- The Sublime Perversion of Capital: Marxist Theory and the Politics of History in Modern Japan by Gavin Walker
First and foremost, this book aims "to understand and revisit the relevance of Marxist theory to the historical present" (4), centering on the work of the Japanese economist Uno Kozo (1897–1977), who is known for his original, [End Page 646] heterodox reading of Karl Marx's Capital. The so-called Uno School has been one of the major forces in the study of economics in Japan and, in recent years, more and more scholars outside the country have drawn attention to his work.
Walker's book discusses Uno's work in relation to the debate on Japanese capitalism that took place during the late 1920s and early 1930s. This debate pitted the so-called Kōza (Lectures) faction against the Rōnō (Labor-Farmer) faction and was primarily concerned with the disparity in socioeconomic and cultural development between the city and the countryside.
Chapter 2 provides an overview of the debate. Representing the official line of the Japanese Communist Party and the Comintern, the Kōza faction considered capitalism in Japan unique since it was based on feudal remnants. In contrast, the Rōnō faction argued that the country's capitalist development was following the general path laid out by historical materialism and denied the specific theoretical and political significance of the agrarian problem.
We must jump to chapter 5 to find Uno's responses to the both factions. For him, the feudal remnants were not meaningless, though neither were they unique to capitalism in Japan. According to Walker, Uno stressed that capital has a drive to "overwrite, to recode, to semiotically reorder … what should be obstacle," and consequently, the latter "functions to buttress, to nurture, to support or aid" the former (158–60). In this regard, the author emphasizes the point that, for Uno, these overwritten, recoded, and semiotically ordered remnants are "feudality" as "feudal thought, sentiment, and custom" rather than feudalism as "feudal system."
How does feudality "buttress, nurture, support or aid" capital's local deployment? In order to find the answer, we need to return to chapters 3 and 4, where the author discusses the significance of Uno's thought on the commodification of labor power. In short, feudality plays a crucial role in making the commodification of labor power possible. The production of the commodity labor power necessitates "not only food, clothing, and shelter but also regimes of training, medical care, education, forms of subjectivation" (141) in order "to govern and manage bodies, movements, languages, affects, identities" (113) in a way that fits the production of capital in each time and place. According to the author, the commodification of labor power in this sense is precisely what Michel Foucault describes as biopolitics.
The relationship between feudality and the commodification of labor power as biopolitics is visible in several recent works on Asian economic development. For example, Daromir Rudnyckyj's Spiritual Economies: Islam, Globalization, and the Afterlife of Development (2010) analyzes the role of reinterpreted Islam for the education of employees at a state-owned steel company in Indonesia after the Asian financial crisis of 1997–98. Actually, this program in South East Asia was inspired by the workplace training regimen used in Japan after the oil shock of 1973, a regimen that was based on Bushido, or the "Way of the Samurai," the country's representative version of feudality. This program was modeled in turn on the use of instruction in Japanese culture and language during the Fifteen-Year War (1931–45) in order to produce the Japanese national subject as the "ideal" worker/soldier. Ken Chester Kawashima and Ichiro Tomiyama's historical studies draw on Uno and Foucault to reveal how the production of "Japanese" entailed the simultaneous production of "Korean" and "Okinawan" [End Page 647] as "minority workers," a new hierarchy among ethnicities that corresponded to the hierarchical structure among capitals that emerged during the same period.
The Sublime Perversion...