JPRI Working Paper No. 67: May 2000
The Japanese Communist Party and Its Transformations
by Peter Berton

The Japanese Communist Party (Nihon Kyosan To, JCP) has not played a decisive role on the national stage of political life in Japan. The party currently captures about 15 percent of the popular vote in national elections, but because the electoral system still favors the incumbent Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the JCP ends up with proportionately fewer seats in the two houses of the National Diet than it deserves on the basis of the popular vote. The party has never held political power in Japan, not even as a junior coalition member. However, the JCP has more active members, more affiliate groups and front organizations, a larger budget, many more subscribers to its party publications, and a better organization than most other parties in Japan. Thus, perhaps it deserves closer scrutiny in today's changing political climate.

Like many other Communist parties, the Japanese party came into being as a result of the Russian Revolution and the subsequent establishment of the Communist Third International, widely known as the Comintern. Meetings between Japanese revolutionaries and Comintern functionaries in Bolshevik Russia as well as in Shanghai led to the formation of the Japanese Communist Party on July 15, 1922. Nine months earlier, however, a manifesto and regulations of the Japanese Communist Party had been published in a Soviet journal in Irkutsk in Siberia. This event has symbolic implications given that the most important documents of the Japanese party during the prewar period were, in fact, "Made in the USSR." The JCP was also known as the Japanese Branch of the Communist International, and was in reality directed and manipulated by Moscow.

In the beginning, the JCP was a small, conspiratorial group bent on abolishing the Emperor system, militarism, and capitalism. But the contest was very unequal. The powerful, centralized Japanese state, which operated in a small territory and a closely knit society, had at its disposal a vast apparatus of law enforcement and efficient civil and military intelligence services. The prewar and wartime history of the party is thus a sad story of organizing, being repressed, starting over, mass arrests and imprisonment, new instructions from the Comintern, the arrival and prompt arrest of replacements trained in Moscow, recantations by prominent leaders, and long prison terms for unrepentant Communists.

With the end of the war, the party hoped for a new beginning. In early October, 1945, the present author happened to be in front of Tokyo station, near his office in the Civil Intelligence Section of the Allied Occupation Headquarters, as trucks full of emaciated Japanese drove up. They were waving red flags and shouting as if in intoxicated delirium. These Communist political prisoners, just released from jails on the orders of General MacArthur, were the hard-core survivors of Imperial Japan's thoroughly efficient repression. For many of them, freedom came after long periods (in several instances, as many as eighteen years) of detention.

A few weeks later, on December 1, 1945, the Japanese Communist Party was officially revived at its Fourth Party Congress. In February 1946, following the return to Japan from Yenan of Nosaka Sanzo (the Japanese delegate at Comintern headquarters in Moscow during the 1930s), the Fifth Party Congress was convened. The party leadership claimed that in the intervening three months, membership rose from an estimated one thousand members to seven thousand. In April, 1946, during the first postwar election, the party managed to elect six members to the 464-seat House of Representatives and began to participate in electoral politics. Nosaka's idea was to create a "lovable" Communist Party and to proceed along a parliamentary road to power-- not an unreasonable position given the reality of U.S. military occupation.

In the 1949 national elections the party received 3 million votes, or almost 10 percent of the total vote (compared to 2.1 million in 1946 and 1 million in 1947) and elected 35 of the party's candidates. This increase in the number of seats came entirely at the expense of the Socialists, whose popularity had plummeted following the failure of their coalition government. (As it happened, it would be twenty years before the JCP would again receive 3 million votes, which by then represented only 6.8 percent of the total vote.)

In January 1950, shortly after the JCP achieved its greatest electoral success, the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) issued a blistering attack on Nosaka's peaceful parliamentary tactics, urging the party to adopt a militant line. Stalin had his own reasons for insisting on this policy change, which went against the best interests of the JCP. The party mainstream under Party Secretary General Tokuda Kyuichi hesitated, but an "Internationalist" faction, which ironically included Miyamoto Kenji (the future supreme leader and later an advocate of the soft parliamentary line), urged the adoption of the Cominform instructions to pursue a violently leftist course. The party leadership eventually succumbed to pressure from Moscow and Peking and, especially after the outbreak of the Korean War some six months later, took a sharp turn toward the left. General MacArthur thereupon ordered the Japanese government to purge the entire Central Committee of the party, which then set up an underground organization, with the top leaders and a number of middle cadres going illegally to Beijing.

