Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan: Childhood, Korea, and the Historical Avant-Garde

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9780824838935: Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan: Childhood, Korea, and the Historical Avant-Garde

Recasting Red Culture turns a critical eye on the influential proletarian cultural movement that flourished in 1920s and 1930s Japan. This was a diverse, cosmopolitan, and highly contested moment in Japanese history when notions of political egalitarianism were being translated into cultural practices specific to the Japanese experience. Both a political and historiographical intervention, the book offers a fascinating account of the passions―and antinomies―that animated one of the most admirable intellectual and cultural movements of Japan’s twentieth century, and argues that proletarian literature, cultural workers, and institutions fundamentally enrich our understanding of Japanese culture.

What sustained the proletarian movement’s faith in the idea that art and literature were indispensable to the task of revolution? How did the movement manage to enlist artists, teachers, and scientist into its ranks, and what sorts of contradictions arose in the merging of working-class and bourgeois cultures? Recasting Red Culture asks these and other questions as it historicizes proletarian Japan at the intersection of bourgeois aesthetics, radical politics, and a flourishing modern print culture. Drawing parallels with the experiences of European revolutionaries, the book vividly details how cultural activists “recast” forms of modern culture into practices commensurate with the goals of revolution.

Weaving over a dozen translated fairytales, poems, and short stories into his narrative, Samuel Perry offers a fundamentally new approach to studying revolutionary culture. By examining the margins of the proletarian cultural movement, Perry effectively redefines its center as he closely reads and historicizes proletarian children’s culture, avant-garde “wall fiction,” and a literature that bears witness to Japan’s fraught relationship with its Korean colony. Along the way, he shows how proletarian culture opened up new critical spaces in the intersections of class, popular culture, childhood, gender, and ethnicity.

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About the Author:

Samuel Perry is associate professor of East Asian studies at Brown University.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter 1

Introduction

Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan

So commonplace it comforts me
That Lenin, too, loved
Reading Pushkin’s poetry.
―Ishigure Shigeru

Let us begin with that unforgettable image: Yanase Masamu’s red hand, adorning the frontispiece of this book, which stretches out from a page of the Musansha shinbun (Proletarian news) in a gesture of solidarity, strength, and reassurance. Yanase’s artistry is impeccable if self-consciously crude, different shades of red and black ink brought together with such meticulous craftsmanship that the hand offers the illusion of having three dimensions―of reflecting a source of light from somewhere above. The stylized headline calls out to the same reader the arm reaches out to: “Join hands with 50,000 readers of the Proletarian News, a true friend of the people!!”1

Yanase’s image did not appear on the pages of the Musansha shinbun itself, but rather formed the centerpiece of a promotional poster meant to publicize the newspaper, first published in 1925 when various proletarian cultural organizations began to consolidate themselves throughout Japan in the wake of the Russian Revolution. The poster indeed acknowledges the familiar icons of Soviet revolutionary modernity; a hammer, sickle, and red star lie in the lower left-hand corner. But on the opposite side, offering the clever illusion of a dog-eared page, there also appears an advertisement within the promotional poster itself. The advertisement features the “complete translation” of Karl Marx’s Capital, translated by Kyoto University professor Kawakami Hajime and published by Iwanami Shoten, one of Japan’s premier publishing houses. In the background we find a partial image of a gated factory and several articles that offer important context. They report on the anti-Japanese resistance movement in Manchuria and Mongolia, on the first general elections soon to be held in Japan, and on the government’s expenditures of some nine hundred million yen in “blood taxes” extracted from the people.

Whatever its intended effect in early twentieth-century Japan, what Yanase’s poster for the Musansha shinbun does for us now is to make visible the extraordinary coincidence of political revolution, sophisticated social analysis, and a highly advanced, consumer society in the Empire of Japan, a country where intellectuals, publishing houses, and proletarian artists such as Yanase had begun to lend their formidable talents and resources to a working-class movement. As many have argued, Japan was experiencing a period of cultural “doubling” in the early twentieth century, a widespread effort to reproduce forms of capitalist culture in line with Western modernity, which had already led Japan to create its own distinctive forms whereby that capitalist culture newly reproduced in Japan was helping to create the conditions for its overturning. This was an exhilarating time for revolutionary artists and intellectuals across the globe, a time when the aspirations of the international avant-garde were focused not only on the innovation of new artistic forms, but also on new strategies for activism and new forms of social life, a moment when culture was understood as both a matter of aesthetics as well as mode of daily practice.

