Workers Vanguard No. 1020
22 March 2013
Japanese Imperialism Steps Up Threats Against North Korea, China
This article is based on a recent report from the Spartacist Group/Japan, section of the International Communist League (Fourth Internationalist).
The economic situation for Japan continues to be dire even compared with other imperialist countries, with less than 1 percent growth of the gross domestic product in 2012. With a contracting domestic market, the only perspective for the bourgeoisie is to increase overseas investments and seek increased profits from those investments. The protection of those investments, ultimately through military means, is a life-and-death question for the ruling class.
Intertwined with this goal is the imperialist bourgeoisie’s strategic aim of undoing the social revolutions that overturned capitalist rule in countries of Asia (China, North Korea, Vietnam and Laos). China, with its massive economy and population, is the central target. Imperialism will never cease its quest to reverse the Chinese Revolution, which in 1949 ripped a quarter of the world’s population out of the realm of direct imperialist exploitation. Japan is continuously building up its military and related technology in the framework of its strategic alliance with the U.S. Massive Japan-U.S. military exercises were held in the fall of 2012 in the Okinawa area, with close to 50,000 soldiers.
For the first time in years, under the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government elected in December, Tokyo has increased the war budget and plans to increase the size of the armed forces by almost 20,000. This is explicitly motivated as “countering the threat” from China and North Korea. The LDP is the perennial ruling party of big business. Before being ousted by the Democratic Party (DP) in the 2009 elections, it was in office for all but ten months since 1955. Formed out of split-offs from the LDP, the DP—which also picked up numerous defectors from the Social Democratic Party (formerly Socialist Party)—is a bourgeois party that postured as being more sympathetic to the common people. The DP, which gets electoral support from the pro-capitalist trade-union bureaucracy, championed renewed militarism when it held office by, for example, relaxing the law that had restricted the export of military goods and establishing Japan’s first overseas military base since World War II, in Djibouti.
Disgruntlement with the LDP over the world financial crisis propelled the DP’s 2009 victory. But just over three years later it was swept out. The DP had promised to move an American military base from Okinawa but reneged in the face of the enraged response of the U.S., Japan’s key ally. In December the LDP took over again as the DP lost three-quarters of its seats in the parliament’s lower house. Aggressive support for increased militarism and China-bashing was at the center of the whole bourgeois electoral circus.
The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) occasionally mildly protests that such militarism is “unconstitutional,” but for the most part these reformists promote social-chauvinist defense of “our” country. When the government deployed its own missiles to shoot down North Korea’s recently launched missile (in case “it fell down” on Japanese territory), the JCP made no protest. True to form, the JCP saluted recent UN sanctions against North Korea. Amid the imperialist military build-up, there have been massive mobilizations in Okinawa against U.S. military bases, with the direct support of a number of local bourgeois figures. The JCP and the rest of the reformist left seek to channel popular anger against the U.S. bases in a nationalist direction. The JCP calls to “abrogate the U.S.-Japan alliance” and likes to portray Japan as a nation subjugated by U.S. imperialism.
The slogan of the Spartacist Group/Japan is “Smash the counterrevolutionary alliance of Japanese and U.S. imperialism through workers revolution on both sides of the Pacific!” It remains our strategic task to raise the proletariat’s consciousness of the connection between the struggle to defend its own living standards against the capitalist bosses at home and the need for the defense of the deformed workers states against capitalist counterrevolution. The defense of those states is linked to our program for workers political revolutions against the anti-revolutionary Stalinist bureaucracies.
Propping Up South Korea
A key pillar of capitalist rule in Asia is military cooperation by the U.S.-Japan alliance with the South Korean bourgeoisie. The Japanese government hailed the election of conservative candidate Park Geun-hye in December and expects relations with South Korea to improve under her government. Notably, her father, Park Chung-hee—who headed the brutal anti-Communist military dictatorship for close to 20 years—received his military training in Japan so that he could serve as an officer in Japan’s colonial military police in occupied China in the 1940s. He had warm relations with Japan’s right wing, in particular the WWII war criminal Nobosuke Kishi, going back to the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. Shinzo Abe, the new prime minister, happens to be Kishi’s grandson. The Japanese media has approvingly cited an anecdote about Park Geun-hye from the time her father was killed in 1979: rather than cry, her immediate reaction was to worry whether the border with North Korea was secure.
