The Japanese Communist Party is considered a left-wing political party. Its supporters stand for the societal establishment based on democratic and socialism principles, opposition to militarism and peace. In order to achieve its goals, it attempts to work within the framework of capitalism and, at the same time, struggling against imperialism and its monopoly.
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Despite the fact that the Japanese Communist Party is a Marxist party, it does not advocate a socialist revolution. Instead, it offers a democratic revolution in order to achieve democratic change in the economy and politics. Moreover, the party aimed at the complete restoration of the national sovereignty of Japan.
This essay is an attempt to analyze the development of the Japanese Communist Party with a particular accent on the period between 1920 and 1950, taking into consideration the international relations of the country on a global scale. Since during this time the party existed in a volatile political landscape, there are different interpretations of the development periods of the party, which may be quite subjective.
For example, Beckmann and Okubo (1969) divided the prewar period of the development of the party based on its dissolution and formation into three periods: 1922-1925, 1926-1932, and 1932-1945. At the same time, Hoston (1990) divided the development of the party according to the Comintern’s policies shifts: 1921-1925, 1925-1927, 1927-1931, and 1931-1932. Furthermore, Langer (1972) divided the party’s development based on the eras of “pre-Stalinism” and “Stalinism.”
As can be seen, each of those theories analyzes the question from one perspective and reduces the significance of other factors. Thus, it would be more accurate to put the transition periods of its development in order to take into consideration the following three factors: the influence of foreign communists, constant suppression of the government, and factionalism of the party.
The interplay between the aforementioned variables resulted in the perpetual reformation of the Japanese Communist Party policy. As a result, it impeded its formulation of being a cohesive political platform. Analyzing three periods of the party’s development, it is needed to examine the reasons for its failure to become a conformist party.
The Period of 1922-1928
The first phase of the Japanese Communist Party development is associated with internal factionalism. When the party was formed in 1922, it was characterized by the absence of effective central leadership and little solidarity. It was mainly caused by the intellectual schism between Kazuo and Hitoshi factions due to their higher interest in spreading their ideas and theorization process compared to their actual engagement in political life. Yamakawa was the one who shaped the early policies of the party based on his Marxist theory background. However, since that was the movement dominant during the interwar period, Japanese reality can rarely be put in the same line with communist theories.
Despite the fact that the party attempted to build a united front in the labor movement in order to cultivate its support base, the effort failed because of the presence of various quarrels between the coalition factions’ representatives during labor rallies. The serious conflicts between the anarcho-syndicalist activists and party members often involved the police.
Because of the aforementioned conflicts, many labor leaders became disappointed with the tactics of the party that seemed quite ineffective. Another reason for such disappointment was the party’s strong government retaliation. As a result, the Japanese Communist Party has never received the full workers’ support. Since their development was not characterized by any progress, the party had to suspend its operations for some time.
As the party representatives were unsuccessful in having workers support base, they decided to concentrate their attention on the intellectuals, and particular attention was drawn to the student movement of those times. That was the beginning of “Fukumotoism” era.
Fukumoto was successful in attracting various university students because of his Leninist concept of an elite party. As a result, there was a high competition to attain leadership positions within the party between the intellectuals. However, the existing movement that was led by intellectuals eventually dissolved the party. According to Smith (1972), the student movement became some sort of training for the party’s recruits.
Beckmann and Okubo (1969) were convinced that the frequent mass arrests between the late 1920s and 1930s brought many students directly into authoritative positions of the Japanese Communist Party. There was a unique relationship between the students and the party as the latter did a search for students to recruit, but students themselves were searching for the party membership (Beckmann & Okubo, 1969).
The appearance of Fukumoto in 1925 provoked a strong struggle between those theorists who were associated with either “Yamakawaism” or “Fukumotoism.” The leader dedicated much of his effort to discredit the strategy of Yamakawa and, as a result, the whole organization suffered as such behavior weakened the party’s movement to a high extent.
Yamakawa was in favor of the Comintern orders to create a legal Communist party that would be an active parliament participant in perspective. In contrast, Fukumoto was a theorist who was merely interested in the reestablishment of an autonomous party.
