This paper sheds new light on artistic production and political agitation by a small cadre of rural authors led by Inuta Shigeru (1891-1957), whose “agrarian ideology” emphasized mutual aid, anti-capitalism, and anti-imperialism. The group produced manifestoes and polemics, but it also regarded literary writing as central to its project, producing poetry, imaginative prose, and cultural criticism. In the monthly journal The Farmer (Nōmin, 1927-1933) the Ibaraki-born Inuta attacked not only the essentialist picture of the countryside according to ultra-conservatives, but also the Marxist formulations of his ostensible anti-capitalist, anti-fascist allies in the proletarian movement. Emphasizing the role of the agrarian laborer not only as material producer, but also as intermediary between the human and natural worlds, Inuta and his coterie set forth a vision of the farmer as society’s one truly irreplaceable cultural producer, guided by a political and artistic philosophy of “humility before nature, and collaborative sentiment before men.”
The study of Inuta and The Farmer suggests a richness and diversity of cultural life in and of rural, prewar Japan that the discursive dominance of ultra-conservative nōhonshugi has long obscured. Scholars have mostly taken at face value the sensational accusations of “fascism” that prominent proletarians leveled at Inuta and his allies. But the debates of the 1930s and persistent misapprehensions surrounding The Farmer and its “agrarian ideology” also reveal the continuing challenge to an independent and consciously progressive rural art.