Japan remains the world’s second largest economy. Yet the country features little – either as a subject of debate or site of struggle – in the anti-capitalist and anti-war movements that have emerged in the past decade. Gavan McCormack’s Client State: Japan in the American Embrace is a useful corrective to this trend.
McCormack is a longstanding left wing scholar of Japan. He argues that, under the premierships of Junichiro Koizumi and Shinzo Abe, Japan has undergone a neoliberal transformation “to meet the demands from Washington that Japan become ‘the Great Britain of the Far East'”.
Readers in Britain will indeed find much that is lamentably familiar in the Japan of Client State – the privatisation of public services, the participation in colonial slaughter justified by self-righteous waffle, the attacks on a minority with Japan’s large Korean population as the enemy within.
McCormack details how the leaders of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) have sought since the 1990s to implement neoliberalism. The resulting inequality is well documented in the book. Some 15.3 percent of the Japanese population live below the poverty line. Income inequality is greater than in other developed countries. Labour deregulation has resulted in one third of the labour force becoming contract workers. Most of these workers, McCormack relates, earn around ¥120,000 – about £500 – per month.
Rising inequality has been accompanied by attacks on pensions and Koizumi’s plan to privatise the post office. The strongest part of McCormack’s book deals with the fusion of nationalism, neoliberalism and war in Japan. After defeat and atomic bombardment in 1945, Japan’s constitution banned the maintenance and use of armed forces. The right wing LDP and the US, which originally introduced the constitution, have tried for decades to undermine it.
McCormack describes how the introduction of revisionist history textbooks, the denigration of Japan’s wartime victims and visits to the Yasukuni Shrine, which honours Class A war criminals, have been used to support Japan’s participation in US imperial wars. Japan sent troops to Iraq, in clear violation of its constitution.
The weakness of Client State is contained in the title itself. McCormack argues that US pressure is responsible for Japanese neoliberalism and imperialism. He seems to be telling the Japanese ruling class that their own best interest lies in a semi-mystical Asian community.
Yet the neoliberal labour laws he mentions were enacted by Japanese, not US, capitalists.
Client State is to be commended for situating Japan in the global offensive of neoliberalism. But it portrays as dependency what is really a common assault by a band of warring brothers.
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