In the summer of 2012, the visit of then-South Korean president Lee Myung-bak to the contested and uninhabited Takeshima/Dokdo islands inflamed both Korean and Japanese nationalist feelings. Hugely unpopular at home, Lee tried to use nationalism to increase his support. We are indifferent to the ownership of these rocks. While denouncing Japanese revanchism in the strongest terms, we oppose the nationalist campaign in both countries. The JCP, naturally, immediately joined in the national unity chorus against the South Korean president’s visit. But even the JCP has to admit that Japan first claimed those islands at a time when the Korean peninsula was under the thumb of the Japanese colonial administration.
U.S. imperialism has been concerned that its two key anti-Communist allies in the region are going at each other over some rocks. The JCP’s posture very much mirrors this position. In the territorial dispute with China over the Senkaku islands (known as the Diaoyu in China), the JCP demands an “aggressive” diplomatic anti-China stance. But in regard to the dispute with South Korea, the JCP demands a more careful and “softer” approach. The JCP thinks that Tokyo should start by “apologizing” to South Korea over Japan’s crimes when it was the colonial overlord…and then convince Korea that these rocks are Japanese.
In the context of this territorial row, Lee Myung-bak demanded an apology from the Japanese Emperor over Japan’s colonial crimes in Korea. This predictably caused an uproar in bourgeois circles. While the JCP voted against the parliamentary resolution denouncing South Korea over this conflict (because it “escalated tensions”), the party was silent on the question of the emperor itself, a glaring capitulation to the reactionary emperor system.
East and Southeast Asia remain an arena of fierce economic competition among the imperialists, centrally the U.S. and Japan. The U.S.-South Korea Free Trade Agreement, which went into effect in March 2012, eliminates South Korean tariffs on two-thirds of U.S. farm products; U.S. grain exporters are salivating over anticipated profits (see “U.S.-South Korea Trade Pact Targets China, Korean Workers,” WV No. 1008, 14 September 2012).
A key target for Japanese imperialism is the Philippines (as well as Thailand and Indonesia). The government has been noting with satisfaction an increase in political stability in the Philippines neocolony under the current Aquino leadership. The Japanese army is in Somalia, but there has been virtually no press coverage about Somalia in recent months. The longest-standing foreign deployment by the Japanese army, in the Golan Heights, was terminated recently due to the heightened tensions in Syria, which Japan fears getting embroiled in. There continue to be tensions over oil with the U.S. Still relatively dependent on Iranian oil, Japan demanded—and received—an exemption from Washington’s sanctions aimed at strangling Iran while agreeing to increase imports from countries like Saudi Arabia, thus strengthening Iran’s isolation.
Overall, China continues to be the most important location for Japanese investment and Japan’s biggest trading partner by far. At the same time, under the slogan of “China plus one,” companies seek to decrease dependence on China by pursuing other Asian countries. For the past two years, new investments in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations have exceeded new investments in China. Shinzo Abe’s first trip as prime minister was to this region. One aim of the bourgeoisie is to “roll back” Chinese economic and political influence in Southeast Asia, using massive amounts of aid, loans, etc.
The aim of destroying the Chinese deformed workers state through capitalist counterrevolution remains central to all maneuvers by the bourgeoisie. An important shift in the Japanese domestic political situation was triggered by a “proposal” by right-wing hawk Shintaro Ishihara (at the time the governor of Tokyo) to buy the Senkaku islands in order to bring them under direct Tokyo government control. Showing the popular appeal of this nationalist plan, he collected enormous amounts of money from the population. This was at bottom a demagogic ploy, seeking to force the hand of the government to “nationalize” these islands, which is exactly what happened.
