New JCP Chairperson: Can Generational Change Expand Party Strength?

The Japanese Communist Party seems to be aiming to rebuild its strength through a new initiative with generational change in its leadership and the appointment of a female leader.

However, it will not be easy to expand support for the party while maintaining its policy of aiming to realize a change to a socialist and communist system.

At the latest party convention, JCP Chairperson Kazuo Shii, 69, was replaced by House of Councillors member Tomoko Tamura, 58, the party’s Policy Commission chairperson. This is the first time for a woman to head the party.

Shii became chairperson of the JCP Central Committee, a post that had been vacant. Tetsuzo Fuwa, 93, who had been Shii’s predecessor as the Central Committee chairperson, left the committee, which is the party’s leadership.

Shii had been party chairperson for 23 years, the longest tenure in the party’s history, and some party members have called for him to be replaced.

Last year, two longtime party members published a book in which they called for the party head to be elected by a vote of all party members. The leadership expelled the two for violating the party’s constitution.

The JCP’s system for appointing its party chairperson is that delegates from local organizations select members of the Central Committee, who then discuss and approve personnel proposals made by the party leadership at the general meeting of the Central Committee. This time, as usual, there were no changes to personnel proposals, which were approved as drafted by the leadership.

The JCP has experienced a marked decline in party strength. The number of party members has fallen to 250,000, half of its peak. The number of subscribers to its official newspaper, Shimbun Akahata, has also dropped from 3.55 million in 1980 to 850,000 currently.

Within the party, there has been a smoldering view over whether to replace Shii, who is seen as having weakened the organization under his leadership.

Tamura has been elected to the upper house three times and is aiming to switch to the House of Representatives in the next lower house election. She has distinguished herself by pursuing scandals, such as one related to cherry blossom-viewing parties during the administration of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. However, she will have to negotiate with other parties to coordinate opposition party candidates in elections.

In recent years, the JCP has been trying to revamp its party image by revising its program and proposing flexible policies.

The JCP used to call for the immediate discontinuation of the Imperial system and the dissolution of the Self-Defense Forces. In 2004, however, the party came out with a policy of accepting the Imperial system and the SDF for the time being. In 2020, the party revised its positive view of China and criticized Beijing’s hegemonic activities.

However, the party’s program still calls for the abolition of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty. It also maintains the policy of dissolving the SDF in the future based on a national consensus, calling the SDF “unconstitutional.”

It is obvious that these arguments diverge from the majority of public opinion.

At the party convention, the JCP also adopted a resolution calling for the rebuilding of a united front among opposition parties. However, one cannot help but wonder whether any party will accept the JCP’s view of the nation and basic philosophy enough to fight alongside the JCP.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 19, 2024)