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Koreans constituted the largest colonial labor force in imperial Japan during the 1920s and 1930s. Caught between the Scylla of agricultural destitution in Korea and the Charybdis of industrial depression in Japan, migrant Korean peasants arrived on Japanese soil amid extreme instability in the labor and housing markets. In The Proletarian Gamble, Ken C. Kawashima maintains that contingent labor is a defining characteristic of capitalist commodity economies. He scrutinizes how the labor power of Korean workers in Japan was commodified, and how these workers both fought against the racist and contingent conditions of exchange and combated institutionalized racism.
Kawashima draws on previously unseen archival materials from interwar Japan as he describes how Korean migrants struggled against various recruitment practices, unfair and discriminatory wages, sudden firings, racist housing practices, and excessive bureaucratic red tape. Demonstrating that there was no single Korean “minority,” he reveals how Koreans exploited fellow Koreans and how the stratification of their communities worked to the advantage of state and capital. However, Kawashima also describes how, when migrant workers did organize—as when they became involved in Rōsō (the largest Korean communist labor union in Japan) and in Zenkyō (the Japanese communist labor union)—their diverse struggles were united toward a common goal. In The Proletarian Gamble, his analysis of the Korean migrant workers' experiences opens into a much broader rethinking of the fundamental nature of capitalist commodity economies and the analytical categories of the proletariat, surplus populations, commodification, and state power.
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"This book establishes Ken C. Kawashima not simply as one of the best students of modern Japanese history in the world, but as one with a rare facility for effective use of theory amid a plethora of primary sources in Japanese and Korean. This book illustrates at once a very detailed daily life of Korean day workers in various Japanese cities, a study thoroughly at home with both modern Japanese and Korean history, and an author who is fully versed in a wide body of theory--Marx, Benjamin, Althusser, Foucault, Zižek, and many others. It is simply the best book in East Asian history that I have read in many years."--Bruce Cumings, University of ChicagoAbout the Author:
Ken C. Kawashima is Associate Professor of East Asian Studies at the University of Toronto.
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