The Journal of Japanese Studies 32.2 (2006) 424-428
[Access article in PDF]
Andrew Barshay's book is a most welcome addition to the growing list of recent books in English that analyze and broadly contextualize aspects of the history of the social sciences in modern Japan. It can be paired usefully with Laura Hein's Reasonable Men, Powerful Words: Political Culture and Expertise in Twentieth-Century Japan (University of California Press, 2004). Both of these works focus on Marxism, which Barshay contends was considered in interwar Japan to be "a virtual synonym for social science" (p. 50). Moreover, their coverage is complementary to the extent that the social scientists Hein discusses belonged to the Labor-Farmer (Rōnō) School in the interwar debates on Japanese capitalism while most of those selected by Barshay were at least loosely affiliated with the Lectures, or Kōza, School.
Barshay presents the core of his analysis in five chapters, each of which focuses on the work of a particular individual or school of thought. Chapter three (chapters one and two are discussed below) focuses on the Lectures School theorist, Yamada Moritarō, especially his Nihon shihonshugi bunseki (Analysis of Japanese capitalism) of 1934. Working from the abstract model of capitalist reproduction provided by Marx in the second volume of Capital, Yamada sets out to explain the peculiarities of Japanese capitalism's mode of reproduction—that is, how it reproduced the conditions for the production and circulation of commodities—in prewar cotton weaving and silk reeling; in the key industries that drove the economy and its military machine, including railroads, mining, and machine tools; and in the agricultural base. The effect of Yamada's analysis, which was to become one of the defining texts of the Lectures School, is to present Japanese capitalism as thoroughly backward in comparison with a model of "pure" capitalism drawn from Marx.
Barshay's fourth and fifth chapters discuss another Marxist economist, Uno Kōzō (1897–1977), and his legacy, and one could argue that it is in these chapters that Barshay makes his most important contribution to the English-language literature on modern Japanese social thought. Despite Uno's towering stature in post-World War II Marxist economics and broad influence on left-wing thought, including radical student discourse in the 1960s, historians of postwar thought writing in English have generally failed to grant him the role he deserves. At the same time, parts of his work [End Page 424] have been translated, studied, and commented upon in English by scholars interested in Marxist economics, such as Makoto Itoh.
Uno is famous for his so-called three-level scheme of analysis, which distinguishes categorically among three dimensions of capitalism and the methodologies appropriate to them. The three "levels" are: capitalism's basic principles, as reformulated by Uno on the basis of the general presentation in Capital; capitalism's historical development through the "stages" of mercantilism, liberalism, and imperialism; and its current permutations. A major advantage of this scheme is to make a clear distinction between the abstract logic of capitalism ("basic principles") as it would operate in a pure model, and the actual history of capitalist development ("stage theory"). For example, Uno insisted that it was impossible to "deduce the necessity of imperialism through the purely commodity-economic logic" presented in Capital (p. 100). Economic logic is based on theory, while imperialism has to be seen as a historically contingent phenomenon that theory alone could never adequately predict. Similarly, Uno's scheme facilitates recognition that, although the "law of capitalist development" is everywhere the same— "whether in England, prewar Russia, Germany, or Japan"— at any particular site, that law had to "work through particular histories of 'distortion' or 'blockage'" (p. 103). Such distinctions allowed Uno to provide subtle analyses of Japan's economy, which took an early turn to imperialism in the context of late development.
Although Uno was...