Communist party surges as Japan's economy withers

Eric Talmadge
Associated Press
April 19, 2009

TOKYO (AP) - Under a big red flag, the headquarters of the Communist Party of Japan are the center of the most vibrant grass-roots movement in the country. The party's ranks are swelling, it has 24,000 branch offices and more than a million people read its newspaper.

Only one party—the one that runs the country—beats it at fundraising.

As Japan's economy withers, communism is coming to life.

Dormant in the boom years and marginalized even as Japan more recently clawed its way out of recession, the party's litany of capitalist evils is now resonating deeply with many Japanese—especially the young—who are feeling the pain of an economic downturn that some say has reached depression dimensions.

While the Communist Party—which is the fourth-largest party in parliament, but has only 16 of the total 722 seats—is not likely to take over anytime soon, it is making itself felt.

On college campuses, in particular, Karl Marx is popular again.

"I have never voted before, but I intend to vote communist in the next elections," said Suguru Yagi, a Tokyo college student.

Yagi, 22, said he had considered joining the party because he agrees with many of its policies and sees it as the defender of the working class. As a student about to graduate, he is concerned about the shrinking work force, and the difficulties he may find in getting a good job.

Leading Japan's communist renaissance is Kazuo Shii, the round-faced party chief, who has become one of Japan's most recognizable politicians and something of a media star, grilling the country's conservative leaders from his perch in parliament and unfailingly appearing before the cameras with what boils down to: "I told you so."

Financial meltdowns worldwide. Banks and manufacturers going belly up, or begging for bailouts. Unemployment and unrest on the rise.

Capitalism, Shii concludes, is doomed.

"It is inevitable," he said in a recent interview with The Associated Press. "When the persimmon is ripe, it will fall from the tree."

Shii, and the party, believe that time is fast approaching. And, in Asia's most dedicated bastion of capitalism, more people are beginning to agree.

According to the party, about 1,000 new members are joining its ranks every month—a sharp contrast to the massive exodus that has plagued the ruling Liberal Democrats, who have dropped from about 5 million members in their heyday to about 1 million members now.

The Japan Communist Party was founded as an illegal movement in 1922, but legalized after Japan's World War II defeat in 1945. It then struggled through polarizing splits with the Soviets and Communist Chinese in an effort to maintain its independence. It also has distanced itself from the radical left, which gained popularity in the 1960s and '70s, but has since died down.

Shii attributed the renewed interest in the party to voter disillusionment with future prospects in an increasingly difficult job market. People who have lost their jobs or their pensions are turning to the party. There is increasing distrust of the centrist Liberal Democrats and their main rivals, the Democratic Party of Japan, who are also conservative and are, in fact, led by a former Liberal Democrat.

The communist revival has also been spurred on by the pop media.

Marx's Das Kapital is now available in cartoon form, and a surprise best-seller of the year has been a revival version of "Kanikosen," a 1929 novel about exploited workers on a crab boat. That novel, too, is out in manga form, and is being made into a movie.

In Japan, the Communist Party has swelled to about 415,000 members at latest count and boasts a newspaper, Red Flag, with a readership of 1.6 million. It has also started a channel on YouTube featuring video of Shii addressing parliament and other tidbits for those who want to keep up with party goings-on.

Shii said his party is willing to work within Japan's system—he said it does not advocate immediate or violent revolution.

"We want to fix social inequities within the framework of capitalism," Shii said. "It will take time for people to make adjustments and be ready. We aren't advocating a sudden change to communism."

Political analysts are split on where the communists are headed.

Tomoaki Iwai, a Nihon University political science professor, said the party's recent popularity could be a fad.

"I don't see a bright future for the communist party, despite the current expansion," he said. "They are not going to gain decision-making status in Japanese politics."

But Koichi Nakano, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, said the party serves as an important check-and-balance.

"They are a perennial opposition party, but that is a significant role," he said. "Their ideological stance stands out in a political scene dominated by the conservatives, and it's good to have diversity. Despite their marginal presence in parliament, the communists' views are often considered commonsense among the public."