The reason why the theory of Fukumoto became the mainstream of the party was that it attracted more students who were the main target audience of the faction. At the same time, the minorities supported the ideas of Yamakawa. Despite such differences in their approach, both factions acted mainly within the frames of the academic arena. According to Wilson (1998), the competition between both leaders was so high that the faction of Yamakawa left the party in 1927 forming its own that was called the New Labor-Farmer Party.
The government suppression that is associated with the first period of the party development was a basis for the crackdown on March 15, 1928 (Tipton, 1990). Starting from 1921, politicians had tried to pass anti-radical legislation in order to oppress the Leftist movement. Despite the fact that their bills did not pass, the party was faced with another problem connected with the Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Tipton (1990) stated that many people believed that the party had started fires and plotted revolution in the middle of the existing chaos.
The government of those times had created the state police named Tokko for monitoring the Japanese Communist Party's radical and suspicious activities. In 1925, the bureaucrat Kiichiro helped to establish the Peace Preservation Law, which provided a legal basis for the police expansion and initiated the development of a thought-control system (Tipton, 1990).
In 1928, the appearance of the conservative Tanaka stimulated the revision of the Peace Preservation Law, which also strengthened the jurisdiction of Tokko. The expansion of control against the Japanese Communist Party ended up in the mass arrests, which was the basis for the party’s transformation.
The aforementioned arrests were a significant turning point in the history of the party due to its international and domestic implications. The Comintern’s order was the primary stimulus that led to government suppression. The candidates were put under the names of the proletarian parties.
According to Tipton (1990), the government took its revenge by intensifying the attack when the Left candidates gained more than half a million votes. As a result, the majority of the party’s leadership was arrested or exiled. Thus, these events are considered as the biggest blow to the Japanese Communist Party. The changes in the policies of the party coincided with the ideas of new party organizers.
As we see, the second phase of the Japanese Communist Party was paradoxical. Despite the fact that it suffered severe repression from the government, the ordinary people presented the main part of the whole movement rather than its leaders who also supported the party during those times.
The Period of 1928-1933
The period of 1928-1932 is characterized by the times when Comintern controlled the Japanese Communist Party. The shift in policy of the party was the consequence of the struggle of the powers in the Soviet Union between Trotsky and Stalin. Thus, in 1927, Fukumoto belonging to Trotsky’s faction was removed from the power after the victory of Stalin. That also resulted in the change of policy direction for the party accordingly.
According to Smith (1972), despite the fact of Fukumoto’s unapproachable and influential personality, there were no disciples to continue his work. As a result, being led by inexperienced leadership that constituted mainly of students and having not enough financial support, the party relied on the Comintern’s assistance. However, the inflexible management of Comintern impeded the party’s development because it operated mostly in the interests of the Soviet Union, but not of Japanese politics.
As Stalin believed in the possibility of the war invaded from the West, the Comintern devoted much of its effort to prepare for it. As a result, it instructed the party to oppose the war in Asia and prepare for the revolution in order to eliminate its emperor. However, the views of Comintern and Stalin were incongruous with the realities of the Japanese world. According to Hoston (1990), despite the fact that Japan was an advanced industrial state, it was still categorized with other semi-feudal countries such as China and India.
Beckmann (1987) stated that the Japanese Communist Party was engaged in illegal activities without consideration for government repression, and the Comintern supported it. As a result, the party had to limit its activities to staging demonstrations and street fighting. Such behavior of public activism only provoked more retaliation from the police side.
In the times when the party attempted to be more radical, the government became more intolerant and nationalist towards social activism. Thus, the times of global depression of the 1930s were essential in the failure of the Japanese Communist Party to attract more sympathizers. The citizens of Japan accepted the authoritarian tactics of the government and its military expansion. According to Swearingen and Langer (1952), such behavior from the government was essential to compensate for the economic woes of the nation.
The policies of Japan shifted to protect the interests of Moscow but not to focus attention on the solutions’ promotion for Japanese internal problems. Such a shift made the Japanese Communist Party quite narrow (Langer, 1972). All of that reminded the era of Fukumoto; the JCP decided to direct its efforts to attack other Leftists. Despite the similar policies and views with Yamakawa, a high accent was put on fighting against his New Labor-Farmer Party (Beckmann, 1987). As a result, the absence of the alliance with the Leftists led the party’s development to stagnation.