The underground party tried to stage some acts of terrorism and industrial sabotage to help the Communist effort in the Korean War, but these were sporadic and ineffectual. This suicidal policy had immediate results at the polls. In October 1952, after the next election to the House of Representatives, there were no JCP members in the Diet. In 1953 Stalin died, the Korean War came to an end, and Soviet and Chinese policy gradually became more moderate. The Japanese Communist Party began to follow suit.

The Miyamoto Line

Since the mid-1950s the JCP's development and policies have borne the imprint of one man, Miyamoto Kenji, who only a few years ago reluctantly relinquished power in his mid-eighties. The Miyamoto period, from the mid-1950s to the mid-1990s, represents roughly half of the party's almost eighty-year history. Born in 1908, Miyamoto graduated from Tokyo Imperial University (today, Tokyo University, or Todai), the most prestigious institution of higher learning in Japan. He was a prominent literary critic in his twenties, while his late wife Yuriko was a noted member of the proletarian school of writing. Miyamoto joined the JCP in May 1931, was arrested in December 1933, and spent the next twelve years in prison. Upon release from prison in October 1945, Miyamoto returned to active party work; he was one of seven Central Committee members at the first postwar party congress. But he was not a member of the "mainstream" Tokuda faction, and it was not until the mid-1950s that Miyamoto maneuvered himself onto center stage in the aftermath of the militant-line debacle. He steered party fortunes through consolidation and the establishment of "a new people's democratic revolutionary policy," which led to rapid growth in JCP membership, electoral successes, attempts to form united fronts with other opposition parties, and an independent stance in the international Communist movement.

Since 1970, Miyamoto's closest associates have been the Ueda brothers. Ueda Koichiro (born in 1927) and his younger brother Fuwa Tesuzo (born Ueda Kenjiro in 1930), who joined the JCP while still students at the prestigious First Higher School. Both brothers moved on to the elitist Tokyo University, the elder majoring in economics (Miyamoto had graduated from the same department a generation earlier) and the younger in physics. Upon graduation, Fuwa became an official of the iron and steel workers union, where he stayed for eleven years, at the same time helping his brother with theoretical assignments at JCP headquarters. In May 1964, Fuwa quit his union post and became a full-time staff member at party headquarters working under his brother.

Fuwa's career in the JCP was phenomenal: in six years he rose from a candidate member of the Central Committee to become the director of the Secretariat and a member of the Presidium in 1970. While heading the Secretariat for a dozen years, he became a member of the Standing Committee, then its acting chairman, and, in 1982, its chairman, at which point Miyamoto moved to the post of chairman of the Central Committee.

A bright organizer with a theoretical bent, Fuwa is the author of many JCP documents that have tried to refurbish Marxist-Leninist theory by making it palatable to the Japanese electorate. In the 1970s, he turned his attention to relations with the Eurocommunist parties, in the 1980s to Mikhail Gorbachev's perestroika and "new thinking," and in the 1990s to a critique of Stalin's "great-power chauvinist" policy of interference in the affairs of the JCP. In 1990, Fuwa selected thirty-five-year-old Shii Kazuo, a graduate not only of his alma mater Tokyo University but of his own department of physics, to become director of the Secretariat. With Fuwa now in full control (and Shii as heir apparent), the JCP is certain to continue its soft post-Miyamoto line. (At the Party's Twenty-first Congress in September 1997, Miyamoto, in failing health at the age of eighty-nine, was made "chairman emeritus.")

Overall, Miyamoto's policies can be characterized as a continuous soft line when compared with the hard, militant policies of the prewar and 1950-1955 periods. But during the past four decades or so, one also notices an evolution from an almost grudging acceptance of parliamentary tactics to an appreciation of the transformation of postwar (especially post-occupation) Japan into an advanced industrial (in many respects even postindustrial) democratic society, in which neither the Soviet nor the Chinese-- only the Eurocommunist model-- has any relevance.

The period 1961-1968 was a particularly traumatic one for the JCP leadership, which first had to take sides in the Sino-Soviet dispute and then break its umbilical ties to both Moscow and Beijing. It is a measure of Miyamoto's political talent that he kept the party together while also presiding over the period of its greatest growth in membership. Toward the end of these years, there were dramatic gains at the polls.

