Japanese Socialist Party

Japanese Socialist Party
   Formed immediately after the end of the Pacific War in 1945, the Japanese Socialist Party combined the various non-communist groups of the prewar Japanese left into one party. The name in Japanese was the Japan Socialist Party (Nihon Shakai To) but in English it sometimes referred to itself as the Social Democratic Party of Japan (SDJP) reflecting doctrinal disputes whereby the left of the party rejected social democracy as reformist. At first the party was primarily led by Christian socialists with the Marxist left wing playing a major role as activists, both in the party and in the labor and tenant farmer movements. It became the largest party in parliament in the 1947 General Election and its leader, the Christian socialist Tetsu Katayama, was prime minister of Japan from May 1947 to February 1948. The party participated in another coalition cabinet from February 1948 to November 1948. From that point forward, the party was out of power until the mid-1990s.
   At the Fourth Party Congress in 1949 a fierce debate over the direction of the party occurred regarding whether the party was to be a national party or a class party, and was resolved in the compromise concept of a “class-based mass” party. However, during the ratification of the San Francisco Peace Treaty, the party split over the issue of a comprehensive peace (i.e., to demand that the treaty also include the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China). Though the party divided into Left Socialist and Right Socialist parties, both declared themselves to be the Japan Socialist Party and the two wings merged again in 1955. After reunification, the party rose to 166 seats in the all-important lower house of the Japanese parliament in 1958, the peak of its strength, but with the unification of the center-right parties into the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the JSP only held one-third of the seats in parliament with no prospect of another coalition government. In 1959, moreover, it lost all of its seats in Tokyo in an upper house election. Debate raged in the party over how to overcome the barriers to further electoral growth. In 1959, the right and left wings fell out over the Miike Mine dispute, which the left propelled into a cause célèbre against monopoly capitalism. Many right socialist MPs defected to the newly formed Democratic Socialist
   Party backed by moderate unions. The party appeared to gain strength and support when it strongly opposed the ratification of the revised Mutual Security Treaty with the United States in 1960, but in the 1960 lower house election, the party’s number of seats fell to 145 while the Liberal Democratic Party grew in strength. The JSP made an attempt at “structural reform” in the early 1960s in order to transform itself into a more “re- alistic” party in the wake of the failure of the Security Treaty and Miike Mine protests but the influence of the left wing of the party quashed all attempts at reform. By 1969 the number of lower house seats held by the JSP fell to 90. Even though the party saw a slight revival in the 1970s, and it helped to elect candidates to local office jointly with the Japan Communist Party, it now became just one of a number of smaller parties. Strongly pacifistic in orientation, the party took the Soviet side as the Cold War reignited in the 1980s. As a result of another devastating defeat in the 1986 General Election and the reorganization of the Japanese union movement, the party slowly moved toward reform. In 1989, under the leadership of its first female leader, Takako Doi, the party suddenly saw an electoral spurt in its favor. In the upper house election of 1989, the LDP only gained 36 seats against 46 for the JSP. However, the party was in the spotlight in the 1990 lower house election and it soon became clear that the party of committed Marxists had merely rebranded itself but could not produce distinctive or realistic policies. The party briefly returned to power in 1993 when the LDP was finally forced from office temporarily, but to the surprise of many, it then entered a coalition with the LDP in 1994 in order to stay in power. The party effectively collapsed in the 1996 lower house election with most of its key MPs defecting to the newly formed center-left Democratic Party and the small rump transforming itself into the small Social Democratic Party.
   See also Katayama, Sen.

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.

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