Outside of parliament is where the Communist Party has been making its biggest strides.

Though weak at the national level, the communists boast more elected officials than any other party because of their strong presence in local and prefectural assemblies, where they have more than 3,000 seats.

Party members are free to devote as much, or little, of their time as they choose—from simply voting communist when elections come around to helping run social activities and youth programs.

Because of the devotion of its members, the party's campaign machine is formidable.

And, while not expected to win big, the communists are looking at modest gains when the next parliamentary elections are held—sometime before October—because of the growing unpopularity of Prime Minister Taro Aso and his ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is widely seen as being in disarray and unable to lead Japan out of its deepening economic recession.

The Democrats are dogged by scandals of their own. But Shii complained that the focus of the media on the potential emergence of a two-party system has created an even darker shadow from which his party must emerge.

Even so, with younger voters, the communists are doing well.

"The communists offer hope," said Yagi, the college student. "I don't know if I would want them to take over power, but I think they should be big enough to influence what the ruling party can do."

He said he stopped short of actually joining up because the name of the party put him off.

"I like what the party is doing," he said. "But 'communism' still carries with it a stigma, like 'radical' or 'terrorist.' I don't want that kind of communism. I'm not a radical."

Americas Summit : ALBA Nations Condemn Capitalism

Socialist Voice
April 18, 2009


The following statement was issued on April 17 by six of the seven governments of the ALBA economic and social alliance in Latin America. (The seventh member, Ecuador, was unable to attend the meeting.) Speaking in Australia, Luis Bilbao, editor of the monthly magazine América XXI (published in Venezuela, Argentina and Uruguay), described the statement as "profound" and "historic."

"We have seven governments of the world speaking in language that used to be the reserve of left parties only," Bilbao said. "Gone is diplomatic language to discuss the political and economic situation facing Latin America and the Caribbean and their relation with the United States. Instead, we read that the draft statement of the Summit of the Americas is considered 'inadequate and unacceptable.' The ALBA countries declare that an entirely different approach to the world's problems is required.

"In opposition to the Summit statement is a radical and far-reaching declaration of anti-capitalism and socialism. This is something which the world's left wing parties must make known to the peoples of the world."


Document of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) countries for the 5th Summit of the Americas

Cumaná, April 17, 2009

The heads of state and governments of Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Honduras, Nicaragua and Venezuela, member countries of ALBA, consider that the proposed Declaration of the 5th Summit of the Americas is insufficient and unacceptable for the following reasons:
- It offers no answers to the issue of the Global Economic Crisis, despite the fact that this constitutes the largest challenge faced by humanity in decades and the most serious threat in the current epoch to the wellbeing of our peoples.

- It unjustifiably excludes Cuba in a criminal manner, without reference to the general consensus that exists in the region in favour of condemning the blockade and the isolation attempts, which its people and government have incessantly objected to.
For these reasons, the member countries of ALBA consider that consensus does not exist in favour of adopting this proposed declaration and in light of the above; we propose to have a thoroughgoing debate over the following issues:

1) Capitalism is destroying humanity and the planet. What we are living through is a global economic crisis of a systemic and structural character and not just one more cyclical crisis. Those who think that this crisis will be resolved with an injection of fiscal money and with some regulatory measures are very mistaken.

The financial system is in crisis because it is quoting the value of financial paper at six times the real value of goods and services being produced in the world. This is not a "failure of the regulation of the system" but rather a fundamental part of the capitalist system that speculates with all goods and values in the pursuit of obtaining the maximum amount of profit possible. Until now, the eonomic crisis has created 100 million more starving people and more than 50 million new unemployed people, and these figures are tending to increasing.

2) Capitalism has provoked an ecological crisis by subordinating the necessary conditions for life on this planet to the domination of the market and profit. Each year, the world consumes a third more than what the planet is capable of regenerating. At this rate of wastage by the capitalist system, we are going to need two planets by the year 2030.

