The Theory and Practice of Marxism in Japan

The JCP has changed significantly for two reasons. First of all, from the mid-1930s and the real fascist transition in Japan – without going deep into the debates around the historiography of world fascism, whether Japan is called fascist, etc. – the JCP was not only outlawed: it was tracked down and destroyed. The JCP faced an extraordinary level of political repression from the state in the 1930s: extrajudicial executions, long prison terms for trumped up offenses, etc.

The main leaders of the JCP in the 1930s and 1940s – that is, until the height of Japanese fascism and until the Pacific War and the defeat of World War II – were in prison. When they emerged after the defeat of Japan and the Emperor’s surrender in August 1945, the JCP emerged largely unscathed, but with a remarkable degree of popularity, despite years of repression.

The JCP could legitimately say: “We are the only political force that has not collaborated with the previous system. Moreover, even among the people who were not in favor of the particular political ideology of the JCP – communism, socialism, Marxism – there was a significant part of the population, especially the working population, who considered them as a new possibility in political terms, at a time when the war had devastated the Japanese state.

It wasn’t just a perspective that said, “These people were persecuted by the previous order,” but also a perspective that said, “The previous order led us to destruction, so we should have listened to those voices. who saw very early on the destructive force of the fascist order. The Japanese Communist Party thus had a remarkable opportunity in 1945.

The American occupation of Japan itself is a very interesting and rather strange phenomenon. The policy was basically developed in many cases by very young people – graduate students at Columbia and Harvard. Politics under the American occupation emphasized the “defascization” of Japan – removing the remnants of the fascist order of institutions and reassigning previous elements of government to a new democratic order.

In 1947 and 1948, there was the possibility that the Japanese Communist Party and the Japanese Socialist Party would run on a common left-wing ticket for the elections. Polls have shown that not only will it be a success, it could even be a complete success – perhaps enough to form a government. This, of course, was totally unacceptable to Douglas MacArthur, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers at the time. MacArthur and his fellow commanders saw this through the lens of the onset of the developing Cold War – the possibility of Japan turning red.

This ushered in what would come to be known as the “reverse course” among historians. Until then, we had the feeling that the American occupation was going to participate in the defascization of Japanese society. Now, the occupation’s new modus operandi was to maintain Japan as a bulwark against communism instead. In 1947-1948, it was clear on the Asian continent that the Chinese Communists, who had fought for ten or fifteen years in conditions of civil war, were on the verge of victory, which would occur in 1949. The timing was very volatile in geopolitical terms.

At this point, the choice of the American occupiers was to favor anti-communism over defascization. It really set the stage for what would happen in post-war Japan, not only in terms of state but also in terms of JCP and what would happen afterwards. In short, the JCP made a brief shift to a more or less illegal form of wrestling in the early 1950s. It went, in part, underground.

This clandestine experiment of the JCP in the early 1950s produced remarkable political, cultural and even literary and artistic effects. It was a very influential period, but it was repudiated by the turn of the JCP in 1955, when the party declared the end of all attempts at armed struggle and acceptance of the parliamentary path.


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