The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia (1968) graphically demonstrated to the JCP leadership the need to emulate the Italian Communist Party (PCI)-- that is, to draw away from the Soviet Union and pursue a more peaceful, parliamentary road to power. In July 1969, a member of the Standing Committee of the JCP Presidium declared that if the party came to power, it would permit the free functioning of opposition parties, unless they resorted to unlawful means. This statement, made in an election year, may have been intended simply to improve the party's image, but the same criticism of one-party dictatorship showed up the following year in an official party program submitted to the Eleventh JCP Congress. (To create an image of an "open" party, the congress for the first time was thrown open to the public and the press.) In its next two congresses, in 1973 and 1976, the JCP continued to advance its autonomy and independence on the one hand and its commitment to peaceful change on the other.

To stress the relevance for Japan of the Western European model (and thus the irrelevance of the Soviet and Chinese models), the JCP, in July 1972, in commemorating its fiftieth anniversary, staged an International Conference on Theory devoted to the problems encountered by Communist parties in advanced capitalist countries. The Italian, French, Spanish, British, West German, and Australian parties sent delegates. The topics discussed included parliamentary and constitutional experiences, united front tactics, and methods for making the transition from capitalism to socialism in a democratic setting, including structural reforms.

Repeated declarations of independence by the JCP were officially formalized in 1973 at the Twelfth JCP Congress through an amendment to the basic party program of 1961 designed to eliminate the reference to the USSR in the phrase "the camp of socialism headed by the USSR" (emphasis added). The JCP also tried to dissociate itself from the student violence of the time by branding such activities as Trotskyist. Miyamoto even declared that "violence, along with sex, drugs, and gambling, is one of the four sins."

The JCP sought to promote the image of a party devoted to the preservation and expansion of freedoms in Japan. This was necessary partly to erase the totalitarian image of Communism and partly to counteract the LDP slogan "defend the free society." In the spring of 1976, Fuwa published a nine-part essay entitled "Scientific Socialism and the Question of Dictatura [sic]-- A Study of Marx and Engels," in which he stressed "the institutions of a democratic state, with the Diet as an organ of supreme authority of the country in name and reality."

Fuwa's essay was followed by a draft of the far-reaching "Manifesto of Freedom and Democracy," which was officially adopted on July 30, 1976, at the Thirteenth Extraordinary Party Congress. The Manifesto mentions approvingly the American Declaration of Independence and the French Declaration of the Rights of Man. The third section ends with this eloquent declaration of JCP independence:

The Communist Party of Japan reiterates that it will make no model of the experiences of any foreign countries, such as the Soviet Union and the People'sRepublic of China. As a consistent defender of freedom and democracy of the people, it will correctly inherit the original stand of scientific socialism; it will seek a creative development of socialism under the condition of a highly developed capitalist country, Japan; and it will continue to pursue a unique way to an independent democratic Japan and a socialist Japan, hand in hand with the people.


The growth of JCP membership following World War II has gone through five periods. From 1945 to 1949 phenomenal growth occurred, from 1,000 to 84,000 members (an eightyfold increase). In 1950-1958, the membership was reduced by half to 40,000, following the disastrous leftist course dictated by Stalin and Mao Zedong. From 1958 to 1970 rapid growth occurred again, amounting to a sevenfold increase in the twelve years under Miyamoto's leadership, ending with roughly 300,000 members. During 1970-1987, the growth in membership was slow (65 percent in seventeen years), probably approaching the half-million mark by the end of the period. Since 1987 there has been a slow decline. It was announced at the Twenty-first Congress in September 1997 that membership was down to 370,000 (a loss of almost a hundred thousand members in ten years). Thus it seems that the JCP's goal of half a million members (and 4 million Akahata subscribers) will not be reached any time soon.

Membership claims are party figures, and Japanese government analysts tend to dispute them, pointing out that the party typically sets membership goals for its congresses and during the preparatory periods carries a lot of "sleepers"-- that is, members who either have been delinquent in their payment of party dues or have not participated in party activities for a period of one year and can be subject to expulsion (Article XII of the JCP constitution). Party dues are one percent of a member's salary. Nonetheless, the JCP membership figure, however it is calculated, is greater than that of all other Japanese opposition parties combined and constitutes the largest nonruling Communist party in the world. This dramatic growth of party membership is one measure of Miyamoto's organizing skill.

An integral part of the Japanese Communist movement is its youth and women's affiliate organizations; its influence in certain labor unions, particularly those in which JCP members are in leadership positions and control the unions' affairs; and a whole range of organizations focusing on areas such as peace, international friendship, the antinuclear movement, welfare, and livelihood protection. Several of these organizations were constituent members of international Communist front organizations, even though their membership was by no means exclusively Communist. Many of the organizations were also part of larger federations of organizations on the left, some of which, especially those originally co-sponsored by the JCP and the JSP, have split into JCP and JSP groups. Most notable among these is the antinuclear movement of the early 1960s.

