AMPONTAN

Japan from the inside out

Mr. Shii goes to America

Posted by ampontan on Tuesday, May 11, 2010

HOW DID YOU SPEND Golden Week? Many Japanese took advantage of the concentrated holiday period from 29 April to 5 May to travel abroad. Last year, 1.03 million Japanese went overseas in May, which represented a 19% plunge from the previous year, the largest decline since concerns over the SARS epidemic kept people at home in 2003.

Nothing keeps those adventuresome young Japanese women home, however—the Japan Travel Bureau estimates that 24.4% of women in their 20s visited a foreign country during Golden Week this year, compared to 12.78% of men the same age.

Shii Kazuo

One of the many Japanese who grabbed their passports and hopped a plane or ship was Shii Kazuo, Chairman of Japan’s Communist Party, who spent the better part of the last fortnight in the United States. Mr. Shii thus became the first head of the JCP to visit the main kennel of the running dogs of capitalism since 1922. While there, he attended the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Conference, hung out with the Swedes at a UN disarmament conference, and addressed the legislature of the state of Vermont. That last one’s not as odd as it might seem. The state’s been sending Bernie Sanders to Congress for the past 20 years, making him the only self-identified socialist in the national legislature. (The other ones masquerade as Democrats to get themselves elected.)

All work and no play makes Kazuo a dull boy, so he also found time to take in a Broadway musical and visit a meeting of an NGO, where he hummed along while the others sang, “We Shall Overcome”.

Mr. Shii has wanted to visit the United States for some time, but until the late 1980s they kept stamping nyet on his visa applications because he told the truth about his Communist Party membership. This time, however, he wrote a personal letter to Barack Obama and got a reply in addition to his visa approval. He held the Presidential epistle aloft for reporters and said:

The American government has torn down the wall of anti-communism!

Ah, but that’s because the Berlin Wall got torn down first. After all, the Soviet Union and its “We Will Bury You” mentality were still alive and pretending to be well in the 1980s. Everyone’s gotten a lot more relaxed now that the political philosophy succumbed to its internal contradictions and its repeated failures wherever it was tried. There are other factors as well. Here’s one. Here’s another.

Asked for his impressions, Chairman Shii said the US had a “unique vitality”. That’s a common response for a tourist in an exciting new country—foreigners visiting Tokyo for the first time often say the same thing. Then again, one of the reasons America has a unique vitality is that it isn’t a communist state. Journalist/humorist P.J. O’Rourke, who visited many Eastern bloc countries behind the Iron Curtain, once wrote they were all “crap-in-your-pants ugly” and “dead from the dick up”. He also observed that communism was to life what pantyhose was to sex.

The JCP chairman’s kind words for the United States may not just be the impressions of a tourist or the flattery of a visiting politician, however. The Japanese Reds have been rehabilitating their view of America for some time now. At their January 2004 party conference, they approved the amendment of the Miyamoto Kenji Doctrine, named after a previous chairman, to eliminate the clause that cited American imperialism and Japanese monopoly capital as the “two enemies”.

The Miyamoto Doctrine of the 1960s itself marked a change of direction for the party because it made favorable references to democracy and freedom, two concepts not usually associated with Marxism.

Mr. Shii has changed his own tune, too. He has lately toned down the criticism of American monopolistic capitalism and replaced it with more favorable encomia. During the most recent party conference in January this year, he said:

We have respect for the great history of the U.S. (for its revolution and democracy)

At the conference, he also cited the letter Karl Marx sent as head of the International Workingmen’s Association in 1864 to Abraham Lincoln to congratulate the latter on his re-election as president. He quoted this passage:

…where hardly a century ago the idea of one great Democratic Republic had first sprung up, whence the first Declaration of the Rights of Man was issued, and the first impulse given to the European revolution of the eighteenth century…

What gives? He’s not running for office, because he’s already a member of the Diet.

The Sankei Shimbun speculates he might be trying to create a softer, more realistic image as part of a process to make the party acceptable as a partner in a future coalition government. The idea is that a more realistic stance will appeal to the growing number of independent voters, which account for about half the electorate.

Every Japanese political party apart from the DPJ and the LDP has been touting itself as a “third pole” (i.e., third force) in politics, especially those that have been formed within the past year. They all can’t be third poles, however, least of all the JCP, whose support in public opinion surveys shifts between the narrow range of 2% to 4%. That’s substantially less than the current support figures of about 10% for Your Party, which was created just last August.

The party enjoyed a surge of membership after the global economic crisis of 2008, but it was not able to translate that into additional Diet seats in the August election. They managed to maintain their previous total of nine seats, while their share of the vote slid to 7.0% from 7.3% in the previous election of 2005. It had been as high as 11.3% in 2000.

That might explain why Mr. Shii and the JCP are trying to present a more realistic front. Even after fears of a global economic collapse, trends are not moving in their direction. If you can’t lick ‘em, join ‘em…right?

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