Recently I have read the following book. Its details are:
Book title: Gordon, Andrew. Labour and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan. Berkeley: University of Californian Press, 1991.
Thesis: labour movement was social factor for unrest. The unrest gave good reasons for the regime/rulers in Japan to tighten social control.
Goal/Objective: to understand the political role that working men and women had played in the 20th century Japan (p.3). There were two types of behaviour (and idea): rioting crowds and the non-union labour disputes, the focus was on the labour working in the east side of Tokyo called Nankatsu (p.3).
Book structure: three parts: part one explores how the wage labourers and urban poor responded to the political world and the world of work (often using court records for research). Part 2 was about the working-class movement under the imperial democratic structure of rules. By the late 1920s it appeared that bureaucrats and party leaders were implementing a liberal version of imperial democracy. Part 3 examines the crisis of depression and the retreat of both unions and the proletarian parties during the 1930s (p.25).
- talks about the labour movement in pre-war Japan under Imperial democracy (1905-1932); the movement was started before the beginning of the Taisho period (1912-1925).
- less than 8% of prewar workers joined unions at the peak of the movement and that the leftist did poorly in the early elections (p.4).
- proposes the notion of a trajectory from imperial bureaucracy to imperial democracy then to fascism as a framework to account for the labour history (p.9).
- suggests that those western historians who saw ‘militarism’ primarily as a response of the bureaucratic and military elites in Japan to international crisis had overlooked both the obsessive fear of these leaders, and the deep belief that their democratic society was collapsing. They would subsequently decide to reorder the society (p.10).
- suggests that ‘Taisho democracy’ was chronologically inaccurate and analytically empty (p.5)
- imperial democracy had two incarnations: it began as a political movement, later it became a system of rule (p.13). As party rule became a routine, many people sought further reform as a means to control worker, poor farmer and intellectual radical movement (p.14). In the 1930s, the parties eclipsed and democratic ideas repudiated, a new regime came into being (p.14).
- the ideology of imperial democracy was that a strong modern nation required the active participation of a prosperous popular. This belief was the glue that held together the diverse issues that had motivated the leaders and drew the crowds: threats of imperialism abroad, lower taxes and economic relief at home etc. (p.50).
- the rice riot in 1918 differed from earlier incidents because of the absence of preliminary agitation by bourgeois political leaders. In 1919, the Yuaikai, renamed Sodomei, began to handle labour disputes. The rice riot propelled Hara Kei into the prime minister’s office and the ascendancy of imperial democracy as a structure of rule (p.108).
- the 1914 riot was the last in which all elements in the chemistry of the crowd reacted together. The next 2 Tokyo disturbances in 1918 was the turning point in two respects: the separation of elements of the crowd, and the transformation of the imperial democracy from a movement into a structure of rule (p.59).
- the formation of the Hara cabinet was a milestone in the transformation of imperial democracy into a structure of rule (p.61).
- Gordon’s objective was to explain labour’s political performance and to assess it significance, not to label it as a ‘success’ or a ‘failure’. To describe the labour offensive of union-building, the disputes and electoral politics was a relatively straightforward task, although historians had not often recognize the extent to which disputes became an integral part of urban culture of Japan in the 1920s (p.203).
- after the 1923 earthquake, the ‘dispute culture’ spread to smaller places. Working men and women began to demand precisely those standards assumed to prevail in large factories (p.218).
- discerning the goals of the men and women who organized the unions and engaged in disputes was difficult because of the expectation imposed upon rank and file by organizers, and by historians of later generation (p.219).
- Gordon believes that the relationship between labour and social problems, and the ‘big story’ of the ascendancy of the military and fascism in the 1930s had been insufficiently studied and its significance was under-appreciated (p.238). A range of evidence from diaries and memoirs to newspaper etc. suggested that a relationship did exit (p.239). The military men and bureaucrats, among others, truly feared that the social order might collapse. This fear propelled a wide range of new domestic and foreign policy (p.239). It is the thesis of the book.
- the retreat of labour and the leftist had political reasons basically. The crisis of imperial democracy led various ruling groups to make 3 critical initiatives: the army decided to take Manchuria, the Home Ministry retreated from its relatively liberal social policy in the 1920s; the military and bureaucrats promoted the right-wing forces at the grass roots (p.275).