Interest in Marxism grows as Japan veers toward depresion
Published Jun 6, 2009 3:09 PM
Economic indicators released in late May show that Japan may be heading toward
an official depression as its economy contracts at a record rate. Growth in
worker class-consciousness and combativeness has accompanied the economic
Japan’s gross domestic product plunged a record 4 percent in the first
quarter of 2009 from the previous three-month period for a 9.7 percent decline
from a year earlier. Many economists define a depression as a decline in GDP
that exceeds 10 percent or a recession that lasts longer than three years.
Japan’s economy is perilously close to falling into a depression by those
A collapse in exports and cuts in consumer and business spending drove the GDP
figures sharply downward. Capital investment declined 10.4 percent from the
previous quarter as exports tumbled by 26 percent. Household consumption
dropped 1.1 percent in the same quarter.
The specter of deflation, a symptom of a severe economic crisis that then
contributes to extending that crisis, has reemerged along with the record GDP
drop. The domestic demand deflator, which measures price changes for the
domestic economy, fell back into negative territory for the first time in two
This, along with a noticeable March decline in consumer prices, has pushed the
Japanese economy to the brink of another deflationary crisis. Deflation
hindered economic growth in the late 1990s, contributing to that decade’s
reputation as the “lost decade.” Its reemergence could threaten any
chance of recovery for the Japanese economy.
Japan has the world’s second largest national economy after the United
States. Many bourgeois economists said they considered Japan relatively immune
to the current economic crisis. The recent developments in Asia’s most
powerful capitalist economy call into question the overly optimistic forecasts
that the global economic crisis is starting to recede.
In most countries a decline of this sort would require an examination of the
unemployment rate to determine the full economic impact on the workers.
Japan’s official unemployment rate crept up slightly to a four-year high
of 4.8 percent. While this figure looks good by U.S. standards, it hides the
true impact of the crisis on Japan’s working class because Japan, like
many other capitalist countries, uses deception to mask true unemployment.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Japan employs large numbers
of women as temporary or casual workers. Temporary workers bear the brunt of
recessions in Japan. The women workers are encouraged to withdraw entirely from
the labor market after losing their jobs. It is estimated that temporary and
contract workers make up a third of Japan’s workforce.
Nearly all full-time workers with permanent labor contracts—predominantly
men in large Japanese enterprises—kept their jobs until recently, but
with sharply reduced wages, benefits and paid overtime. Thus Japan masks the
true impact of its looming depression on the working class by keeping official
unemployment rates low.
The severity of the current crisis has caused export-dependent automotive and
technology companies such as Toyota, Hitachi and Sony to severely cut workers
along with production and wages. This trend has put the job security of even
full-time, permanent workers at risk.
Whatever the official unemployment rate suggests, Japan’s workers have
experienced a rapid process of radicalization as class-consciousness surges
amid the crisis.
The Japanese Communist Party has been the main beneficiary of the increased
fighting spirit of workers and students. The JCP, despite its name, is more
like a social-democratic than a revolutionary party, but many see it as
strongly pro-worker. More than 14,000 people have joined the JCP since the
beginning of 2008, a quarter of them youth. The party continues to grow at a
pace of 1,000 new members a month, and readership of its Red Flag daily
newspaper has surpassed 1.6 million.
A JCP-organized May Day rally in Tokyo drew a surprisingly large crowd of
36,000 demonstrators. A recent protest of corporate headquarters just outside
Tokyo’s upscale shopping district brought hundreds into the streets. The
crowd included laid-off workers and those demonstrating in favor of rights for
Temporary workers are generally excluded from joining the country’s main
labor unions. Many temporary workers belong to small independent unions
affiliated with the JCP.
Evidence of radicalization surpasses JCP membership statistics. A manga comic
version of Karl Marx’s “Capital” is now a best-seller. The
1929 classic work “The Crab-Canning Ship” by communist author
Takiji Kobayashi has emerged as a popular graphic novel. The book, and its
modern graphic novel adaptation, offers a grim depiction of worker exploitation
as crab fishermen try to survive on poverty wages.
The renewed interest in Marxist classics and JCP growth indicate that even in
the world’s second largest imperialist economy workers still turn to the
idea of Marxism for solutions to the way out of capitalist crisis.
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