Workers Vanguard No. 1080
11 December 2015
Japan: Protests Against Militarism
Down With U.S.-Japan Counterrevolutionary Alliance!
TOKYO—Amid widespread opposition and mass protests, the right-wing government led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) rammed new “National Security Laws” (NSL) through the Upper House of parliament in an overnight session on September 18. The NSL authorize the Japanese military to engage in combat overseas in support of an ally such as the United States or in pursuit of so-called collective security. Not without symbolism, the parliamentary session took place on the anniversary of the “Manchu Incident,” which signaled the start of the 1931 invasion of China by Japanese imperialism.
The central purpose of the current laws is to further strengthen the military encirclement of China, a bureaucratically deformed workers state created by the overthrow of capitalist rule in the 1949 Chinese Revolution. In this intent, Japan collaborates closely with U.S. imperialism. While overshadowed by the American military behemoth, the Japanese state has at its disposal a standing army—euphemistically called the “Self-Defense Forces”—of close to 250,000 active troops. With the seventh largest military budget in the world, Japan possesses top-notch military technology in some fields, such as ultra-silent submarines. For 2016, the government is proposing Japan’s highest military budget in the post-World War II (WWII) period.
If the hawkish Abe administration had counted on its anti-China scaremongering to line up a majority of the population to support or at least acquiesce to these laws, the task proved to be not so easy. An anti-government protest movement, of a scope quite unprecedented in recent years, developed in opposition to the warmongers. Protest rallies repeatedly mobilized tens of thousands, ranging from mothers’ organizations and kindergarten nurses to workers’ assemblies, with students playing a leading role in initiating a broad protest movement. Notably, support ratings for the Abe administration, very high for years, fell to 30 to 40 percent at the height of the protest movement over the summer.
The first protests last May were small but the events grew steadily. Over 100,000 people surrounded the parliament building on July 15, when the government forced the bills through the Lower House. Even after the legislation was passed, 25,000 people rallied against it on September 23. Smaller protests continue on a regular basis. The prominent protest group Students Emergency Action for Liberal Democracy (SEALDs) describes its aim as “bringing together the forces of liberalism” in Japan. These young people reject the bourgeoisie’s refrains about the need to sacrifice for the country, and many say they wish for a “peaceful world.”
Opponents of the drive toward militarism often base their arguments on the provisions of the postwar Japanese constitution, imposed on the country by the American occupation forces after Japan’s defeat in WWII. The Constitution’s Article 9 states that Japan forever renounces the use of force to settle international disputes. As communist opponents of the Japanese bourgeoisie, the Spartacist Group Japan of course opposes any reactionary revisions of the Constitution. But we forthrightly combat illusions that this document or any other piece of paper can “prevent war.” No capitalist ruling class in history has ever been constrained by its own laws from employing violent repression and war when it feels its own class interests are at stake.
While the protests’ dominant politics do not go beyond liberalism and pacifism, nonetheless it is a good thing that there is a widespread horror of imperialist war and distrust of the government. The SGJ has participated in a number of the protests, selling our press and discussing our views with workers and youth. We have explained that the working class worldwide needs to defend the Chinese workers state against the Japanese imperialists and have argued that militarism is inherent to capitalist rule and can only be finally defeated by socialist revolution.
The LDP had planned a series of activities to rally the population around the bills, but canceled many of them, recognizing they would likely draw more protesters than supporters. Anger against the new militarization laws was shown when Abe was booed in Okinawa when he attended a ceremony commemorating Japanese war dead. In Tokyo, a key leader of the LDP, Sadakazu Tanigaki, met with a similarly hostile reception on June 7. In the face of this opposition, on September 16, the government unleashed its cops against anti-militarism demonstrators, making numerous arrests. Protest leader Aki Okuda has reportedly received death threats.
The Abe government is following in the footsteps of the previous Democratic Party government (2009-12), which also pursued military buildup targeting China, most notably the Japanese government’s declaration nationalizing the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in September 2012. The NSL are a message that in any military conflict with China or North Korea, which is also a deformed workers state, the Japanese bourgeoisie intends to bring its military power fully to bear in league with the U.S. imperialist forces. The new laws are part of the ongoing strengthening of the counterrevolutionary U.S.-Japan military alliance. The key sectors of big business stand fully behind Abe on this question, as declarations by the major bosses’ associations have shown. As communists, we say: Down with the NSL! Down with Japanese imperialism!
