Title: Anarchism in Japan
Date: 2009
Source: Raddeker, Hélène Bowen. “Anarchism, Japan.” In The International Encyclopedia of Revolution and Protest: 1500 to the Present, edited by Immanuel Ness, 133–135. Vol. 1. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009.

Japan has unique traditions of what may be termed “anarchism” rooted in the cultural distinctiveness of the society. Some early twentieth-century anarchists pointed to the horizontal features of village communalism in Japan’s Tokugawa era (1600–1867), while others claim Andō Shōeki, an eighteenth-century doctor, as an anarchist forbear. For Andō, all traditional thought in Japan was mere ideology, an excuse to rob the people. Though he was himself a samurai, Andō saw the samurai ruling class as parasites living off the proverbial sweat of peasant labor and felt that all should engage in “direct cultivation,” coupled with what we might call mutual aid. He contested the antimony of high and low in traditional thinking that had informed “unnatural” and oppressive social relations, including hierarchical relationships between the sexes.

It was fitting, then, that in 1908 the early socialist paper Nihon Heimin Shimbun (Japan Commoners’ News) described Andō as a Japanese “anarchist.” This followed what historians refer to as the beginning of Japan’s anarchist movement – setting up of a “direct action” faction in 1907 after a speech given to the Commoners’ Society by Kōtoku Shūsui (1871–1911). The speech was concerned with “The Change in [his] Thought” – to anarchist communism. While visiting comrades in the United States, Kōtoku had written to leading theorist Peter Kropotkin, who willingly gave him permission to translate some of his works into Japanese.

In prewar Japan the anarchist movement went in cycles. It was predominantly anarchocommunist at first, then increasingly syndicalist through the teens to the mid-twenties. Under the leadership of Hatta Shūzō (1886–1934) and Iwasa Sakutarō (1879–1967), there was then a swing back to “pure” anarchism (anarchocommunism) which, unlike syndicalism, was seen to be unadulterated by Marxism. The pure anarchists were suspicious of the leading revolutionary role accorded the industrial proletariat by Marxists and syndicalists and saw the practice of “class struggle” in labor unions as essentially capitalist.

Membership figures for the anarchist and Bolshevik labor federations throw doubt on the common assumption of historians that anarchism’s influence on radical movements was eclipsed by that of Marxism-Leninism in the mid-1920s. The anarchists opposed what they saw to be authoritarian centralism in both social democratic and Bolshevik organization and demanded local union autonomy. Hence, an “ana-boru” split came to a head in 1925, at which time the Bolshevik labor council (Hyōgikai) had 12,500 members in 32 unions compared to the anarchists’ 25 in 1926, though one anarchist source gives a figure of 29 anarchist unions by 1928. In 1928, when there was a split in the anarchist federation and 3,000 anarchosyndicalists withdrew, the now anarchocommunist federation claimed 16,300 members.

The anarchist wing of the peasant and arts movements was led by the Nōmin Jichi Kai (Peasants’ Self-Governing League), which claimed 243 branches and 6,300 members in 1927. In addition, 26 anarchist authors established their own “Literary Front” after being removed from the Marxist-Leninist “proletarian” literary federation in 1926. Amongst the women associated with it was the anarchocommunist Takamure Itsue (1894–1964). Two magazines were produced by anarchist women between 1928 and 1931, Nyonin Geijutsu (Women’s Arts) and Fujin Sensen (Women’s Front), to which some Marxists also contributed.

Of course, not all Japanese anarchists identified with only one stream of anarchist thought. By the 1920s some were expressing sympathy for “nihilism” or “egoism,” which was partly indebted to individualistic anarchism. Nietzsche was popular; Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own had also been translated into Japanese. The latter’s influence can be seen in the writings of the leading anarchosyndicalist Ōsugi Sakae (1885–1923). Also a fan of Stirner was Itō Noe (1895–1923), a former Bluestocking editor and anarcha-feminist publicist who by then was Ōsugi’s partner. Kaneko Fumiko (1903–26) was another woman who embraced “self-assertion” (egoism) and the “ideology of negation.”

