[Viewpoint] Japan’s communists are decent“I don’t have devil’s horns, do I?” he asked when we exchanged greetings. He was a reporter at Shimbun Akahata, the daily organ of the Japanese Communist Party, and naturally, he was a communist. He was joking that South Koreans consider the communists horned devils. I had to smile bitterly. Back in 1997, I was a correspondent in Tokyo. As we wrapped up the conversation, he took a brochure from his bag. It was the Japanese Communist Party doctrine and bylaws. He reminded me of a religious evangelist.
In September 1997, I covered the 21st party convention of the Japanese Communist Party. Time went by and the Roh Moo-hyun administration succeeded the Kim Dae-jung administration in 2003. On June 9 of that year, President Roh attended a conference hosted by the speaker of the Japanese House of Representatives. To Kazuo Shii, the chairman of the Japanese Communist Party, President Roh said, “I believe democracy will be complete in Korea when Communists are permitted. Perhaps I will be the first Korean politician to have exchanges with communists.” It was a theoretical comment and he kept his word. On September 9, 2006, Mr. Shii visited Korea for the first time as the head of the Japanese Communist Party.
Democracy is the process of acknowledging different ideas, persuading those with different opinions, having discussions, winning more support and putting ideas to a vote. The most important element in this process is observing the rules. The Japanese Communist Party was under severe suppression during the imperial period, and it promoted parliamentary democracy after World War II. Takiji Kobayashi (1903-1933) was a proletarian writer and his most famous work, “Crab Canning Ship,” sold 550,000 copies in 2008 alone.
Takiji, who was a member of the Communist Party, was arrested by the Japanese police and died during torture. In 2004, the Communist Party revised the party’s platform after 43 years and changed to a dovish direction, virtually approving of the imperial system and the Self-Defense Forces and shifting from “democratic revolution” to “democratic reform within the framework of capitalism.”
While the Japanese Communist Party celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, it is still a minority party. It is the fourth-largest party in the Japanese Diet, with nine representatives and six councilors. In an NHK opinion poll conducted in March, the Communist Party earned a 2.6 percent support rating, far lower than 18.1 percent for the Democratic Party of Japan and 17.2 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party. Compared to the Unified Progressive Party, which earned 10.3 percent of the votes in the April 11 legislative election, the Japanese Communist Party has a minor political influence. However, the Unified Progressive Party has a lot to learn from the Japanese Communist Party.
First of all, the Japanese Communist Party is a typical grassroots party. The PR chief of the Japanese Communist Party, Toshio Ueki, said in a phone conversation that the party is actively working on activities related to lives of local people, including medical and employment support, under the slogan, “The people are the main characters.”
Mr. Shii is proud that when people seek help at the police station or county office, the officials would suggest that they consult the Communist Party. Thanks to its hands-on approach, the Japanese Communist Party is the biggest party in local assemblies. Their philosophy is completely different from the beliefs of the Unified Progressive Party leaders, who try to please party members, not citizens, to make the progressive party successful.
They are also very strict when it comes to money. The political parties are provided with government subsidies, but the Communist Party refuses to receive any because the party believes that giving taxpayers’ money to political parties violates the Constitution. It does not receive donations from corporations or interest groups, either. Instead, its funding comes from profits from the party magazine, membership fees and personal donations.
The Unified Progressive Party has received more than 30 billion won ($26 million) in government subsidies from 2002 to the first quarter of 2012. It is going to receive an additional 18.2 billion won in election campaign subsidies in the next four years. When it is provided with such public funding, it is a disgrace to rig a primary and go through an unseemly power struggle.
Another exemplary aspect of the Japanese Communist Party is its adherence to the principles. The Japanese Communist Party criticizes anyone, whether it is the former Soviet Union, China or North Korea, if it goes against its principles. When the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, it welcomed the “collapse of the great evil.” On China, the Japanese Communist Party urged its ruling party not to suppress the media for criticizing the government.
Its relationship with North Korea ruptured when Pyongyang bugged the hotel rooms where the members of the Japanese Communist Party were staying during a visit to North Korea. They drifted away completely after Pyongyang committed the Yangon bombing and the Korean Airline bombing. The Japanese Communist Party strongly condemned the Yeonpyeong Island shelling and the recent long-range missile launch. They are different from the Unified Progressive Party. Remember the ambiguous stance of outgoing co-chair Lee Jung-hee, who said it was the choice of herself and the party not to discuss the dynastic power succession in North Korea?
If the UPP wants to get involved in parliamentary politics, it should do as much as the Japanese Communist Party does. Nowadays, no one considers leftist politicians to be horned devils. But if they deny a parliamentary democracy, all citizens will know it.
*The author is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Noh Jae-hyun