Bringing together bourgeois aesthetics, radical politics, and a flourishing popular print culture, the proletarian cultural movement in Japan thus emerged out of a complex and contradictory intersection of local and global forces. A highly capitalized marketplace had helped to precipitate a widespread interest in Marxist analysis as well as the formation of institutions dedicated to improving the lives of the poor, and new communities of cultural workers committed to translating communist egalitarianism into forms of Japanese culture and social practice. What were the defining characteristics of a cultural movement that took shape under these specific conditions, and how did Japanese cultural workers seek to accommodate the many contradictions they engendered? What people, ideas, and institutions helped the movement to sustain a faith in the idea that even art and literature were indispensible to the task of revolution?

It was from the mid-1920s to the mid-1930s that an unprecedented number of cultural workers came to together under the banner of proletarian cultural. The movement’s political allegiances ranged from Christian socialism to anarchism to internationalist communism; its aesthetic forms ran the gamut from comic books to Bildungsromans, and from muckracking reportage to new takes on haiku. By 1928, when a male suffrage law meant to contain the threat of radical politics came into effect, there were already dozens of journals and presses dedicated to the translation of revolutionary politics into a variety of cultural practices: educating children, agitating farmers and women workers, challenging the military’s influence on civic life, and crafting new forms of art and literature that might play a role in constructing a socialist future. While it was illegal at the time to criticize the Japanese emperor, to challenge the system of private property, and even to threaten the ambiguously defined “national body” (kokutai) of Japan, proletarian culture played a crucial role in enabling criticisms of an authoritarian government, large corporate structures, as well as the imperial armed forces, which were being held accountable for a collective insouciance to the plight of the poor, for a failure to establish forms of truly democratic governance, and for a misguided celebration of Japan’s expanding empire.

Notwithstanding its many shifts in direction and its eventual reorganization by the Communist Party in the early 1930s―often setting die-hard communists against the democratic socialists they called “social fascists”―the broader proletarian movement managed for more than a decade to enlist teachers, actors, scientists, and musicians into their ranks, fostering the creation of local discussion groups (bungaku sākuru) and producing a wide range of proletarian magazines and newspapers, including Sekki (Red flag), the Bijutsu shinbun (Arts gazette), and Hataraku fujin (Working women), to name just a few.3 Although government censors frequently issued bans on the sale and distribution of publications that carried the more incendiary variety of proletarian literature and criticism, many highbrow journals such as Chūō kōron (Central review) and Kaizō (Reconstruction), as well as daily newspapers like the Miyako shinbun, still commonly published works by proletarian writers, even those written by members of the illegal Communist Party. It is to this wide-ranging archive of print culture that this book turns in order to reconstruct the historical contours of one of twentieth-century Japan’s most vibrant and admirable moments of cultural and intellectual history.

In Recasting Red Culture, I restore much of the forgotten ideological and aesthetic complexity of Japan’s proletarian movement and show that it must be central to any understanding of modern Japanese culture in the early Shōwa period. Instead of focusing on the celebrated novels of proletarian literature, a body of fiction that was canonized in large part by the Japanese Communist Party, I excavate from the historical archive hitherto unexamined works of proletarian culture: fairy tales, children’s songs, propaganda, “wall fiction,” as well as several works of poetry, fiction, and criticism about colonial Korea.4 These short narratives were not simply epiphenomena of theoretical debates of the time, but constituted theoretically rich documents themselves and were engaged in a dialogue with historical events, broader intellectual and social practices, as well as questions of political consciousness and literary representation. By translating and performing close readings of many of these unknown pieces, I offer a new portrait of the movement, its major concerns, and its mode of dialectical analysis, in part to challenge the widespread misconception of proletarian literature as a crude instrument of propaganda. That said, proletarian cultural workers themselves saw “literature” as a historical construction―as a body of specialized writing with complex aesthetic dimensions, and at the same time as a process of social participation, by which both writers and readers of many different backgrounds might learn to feel and act in new ways that would eventually change what counted as literature. Recasting Red Culture itself casts a wide net in its own understanding of literature to include a full range of writing, from reportage to fairy tales and from poetry to the pedagogical journal.

Recasting Red Culture also attempts to restore a historically specific understanding of class to an interpretation of the proletarian cultural movement. The popularization of revolutionary ideas in Japan did not coincide with a blanket claim to representative universality in Japan, and although the Communist Party and proletarian writers are often criticized for privileging a monolithic, working-class male subject, class consciousness was in fact a highly nuanced mode of social analysis, one that enabled cultural workers in Japan to imagine the subject of revolutionary struggle through a complex model of subjectivity that far exceeded the stereotype of a Japanese male industrial worker. The proletarian subject was understood to be dialectically related to the specific histories and needs of the different groups that constituted the proletariat, including farmers, colonized people, students, and the petit bourgeois, as well as women, children, soldiers, and the burakumin underclass.5 Thus, contrary to one dominant paradigm of scholarship on proletarian literature, which would read class simply as a discourse that “subordinated” race, nation, gender, and other forms of identity, proletarian thinkers made a concerted, dialectical effort to consider the universality of proletarian culture in relation to the particular needs and demands of a full range of constituencies, without which the proletariat and Japanese proletarian culture simply would not have existed.

