Sunday, 11 October 2009

Sources of Socialism in Japan: A Conversation by Nik Howard

From LSHG Newsletter, No. 33, (Autumn, 2008).

On page 21 of Cecil Uyehara's bibliographical book of Japanese socialist source materials called, Left-wing
Social Movements in Japan, 13 English-language source texts treating 'socialism' in its broadest sense are
mentioned as being of particular significance for, or as overwhelming influences upon, Japanese socialist thought in the late Meiji period (based on the imperial calendar, 'Meiji' runs from 1868 to 1912). It might be very interesting and instructive to name them all here, as they give a clear sense of the flavour of 'socialism' – whether 'from above' or 'from below', to borrow Hal Draper's important cleavage – in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. All these books were famous to varying extents as well as in various different geographical contexts, whether Europe, America, or for our purposes, Japan. None were more famous than the works of Henry George, and it really is quite incredible how this superstar political ideologue and would-be politician, as well as journalist and 'worldly philosopher' (Heilbroner), of the late nineteenth century has supernovaed and died (albeit not without a nod or two from some rather interesting figures: one of them being Winston Churchill, another Milton Friedman). A side question we shall address indirectly here is whether his demise is the unfortunate one of a truly red red dwarf, who requires rehabilitating, reclaiming or reigniting in our time as in fact a red giant of socialism from below, or whether he is to be left alone to fizzle out largely unlamented. Or perhaps neither. It is part of the argument of this paper that the case of Henry George has much to tell us about what socialism is and is not, both in terms of when he lived as well as very much for
But first the 13 influential tomes: Edward Bellamy's Looking Backward; W.H. Dawson's Bismarck and State Socialism; Henry Fawcett's Pauperism, Its Causes and Remedies; Charles E. Garst's A New Inquiry based on the Single Tax in the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations; Henry George's The Irish Land Question; Henry George's Social Problems (it is Social Problems in the plural, not problem in the singular, as Uyehara mistakenly would have it); William Graham's Socialism, Old and New; Peter Kropotkin’s Conquest of Bread and Fields, Factories and Workshops; Thomas More's Utopia; E.R.A. Seligman's Economic Interpretation of History; Lev Tolstoy's The Meaning of Life; and last but not least, T.D. Woolsey's Communism and Socialism.

[[It is to be wondered whether a significant proportion of the good readers of this newsletter will have heard of more than a few of these volumes, much less read any more than two or three of them! (Do let me know at: )]]

While More's text is far and away the most famous, yet surely the least socialist, apart from the subject of the
Bismarck tome, the only other unarguably famous names from today's perspective are Tolstoy and Kropotkin, though I am not convinced that this is the most famous text Tolstoy ever produced; yet, it might be complained I am no specialist on Tolstoy. Guilty as charged but the point stands, I would wager: How many of you have read this book by Tolstoy? I would be surprised if the percentage were very high. Kropotkin's books are another matter. These are of course true anarchist classics. A short treatment of
Bellamy's nineteenth century bestseller appears in Hal Draper's classic pamphlet of 1966 entitled, 'The Two Souls of Socialism' (pp. 23-24 of the Bookmarks edition; London: 1996). Unfortunately, Hal Draper's important Karl Marx's Theory of Revolution, Volume IV: Critique of Other Socialisms
(hereafter KMTR IV) does not extend his comments on Bellamy, but rather reduces the number of words
devoted to him to an entry in the bibliography and a quick reference to “Engels' gibe at 'barrackscommunism'” which “has also been used as a model of socialism; for example in Edward Bellamy and Robert Blatchford.” (p.102) Hardly a sustained criticism that deals with Bellamy in his entirety, as indeed is the case with the treatment swiftly meted out in the 'Two Souls' pamphlet. This does not mean that Draper does not make some very acute points against Bellamy and that the latter was not, in the main, a socialist from above. Clearly Draper does make some good points and equally clearly Bellamy was just that, a socialist from above: in a very Fabian, gradualist, statist-combinationistcollectivist kind of a way, and it is telling that the path from 1887 to 2000 was 'inevitabilised' in the novel as a necessary and intrinsic development from the tendencies of 1887 and, wow, suddenly there was no war, no private competition and all was stable and dandy, with everyone agreeing on the principles and practices of this technocratic new order. Yet things in Looking Backward are not totally bleak: War on a global scale has ceased and the nations live in peace; all people are well remunerated and live in leisure; and the old, sickly and disabled seem to be supported on a socialistic sort- of-sounding basis, despite all the other weaknesses Draper identifies. It also makes some telling negative criticisms of capitalist economic irrationality in an attractive, comparative counterfactual manner (in juxtaposing, for example, in the form of discussions with the protagonist's host, Dr. Leete, Bellamy's present and his imagined future society through the person of a centennial sleeper who awakes, 113 years on, in the year 2000 to find America radically transformed, and with it, its people). There are interesting twists in the plot that hold the attention well, too: not least the relationship between the protagonist sleeper and the woman he falls in love with who shares the same name as his 19th century
betrothed called Edith.

