Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Talk Left, Walk Right

More often than not, political parties best at implementing neoliberalism have been parties that "Talk Left, Walk Right," to borrow the memorable title of Patrick Bond's new book on the political economy of South Africa in global capitalism. The African National Congress is certainly one of the most remarkable examples of the parties that have perfected the art of talking left and walking right. Stephen Gowans reports that, since the ANC'S adoption of a neoliberal austerity policy recommended by the World Bank, known as GEAR (Growth, Employment, and Redistribution), "[t]he official jobless rate grew from 16 percent in 1995 to 30 percent by 2003. . . . And when discouraged job-seekers who had given up looking for work were factored in, the jobless rate was 43 percent, and over 80 percent in some rural areas," sinking the average income of black households 19 percent from 1995 to 2000 and increasing "[a]bsolute poverty (the percentage of households earning less than $90 of real income) . . . from 20 percent in 1995 to 28 percent in 2000"; and that, at the same time, corporate taxes have been slashed "from 48 percent in 1994 to 30 percent in 1999," helping increase "the average income of white households . . . 15 percent" ("Communists for Capitalism" CounterPunch, April 3-5, 2004). The ANC's neoliberal turn had such dramatically negative impacts on the South African working class that, "by late-2002, more than 60 percent of South Africans thought the country had been governed better by the white minority" ("Communists for Capitalism")! Nevertheless, the April 14th election results show that, with no mass political party to its left, the ANC won by a landslide, receiving nearly 70% of the votes, "its largest majority since coming to power" ("ANC Election Landslide Confirmed," April 18, 2004), which suggests that South Africa may remain a de facto one-party state for a foreseeable future. The fact that "[o]nly 56% (15,806,380) of all eligible voters (27,438,897) cast their ballots" (Dale T. McKinley, "South Africa: A Disillusioned Democracy", Green Left Weekly, April 29, 2004), the lowest turnout ever since the end of apartheid, registers the frustrations of South African voters, battered by the ANC and yet unable to find or create a political alternative to the left of it.

In contrast, in Japan, an older virtual one-party state, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (which has continuously been in power since 1955 -- longer than the Chinese Communist Party, if we count the period between 1948 and 1955 when the LDP's two constituents alternated in power) has talked right and walked center, much to the dissatisfaction of neoliberals at home and abroad who demand more "labor flexibility." Despite over a decade of deflation and stagnation, real hourly earnings in the manufacturing sector indicate that a full force of neoliberal reforms have yet to be unleashed on Japanese workers. Paul Burkett and Martin Hart-Landsberg document:
[D]uring both the 1983-92 period, and up until the most recent nonrecession years, the only reason that real unit labor cost fell more in the United States than in Japan in nonrecession years was because of relatively stagnant or declining real wages in the United States compared to Japan. It is only in the most recent years that real hourly earnings grew more slowly in Japan than in the United States, and this explains why the reduction in Japan’s real unit labor cost compared “favorably” with that of the United States in the nonrecession years of 1999 and 2000. ("The Economic Crisis in Japan: Mainstream Perspectives and an Alternative View," Critical Asian Studies 35.3 (2003), p. 350)
See, also, "Table 6. Productivity and Labor Cost in Manufacturing" (p. 349) in Burkett and Hart-Landsberg's essay.

Given the enduring power of a faction of the LDP that is dedicated to the maintenance of doken kokka (the construction state) -- an alliance of LDP politicians, powerful bureaucrats, general contractors, and gangsters built on the use of public works projects for patronage -- the LDP may not be up to the task of restructuring Japan in neoliberalism's image:
Takeo Hiranuma, a senior member of Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party who wants to ease curbs on public spending, said he might try to succeed Junichiro Koizumi as prime minister when the 62-year old leader steps down.

"If I got the chance and conditions were right, I would take the post," Hiranuma said in an interview.

Koizumi, who has said he will step down when his term as LDP president ends in September 2006, faces a national election in July to pick 121 the nation's 242 upper house lawmakers. A loss of seats in that poll would encourage LDP conservatives, who want to undo his spending cuts and divert more money to road construction and other public works. (Tim Kelly, "Japan's Hiranuma Aims to Succeed Koizumi, Ease Curbs [Update2)]," April 23, 2004)
If and when a full-fledged neoliberalism arrives in Japan, the most likely vehicle for it will be the Democratic Party of Japan:
The biggest opposition party, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) supported by the biggest trade union federation “Rengo” (Japanese Trade Union Confederation), increased its representation by 40 seats to 177. *2 It gained more than 22 million in total votes from the regional proportional representative constituencies which elect 180 seats, more than the LDP’s vote of less than 21 million. The DPJ, which merged with the smaller right-wing nationalist Liberal Party (LP) just before the general election, is an amalgam of former members of the Social Democratic Party and a conservative split from the LDP. It is now the only opposition party in parliament which is capable of challenging the LDP's monopoly of government for nearly 50 years. . . .

All the spokespersons of the ruling class and the mainstream mass media welcomed the results of the general election [the Lower House elections on November 9, 2003]. They claimed that a “realistic two-party system” which enabled a smooth change of regime had been established for the first time and that through electoral competition between these two parties, the LDP-Komei bloc and the DPJ, Japan could resolve its imminent economic and social crisis by eliminating the old-style corporatist system. Supported by the “Rengo” trade union bureaucracy, the DPJ has presented itself as a neo-liberal “reformer” party. Naoto Kan, the DPJ's president, said “We should carry out both Margaret Thatcher's and Tony Blair's projects at the same time”. When Jun'ichiro Koizumi took office after victory in the LDP’s presidential race in April 2001 saying “I will break with the LDP if the majority of the party does not accept my ‘reform project’”, Yukio Hatoyama, the DPJ's leader at that time, welcomed Koizumi's discourse to facilitate neoliberal policies. The DPJ's platform at the election campaign proposed speeding up privatization of public services and deregulation of job security. It stressed the destruction of an outdated social system controlled by the state bureaucracy and encouraged free competition of the private sector. In the name of “civil society”, DPJ represents the interests of big business. (Jun'ichi Hirai, "Japan: After the Elections," International Viewpoint 356, February 2004)

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