This is not to argue that racism, patriarchy, paternalism, and other mechanisms of discrimination―usually inscribed in the forms it borrowed from bourgeois culture―did not taint proletarian practices. Rather, cultural workers were being newly equipped with an entirely novel way of understanding and appreciating what writer Kobayashi Takiji called “plurality” (tayōsei), the need for forming broad alliances among all oppressed people that might help construct new institutions that served them all.6 Arguing against colleagues who suggested that the struggles of individual interest groups were not the equivalent of the broader proletarian struggle, poet and critic Nakano Shigeharu (1902–1979), for example, used the metaphor of a great river and its tributaries in 1931 to describe the nature of these alliances. For Nakano, “each group’s individual struggle merged . . . in a churning up of different waters into a single roaring cascade.”7 The waters of this proletarian cascade would eventually enfranchise a diverse generation of budding artists, journalists, scholars, and teachers throughout Japan. The movement’s expansion of class analysis to accommodate the experiences of women, children, and other minority groups in particular―over the fields of elite, popular, and activist culture―would also help to generate the embryonic but still class-conscious forms of multiculturalism and feminism that cultural workers would continue to foster in the aftermath of the movement’s demise, especially in the post–World War II period.

As for the delicate position of the largely middle-class intellectuals and cultural workers who were instrumental in integrating Marxism into the working-class movement, proletarian birth control activist Yamamoto Senji (1889–1929) perhaps summed up an early consensus. A drunk and playboy in his youth who was saved by Christian missionaries and went on to study medicine in Canada, Yamamoto wrote in 1926 that “We indeed have a drawback in that as members of the
middle class we are liable to forget that we ourselves are intellectual laborers, and it can therefore be difficult to serve the class struggle in a restrained fashion as part of the rank and file.” But for Yamamoto it sufficed to acknowledge the potential weaknesses of one’s own bourgeois background and “from within a place of non-deception” to work one’s hardest for the revolution.8
manual and mental labor was understood by Japanese cultural workers, after all, to be a historical phenomenon, not an inevitability. What was necessary for both workers and intellectuals alike was thus not an idealization of labor and the working class, but rather a political commitment that was informed by an understanding of a social world that extended well beyond one’s own class position. This was an understanding of the “totality,” as Lenin had put it, that existed well beyond the reach of any one individual’s social purview and life experiences.

The three cases this book examines in detail―proletarian practices involving children, the revolutionary genre of “wall fiction,” and works of literature about Koreans―foreground three different perspectives on this social totality, perspectives that many consider to have existed only on the margins of proletarian culture. Childhood, the historical avant-garde, and the activism of Koreans in fact fell outside the main concerns of scholarship on proletarian literature for decades; no fairy tales, no wall fiction, and few if any stories about Koreans existed in the first compendium of proletarian literature published in 1954–1955.9 But the archives tell a much more complicated history, one that brought a critique of imperialism, a careful examination of childhood development, and questions about the nature of creativity itself into the realm of literary and critical speculation. Children’s culture was a preoccupation of the movement from its inception, and narratives for and about children are staggering in their numbers. Avant-garde “wall fiction” appeared late in the movement’s development, but debates over the nature of literary form had been ongoing since the mid-1920s. Koreans in Japan were deeply involved in leftist politics in the early 1920s, but became particularly important to the Communist Party in the early 1930s, even while their representation in literature was complicated by a paucity of Korean writers who wrote in Japanese and by the “imperial eyes” through which Japanese literature had often seen the Korean colony and its people.10 The asymmetry of these three cases helps me highlight different ways in which the movement both drew on and challenged pre-existing forms of Japanese culture.

The narratives I examine in chapter 2 include fairy tales and children’s songs, as well as social scientific studies, propaganda, and works of reportage. I show through this broad range of texts how the children’s movement worked largely within existing liberal concepts of childhood, while simultaneously contesting many middle-class assumptions. Seeing childhood scientifically as a specific stage of human development and at the same time as a heterogeneous experience largely inflected by class, proletarian...