Some analysts have singled out the youth, women's, and small-business organizations as the party's "Three Great Families" (or Gosanke, an ironic reference to the three main branches of the Tokugawa family). More recently, three other organizations-- namely, the associations of doctors, lawyers, and tax accountants-- have been jokingly designated as the JCP's "New Three Great Families" in recognition not only of the importance the party attaches to these professions but also of the significant role these organizations have played in projecting an image of the JCP as a party that is helping people in their daily lives.


The JCP recognizes the power of propaganda and at the same time, surprisingly, is able to make a nice living from it. The party maintains a truly profitable big-business publishing empire, leading some to refer facetiously to the JCP as "The Yoyogi Newspaper Publishing Company, Limited" (Yoyogi being the Tokyo district of the JCP's headquarters). This publishing business practically maintains the party by providing it with operating funds and makes it possible for the JCP to be independent of special interest groups.

The most important party publication-- its financial lifeline as well as a measure of its success in Japanese society-- is the party organ Akahata (Red Flag), which comes out in a daily edition (and has since October 1945) and weekly Sunday edition (since March 1959). Three times a month, the party organ also produces Akahata Shashin Nyusu, an illustrated wall newspaper for propaganda and advertising purposes, as well as a monthly reduced-size bound edition for libraries and a monthly in Braille. Akahata maintains permanent correspondents in Washington, London, Paris, Rome, Berlin, Vienna, Mexico City, Manila, and New Delhi. As of 1999, there were correspondents in twelve countries, including China for the first time in thirty years. In Japan, Akahata employs some 13,000 correspondents, as well as more than 50,000 unpaid delivery workers.

Combined circulation figures of the daily and Sunday editions of Akahata are used by the party as both a measure of its success and a perennial goal. For some years now, the party's goal has been to achieve an Akahata readership of four million. The figure reported at the Fifteenth Party Congress in 1980 was over 3.5 million, the highest number ever claimed by party authorities. Since then, the circulation has declined by more than one million (or a third) to just over 2.3 million, although there are artificial increases before each party congress when members try to sign up as many relatives, neighbors, coworkers, and friends as they can. Nonetheless, Akahata easily surpasses the circulation of party newspapers of other nonruling Communist parties. In fact, Miyamoto bragged that his colleagues in the French and Italian Communist parties were astounded when they learned about Akahata's readership of three million.

In addition to Akahata, the party publishes Zen'ei, an authoritative theoretical monthly (since February 1946); magazines for women, students, and elementary- and intermediate-level party members; an illustrated semi-monthly for potential party members; organs of the party's youth, women's, and students' affiliates; a children's weekly; monthlies for cadres in the labor union movement and for young workers; an economic theory monthly; and the organ of the Democratic Literary League, Minshu Bungaku. The circulation of these periodicals ranges from 4,000 to 250,000, and total circulation figures, excluding Akahata, are about a million copies. At the height of its publishing activity in the mid-1980s, the party also put out several other journals, among them Bunka Hyoron, a general cultural monthly; Sekai Seiji, a biweekly on international affairs; Kurashi to Seiji, a monthly report on parliamentary affairs that was revived in December 1998 after the party's electoral successes under the new title Gikai to Jichitai (The Diet and Local Government).

The Central Committee Publishing Bureau also puts out millions of pamphlets, especially during elections, as well as a wide range of books. To publicize the work of the party abroad, the JCP established a subsidiary company, the Japan Press Service, that since November 1956 has continuously put out the Japan Press Weekly, a 20-40 page press release that routinely provides material in English from Akahata and other party publications; and a number of books (works by Miyamoto, Fuwa, and others, as well as proceedings of party congresses and other important party documents) in English and other European languages. Since 1993, the Japan Press Service also publishes a monthly 4-8 page newsletter entitled Dateline Tokyo: for people-to-people exchange, and since 1998, the JPS Daily News Service, which is also available in an email version. In addition, the JCP headquarters issues from time to time the Bulletin: Information for Abroad (in English, Spanish, and other languages) containing translations of important party documents, statements, editorials, speeches, and the like.

