Whatever Happened to Japan's Radical Left?

Friday, July 18, 2014: 11:20 AM
Room: 418
Oral Presentation
Patricia STEINHOFF , University of Hawaii, Honolulu, HI
In the early postwar period Japan developed two major parliamentary left political parties, the Japan Communist Party (JCP) and the Japan Socialist Party (JSP). Each was supported by labor union federations and other affiliated organizations, which mobilized for social movement activities on many issues. By the late 1950s, an extra-parliamentary New Left emerged among university students. The first group broke from the JCP-dominated national student federation to form an independent Communist League, and a second independent student group developed out of Trotsky study groups on various campuses. For over a decade, the student-based New Left played a major role in social protests alongside Old Left parties, labor unions, and other civil society organizations.

            During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Japan experienced a New Left protest cycle that paralleled those in Europe and the United States. It concerned very similar issues and had a similar trajectory of escalation of violence followed by strong state repression, which ended the protest cycle and drove the most radical elements underground or into exile. However, unlike the radical left in many European countries and the United States, the radical left in Japan has been largely invisible since the 1970s and is only now becoming somewhat more visible.

            Based on long-term fieldwork, this paper will trace the Japanese radical left’s evolution into an “invisible civil society” that continues to engage in social movement activity, but has had little impact on mainstream Japanese political agendas and action repertoires. The analysis will examine internal conditions within the movement and its interaction with the larger Japanese social and political context, including public fear engendered by the escalation of violence, the rigid employment structure that permanently marginalized radical activists, continuing state counter-measures against the radical left, and the gradual dismantling of the support base for left political parties.