Can anybody explain to me how Japan went from being an aristocratic, feudal, isolated shithole to being an industrialized great power like only 100 years later? Because I don't think any big uprisings (bourgeois revolutions in the literal sense) ever happened there.
Also why did Japanese fascism happen? In the Western world, fascism is always the answer to an impending threat of socialist revolution. Did this threat exist in Japan? If not, what were the material conditions that made fascism possible and necessary?
Under those conditions, Japan was a prime candidate for a modernizing enlightened despotism: Material conditions made the Meiji restoration pretty much inevitable. If it hadn't been the Meiji emperor, it woulda been one of the big daimyo warlords. The Emperor came up on top just because he had large religious/traditional prestige.
The Meiji authorities, backed by a mercantile bourgeoisie, consciously attempted to create a modern capitalist economy. They already had the material basis for one in their artisan/mercantile economy, which included large-scale manual manufacturing and that kinda stuff. Quite surprisingly, Meiji economic policy was actually competent: They secured loans without going bankrupt, imported technology and technicians and built an education system. They managed to industrialize in 25 years rather than 50.
Japan was overpopulated and it didn't have many industrialized neighbors to ship excess population to á la Ireland: They were bound to go imperialist sooner than later. Once they did, they were pretty well situated to seize stuff: The Americans were still busy securing the West Coast and European empires had their metropolises pretty damn far away. It was easier for Japan than, say, France, to supply troops in East Asia. Imagine there'd been a relatively advanced capitalist country in Africa during the Scramble: They'd been bound to grab some colonial possessions if only through proximity advantage. That's what Japan did.
The explanations of why Japan got fascism are quite long, I'll make'em in a later post.
Cm'on baby, eat the rich!!! - Motörhead
Yay. Thanks. I'm looking forward to that.
This takes me back to my university days when I did a module on this. Although there's tons of material out there, try reading Japan's Aristocratic Revolution by Thomas C. Smith. This addresses the peculiarities of Japan within the Marxist model (even if he does not address it as such).
I’ve written a long post here summarising what I think were the main features and pressures of the events leading up to the revolution and revolution itself. I’m sure I’ve missed stuff out but whole books can be written on this!
I’m not so familiar with the fascism part but I know it has its roots in Meiji Japan and I remember my lecturer said it was never actually fascist (even though that is how it is taught in Japanese schools today).
First of all, "feudal" doesn't quite fit the period of Japanese history lasting from 1603-1868 (the Tokugawa period). In fact, from a diamat standpoint, we can see the so-called "unification" of Japan under the Tokugawa bakufu as a progressive departure from the fractured warring states period (Sengoku jidai) which preceded it, and which it can be argued, far better fits the term "feudal". However, while the Tokugawa period certainly proved a progressive departure on one level, on the other it remained a society where the aristocracy was the ruling class, where the success of merchants and proto capitalists were impeded by the aristocracy, and with a population dominated by peasantry.
You also have to look at the samurai aristocracy themselves and the peculiar situation they ended up in following the establishment of the Tokugawa polity. Prior to this, the samurai had resided on the land (as most aristocrats do) and were tied to one of the many independent regional lords (daimyo) who controlled them as private armies. With the end of the Sengoku jidai, the Tokugawa stipulated that the samurai must be confined to the towns thus cutting them off from their traditional means of wealth. Instead, in addition to being the only people allowed to carry weapons, they were rapidly transformed into bureaucrats and received a government stipend. The daimyo were granted autonomy but the bakufu (Tokugawa shogunate) made sure they were never too powerful as to pose a threat to the regime.
Accompanying this was a Confucian-inspired ascribed status system (mibunsei) which determined what class people were. In descending order, the classes were: samurai, peasant, craftsman/artisan, merchant. The samurai as warrior-bureaucrats were obviously at the top and the merchants (whom the bourgeoisie ultimately emerge from) reside at the bottom.
An analysis of the 18th and 19th centuries shows that this system began to break down. There were many problems but two which concern us here are the material decline of the samurai and the material rise of the townsmen (chonin) who constituted merchants and some artisans. A key to both of these issues was economic growth and development in the countryside. Many historians point to developments in east Asia in general around this time as benefiting from an industrious revolution (a precursor to an industrial revolution). This involved small but significant advances in food and commodity production. The key to this is that the samurai, forced to reside in the towns, were divorced from these developments and thus could not easily benefit from them. At the same time, middle men could begin to make money from these dealings and merchants could profit by bringing the products to market. The result was a rise in the fortunes of the chonin and a decline in those of samurai. Obviously, this was completely at odds with the mibunsei which said all samurai, by birth, were superior to the lowly chonin. The bakufu would occasionally show signs of stifling the chonin such as by borrowing money from merchants and then defaulting merely because it could. However, since money talks, it was essentially powerless to impose particularly harsh restrictions on these activites. What emerged here was something of a bifurcation of the aristocracy whereby a few top samurai remained wealthy and in control (they often courted the flourishing chonin). At the same time, a much larger group of low-level samurai became impoverished and resentful.
