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Deutsches Institut für Japanstudien

Felix Spremberg

Japanese Studies, Sociology
(PhD Students, April 1, 2012 - March 31, 2013)

  • Japanese politics and social history of modern Japan
  • Comparative fascist studies

Dissertation project

Social Democracy in Japan – an Analytical Inventory

At least since 2007, the starting point of the global financial crisis that until now brought several states at the brink of disaster, it has become clear that politics, economy and society of the advanced capitalist nations have been going down the wrong road under the neoliberal paradigm since the 1980s. This ideology with its worship of the private sector and its dogmatic belief in the omnipotence of the market led to a serious entrenchment of the (financial) power of the states and their organizations. As a result the gap between rich and poor is widening dramatically. Even in Japan where the imagination of a middle class society was deeply routed the social gap cannot be denied anymore. As a result the undermining of democracy has accelerated, not only in Southern Europe.

The late British historian Tony Judt countered the failed neoliberalism with the ‘social democratic consensus’ of the post-war period. This ‘consensus’ consisted mainly of the universalist welfare state, the reallocation of resources and Keynesian economic policy. This system that encompassed an unprecedented degree of social equality in the Golden Era from 1947 until the 1980s was mainly achieved by the activities of the labour movement – in government (as in Scandinavia) or in opposition (as in Japan). Still the conflict between capital and labour is crucial in our societies and in defiance to popular theories of the demise of social democracy it has survived the era of neoliberalism in form of ideology and organizations. However as political actor it encountered severe backlashes. It is an important task for social science to re-evaluate the „social democratic consensus“ and to analyse the condition, shortcomings and perspectives of egalitarian forces today.

In this context this research project is an analytical inventory of the democratic left in Japan which consists of the small Social Democratic Party (SDP) and several groups inside the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which can preliminarily be identified as social democratic. These groups will be analysed regarding to their condition, ideology, policy and structure. I try to adopt an innovative approach to Japanese politics by using the theories of social democracy as theoretic frame of reference for this analysis. In conclusion I will categorize the analysed groups as „social democratic“ „close to social democracy“ and „not social democratic“. Further I will summarize the condition and characteristics of social democracy in Japan, thereby verifying or disproving the theory of social democratic demise.

Working assumption of this research is that social democracy in Japan has not vanished but is rather hidden. That means that it is not congruent with a single nominally social democratic party, but reaches beyond the institutional frame of the SDP far inside the DPJ.

Research questions

  • Can the actors of the moderate left really be labelled as social democratic?
  • Does the Japanese case approve or disapprove the thesis of social democratic demise?
  • Which characteristics do the actors of the moderate left in Japan show concerning ideology, objectives und organization as well as representation?
  • What is the position of these actors and which role do they play in the political system of Japan.
  • Why are social democrats in Japan splintered in several groups?