Defend the Gains of the Chinese Revolution!
The 1949 Chinese Revolution was a world-historic event that still defines the political situation in East Asia. It ended the rule of the rapacious indigenous capitalists and landlords and liberated the most populous nation on earth from imperialist subjugation. Enormous strides forward in the living standards of the masses, in education, health and nutrition as well as women’s access to society more broadly—especially in comparison to other poor countries that have remained capitalist, such as India—are living proof that a collectivized economy is superior to capitalism and represents a historical advance.
Resulting from the military victory of peasant-guerrilla forces led by the Stalinist Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in a civil war, the workers state issuing out of the 1949 Revolution was bureaucratically deformed from its inception. While bourgeois property relations were smashed and a collectivized economy established, the Revolution brought to political power a Stalinist, nationalist bureaucratic regime which is an obstacle to development toward socialism (a classless society) and which opposes the revolutionary conquest of power by workers in other lands.
Until it was destroyed by imperialist-backed counterrevolution in 1991-92, the Soviet Union was the industrial and military powerhouse of the states where capitalism had been overthrown and hence the chief target of the imperialist powers led by the U.S. Today, China has taken center stage in their counterrevolutionary designs. We unconditionally defend China against imperialism and internal counterrevolution and fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the Stalinist rulers. The best defense of China’s gains is workers revolutions in the imperialist centers. Since its emergence as an imperialist power in the late 19th century, the Japanese ruling class has longed to dominate China. Today this appetite is redoubled as the rulers in Tokyo and Washington seek to undo the 1949 Revolution and reconquer China for unrestricted imperialist plunder.
Okinawa Bases: Dagger Aimed at China
In recent years, the U.S. imperialists, even while bogged down in the Near East quagmire, have been moving some of their most advanced military hardware into the Asia-Pacific region. The important Yokosuka naval base is the home port for a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier. Hand in hand with the U.S., Tokyo is now moving to build new military bases in Okinawa and is creating an amphibious landing force directly targeting China. The frequent pretext is “defense of the Senkaku Islands.” We defend China’s control of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands and also fully support China’s development projects—including military installations—in the South China Sea. This area has become a critical focal point of imperialist efforts to encircle China. This is recognized by such bourgeois ideologues as Robert D. Kaplan: “Just as German soil constituted the military front line of the Cold War, the waters of the South China Sea may constitute the military front line of the coming decades” (Asia’s Cauldron—The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific, 2014). This fall, the U.S. provocatively sent a Yokosuka-based American destroyer into the seas around the Spratly (Nansha) Islands to dramatically underline its opposition to China’s construction of new islands.
Following its victory in WWII, the U.S. moved immediately to establish direct military administration of Okinawa (in fact the island was returned to Japanese civil administration only in 1972, two decades after the rest of the country). As Chinese Communist forces were driving out the corrupt bourgeois forces of Chiang Kai-shek in the late 1940s, the U.S. fortified Okinawa as a military bastion, establishing bases often by direct confiscation of land. These bases were soon to be used in the counterrevolutionary wars against the workers and peasants in Korea and later in Vietnam.
U.S. military planners have long termed Okinawa the “keystone of the Pacific”; today as part of the anti-China buildup, its military significance, and that of the surrounding islands and islets, is growing. Now, Japanese imperialism is increasing its own presence with the building of new military bases as well as increasingly sharing military facilities with the U.S. In Henoko, Okinawa—against strong local opposition—the Japanese government is building a super-modern base for U.S. Marines. Today intended to be a launching pad for U.S. and Japanese marauding and provocations in the region, it is also a potential future base for the Japanese navy.
