Japan’s Left

By Ichiro Suzuki The October general election was the one for voters to choose the country’s system, it was said. The ruling coalition led by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has governed the country all but several years since its foundation in 1955 with two conservative parties’ merger. The leading opposition has changed its name several times since the final decade of the 20th century. For a long time until the 1990s, the main opposition was the Japan Socialist party, which renamed itself in the early 1990s as the Japan Social Democratic Party. Social Democrats still are still around today though as a shadow of former self. Whatever it is called, Japan’s main opposition party has always had one thing in common, besides their proclivity toward distribution of wealth and a bigger government as opposed to the LDP’s ‘mere' big government. It is their elusiveness on national security. It is common that a left-leaning party in the West is more pacifist than conservatives. Nonetheless, pacifism among Japan’s left has a distinction of do-nothing policy on national security with scant respect for armed forces, the Self Defense Force officially. The British Labour, the French Socialists, the German SPD and the Democrats in the U.S. are all more dovish than their conservative counterparts. Nonetheless, they still have a security strategy and understand the importance of their military as well as defense pacts, i.e. the NATO. Japanese socialists and left wingers have none of those, always trying to hold onto the Article 9 of the Constitution, which declares to renounce armed forces as means of solving international conflicts. The same is true for the left-leaning media that is clueless about national security. In contrast, The New York Times opposes deployment of armed forces most of the time but still has a good grasp of the military’s role in defending freedom and maintaining peace. Socialists and communists were brutally oppressed under the military regime that brought Japan to WWII. They were let loose after the war by the Occupation Forces led by General MacArthur, as freedom of speech was made a right. Unleashed, the Left became militant, openly worshipping the Soviet Union and later China after 1949. They truly believed that socialism/ communism would bring a better future to the country as Japan was embarking on its post-war recovery. As the threat of communism grew in the post-war Far East, as showcased by the communists’ takeover of China and and the outbreak of the Korean War, the U.S. allowed Japan to rearm, as it did on West Germany. Japan’s Left was in no position to accept such a development. Socialists in particular began to advocate a policy of “unarmed neutrality”. It is doubtful whether this stance of do-nothing on national security could be called a policy. While advocating neutrality the Left has had an apparent sympathy with the Eastern Bloc during the Cold War. Socialist even called North Korea a paradise on earth until the brutality of the Kim dynasty was brought to light toward the end of the 20th century. Almost 100,000 Japanese-resident North Koreans and their family members “returned home” between 1959 and 1984, driven by North Korea’s propaganda. (The returning project was undertaken by the LDP governments since they were concerned about high crime rates among North Koreans and their sympathy with socialist movements.) The Left’s utopian nonsense on unarmed neutrality was exposed to the public by the 1991 Gulf War. Allied Forces’ soldiers risked their life and shed blood in the Gulf, on which Japan depends heavily for energy supply. Constrained by the Article 9 of the Constitution, Japan was not able to send boys to battle fields. The Japanese public was awaken to the reality of the world while the Left continued to shout “We don’t want to have anything to do with the war as pacifists (but please keep selling us crude oil so we can live comfortably.”) Unarmed neutrality has proven itself to be hypocritical and selfish. To this day, the Left cherish neutrality of Switzerland, Sweden or Norway. While these country claim themselves to be neutral, they maintain the military, which the Left bothers not to mention. Sweden in particular has brought back draft in recent years, and it is applied to women, too, in this age of diversity. As their intellectual incapacity was brought to light, a monumental decline was inflicted on the Socialists, that renamed themselves as Social Democrats in the 1990s. In the latest House of Representatives election in October, Social Democrats won a grand total seats of one. Amid a spectacular collapse of the Socialists, the Left still had their places. The vast majority of politicians found their place in newly formed parties of the Left at around the turn of the century. In the first decade of the 21st century, the Left was consolidated in to the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ). In the 2009 general election the DPJ rose to power, defeating the LDP at last. The DPJ back then looked like a center-left party and acceptable to voters, as a number of men and women migrated from the LDP. From a different perspective, change of a government was a global trend amid the 2007-09 Global Financial Crisis, as the Great Recession created by the crisis was blamed on the incumbents. Barack Obama was elected in November 2008. A year later, David Cameron’s Tories came back to 10 Downing Street after dozen years. So the LDP was ousted. Three years later, however, Japanese voters did not bring back a DPJ government again in the December 2012 election, entrusting the LDP and Shinzo Abe. In 2009, the Left shouted “Let us give a chance to run the country.” So voters give them a chance but ended up with being unsatisfied with what they delivered, not only on security issues and diplomacy but also their handling of the aftermath of the devastation caused by the March 2011 earthquake in Northeastern Japan. Corporate Japan, of course, was totally unhappy with the DPJ’s management of the economy, which sank again into deflation amid a marked rise of the yen. Relationship with business is another thing that sets Japan’s Left apart from the counterparts in other democracies. While Democrats have cordial relationships with Corporate America in recent decades, especially with Silicon Valley and even with Wall Street, the Left in Japan has no credibility among business leaders. While the Left shouts about human rights and is very vocal on the slightest breach of the rights in Japan, they shut their mouth on what is reported from Xinjian and Tibet in sympathy with their comrades in Beijing. Since the defeat in 2012 the DPJ was broken up into two: one on the center-left and the other on the genuine left. The Constitutional Democratic Party (CDP), the hard left, is considerably larger than the other. They are a preferred choice of the labor, and is essentially underpinned by baby-boomer voters who grew up during the Cold War, and still feel nostalgic about the ideals of socialism/ communism. The hard left wing is the base of the party. However, younger generations share no such fascination or nostalgia with boomers. The CDP cannot possibly extend its wing to the center with more realistic policies on national security as well as on the economy, since it would anger the base. Among Japanese voters the largest block represents no parry affiliations, not aligned with any party, and they are larger than LDP supporters. Nonetheless, this group is unlikely to vote for the Left as long as they hold onto nebulous security policy, especially at a time of growing assertiveness of China in the region. About the author: Mr. Suzuki is a retired banking executive based in Tokyo, Japan.