the anti-fascist philosophy of Tosaka Jun, a Marxist philosopher and cultural critic active during the 1930s. 

Tosaka is often associated with the Kyoto School, a group of academics who studied together at Kyoto Imperial University, led by his academic advisor Nishida Kitaro, influenced by German idealist philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. Some Kyoto School philosophers such as Nishida himself and Miki Kiyoshi actually traveled to Germany to study under Heidegger (who was a Nazi). 

However, as the political tendency of Nishida and other Kyoto School philosophers became increasingly (and somewhat predictably) right wing and supportive of Japan's imperialist ambitions in Asia, Tosaka conversely turned to Marxism and adapted the method of dialectical and historical materialism to advocate for class struggle and scientific socialism.

In 1932, Tosaka co-founded Society for the Study of Materialism (Yuibutsuron kenkyūkai or Yuiken). While Yuiken was mainly an intellectual organization dedicated to studying Marxism, Tosaka's outspoken stance against fascism, capitalism, and imperialism was heavily censored by the Japanese state. As a result, Yuiken was forced to disband and Tosaka was arrested and imprisoned numerous times throughout the 1930s and 40s, until he tragically died in prison in 1945. In spite of the censorship by the state, Tosaka never gave up and wrote prolifically about a variety of topics such as capitalism, fascism, time, space, science, film, fashion, the emperor system and policing. 

Dr. Robert Stolz is a historian of modern Japan at the University of Virginia. He is a co-editor of Tosaka Jun: A Critical Reader. He is also the author of Bad Water: Nature, Pollution, and Politics in Japan, 1870 - 1950 from Duke University Press. He recently completed a translation of one of Tosaka's books, The Japanese Ideology: A Critique of Japanism, Fascism, Liberalism, and Ideology in Contemporary Japan

In this book, Tosaka defines Japanism as the Japanese form of fascism that took the form of feudalism. However, unlike the Koza-ha Marxists who argued that fascism in Japan was a product of feudal remnants in the countryside that held back the development of capitalism, Tosaka took the position that Japan in the 1930s was fully capitalist, specifically monopoly capitalist or imperialist, and that this feudalism was merely an ideology re-deployed by the Japanese bourgeoisie to support capitalism and cover up the class antagonisms that were intensifying in Japan at the time. 

As the subtitle suggests, Tosaka undertakes a critique not only of fascism, but also of liberalism, particularly cultural liberalism which reduces liberalism to a moral attitude and promotes a retreat from social realities into the world of literature and philology, a study of ancient texts. According to Tosaka, as cultural liberals espoused a metaphysical idealist worldview, they became hostile towards historical materialism and Marxism, and hence amenable to Japanism and fascism. Thus, Tosaka argues, liberalism is not only intellectually defenseless against fascism, but reinforces it. 

While Tosaka himself was defeated in his philosophical combat against fascism, his thought remains relevant to this day for those confronting fascism in Japan and worldwide. 

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Intro Music  Cielo by Huma-Huma

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