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Japan in crisis: Wall Street pushes class war

By Fred Goldstein

U.S. imperialism is waging a steady campaign to force its weakened imperialist rivals in Japan to open up a new round of warfare against the Japanese working class.

At the same time, U.S. bosses and bankers want to force openings in the Japanese economy that would allow them to take maximum advantage of new opportunities to plunder and exploit.

Washington is directly involved in this pressure, demanding that the Japanese government take drastic measures to "solve the Asian crisis."

Deputy Secretary of the Treasury Lawrence Summers summarized the U.S. demands during a Feb.18 London meeting of the G7-the group of seven imperialist powers. According to Reuters, Summers said, "The most important contribution Japan could make to the restoration of stability and growth in Asia is to take the steps necessary to strengthen domestic demand, deregulate its economy and open it up to imports and resolve its financial problems."

The economic content behind these bland words is harsh. When Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto recently put forward his $128 billion "economic rescue" plan, the United States responded with limited enthusiasm.

What do U.S. bankers mean when they say Japan must "strengthen demand"? Among other things, they mean cut Japan's relatively progressive tax rate on individual incomes.

The rich in Japan are taxed at 65 percent and the corporations 50 percent. The U.S. financiers want the Japanese government to raise more money to foster capital formation in the giant monopolies.

By contrast, Japan's massive emergency spending of $60 billion on public works-such as ports, roads, dams, bridges, libraries and other job-creating, labor-intensive infrastructure projects-got poor reviews from the financiers.

Brian Rose, senior economist at SBS Warburg Dillon Read Japan Ltd., called this spending project "a huge mistake," according to the April 25 New York Times. Rose said Japan is spending 9 percent of its gross domestic product on public works in a country that "doesn't need any more schools or libraries or bridges or roads."

Rose is a mouthpiece of the London bankers and a product of Thatcherism. He did not mention-and does not really care-that 11 percent of Japan's workers are employed in the construction industry.

U.S. to Japan: 'Restructure'

One of Wall Street's principal aims-and the goal of many new rising financiers in Japan as well-is to put an end to "lifetime employment" and promotion by seniority. Of course, life-time employment doesn't apply to the huge number of temporary workers in Japanese industry. It doesn't apply to workers laid off because of bankruptcy. Nor is it really "lifetime" employment for most workers, because they are routinely retired early.

This "lifetime employment" system, such as it is, was actually instituted after World War II. It was both a concession to gain class peace and an instrument to subjugate the workers. It was during a period of class struggle, the rise of socialism and national liberation, and the Cold War.

In that period the Japanese ruling class was able to gain such a strong world position through its tremendous exploitation of the Japanese workers that it could challenge the U.S. economically.

But Japanese imperialism lost its edge in the inter-imperialist rivalry during the Reagan-Thatcher restructuring in the United States and Britain. That, followed by the demise of the USSR, aided the Anglo-U.S. capitalists in their drive to push back the workers.

Ironically, today it is the United States that is driving Japan to restructure. It's not that the U.S. ruling class wants to see Japan revived as a rival. But Japanese capitalism is in a weakened condition and Wall Street is eager to take advantage.

"In the 80s and 90s the United States endured a wave of downsizing, job-shifting and retooling that the Japanese put off," wrote David Sanger in the April 12 New York Times.

Referring to the "Big Bang" financial reform begun in Japan on April 1, Sanger wrote: "Perhaps the biggest lesson of Japan's bitter decade is that it's a lot more expensive to fix an economy in recession than when it's running on autopilot. Just look at the opening of Japan's huge securities and financial services markets to the likes of Fidelity, Goldman, Sachs and Citibank."

Sheryl WuDunn noted in the March 31 New York Times that "American and European companies, from Merrill Lynch & Co. to Fidelity Investments, are rushing into the market in the hope of wresting funds from the Japanese banks. They are planning to offer a range of American-style mutual funds and sophisticated asset management, wrap ped up in bolder marketing."

The same bankers and brokers trying to get their hands on Social Security in the United States are pushing to grab the $1 trillion of savings and pensions Japanese workers put into the postal system. As one of Hashimoto's concessions to the stock market, he has already authorized the investment there of $30 billion of the workers' postal savings.

In fact, U.S. think tanks estimate there's $9 trillion in Japanese personal savings for the taking.

Struggle over who'll dominate Asia

Of course, Japan is an imperialist country-unlike Thailand, Indonesia or Malaysia, where the United States can push its weight around at will. The finance capitalists of Japan will find ways to resist.

What is unfolding in Asia is a continuation of the historic struggle between Wall Street and Tokyo over who will dominate in Asia. This historical imperialist rivalry, which has gone on for a century and resulted in war and oppression for the masses, was temporarily abated during the rise of the USSR and People's China.

In this period of the Cold War, when U.S. imperialism put the overturn of these workers' states above everything else, the Pentagon needed the anti-communist military collaboration of the Japanese imperialists.

With the collapse of the USSR, the fundamental tendency toward inter-imperialist conflict is becoming dominant in U.S.-Japanese relations and the antagonisms are growing ever sharper. This is the force driving the struggle over how to deal with the Asian crisis.

Of course, the U.S. still needs the Japanese military to threaten China and in the event of a revolutionary outbreak in Asia. But the economic antagonisms drive them in the direction of conflict.

As the financiers of Wall Street drool over deregulation and prepare to invade the financial fortress of Japanese imperialism, they are egging on an attack on the Japanese workers. Surplus value wrung from the working class-the unpaid labor in the form of profit that circulates throughout society as money-is the basis of the stock market and all bank capital.

Japan has fallen behind in the plunder of its workers. That is the price the Japanese capitalists paid for social stability. Now, under the onslaught of the United States and the laws of capital that relentlessly drive it to seek the highest rate of profit, Tokyo is being pushed into a new phase of the class struggle.

The Japanese workers have a glorious history of resistance and struggle against fascism, militarism and capitalism. They have faced their own ruthless ruling class before.

Now, under the impetus of world finance capital, there is bound to be a renewal of the class struggle in Japan and all of Asia.

This article is copyright under a Creative Commons License.
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