The Material World column from the July 2009 issue of the Socialist Standard
Surprisingly, the Communist Party of Japan still exists and, indeed, seems to be flourishing. Faced with the Japanese economy in steep decline, and ever-growing unemployment, many Japanese workers are, in the words of the Guardian (24 April), turning “to a new trend of cuddly communism”. But are they? Is the JCP educating common ownership, production for use instead of profit and the abolition of the wages system?
The Japanese Communist Party was formed in July, 1922, largely by anarcho-syndicalists who were quite influential among Japanese workers prior to 1914.
Between 1922 and the end of the second world war, in 1945, the JCP was an illegal organisation, with an underground membership which never exceeded 1,000. With legality it became a typical Leninist-Stalinist party, faithfully supporting the Soviet Union and advocating those reforms which it felt would get support from the Japanese working class and, hopefully, bring it to power.
At first the JCP supported the American occupation, considering it a “liberating force”. Although considering Japan to be a highly developed capitalist state, it nevertheless claimed that all feudal remnants must be eliminated before proceeding to what it considered to be socialism – actually state capitalism.
By 1947 the Communist Party had 100,000 members; and in the 1949 general elections polled three million (10 percent) votes. By the time of the Korean war, the party ceased to collaborate with the American occupiers; and by 1951, it was reduced to a semi-legal status. With the Soviet-Chinese split, the JCP leadership tended to side with the People’s Republic of China, and was increasingly critical of Khrushchev. By 1965 all the pre-Soviet officials were expelled from the party.
Nevertheless, despite all its ideological problems, the Japanese Communist Party could claim almost 300,000 members in 1966. Later, it fell out with Mao and membership declined. It considered itself to be a completely independent, national Japanese party.
According to the Guardian’s Tokyo correspondent, Justin McCurry, “the JCP is barely recognisable from the party of 30 years ago”. It has seen its fortunes transformed after years of being dismissed as an irrelevant hangover from the Cold War. Membership is now said to be over 410,000, with around 15,000 joining since 2007, of which 25 percent are under 30. It is popular with students. The circulation of the party’s official paper, Akahata (“Red Flag”), has increased from about one million six months ago to 1.6 million now, although in 1980 circulation topped 3.5 million.
The party owes some of its success to a novel, Kaniksen (“The Crab Factory Ship”), first published in 1929, and forgotten until last year when 500,000 copies were sold in a few months. It describes how fishermen rebelled against their bosses.
Need the Japanese capitalist class worry? I doubt it. It talks about welfare and jobs, and improving education. It has also made itself felt on the internet. With regard to the traditional Liberal Democratic Party, the JCP says: “We would co-operate on individual policies, but we wouldn’t be part of a coalition.” Of the 480-seat lower house of the Japanese parliament, the JCP has nine seats. It has, it proclaims, a commitment to “democratic change within the current framework of capitalism”. And not a word about communism/socialism.
Peter E. Newell