Rich history, bright future: The Japanese Communist Party convenes

ATAMI CITY, Japan — It’s 3:55 a.m. A small truck rolls along the dark rain-slick streets of the Seiso District of Odawara City, a little hamlet propped on the coast of Sagami Bay southwest of Tokyo. The truck pulls up to a compact building, the entrance lit by a bare light bulb. The driver drops a bundle of newspapers under an overhang and drives on to the next delivery. Five minutes later, a white-haired man of 75 years, wrapped in a bright blue poncho and sporting a fisherman’s hat, peddles up on a bicycle.

His name is Kunitsugu Wakabayashi, and he is on time for his daily newspaper delivery route. He is a seven-day-a-week volunteer for Akahata (Red Flag), newspaper of the Japanese Communist Party. Like thousands of other volunteers around the Japanese archipelago, he rises early each morning to help deliver copies of the daily and weekly editions of the party’s paper to 1.7 million readers.

“I have difficulties on rainy or snowy days. On those days I don’t want to wake up,” said Wakabayashi as he bicycled through the silent streets. “But I convince myself to go for my health.”

The dedication of Wakabayashi is testimony to the strength of the Japanese Communist Party, a party with a unique political culture and history.

The JCP is the largest Communist Party in the industrialized world, with over 400,000 members organized into 24,000 local branch organizations in this country of 127 million people. There are JCP branches in 98 percent of Japan’s cities, towns and municipalities.

The JCP is also unique in Japanese politics. Founded in 1922, it is the only party that opposed Japanese military aggression during the despotic rule of the Japanese Emperor up through the end of World War II, and that consistently struggles against ongoing U.S. political and military dominance. The JCP is known for its incorruptible elected officials, and its refusal to take government funding.

Besides a rich history of opposition to war, exploitation and tyranny, the JCP also maintains a vibrant political life in Japan today. Perhaps no other organization in Japan has such deep roots among the Japanese people at all levels and in every locality of the country. The JCP lives by the principle enshrined in its constitution: “The people are sovereign.”

24th Congress of the JCP

A few kilometers down the coast from Odawara City, the JCP recently convened its highest decision-making body. The JCP held its 24th Congress Jan. 10-14 in Atami City. Each morning 967 delegates climbed the winding path up a steep hill past stone walls, tangerine groves and tiny private homes, to the congress hall at the JCP’s picturesque compound.

Men and women, young and old, climbed up to the proceedings each day, prepared for a long day of deliberations, before walking back down to their hostels and hotels for the night.

The average age of delegates was 50 years; the youngest delegate was 18.

The eldest was 80. He is the head of a local JCP branch and has 56 years of JCP membership. Like more than half of the other delegates, he was attending his first party congress.

Twenty-five percent of the delegates were women, and many were under 30, including a number of young candidates running for office in the 2006 local elections.

The veteran leader of the JCP, Tetsuzo Fuwa, opened the congress with brief remarks. He was followed by a report from the outgoing central committee delivered by Executive Committee Chairperson Kazuo Shii. Shii reminded the delegates about the extensive work of the party since the last congress and the challenges ahead in the struggle for democracy, justice and socialism. Shii also recalled the 4.92 million votes the JCP received in the 2005 general elections.

Shii then articulated five characteristics making the JCP unique in Japanese politics: it has a comprehensive program upon which it is based; it has its own organizational structure rooted in the people; it is self-financed, refusing corporate or government funds; it has had a consistent policy throughout its history; it promotes international solidarity and exchange based on sovereign independence.

Finally, Shii quoted the congress Draft Resolution, stating, “The future belongs to young people. The JCP is a party oriented toward the future, with a program that can open a bright future for Japan.”

Policies of the Liberal Democratic Party

The main discussion centered on the Draft Resolution, which was discussed in local branches and bodies for two months leading up to the congress. The Draft Resolution addresses the central issues faced by the Japanese people, such as the continued U.S. military presence in the country, the assault on working people and the bankrupt policies of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which has ruled Japan almost continuously for 50 years.

“There is no future with the politics of the Liberal Democratic Party,” said Tamura Tomoko, a delegate from Tokyo, addressing the congress as one of the 58 speakers over three days of discussion. The Draft Resolution states that the LDP policies stand in stark contrast to the “public interests” and “the world trend toward peace.” The struggle for peace and for the abolition of all nuclear weapons is a central pillar of the Draft Resolution and the JCP Program, which was adopted at the 23rd Congress in 2004. “A world without nuclear weapons is possible if we make strenuous efforts. That is why I joined the JCP,” said Tomoko.

The Draft Resolution accuses the LDP, led by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, of three main “aberrant” policies: justifying the past wars of aggression, acting at the “beck and call” of U.S. imperialism, and acting in the interests of the monopoly corporations.

Opposition party diplomacy

One of the highlights of the congress was the large presence of foreign guests representing left political parties and governments. The JCP is the only major Japanese political party that routinely invites foreign guests to attend gatherings of this type. Representatives of 21 political parties from 18 countries on every continent were present. There were also diplomats from 16 countries in attendance.

The big international presence at the JCP congress is due to its policy of “opposition party diplomacy,” which seeks to counter the pro-U.S. foreign policy of the LDP. The JCP directly engages in diplomatic relations with other left parties around the world as well as with foreign governments.

There were also 20 guests from 16 Japanese organizations, including nine who addressed the congress with short speeches. Among the Japanese guests were Kimiko Tadaka, president of the New Japanese Women’s Association, Kumagai Kanemichi, president of Zenroren (the National Confederation of Trade Unions), and Hiroshi Taka, secretary general of Gensuikyo (the Japanese Council Against A & H Bombs).

