Collected Writings of J.A.A. Stockwin: The Politics and Political Environment of Japan

By J. A. A. Stockwin | Go to book overview

First published in World Review, Vol. 8, No. 2, July 1969 (University of Queensland Press)


11

Political Parties in Postwar Japan

POLITICAL PARTIES are nothing new in Japan. Organized political clubs, designed to secure for their members participation in the political process, sprang up in the 1870s, shortly after the Meiji Restoration of 1868. 1 Nevertheless, their progress was fitful and their successes qualified. The Meiji Constitution of 1890 left the door open to further development of political parties, but also included powerful safeguards against their 'excessive' development. Sovereignty rested, not with the people (through their elected representatives in Parliament), but with an emperor who, though the object of a cult of reverence and patriotism, had no more personal power than a British monarch of the same period. This device, though it undoubtedly produced national unity and discipline at a time when nation-building and modernization were the first priority, had the effect of obscuring lines of responsibility and perpetuating political intrigue among an inner coterie of leaders. The leaders of the main political parties had an often precarious claim to membership of this coterie, and were constantly forced to compete and compromise with others (such as the genro, or 'elders' and the Chiefs of Staff of the Armed Forces) who were in a position of considerable irresponsibility. Although the political parties succeeded in expanding their base of support (universal manhood suffrage was introduced in 1925) and, for a time at least, ensured that cabinets were answerable to the Diet (Parliament), their own uncertain position and the forces of nationalism proved to be their undoing. In 1940 all parties were dissolved into the monolithic Imperial Rule Assistance Association.

This background is important in order to put the postwar parties into perspective. The parties which were formed with such rapidity in 1945 inherited much of the structure, problems, attitudes and leadership of their prewar counterparts, despite their changed role in the political system. The continuity is striking despite the revolutionary break with the past implied by many reforms of the Allied Occupation of 1945-52.

As in the prewar period, parties of a more or less conservative persuasion have, with one very short break, maintained a parliamentary majority since the end of the war. The Socialists, on the other hand, greatly increased their

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