This move in turn led to an enormous nationalist, anti-Japan outburst in China, the largest in decades according to the Japanese bourgeois press, with retrograde nationalism being encouraged by the Stalinist bureaucrats in Beijing. The ICL takes no position on whether the uninhabited Senkaku/Diaoyu islands belong to Japan or China. But in the event of a military conflict threatening the deformed workers state, we unconditionally defend China against imperialism.
The protests in China had a negative impact on the Japanese capitalists’ profits by bringing about a decrease in exports from Japan as well as a decrease in production in their factories in China. Initially, there were dissenting voices within the bourgeoisie, denouncing Ishihara as “irresponsible,” and Japan’s ambassador to China was fired after voicing soft opposition. Outrageously, but not surprisingly, the JCP danced to Ishihara’s tune, demanding that the national government, not the city of Tokyo, “nationalize” these islands.
The Domestic Situation and the General Elections
The LDP swept the general elections to the lower house, gaining a two-thirds majority of seats together with its bloc partner, the Buddhist Komeito party. Abe is on the right wing of the LDP and was prime minister for about a year between 2006 and 2007. The LDP victory is a result of a combination of factors: hatred for the previous DP government, the lowest electoral participation since World War II (with less than 60 percent of the electorate voting) and the very undemocratic voting system. Ominously, Ishihara’s even more right-wing Japan Restoration Party (JRP) did well. The reformist workers parties were battered, particularly the Social Democratic Party.
In Abe’s previous term, while mending relations with China somewhat, his main achievements for the bourgeoisie were a number of ideologically driven measures, e.g., upgrading the Defense Agency to the Defense Ministry, pushing for more reactionary educational policies and laying the groundwork for a referendum to change the “Peace Constitution.” Imposed on Japan by the victorious U.S. imperialists after WWII, the Constitution decrees, in its Article Nine, that Japan will “forever renounce war…and the threat or use of force as a means of settling international disputes.” The SGJ opposes any changes in Article Nine that would aid Japanese imperialism in deploying its military might in Asia. At the same time, in combatting pacifist illusions, we stress that no constitution can prevent the bourgeoisie from using its military forces to defend its interests. The main effect of Article Nine is that the army is euphemistically called “Self-Defense Forces.” Nonetheless, opposition to the Constitution remains a rallying cry for bourgeois right-wingers.
To a large extent, Abe’s fall in 2007 was provoked by economic problems, with anger at the base of society and, significantly, among the small capitalists. The previous LDP prime minister, Junichiro Koizumi, had strongly emphasized questions of the economy while Abe pushed patriotism, racism and “family values.” It is not an accident that this time around Abe has been stressing “economic recovery” as his highest priority. At the same time, one of the first acts of the new government was to finalize the racist decision taken by the prior Democratic Party government to exclude Korean high schools in Japan from receiving the subsidies that make public high schools free of charge.
Abe has been on a public relations campaign promising to deal aggressively with economic woes by large-scale investment in public infrastructure (hardly a new idea) and massive “financial easing,” i.e., throwing money at the banks for investment and especially financial speculation. This plan provoked quite a discussion within the bourgeoisie. With the DP denouncing the LDP for “wasteful spending,” even the Keidanren bosses’ federation initially attacked Abe as “reckless,” which they later retracted. At bottom, sections of the bourgeoisie warned Abe that this policy of limitless buying of government bonds by the central bank was Japan’s pre-WWII policy, which ended in catastrophe and collapse.
And of course, even if such measures “work” in bourgeois terms, they will only prepare the next bubble. Fundamentally, what this debate signifies is the lack of alternatives for the bourgeoisie, with no perspective of rebuilding an economy that has been in decline for more than 20 years. Even the business daily Nikkei warned: “Economic recovery. There is no magic.” In 2012 alone, the stock market saw an overall increase of over 20 percent. While the finance capitalists were raking it in, the masses were simply getting poorer.
Since the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster, the ruling class has pushed a campaign of massive attacks on living standards while promoting “national unity.” The question has been posed: In what direction will anger and frustration among the population go and how will it be expressed? It is widely noted that in addition to anti-China nationalism, it was worries about the economic situation that largely determined voters’ decisions not to support the DP. In this regard, it is also notable that by December 2012 the issue of nuclear power was not a central issue in the election. (The LDP all along has said it intends to restart the reactors, an unpopular position.)
