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Nigel Harris

Sad Histories

(Summer 1968)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.33, Summer 1968, p.40.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The Social Democratic Movement in Prewar Japan
George Oakley Totten III
Yale University Press, 90s

The Japanese Communist Movement. 1920-1966
Robert Scalopino
California University Press/Cambridge, 52s

Mr Totten describes the fragments of the Japanese Left in the interwar period, fission and fusion, culminating in alignment for a small minority with the illegal Communist Left, and for most, absorption in the wartime nationalist Right, inactivity or gaol. Totten first relates the history, then examines the leadership, the politics and strategy, and finally the electoral significance. His account is straightforward but uninspired, focussing rather on organisational questions and formal political differences than on social or political significance. As it is, the account makes melancholy reading, as the moth of Social Democracy swings closer and closer to reaction. The book is a mine of information, but supplies only limited explanation: the detail tends to swamp possible analysis.

Mr Scalopino supplies a reasonably straightforward history of the JCP, but is, again, less concerned with political and sociological significance, and rather more with laying out the formal politics of the Party. There is much of interest here, particularly the account of the abortive Left phase of the JCP and its idiotic perspective of peasant revolt. Yet the account hardly comes to life, and, as with Scalopino’s numerous earlier volumes, the wealth of factual material is poorly disciplined by a clear theoretical structure which would explain events rather than merely present them. As it is, the author introduces oddities to fill the gap – as for example:

‘One cannot always fathom the psychological motivations that may induce or compel an individual to participate in an extremist cause, but the compulsions that operate in totally alienated individuals are many and fierce. Many of these individuals are, in reality, substituting political action – often of the most daring type – for needed psychotherapy’ (p.45, cf. also p.295).

Overall then, much valuable information but ungeared to rigorous explanation.

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Last updated: 19.6.2008