‘A New Way of Life’: The Marxist, Post-Capitalist, Green Manifesto That Captures Japan | Japan

TThe climate crisis will spiral out of control unless the world applies an “emergency brake” to capitalism and invents a “new way of living,” according to a Japanese academic whose book on Marxism and the environment became a surprising bestseller.

The message of Kohei Saito, associate professor at the University of Tokyo, is simple: Capitalism’s demand for unlimited profits is destroying the planet, and only “degrowth” can repair the damage by slowing social production and wealth sharing.

In practical terms, this means the end of mass production and massive consumption of wasted goods like fast fashion. In Capital in the Anthropocene, Saito also advocates decarbonization through shorter working hours and prioritizing essential “labour-intensive” work such as caregiving.

“I was as surprised as everyone else”

Few would have expected Saito’s Japanese-language solution to the climate crisis to gain wide appeal outside academia and left-wing politics. Instead, the book – inspired by Karl Marx’s writings on the environment – has become an unlikely hit, selling more than half a million copies since its September 2020 publication.

As the world faces more evidence of the effects of climate change – from floods in Pakistan to heat waves in Britain – rampant inflation and the energy crisis, Saito’s vision of a more sustainable post-capitalist world will appear in an academic text to be published later. General by Cambridge University Press, with an English translation of his bestselling book to follow.

Kohi Saito
Kohei Saito is a Japanese philosopher and scholar. Photo: Courtesy of Kohei Saito

“It’s generally about what’s happening in the world…about the climate crisis and what we should do about it,” Saito said in an interview with the Guardian. “I’m advocating under-growth and bypassing capitalism.”

The mere reference to declining global growth conjures up negative images of wealthy societies that have fallen into a dark age of shrinking economies and declining living standards. Saito admits that he believes a book that draws on Marxism as a solution to modern-day ills will be a tough sell in Japan, where the same conservative party has dominated politics for 70 years.

“People accuse me of wanting to go back to [feudal] Edo period [1603-1868] He said… I think the same kind of picture still exists in the UK and the US. “With this backdrop, selling over 500,000 copies of the book is amazing. I was as surprised as anyone else.”

The 35-year-old doesn’t have to worry about using the language of drastic change; As the world emerges from the pandemic and confronts the existential threat posed by global warming, disillusionment with the current economic situation has given it a receptive audience.

The pandemic has magnified inequalities in advanced economies, and between North and South globally — and the book has struck a chord with young Japanese.

Cover of Saito's Academic Text, Marx in the Anthropocene
Saito’s academic text, Marx in the Anthropocene, will be published later this year, along with an English translation of his bestselling book.
Photo: Courtesy of Kohei Saito

“Saito tells a story that is easy to understand,” says John Shiota, a 31-year-old researcher who bought Capital in the Anthropocene shortly after its publication. “It’s not saying that there are good and bad things in capitalism, or that it can be fixed… It’s just saying that we have to get rid of the entire system.

“Young people have been severely affected by the epidemic and are facing other big problems such as environmental destruction and cost of living crises, so this simple message resonates with them.”

Saito agrees that rising inequality has given his writing more urgency. “A lot of people have lost their jobs and homes and depend on things like food banks, even in Japan. I find that shocking. And you have essential workers forced to work long hours in low-paying jobs. The marginalization of essential workers has become a serious issue.”

The response to Covid-19 has shown that rapid change is not only desirable, but possible, he says.

“One of the things we learned during the pandemic is that we can dramatically change our way of life overnight — look at the way we started working from home, buying fewer things, flying and eating less food. We proved that working less was more environmentally friendly and giving People have a better life, but now capitalism is trying to bring us back to a “normal” way of life.

Marx was interested in sustainability

Saito is highly skeptical of some widely accepted strategies for addressing the climate emergency. “In my book, I start a sentence by describing the Sustainable Development Goals [SDGs] as the new opium of the masses,” he said, referring to Marx’s view of religion.

“Buying eco-friendly bags and bottles without changing anything about the economic system…The SDGs hide the systemic problem and limit everything to the individual, while obscuring the responsibility of businesses and politicians.”

“I found out how Marx was concerned with sustainability and how non-capitalist and pre-capitalist societies are sustainable, because they recognize a fixed economy, they are not driven by growth,” Saito said.

Since the book’s release, Saito has made Japan noticeably less concerned with the ideas of the German philosopher.

Conservative public broadcaster NHK gave him four 25-minute segments explaining his ideas for a masterpiece in the 100-minute series, while bookstore chains made space for special shows of revivalist Marxist literature.

Now he hopes his letter will appeal to English-speaking readers.

“We are facing a very difficult situation: the pandemic, poverty, climate change, the war in Ukraine, inflation … It is impossible to imagine a future in which we can grow the economy, and at the same time live in a sustainable way without fundamentally changing anything about our way of life.

“If economic policies have been failing for 30 years, why not invent a new way of life? The desire for it is suddenly there.”

This article has been modified on September 9, 2022. Capital in the Anthropocene was published in 2020, not 2000 as reported in an earlier version.

Leave a Comment