The domestic situation over the last couple of months has been centrally marked by a sharp turn to the right in bourgeois discourse and more open militarism and nationalism over the territorial disputes. In a major speech to the Diet (parliament) in late February, Abe claimed there was “no ownership dispute” over the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands because they “clearly belong to Japan.” Ludicrously alleging “continued challenges to our borders and sovereignty,” which he claimed constituted a “clear and present danger,” Abe ominously evoked the war between Britain and Argentina over the Falklands/Malvinas islands in 1982 (Wall Street Journal online, 27 February).
A month before the elections, the hard-core right-wing ideologue Shintaro Ishihara joined Toru Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration Party, which had been formed by Hashimoto (mayor of Osaka) in September. The party’s name harks back to the Meiji Restoration of 1867-68, and its spokesmen borrow a number of terms from that period for their speeches. This is intended to stress how they want to “radically” change Japan. Ishihara is a longtime, all-purpose reactionary and militarist. Always a hawk against China, in 2002 he went on a rant demanding that Japan declare war on North Korea. He has also denied that the 1937 Nanjing Massacre, carried out by the Japanese during their occupation of China, ever occurred, describing it as just Chinese propaganda. Hashimoto, for his part, is known for his strong nationalist positions and for his aggressive line in going after trade unions, targeting in particular public employees and teachers.
The Japan Restoration Party sees itself as a right-wing pressure group on the LDP, openly proclaiming the need for nuclear weapons, advocating abolition of the minimum wage, etc. They see the current political situation as an opportunity to push forward with reactionary Constitutional revision. Following the upper house elections in the summer, they might increase their weight and impact on the direction of the government.
The Long Shadow of the Fukushima Disaster
The March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster continue to cast their shadow on Japanese society (see “Japan Tsunami Disaster and Capitalist Criminality,” WV No. 978, 15 April 2011). There are still nearly 320,000 people who have not been able to return to their homes, many of whom lost their jobs. The workers on temporary contracts who heroically fought to bring the meltdown at the Daiichi nuclear power plant under control have been mostly cast off—fired and sent back to their hometowns, making it nearly impossible to track the impact on their health of the exposure to high radiation. After Fukushima, the JCP made a turn to a line of “zero nuclear power,” and its daily paper Akahata now regularly exposes the plight of former workers and residents of the devastated region. The JCP’s perspective is going to court to challenge the big electrical companies for their undeniably illegal abuse of the workers.
The tsunami was a natural disaster, but the appalling toll in human lives was in large measure a product of the unbridled greed and corruption that flow naturally from an anarchic economic system premised on the drive for private profit. In the interests of holding down costs, the TEPCO electric utility company had for years ignored every kind of basic safety consideration, with the eager collusion of the government. In the aftermath of the disaster, the government enraged the population with a stream of cover-ups and disinformation aimed at downplaying the danger of leaking radiation. In the aftermath, the bourgeois rulers used the tragedy as a justification for further militarization of society, with the largest call-up of military forces since the end of WWII. Prattling about supposedly shared “national interests” and touting the army as “heroes,” they imposed security measures that prevented food and other urgently needed assistance from reaching desperate people.
Last summer a massive anti-nuclear campaign developed, based on widespread fears about nuclear power and a stream of exposures of how the government and electrical companies never cared about safety at these plants. Mobilizations were as large as 200,000 people, including outraged youth, workers and the petty bourgeoisie, religious groups and all types of “greens.” While working-class contingents were mobilized by the JCP, these protests were class-collaborationist through and through, with a number of bourgeois organizations participating in or leading them. Sponsors of the anti-nuclear energy campaign gathered close to eight million signatures on a petition to the government demanding that nuclear reactors throughout Japan not be restarted. Showing its contempt, one day after the signatures were handed in, the government restarted the first reactor, which is likely sitting right on top of an earthquake fault. While the mass of people supporting this campaign are motivated by fully justified distrust of the government and the greedy energy conglomerates, the central demands (“No to nuclear power! Turn to natural energy sources!”) are not pro-working-class or socially progressive demands.
