Communist parties in democratic countries have a devious way to attack religions. What is happening in Japan is just the most recent chapter of a long story.
by Massimo Introvigne*
*A paper presented at the “2nd Conference of Hope for Universal Human Rights and Religious Freedom Overcoming Threats to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion,” Cheongpyeong, South Korea, December 17, 2022.
Wherever Communism has been in power, from the Soviet Union to North Korea and China, it has arrested, kept in jail, tortured, raped, and killed millions of believers of all religions.
But what of the countries where Communism has not been in power? Much less known than the brutal physical killing of believers in the Soviet Union and China is their spiritual killing in countries with large Communist parties such as Italy or Japan.
Jesus said in Matthew 10:27, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.” In democratic countries, Communists could not kill bodies, but they tried to kill souls.
I come from a country, Italy, which had for almost fifty years the largest Communist Party of the West. The main leader of that Party, Palmiro Togliatti, developed a strategy to deal with religion that had the full blessing of the Soviet Union. Togliatti was regarded as so loyal to the Soviets that when he died in 1964 a large Russian city, Stavropol, was renamed after him as “Tolyatti.” Courtesy of Vladimir Putin, it keeps the name to this very day.
The Italian Communist strategy for religion was based on three principles. First, do not attack religion in public and find some believers who would become members of the Party and act as “useful idiots,” claiming in public that Communism and religion are perfectly compatible. Second, at the same time continue to spread atheistic propaganda discreetly within the Party. While publicly proclaiming his respect for religion, Togliatti put Marxist scholar and Communist senator Ambrogio Donini in charge of a vast work aimed at propagating scientific atheism, whose effects can still be perceived in Italy today.
Third, while smiling at believers who are either friendly with or “soft” on Communism, attack mercilessly the religious organizations that fight Marxism openly and ideologically, be they Catholic or non-Catholic.
I published my first book on Reverend Moon and the Unification Church, in Italian, in 1987. I collected hundreds of press clippings and clearly detected that a campaign labeling the Unification Church as a “cult” had been carried out in Italy by the Communist and leftist press, which was disturbed by its anti-Communist activities. Just the same had happened in France with the Communist daily newspaper “L’Humanité.”
Outside of Japan, not many know that the Japanese Communist Party has been for many years among the largest non-ruling Communist parties in the world, and may well be today the second largest after its Indian comrades.
In 1951, following instructions from the Soviet Union and China, the Japanese Communist Party adopted the “1951 Program,” which included the famous words “It is a mistake to think that Japan’s liberation and democratic transformation can be achieved through peaceful means.” The Program was adopted during the Korean war, as Stalin and Mao hoped that violence by the Communists in Japan would create a distraction for the United States. The Public Security Intelligence Agency, Japan’s national intelligence agency, reported that following the “1951 Program” the Communist Party was responsible for “murders and disturbances in several cities.”
The firm reaction of the Japanese authorities, police, and intelligence persuaded the Party to withdraw the “1951 Program.”
One of the by-products of this withdrawal was that the Japanese Communists adopted an attitude that scholars have described as similar to the Italian Communist Party’s on several issues, including religion. Party publications started insisting that Japanese Communists were not against religion. By 2007, the Party’s official organ “Shimbun Akahata” was advertising that Party members included Buddhist “priests, priests’ wives, Shinto priests, Christians, Tenrikyo devotees, and other religious people.” At the same time, Party members continued to be nurtured on the sacred texts of Marxism, which are intrinsically atheistic. Well after it had repudiated the “1951 Program,” the Party kept in its Central Committee Bunkichi Okada (岡田文吉), who had been one of the founders of the Anti-Religious Struggle Alliance (反宗教闘争同盟) and the creator of the Japan Militant Atheist League (日本戦闘的無神論者同盟).
In the same year 2007 when it boasted it had religionists as members, the Japanese Communist Party also wrote that it wanted “the Unification Church to be dealt with as a criminal group.”
In fact, the Communist Party’s plans to destroy the Unification Church had started much earlier. In 1968, Reverend Moon founded the International Federation for Victory Over Communism (IFVOC). It played a key role in containing the Japanese Communist Party and its Socialist allies. As the Party leaders stated themselves, IFVOC was also instrumental in defeating the candidate supported by the Communists in the 1978 elections for governor of Kyoto, putting an end to 28 years of leftist rule there. The following year, the top Soviet spy in Japan Stanislav Levchenko defected to the U.S. and testified that prominent Japanese Communist and Socialist politicians were paid Soviet agents. For decades, IFVOC had a prominent role in advocating for effective anti-espionage legislation.
After the fall of the Soviet Union, documents in the Soviet archives confirmed that Levchenko’s revelations were absolutely accurate. At the time, however, the Socialist Party claimed they were part of an IFVOC conspiracy, and was sued by IFVOC. To avoid a humiliating defeat, the lawyer for the Socialist Party had to persuade its clients to pay IFVOC two million yen and settle.
That lawyer never forgave IFVOC or the Unification Church. His name was Hiroshi Yamaguchi. In 1987, writing in a Socialist publication, he called other leftist lawyers to join his efforts to establish an association against the so-called spiritual sales, i.e. the sales of certain objects at exorbitant prices the Unification Church was accused of. He wrote that “the money obtained from this is used to finance the Unification Church and IFVOC’s campaign to enact the National Secrets Act.”
This is the origin of the organization later called National Network of Lawyers Against Spiritual Sales, which organized the massive campaign of slander against the Unification Church/Family Federation after the assassination of Shinzo Abe. It was started to destroy IFVOC and its support for anti-espionage legislation.
Last month, November 2022, journalist Soichiro Tahara and Communist Party Chairperson Kazuo Shii discussed the Unification Church/Family Federation issue and presented the post-Abe-assassination campaign as the “final war against the Unification Church.” Shii said that the war had started at least in 1978 with the elections for the governor of Kyoto. “This time, he said, we will fight thoroughly and completely until we win over the struggle.”
Certainly, not all are Communists in the Japanese “final war against the Unification Church.” But this is not the point. My story has, I hope, clarified, who started the war and why, and who leads the army.
We should, however, not miss an important point. Communism does not win all its wars. Even the mighty Soviet Union was not immortal. The Japanese Militant Atheist League proclaimed to be “at war with God.” Wars against God have one defining feature. They cannot be won. In Japan, today, what they believe they are winning is a battle. But they will not win the war. Religions normally last more than anti-religious ideologies. And the last laugh is theirs.