•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

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 news.

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 standards.

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 years.

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.

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.