Sunday, 1 February 2009

Kazuo Shii, politician

I interviewed Kazuo Shii at the headquarters of the Japanese Communist Party in Tokyo's Yoyogi in December 2008. We spoke for about one hour through an interpreter, Fuki Ozaki, also a member of the JCP.
KS: I'm very sorry I have limited time, so if you can get some information from these publications, I hope you will get it.

CBL: Yes. I will supplement what I learn today from you with these…em…books as well. Thank you…I'll just put this [microphone] a bit closer to you. Here we go. Eh, so, em, we’re going to start with "The Present Condition of the Party" [from a list of previously submitted questions]. I'd like to ask you, how has the party been doing in recent years and especially since the economic crisis of a few months ago?

KS: In the face of the present financial crisis and, of course, the economic downturn, in the face of these crises, the JCP have recently made urgent economic proposals. There are three pillars of our economic proposals. The first pillar is that we are seeing casino capitalism in front of us, and that the negative effects of this shouldn't be imposed on ordinary people. In Japan, the cost of this crisis is being paid by the small and medium sized enterprises, and also the workers are suffering as employment is being destroyed. The second pillar is we have to change the character of the Japanese economy. We have to change it from one depending on foreign demand to one based on internal domestic demand. In order to do this we are calling for a shift of the economic focus from big-business-oriented to a people-oriented economy. In order to realize this aspiration, we need to do three things: ensure the stability of employment, improve social welfare, and make better the agricultural field. The third pillar is that the financial crisis we are currently witnessing, which started from the United States, has been the result of excessive deregulation, which started in the 1980s and through the 1990s. One of the examples was the repeal of the Glass Steagall Law. And the speculative money has expanded and lots of very strange derivatives were prevalent. So in order to overcome this situation we have to move towards stronger regulation of the financial market. So, in this connection, we regard he summit declaration of the G-20 meeting, which was held on November 15th, as an important turning point in this situation.

CBL: OK, from what you've just said, it sounds like maybe the main problem is this kind of global economy. You have… You’ve emphasized, for example, instead of Japan being an exporting country, supplying America, Japanese companies should supply domestic demand more, and you've also emphasized the problems that arise from this kind of global capitalism, and, er, of course, with the Subprime, one problem was that bad debt could easily be repackaged and sold around the World. So, would it be true to say that the approach of the JCP is towards a kind of localism versus globalism, with the emphasis on local production and local consumption, rather than global exports and this kind of global market where you have America as this consumer nation and Japan as this producer nation?

KS: We don't see globalization and localization in terms of an opposition or confrontation. As regards, the globalization, it is inevitable in the capitalist system. For example, Marx wrote in the 19th century, in the Manifesto of the Communist Party that the economy would be globalized. So we don't endorse anti-globalization. So what we are calling for is democratic or orderly globalization. This means that the economic sovereignty of each nation should be respected and the equal and mutually beneficial relations should be respected.

CBL: Yes, so, at the moment, globalization has been too powerful and there has been nothing to balance it, so you need more local economic sovereignty to balance globalism.

KS: So, like you said. The economic sovereignty of each country means that they will improve or strengthen the domestic demand, improve it or expand it. And, by this, we will be able to make people’s livelihoods better than before, and this would be the first priority, then we would hope to forge good international trading relationships. The worst point of the Japanese economy so far is that Japan has been so much dependent on foreign demand and exports. For the last several years, the big companies depending on exports have been profiting very much, but, on the other hand, the Japanese people have seen poverty spreading, so this is the upside down situation in Japan. This should be overturned.

CBL: Well, my very broad impression of the global economic situation is that America produces all this, em, creates all this money, and the money is exported to Japan and in Japan, Japanese corporations create all these manufactured goods and that’s exported, and maybe both are to a certain degree unnecessary...But, anyway, I want to move on to, em… Now, since… In recent years, how has the party been doing in membership terms? I heard that recently quite a lot of young people have been joining the party and especially since the economic crisis, there must be a lot of renewed interest in the party.

