Behind the rising discord between the U.S. and Japan

By Sam Marcy (June 1, 1995)

A good deal of the world's problems rotate around the relationship between the United States and Japan. But that is true only insofar as we regard the two as imperialist powers contending for hegemony in an area that has the world's greatest concentration of people.

They are both imperialist powers. But is this fully expressed in their aggressiveness toward each other and their appetite for enlarging territory? That may have been the major characteristic of ancient imperialism. Modern imperialism is primarily concerned with increasing the super-profits that it, however, gathers in from the exploitation of the masses, without regard to national borders.

It is the exploiting class that dominates the nation in almost all areas of the world.

For a period of time, of course, the Russian Revolution abolished the rights and privileges of the old ruling classes in the former czarist empire. Subsequent revolutions in other countries, including China, took the path of a socialist overturn of the old ruling classes. But there has been regression in the socialist countries and outright counterrevolution in some. However, this has not necessarily undermined the validity of the revolutionary struggle in general.

Where matters stand

At the present time, considering the problem purely from a geopolitical point of view, the struggle between Japan and the U.S. is of considerable world interest. While both are imperialist in the sense that the power in each country rests in the monopolist class owning the means of production, this does not necessarily exhaust the significance of their relationship.

Were there to be a revolutionary change in one or both countries, the geopolitical character of the relationship would fundamentally change. But as matters stand now, they are both regarded as being in the bourgeois camp without showing any significant internal manifestation in the direction of revolutionary change.

The importance of bringing this up at the present rests on the fact that the U.S. ruling class is engaged in an aggressive campaign to assert its dominance on the world arena. It has done so not just by introducing some new diplomatic stance or by rallying its allies in the United Nations, as it has done over a period of years--but by taking a military step of great significance.

The Pentagon is preparing to contract out the construction of 30 attack submarines over the next few years at the phenomenal initial cost of $60 billion. Who is the potential target of these submarines? Russia or "some other unforeseen naval power" that might challenge U.S. hegemony over the seas. (New York Times, May 17, 1995) To anyone in the know, this is a very thinly veiled reference to Japan.

Not a squeak

At a time when cutbacks are gutting social services all around the country, the mere announcement of such an unprecedented project should have staggered the imagination of all in Congress. One would have expected a volcanic rejection of this military "pork" from the many members of Congress representing areas where layoffs and cutbacks are in progress.

There used to be some, if not many, senators and representatives who would immediately challenge the Pentagon on such a phenomenally costly project.

Yet this enormous boondoggle has been hardly discussed on Capitol Hill or in the media.

All this should remind us of a problem that rarely comes up in labor discussions any more, even of progressive union organizations. That is the urgent need for a close, cooperative relationship between the unions in Japan and in the U.S.

The unions here may have shrunk. Nevertheless the specific weight of the organized areas of the economy is of critical importance. The union movement is fairly strong in steel, auto, mines, electric--all the basic heavy industries. And it is growing in the service industries.

It would be an act of working-class public service on the part of the leaders of the AFL-CIO to issue a call for a dialogue between the union movements in the U.S. and Japan.

They should say to the ruling classes of both countries: Your policies are leading toward war, not toward peaceful competition. We, for our part, are ready to veto your plans and consider plans for cooperation, rather than confrontation on a capitalist basis.

The mere call for such a dialogue might cause second thoughts among the Pentagon planners. They have become all too used to making their plans without considering the constituents--that is, the mass of the workers in the millions who are never consulted or warned about the decisions being made over their heads.

The U.S. has asserted again and again by its acts in the Pacific that it is the dominant force in Asia. For a Western power thousands of miles removed from the Asian mainland to assert such a stand is in itself a most adventurous position.

When Commodore Matthew Perry forcefully opened up Japan to the Western world in 1854, it was from the point of view of trade and commerce. It took many years before the U.S. began seeking a naval presence in that part of the Pacific and asserting that it was a Pacific power.

Trade sanctions

The Clinton administration has set in motion a plan to impose a 100-percent tariff on certain imported Japanese automobiles by mid-June unless Japan agrees to buy more auto parts from the U.S. This demonstrates that U.S. capital is afraid of what it used to call genuine competition.

When Ralph Waldo Emerson said the world would beat a path to the door of the man who built a better mousetrap, he was only popularizing the economic doctrine of Adam Smith on the basics of competitive capitalism: that the most efficient producer with the lowest cost and best product would make the sale.

For many years, U.S. economists were the chief proponents of Adam Smith's doctrine. But no longer.

U.S. trade relations with Japan today are not decided by free competition but flow from the monopoly character of capitalism. The state, not the producers, dictates the prices of Japanese. And who does the state represent but the monopoly capitalist ruling class?

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