On March 11th, 2011, a massive 9.0 -magnitude quake hit Northeast Japan on Friday, causing thousands of deaths, hundreds of fires, and a 10-meter (33-ft) tsunami along parts of the country’s coastline, predominantly in the Northeastern (Touhoku) region. The destruction left in the wake of the earthquake is extensive, including the vanishing of entire villages, ports, and even schools that were used for evacuation sites by local residents that had been situated on the coasts. Miyagi and Iwate prefectures were hit the hardest by the tsunami and have the highest death tolls, which in total could reach over 10,000 in total. Aftershocks as a result of the magnitude of the quake are frequent, including a 6.0 quake that hit Shizuoka and extending the entire Kantou (Eastern) region the morning of 3/15. Additionally, the quake disabled the cooling mechanisms of one of the main nuclear plants in the Northeast region in Fukushima prefecture (Fukushima Dai-ichi), the oldest nuclear power plant in Japan, sparking a meltdown that has forced the evacuation of thousands surrounding the area and causing widespread fear that is being spread by the mainstream media on an almost 24-hour basis.
While there has been some criticism of the warning systems that gave residents little time to evacuate, most mainstream media sources in the US and elsewhere emphasized Japan’s preparedness for such disasters and have praised the rapidity to which rescues, evacuations, and recovery efforts have taken place. As one of the largest economies in the world, Japan has taken significant steps to safeguard its vulnerability against such disasters through the fortification in infrastructure, the training, beginning in kindergarten, on how to react to earthquakes and other disasters, which workers in all areas also practice on a weekly basis through drills.
The protection and preparedness against such disasters, however, is more evident in the capitalist centers like Tokyo or Sendai (the largest city in the Northeastern region, which suffered significant damage), but become lax as it moves to the outer regions where the damage and loss of life was the most substantial. This is due to the fact that most of the residents of these areas, like the small village of Saito in Miyagi prefecture which was totally obliterated, are predominantly working-class families, such as factory workers, farmers, and fishermen/women, and the elderly who built homes in areas which are the most vulnerable to such catastrophic events. This is what connects the loss of life in the recent disaster in Japan to the earthquake in Haiti, or to the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which killed hundreds of thousands of local residents on the coastal regions of Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, among other areas, who are forced to live in conditions that are both unprotected by disasters.
Without overlooking the responsibility and culpability of the national governments in such catastrophes, their responsibility is inherently part of the larger continuum of capitalism’s failure to plan for social need globally, which in this case works on a number of varying levels.
Firstly, while loss of life in Japan’s recent catastrophe is horrific, it is minimal when compared to what happened in Haiti, where the death toll reached over 200,000, or in the Boxing Day tsunami, where over 300,000 died. In other words, under capitalism, some populations are “worth” more than others, according to the hierarchy of profit: as the third largest economy in the world, Japan has a vested interest in protecting itself and its workers from such events, albeit minimally, while in “unprofitable” places like Haiti, Sri Lanka, or even the 9th Ward of New Orleans, there is no room for such planning. This also reveals the inherent racist dimension of capitalist planning: as a “developed” capitalist country, there is much less racism directed at Japan, which is emphasized through CNN and other mainstream outlets in their coverage of the current situation.
Additionally, most of the discussion on NHK (Nippon Housou Koukai), the largest Japanese news broadcasting system, and international news is the threat of a nuclear disaster, which is unfolding by the minute. NHK has been broadcasting the levels of radiations that may leak, with some emphasis on the blame being directed both at the current administration under Prime Minister Naoto Kan, and at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) which owns the Fukushima plant, including the fact that the plant has been cited continuously for violations and is outdated, in terms of equipment and meltdown controlling mechanisms. The meltdown is symbolic of how corporate interests are the priority under capitalism (TEPCO being one of he most profitable corporations, according to the Nikkei index), how planning and the running of such facilities is done poorly, and the extent to which such events could be minimized or done away with under communism, where workers would have a social and critical awareness of how to operate nuclear plants properly, for the benefit of the social need, rather than according to the logic of profitability.
Finally, the disaster is already being played out through the lens of inter-imperialist rivalry. Obama reacted to the crisis by pledging “support” for Japan, including a significant aid package that most likely will entail the re-evaluation of Japanese-US political and economic relations. The US interest in the region is to use Japan as a buffer against the rise of China, which means increasing the pre-existing tensions between Japan and China over control of the undeveloped gas fields in the South China Sea, as well as the power to exploit the mineral-rich islands that have sparked recent disputes, resulting in the emergence of pro-nationalist protests in both Japan and China. Additionally, with Japan’s ongoing economic woes deepening as a result of the current crisis, there has been discussion of the “disaster capitalism” model, which would allow multinational corporations to privatize the disaster areas and rebuild according to the logic of profit, as we see occurring in New Orleans, Argentina, and elsewhere.
In summary, capitalism ALWAYS works to the detriment of workers everywhere. Workers in Japan, who have been brainwashed by anti-communism, need to recognize that capitalism will not save them from such disasters, nor will the false hopes of the reformist parties like the Democratic Party of Japan, or fake leftists like the Japanese Communist Party, who are the most vocally critical of the recent catastrophe. ALL workers need to recognize that a system based on profit will ultimately fail to provide the necessary means to rebuild the world, and in fact has been the systemic cause of the devastation and after-effects of environmental disasters. The time is now to unite, to build the internationalism and solidarity to create a global community of workers who can run the world without capitalist bosses!