Vienna, January 25 – U.S. General Douglas MacArthur’s transformation of Japan after Tokyo’s defeat in World War II represents “literally a handbook for the modernization of a non-Western country” which Russia should adopt if it ever hopes to move forward, according to a leading Russian analyst.
That is all the more so, Irina Pavlova says, because both “the Russian powers that be” and their “liberal” and Western critics tend to assume that modernization can be achieved either with economic reforms alone or by a combination of such reforms and a rhetorical commitment to changes in politics and culture (grani.ru/Politics/Russia/m.173633.html).
But in fact, as the successful experience of MacArthur in Japan shows, she continues, modernization of authoritarian polities and societies requires a far broader approach, one that touches on far more aspects of life than just economics and that is far more difficult and likely to be resisted than changes in one sector alone.
Pavlova says that she was prompted to write this essay by a comment Russian economist Yevgeny Yasin made recently on Ekho Moskvy. He suggested that “it will be difficult [for Russia] to catch up with the US,” but “perhaps” Japan can become an example for us,” given what it achieved after 1945.
“At the same time,” he said, “we began to industrialize. At the same time, we made revolutions and we fought a war. But we won in the Great War, and they lost. But for some reason or other, we puffed ourselves up to the dimensions of a super power and, as a result, suffered a catastrophe,” while Japan over the same period experienced “an economic miracle.”
In explaining this distinction, Pavlova notes, Yasin acknowledges the role of MacArthur, but the Moscow economist “characterized it above all as important, having noted his definite steps with regard to the liberalization of the [Japanese] economy,” an evaluation that she suggests is “typical” for Russian liberals but one that misses some important points.
According to Pavlova, Russian liberals “say all the right words about the need for modernizing ‘not only in the sphere of economics but also in the political and social spheres’ … [but] when the issue approaches real questions, then the liberals in a confused way imagine how it is possible to achieve this without the Russian powers that be.”
This shortcoming, she continues, was shown by “how they used the unique for them historic chance in August 1991 and how up to now they defend the results of their own policies.” Meanwhile, “the powers that be have been historically interested only in technological modernization.”
As a result, “Russia is a country in which not one liberal reform was carried out to the end,” why after they were announced “counter-reforms followed” – “all because both the powers that be and the liberals were afraid of the people which even during the period of reforms remained” under tight control.
That is what sets the situation of post-war Japan apart and why it could “really serve as an example of modernization for Russia,” Pavlova argues. Indeed, the transformations of that country which MacArthur carried out represent even now “a handbook for the modernization of a non-Western country.”
“The problems of Japan after its defeat in World War II and the problems of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union were similar,” she argues. Both were highly centralized and militarized societies in which “the secret police ruled.” And both had to change radically to move forward: Japan did, but Russia has not.
The major difference between the two is that today, Russia remains “an occupied country. Its people are occupied by its own powers that be, who control the special services, the internal forces and the militia,” and it has a regime which sets itself up against the people and works to strengthen itself by subordinating the population.
During the American occupation of Japan after World War II, Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin criticized MacArthur for being too soft toward the Japanese. But the general consistently maintained that his goal was not revenge and subordination “but the conversion of Japan into a contemporary country.”
To that end, MacArthur wrote in his memoirs, he strove to “destroy the military might” of Japan and “punish military criminals,” to form a representative government and modernize the constitution, to conduct free elections and give rights to women, to free political prisoners and the peasantry, and to create an independent labor union.
Moreover, the American general said, he sought to “guarantee the conditions for the development of a free economy,” to eliminate political pressure, to liberalize education, to decentralize political power and to separate religion from the state – a far broader program of modernization than the one Yasin seems to assume was sufficient.
After five years, Japan was transformed and able to develop in the ways that it has since then, Pavlova points out; and its experience, she insists, thus represents “an instructive case for Russia which already for more than 20 years has been carrying out reforms but which up to the present day continues to praise Stalin as a reformer.”