Japan and sanderson

Wed, 26 Feb 1997 20:49:33 +0800

I'd like to jump in on Sanderson's argument regarding Japan.

At 11:15 AM 2/26/97 -0500, you wrote:
>My argument for the rise of modern capitalism concentrates not only on
>but on the parallel case of Japan. Since I am arguing that Japan
experienced a
>capitalist transition that was similar to the European transition, my
>can hardly be regarded as some some of Eurocentrism. I am talking about what
>made EUROPE AND JAPAN distinctive -- how they differed from the rest of the

There is no doubt that strong forms of capitalist accumulation were
integral to the economy of pre-1860 Japan. Their forms as part of the
Edo-system's (1600-1868) contradictions, and in relation to its
dissolution/incorporation into the modern world-system, have been
misunderstood I think.

The Edo-system's basic contradictions, I argue in a sub-thesis in my
dissertation (which I'll be defending in Binghamton this April), did not
consist of only (a) the upper intra-class conflict between capitalists and
samurai and (b) the class conflict between the peasantry and the ruling
class stratums. To this we should add the most consequential systemic
contradiction, (c), the upper intra-class conflict between the two rival
camps of power: the southwest domains vs. the bakufu, its domain allies,
and the "big business"merchant agents.

In the former camp, the most successful of the southwest domain
accumulators, Satsuma and Choshu, fused business and governmental
organizations with the establishment of domain monopolies. Domain
monopolies/enterprises were a feudal form of state monopoly capital. This
stands in contrast to the rival camp - the bakufu, its allies, and their
large merchant agents -- which was characterized by a more clear-cut
differentiation between capitalist business enterprise and feudal
government organization. This was its weakness.

The more feudalistic form of capital proved to be a more effective means of
power aggrandizement. It is no accident that Satsuma and Choshu, being
among the most successful domain accumulators, defeated bakufu forces in
1868. Their prior success at export-oriented profit-making enabled them to
do so. Through the domain form of feudal capitalist accumulation -- domain
developmentalism -- Satsuma and Choshu domains built up their financial
liquidity and political-military power during the 18th and 19th centuries.
This starkly contrasts the dilapidation of the Tokugawa regime and its
domain allies at the hands of their commercial agents, the nascent
zaibatsu. By the mid-19th century, only Satsuma and Choshu possessed the
means to challenge Tokugawa hegemony. (The powerful merchant houses could
not since, unlike Venice, they had no access to military power and could
not create their own domain or city-state. They probably did not want to
take power anyway, since the costs of protection were born by the bakufu
and because they made all the profits they wanted as the banking and
merchandizing mediators of feudal rent and the market.)

Thus, during the 1850s Satsuma and Choshu could better exploit the
opportunities that arose with the arrival of Westerners, in particular,
purchases of modern military technologies, tactics, and weapons which they
used to defeat Tokugawa forces between 1866-8.

But I don't agree with Sanderson that Japan, or I would say, the
Edo-system, was "essentially capitalist" by 1868. A world-system is not
"capitalism" on the basis of strong capitalist forms alone. If one thing
is certain from the "5000 years of world system" perspective it is that
forms of capital and have been around just about everywhere and anywhere.
(And, contra footnote 2 in Sanderson's Review article, Wallerstein does not
define "capitalism"as production for profit. Social system's are defined,
not concepts, and in this case, the other side of the coin is missing. The
modern world-economy that emerged centered on Europe ca 1500, is capitalist
also on the basis of the inter-state system.)

The Edo-system's political system was the baku-han system (e.g. in English
see Totman, 1967), a very feudal political system which rested on the
military hegemony of the Tokugawa regime and the territorial confinement
imposed on the other domains. Incorporation of areas outside the Japanese
archipelago was out of the question for the feudal domains; long distance
foreign trade occurred, but less than before 1600, and it was not
fundamental to the Edo-system's contradictions until the 1850s. Hence, the
very political controls of Tokugawa hegemony -- the requirements of the
baku-han system (alternate attendance and territorial control) --
encouraged the southwest domains to pursue mercantilist strategies centered
on regular trade with Osaka.

The downfall of feudalism and Tokugawa hegemony resulted from a triple
punch. As the market economy grew, Tokugawa income from rent declined; it
was sapped by commercial agents and rural accumulators. Two, growing
polarization between rural entrepreneurs and peasants led to large scale
uprisings during the 1830s and 1860s that further weakened the bakufu. And
three, the topper, involved the southwest domain's success at domain
developmentalism which gave them the financial means to take advantage of
Western imperialism. These were the systemic contradictions that
undermined what was a essentially a feudal social system.

Elson E. Boles
Hong Kong