Obituary: Sanzo Nosaka

Sanzo Nosaka, politician: born 1892; died Tokyo 14 November 1993.

THE COLLAPSE of Communism in the former Soviet Union has revealed many hoary secrets and unpalatable facts. One letter from the dossiers of the KGB proved to be the downfall of one of the most venerated members of the Japan Communist Party, the centenarian politician Sanzo Nosaka.

Nosaka was one of the founders of the Japan Communist Party (JCP) in 1922, and became chairman of the Central Committee in 1958. He was a professor at Keio University at a time when leading Japanese academic institutions were infiltrated by prominent Communist intellectuals, and he played a part in the organising of student riots I witnessed in May-June 1960 against the US-Japan Security Treaty. Nosaka remained chairman until 1982, when he was 90, and was elevated to the position of Honorary Chairman. He was the idol of left-wing writers and intellectuals.

Yet Nosaka was always something of a mystery to fellow JCP members, and to party members who made his acquaintance in the Soviet Union. He studied political economy at London University, and during the early Twenties, like many of the young British intellectuals of the time, absorbed Marxist teachings and was indoctrinated in Communist theory.

After being deported from Britain in 1921, he made his way to the nascent Soviet Union, where, with the help of friends in high places in the Communist hierarchy, he became an influential member of the party. In that era of mutual suspicion and denunciation, he was suspected of being a British agent. At the same time, it was rumoured that he might be a spy for the Japanese government. But because of certain Russian and Finnish leaders close to Stalin, he remained unscathed.

There was always something shadowy about his loyalties. Though a die-hard Communist, he was an exception in that he supported the Imperial Family, and advised Stalin to maintain the status quo in Japan, though he suggested that the Emperor Hirohito should be replaced by Crown Prince Akihito. And at a time when Japanese Communists were regularly being arrested, imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese secret police, the dreaded kempeitai, he was unique in always obtaining a quick release. Such things aroused suspicions among some of his party members, but the suspicions were never acted upon.

During the early Forties Nosaka was in China working for Mao Tse- tung, and did not return to Japan until 1946. There, like many party members from 1950 onwards, he continued his activities in a clandestine manner, because of crack- downs on left-wingers by the American occupation forces.

One of Sanzo Nosaka's fellow Communist committee members, Kenzo Yamamoto, was a great womaniser, and everyone in the party knew that he was having a love affair with Nosaka's wife, Ryu. This may have been a contributory factor in the fate that overtook Yamamoto. Nosaka, who like many Japanese Communists was in the US during the Thirties, wrote a confidential letter, dated 22 February 1939, in English, to the KGB in Moscow stating that he suspected Yamamoto and his common-law wife Matsu of being spies in the Soviet Union in the pay of the kempeitai. On Stalin's orders, Yamamoto was executed by firing squad in March 1939 because of his alleged spying activities. Matsu died in a gulag.

On 27 September 1992 two young journalists, Shun-ichi Kobayashi and Akira Kato, pulled off the scoop of the year in the popular weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun. In Moscow, they had managed to buy copies of secret KGB documents from the Stalin era. Among these materials they discovered the letter from Nosaka denouncing Yamamoto and his wife.

This revelation created extraordinary turbulence in the JCP, already discredited, and reduced, in the September 1991 elections, to only six seats in the Diet. It was a terrible shock to all those who had so deeply venerated Sanzo Nosaka. For some members, it was the confirmation of the persistent vague rumours about his activities. The Communist newspaper Akahata ('Red Flag') sent a journalist to Moscow to investigate the matter, and he confirmed the truth of the betrayal of an innocent man. (Yamamoto and his wife Matsu had been formally rehabilitated with full honours by Khrushchev on 23 May 1956.)

The JCP sent investigators to question Nosaka, who had been temporarily hospitalised - a favourite ploy of Japanese politicians involved in scandals - at Yoyogi Hospital in Tokyo. Nosaka finally confessed. At the annual general meeting of the party on 27 December 1992, at which Nosaka was ordered to be present, Nosaka was expelled by unanimous vote from the party he had helped to found 70 years before. Nosaka's only reply to the charges was: 'I have nothing to say.'

People outside the party often commented upon Nosaka's gentle demeanour, good manners and well-dressed conservative style, 'just like British gentleman'. The shock of his expulsion in disgrace for the betrayal of his comrade was all the greater because of the pleasant impression he had always created. No further action was taken against him. But, unlike Yamamoto and Matsu, Sanzo Nosaka will never be rehabilitated.

(Photograph omitted)

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