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Nigel Harris

Japanese Politics

(Spring 1964)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.16, Spring 1964, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Thought and Behaviour in Modern Japanese Politics
Masao Maruyama
(edited by Ivan Morris)
Oxford University Press, 45s.

This book is a collection of essays on post-war Japanese politics (originally published between 1946 and 1957), essays which seek to probe ‘the psychological atmosphere’ of particular political aspects of Japan rather than present finished analyses. Professor Murayama is a distinguished Tokyo political scientist, intimately concerned with European culture and strongly influenced by Hegel, Marx and the German sociologists – as such, his essays have a depth and interest often denied to the work of his Western colleagues. His thought is a little diffuse and tends to lack clear structure, but his observations on Japanese politics are frequently suggestive, shrewd and illuminating. The present volume consists of five essays (which are good) broadly concerned with the Japanese Right, partly since the Meiji Restoration, but in more detail in the period 1931-45. Here he seeks to draw out specific characteristics of Japanese ‘fascism’ (he does not define the word, so its appropriateness in relationship to wartime and pre-war Japanese Governments is not clear), stressing its pre-eminent elite role (as opposed to mass appeal in Germany and Italy), its lack of domestic revolutionary appeal, and its strong agrarian bias (unlike Nazism’s explicit approach to industrial workers). Also of interest is his discussion of nationalism – in Japan, the weapon of a feudal aristocracy threatened from abroad, and without any domestic progressive content. Factional intrigue and individual terrorism exhibited the interwar passivity of the Japanese masses in the face of encroaching military rule – but political instability continued right through the war.

The remaining four essays are of less interest to the general reader, and seem to lack the perceptiveness of the first ones which are directed specifically at concrete problems. In addition, Maruyama’s failure to incorporate in his analysis a clear commitment or concern with changes in the general social and economic background, vitiate his discussion – his Critique of De-Stalinisation tills ground already covered by many specialists, and suffers from the lack of any coherent picture of the Soviet Union and its relationship to other Eastern bloc countries (a picture, the possibility of which Maruyama would deny, at this ‘early stage’, suggesting the academic bias of his viewpoint here).

The translators seem to have managed excellently in transposing Maruyama’s Hegelian Japanese into English, and the editor has provided a useful glossary to guide the reader through the detail of the period. Altogether, the Right analyses are an original contribution to Japanese political history up to 1945, and discuss very usefully the diverse cultural strands culminating in Japan’s ‘ultra-nationalism’.

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