AMPO, Vol.29, No.2, March 2000

From a class party to a national party: Japanese communist party survives through the worldwide decline of communist parties


Tetsuro KATO (Hitotsubashi University)

Since 1989 when the breakdown of Berlin's wall and 1991 when the breakdown of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world communists parties were disappearing steadily.

The old type international communists' movements that centered on the Comintern and the Cominform were disbanded generally. In northern Europe and England they disbanded voluntary. The French communist party tries to survive by changing the attitude to the Stalinism, but their members diminished to less than one third and they have become weak. In Asia and Latin America they remain, but in Africa most of them, established by the support of Soviet Union, were disappeared .

In this situation, why only in Japan −one of the most developed capitalist countries−the communist party, the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) could survive. It's strange to see from outside. I may say some reasons about the survival. The first, they have been maintaining the independent attitude towards the Soviet and the Chinese Communist Party. And in the Euro communist era in the1970s, they had been preparing for a national party as participating in assemblies and elections by their flexible policy like the Italian Communist Party.

Another reason is the big change of Japanese political situation at the time of breakdown of the Cold War. A split in conservative parties finished the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) domination era and they were reorganized. After that the Japanese Socialist Party (JSP) and LDP formed the coalition. And the JSP that had been keeping their attitude of opposition, changed their name to the Social Democratic Party (SDP). And they went toward the acceptance of the the US-Japan Security Treaty and the Self−Defense Forces(SDF). As the traditional social democracy- the JSP had belonged to the leftist wing within the Socialist International-was disbanded virtually. In this situation, many supporters of the JSP −the traditional reformists or the constitution supporters based on the unique circumstance−became to support the JCP.

The ratio of the JCP's votes was 14.6 percent at the election of the House of Councillors in July 1999, and the ratio of votes at the election of the House of Representative in October 1996 was 13.1 percent. This figure is close to the ratio of votes of the SDP's last period. (It was 15.1 percent at the general election in 1993). But even if we add the votes of the JCP and SDP, it wouldn't reach to the amount of votes of the JCP and the JSP in old days. So, we can say these reformists who hold on their attitude in the whole Japanese society that was swinging toward the right, support the JCP.

The third, in the local politics, the JCP has become the leading party that has more assembly members than LDP. These people's supports is for the active assembly members at local movements, so they don't always directly support the party, but at least people has become to feel familiar with the party.

At the last, in the organization, Miyamoto Kenji had retired and the leadership was transferred to young leaders as Huwa Tetsuzo, Shii Kazuo or others. These new leaders have started a job to make the organization a little more flexible than before.

For example, in the1990s, the internal conflicts and the expulsions and removals by the conflicts at least has not come to the surface. they reduced from 480 thousands members at the best time in 1982 to 370 thousands now, and they lost more than one million readers of their organ from 3,550,000 in 1980 to 2,300,000 now. It can be said that they have made slenderer organization, and they have made unite the faithful bracket to the leaders.


The Japan Communist Party has the inconsistency.

The details all above mentioned, actually at the same time, have given the causes for the inconsistency. The first, related to the Japanese political situations, the policy alteration from a class party to a national party is contradicted itself. At the party convention, they decided to make the policy for building the government of democratic coalition in the early 21st century, and for that they need to swing toward the right like the experiences of western Social Democratic Parties. But if they put the policy into practice, they cannot avoid the criticism from traditional reformists who support the foundation of the party.

The policy it have become moderate to a right wing

As a matter of fact, they steer the party in the moderate and right direction. For example, in last year, the chairman of Mr. Huwa insisted that based on "The theory of the provisional government", they will shelve the issue of the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty under the provisional government. And he recommended Kan Naoto, the chairman of the Democratic Party, to the Prime Minister as the chairman of the main opposition party at the election in the diet on the second ballot. He said definitely, in case of emergency, we Japanese nation probably depend on the SDF.

