A set of news items on the growth of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) in the recent years is below:
By ERIC TALMADGE, Saturday, April 25, 2009
TOKYO (AP) — Under a big red flag, the headquarters of the Communist Party of Japan are the center of the most vibrant grass-roots movement in the country. The party’s ranks are swelling, it has 24,000 branch offices and more than a million people read its newspaper. Only one party — the one that runs the country — beats it at fundraising.
As Japan’s economy withers, communism is coming to life.
Dormant in the boom years and marginalized even as Japan more recently clawed its way out of recession, the party’s litany of capitalist evils is now resonating deeply with many Japanese — especially the young — who are feeling the pain of an economic downturn that some say has reached depression dimensions.
While the Communist Party — which is the fourth-largest party in parliament, but has only 16 of the total 722 seats — is not likely to take over anytime soon, it is making itself felt.
On college campuses, in particular, Karl Marx is popular again.
“I have never voted before, but I intend to vote communist in the next elections,” said Suguru Yagi, a Tokyo college student.
Yagi, 22, said he had considered joining the party because he agrees with many of its policies and sees it as the defender of the working class. As a student about to graduate, he is concerned about the shrinking work force, and the difficulties he may find in getting a good job.
Leading Japan’s communist renaissance is Kazuo Shii, the round-faced party chief, who has become one of Japan’s most recognizable politicians and something of a media star, grilling the country’s conservative leaders from his perch in parliament and unfailingly appearing before the cameras with what boils down to: “I told you so.”
Financial meltdowns worldwide. Banks and manufacturers going belly up, or begging for bailouts. Unemployment and unrest on the rise.
Capitalism, Shii concludes, is doomed.
“It is inevitable,” he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. “When the persimmon is ripe, it will fall from the tree.”
Shii, and the party, believe that time is fast approaching. And, in Asia’s most dedicated bastion of capitalism, more people are beginning to agree.
According to the party, about 1,000 new members are joining its ranks every month — a sharp contrast to the massive exodus that has plagued the ruling Liberal Democrats, who have dropped from about 5 million members in their heyday to about 1 million members now.
The Japan Communist Party was founded as an illegal movement in 1922, but legalized after Japan’s World War II defeat in 1945. It then struggled through polarizing splits with the Soviets and Communist Chinese in an effort to maintain its independence. It also has distanced itself from the radical left, which gained popularity in the 1960s and ‘70s, but has since died down.
Shii attributed the renewed interest in the party to voter disillusionment with future prospects in an increasingly difficult job market. People who have lost their jobs or their pensions are turning to the party. There is increasing distrust of the centrist Liberal Democrats and their main rivals, the Democratic Party of Japan, who are also conservative and are, in fact, led by a former Liberal Democrat.
The communist revival has also been spurred on by the pop media.
Marx’s Das Kapital is now available in cartoon form, and a surprise best-seller of the year has been a revival version of “Kanikosen,” a 1929 novel about exploited workers on a crab boat. That novel, too, is out in manga form, and is being made into a movie.
In Japan, the Communist Party has swelled to about 415,000 members at latest count and boasts a newspaper, Red Flag, with a readership of 1.6 million. It has also started a channel on YouTube featuring video of Shii addressing parliament and other tidbits for those who want to keep up with party goings-on.
Shii said his party is willing to work within Japan’s system — he said it does not advocate immediate or violent revolution.
“We want to fix social inequities within the framework of capitalism,” Shii said. “It will take time for people to make adjustments and be ready. We aren’t advocating a sudden change to communism.”
Political analysts are split on where the communists are headed.
Tomoaki Iwai, a Nihon University political science professor, said the party’s recent popularity could be a fad.
“I don’t see a bright future for the communist party, despite the current expansion,” he said. “They are not going to gain decision-making status in Japanese politics.”
But Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, said the party serves as an important check-and-balance.
“They are a perennial opposition party, but that is a significant role,” he said. “Their ideological stance stands out in a political scene dominated by the conservatives, and it’s good to have diversity. Despite their marginal presence in parliament, the communists’ views are often considered commonsense among the public.”
Outside of parliament is where the Communist Party has been making its biggest strides.
Though weak at the national level, the communists boast more elected officials than any other party because of their strong presence in local and prefectural assemblies, where they have more than 3,000 seats.
Party members are free to devote as much, or little, of their time as they choose — from simply voting communist when elections come around to helping run social activities and youth programs.