KS: Before going into the membership, I’d like to comment about what you said. America has a lot of debts and these have been exported to other countries. For example, Japan bought a lot of national dollar bonds. These should be returned to the United States. In order to support this system, Japan’s interest rate has always been very low, almost zero, which is unbelievable in the capitalist system, zero interest rate. This is in order to support the United States, and this shows how Japan is subservient to the United States economically too, and so this should be corrected.

CBL: I'd like to try and get a more human angle as well, so let's look at the membership.

KS: For the last 13 months, every month, successfully, we have enlarged the membership. So far in the last 13 months, we have seen 14,000 new members.

CBL: I'd like to know how is the demographic character of the party changing, if at all? What sort of people are joining the party recently?

KS: I think, roughly speaking, evenly, every strata of people and age groups. But it is true that the teens and twenties and thirties, the younger generation has been increasing its ratio in the party membership. The biggest reason why they become members and are increasing their ratio in the party is that there is a very bad employment situation. Under the neo-liberal economic policy in Japan, 37% of the workers are the contingent non-regular workers. 37% is all the workers, but in terms of the young people, about half of them are in this unstable employment situation. Temporary agency workers are now increasing.

CBL: Now, when you have this kind of economic hardship developing, usually it expresses itself culturally before it expresses itself politically, so the political reaction comes after the cultural reaction, and we've seen, for example, some kind of cultural reaction with Kanikosen [The Crab Factory Ship] – the book is very popular. Are there any other cultural signs of dissatisfaction amongst the younger generation?

KS: Did you know that interest in Marxism is now expanding. In the University of Tokyo, they made a questionnaire, the Youth League of Japan, the young people’s organization – we have a connection with it. They had an questionnaire for the freshmen. The first answer in the questionnaire was occupied by those who said they wanted to study "Das Kapital." So this kind of interest in Marxism is now spreading. For myself, in my own experience, in May this year, a commercial television station asked me to appear on the TV. At that time the television station asked me to pick up some words and phrases from Marx's Das Kapital to show it through flipboards, to show it to the audience, so I made three flipboards.

CBL: Which program or channel was this?

KS: Television Asahi.

CBL: And what phrases did you select?

KS: "After me the deluge." This is the slogan of capital. In order to get the profits, they don’t care at all what will happen afterwards. The second point was borne out by the subprime crisis: "excessive credit system will give rise to excessive speculation" – legalized cheating, some kind of deceit to cheat the people. The third one was Engel's words that nature will be revenged on people through environmental destruction. This is the first time in Japanese history that the commercial television station showed such phrases from Marx and Engels.

CBL: A major breakthrough! Next year there’s going to be an election, and, of course, the governing Liberal Democratic Party is, I believe, quite unpopular, and they changed their prime minister, and then the economic crisis came along, and so they haven't been able to benefit from having a new leader, and many people expect them to be defeated and if the LDP is defeated in the next election, eh, what do you expect will happen? Em, there are some possibilities. One possibility is that the LDP might fall apart. The other possibility is it might merge with the Democratic Party of Japan, so what are your expectations for next year's election?

KS: Whether the DPJ will replace the LDP or not no one can say exactly, but what we can say is that the LDP, politically speaking, or organizationally speaking, they are at the last stage of the party’s lifespan.

CBL: The two big parties at the moment, a lot of the members have a shared political history, so, Ozawa for example used to be very important in the LDP. Do you think there is no real difference between those two parties? Is it a false kind of choice that they offer the voters?

KS: When I was first elected to the secretariat, when I was chosen, at that time Ozawa was Secretary General of the LDP, so it seems there is not a difference between the LDP and the DPJ.

CBL: What I mean is a kind of illusion of democracy. You have two parties and maybe they have different names, different logos, but the people in the parties are quite similar and the policies of the parties are quite similar. There are very superficial differences so it’s false choice to distract the voters and to satisfy the voters in a dishonest way.

