Because of language difficulties, the Japanese Uno–Sekine approach to Marxism, based upon pioneering work of Kozo Uno, his student Thomas Sekine, and a growing cast of followers, both in Japan and around the world, has never received the acclaim it deserves for its interventions in Marxian theory and debate. Questions of periodizing capitalism, for example, were treated innovatively in line with writings of Regulation Theory and Social Structures of Accumulation theory, yet well in advance of the latter’s formulations. The Uno–Sekine approach is distinctive within the field of Marxist studies for two reasons. First it argues for the relative separation of historical materialism and Marxian political economic study of capitalism as two distinct projects with divergent subject-matters. Second it maintains that Marxian political economy be undertaken at three levels of analysis—a pure economic theory of capital, a stage theory which periodizes capitalism, and empirical-historical studies of capitalism.
- Levels of analysis
- Stage theory
- Consumerism as the final stage of capitalism
- Theory of a purely capitalist society
- Marxian economics
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For example, in 1975, Thomas Sekine published a major article in the US Journal of Economic Literature (Sekine 1975). Therein he outlined clearly the many ways Uno’s approach to Marxism diverged from what he referred to as “conventional” Marxism. Also developed in the early going of the article is Uno’s understanding of “stage theory” as the necessary mediating level of analysis in Marxian political economy.
It is upon the foundation of the economic “base” or substructure, Marx had argued in the famous Preface, that there arises a political and ideological superstructure.
What follows draws upon Westra (2018): For readers interested in pursuing the extended philosophical arguments over ontology and epistemology in science, scientific discovery and scientific theory building beyond the brief remarks here, there is where they will find satisfaction.
The general norms of economic life are as follows: (1) no human society can survive for long if the direct producers do not at minimum receive the product of their necessary labor (though any substantive social reproduction demands productive labor produce more than is required to reproduce his/her labor power); (2) no human society can survive for long if social demand for basic goods is not met with a minimum misallocation of social resources, primarily human labor power (this necessitating producing means of production and means of consumption in appropriate proportions); and (3) if the productive technology of a society remains constant, the reproduction process of society cannot expand faster than the natural rate of growth of the working population (this ultimately is the root of conflicts between the forces and relations of production discovered in Marxian economic theory exploration of capitalist business cycle oscillations).
Sekine in his formative introduction to Uno’s ideas refers to the question in science of open and closed systems in terms of the biological concept of “progressive mechanization” applied to organisms. As Sekine rephrases this, “organisms at some stage of their growth manifest a tendency almost to ‘become machines’ (progressively mechanize themselves), although they never quite make it”. The method of Marx’s Capital, refined and reconstructed by Uno, is to “copy” the factual tendency for capital to “mechanize” in a self-repeating logical system of value augmentation, and extrapolate this to conclusion in a closed system as a scientific experiment of sorts (Sekine 1975: 857).
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Westra, R. (2019). The Japanese Uno–Sekine Approach to Marxian Political Economy. In: Periodizing Capitalism and Capitalist Extinction. Palgrave Insights into Apocalypse Economics. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-14390-9_6
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