Because of the devotion of its members, the party’s campaign machine is formidable.
And, while not expected to win big, the communists are looking at modest gains when the next parliamentary elections are held — sometime before October — because of the growing unpopularity of Prime Minister Taro Aso and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is widely seen as being in disarray and unable to lead Japan out of its deepening economic recession.
The Democrats are dogged by scandals of their own. But Shii complained that the focus of the media on the potential emergence of a two-party system has created an even darker shadow from which his party must emerge.
Even so, with younger voters, the communists are doing well.
“The communists offer hope,” said Yagi, the college student. “I don’t know if I would want them to take over power, but I think they should be big enough to influence what the ruling party can do.”
He said he stopped short of actually joining up because the name of the party put him off.
“I like what the party is doing,” he said. “But ‘communism’ still carries with it a stigma, like ‘radical’ or ‘terrorist.’ I don’t want that kind of communism. I’m not a radical.”
TIME, Thursday, Jun. 28, 2007
Inside a Boutique Political Party
To her classmates, the party is something to which you bring a karaoke machine. But to Michiko Suzuki, a 19-year-old Wako University student in Tokyo, the party is the revolutionary vanguard of class struggle. Suzuki, you see, is a teenage Japanese communist. Bolshevism runs in her family. The daughter and granddaughter of party members, she joined the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) as soon as she turned 18. "The purpose of the JCP is to change Japan," says Suzuki. "If the party becomes bigger, then Japan will be changed into a place where my dreams are realized."
The idea of communists soldiering on in the world's second-largest economy more than 15 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union may invite comparisons to Japanese soldiers stranded on remote Pacific islands who thought that World War II had never ended. But the JCP is far from extinct. It claims some 400,000 members, and garnered 7.3% of the vote—from 4.92 million voters—in the most recent legislative elections in 2005. "The JCP is probably the most successful non-ruling communist party in Asia, if not the world," says Lam Peng Er, a research fellow at the National University of Singapore's East Asian Institute.
That success has it roots in the JCP's long history. Born in 1922 as the Japanese branch of the Communist International, the global federation of Marxist-Leninist parties created by Moscow, the JCP quickly adapted itself to local conditions. It was one of the few Japanese groups to stand up to the rise of imperial militarists in the run-up to World War II, and suffered as a result. "The JCP was the only political party that struggled against the past war of aggression with the sacrifice of members' lives," says JCP chairman Kazuo Shii. That principled stance earned the respect of many Japanese after the war ended, and JCP members were allowed to run for office. Though the conservative Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) would come to control Japanese politics, the JCP provided a reliable leftist opposition bloc with the larger and more mainstream Japan Socialist Party.
Today the JCP is still relevant at a time when communists in other countries have all but vanished. While the largest Japanese parties lack a clear and cohesive identity, the JCP may benefit by virtue of actually standing for something—even if what it stands for is "a socialist/communist society," as stated in its manifesto, in a decidedly capitalist country. "The JCP is a boutique party, but it's the only political party in Japan that has a strong grassroots organization," says Lam. "In a way, the communists are probably the most modern political party in Japan." Despite holding just 18 of the 722 seats in the Diet, the JCP often functions as the only genuine opposition to politics-as-usual in Tokyo. Communist politicians have repeatedly uncovered damaging financial scandals in government—they're too far removed from power to be enmeshed in Tokyo's endemic corruption. "We are the watchdog, but we go further than that," says Shii. "I think the advance of the JCP will be key to the advance of Japanese politics."
It's hard to believe that the most progressive political force in Japan still adheres to Marxism. (When I half-seriously asked one college-aged party member whether he reads the classics, he reached into his backpack and produced Volume II of the 13-volume Japanese translation of Das Kapital.) But the JCP will likely pick up protest votes in July's legislative elections, and the party is zealously recruiting new members. "I think my friends and those around me have a lot of difficulty and hardship finding themselves, having any confidence in themselves," says Suzuki, the Wako University student. "But as a member of the JCP, I have a wider perspective on my future. I know we have possibility." Who said the war was over, comrade?
Japan's young turn to Communist Party as they decide capitalism has let them down
By Danielle Demetriou in Tokyo
With its gleaming designer stores, the world's second largest economy and an insatiable appetite for luxury labels, Japan has long been regarded as the land of the rising capitalist.
But a wave of discontent among its younger workers is fuelling a change in the nation's political landscape: communism is suddenly back in fashion.