Kanemichi congratulated the congress and praised the work of the JCP in the trade union movement. “Organizing the unemployed is a place for cooperation between Zenroren and the JCP,” he said. “Unionization of big corporations declined 10 percent from 58.1 percent to 47.3 percent in 10 years.” Temporary workers now represent 30-40 percent of the Japanese workforce and pose a particular difficulty for unions.

The struggle for peace and disarmament

Gensuikyo is truly a mass organization in Japan, engaging millions of people in the struggle to abolish nuclear weapons and prevent nuclear war. Being the only country in the world to be the direct victim of nuclear attack, abolition is particularly popular in Japan. Hidankyo (the Confederation of A- and H-Bomb Sufferers Organizations) is the organization of the Hibakusha, A-bomb victims from Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Together Hidankyo and Gensuikyo have spearheaded the movement to ban all nuclear weapons.

Gensuikyo launched a new international campaign to press for the “swift abolition of nuclear weapons” in January, the 60th anniversary of the first UN General Assembly resolution for nuclear disarmament. Today, despite the overwhelming opposition to nuclear weapons by the people and governments of the world, nuclear war remains a threat, and the Bush administration declares the “right” to maintain and use nuclear weapons.

The Japanese Communist Party believes one of the greatest threats to a peaceful Japan is the U.S.-Japan Security Agreement, which subordinates Japanese sovereignty to U.S. foreign policy goals. The U.S. maintains approximately 90 military installations, including major air and naval bases, in Japan and stations about 47,000 active duty U.S. troops there. About three-quarters of all U.S. military facilities are located in Okinawa. The presence of so many U.S. troops, besides being an implicit threat to the sovereignty and security of Japan and its neighbors, has also led to numerous crimes and violations. Just weeks before the JCP congress, a Japanese woman was robbed and killed by a U.S. soldier on leave.

Another threat to peace in Asia is the LDP government’s assault on the principles of Article 9 of the Japanese Constitution. Article 9 is unique in the world as it declares that Japan will have no military capacity for aggression based on the historical crimes of Japanese aggression against its Asian neighbors. In 2003, the Koizumi administration took the unprecedented step of sending Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to Iraq. Now, under pressure from the Bush administration, the LDP proposes negatively revising Article 9.

Led by the JCP, thousands of Article 9 Associations have sprouted up to oppose the war in Iraq and to oppose the revision of the constitution. Many of the delegates to the JCP congress spoke of organizing Article 9 Associations in schools, hospitals and other workplaces.

Delegate Moru Okama is a taxi driver. He and his fellow drivers took the initiative to establish an Article 9 Association in the taxi drivers union and printed up their own bumper stickers calling for the defense of Article 9.

The members of the JCP are involved in the major democratic and economic struggles throughout Japan from the struggle for health care reform to the fight for quality public education.

The electoral arena

The JCP prides itself on addressing the needs of the people at the grassroots. In his closing remarks to the congress, Shii called the JCP “the lifeline of the people.” From social service work to volunteer projects, to responding to natural disasters like the record-breaking snowfall this winter in western Japan, JCP members fight for policy reform and revolution while serving the people day-to-day.

This deep commitment to the well being of the people helped make the JCP the party with the greatest number of local assembly members nationwide. While the JCP holds 18 seats in both houses of the Japanese Diet, it has 3,600 seats in local assemblies. These elected officials in small towns and large cities use their offices to advocate for people’s needs and to oppose the pro-monopoly policies of the LDP.

Lots of laughter

There was a lot of laughter on the floor of the congress. The domed congress hall sat atop a large swimming pool, where JCP members can come cool off during the summer. The pool was covered up and rows of desks were jammed into the space to maximize participation.

While the delegates were disciplined, dutifully studying the congress documents and taking notes on all the speeches, they were not above laughing out loud at the puns and quips of the speakers addressing the crowd. Delegates did group stretches during the breaks in the program. The congress was a warm and welcoming environment.

The Draft Resolution was amended during the course of the congress based on remarks from the podium and over 1,000 comments from members who watched the congress proceedings by satellite hook-up. The delegates passed the resolution unanimously.

New leadership for the future

The congress concluded by electing 130 members and 14 alternates to the incoming central committee, which is responsible for setting party policy between congresses. The central committee met briefly during the congress to elect its executive committee and officers, including Executive Committee Chair Kazuo Shii, Secretariat Head Tadayoshi Ichida, and Vice-Chairs Ikuko Ishii, Yasuo Ogata and Tadao Hamano.

Outgoing Central Committee Chairperson Tetsuzo Fuwa announced his resignation from the post at the conclusion of the congress. Fuwa, 75, has spent 36 years in top leadership positions of the JCP and has been chairperson of the central committee since 2002. He will remain on the executive committee and will become head of the JCP’s social science institute. The position of central committee chair person was left vacant for the time being.

The leadership team elected at the congress represents the future of the Japanese Communist Party. The JCP is committed to honoring its past while preparing for the future. In January 2005, the JCP inaugurated its new central committee building in Tokyo. It is a building with cutting-edge design and environmentally friendly materials that was built to last 100 years. Kunitsugu Wakabayashi and Tetsuzo Fuwa won’t around 100 years from now, but the Japanese Communist Party will be.

Libero Della Piana ( is organization secretary of the Communist Party USA and represented the CPUSA at the JCP 24th Congress.