The island’s military bases have been a focus of popular protest by Okinawa’s people for decades. Demonstrations were often sparked by particular instances of U.S. soldiers’ male-chauvinist pig behavior toward local women, but the opposition on Okinawa to military bases is deeply rooted. Last summer, one LDP “study group” meeting in Tokyo openly mooted the suppression of the two main bourgeois newspapers in Okinawa, which reflect the dominant anti-bases sentiment, prompting a storm of protest. The passing of the NSL also puts wind in the sails of ultramilitarist right-wingers; indeed the night after the new laws were passed, a group of violent rightists, obviously in cahoots with the cops, assaulted anti-bases protesters at Henoko. We say: All U.S. military bases out! Down with the U.S./Japan Military Security Treaty! Smash the counterrevolutionary U.S.-Japan military alliance through workers revolution on both sides of the Pacific!
Pacifism and the Protest Movement
Today in Japan (as in the United States), the view is widespread that World War II was a “war against fascism” in which the Anglo-American “Allies” were fighting for “democracy.” But WWII, like WWI, was an interimperialist war fought for control of colonies, markets and spheres of influence. The late-arriving imperialist powers, Germany, Italy and Japan, had been mostly shut out of what they saw as their share of Asia and Africa.
Authentic Marxists opposed all the imperialist powers in WWII and fought for international working-class solidarity and for revolutionary struggle against the capitalist rulers at home. At the same time, our revolutionary forebears unconditionally defended the Soviet Union against the imperialists. They also championed the movements for national independence which emerged in the colonies while the imperialists were busy fighting each other. In contrast, after Germany invaded the USSR in June 1941, the parties of the Stalinized Communist movement were patriots and opponents of class struggle in the capitalist countries that were allied with the USSR; in the oppressed colonies of those Allied imperialists they opposed pursuing the struggle for national and social liberation.
When the U.S. dropped atomic bombs on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945, Japan was already defeated. The bombs, whose purpose was to showcase the new weapon in order to intimidate the Soviet Union, killed some 200,000 people. The war and Japan’s defeat instilled in broad layers of the Japanese population deep fear and hatred of war that remain important factors in politics today. One of the consequences is that there remains strong popular attachment to the “peace Constitution.” Although what the bourgeoisie really wants is the outright revision of the Constitution, it does not feel confident enough right now to go for that, which would require a referendum. From this hesitancy came the tactic of passing laws that “re-interpret” the Constitution.
Following Japan’s defeat in 1945, a powerful workers upsurge began, sparked by a strike by Chinese and Korean prisoners of war and forced laborers in the mines of Hokkaido (the northernmost Japanese island). There were massive strikes, which led in some industries and parts of the country to the establishment of “production control” committees—workers committees that took over factories and exercised, in different degrees, control over production, challenging bourgeois property rights. It was in this context that the U.S. occupiers basically wrote and imposed the Constitution on Japan.
The working people had suffered great material privation in the war, and the power structure had lost all authority through defeat. Thus, the top priority for the occupation was to ensure orderly capitalist rule in Japan. The Constitution naturally enshrined private property and, importantly, upheld the emperor system, a crucial institution of social stability, nominally at variance with the professed democratic values of America. As the strike wave was growing, in January 1946 General Douglas MacArthur, supreme commander of the occupation, wrote to Dwight Eisenhower (U.S. Army Chief of Staff) that Japan would collapse if the emperor were removed. At the same time, the occupation aimed to prevent the re-emergence of a challenge to U.S. power in the Pacific; hence the Constitution stipulates that Japan “will never” maintain “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential” (Article 9).
On the heels of the outbreak of strikes in September 1945 and with the aim of establishing stable worker-management relations, the occupation mandated new union rights for Japanese workers. The American overlords also voided the repressive laws that had illegalized Communists since 1925 and let the surviving leftist prisoners out of Japanese hellhole jails. The Japanese Communist Party (JCP) immediately began to play a prominent role in the labor struggles.
But the JCP used its authority to betray the strike wave in the name of supporting bourgeois “democracy.” In line with its position that Japan was some kind of semi-feudal society, it hailed the occupation for moving against “feudalistic elements” and painted it as playing a progressive role. This was a continuation of the JCP’s line of supporting the Allies in the war. Of course, the occupation soon shifted course: soon after the JCP’s betrayal of the 1947 general strike, a campaign was unleashed against leftists and workers’ leaders, with tens of thousands of militants fired between 1949 and 1951. The 1948 ban on strikes by government workers, who had been in the forefront of labor militancy, was an important step.