As communists, the ICL does not give advice to the ruling class about what might be more rational energy policies for running capitalist industry. While nuclear plants may be a particularly risky business in Japan, a country vulnerable to serious earthquakes, no form of energy production is without risks to workers and nearby communities. Throughout industry, we call for trade-union control of working conditions and, where there are specific hazards, for union action to shut down dangerous operations. But ultimately, under capitalism concerns about workers’ safety will always be sacrificed to the bosses’ unremitting drive for greater profits.
The Workers Movement and the Reformist Left
Deindustrialization has accelerated: over the last 20 years six million manufacturing jobs were lost, with close to 1.5 million lost over the past four years. This has hit the mainstays of union power in the manufacturing sector hard. There is the fact of job losses, a decrease in union membership and the undermining of the potential power of the unions. This has a real impact on proletarian consciousness, as do the betrayals of the trade-union leaders who refuse to fight to defend jobs. Official unemployment for people under 24 is around 10 percent. Union membership is at the lowest point since the postwar period, with fewer than ten million members, some 20 percent less than at the highest point in 1994. The huge number of workers in unstable employment (including temporary and part-time workers and those who work for small subcontractors), whom the trade union bureaucracy is not fighting to unionize, is a large factor in demoralizing the working class as a whole.
The JCP has waged a big campaign over the last few months protesting a plan to fire 130,000 workers in the electronics industry. However, the campaign is counterposed to any independent mobilization of the working class, instead consisting of complaints that layoffs and plant closures also hurt the local petty bourgeoisie and are bad for local tax revenues. The JCP wraps its campaign in nationalism, attacking huge companies for their “American management style”—in other words, companies more easily firing workers—and for Japan’s “loss of technology” when plants are moved to lower-wage countries (Akahata, 30 September 2012).
The number of industrial accidents—not only at nuclear power plants—has drastically increased in recent years. An accident in the Sasago tunnel in December 2012 received international press coverage. In this atrocity, nine people were killed near the city of Otsuki, about 50 miles west of Tokyo, when concrete slabs weighing 1.2 tons apiece fell onto vehicles from the ceiling of a highway tunnel. This “accident” was a direct outcome of the privatization of the national roadway system under Koizumi, undermining the maintenance of that system. Another widely publicized case last fall was a gas fire in a chemical plant where the firemen arriving at the scene were blown up by a further explosion. Compounding the bourgeoisie’s refusal to spend money on infrastructure and safety procedures is the increasing use of inexperienced and untrained casual workers.
The Social Democratic Party, having joined the DP government in 2009, was thrown out like a squeezed lemon after opposing the deal with the U.S. over military bases in Okinawa. In the recent elections, the JCP lost one parliamentary seat, reducing its seats from nine to eight, while the SDP barely got two seats and lost close to 50 percent of its former votes. The SDP is hugely dependent on government financial subsidies for its survival, and defections of top leaders to the openly bourgeois camp have been frequent.
Neither JCP- nor SDP-related unions are centrally anchored in the core manufacturing industries, although both have a base in rail. Following the anti-Communist offensive in the early postwar period and the dissolution of the powerful union federation it led, the JCP was to a large extent driven out of manufacturing, although today it organizes some part-time and irregular workers in industry. Concomitantly the JCP has a relatively strong base in the petty bourgeoisie, which is a material basis for the particularly obnoxious nationalist and reactionary positions the party has taken. Given that it became anti-Soviet decades before the final destruction of the USSR by capitalist counterrevolution, it was less affected by that cataclysmic event than Communist parties in Europe. It remains a mass party, social-democratic rather than Stalinist.
While the reformist left is only offering illusions in making Japanese imperialism slightly less rapacious or exploitative, the SGJ continues the fight to crystallize a communist vanguard in order to build a revolutionary workers party. That party will struggle to lead the working class in the overthrow of Japanese capitalist rule, joining with the proletariat of the entire region in the fight for a socialist Asia.