The constant threats from the government in the form of arrests had a paradoxical effect on the Japanese Communist Party. It both weakened the party’s organization and, at the same time, it stimulated the grassroots activism among its students. Smith (1972) stated that such immaturity of the government allowed the students to participate actively in the party’s activities with a little interference. Compared to the Fukumoto era, this period resulted in the increased number of students who joined the party.
The aforementioned constant threat of students’ suppression from the government gave them a tone of both excitement and tension. They had good issues to study and discuss. Smith (1972) added that it was a great opportunity for students to build their movement in the name of academic freedom. However, the government strengthened its surveillance over the campuses by appointing its representatives in the supervisory offices of the students with the aim of on-campus arrests. Thus, the control was so high that any suspicious person could be arrested (Smith, 1972).
As a result, the aforementioned conversion was the second “shock” which transformed the shape of the party again. The years of intensive mechanisms finally broke the will of the inmates. It also influenced the majority of other communists. They did not only accuse the Comintern in its inability to understand Japanese society, they argued on the possibility to conduct a socialist revolution under the imperial family.
According to Wilson (1998), the belief that the repression of the government lacked corresponding communication between the party and Comintern was not true. Soviet spies continued operating in Japan during the war. It is more obvious that Comintern was excluded from that communication process because the Soviet Union had lost faith in the Japanese revolution. Thus, Stalin turned to the Chinese Communists and there was no need to continue cooperation with his Japanese affiliates (Wilson, 1998).
The lack of financial support made the Japanese Communist Party turn to violence hoping to delay its prospective fall. However, such disorder simply added further intensity to the brutality and arrests. It resulted in the implosion of the party with only a few remained members.
The Period of 1945-1950
Despite the political situation in occupied Japan was different from the pre-war era, internal factionalism, government repression, and foreign communist influence continued to affect the Japanese Communist Party, finally hindering it from the development as a mainstream one. During those times, the Soviet Union stuck in the economic chaos because of the collectivization program offered by Stalin. According to Mitchell (1976), as a result, it left the Chinese Communist Party to supervise the movement of the Japanese Communist Party.
Chinese Communist Party played a role in the abetment of competition and quarreling between members of the Japanese Communist Party. As the global communist movement after 1945 took a sharp turn to the Left, the Chinese Communist Party criticized the Japanese for not falling into line with them. Scalapino (1967) stated that they condemned the latter for its cooperation with the American imperialists. Since the party refused to follow such an approach, a number of dissidents transferred to the Chinese Communist Party side. Moreover, they argued for the emperor elimination accusing him of being a war criminal.
The majority of Japanese Communist Party leaders realized that opposing the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers meant political suicide. According to Langer (1972), the older members of the party leadership were persecuted for more than two decades. They also recognized the compatibility of American destruction of militarism and democratization goals with their party’s own (Scalapino, 1967).
Thus, the Japanese Communist Party representatives harmonized its activities with patriotic ones and became the radicalism opposition in the eyes of others. Furthermore, in order to attract more supporters, they fabricated a new motto of a peaceful revolution and a new party as a trick. They also created a popular front to use industrial workers as the mass base of its support.
The Japanese Communist Party, in reality, was a fragile organization. The solidarity within the party was distracted by factionalism and their alliance with other Leftists failed. The other parties such as the Socialist Party refused to cooperate with them as they viewed the Japanese Communists as those who were too influenced by the Soviet Union.
The survival of the Japanese Communist Party similarly to the pre-war period highly depended on the mercy of the government. The party was expendable by 1947, and its representatives turned for help regarding the country reconstruction to the US. The events of those times signaled the end of the labor movement. It resulted in a critical shortage of the party’s supportive mass base; thus, its general role was not decisive on the national stage of Japanese politics (Berton, 2000).
The Japanese Communist Party evolution of 1920-1950 was quite inconstant. The constant government suppression, party factionalism, and foreign influence are the main indicators that affected and blocked its development during the explored periods and its transitions from one era to the next. The Soviet Union and Chinese Communist party played an essential role in order to create the image of the Japanese Communist Party, which put it far behind from being a mainstream party. At the same time, its internal shifts in policies also contributed a lot, therefore, the party ultimately failed.