Having said these positives about the book, it is nevertheless utterly clear that, with its evisceration of democratic control from below on the part of the industrial army, this society is more a nightmare than a socialist somewhere worth living in. The novel is an interesting and engaging read that was exceedingly popular in its time. And oh for a popular yet this time highly democratic and liberatory socialist vision that could sell as well comparatively today (or did I miss it?)! On this point, I am utterly in agreement with a point that David Renton once made that sketching out what socialism might be like is not something that should be mistaken for woolly and bad-Utopian thinking (in the sense of a Marxian take on Wittgenstein avant la lettre: 'whereof we cannot speak, thereof we must remain silent', since, the argument is supposed to run, we cannot know how people will make decisions about the world come the revolution). On the contrary, sketching out some future possibilities, articulating domains that need thought and consideration, fleshing out the logic of
a socialist society-in-waiting are all likely to add to the strength, power and cogency of the vision of socialism from below, precisely because it shows socialists can have the imagination, creativity and boldness to begin to sketch out answers to questions about what socialism from below could, or should, eventually be like. This is especially important for those, and I suspect they are not few in number, who demand a cogent vision before they would seriously consider socialism from below as a coherent and plausible solution to the world's ills.
It has to be admitted now, I think, that one aspect of the failure of socialism has to be simply that it has not been conveyed well enough to the mass of humanity (and the working classes and oppressed poor of the world in particular): in a way that has been sufficiently convincing and powerful, especially in view of the countervailing forces of the establishment that are stacked high against it due to its class force majeure,
whether financially, ideologically, institutionally or otherwise. This is not a negative criticism but an
incitement to stir socialist creativity – a call in tune with the point Renton well articulated.
So Bellamy's book may be known of to some, but it is questionable as to how many people generally read this book today, despite the fact that I have an unabridged Dover edition of it printed as recently as 1996, which would seem to suggest that he may be more read than I would imagine.
Dawson was a well-known writer back in his day who also penned a book on Ferdinand Lassalle, as well as other notable trends of socialism, but again I am not clear how well-known among socialists Dawson is today. Only antiquarian historians with an interest in Japanese intellectual or socialist history or of course in German 'state socialisms' in their various forms, perhaps.
As for Fawcett and Graham, Seligman and Woolsey, who now knows their work? Few indeed, surely. With a wave of the hand, I move on, though I feel a certain guilt at not having studied them at all.
Left for discussion are two figures, Henry George and his disciple Charles Garst. As I have written a paragraph on Garst elsewhere (in an article in a Bulletin of the Marx Memorial Library; No. 136, Autumn 2002) and the focus of this article will be mainly on George, I will confine myself, until a later section, to saying that Garst was rather influential in persuading the inchoate Japanese socialist movement of the importance of the single tax on the land and that, with private ownership of land abolished, labour and capital's interests, which, for George, are in harmony, would be free to flourish without any constraints. Before I turn to George himself, two things first: It is ironic, first of all, that Henry George – he who would in 1869 through an infamous letter to the New York Tribune help kick off what grew into a powerful national crusade against Chinese labour that eventually would lead to the Chinese exclusion acts of 1882 – should find a disciple living in Japan who would preach his more famous teaching on the land question in where of all places but Japan, previously small Confucian brother to China, the homeland of these Chinese immigrant workers, or what was referred to then as Chinese coolie labour.
