Japanese communists are gearing up for a major push in the country's general election on December 16.
The 300,000-strong Japanese Communist Party is seeking to carve out an independent position in a field dominated by a bewildering number of pro-big business political clones.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) has been buffeted by economic crisis and a string of disasters, both natural and man-made, that have shaken the country's self-confidence.
Key election topics are the country's comatose economic performance, the raging debate over nuclear power following the Fukushima nuclear power disaster and the country's relations with its east Asian neighbours - China and both North and South Korea.
DPJ Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda called the general election after horse trading with the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) earlier this year over a bill to double the country's sales tax by 2015.
Noda justified the rise on the grounds of tackling the country's staggering debt burden.
The Japanese economy, once hailed as an innovative and hyper-efficient capitalist model by business circles, has run aground.
Workers who have been out of work for more than a year went up from 950,000 in 2009 to 1.05 million in 2012.
The percentage of casual workers in relation to the total workforce rose from 33.7 per cent to 35.1 per cent between 2009 and 2011.
The proportion of households having zero savings hit a record high of 28.6 per cent in 2011 and is now hovering at 26 per cent.
The country's public debt is more than twice the size of its $5 trillion GDP, dwarfing even Greece's catastrophic statistics.
According to its supporters, the sales tax would help to trim that debt. To its opponents the tax would make ordinary Japanese pay for the crisis and perpetuate the decline of consumer demand.
So hugely unpopular was the consumption tax rise that around 50 DPJ MPs quit the party in protest. This forced Noda to seek LDP votes but only at the price of calling an early election.
Opinion polls point to a comeback by Shinzo Abe, current leader of the LDP and prime minister until he stepped down in 2007.
A telephone poll carried out by Kyodo News showed Abe ahead of Noda but with support of only around 18.4 per cent.
Abe is therefore highly unlikely to come close to a clear majority for the LDP even with the support of its longtime ally the New Komeito party, the political arm of the Buddhist Soka Gakkai sect.
Much attention has therefore focused on the so-called "third force," a raft of smaller parties and coalitions, the flotsam and jetsam of previous factional fallouts from both the LDP and DPJ.
Although it also absorbed the right wing of Japanese social democracy, the DPJ was itself largely composed of splits from the LDP, which dominated post-war Japanese governments until the DPJ's 2009 landslide victory.
Although often referred to in the Western media as "centre-left," the DPJ has shown precious few signs of that in government and its ideological cousins include the Indian Congress Party, Thailand's military-backed and misnamed Democrat Party or Nick Clegg's Lib Dems.
LDP and DPJ parliamentary politics have been notoriously clique-ridden, with successful leaders having to create an intra-party coalition of various factions, which subsequently break up and realign behind other rivals.
Thus Japan has had nine different prime ministers since 2000, the last three during the current DPJ administration alone.
In recent years some of these factions have attempted to maintain themselves outside the body of the two major parties.
However in the run-up to a general election, with state funding and parliamentary representation in the balance, these "third force" groups tend to merge promiscuously.
Two major blocs have now congealed and may in turn attract further splinter groups.
On the far-right is the Japan Restoration Party and in the centre, with pinkish and greenish tints, is the Japan Future Party.
Shintaro Ishihara, a novelist and former governor of Tokyo, now heads the Japan Restoration Party, which was founded only in September by Toru Hashimoto, the former mayor of Japan's second city Osaka and former governor of Osaka prefecture.
Eighty-year old Ishihara was a veteran LDP politician but has become increasingly independent in recent years.
His ultra-nationalist views have provoked storms of controversy abroad but appeal to a significant section of the Japanese electorate.
For example, Ishihara has questioned the authenticity of the Japanese massacre in Nanjing in 1937. He has alo called for Japan to drop the anti-militarist Article 9 of Japan's constitution and urged development of nuclear weapons alongside the existing nuclear power industry.
Ishihara has gone on record with numerous misogynist and xenophobic comments.
Questioning Japanese responsibility for the Nanjing massacre, Ishihara said at a news conference: "Give us evidence showing that the Japanese Imperial Army killed 400,000 people. It was Shina-jin [discriminatory word referring to Chinese] who killed Shina-jin."
Originally a lawyer, Hashimoto was backed by the LDP and New Komieto party in his mayoral campaign. Until the merger with Ishihara's group, he had positioned the Restoration Party as anti-nuclear. This was swiftly dropped.
The party is likely to appeal not only to hardcore ultra-nationalists but also to mainstream voters disillusioned by Japan's economic stagnation and political lethargy and corruption.
The Future Party by contrast, formed by Yukiko Kada, the female governor of Shiga prefecture, opposes nuclear power and promotes the role of women in Japanese society. The party quickly joined forces with the People's Life First grouping of DPJ anti-tax defectors.
For the Japanese communists, these new alignments offer little in the way of a true alternative.
Just as the DPJ followed the well-worn grooves of LDP's big-business policies, these new formations are essentially a rounding up of the usual suspects, with no fundamental change on offer.
Akahata, the daily paper of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), noted that: "Bits and pieces composing the third pole are mostly from the DPJ. They have slight differences in terms of the consumption tax hike and the nuclear energy issue but almost the same opinions as the DPJ which has promoted policies in essence supported by the LDP under the Noda cabinet.
"Unless they are willing to even discuss the conventional policies subservient to the United States and business circles, none of them can be a 'third pole' to confront the old-style LDP policies."
Japan's need for a fundamental break with big-business policies and confrontationalist approach to its neighbours is long overdue.
JCP house of councillors member Inoue Satoshi revealed that 80 per cent of the 304bn yen (£2.3bn) subsidy to the private sector to counteract the recession ended up in the hands of Japan's major monopoly corporations - firms that have provided the cash to both LDP and DPJ politicians over many years.
Satoshi found that most of the money was not even being invested in the devastated region around Fukushima but in projects in other parts of the country.
Adding further insult to injury, although the cash was meant to stimulate employment, some of the biggest recipients were monopolies carrying out swingeing job cuts.
According to Akahata, "Toyota Corporation, while having more than 14 trillion yen in internal reserves, received the subsidy for eco-friendly car production in Aichi Prefecture, located far from the disaster-stricken region.
"Maintaining more than four trillion yen in internal reserves, Canon has used the subsidy in Kanagawa and Oita prefectures, which are also far from the region… Office equipment maker Ricoh has used the subsidy to install production equipment at its subsidiary's toner factory in Miyagi Prefecture.
"However, the operation of the new equipment starting in June next year will create only 20 new jobs. Meanwhile, Ricoh announced in May last year that it would cut 10,000 jobs in its group."
The subsidy has also been given to other job-cutters such as Panasonic (-40,000 jobs), Sharp (-10,000 jobs), and Renesas Electronics (-14,000 jobs).
Well-greased connections between big business and the political elites clearly work in both directions.
The JCP has vigorously opposed the consumption tax rise, proposing instead the creation of a new tax on the rich, levying a 1 to 3 per cent tax on assets of more than 500 million yen. The JCP estimates that this will increase tax revenues by 500 to 700bn yen.
Despite the confusing rash of new parties and considerable signs of voter apathy, the JCP plans to use the election campaign to point out a genuine alternative for the Japanese people and hopes to improve on its 2009 showing when it won nine out of 480 seats in the House of Representatives receiving 4.94 million votes, or 7 per cent of the total.
If you appreciated this article then please consider donating to the Morning Star's Fighting Fund to ensure we can keep developing your paper.