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No.11 ,Politics ,Discussions  May 31, 2012


It was the spring of 1974 when I read the article by Group 1984 for the first time. I was on the Tokaido Shinkansen (bullet train), on my way back to Tokyo from Kansai. The article was titled “Criticism of the Japanese Communist Party’s Platform for the United Democratic Government,” and had been handed to me by Mr. Yamazaki Masakazu, Professor Emeritus at Osaka University. He said that I would find it interesting.

I looked to see who the author was. It was co-written by Group 1984. I immediately understood that the group was named after the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four written by George Orwell. This novel is about a dystopian, highly controlled society set in the near future. At the time of its publication, it was also seen as a criticism of socialism as well as of a technostress society. I thought that the name of the authors was quite witty, and I remember now that as I read the article, I found it very interesting and actually quite thrilling.

At the time, I was the editor-in-chief of Bungei shunju. Previously, I had been the editor-in-chief of Shokun! and I used to ask Mr. Yamazaki to write for the magazine. However, back when I read the article, I did not have a clear idea about the relationship between Mr. Yamazaki and Group 1984.

Bungei shunju published this article in its June 1974 issue. The preface from the editorial office introduces Group 1984 as an academic group comprising more than twenty specialists in each field.

The Platform for the United Democratic Government, the target of this article, was the manifesto of the Japanese Communist Party in today’s terms. The JCP was then pursuing its own policies that were unique from other opposition parties. However, aiming at developing a united government through cooperation with other opposition parties, the JCP proposed the platform in 1973.

Amid a virtually even split between the ruling and opposition parties in the Upper House, the media were breathlessly reporting the possibility of a leftist government. It may be hard for today’s young generation to imagine, but if the Japan Socialist Party (now the Social Democratic Party) and the JCP had united, they would have had a chance of forming a government. Having said that, what these parties were demanding was not to make Japan a socialist nation, but to improve welfare, support the weak, and stop the autocratic manner of large-scale companies. The strong presence of these parties was not only limited to central government, but was also felt in local governments. Major local government bodies were headed by reform-minded governors, including Tokyo’s Minobe Ryokichi, Kyoto’s Ninagawa Torazo, and Osaka’s Kuroda Ryoichi.

Minobe attracted support from the public using the slogan “Minobe can control prices.” He regularly appeared in the press and on television. This was a time when Japan went wild about him, putting aside any cool-headed judgment on whether or not the head of a local government alone would be able to contain a hike in prices.

What was happening at that time was, in today’s terms, somewhat akin to widespread enthusiasm about a change in government and simultaneous excitement about local political parties, such as Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group) in Osaka and Genzei Nippon (Tax Cut Japan). Views both in the media and among the pundits were also dominated by hope for reformist parties forming a government. The prevailing atmosphere was that anybody questioning the change, he would have been criticized from every angle.

Because Group 1984 came to the fore at such a time, I, as editor, decided to take the chance and publish the article.

After a while, I found that the central figure of the group was Koyama Kenichi, formerly a professor at Gakushuin University. However, while being in charge of editing the article, I did not even meet the members of the group.

This is only my guess, but people like Kumon Shumpei (formerly a professor at the University of Tokyo and now executive director of the New Institute for Social Knowledge and Collaboration: Kumon Center, Tama University) and Sato Seizaburo (professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo), were possibly involved as members of the group. I would also imagine that a number of young researchers who studied in the research office of Shimizu Ikutaro (formerly a professor at Gakushuin University), who was one of Koyama’s mentors, were members too.

When the “Criticism of the Japanese Communist Party’s Platform for the United Democratic Government” was published in the magazine, we received a large number of responses from the readers. The Japanese Communist Party demanded that I disclose the name of the author of the article.

Because the Japanese Communist Party urged Bungei shunju to carry a rebuttal, the magazine published the “Rebuttal to the Criticism of the Japanese Communist Party’s Platform for the United Democratic Government” in its July issue. In 1984, Group 1984 prepared the “Revised Criticism of the Japanese Communist Party,” which was subsequently published in the August issue in 1984.

The Group eventually published seven articles. Among them, the one that has recently attracted the attention of the Asahi shimbun newspaper and other media is “Japan’s Suicide.” This article points out that throughout recorded history, in many civilizations, a nation commits suicide when the public becomes preoccupied with selfish desires and abandons the will to solve problems on their own, while its leaders pursue populism. This was a stern warning to Japan’s media and people who were paying excessive attention only to the “bread and circuses” of the day.

Doko Toshio (the former chairman of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations), who later became the chairman of the Ad Hoc Commission of Administrative Reform and devoted to his duties in administrative reform, reportedly praised “Japan’s Suicide,” claiming that it was a very interesting article, and distributed copies of the article. I even think that, at Doko’s behest, I introduced Koyama to Doko. Koyama, Sato and Kumon later became the brains trust in Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone’s administration and introduced reforms for the Japan National Railways and the government. Turning to today’s Japan, it appears that the Japanese government is still pursuing populist policies by adopting excessive welfare policies through freely disbursing its budget, despite carrying debt equal to ten budgets. They don’t seem to have learned anything from the fiscal crisis in Greece and Italy. Thirty-seven years after the publication of that article, I feel that the day of “Japan’s Suicide” is steadily approaching.

Translated from “‘Gurupu 1984′ towa nanimonoka (Who is Group 1984?)”,’ Bungeishunju, March 2012, pp. 122-123. (Courtesy of Bungeishunju Ltd.)