On March 11, a massive 9.0-magnitude quake hit Northeast Japan on the east coast of Honshu, the country’s largest island, which, combined with the 33-foot waves of the tsunami it created, killed 2,800 people and ignited hundreds of fires. In the disaster’s wake, entire villages, ports and even schools vanished. Some were evacuation sites for local residents situated on the coasts.
The tsunami hit Miyagi and Iwate prefectures the hardest, obliterating everything in its path, causing the highest death tolls, which could exceed 10,000. The quake’s magnitude has led to frequent aftershocks, including a 6.0 quake on March 15 that hit Shizuoka, extending over the entire Kantou (Eastern) region.
Additionally, the quake disabled the cooling mechanisms of Japan’s oldest nuclear power plant, 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 a 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 U.S. and elsewhere emphasized Japan’s preparedness for such disasters and have praised the rapidity of rescues, evacuations and recovery efforts. As the world’s third largest economy, Japan has taken significant steps to safeguard its vulnerability against such disasters through fortification in infrastructure and the training, beginning in kindergarten, on how to react to earthquakes and other disasters. Workers in all areas hold weekly practice drills.
Workers Most Vulnerable, Suffer the Most
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 moving toward the outer regions where the damage and loss of life was the most substantial. This is because most of the residents of these areas — like the small village of Saito in Miyagi prefecture which was totally wiped out — are predominantly working-class families: factory workers, farmers and fishermen/women, and the elderly who built homes there which are the most vulnerable to such catastrophic events. Moreover, tens of thousands of jobs will disappear, further intensifying the exploitation of the working class.
This factor connects the loss of life here to the earthquake in Haiti, or to the 2004 tsunami, which killed hundreds of thousands of local residents on the coastal regions of Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, among other areas, where they are forced to live in conditions unprotected by disasters.
Without overlooking the responsibility and culpability of the national governments in such catastrophes, their responsibility is inherently part of the overall picture of capitalism’s failure to plan for social need globally, which in this case works on a number of levels.
Firstly, while loss of life in Japan’s catastrophe is horrific, it is minimal when compared to Haiti’s quake, where the death toll exceeded 200,000, or in the 2004 tsunami, with over 300,000 deaths. Thus, under capitalism some populations are “worth” more than others, according to the hierarchy of profit: as the world’s third largest economy, 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, emphasized on CNN and other mainstream outlets in their current coverage. Furthermore, most of the discussion on NHK (Nippon Housou Koukai), the largest Japanese news broadcasting system, and on 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 directing the blame both at Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s administration and at Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO) which owns the Fukushima plant. The latter has been cited continuously for violations and is outdated in terms of equipment and meltdown-controlling mechanisms.
Corporate Profits vs. Communist Planning
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 stock index), and how planning and the running of such facilities is done poorly. Under communism such events could be minimized or done away, since 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 drive for maximum profits.
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-U.S. political and economic relations. U.S. rulers want to use Japan as a buffer against the rise of China This 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 countries.
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 multi-national corporations to privatize the disaster areas and rebuild according to the priority of profit, as is occurring in New Orleans, Argentina and elsewhere.
Capitalism, Liberal Reformists, Phony ‘Communists’ No Saviors
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, which 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. We must unite to build the internationalism and solidarity of communism, creating a global community of workers who can run the world without capitalist bosses!