Electoral Gains for Japanese Communists

Japanese communists almost tripled their seats in the country’s general election on Sunday (14/12/14), which saw right-wing premier Shinzo Abe comfortably retain his overall majority. Article by Kenny Coyle, Communist Party Member and columnist on Asian politics. This article first appeared in the Morning Star 18/12/14.

Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won 291 seats, while its Buddhist party ally Komeito took 35, totalling 326 out of the 475 seats in the country’s lower house.

The LDP’s main rival Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) increased its seats only slightly from 63 to 75 and its leader Banri Kaieda lost his seat. The DPJ was itself born from splits within the intensely factional and cliquish LDP and shares its commitment to big business interests and pro-Washington foreign policy.

The far-right Japan Innovation Party took 41 seats, down one, while the ultra-nationalist Party for Future Generations lost 18 of its previous 20 seats.

However, the welcome decline in strength of the far right has largely been due to Abe’s ability to co-opt ultra-nationalist sentiment.
Two small centrist parties, the Social Democratic Party and People’s Life Party, won two seats each.
One bright spot was the resurgence of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) which won 21 seats, up from eight in the previous general election.

The JCP took 7,040,130 votes (13.3 per cent) in the constituency section and 6,062,962 (11.37 per cent) in the party lists.

This continues a wave of support that was also evident in last year’s Tokyo metropolitan election where the party doubled its representation.

Fighting on a platform directly opposed to “Abenomics,” the Trans-Pacific Partnership, militarist attempts to rewrite the constitution, US military bases and nuclear power, the JCP tapped into a minority current that seeks an alternative to Japan’s rightward direction under Abe and the tepid opposition offered by the DPJ.

Reviewing the results, JCP general secretary Kazuo Shii said: “Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asserted that Abenomics is ‘the only way’ but quite a number of voters felt that that might be a dangerous path to continue. We’ve never softened our head-on stance against Abe’s runaway policies. This is why, I think, our party gained so much support in the election this time.”

Of all the major capitalist economies, the Japanese model appears to have exhausted itself and, despite the hype, Abe has failed to revive it.

One statistic starkly illustrates Japan’s long-term stagnation: in 2010 the Japanese economy was actually smaller than it had been in 1992. The country has gone through what is being called “the two lost decades,” racking up a huge national debt (240 per cent of GDP) in the process.

It has been the failed policies of the LDP, which has ruled Japan for most of the post-1945 period, which are to blame — although this does not seem to be registering with most Japanese voters.

A common response is apathy — the general election saw a record low turnout of just 53 per cent.

Communist options are limited with few signs that other parties are prepared to resist the Abe machine.

Only on the island of Okinawa, centre of a mass movement against the US military presence, was the JCP able to get agreements with other anti-base opposition forces and a JCP member was directly elected in the constituency list as opposed to the 20 returned by proportional representation in the party list sector.

This lack of allies was acknowledged in a speech by Shii to foreign reporters in November.

“Last month, the JCP set the difference of political affiliation aside and contributed to the victories of anti-base candidates in the Okinawa gubernatorial and Naha City mayoral elections. Their success in unifying forces in the election has greatly shocked the central government.

“Thus, where the conditions are right for electoral co-operation, the JCP promotes an alliance with other political forces. However, in prefectures other than Okinawa, such a condition has yet to be met.

“All parties are currently unwilling to face up against the Abe regime based on the common ground of opposing a consumption tax increase, the Abenomics economic policy, the collective self-defense right, the restart of nuclear power generation and the construction of a new US base in Okinawa. The Democratic Party of Japan, for example, supports a consumption tax hike. It just calls for the postponement of its introduction.”

JCP leaders frequently make the point that the party is the only genuine opposition party in the country.

While the party abandoned the term “Marxism-Leninism” in favour of “scientific socialism” several decades ago and is implacably critical of the Soviet experience, the party’s membership is widely respected as the most dedicated and disciplined political force in the country.

Its 318,000 members are organised in 22,000 branches nationwide and its newspaper Akahata (Red Flag) has a combined circulation from its daily and weekly editions of 1.4 million and is a major source of income.

Another factor contributing to the JCP’s success is its self-sufficient financing. Ueda Hitoshi, head of the JCP’s financial and management commission, noted that: “The JCP’s finance consists of membership dues, individual contributions, and business incomes such as subscription fees for Akahata.

“We have never accepted donations from corporations or the party subsidy from the state because corporate donations distort politics and the subsidy infringes on the freedom of thought and belief guaranteed by the constitution.

“The JCP earns 87.6 per cent of its total income by publishing newspapers and magazines.”

By contrast the two main Establishment parties are heavily subsidised by the Japanese taxpayer.

The LDP received 63.9 per cent of its total income from the state, totalling about £54 million, while the DPJ accepted a staggering £88m, around 85 per cent of its total income.

Aside from its expertise in print, the JCP has also excelled in adapting social media platforms, especially those used by the younger generation for whom the Japanese economic miracle is a part of their parent’s history, not their own experience.

In 2008, footage of a speech in parliament made by Shii on the plight of exploited young workers went viral on discussion sites and led to a deluge of enquiries from young people. More recently, the party developed an online animated series Kakusanbu featuring characters to explain and debate JCP policies.

Koyo no Yoko, for example, is a stylish female trade union militant who lambasts the exploitation of the big monopolies, while sun-shaped Otento Sun promotes anti-nuclear power messages and Shiisa, a mythical Okinawan lion-dog (shisa), leads the charge against US bases on Okinawa.

In a country where adults and children alike are obsessed by manga comics and anime cartoons, the series has been a huge hit, taking the JCP’s message to new sectors of the population.

The JCP sees its immediate task as fighting for reforms and seeking an eventual peaceful and constitutional path to socialism.

Shii has said: “We believe capitalism is not the ultimate economic system in human history. We are going to move towards a society in which freedom and democracy will be allowed to grow and flourish.”

And in answer to the question why the JCP continues to call itself communist, he replied: “Our name has a proud history of 92 years and contains the aspirations of the creation of a truly democratic future society. We won’t change it.

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