Notes from the front – of the week 18/12/2014

Abe’s fake ‘landslide’

The result of the snap election called by Japan’s premier Abe has been hailed as a thumping victory for his combination of right-wing nationalism and competitive devaluation of the yen, which has fallen 20 per cent against the US dollar since July and depreciated by nearly two-thirds since the beginning of 2012.

But this is a false reading on all counts.

First, Abe only called the election – two years early – because he and his policies were increasingly unpopular, with real wages falling and Japan’s economy slipping back into recession. His personal net approval rating fell from 44 per cent in January last year to 8 per cent just before the snap poll. This was a cut-and-run election before the population (and internal LDP rival factions) turned against him. The campaign was curbed to the minimum length possible to smother debate.

Second, the result was no landslide. Despite a very weak opposition campaign, Abe nonetheless lost four seats and 100,000 votes in the election. Overall his Liberal Democratic Party has lost 2.2 million votes since 2009 and only appeared to emerge dominant from the election because of a divided opposition and record-low voter turnout.

The main gainer from the failure of Abe’s policies and the weakness of the main bourgeois opposition parties is the revived Communist Party, which rose from eight to 21 seats and almost doubled its vote to over 13 per cent.

The fundamental character of the Abe government can be seen from the first announcement he made after the election: to remove the peace clauses from Japan’s post-World War II Constitution which curb the use of its military forces overseas. Despite a few weasel words of objection from the US this is all in line with Japan’s US puppet master’s aim of building up Japan as a military counterweight to China in East Asia.

This underlines the essence of Abe’s policy. On the economic front the much vaunted ‘Abenomics’ is simply a sharp devaluation of the Japanese Yen aimed at making Japanese exports more competitive than those of other regional weaker economies, which has also had the effect of boosting inflation and cutting real wages. It remains to be seen which of Japan’s regional competitors lose out most severely from this beggar-your-neighbour’s economic policy. As it will make Japan deeply unpopular it is not surprising that this is coupled with revanchist nationalism and a rapid escalation in military spending.

The policies are an echo of those pursued by Japan in the 1930s when a similar combination of aggressive devaluation and resurgent nationalism were the basis for Japanese militarism in Asia. However, in 1937 Japan faced a prostrate China, suffering from 100 years of Western imperialist domination, and other weak and underdeveloped Asian states. Today it faces a China that is the most dynamic economy in the world, while its former colonies in Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond are independent nation states and enjoying rapid growth.

For the Japanese population the result of the election just means more of the same: falling living standards and wages to boost profits.


Cameron insults all Irish parties in the North – Stormont looks set to fall

David Cameron’s visit for talks in Belfast last week was a lesson in arrogance and duplicity which achieved precisely nothing except to unite all the Northern Ireland Assembly parties against the British government.

The aim of the visit was to force a deal on the Northern Ireland Assembly that has been stalemated by a combination of Sinn Fein’s resolute refusal to accept welfare cuts and resistance from the Unionists to any compromise on issues like flags, parades and victims.

The current blockage in the Northern Ireland Assembly has been as a result of the abject failure of the British government over several years to properly address a series of complex and interrelated problems of legacy issues from the military conflict, the attempt to impose ‘welfare reform’, the devolution of fiscal powers, the failure to deliver on pledges to provide investment, and many others.

Cameron’s visit was flagged as the means to a breakthrough on the key issues. The main parties represented in the Assembly had clearly been briefed that Westminster would be providing significant new funds in return for a deal. Instead all Cameron had in his pocket was a bogus offer which amounted to no new funds from Westminster. All the key powers over than North of Ireland economy would be retained by Westminster.

As the DUP’s Peter Robinson put it, “We are not so naïve that we can be bribed with our own money”.

The Tories have been assiduously courting the Unionist parties in expectation of a hung parliament next May. But Cameron’s dismissive approach to the very substantial issues in the North has currently alienated natural Unionist allies.

In the longer-term the Unionist parties may come to realise that weak and declining British imperialism has nothing to offer anyone in Ireland, including themselves. But in the short-term the current Assembly is under threat. Sinn Fein’s refusal to implement welfare cuts has left the DUP threatening to bring the Assembly down, with new elections to be held alongside the general election in May 2015.


Britain steps up its intervention in Middle East

Britain may have retreated and withdrawn from Afghanistan, but it is not pulling out of the Middle East.

Following the announcement it would be expanding its naval presence in the Gulf based in Bahrain, Britain has announced it will be sending troops back into Iraq. Initially some few hundreds of British troops will join the US-led mission re-establishing military bases in the country – but it is unlikely to stay at this very low level for long.

Britain and the US had to withdraw from Iraq in 2009 and 2011 respectively, as they were unable to maintain their occupation in the face of determined resistance and Iraqi government hostility. Three years later a weakened Iraqi government, facing sectarian insurgency (built up by the US and its regional allies particularly in Syria) has had to concede to the return of Western forces.

But the primary goal of the US in getting back into Iraq is not to fight ISIS but to strengthen its presence, build up ‘reliable’ forces against the Syrian government and exert further pressure on Iran.


US and Britain involvement in torture – is not a revelation

Last week’s US Senate report revealing the details of the CIA’s torture in Iraq and Afghanistan was shocking. But it should come as no surprise given that torture, mutilation and assassination have been long-standing in both the US and Britain’s colonial history.

The US and Britain have regularly ignored all international conventions on war and torture when it comes to defending their overseas interests.

Since the 1960s, the US systematically used torture in Vietnam, Central America and the Middle East.

Despite Britain ensuring its recent role in the CIA’s torture programme was redacted from the Senate report, British involvement in torture and deadly repression in Yemen, Kenya, Cyprus, Ireland, and Iraq is well documented.

Brazil’s Truth Commission (investigating the abuses during its dictatorship), which also reported last week, revealed that both the US and Britain provided training in torture techniques to Brazil’s military.


Scottish Labour’s suicide note

The election of Jim Murphy as Leader of Scottish Labour ensures that Labour will continue to lose support to its left and that the Scottish nationalists will have a free run to present themselves as the party of the left in Scotland.

Murphy is a well-known Blairite, supporter of the Iraq war and defender of Trident. Most recently he became deeply unpopular for his strongly Unionist campaign for a no vote in the referendum – unlike Gordon Brown for example, who coupled the call for a no vote with the call for increased devolution.

Murphy’s election assures a continuation of the existing Westminster-led, pro-austerity agenda – opposing the SNP on free education and prescription charges – that has slashed Labour support amongst centre and left wing voters.

With Labour increasingly attacking the SNP from the right, the SNP has faced no real challenge to its claim to be the party of the left in Scotland. Nicola Sturgeon has already given this credence by deepening its profile against austerity, anti-migrant racism and nuclear weapons.

Murphy’s election as Scottish Labour leader was presented as a landslide but in reality on the individual votes cast it was neck and neck. The candidates who stood against Murphy from the left in the election, Neil Findlay and Katy Clark, both won a majority of the votes in the trade union third of the electoral college, where the largest number of votes were cast. Murphy secured a majority in the other two sections – the party members and MP/MEP/MSP sections. The undue weight given in the electoral college system to the small number of votes cast by the MPs etc ensured Murphy’s comfortable win.

Scottish Labour’s rightward course ensures it will lose a significant number of seats next May. With the Tories and Lib Dems eliminated from politics in Scotland, essentially there is a new two-party system in which Labour represents the right and the Scottish Nationalists appear as the left.