Recently, about East Timor issue, they tacitly admitted the intervention by the multi-national army against the militia; they changed their attitude to international dispute compared with before in the case of the Gulf War. About the issue of the sending the Japanese SDF overseas, there is the possibility that they would show different attitude than before would be hidden in their behavior. It was because that they admitted the sortie of the SDF when boat of North Korea entered into Japanese territorial waters.

Besides, about the issue of "Hinomaru flag and Kimigayo song", that the government would force to legislate them as a national flag and a national anthem, they expressed their opinion that "We could accept it, if it would be legislated by the people's discussion". It is very strange because they have a tradition against the Emperor system. After listening the opinion of the JCP, the Chief Secretary of the Cabinet, Nonaka Hiromu said "Then I thought we could make'Hinomaru and Kimigayo'legislate".

It is unique that, In the case of the JCP, they can carry forward the policy change from a class party to a national party as accepting the symbol of Japanese nation to connect with the nationalism. It is different from western social democracy that aims at the supports of middle class.

But a policy change like this will lead to lose the supports of the traditional reformists who were the supporters of the JSP and the JCP once they were counter-force to the L.D.P, the defense of the Constitution, and the policy of the unarmed neutralism. In fact, the opposition group within the JCP has made an internet homepage named "Sazanami Tsushin" (Newsletter of ripples). On the homepage, they criticize the leaders, and people who are not the members of the party have become to contribute to the homepage for expressing their discontent.

Diplomacy: Turning from the proletarian internationalism

The change is also seen in the diplomacy.

Until now, their main policy for diplomacy, as the JCP's policy, has been the development of proletarian internationalism based on the international communist movement against American imperialism. So, the period that they have little relations with NGOs and NPOs like PARC except anti nuclear issue has been continued.

But after the Cold War, they started to have relations with citizen's movements or NGOs, and to approach the conservative or even the foreign governments. They put the correspondents in South Korea and China. Recently, the chairman Huwa visited the Southeast Asia, and they started to associate with the U.S. politician's actively. But the traditional reformists are puzzled to the policy like this. The members of the party criticize the policy to have friendly dialogues between the political leaders of Malaysia or Singapore where the communist parties are illegal.

It is good that the solidarity in the people would be built, but the reason why the government's policy is going to right wing, also it would be difficult that the diplomacy is going to make the solidarity with the people. The policy change would go to the direction that is easy to be understood by the ordinary parties-the conservative, a type of centralist party.

They have relations with citizen's movements and NGOs in and out of Japan. They have built the foundation to connect the citizen's movements and social welfare systems. There are some possibilities to build the solidarity with other movements as asserting the protection of human rights and the expansion of social welfare system, as an organization for the peace and antiwar. But it would not link up the big power to change the Japanese policy or the reconstruction of the international socialism and communism. While it would not be a big power, it might remain as a power to protest the Japanese policy becoming a right wing rapidly.

A split with the supporters

The third, it is serious that the aging member's average age is fifties and the too late change of generations. They have lost the influences for the youth movement- the League of Democratic Youth - or students who had provided a lot of members of the party and supporters for the party.  In public opinion polls, the strong support to the JCP comes only from the aged people.

And also if they would go ahead the direction, they would lose the supporters people who dreamed the communism or socialism. The leaders explain this policy change is a part of the democratic revolution based on the "Two steps revolution" from democratic revolution to socialist revolution. But they have never replied for a question about the socialist revolution from "Sazanami Tsushin" and others. Because if they steer the party in the right direction, they should cut off the left, but their actual supporters are traditional left, so they are in a dilemma that they cannot steer the party so much.

In this situation, it seems that they have not been aware the principle theory of the JCP. Before, they used marxist economic theory and made grand design of economic policy

of the coalition government, but now they seem admit any kinds of the thinking if they against the neo liberalism. While they criticize the each policy, they don't have the theory to justify the critics. Each of the members may do the good activities for the environment, but it not rules to the party's policy. After all, the details all above mentioned have given the causes for the inconsistency, because this situation came from the loss of traditional principles of the JCP.