In The Sublime Perversion of Capital Gavin Walker examines the Japanese debate about capitalism between the 1920s and 1950s, using it as a "prehistory" to consider current discussions of uneven development and contemporary topics in Marxist theory and historiography. Walker locates the debate's culmination in the work of Uno Kōzō, whose investigations into the development of capitalism and the commodification of labor power are essential for rethinking the national question in Marxist theory. Walker's analysis of Uno and the Japanese debate strips Marxist historiography of its Eurocentric focus, showing how Marxist thought was globalized from the start. In analyzing the little-heralded tradition of Japanese Marxist theory alongside Marx himself, Walker not only offers new insights into the transition to capitalism, the rise of globalization, and the relation between capital and the formation of the nation-state; he provides new ways to break Marxist theory's impasse with postcolonial studies and critical theory.
Note on Translations xiii
Three Orientations xv
1. The Sublime Perversion of Capital 1
2. The Feudal Remnant and the Historical Outside 28
3. Primitive Accumulation, or the Logic of Origin 75
4. Labor Power: Capital's Threshold 108
5. The Continent of History and the Theoretical Inside 152
6. "The Ready-Made World of Capital" 182
"What is capital? What is its relation with the 'world' and with the nation? What is its origin, its limit, and its 'other'? Reading the 'debate on Japanese capitalism' in the 1920s and 1930s against the grain of contemporary concerns, Gavin Walker invites us to a breathtaking intellectual journey. He provides a masterful interpretation of a crucial historical debate and makes a landmark contribution to our understanding of global capitalism and to the forging of a new project of liberation."
Sandro Mezzadra, coauthor of
Border as Method, or, The Multiplication of Labor
"Gavin Walker's superb The Sublime Perversion of Capital is a brilliantly imaginative recovery of Marx's worldly vocation and the original premises of historical materialism dedicated to combining the immediacy of local contemporary circumstances with the global reach of capital. He realizes this singularly vital program by reflecting on the writings of the economist Uno Kozo, especially his thinking on logic and history, as they intervened and culminated in the famous Marxian debate on capitalism in Japan's 1920s and 1930s in a context sparked by a rapidly uneven passage into capitalist modernity and its spillover into imperialism."
Harry Harootunian, author of
Marx After Marx: History and Time in the Expansion of Capitalism
"Walker’s book does much to clarify the relevance of Uno’s work for both historical research and studies of the present moment; it occupies a central place in the on-going 'Uno Renaissance.'"
Journal of Social History
"Walker’s work offers something of value to both economic historians as well as Japanologists: an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the contributions of Japanese intellectuals as you focus on the tensions of Marxism and capitalism for the former and a review (if not (re)discovery) of the essentials of Marxism and capitalist theory while in pursuit of the history of contemporary Japanese social sciences for the latter."
New Books Asia
“Original and erudite. . . . Gavin Walker develops a wide-ranging and densely argued Marxist theoretical account of capital and its (il)logics. The heart of his inquiry is what he calls capital’s “sublime perversion”: its ability to overcome, without resolving, its own contradictions, its 'constant and relentless transformation of limits into thresholds.' Walker’s theorization of this perversion interweaves a set of concepts and approaches derived from Marx and from Walker’s extensive reading (in, by my count, seven languages) of twentieth- and early twenty-first-century thinkers.”
"Gavin Walker’s book on the Japanese capitalism debate of the 1920s and 1930s, The Sublime Perversion of Capital, brings this important set of arguments on Marxist theory and history out of the domain of Japanese studies, where it is often cited but scarcely appreciated, and into dialogue with contemporary historiography and political theory. . . . The Sublime Perversion of Capital is an important and singular contribution to scholarship on Marxism and capitalism. It restores the sophistication of interwar Japanese debates on the country’s development and the development of capitalism on a global scale. Walker shows the significance of these debates for Marxism at a time when the Comintern’s dicta were challenged by the heterogeneity of the global political economy. His book thus reinstates the historicity of debates on the nature of capitalism and its historical manifestation, then and now.”
Christopher L. Hill
American Historical Review
"A truly interdisciplinary work that understands Japanese Marxism as part of a larger global moment. . . .Through Japanese Marxist writings, [Walker] shows how capital needs the state to commodify labor power, leading to a global system of borders and policing. In this light one might compare the book to recent Althusserian readings of Marx that theorize capitalism as comprising class structures related to the market, state, and world system. Walker also gestures in the direction of combined and uneven development and attempts to posit an alternative to the theoretical impasse between universal- ism and particularism by grounding both in a theory of capitalism. The Sublime Perversion of Capital remains essential reading for scholars interested in area studies, Japanese intellectual history, and Marxist theory and helps us rethink the role that capitalism and the nation-state play in shaping the world in which we live.”
"The Sublime Perversion of Capital makes an important intervention in both Japanese intellectual history and Marxist theory."
Journal of Asian Studies