Party Finances

During the immediate postwar period, the JCP unquestionably benefited from funds secretly provided by the Soviet mission accredited to the headquarters of the Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers. Somewhat later, moneys earned by visiting Soviet performers were conveniently laundered and made their way into the party coffers. There were also some instances of unlawful importation of prescription drugs and heroin. In the 1950s and early 1960s, trade contacts with the Soviet Union, mainland China, and other Communist countries were deliberately structured in a way to benefit left-wing causes, including the JCP. Communist China, for example, moved most of its trade with Japan through so-called "friendly firms." But following the breaks with the Soviet Union and China in the mid-1960s, the Japanese party was largely on its own, with income from the sale of its publications constituting the predominant part of the budget, followed by "donations."

It is amazing, therefore, that according to official reporting, the JCP, since 1975, has been the richest political party in Japan, in spite of the fact that it refuses government funding. The LDP of course enjoys generous support from big business, and its political donations are more easily concealable than the JCP income from its publishing empire. Moreover, LDP supporters donate directly to the candidates rather than to the party. The reported JCP income for 1997 was 30.9 billion yen, followed by 24.5 billion for the LDP (14.9 billion of which was government funds), 13.3 billion for Komeito (the Clean Government party), 10.9 billion for the New Frontier party, 5.6 billion for the Democratic party, and 4.5 billion for the Socialists.

These figures are even more remarkable if we recall that the other opposition parties enjoy the financial support of business, large labor union federations, or a religious organization. In other words, the JCP is not indebted to outside interest groups-- an obvious advantage when one considers that the other parties have garnered much bad publicity because of "money politics" and conflicts of interest. Privately, LDP politicians have a grudging respect for the integrity of the JCP legislators, even as they despise the Socialists, who are regularly bought off by the government party.

The Electoral Record

Since 1946, the JCP has participated fully in the electoral process at all levels: the national level (for the House of Representatives and the House of Councilors), the prefectural level (governors and prefectural assemblies), and the local level (mayors and assemblies of cities, towns, and villages). Of course the JCP's electoral record can be measured in different ways: by the number of seats won in the national, prefectural, and local legislative bodies; in terms of party participation in prefectural and local governments; by the number of votes cast for party candidates; and by the percentage of votes and seats at all levels. The latter figure can be further broken down into percentages of all eligible voters, of the total election vote, of the total opposition parties' vote, and of the total vote of the parties on the Left.

Broadly speaking, the JCP's performance in the postwar electoral politics of Japan has undergone five phases. Phase one, from 1946 to 1949, was a period of growth. Phase two, the 1950s and early 1960s saw an electoral debacle and a slow rebirth. Phase three, from the late 1960s to early 1970s, was a period of rapid growth. Phase four, from the mid-1970s to mid-1990s has been a mixture of stagnation, gain and loss, or slow growth, depending on the electoral level or electoral indicator used. Phase five, since 1996, has seen an increase in the popular vote and greater representation in legislative bodies at both the national and local levels.

While the JCP was losing votes and seats in the 1980s and early 1990s at the national level, the party's contingents in the prefectural and local assemblies continued to grow. The total number of JCP-elected local assembly members grew from 650 in 1958, to over 1,000 in 1964, to over 3,000 in 1977, and to 4,421 in September 1999. Party officials now brag that there are more JCP members in these assemblies than those who run under the LDP banner (3,657 in December 1996). The JCP overtook the Clean Government party in 1979, the Socialist party in 1981, and the LDP in 1995. But the truth is that there are almost 70,000 seats in these prefectural, municipal, and local assemblies, and most candidates are conservatives who run as independents.

The breakthrough in recent JCP electoral fortunes began in the October 1996 House of Representatives election that saw the JCP garner a record 7.23 million votes (up from 4.83 million), representing 13 percent of the electorate (up from 7.7 percent), also a record. In the July 1997 Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly election the JCP doubled its seats from 13 to 26, becoming the largest opposition party, outpolling the new Clean Government Party. The upward trend continued in the July 1998 House of Councilors elections, in which the JCP further advanced in all categories: number of votes, percentage of the vote, and seats, increasing the party's contingent in the upper house to a record of 23 seats. The JCP also did extremely well in the April 1999 local elections, increasing the number of legislators in the prefectural, city, ward, town, and village assemblies to the highest number in the party's history. In the February 2000 gubernatorial race in Osaka, the JCP candidate collected over a third of the vote.


Conditions in affluent and democratic postwar Japan seem to be no more hospitable to a "Eurocommunist"-type party than was poor, repressive, Imperial Japan to its ancestor. One can argue, of course, that the ongoing shrinkage of the blue-collar working class will not affect the JCP much, since that class was never well represented in the party's membership and was virtually absent from its top leadership. Japan at the start of the twenty-first century is on the road to being a welfare state with hardly any real proletariat, whose interests the JCP is supposed to uphold. Over 90 percent of the Japanese public considers itself to be "middle class." Students and other young people in their twenties at one time voted Communist in great numbers, but this group is becoming, if anything, more conservative, as is the case in Western Europe and the United States.