3) The global economic, climate change, food and energy crises are products of the decadence of capitalism that threatens to put an end to the existence of life and the planet. To avoid this outcome it is necessary to develop an alternative model to that of the capitalist system. A system based on:
* Solidarity and complementarity and not competition;

* A system in harmony with our Mother Earth rather than the looting of our natural resources;

* A system based on cultural diversity and not the crushing of cultures and impositions of cultural values and lifestyles alien to the realities of our countries:

* A system of peace based on social justice and not on imperialist wars and policies;

* In synthesis, a system that restores the human condition of our societies and peoples rather than reducing them to simple consumers or commodities.
4) As a concrete expression of the new reality on the continent, Latin American and Caribbean countries have begun to construct their own institutions, whose roots lie in the common history that goes back to our independence revolution, and which constitutes a concrete instrument for deepening the processes of social, economic and cultural transformation that will consolidate our sovereignty. The ALBA-TCP [TCP - Peoples Trade Agreement], Petrocaribe and UNASUR [Union of South American Nations], to only cite the most recently created one, are mechanisms for solidarity-based union forged in the heat of these transformations, with the manifest intention of strengthening the efforts of our peoples to reach their own liberation.

In order to confront the grave effects of the global economic crisis, the ALBA-TCP countries have taken innovative and transformational measures that seek real alternatives to the deficient international economic order, rather than strengthening these failed institutions. That is why we have set in motion a Single System of Regional Compensation, the SUCRE, that includes a Common Accounting Unit, a Payments Clearing House and a Single System of Reserves.

At the same time, we have promoted the establishment of grand national companies in order to satisfy the fundamental necessities of our peoples, implementing mechanisms of just and complementary trade, that leave to one side the absurd logic of unrestrained competition.

5) We question the G20's decision to triple the amount of resources going to the International Monetary Fund, when what is really necessary is the establishment of a new world economic order that includes the total transformation of the IMF, the World Bank and the WTO [World Trade Organisation], who with their neoliberal condition have contributed to this global economic crisis.

6) The solutions to the global economic crisis and the definition of a new international financial architecture should be adopted with the participation of the 192 countries that between June 1 and 3 will meet at a United Nations conference about the international financial crisis, in order to propose the creation of a new international economic order.

7) In regards to the climate change crisis, the developed countries have an ecological debt to the world, because they are responsible for 70% of historic emissions of carbon accumulated in the atmosphere since 1750.

The developed countries, in debt to humanity and the planet, should contribute significant resources towards a fund so that the countries on the path towards development can undertake a model of growth that does not repeat the grave impacts of capitalist industrialisation.

8) The solutions to the energy, food and climate change crises have to be integral and interdependent. We cannot resolve a problem creating others in the areas fundamental to life. For example, generalising the use of agrofuels can only impact negatively on the price of food and in the utilisation of essential resources such as water, land and forests.

9) We condemn discrimination against migrants in all its forms. Migration is a human right, not a crime. Therefore, we demand an urgent reform to the migration policies of the United States government, with the objective of halting deportations and mass raids, allowing the reunification of families, and we demand the elimination of the wall that divides and separates us, rather than uniting us.

In this sense, we demand the repeal of the Cuban Adjustment Act and the elimination of the policies of Wetbacks-Drybacks, which has a discriminatory and selective character, and is the cause of loss of human lives.

Those that are truly to blame for the financial crisis are the bankers that steal money and the resources of our countries, not migrant workers.

Human rights come first, particularly the human rights of the most unprotected and marginalised sectors of our society, as undocumented workers are.

For there to be integration there must be free circulation of people, and equal human rights for all regardless of migratory status. Brain drain constitutes a form of looting of qualified human resources by the rich countries.

10) Basic services such as education, health, water, energy and telecommunications have to be declared human rights and cannot be the objects of private business nor be commodified by the World Trade Organisation. These services are and should be essential, universally accessible public services.

