The Zaibatsu and Japanese Capitalism

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devoration1
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Jul 24 2010 22:52
The Zaibatsu and Japanese Capitalism

I've been curious for awhile now if the development of capitalism in Japan deserves a closer inspection. The history of capitalism in Japan is fairly unique- the closest country to it seems to be Russia.

However, the existance of the Zaibatsu in Japan before rapid industrialization and modernization gives it a unique attribute.

Japan was a late comer on the international arena- it was one of the last independant capitalist nations to develop with the power to have imperialist designs (rather than being a foreign dependant like China or India). However, the political and social relations of Japan did not develop like those of other Asian capitalisms.

The feudal Tokugawa Shogunate bakufu (military dictatorship / junta) ruled from the middle ages to the early modern period (late 19th century). This is similar to Russia- in that a feudal nation developed capitalist social relations before the overthrow of the monarchy/aristocracy, and created & maintained imperialist aims. Unlike Russia, where the bulk of industrialization and modern industry was the result of foreign capital, Japan maintained a type of independant monopoly capitalism from the beginning.

Since capitalist social relations really began in Japan around or during the Bakumatsu (Late Tokugawa Era), the young bourgeoisie developed out of the merchant class. Strong elements of this young bourgeoisie formed Zaibatsu-

Quote:
By definition, the "zaibatsu" were large family-controlled vertical monopolies consisting of a holding company on top, with a wholly-owned banking subsidiary providing finance, and several industrial subsidiaries dominating specific sectors of a market, either solely, or through a number of sub-subsidiary companies.

Think of them as similar to the British East India Company, merged with the 'Bank of England', merged with a manufacturing trust like U.S. Steel- all combined and excersizing complete mastery over the national economy with several other huge organizations just like it.

Two early zaibatsu from the Late Tokugawa Era/Bakumatsu were Mitsui & Sumitomo - these two zaibatsu would later become one each of the 'Big Four' zaibatsu of Japan- enormously powerful trust-corporation-banking hybrids that would excersize extreme power over the Japanese economy (the younger 2 of the Big Four would be Mitsubishi and Yasuda, created soon after the end of the Tokugawa bakufu).

After the Meiji Restoration and the end to the military dictatorship of the Shogun, Japan became a kind of Constitutional Monarchy, like Holland or Great Britain. However, by this time the zaibatsu of the Edo Period would only grow, and new and even more powerful zaibatsu were being born- these organizations of mega-capitalists would be the biggest factor in the industrialization and imperialization of Japan. This development had not happened before- Japan had skipped skillfully from firmly entrenched feudal mercantilism to monopoly capitalism almost overnight.

It took centuries of development for European & American capitalism to reach this point, and even then large swathes of the economy were still 'backward' and feudalistic.

It seems that this swift development of production relations far exceeded the speed of social relations. It wasn't until the late 1920's that the Japanese working class began to organically propose the kind of worker's mutual-aid societies and 'discussion circles' that would prefigure craft unions and early social-democratic parties; when the International proletariat had by that point already degenerated into Stalinism.

Is it fair to believe that the organization of the zaibatsu succeeded in turning Japan into an imperialist and economic power, rather than a cowed dependant like China, and could be a major reason why the Japanese proletariat found it so difficult to answer the bourgeoisie on the economic and political fields?

fruitloop
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Jul 26 2010 09:34

Interesting topic. Haven't got time to comment at length at the moment, but have you read Ollman's 'Why the Emperor Needs the Yakuza' (online essay)? He discusses the zaibatsu in some detail/

Mike Harman
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Jul 26 2010 10:34

I haven't done much research into the Zaibatsu, but I'm not sure about your late '20s for workers' organisations. The 1918 rice riots encompassed a wide range of activity, including massive strikes in the mining, steel and docks industries, and while there were no trade unions, and anarchist + marxist influence was pretty much minimal (although played up by the government at the time), those organisations did exist even if at a very early stage, and the strikes themselves were highly organised at least in the mining industry.

http://libcom.org/library/1918-rice-riots-strikes-japan

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The disputes were mainly around rice prices, wages, company stores, forced savings schemes, working conditions and management-employee relations - all inter-related given the close involvement of the mining companies in miners' domestic lives. Miners both raised immediate material demands such as a doubling of wages, and also called into question the entire management system of labour, from the company stores to methods of coal grading - all of which had changed significantly after the large zaibutsu companies had took over.

The miners' strikes were often highly organised, started by small groups of workers meeting in secret, who then handed out demands in leaflets and convened mass meetings. Miners prepared for attacks on the mine compounds by setting up kitchens in order to maintain food supplies during protests, attempted to spread strikes to other mines run by the same companies, and enforced strikes with notices threatening repercussions against scabs.

I'd highly, highly recommend Rioters and Citizens. Mass Protest in Imperial Japan. Michael Lewis which formed the basis of that article.

Also haven't read it yet but just came across http://www.marxists.org/archive/katayama/1918/labor_movement/ again.

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Jul 26 2010 12:11

Key to understanding the develop of capitalism in Japan is the process leading to the feudal aristocracy transforming it self in to the bourgeoisie as Pannekoek says in Workers Councils:

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So in Japan things were different from Europe. Capitalism did not come because a rising bourgeoisie vanquished the feudal class in a revolutionary struggle, but because a feudal class transformed itself into a bourgeoisie, certainly a performance worthy of respect. Thus it is easily understood that also under capitalism the feudal spirit, with its prejudices of ranks, its overbearing haughtiness, its servile respect to the emperor, persisted in the Japanese ruling class. The middle-class spirit of European capitalism was entirely lacking

Also important was the importation of the latest in European scientific/technical developments and curiosities (like accurate clocks) via Dutch traders. This was known Dutch learnings or Rangaku in Japanese.

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devoration1
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Jul 31 2010 21:43

I just read the 2 part article, "The History of the Worker's Movement in Japan," in the ICC publication International Review (available online):

Part 1:

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/112_japan.html

Part 2:

http://en.internationalism.org/ir/114_japan.htm

You are correct, apparently the Japanese 'Socialist Party' was formed in 1906, with smaller and less developed organizations preceding it. I was under the impression they were much further behind in terms of working class consciousness and organization compared to other capitalist-imperialist nations.

The italicized portion of the quote from Pannekoek is dead on it seems.

I'd really like to see some economic data concerning the oldest zaibatsu during the Edo Period up to the Meiji Restoration- or even from their origin to the present day. It would be interesting to see a chart of their development next to that of worker's organizations and strength (such as number of votes for socialist parties year by year, membership of unions, membership or number of anarchist/syndicalist/socialist/communist organizations, the years of wax and wane in the class struggle internationally, etc).