The repression escalated after the Chinese Revolution, and during the Korean War the JCP was proscribed and its leadership forced to go underground. Through this repression, and together with the willing collaboration of the Socialist Party to undermine Communist influence in the unions, the wave of labor militancy was defeated. After criticism from Moscow, in 1950 the JCP retrospectively disavowed its support for the U.S. occupation, but political support for bourgeois forces in the name of “democracy” remains the JCP’s program (as it remains that of other social-democratic reformists in Japan and worldwide).
Today the JCP works overtime to push the widespread view that the Constitution can prevent imperialist war and that a people’s movement can bring about a peaceful Japan. These illusions are suicidal for the working class. Imperialism and militarism are inherent in the capitalist system; to put an end to imperialist war, a series of workers revolutions is necessary, which will rip the means of production out of the hands of the capitalists and establish an international planned economy.
After the 1949 Chinese Revolution, American policy toward Japan took a U-turn. Formerly seen mostly as a rival for economic domination of the Pacific region, Japan became the key ally in the U.S. crusade to stop the “Communist menace” in Asia. Thus, based on a directive by the U.S. occupiers, the Japanese government established the forerunner of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) in 1950 during the Korean War. Imperialist rivalry, which can never truly be eliminated, was subordinated to unity against China and the USSR and against the threat of further anti-capitalist upheavals, such as would indeed break out in Korea and Vietnam. The postwar economic recovery really took off when Japan became the quartermasters for the U.S. forces in the Korean War. On the political level, anti-Communist cooperation remains the dominating factor in U.S./Japan relations up to today.
For Class Struggle Against the Bourgeoisie!
A few days before the government pushed through the NSL, it passed in parliament an important economic attack on the working class: legislation to further extend temporary work. These laws eliminate any time limit for a company employing a temp worker for a specific job (there had been a limit of three years). They favor the increasing use of temporary workers instead of full-time employees with benefits, greater job security and union rights. While there were small protests and clear anger among workers, the bureaucrats at the head of the trade unions, devoted to the lie of a shared “national interest” of workers and bosses, did not mount any serious opposition to these laws.
At the same time, the demonstrations against the new war laws have brought out workers, with union banners present at many protests. Anti-NSL sentiment has been shown in some strategic industries such as shipbuilding and steel. Some unions affiliated to Rengo, the largest union federation, have issued protest declarations, while a number of unions affiliated to the JCP-led Zenroren federation formally voted to empower their leaderships to declare a political strike in opposition to the laws.
The Zenroren-affiliated health workers union, which has about 170,000 members, motivated its opposition by noting that if a war breaks out its members would immediately be directly involved. The Zenroren-affiliated metal workers union JMIU (about 9,000 members) voted to authorize calling a strike and held meetings in workplaces around the country, where non-organized workers also joined their assemblies. It is clear that the pressure from the base must have been very strong; the JCP’s newspaper Akahata quotes a worker: “We were waiting for the union to propose some action.” However, the class-collaborationist bureaucracies of all three trade-union federations (in addition to the above mentioned two there is also Zenrokyo, associated with the Social Democratic Party) are dead set against really mobilizing the power of the working class. Thus the leadership of the JMIU on September 9 declared a token “strike” for half an hour in one company, involving a couple of dozen workers. This action demanded: stop the war laws and the law on temporary jobs.
The reformist leaderships at the top of the unions must be defeated politically; revolutionaries must fight in the unions for a new leadership on a program of class struggle and political opposition to the capitalist rulers. The sentiment against the NSL needs to be turned toward mobilizing the working class in class struggle against the capitalist class and their war machine. A small but powerful example was the workers action that occurred in 2001 in the port of Sasebo when about 200 dockworkers organized in Zenkowan (All Japan Dockworkers Union) refused to load war matériel for the Japanese navy heading to support the U.S. imperialists in their war in Afghanistan. Such actions of international solidarity point toward an understanding of the power of the working class to destroy the rule of the bourgeoisie.