This shift could mean a weakened JCP for the future. A few years ago, party leaders admitted that over 60 percent of the party membership was in their thirties and forties, another 20 percent in their fifties, but only 10 percent was in their twenties. At the turn of the century, the party membership breakdown by age appears to be even more depressing. Today only 5 percent of the party membership is in their teens and twenties, another 10 percent is in their thirties, 60 percent is in their forties and fifties, and 25 percent is over sixty.

Then there are the intellectuals, who over the decades have provided sympathetic support and leadership to the party. Today they, too, reflect the growing conservatism of Japanese society. Most Japanese intellectuals were disappointed, indeed dismayed, by the ideological bankruptcy of the Soviet Union, the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, and the disintegration of the USSR, invalidating seventy years of claims to building a new, progressive, just, and prosperous society. Closer to Japan, there is the specter of China. It went through the horrors of the so-called Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, only to begin, with the death of Mao Zedong, a partial dismantling of socialism, emulating certain key features of the capitalist system, and yet engaging in the brutal repression of Tiananmen Square.

In spite of the JCP's protestations of a commitment to nationalism, democracy, parliamentary pluralism, and independence, the predominant image of the JCP among the Japanese public remains that of an alien political creature, espousing an ideology that is becoming less and less relevant to Japan. The JCP occupies that awkward middle ground in which it is not revolutionary enough for the radical fringe and not trustworthy enough for the adherents of democratic socialism. Above all, the Japanese economic miracle was accomplished by aggressive free enterprise, albeit guided by a conservative bureaucracy and government.

Nonetheless, the party remains a formidable organization, at both the national and urban levels. It claims the loyalty of close to 100,000 dedicated cadres and probably another 100,000 faithful adherents, if not all true believers. The JCP is also like an iceberg, with the party membership-- the visible part-- only a small fraction of the Communist potential in Japan. Beyond party rolls, there are the youth and women's affiliates and the dozens of organizations either directly controlled by the party or partially manipulated by party members in critical positions of power. In addition, there are party cells in labor unions, government agencies, private enterprises, the universities, and lower educational institutions. Japanese government analysts have been warning about the long-range effects on Japanese society of, for example, Communist teachers in elementary schools, labor union activists (particularly among governmental employees), and Communist lawyers who may advance in the judicial system, perhaps all the way to the Supreme Court.

Finally, there are the millions of Japanese who vote Communist in general and local elections. It is significant that eleven years after the tearing down of the Berlin Wall, accompanied by the disintegration of communism in Eastern Europe, and nine years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union-- the midwife that helped give birth to the JCP-- over eight million Japanese vote for Communist candidates. Clearly, there remains a reservoir of commitment to the Communist cause in Japan, although there must be a good many protest voters who are registering their disgust at the sight of conservatives squabbling among themselves and all of the major parties (except the Communists) being sullied in various bribery scandals. The Japan Times called the JCP "a magnet for protest votes" (International ed., July 21-27, 1997).

Goodwill is generated at the grassroots as the party tries to be attentive to the needs of local constituents, and its record in selected local areas is much better than at the national level, where many of the party's strongly held positions (e.g., against the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty or the Self-Defense Forces) run contrary to public opinion polls, at least for the moment. At the same time, rapes and other crimes committed by U.S. servicemen reinforce the JCP's message, especially in Okinawa and near American bases.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the JCP played a positive role in helping to defuse the violence of the far Left and neo-anarchist elements. Here the party came out strongly and forthrightly against what Lenin called "left-wing infantilism;" and the party's youth affiliates, along with other organizations, provided a counterpoint to the very visible and vocal ultra-Left fringe. In the National Diet the party contingent in both houses can be counted upon to be vigilant with respect to LDP corruption, to support welfare, environmental, and consumer legislation, and to oppose the imposition of or the increase in the national sales tax, as well as the use of public funds to bail out bankrupt housing-loan companies. JCP legislators often play a constructive role in local assemblies, and the party has been effective-- especially in urban areas-- in helping citizens to cope with the complexities of daily living and dealing with local authorities.

