Japanese Communist Party

The Japanese Communist Party was founded in 1922, under the influence of the Comintern. Since then, the JCP has experienced innumerable ups and downs, from intense repression to commanding more than 10% of the vote in the 1972 elections, but it remains today one of the major opposition parties in Japan.

In the aftermath of a severe earthquake in 1923, the Japanese government created a hostile atmosphere that before long led to massacres of Chinese and Korean people in Japan as well as other suspected “enemies of the state”, which included leftists. In this repressive climate, the early JCP decided to dissolve itself, until such time as they could build a legal, mass party. The party reformed in 1927, and quickly the Comintern exerted much more influence over it. One group of the party’s membership was expelled (they formed the Japanese Socialist Party), and the Comintern also got rid of a guy who had briefly been leader but called for the JCP to be a small, “vanguardist” party of hardened cadres instead of pursuing the mass orientation previously agreed.

Repression against Japanese dissidents intensified in the jingoistic climate that followed the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria. Police infiltrated the JCP, spied, carried out mass arrests of members, and even used torture against arrestees to make them renounce their communist leanings. This heavy repression continued throughout the war period.

The JCP was legalised by the US occupation forces after Japan’s defeat at the end of WW2. The US wasn’t looking to legalise the Communist Party specifically; it did so as part of a general directive for the imperial regime to release political prisoners. Indeed, it only took a few years before the US occupation forces and started persecuting the party again, as the Cold War intensified in the early 50s. Nonetheless, the JCP had some considerable success in the intervening period, winning 10% of the vote in the 1949 elections. However, the JCP’s role in the 1947 general strike saw it criticised by left-wing activists, who felt the JCP collaborated with the authorities to betray the strike. A big pillar of the JCP’s support was the Korean community in Japan.

For a brief time in the early 1950s, under the heavy influence of the Comintern’s successor organisation the Cominform, the JCP resorted to “extreme leftist adventurism”, sending students to rural villages to start preparing for a guerrilla war that would overthrow the capitalist government in a glorious revolution etc. etc.. In 1952 the JCP lost all its seats in the Diet (Japanese parliament) and in 1955 they renounced their turn to armed struggle. Instead they committed to the “parliamentary road to socialism”, which caused a number of more militant members to quit in disgust at the JCP’s perceived weakness and flip-flopping. The 1956 Hungarian uprising, and the brutal Soviet crackdown on it, also damaged the JCP’s legitimacy in the eyes of young leftists.

In the late 1950s, a New Left began to coalesce in Japan out of those leftists who could not countenance the JCP. One of the major players in that was the Revolutionary Communist League (Kakkyodo), which emerged in 1957 out of the former Japanese Trotskyist League; then in 1958 there arose the Communist League, a.k.a. the Bund, consisting of people who’d been expelled from the JCP. The “Old Left” didn’t consist only of the JCP, but also the Socialist Party.

There was this thing called Zengakuren which seems to have been an umbrella organisation of self-governing councils (I think student councils at universities, specifically?). Zengakuren fractured in the late 1950s due to conflict with the JCP and the New Left organisations, brought to a head over 1959–60 protests against the renewal of the US-Japanese security treaty. The JCP, however, recovered strongly from this crisis.

The JCP argued that Japan wasn’t “ready” for socialism, arguing that it still hadn’t dealt with its relics of feudalism enough to move on from capitalism. Sounds like one of those nonsense policy positions arrived at to be more convenient for the USSR’s foreign policy, but apparently the JCP was pretty isolated from the USSR’s Communist Party (and the Chinese one!) by the end of the 1960s.

As the 1960s wore on, the level of political struggle increased in Japan as it did in many other countries. There were widespread university campus strikes, protests against the Vietnam War (as US bases in Japan were an integral part of their campaign there), against US military bases in general, to restore Okinawa to Japanese sovereignty, and against the renewal of the US-Japanese security treaty. This struggle involved not only violence in clashes of the Left and the police (although the New Left was way more involved in that – the JCP focused on peaceful protests), but between the two major factions of the Left itself.

By the 1970s, the JCP was riding high (it achieved 10.5% of the vote in the 1972 elections, had hundreds of thousands of members, and had a solid revenue stream from sales of its newspaper). Meanwhile, the New Left had disintegrated due to internecine violence. However, this period of influence didn’t last either; with neoliberalism, and the Japanese government embarking on widespread privatisation and attacks on labour unions in the 1980s, the JCP ebbed.

The JCP is still one of the major opposition parties in Japanese politics, presenting itself as an egalitarian party that champions the causes of the working poor, like the abolition of consumption tax. It has softened its stances on a number of aspects of the Japanese political system, such as the office of the Emperor still existing, and the Self-Defence Forces (although it’s still committed to pacifism and supports Japan being bound to it by its constitution). Despite its accommodation to Japanese liberal capitalism, the police and national security people still scrutinise its activities and those of its members very closely, and publish an annual analysis of the “security threat” it poses alongside those of ultranationalists and what’s left of the New Left groups. The JCP still receives about 7% of the vote in elections, and has an estimated 250,000 members, although its supporter base is largely getting older, and it’s not appealing to younger people terribly well.

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