Against Japanism
Against Japanism
Jan 21, 2022
The Proletarian Gamble: Uno Kōzō's Theory of Crisis & Korean Workers in Interwar Japan w/ Ken Kawashima
Play • 2 hr 26 min

Kota is joined by Ken Kawashima, author of The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan and translator of Theory of Crisis by Japanese Marxist economist Uno Kōzō

We begin the interview by discussing Uno’s methodology in analyzing capitalism called Sandankairon, or three-steps theory. The first step involves elucidating the fundamental principles of capitalism. The second step involves tracing the historical development of capitalism in stages. The third step is the conjectural analysis of capitalism in the present. 

Through the analysis of fundamental principles, Uno argued that the crisis under capitalism is not an accident, but necessarily built into its cyclical movement through three phases: prosperity, crisis, and depression. Unlike other Marxist theories of crisis which identified its cause in the spheres of production or circulation, Uno argues that the crisis originates in the intersection of production and circulation: the commodification of labour power. Since labour power is the only commodity that can produce value, as much as the workers are reliant on wage for their subsistence, capitalism is equally reliant on the continuous commodification of their labor power for its survival. However, capitalism’s drive toward infinite growth meets its own barrier as the supply of labour power of human beings cannot be increased at will to meet the demands of expanding production. As a result, capitalist production comes to a stand-still. Uno therefore calls the commodification of labour power the fundamental contradiction of capitalism or its Archille’s Heel.

Since capitalism is unable to readily produce human beings as things, it creates what Marx called relative surplus populations, a mass of unemployed workers considered surplus or excessive in relation to capitalist production, whom it can bring back into production once the cycle re-enters the phase of prosperity and capitalism resumes its theory. However, while this repetition indicates the inevitability of crisis under capitalism, the ways in which the crisis happens changed with the development of capitalism from liberalism to imperialism. Under imperialism, capitalism no longer follows the clearly demarcated phases, but stagnates in the chronic state of depression and relies on the pool of chronically unemployed surplus populations, often located in (semi-)colonized countries.

In the second half of this interview, we apply Uno’s Theory of Crisis to the historical stage of imperialism and the concrete struggle of Korean workers in the interwar period, who jumped out of the flying pan of agrarian poverty in the Korean countryside into the fire of post-WWI industrial recession and the Great Depression. We discuss the book’s title “Proletarian Gamble," how the struggle of Korean workers was intertwined with their struggle as tenants, how the rise in unemployment during the post-war recession and the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, as well as the Korean Independence Movement in 1919 led to the reorganization of policing in the Japanese Empire. We conclude our interview by discussing how the struggle of Korean workers continued during and after WWII, and the struggle of migrants in Japan today and what this history tells us about capitalism and the necessity of communism.

Intro Music: Cielo by Huma-Huma

Outro Music: Flying Pan by Sugar Brown  

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