In contrast to the French and Italian Communist parties, the JCP does not enjoy the support of organized labor federations. But that makes it the most independent of all Japanese political parties in the sense that it can pursue its policies without regard to special interest groups. It may also pay dividends with the voting public, who perceive the Communists as honest, whatever else they might think of the party, its leadership, or its policies. Another factor in favor of the JCP is the general dissatisfaction of the Japanese public with the political process, which is reflected in the declining rate of electoral turnout: from 75 percent in 1980 to just under 60 percent in 1996.

The Japanese Communists naturally reject the argument that "the collapse of the Soviet Union = the collapse of communism." They argue that what took place in the Soviet Union was not the failure and bankruptcy of socialism and communism but "the collapse of the Stalin-Brezhnev type of regime." When the Berlin Wall came down and communist regimes began to disintegrate in Eastern Europe, the Italian Communist party moved from Eurocommunism to the Euroleft. It sought to join the Socialist International, and as part of the process has dropped the word "Communist" in its name to become the Democratic Party of the Left. Shortly thereafter the party abolished democratic centralism and in effect became a social democratic party. At present a Communist who now calls himself a "Democrat of the Left" is the Prime Minister of Italy.

The Japanese Communists are not ready to change the name of their party, even though they dropped Marxism-Leninism in favor of scientific socialism a quarter century ago. JCP leaders contend that to change the name would imply that the party had made mistakes (which they deny). While in the past the Italian Communist party served as a model for the JCP (without the Japanese Communists ever acknowledging their debt), this time the Japanese are not likely to follow the Italians.

The French Communist party repudiated democratic centralism only in 1994, and although it polled under 10 percent of the votes (down from over 20 at the height of its popularity in the 1970s), it is a junior coalition member in a socialist government. Three Communist members (two of them women) are ministers in the French government.

In politics, long-term predictions are very hazardous. Miyamoto's retirement was a blessing for the party, as it removed one more reminder of the JCP's alien and violent past, even though he must be credited with building up the party from the nadir brought about by misguided Soviet and Chinese policies. The question remains whether his technocrat successors will be able to hold the party together, increase its strength quantitatively (and, more important, qualitatively), make inroads into the labor federations, retain the protest and floating vote, and offer a program that is relevant to Japan at the turn of the century.

Can they do all of this and also change the autocratic structure of the party? Fuwa, the physics graduate, seems to have a talent for commenting on Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist classics and engaging in sterile debates. He has yet to come up with a creative look at the present political, economic, and social reality in Japan. His brother Ueda and Shii, another physicist (who is said also to have composed sonatas for the violin and piano) are better known for their organizational talents than for their ideas. Thus, prospects are not good for the JCP to overcome its history and ideology and present new, relevant, and attractive ideas.

The party is very skillful in propaganda, however, and carefully stresses the facts that are favorable and ignores or hides those that are not. For instance, as mentioned earlier, the party trumpets the fact that in prefectural, municipal, and local assemblies JCP members outnumber LDP members but fails to mention that the vast majority of assembly members are conservatives who run as independents. The JCP proclaims with fanfare the increase in party representation in the House of Representatives from 15 to 26, but fails to note that two decades ago there were 41. The leadership announces that 5,000 new members were recruited in recent months, and does not refer to the days when some 40 to 50 thousand new members joined the party in the same length of time.

The party also engages in hyperbole and sets unrealistic goals. After the 1996 House of Representatives election, when the party amassed over 7 million votes, the leadership set a new membership goal of 726,000, or 10 percent of the JCP voters, and a new Akahata readership goal of 3,630,000, or 50 percent of the number of people who voted for the party-- totally unreachable goals given the current numbers and the steady downward trends.

Public opinion polls underscore the low popularity of the JCP and the erosion of its support in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s. One such monthly poll showed that support for the JCP fluctuated from just under one percent to a little over 3 percent. Support for the JSP has varied from 8 to 12 percent, and for the LDP from 22 to 34 percent. Nonetheless, according to an annual poll taken by the Nihon Keizai Shimbun (Nikkei Weekly, July 15, 1996), support for the JCP rose dramatically from under 2 percent in mid-1994 to 5.5 percent in mid-1996. The Yomiuri Shimbun poll (July 24, 1998) showed a further increase to 6.5 percent in July 1998, while the Socialists' and the new Clean Government Party support was 4.2 percent each, and the Liberal Party's was 3.3 percent.

