ahorbinski: My Marxist-feminist dialectic brings all the boys to the yard.  (marxism + feminism --> posthumanism)
Bibliographic Data: Kawashima, Ken C. The Proletarian Gamble: Korean Workers in Interwar Japan. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2009.

Main Argument: In this brilliant, flawed, angry book, Kawashima argues that contingent labor (labor bound to work but not guaranteed work) and contingency are an integral component rather than secondary effect of capitalism, and that Korean day laborers in Japan during the interwar period constituted nothing other than a proletariat despite the fact that their worksites and work were not fixed but aleatory as part of the commodification of their labor power. Secondary to this process, Korean workers were subject to intermediary exploitation, which used social mediations to further distance them from a direct relationship with capital, i.e. their ultimate employers.

Alea iacta est. )

Critical assessment: This is an excellent book with several notable defects; nonetheless, it's well worth reading. First and foremost, as Andrew Gordon noted in his review for The Journal of Social History, Kawashima's analysis is downright Manichaean: in his book there are the collaborators and the resistors, and absolutely no grey zone between those two poles. Furthermore, the reader will search in vain for any evocation of the lived experience of Korean workers in interwar Japan, save for a few isolated quotations; this book is not really about the experience of Korean workers in Japan, but about how the Japanese state dealt with them in the aggregate and the abstract. Finally, Kawashima consistently overestimates the amount of trouble Korean workers' struggle for rights and representation actually caused the imperial authorities; at the end he claims that the workers brought about "a real state of emergency" á la Walter Benjamin, but the claim is simply sad in light of the available evidence. That said, this is an excellent book that brings to light many previously unknown sources (though much of the data it includes is, as my advisor put it, inert), focuses attention on an understudied aspect of the Japanese empire and the zainichi Korean experience, and raises important questions about transwar continuities in Japanese society, particularly the state of civil society, as well as wider questions about the supposedly recent emergence of the precariat and the proper definition of the proletariat, as well as the relationship of chance and capital.

Further reading: Nimura Kazuo, The Ashio Riot of 1907

Meta notes: To beg a question means to avoid it, not to raise it inevitably.

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Andrea J. Horbinski

May 2016

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