Japan's Leftists Hold the Line Against Change

JAPAN'S two leftist opposition parties gathered separately last week to see if the ebb of communism might leave them high and dry. After short reflection, both the Japan Socialist and Communist parties decided that, despite rapid changes in Moscow and East Europe, they can afford to maintain Marxist ideology.

After all, as the parties' hard-line leaders reason, Asia is not yet a hotbed of anti-leftist uprising. The region's four communist regimes (China, North Korea, Vietnam, and Cambodia) have hardly lost any ground.

In fact, Japan Socialist Party leader Takako Doi plans to go to Pyongyang on July 19 and invite a North Korean mission to visit Japan. North Korea and Japan do not have diplomatic relations.

The aging chairman of the Japan Communist Party (JCP), Kenji Miyamoto, says he is not flustered. ``There is no need to hurry up and reexamine [communism] even if East Europe failed,'' stated Mr. Miyamoto, who has ruled the party for over three decades.

And, as they have become quite accustomed to their role as almost permanent opposition parties, the socialists and communists feel content just to wait for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) to make a mistake and fall from power, most political analysts say.

Leftist hopes were boosted last year when the LDP lost control over the parliament's upper house, due mainly to voter outrage at a new sales tax.

Although the LDP recovered by winning February's more important lower house election, the conservative party faces a tough choice later this year on whether to allow rice imports and thus risk a backlash from rural voters.

Despite the threat that it would lose younger members shaken by events in East Europe, the Japan Communist Party met at its 19th congress and decided to keep a hard-line stance. The JCP even sent a sharp protest to Moscow for its ``unprincipled collaboration with imperialists.''

Younger members, however, wanted a change of JCP leadership after the party lost heavily in the last lower-house election, dropping to 16 from 26 seats from the last vote four years ago.

To let off a little steam, the JCP recently published in-house criticisms of its leadership from some of the party's estimated 100,000 members, but went no further.

``The leadership remains stubborn and conservative, so the rank and file will likely begin to withdraw,'' says Seizaburo Sato, an analyst with the International Institute for Global Peace. ``I wouldn't be surprised if the Communist Party disappears by the end of this century.''

The socialists, who stand a better chance of gaining power, came close last week to jettisoning their long-held opposition to the Japan-United States security treaty. The party's secretary general, Tsuruo Yamaguchi, ignited a dispute by suggesting that the security treaty could just be transformed into an economic and political pact. Chairman Doi quickly squashed the idea. After gaining strength at the polls last year, the JSP membership has been torn between those who want it to drop many socialist ideas and those with ``long-term'' ideological commitment.

``Doi is a very stubborn leader,'' says Dr. Sato. ``Unless the JSP changes its ideas and becomes more popular, the LDP will see no need to make reforms.'' Sato adds that political movements may spring up around single issues. ``The age of broad ideological left is ending. But that does not mean the end of radical movements,'' he says.

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