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How do Communist party members feel about other countries? According to the latest available edition of a monthly poll conducted for almost forty years by the Prime Minister's Office, 58.8 percent of JCP members admire Switzerland-- that paragon of bourgeois values-- followed by Britain (44.1 percent), France (38.2 percent), the United States (23.5 percent), Germany (20.6 percent), China (11.8 percent), South Korea (2.9 percent), while Russia, India, and North Korea are altogether off the screen. Of course, the figure for JCP members' admiration for the United States-- 23.5 percent-- is much less than that of supporters of other parties, which ranges from 48 to 61.5 percent (LDP members are America's best friends). The low figure for China-- after all, it is still a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist regime-- is significant, especially since the Japanese and Chinese Communist parties have made up their differences after three decades of bitter estrangement; and Chairman Fuwa visited Beijing in July 1998.

Answers to the opposite question in the poll-- which countries are held in low esteem (kirai na kuni-- countries you hate) are also interesting. Japanese Communists seem to hate Communist North Korea the most (76.5 percent, even higher than the LDP percentage of 74.2), followed by Russia (35.3 percent), the United States and South Korea (14.7 percent each), India (11.8 percent), China (8.8 percent), Germany (4.2 percent), with other Western European countries off the screen, presumably not objects of JCP members' displeasure.

In the second half of the 1990s, the consistently pragmatic role of the JCP in the National Diet seems to have melted the isolation of the party. In June 1998, the JCP joined the Democratic and Liberal parties in submitting a non-confidence vote in the lower house, the Communists' first such action in sixteen years. A prominent conservative leader and head of the Liberal party, Ozawa Ichiro, stated that he did not rule out a coalition with the Communists if the JCP supports his party's positions and policies.

The JCP achieved a great measure of legitimacy and credibility when, in February 1998, Kato Koichi, secretary-general of the LDP, agreed to an exclusive one-on-one debate with Shii, the director of the JCP secretariat, the first such debate in the history of Japan's television broadcasting. This played into the hands of party propagandists, who have been describing the present era as one of "LDP-JCP confrontation" (Jikyo tairitsu), with the JCP being the only true opposition party and the other parties simply "mimicking" the LDP. In April 1999, Ishihara Shintaro, then the Governor-elect of Tokyo Metropolis and a former LDP cabinet minister, spoke disparagingly of party politics in Japan but singled out the JCP as the only party that had not engaged in factional jumping on-and-off the political merry-go-round. He also said that he did not think his views and those of the JCP were "so far apart any more."

In December 1998, Fuwa lectured to chief executive officers and the heads of personnel departments of companies listed on the First Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange (similar to the Fortune five hundred). While the lecture was not particularly revealing-- Fuwa said that the JCP aimed at gradual, step-by-step democratic reforms based on popular consensus, to be carried out within the framework of capitalism-- the mere fact of such contacts reaffirmed the flexibility of the JCP and its growing political prestige.

On the international front, at the 21st Congress invitations were sent out for the first time to South Korean and Chinese journalists, and as mentioned above, the JCP normalized relations with the Chinese Communist Party in 1998. This also helps the JCP image, as representatives of the CCP are likely to attend the next congress of the Japanese Communist party. The JCP plays the nationalist card in its insistence that Russia (and before that the Soviet Union) return all of the Kurile islands seized by the Red Army in August and September of 1945. This represents a maximum claim, as all the other parties in Japan say they want only the four southernmost islands adjacent to Hokkaido.

In conclusion, one might speculate that as in the case of German or Israeli politics, a relatively small party can play the role of kingmaker. It is not entirely out of the question that as the LDP and its main conservative opposition parties become roughly equal, no party can obtain a majority in the lower house without Communist votes. Is this likely to happen? It seems unlikely in the short or long term, but a possibility in the medium term. The LDP should not be counted out in the near term and the country may not yet be ready to countenance Communists in power (as is the case in Italy and France). At the other extreme of the time frame, the JCP's numerous but aging cohorts should pretty much have disappeared by the time the party celebrates its centennial in 2022. But in the medium term, say in the next five to ten years, the JCP might get a crack at direct involvement in a governing coalition. This just might be its only such opportunity.

*Note: Japanese names are given in Japanese order, surname first followed by given name.

PETER BERTON is professor emeritus of international relations at the University of Southern California and author of many works, including The Japanese-Russian Territorial Dilemma;The Secret Russo-Japanese Alliance of 1916; and, as editor and translator, The Russian Impact on Japan: Literature and Social Thought and The Fateful Choice: Japan's Advance into Southeast Asia. This Working Paper is excerpted from his chapter in Ronald J. Hrebenar, Japan's New Party System (Westview Press, 2000) and is used with permission. © Westview Press, 2000.

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