In this two part series, Kota sits down with Gavin Walker to discuss the history of Marxism in Japan. Instead of simply narrating the facts of this history chronologically, we focus on particular theoretical and political questions that animated the Japanese communist movement before and after the Second World War.
We begin our conversation by discussing what the history of Marxism in Japan tells us about “Japan” as represented by the Eurocentric and Orientalist conception of the world, and the importance of the national question, the ways in which Marxists address issues related to nationhood, nationalism, and internationalism.
We then zoom in on the debate on Japanese capitalism during the 1930s that divided the Japanese communist movement between the Koza-ha (Lecture Faction) and the Rono-ha (Labour Farmer Faction).
This debate was centred around the question of what the Meiji Restoration of 1868 meant for the development of capitalism in Japan, specifically the transition from feudalism to capitalism, and whether capitalism in Japan during the 1930s was sufficiently developed to pave the way for a socialist revolution.
On the one hand, the Koza-ha held that the fascistic nature of the Japanese state was a product of the remnants of feudalism that persisted in the countryside after the Meiji Restoration and held back the development of capitalism in Japan. Thus, they argued for a two stage revolution in which the completion of a bourgeois democratic revolution (including the abolition of the emperor system) precedes the socialist revolution. On the other hand, the Rono-ha argued that capitalism was fully matured by then, and hence what Japan needed was a one stage socialist revolution. We also discuss the theory of Uno Kozo who came out of the Rono-ha tradition, but charted an independent path in the postwar period and made a retrospective contribution to this debate.
While both Koza-ha and Rono-ha produced a vast amount of literature about Japanese society, and contributed to the dominance of Marxism among Japanese intellectuals that persisted into the postwar period, both were relatively silent about the role of imperialism and colonialism in the transition from feudalism to capitalism in Japan. We delve into the question of why this was the case and the link between the rapid development of capitalism in Japan, and the colonization of the Ainu homelands and the Ryukyu Kingdom, as well as Korea, Taiwan, South Pacific Islands, and northeastern China.
We conclude the first part of this interview by discussing how this debate on Japanese capitalism influenced the strategies and tactics of the Japanese communist movement in the prewar period, as well as the role of arts and culture in popularizing Marxism.
Part 2 will cover topics such as the impact of the Chinese Revolution and Maoism on the Japanese left, and the questions of nationalism and internationalism in postwar Japan.
Gavin Walker is Associate Professor of History at McGill University. He is the author of The Sublime Perversion of Capital (Duke, 2016) and the forthcoming Marx et la politique du dehors (Lux Éditeur, 2021), the editor of The End of Area: Biopolitics, Geopolitics, History (Duke, 2019, with Naoki Sakai), and The Red Years: Theory, Politics, and Aesthetics in the Japanese ’68 (Verso, 2020) as well as editor and translator of Kojin Karatani’s Marx: Towards the Centre of Possibility (Verso, 2020). He is widely published in critical theory, social and political thought, modern intellectual history, and Marxist theory. Among other projects, he is now writing a short book on the national question.
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