11) We want a world where all countries, big and small, have the same rights and empires do not exist. We oppose intervention. Strengthen, as the only legitimate channel for discussion and analysis of bilateral and multilateral agendas of the continent, the base of mutual respect between states and governments, under the principal of non-interference of one state over another and the inviolability of the sovereignty and self-determination of the peoples.

We demand that the new government of the United States, whose inauguration has generated some expectations in the region and the world, put an end to the long and nefarious tradition of interventionism and aggression that has characterised the actions of the governments of this country throughout its history, especially brutal during the government of George W. Bush.

In the same way, we demand that it eliminate interventionist practices such as covert operations, parallel diplomacy, media wars aimed at destabilising states and governments, and the financing of destabilising groups. It is fundamental that we construct a world in which a diversity of economic, political, social and cultural approaches are recognised and respected.

12) Regarding the United States blockade against Cuba and the exclusion of this country from the Summit of the Americas, the countries of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Peoples of Our Americas (ALBA) reiterates the position that all the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean adopted last December 16, 2008, regarding the necessity of putting an end to the economic, trade and financial blockade imposed by the government of the United States of America against Cuba, including the application of the denominated Helms-Burton law and that among its paragraphs notes:
"CONSIDERING the resolutions approved by the United Nations General Assembly on the need to put an end to the economic, commercial, and financial embargo imposed by the United States on Cuba and the decisions on the latter approved at several international meetings,

"DECLARE that in defence of free trade and the transparent practice of international trade, it is unacceptable to apply unilateral coercive measures that will affect the well-being of nations and obstruct the processes of integration.

"WE REJECT the implementation of laws and measures that contradict International Law such as the Helms-Burton law and urge the U.S. Government to put an end to its implementation.

"WE ASK the U.S. Government to comply with the 17 successive resolutions approved at the United Nations General Assembly and put an end to the economic, commercial and financial embargo it has imposed on Cuba."
Moreover, we believe that the attempt to impose isolation on Cuba, which today is an integral part of the Latin American and Caribbean region, is a member of the Rio Group and other rganisations and regional mechanisms, that carries out a policy of cooperation and solidarity with the people of the region, that promotes the full integration of the Latin American and Caribbean peoples, has failed, and that, therefore, no reason exists to justify its exclusion from the Summit of the Americas.

13) The developed countries have allocated no less than $8 trillion towards rescuing the financial structure that has collapsed. They are the same ones that do not comply with spending a small sum to reach the Millennium Goals or 0.7% of GDP for Official Development Aid.

Never before have we seen so nakedly the hypocrisy of the discourse of the rich countries. Cooperation has to be established without conditions and adjusted to the agendas of the receiving countries, simplifying the procedures, making resources accessible and privileging issues of social inclusion.

14) The legitimate struggle against narco-trafficking and organised crime, and any other manifestation of the denominated "new threats," should not be utilised as excuses for carrying out acts of interference or intervention against our countries.

15) We are firmly convinced that change, which all the world is hoping for, can only come about through the organisation, mobilisation and unity of our peoples.

As the Liberator well stated: "The unity of our peoples is not simply the chimera of men, but an inexorable fate"- Simón Bolívar.

Translation by Socialist Voice, based on an earlier text by Federico Fuentes, Bolivia Rising


Red Shirts in Thailand face the armed might of the ruling elites

Giles Ji Ungpakorn
Turn Left Thailand
April 13, 2009

For the fourth time in forty years, troops have opened fire on pro-democracy demonstrators in Bangkok. Each time the aim has been the same: to protect the interests of the Conservative Elites who have run Thailand for the past 70 years.

For those watching the cold-blooded murder by soldiers on the streets of Bangkok, it may be tempting just to assume that the present chaos is merely about different coloured T shirts and supporters of different political parties, as though they were mirror images of each other. This is not the case.