It is also surprising that Uyehara does not mention among the books as exerting a massive influence on the Japanese socialist movement a number of other important works. I will briefly mention a few here as of genuinely fundamental importance. The first is Albert Schaeffle's The Quintessence of Socialism. Suffice to say here that Kotoku Shusui, arguably the most famous socialist in Meiji Japan (I use my words advisedly, as I realise that Katayama Sen is the most famous Japanese socialist outside Japan – at least to those who know this figure from his later Comintern days), was profoundly influenced by this book, as were many other Japanese (and German professorial types, as Draper argues in KMTR IV) who were socialists or interested in socialism around this time. Draper is well worth looking at on Schaeffle (pp.80-82 mostly), but for our purposes it is interesting to note that Kotoku called his own book on socialism, Shakaishugi shinzui or, in English, The Quintessence of Socialism. This book of Kotoku's was translated, almost four decades ago now, by the distinguished scholar of Japanese feminism, Sharon Sievers (as part of her then PhD Thesis), under the title, The Essence of Socialism. This unfortunately does not reflect the fact that Kotoku undoubtedly wanted to reflect the degree to which he valued Schaeffle's work by employing the very same title as the latter's highly influential, yet flawed, book. (In parenthesis, I must say I am very grateful to her for giving me a free copy of her PhD Thesis beautifully photocopied and bound, sent all the way from the States after I emailed her once a few years ago to see if I could acquire a copy. I salute her kindness in public here, as it makes some of my work now rather easier.)
It is certainly true that Kotoku's understanding was distorted through the prism of Schaeffle's explanations about Marx and Marxism, but this is not the place to treat this interesting question. But to have registered it was important, as I will return to the question elsewhere in my current research on Kotoku.
Another important book was W.D.P. Bliss's A Handbook of Socialism, which has an extremely valuable and revealing chart, all folded up at the back of the copy of the book I have reserved and been reading again at the British Library, of different socialist authors up to the time it was published; it is a glorious source of information, as it even lists the transcendental idealist philosopher Johann Fichte as an implicit forerunner of socialism – effectively it does this by the inclusion of a text of his on the state, which may or may not be in sympathy with or a precursor to thinkers such as Friedrich List as well as other nationalist thinkers arguing for powerful state controls from above: from List to Bismarck via Lassalle and the Kathedersozialisten (socialists of the chair), but which has nothing in common with socialism from below. More interesting still is how people who do not know Fichte read Hegel (or rather do not read, at least in the sense of understand, Hegel) as a Fichte: Fichte was the statist, absolutist and firm believer in German nationalism and a closed economy, for example. Hegel was something else – with the best of him rather close to the spirit of Marx.
Another influence was Richard T. Ely's Outlines of Economics. His book on Social Reform was also far-reaching in its impact. Thomas Kirkup's Inquiry into Socialism is another classic influence on nineteenth
century notions of socialism, especially in Japan but as with all these books, in their home countries, too. All these books cannot be examined here, yet perhaps they might be returned to at a later date.
Another missing text in Uyehara's account is one by Henry George called, Progress and Poverty. This is George's magnum opus in which he expounds his economic doctrine of the single land tax, and yet Uyehara does not include it in his list of influential books on Japanese socialism. Perhaps Uyehara knows
better, such as that Social Problems was more influential, which is very plausible insofar as it was more of a popularising work and hence easier to read (it was also translated into Japanese, which of course will have helped, but more of that below*). What is certainly true is that, if Uyehara is right on this and Social Problems was one of the two influential books of George's in the Japanese context at that time, then this thinker, and in particular this Social Problems tome, calls for a slightly closer examination.

Nik Howard

This piece is the beginning of a much larger work by Nik Howard called “Henry George, Populism and Sources of Socialism in Japan: An Influence and Some Striking Parallels”

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