KS: You know very well.

CBL: But I'm asking your opinion.

KS: A public opinion poll recently showed a very interesting result. The question was which do you think is better as a Prime Minister? Answer Ozawa. There were just two choices Ozawa and Aso. Both of them had almost the same level of support. But a majority of the respondents, more than 50%, said that said that neither of them are appropriate. So the reason the JCP is appealing to the Japanese voters these days is because it is not enough to just change those who take care of the government, but voters feel it is necessary to change the contents of the government as well. Just showing them a change of face is not enough. We have to change the contents of the politics. The [garbled] in seeing the situation is that Japanese politics is too subservient to the United States first, and then they give priority to big business, so we have to change it to a situation in which people will live well, particularly in this country and democratic countries in the world. Actually this kind of broad perspective is only being proposed by the JCP. This is the change that we are calling for. I have a feeling these days that the people are disillusioned by the LDP and the Democratic Party of Japan, both of them, and while I don’t expect the JCP to take the government, this is the atmosphere of the columns being read by me.

CBL: Yeh, so it's good that people can have a real choice with parties that have different policies, different, eh, ideas, instead of having parties which just have different leaders and different logos, but are essentially the same thing.

KS: This is what we are calling for.

CBL: This is a problem everywhere – every country, Britain, too. The Conservative and Labour parties are not so different. In America the Democratic and, em, Republican parties are not so different. They share many of the same agendas.

KS: I think we have come to a period in which the World capitalist system is now seeing its own limits. I'm always saying there are three points of limit. They cannot resolve the poverty problem. The second is they can not solve the speculative activity and its results. The third point is the international question. The capitalist system cannot completely solve this problem. So when we see the world perspective of the 21st century, the capitalist system won't lead to another future society. The future society will be the socialist system. Socialism or communism this will be inevitable.

CBL: There are lots of other questions I would like to ask, but we don't really have enough time.

KS: You can ask another one.

CBL: I'd like to maybe ask a question focused on foreigners. Eh, if the communist party came to power in Japan, how would it change the situation for foreign residents?

KS: As regards the rights of foreign residents in Japan, especially those living longer in Japan, they should be guaranteed more rights, especially at the local government level. They have to have the right to vote in the local elections. We have proposed that foreign residents in Japan should have the right to vote or be elected in the local elections.

CBL: Now, also Japan has a very serious demographic problem – not enough children are born and the number of old people is very large and so there’s big pressure in some quarters to increase immigration to Japan for economic reasons, and recently I heard there was some agreement between Japan and Indonesia to bring nursing staff from Indonesia to work in Japan to help take care of senior citizens. What about the demographic problem of Japan, which is not enough children and supplementing the population from immigration?

KS: This problem of not enough children is one of the results of the Japanese politics. This should be solved, taking into consideration comprehensive aspects. For example, the employment problem, the welfare problem... This should be taken into consideration so as to induce an increase in the birth rate of the Japanese people. At the same time, the foreign workers should be accepted in Japan in an orderly way. Now the foreign workers are being forced to work in very bad conditions.

CBL: The three Ks [Kiken: dangerous, Kitanai: dirty and Kitsui: hard], yes.

KS: I went to the Canon factory

CBL: This is Canon [indicating my camera]

KS: In the manufacturing and production lines, you see the Brazil line and so on.

CBL: So it's segregated according to race, like the apartheid system.

KS: I don’t know exactly how much Canon is paying, but many Japanese companies are paying less than the minimum wage. This is the shame of Japan. So the foreign workers should be given the equal treatment.

CBL: And also the full time employees and the temporary agency employees as well. They have these different rates. I think we&re probably out of time. I just need some time to take one or two pictures.


CBL: But it's with a Canon. Is it OK?

[We chit chat as a few pictures are taken, then Mr. Shii leaves to attend a session at the Japanese Diet]

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