Magazine article Monthly Review

The Uno School: The Highest Stage of Marxism

Magazine article Monthly Review

The Uno School: The Highest Stage of Marxism

Article excerpt


I am sorry to have upset Professor Baba by my "mindless and vicious" criticism of his treatise. In fact, I appreciated his effort to boldly confront issues neglected by other Uno Marxists. Nonetheless, his book ended up celebrating the triumphs of Japanese capitalism. My intention was to account for this presumably unintended coincidence of reactionary and Marxist analyses.(1) I traced the cause to two central features of Uno Marxism. First, in privileging pure theory over concrete analysis, Uno Marxists lack the theoretical apparatus to apprehend the social reality of "enrichment" or any of the problems generated by, or coexisting with, the economic "miracle." Thus, they ignore the displacement of capitalist contradictions to the Third World and the oppression of minorities and women. Second, Uno Marxists' resolute separation of science from politics effectively bars them from listening to the voice of the oppressed or even to be nominally engaged in progressive political concerns. Thus, Uno Marxists typically lack both the theoretical apparatus and political sensibility to make sense of the totality of the contemporary Japanese economy.

Since Professor Baba has raised a number of more specific issues, I would like to address some of the more serious ones. First, his central argument about "excessive enrichment." In short, he emphasizes absolute and abstract figures at the expense of relative, and more concrete, indicators. For example, he uses per capita GNP figures to denote "enrichment." These figures are extremely deceptive, as one immediately finds out on trying to survive on $10,000 a year in Manhattan or Tokyo. Given the thoroughgoing commodification of everyday life, per capita income is hardly a reliable gauge of the "lavish" lifestyle of workers in advanced industrial countries. Moreover, the fascination with "dieting and jogging" remains a province of the affluent, and as with many cultural phenomena, is class-stratified. The fads and foibles of the rich make better headlines than the struggles and suffering of the poor.

Baba contends that opulence has trickled down to the masses. On the one hand, he is making a political judgment when he finds the lifestyle of the working class too "lavish." On the other hand, his claim that income disparities in Western countries are "small" is an empirical question. In point of fact, they are staggering, especially those hit by Thatcherism and Reaganism. I suspect that for the swelling ranks of the homeless in the United States (estimated to be up to 3 million people), Baba's discovery of "excessive enrichment" must be a revolutionary revelation.(2) It is not the affluence, but the simultaneously existing misery, which is the most sobering and shocking aspect of our age.(3)

Second, the nature of Japanese capitalism. Baba claims that the preponderance of worker participation and the relative insignificance of class and income inequality reveals the existence of "micro" socialism in Japan. However, the relatively high level of employee participation, manifested for example in Quality Control Circles, is enforced by management techniques through which workers are motivated by fear and competition. Moreover, the generalization is most applicable to one-third of the labor force. Neither the existence of a "labor aristocracy" nor their management-enforced "participation" constitutes "socialism."(4) In addition, income inequality in Japan is significant. In spite of the rhetoric of "everyone belongs to the middle class," concrete analyses reveal Japan to be a deeply class-stratified society, with limited social mobility. More significantly, these statements hold even in comparison to other advanced industrial societies.(5)

At the macro level, Baba believes in the "pure" character of Japanese capitalism. As the recent Recruit scandal well reveals, the tight nexus of political and business elites makes mockery of any claim for the independence of the state and economy. …

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