Whilst this was going on, we also see the increased presence of western powers encroaching on Japan. It is unlikely any of them had any specific designs to conquer Japan outright, but they certainly wished to expand into the Japanese market. It is a common misconception that Japan isolated itself from the rest of the world during the Tokugawa period. Although it maintained a policy called sakoku whereby contact with other countries was limited and the bakufu monopolised all trade with other countries, trade and contact was retained throughout the period with China Korea and the Netherlands, the latter of whom maintained a permanent trade mission in Nagasaki (see Dejima). Whilst the Dutch were physically confined to Dejima, there was still an exchange of ideas between the Dutch and the Tokugawa throughout the period which the Japanese referred to as rangaku (Dutch learning). This way, there was always a degree of awareness of European technological and scientific developments in Japan, and this increased from the 18th century onwards as restrictions on the permeation of rangaku lessened. Thus the Japanese were aware when Britain easily defeated regional power China in the First Opium War in 1842.
Finally, in 1853, the main foreign catalyst arrived in the form of US Commodore Matthew Perry whose warships were far more advanced than anything the Tokugawa had. He demanded the Tokugawa open up to US trade. Aware that Britain had walked over China and that the US possessed similar naval capabilities, the Bakufu realised the western powers represented a continuous threat to the rule of the Tokugawa and samurai themselves. Sure enough, after the US received trade relations, Britain, France and the other all began to threaten Japan in order to receive trade relations (unequal treaties).
From this we see two main forces acting upon the Japanese aristocracy: external threats and internal unravelling. The rigid class system was beginning to break down and many of the supposed ruling class were slipping into poverty. At the same time, townsmen and merchants were becoming richer and thus materially superior to many aristocrats. The old institutions no longer functioned as they should. Simultaneously, the threat of western imperialism was not one that could be repelled by force under the then present material conditions. This led many of the samurai (particularly the lower-level ones) to look to overhauling the countries institutions entirely in order to develop Japan along the lines of the western powers so as to defend itself from them. Eventually, daimyo from the southern provinces of Satsuma, Tosa and Choshu overthrew the Tokugawa in 1868 and established the emperor as a more unifying figure that was central to what would become the new order.
The Meiji Restoration of 1868 (not that it was a restoration as it didn't "restore" anything that had ever gone before it) thus began as a coup by a group of aristocrats frightened by the foreign threat and intent on abolishing the bakufu system. The inevitable civil war (the Boshin War) that resulted saw the new Imperial forces defeat the remnants of the aristocracy loyal to the old order. Following this, a series of further samurai rebellions occurred culminating in 1877 with the last and biggest when Satsuma province (one of the original leaders of the Meiji Restoration) rebelled against the new government - partly due to Imperial refusal to invade Korea as punishment for them not recognising the new government, and partly due to their unease at how many foreign customs were being adopted. Following the suppression of this uprising, the original generation of Meiji leaders were all dead and it fell to their successor generation - pragmatic oligarchs who aimed to adopt western customs and technology so long as it suited Japan - to built the new Japanese society.
Japan in the Meiji period (1868-1912) was developed along state capitalist lines with the government encouraging growth and development under the slogan fukoku kyohei (enrich the country, strengthen the military). Japan was still under imperialist threat and subject to unequal treaties. Considering the early Meiji slogan had been sonno joi (revere the emperor, expel the barbarians), the western presence was clearly a motivating factor in this development. Policies of modernisation included abolishing the samurai class and their government stipends, land reform, adopting a constitution loosely along the lines of a (Prussian) constitutional monarchy, establishment of a Diet, and establishing large corporations (zaibatsu) which were instrumental in the economic development of Japan. Naturally, this also resulted in the emergence of the Japanese bourgeoisie to the political and economic fore.
In conclusion, the only way to look at this (from a diamat sense) is that the aristocracy were the revolutionary class. Japan in the 19th century was subject to two forces: external threat and internal upheaval. When we look at European bourgeois revolutions we can see that the external threat was never there. Thus England and France went through their revolutions only once the bourgeoisie had become influential enough to be the agents of change. In Japan by contrast, there is no record of the chonin ever challenging the samurai for political power. They seemed content with their secondary position. Had the foreign threat not existed, I’m sure the Tokugawa would have continued for many years until the chonin finally did reach that point. However, we are wandering into what-if territory…
Therefore, the aristocracy essentially dissolved themselves. This was not as difficult or painful as it might first appear. Since the samurai were from a bureaucratic background, they were well placed to retain prominent positions within the new society. As literate and educated men they could quite easily manoeuvre themselves to join the new and emerging bourgeoisie that would be the new ruling class. Japan doesn’t fit the classical Marxist model but I think the Meiji Restoration has to be considered Japan’s bourgeois revolution.
Deng Xiaoping referred to the Meiji restoration as a great bourgeois reform, that the Chinese proletarian should emulate.
http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/dengx ... b1110.html
"As early as the Meiji Restoration, the Japanese began to expend a great deal of effort on science, technology and education. The Meiji Restoration was a kind of modernization drive undertaken by the emerging Japanese bourgeoisie. As proletarians, we should, and can, do better. "
"Meiji was the reign title of Emperor Mutsuhito of Japan. The Meiji Restoration was a bourgeois-type reform movement which began in 1868, during his reign. It abolished the feudal shogunate, established a unified and centralized state and, through a number of other reforms, made it possible for Japan to embark on the road of capitalist development and gradually achieve capitalist modernization. "
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