As the global challenge of climate change intensifies and the coronavirus pandemic amplifies economic inequalities, Karl Marx, who has pointed out the contradictions and limits of capitalism, is gaining new admirers in Japan, especially among young people.

The boom was sparked by a 34-year-old associate professor at Osaka City University who reinvented the theory set forth in the 19th-century German thinker’s seminal “Das Kapital” from a conservation perspective. environment in a bestselling book published last September.

In it, Kohei Saito argued that achieving the sustainable development goals set by the United Nations is as impossible as “drawing a round triangle” under modern capitalism.

The book’s success prompted an invitation from the Japanese public broadcaster NHK to present a commentary on Marx‘s founding theoretical text, known by its full title in English as “Capital: A Critique of Political Economy”, during a broadcast aired in January.

“A lot of people noticed the contradictions of capitalism when they saw only socially vulnerable people struggling during the coronavirus pandemic,” Saito told Kyodo News in a recent interview.

The younger ones, who have no recollection of the Cold War or the mass student protests of the 1960s, showed a keen interest in the ideas Saito discussed in the program. Letters poured in from people in their twenties and thirties to NHK Publishing, which had published the simplified version of Saito’s handbook of Marx’s hard-to-read work before the broadcast.

A single mother wrote about her move from the city to the countryside, where she is now relishing her new life as a farmer. “I wanted to put into practice a transition away from the values ​​of mass consumption,” she said.

Saito presents a Marx-inspired theory of “degrowth communism” in which he argues that society can stop the perpetual cycles of production and mass consumption under capitalism by pursuing a more humanistic path favoring social and ecological well-being. to economic growth.

The success of the book sparked a renewed interest in Marxist thought.

The main branch of the Maruzen bookstore chain in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo has opened a special section called “Reviving Marx”. Nobuya Sawaki, head of the Marx Book Corner, said: “The demands of people closed at home due to the coronavirus are pushing them to take back these tough titles on humanity. “

Most young men and women bought around 1,600 copies of Marx-themed titles in two months, Sawaki said.

Born in Germany in 1818 as capitalism was emerging, Marx aimed to uncover the economic foundations of the capitalist mode of production in “Das Kapital”, the first volume of which appeared in 1867.

Marx analyzed a society in which the exploitation of workers and the destruction of the environment became more and more severe and predicted a catastrophe accordingly.

He uses an expression first from French, interpreted as: “When I will be dead, the deluge can come for anything”, to describe with cynicism the arrogance and selfishness of the capitalist who does not see ahead. him that immediate profits without future after his departure.

In modern times, influential thinkers such as the late anthropologist David Graeber and economist Thomas Piketty point to the growing chasm in which wealth is concentrated in the hands of the top 1% as if it were a sign of an impending “flood”.

Others, like journalist Naomi Klein, talk about the climate crisis caused by uncontrolled capitalism, all in recent books that have become international bestsellers.

A Japanese man reads a comic strip of “Das Kapital” by Karl Marx in Tokyo on May 11, 2009, as the Japanese Communist Party experienced an increase in membership during the country’s economic crisis. Labor market deregulation has made it easier for companies to hire and fire workers, and traditional life-long jobs in Japan have given way to uncertainty and lower wages for the latest generation to enter. the work market. Japan may be the world’s second-largest economy, but as it experiences its worst slump since 1945, with corporate titans entering the red and cutting jobs, a young grassroots movement has started to question the system. capitalist. (AFP / AFP)

As an ecosocialist with evangelistic fervor, Saito expounded his ideas on Marx in NHK’s “A Masterpiece in 100 Minutes”, which provides an expert with a forum to explain a famous and often difficult work in four. 25-minute segments broadcast over a month.

Over 250,000 copies of his Japanese book “Capital in the Anthropocene” have been published, for which he won the “New Book Award 2021” selected by publishers, bookstore staff and journalists.

“Maybe many young people got her book because of the influence of Greta Thunberg, who accused countries and companies of being involved in destroying the environment,” the book’s publisher said. .

Winner of the prestigious Deutscher Memorial Prize in 2018 for another book he published in English – himself translated from the original German – Saito argues that Marx saw the environmental crisis inherent in capitalism but left his critique of the unfinished political economy.

Marx, in his later years, Saito argues, was keenly aware of the destructive consequences for the environment of the capitalist regime. Saito describes the ecological crisis trends under capitalism using the key concept of “metabolic loophole”.

“We have reached the limit of passing the buck in the future,” Saito said, suggesting he is an advocate of the “3.5 percent rule” of small minorities bringing social, economic and political change through. through non-violent protests.

“If 3.5% of the population rises in a non-violent way, society will change. I want to encourage action,” Saito said.