The Japanese Communist Party is suddenly attracting many new members. According to the party’s press release, the membership peaked at 500,000 in 1990 when it began its decline, and it has been hovering around 400,000 over the last ten years, but 9,000 have joined the party since the JCP central committee’s fifth general meeting last September. Chairman Shii Kazuo noted in a central committee report that “Kobayashi Takiji‘s The Cannery Boat has become a great hit among young people (as of 13 August 2008, Shinchosha is said to have sold 1,561,000 copies of this 1929 Marxist novel — ed.), raising interest in Marx. Even a television network is planning a show asking ‘Has Capitalism Reached Its Limit?’, soliciting an answer from the Communist Party. This is unprecedented, a situation that our party has never experienced before.” His goal is to win over more than 20,000 new members by the end of this year.
What is interesting is that 20% of the new members are young people under 30, and another 20% are older people over 60. The aforementioned JCP press release analyzes thus:
Young people, who were told that it was all their own fault that they had no future no matter how hard they worked, have begun to think that it’s a question of political responsibility and that they must change politics. The health care reform (separating people aged 75 and older from the rest of the older population, pushing them into a separate insurance system, shifting more costs onto them, and cutting services for them — ed.) made the elderly think, “Is this the reward for our sacrifices for the nation all these years?”; and they are now looking to our party.
On the other hand, Akagi Tomohiro, a freelance writer who is an expert on the problem of the working poor, says: “Young people are not actively turning to the Communist Party. Videos of Chairman Shii hammering on the problem of contract labor have certainly made the rounds on the Internet. But, the reality is probably that, disgusted by the ruling party, and unable to expect much from the Democratic Party, people are supporting the Communist Party as a result of choice by elimination.”
Former Communist Party Senator Fudesaka Hideyo (who was forced to resign from the party and the Senate for the crime of sexual harassment and has now turned a conservative commentator — ed.) thinks that “there is no question that the rapid membership increase reflects the expansion of the ranks of the poor. The party is attracting those who feel that they have been abandoned by the ruling party and the Democratic Party.” But he also points out: “The Communist Party has made it easier to join the party. Isn’t it possible that many among the elderly joined the party out of support for particular representatives who helped them? I say this because Akahata‘s circulation hasn’t grown.”
Referring to the example of Matoba Akihiro‘s new translation of Capital (Shodensha) selling 500,000 copies, Fudesaka observes: “As Mr. Shii says, there is certainly a growing interest in Marx, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into interest in socialism — there are many who reject that. I want to see what the Communist Party will do about this dilemma.”
How do conservative intellectuals see this phenomenon? Foreign policy expert Takubo Tadae sounds an alarm: “The divided Diet with the Democratic Party majority in the Senate has paralyzed politics, and citizens don’t know where Japan is going and have nothing on which they can depend. Moreover, the question of income and wealth redistribution is off the agenda, the working poor have been increasing, and class differences are widening. That’s the background for the Communist Party’s membership growth. This is a dangerous omen. What happened when democracy ceased to function? Politicians ought to learn from history.”
The original article in Japanese, “共産党、新規党員増加「蟹工船」「資本論」ブームで？,” was published in the conservative Sankei News on 3 August 2008. Translation by Yoshie Furuhashi (@yoshiefuruhashi | yoshie.furuhashi [at] gmail.com).