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New Left Review 5, September-October 2000


Japan’s Left is the least known of any major state, outside its own borders. Asada Akira situates it in a wide-angled panorama of his country: Japanese political, philosophical and cultural life from inter-war days to the dissatisfied, postmodern present.

ASADA AKIRA

A LEFT WITHIN THE PLACE OF NOTHINGNESS

How would you characterize the current situation of the Japanese Left?

We are in a difficult position of political stagnation, even a certain historical impasse. The Japanese Left suffers from two major legacies of its own past: the residual Stalinism of the Japanese Communist Party, and the simplistic anti-communism of the sixties generation. To understand the first, one needs to look back at the origins of the JCP. The Party, founded in 1922, was led in the mid-twenties by Fukumoto Kazuo,† an intellectual of considerable theoretical gifts, trained in Germany, where he studied Lukács and was close to Karl Korsch. According to Fukumoto, the principle the Party should follow was ‘separation–connexion’—it needed first to take its distance from any easy trade unionism by developing a genuine class-consciousness, and then to return to build a mass basis in the working class. In 1927 the Comintern cracked down on this ‘left extremism’. Bukharin declared that the immediate battle in Japan was against feudalism; and when the JCP, a few years later, again started to speak of the need for a socialist revolution, the Comintern issued a second set of theses, in 1932, reiterating the priority of anti-feudal tasks. In the background was the famous Koza–Rono debate among Marxist historians. According to the Koza school, the Meiji restoration was only a transition of power within feudalism, and the next upheaval should be a bourgeois revolution. According to the Rono school (including the famous theoretician Uno Kozo), the Meiji restoration was a bourgeois revolution, and the next upheaval should be a socialist revolution. At least on the character of Japanese society in the early twentieth century, the Rono school had a better understanding. But it was unilaterally criticized by the Comintern and excommunicated from the Party. In this way, the Party lost brilliant intellectuals in those years. [1] For a detailed English-language account, see Germaine Hoston, The State, Identity and the National Question in China and Japan, Princeton 1994, pp. 221–72.

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Akira Asada, ‘A Left Within the Place of Nothingness’, NLR 5: £3
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