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Nigel Harris

Japanese Politics

(Autumn 1963)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.14, Autumn 1963, p.40.
Thanks to Ted Crawford & the late Will Fancy.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Parties and Politics in Contemporary Japan
Robert. A Scalapino and Junno-suke Masumi
University of California (Cambridge UP). 30s.

The 1960 opposition to the ratification of a security treaty with the US provides the main demonstration of the detail of this book, as well as being one of the major occurrences which brought Japanese domestic politics to the British national press. Japanese politics are bewilderingly complex, and some helping hand is needed to comprehend the severe strains exhibited periodically in Japanese society. So far as formal Diet politics are concerned, this new book provides a clear and excellently documented analysis: a sort of handbook both to the divisions between and within the parties, their social composition and postwar history, and the Gallup Poll attitudes of the Japanese electorate. Occasionally the book is shrewd, and always moderately sensible and factual.

However, one is left with a confused impression, since the authors limit their subject so severely. Wider economic and social change is referred to only in passing, rather than as a powerful determinant of political conflicts, and the meaning of political conflicts is not analyzed—the enumeration of the factions within, say, the Liberal-Democratic Party is scarcely of interest, even when their social composition is cited, unless one can comprehend the issues dividing those factions in a light other than that in terms of ‘powerful individuals’.

The account of the Socialist Party is similarly rather flat, although there are useful statistics and a citation of most of the relevant literature – in particular, the book focusses sharply the role of intellectuals in revolutionary politics, as well as their total reliance in the left-wing Trade Union Federation. But the authors do not explain why the contextual determinants of Japanese politics are as they are – why is Marxism in one or another of its forms still as strong as it is? why is Sohyo left-wing, in contrast to its Western European brethren?

The book then is a preface to the subject, a Baedeker approach, that, at best, hints at real answers, but is mainly devoted to the rather dull results of the political process rather than its social roots. This is a pity since Japan’s development is of profound importance and interest.

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Last updated: 25 March 2010