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Descrizione libro University of Hawai i Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. New.. Language: English . Brand New Book. Recasting Red Culture turns a critical eye on the influential proletarian cultural movement that flourished in 1920s and 1930s Japan. This was a diverse, cosmopolitan, and highly contested moment in Japanese history when notions of political egalitarianism were being translated into cultural practices specific to the Japanese experience. Both a political and historiographical intervention, the book offers a fascinating account of the passions-and antinomies- that animated one of the most admirable intellectual and cultural movements of Japan s twentieth century, and argues that proletarian literature, cultural workers, and institutions fundamentally enrich our understanding of Japanese culture. What sustained the proletarian movement s faith in the idea that art and literature were indispensable to the task of revolution? How did the movement manage to enlist artists, teachers, and scientist into its ranks, and what sorts of contradictions arose in the merging of working-class and bourgeois cultures?Recasting Red Culture asks these and other questions as it historicizes proletarian Japan at the intersection of bourgeois aesthetics, radical politics, and a flourishing modern print culture. Weaving over a dozen translated fairytales, poems, and short stories into his narrative, Samuel Perry offers a fundamentally new approach to studying revolutionary culture. By examining the margins of the proletarian cultural movement, Perry effectively redefines its center as he closely reads and historicizes proletarian children s culture, avant-garde Owall fiction,O and a literature that bears witness to Japan s fraught relationship with its Korean colony. Along the way, he shows how proletarian culture opened up new critical spaces in the intersections of class, popular culture, childhood, gender, and ethnicity. Codice libro della libreria AAN9780824838935

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Descrizione libro University of Hawai i Press, United States, 2014. Hardback. Condizione libro: New. New.. Language: English . Brand New Book. Recasting Red Culture turns a critical eye on the influential proletarian cultural movement that flourished in 1920s and 1930s Japan. This was a diverse, cosmopolitan, and highly contested moment in Japanese history when notions of political egalitarianism were being translated into cultural practices specific to the Japanese experience. Both a political and historiographical intervention, the book offers a fascinating account of the passions-and antinomies- that animated one of the most admirable intellectual and cultural movements of Japan s twentieth century, and argues that proletarian literature, cultural workers, and institutions fundamentally enrich our understanding of Japanese culture.What sustained the proletarian movement s faith in the idea that art and literature were indispensable to the task of revolution? How did the movement manage to enlist artists, teachers, and scientist into its ranks, and what sorts of contradictions arose in the merging of working-class and bourgeois cultures?Recasting Red Culture asks these and other questions as it historicizes proletarian Japan at the intersection of bourgeois aesthetics, radical politics, and a flourishing modern print culture.Weaving over a dozen translated fairytales, poems, and short stories into his narrative, Samuel Perry offers a fundamentally new approach to studying revolutionary culture. By examining the margins of the proletarian cultural movement, Perry effectively redefines its center as he closely reads and historicizes proletarian children s culture, avant-garde Owall fiction,O and a literature that bears witness to Japan s fraught relationship with its Korean colony. Along the way, he shows how proletarian culture opened up new critical spaces in the intersections of class, popular culture, childhood, gender, and ethnicity. Codice libro della libreria AAN9780824838935

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Descrizione libro University of Hawai'i Press. Hardback. Condizione libro: new. BRAND NEW, Recasting Red Culture in Proletarian Japan: Childhood, Korea, and the Historical Avant-Garde, Samuel Perry, Recasting Red Culture turns a critical eye on the influential proletarian cultural movement that flourished in 1920s and 1930s Japan. This was a diverse, cosmopolitan, and highly contested moment in Japanese history when notions of political egalitarianism were being translated into cultural practices specific to the Japanese experience. Both a political and historiographical intervention, the book offers a fascinating account of the passions-and antinomies- that animated one of the most admirable intellectual and cultural movements of Japan's twentieth century, and argues that proletarian literature, cultural workers, and institutions fundamentally enrich our understanding of Japanese culture.What sustained the proletarian movement's faith in the idea that art and literature were indispensable to the task of revolution? How did the movement manage to enlist artists, teachers, and scientist into its ranks, and what sorts of contradictions arose in the merging of working-class and bourgeois cultures? Recasting Red Culture asks these and other questions as it historicizes proletarian Japan at the intersection of bourgeois aesthetics, radical politics, and a flourishing modern print culture.Weaving over a dozen translated fairytales, poems, and short stories into his narrative, Samuel Perry offers a fundamentally new approach to studying revolutionary culture. By examining the margins of the proletarian cultural movement, Perry effectively redefines its center as he closely reads and historicizes proletarian children's culture, avant-garde Owall fiction,O and a literature that bears witness to Japan's fraught relationship with its Korean colony. Along the way, he shows how proletarian culture opened up new critical spaces in the intersections of class, popular culture, childhood, gender, and ethnicity. Codice libro della libreria B9780824838935

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