The Fight for Revolutionary Leadership
There is a section of bourgeois opinion that opposes the aggressive militaristic anti-China course of the current government from the standpoint that it endangers Japanese business interests in China. This tendency is represented in the main by the Democratic Party but also includes such figures as Uichiro Niwa (ex-boss of the trading giant Itochu and former ambassador to China) and LDP former honcho Makoto Koga. While at present they have little direct influence on government policy, this could change. In fact, the Democratic Party is no less militaristic than the LDP, but it prefers to maintain the fiction of a “defensive” military and fears becoming drawn into far-flung military conflicts by the U.S. Thus the Democratic Party together with the right-wing bourgeois “Japan Restoration Party” had introduced militarization bills into the last parliamentary session, seeking to strengthen the collaboration of the SDF and coast guard in waters surrounding Japan, targeting China.
Some elements on the right of the bourgeois spectrum are criticizing Abe for not seeking open revision of the Constitution. They are represented by such academics as Keio University professor Kobayashi Setsu, who is concerned that Abe’s method is causing “instability in law”—i.e., that any government might be able to change the “interpretation” according to its whim (as Abe has done). The JCP was explicit in seeking to bloc not only with the Democratic Party but even with openly pro-militarist academics based on common opposition to Abe changing the Constitution. The day the government passed the new laws, the JCP leadership issued a call for a new “People’s coalition government” with the sole aim of rescinding them. This includes an offer of electoral collaboration.
The SEALDs are also aggressively pushing for an “alliance of opposition parties.” Thus, they held a meeting on November 19 with the heads of five opposition parties including the Democratic Party, the JCP and a hardcore neoliberal party. In Marxist terms, this is a popular front—a bloc containing both reformist working-class groups and bourgeois political formations, which aims to take over the reins of a capitalist government. Naturally the bourgeois elements will ensure that the program of any such class-collaborationist formation will be a capitalist program.
In pursuit of this appetite, the JCP assures the bourgeoisie that if it were ever allowed to participate in government, it would fully support Japanese imperialism. Thus JCP leader Kazuo Shii, in a major interview in the bourgeois daily Nikkei Shimbun (October 3), pledged not to make any moves against the U.S.-Japan military alliance (although abrogation of that treaty is in the JCP’s program). Shii also pledged: “We will co-exist with the Emperor system. There is no need to worry.” The JCP has missed no opportunity to repeat how they don’t want “our” SDF forces in “harm’s way”; i.e., the SDF should only “defend” Japan and “not get involved in the U.S.’s wars.” In this vein, JCP head Shii gave a major press conference at a critical time of the protests in June, stressing that “Even if the JCP takes over the reins of government, we will maintain the SDF.”
The Chukaku group postures to the left of the JCP and has been running polemics against the JCP’s social-patriotic declarations (Zenshin, 6 July). Chukaku attacks the JCP position that the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands are “Japanese territory,” correctly noting that this places the JCP on the same plane as Abe in using the supposed “Chinese threat” as justification for further militarization. However, to point to these facts without taking a position in defense of the Chinese workers state is a capitulation to Japanese imperialism.
Chukaku also puts forward the position that the Constitution, which enshrines capitalist private property and the reactionary emperor system, is not bourgeois. It says the Japanese constitution as represented by Article 9 “was a by-product of revolution, forced on the ruling class in exchange for the defeat of the post-war revolution.” Chukaku claims that the purpose of the constitutional revision that the LDP has sought for decades is “to establish the absolute rule by capital”—as though the present system had any other class character! Their occasional use of “revolutionary” rhetoric is a veneer to obscure their real program, which is merely to fight for defense of the Constitution, which is also the central concern of the JCP.
In political struggle against reformism, what is needed is a revolutionary workers party. Such a party would fight to win the working class and youthful protesters to the understanding that to defeat militarism and break the power of imperialism there is no road short of workers revolution which will expropriate the capitalists as a class and establish a workers state as part of the construction of an internationally planned economy. This program of international revolution animated the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and the early Communist International under the leadership of V.I. Lenin and Leon Trotsky. This is our tradition and the program we stand on today. Reforge the Fourth International!