What many young Japanese view as an erosion of their economic security and employment rights, combined with years of political stagnation, are propelling droves of them into the arms of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the nation's fourth largest political party.
New recruits are signing up at the rate of 1,000 a month, swelling its ranks to more than 415,000. Meanwhile a classic proletarian novel is at the top of the best-seller lists, and communist-themed "manga" comics are enjoying soaring success.
A further sign of disaffection among young Japanese - who in recent years have been more renowned for their political apathy than their revolutionary zeal - is the increasing frequency of rallies by workers on the streets of the capital.
Earlier this month, crowds of up to 5,000 young Japanese workers marched through the streets of central Tokyo to express their growing discontent with the government over working conditions.
And the job losses, financial insecurity and social dissatisfaction that are expected to go hand in hand with the current global credit crisis are expected to increase the ranks of the party further.
Spearheading the lurch to the Left are young Japanese in their twenties and thirties, who have become increasingly disillusioned with changes to employment laws which they blame for creating a climate of insecurity.
Some 44 per cent of country's workforce are part-time only, while a profusion of short-term contracts has created a generation of freelancers who are often between jobs.
Kimitoshi Morihara, deputy director of the Japanese Communist Party's international bureau, said: "Working conditions dramatically changed for younger generations in 2002 when new temporary working laws were introduced.
Today, more than one in three Japanese is in temporary work. They have almost no rights, no security and no future.
"The political climate in Japan is changing and more young Japanese are becoming politically aware because these issues have long been ignored by other parties." The revival of hard left politics comes as Japan faces the prospect of an general election in coming months, following the parliamentary deadlock which led to last month's sudden resignation of Yasuo Fukuda, the third prime minister in less than three years.
The country's schlerotic political system has enabled the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to hold power for an almost unbroken five decades, although its powers were critically curtailed last year when the main opposition party won control of the upper legislative chamber.
Resurgent Japanese communism is deploying all the tools of the 21st century, with the internet and on-line video sites playing a vital role.
The party's charismatic chairman, Kazuo Shii, triggered a rush of new recruits with a rousing parliamentary speech attacking the "exploitation" of young workers, which has become cult viewing among young Japanese on video websites.
With his grey salaryman suit and glasses, 54-year-old Mr Shii appears a far cry from conventional revolutionary stereotypes. However, after eight years at the helm of the party he has been propelled to prominence to become something of a media personality.
Among those who have recently come under his sway is Miki Tomohiro, a 34-year-old freelance writer from Fukutsu City, Fukuoka Prefecture. "When I saw Mr Shii speaking, I felt as if he was exposing capitalism in its crudest form," he said. "I surfed the internet to find out more about the party before joining." Oomori Shuji, 30, a temporary worker for Toyota, from Aichi Prefecture, who joined the party in June, added: "Since my graduation, I have never been fully employed. At a JCP workshop, I learned about the realities of temps hired by the day and the working poor, who are without social security or bonuses, and are often easily fired.
"The party is considerate of the plight of young people, including their jobs and living conditions. It has a concrete policy on these questions." Another sign of the growing allure of the Left is the
sudden surge in popularity of a classic Japanese novel, Kanikosen - the Crab-Canning Ship - about embattled factory workers who rise up against their capitalist oppressors.
Nearly eight decades after it was written by Takiji Kobayashi, a communist who was tortured to death for his political beliefs aged 29, its sales have leapt from a slow annual trickle of 5,000 to 507,000 so far this year, unexpectedly catapulting it to the top of the nation's bestseller lists.
A "manga" comic book depicting the same Marxist tale is also winning over young Japanese, with 200,000 copies sold in a year. Kosuke Maruo, editor at East Press, which publishes the manga version, said: "The story succeeds in representing very vividly the situation of the so-called working poor today.
"They cannot become happy and they cannot find the solution to their poverty, however hard they work. Young people who are forced to work for very low wages today may have a feeling that they are in a similar position to the crew of Kanikosen." Kyudo Takahashi, 31, a freelance
writer from Tokyo, attributed the popularity of the story to a growing sense of displacement among his generation.
"Kanikosen was a textbook in school but we didn't read it seriously then," he said. "Now, we're reading it again because we're frustrated with the government.
"In the book, people are exploited again and again. They are not treated like humans, more like cows at a hamburger factory. That is how many people feel today. When we find work, someone is always exploiting us. We cannot feel secure about the future."