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 expounded in the 19th-century German thinker’s seminal “Das Kapital” from a conservation perspective. environment in a bestselling book published last September.

Two recent books, including the bestseller “Capital in the Anthropocene” (R), published by Kohei Saito, are pictured on April 14, 2021. (Kyodo)

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 success of the book resulted in an invitation from the Japanese public broadcaster NHK to comment on Marx‘s founding theoretical text, known by its full title in English as “Capital: A Critique of Political Economy”, at the event. ‘a program aired in January.

Kohei Saito is pictured on September 17, 2020 in Tokyo. (Kyodo)

“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 Inc., 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 mass production and mass consumption under capitalism by pursuing a more humanistic path favoring social welfare. and ecological 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. “

The corner of the book “Reviving Marx” at the main branch of the Maruzen bookstore chain in the Marunouchi district of Tokyo is pictured on April 9, 2021. (Kyodo)

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.

Karl Marx. (Hulton Archives / Getty / Kyodo)

He uses an expression first from French, interpreted as “when I will be dead, the deluge can come for anything”, to cynically describe the arrogance and selfishness of the capitalist who sees nothing in front of him but immediate profits without worrying about the future after leaving.

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.

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 environmental destruction,” 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 environmental consequences 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 nonviolent manner, society will change. I want to encourage action,” Saito said.