Reactionary Marxism: The End of Ideology in Japan?

By Lie, John | Monthly Review, April 1987 | Go to article overview
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Reactionary Marxism: The End of Ideology in Japan?

Lie, John, Monthly Review


The recent electoral triumph of the reigning Liberal Democratic Party in Japan poses a stark contrast to the disorganized left, while possibly paving the way for the rise of revanchist nationalism. In such an inauspicious time, the temptation on the left is toward either an adventurism ignorant of political reality or a conformism devoid of political possibility. A frightening aspect of contemporary Japan is the collapse of the ideological left to the "high-growth' corporate ideology; even self-professed Marxists have begun to preach the gospel of "Japan as number one.' The recent publication of Hiroji Baba's Mass Enrichment and Finance Capital1 therefore marks something of a landmark in the ideological disenfranchisement of the Marxist left in Japan. Baba confidently asserts that "the outstanding characteristic of contemporary capitalism is mass enrichment' and exults in the success of Japanese capitalism. Baba writes polemically over a wide range of issues; here I shall focus on three: the nature of the Japanese economy, the North-South problem, and the state of economic science in Japan.2

In the prologue on "the philosophy of mass enrichment,' Baba recounts a triumphant tale of the movement of world history culminating in the Japanese miracle. "Japan entered the high-growth period in the 1950s. This was an event unprecedented in the history of humanity.' Japan is the leader of the third stage in the history of capitalism, following England in the era of the Industrial Revolution and the United States in the period up to recently. Baba writes that "the strength of Japanese capitalism stems from the union of pure capitalism at the macro level and socialism at the micro level.' At the macro level, Baba characterizes Japanese capitalism as "progressive' because of its ability to import and improve on foreign technology and to draw on a large supply of cheap labor power. The ever improving technology creates a favorable environment for investment. Baba adduces two evidences for the "classic' or "pure' character of contemporary Japanese capitalism: the low state share in GNP and the continuing high level of investment after the oil shocks. At the micro level the seniority wage system, lifetime employment guarantee, and enterprise unionism mark the Japanese labor relations system, which is best suited to the current stage of technological development. In addition, Quality Control Circles and other managerial practices ensure high worker participation and the upholding of worker morale, creating "socialism' at the organizational level.3

Secondly, Baba presents the North-South problem as a product of mass enrichment, rather than of actual immiseration. In essence, the problem of the third world is a psychological state produced by the development of the mass media: "Enrichment produces a strong demonstration effect and creates a weird disturbance called the North-South problem, which makes people acutely conscious of economic differences between countries, particularly the populated underdeveloped countries.' Baba views famines as a mechanism of population adjustment (Malthus!). The contemporary concern over famines results from the development of transportation and communication which informed the world of their existence. Thus the problem itself is a creation of "mass enrichment.'4

Finally, Baba contends that the history of economics has been a history of the study of mass poverty, pace Adam Smith. He therefore chides economists for ignoring the obvious fact of capitalist development and harping ceaselessly on the poverty that has been virtually extinct. He writes of a lack of large themes

that boil the blood of graduate students, since there is no poverty ready to attract warm hearts. So one part becomes chilled and produces dull empirical pieces, while the other part throbs at the poverty that is said to exist in some country far away in the South, and proceeds to exterminate the evil on paper.

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