What we have been seeing in Thailand since late 2005, is a growing class war between the poor and the old elites. It is of course not a pure class war. Due to a vacuum on the Left in the past, millionaire and populist politicians like Taksin Shinawat have managed to provide leadership to the poor. The urban and rural poor, who form the majority of the electorate, are the Red Shirts. They want the right to choose their own democratically elected government. They started out as passive supporters of Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai government. But they have now formed a brand new citizens’ movement for what they call “Real Democracy”. For them, “Real Democracy” means an end to the long-accepted “Quiet Dictatorship” of the Army generals and the Palace. This situation allowed the generals, the King’s advisors in the Privy Council and the conservative elites to act as though they were above the Constitution. Les majeste laws and intermittent repression have been used to silence opposition. Ever since 2006, these elites have blatantly acted against election results by staging a military coup, using the courts to twice dissolve Taksin’s party and by backing Yellow Shirt Royalist mob violence on the streets. The present mis-named Democrat Party government was manoeuvred into place by the Army.

Most of those in the Red Shirt movement support Taksin for good reasons. His government put in place many modern pro-poor policies, including Thailand’s first ever universal health care system. Yet the Red Shirts are not merely Taksin puppets. There is a dialectical relationship between Taksin and the Red Shirts. His leadership provides encouragement and confidence to fight. Yet the Red Shirts are self-organised in community groups and some are showing frustration with Taksin’s lack of progressive leadership, especially over his insistence that they continue to be “loyal” to the Crown. Over the past few days, the Red Shirts have shown signs of self-leadership to such an extent that the old Red Shirt politicians are running to keep up. A Republican movement is growing. Many left-leaning Thais like myself, are not Taksin supporters. We opposed his human rights abuses. But we are the left-wing of the citizens’ movement for Real Democracy.

The Yellow Shirts are conservative Royalists. Some have fascist tendencies. Their guards carry and use firearms. They supported the 2006 coup, wrecked Government House and blocked the international airports last year. Behind them were the Army. That is why troops never shot at the Yellow Shirts. That is why the present, Oxford and Eton educated, Thai Prime Minister, has done nothing to punish the Yellow Shirts. After all, he appointed some to his cabinet. The aims of the Yellow Shirts are to reduce the voting power of the electorate in order to protect the conservative elites and the “bad old ways” of running Thailand. They see increased citizen empowerment as a threat and propose a “New Order” dictatorship, where people are allowed to vote, but most MPs and public positions are not up for election. They are supported by the mainstream Thai media, most middle class academics and even NGO leaders. The NGOs have disgraced themselves over the last few years by siding with the Yellows or remaining silent in the face of the general attack on democracy. Despite being well-meaning, their lack of politics has let them down and they have been increasingly drawn to the Right.

When we talk about the “Palace” we have to make a distinction between the King and all those who surround him. The King has always been weak and lacking in any democratic principles. The Palace has been used to legitimise past and present dictatorships. As a “stabilising force”, the Monarchy has only helped to stabilise the interests of the elite. The King has never had the courage to defend democracy or stop military violence. The immensely wealthy King is also opposed to any wealth redistribution. The Queen is an extreme reactionary. However the real people with power among the Thai elites are the Army and high-ranking state officials.

If one is to understand and judge the violent acts which have been taking place in Thailand, we need a sense of history and perspective. Perspective is needed to distinguish between damaging property and injuring or killing people. With this perspective, it is clear that the Yellow Shirts and the Army are the violent ones. A sense of history helps to explain why Red Shirt citizens are now exploding in anger. They have had to endure the military jack-boot, repeated theft of their democratic rights, continued acts of violence against them and general abuse from the mainstream media and academia. If they continue to resist, cracks may appear in the Army. During the past four years Thai citizens have become highly politicised. Ordinary soldiers, recruited from poor families, support the Red Shirts.

The stakes are very high. Any compromise has the risk of instability because it will satisfy almost no one. The old elites might want to do a deal with Taksin to stop the Red Shirts from becoming totally Republican. But whatever happens, Thai society cannot go back to the old days. The Red Shirts represent millions of Thais who are sick and tired of Military and Palace intervention in politics. At the very least they will want a non-political Constitutional Monarchy. It is hoped that the Red Shirts will continue to move to the Left during this round of struggle.