Kaneko and her Korean partner Pak Yōl (d. 1974) were the defendants in the second of two infamous high treason cases involving prewar anarchists. Arrested after the great Kantō earthquake of 1923, the two were later found guilty in 1926 of conspiring to import bombs to use on the imperial family. Originally sentenced to die, both their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment. It seems that Kaneko exaggerated her own guilt in order to receive the same sentence as Pak; and she got her way. Nevertheless, her testimonies leave little doubt that she took her own life in her cell just a few months later. Pak was released from prison at the close of the war.

The year 1923 was a pivotal one for prewar anarchism. Ōsugi and Itō were among several radical activists murdered by police amidst the chaos following an earthquake. After Ōsugi’s death his syndicalist followers were left in disarray as some turned to revenge-motivated political violence. Legal or extralegal repression was a regular feature among Japanese radicals even in response to activities such as publishing, public meetings, or demonstrations. Meiji repression had culminated in a similar high treason trial that resulted in the execution of 12 anarchists and Marxists in January 1911 and life imprisonment for 12 more. Yet, the one woman amongst the first 12, Kanno Suga (1881–1911), was amongst those who testified that only a handful of the total 28 charged (including herself) had had any involvement with a “conspiracy” to rise in a rebellion that would include an attempt on the Meiji emperor’s life. Japanese authorities were determined to rid themselves of anarchist theorist Kōtoku, who had apparently lost interest in the group’s plans before his arrest, and as many other “anarchists” as possible.

Anarchists would suffer mounting repression after 1925 when a revised and more stringent “peace preservation” law was passed designed to combat the “twin evils” of bolshevism and anarchism. Activism became near impossible after the Manchurian Incident of 1931. While the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) was severely weakened by a flood of recantations in 1932, it disbanded in 1935. Anarchists continued to resist the rising militarism for a few more years, while syndicalists and “pure” anarchists reunited and even participated in a short-lived “anti-fascist” front in 1933 with social democrats and Marxists. However, in 1935 at least 700 anarchists were rounded up after a “public order” law against anarchism was promulgated in 1936. The last group to survive, though not beyond 1938, was the anarchosyndicalist Tokyo Printers’ Union.

After the Fifteen Years’ War (1931–45), in 1946, an anarchist federation was reestablished but was weakened once again by splits and finally disbanded in 1968. Anarchists were represented in various postwar struggles including the production control movement during the Allied Occupation, vehement opposition in 1960 to the US–Japan Security Treaty, the treaty with South Korea five years later, the militant student movement of the 1960s (Zengakuren), the fight of peasants and supporters to halt the construction of a new airport at Narita (1968), and anti-war agitation during both the Korean and Vietnamese wars. However, the new left in Japan was dominated by the socialist and communist parties and affiliated youth groups, and anarchists never regained the strong foothold they had secured in prewar social movements, especially in the industrial and peasant unions.

Some stalwarts, such as prewar anarchist leaders Ishikawa Sanshirō (a Christian anarchist: 1876–1956) and Iwasa Sakutarō, were influential again after the war. Another who survived Japanese militarism and the attendant repression of any dissent was the anarchocommunist ōshima Eizaburō, who was long an inspiration to younger comrades while also providing an invaluable service to researchers of Japanese anarchism after 1970. Amongst the many works reproduced by his publishing house in Tokyo, Kokushoku Sensensha (Black Battle Front), are weighty volumes of original trial documents, including the Kaneko–Pak treason trial.

SEE ALSO: Anarchism ; Japan, Community Labor Union Movement ; Japan, Labor Protest, 1945–present ; Japan, Pacifist Movement, 1945–present ; Japan, Post-World War II Protest Movements ; Japan, Resistance to Construction of Narita Airport ; Japanese Communist Party ; Kropotkin, Peter (1842–1921) ; Ōsugi Sakae (1885–1923) ; Zenroren Labor Federation

References And Suggested Readings

Anonymous (n.d.) Anarchism in Japan. Anarchy Magazine (London), 2nd ser., 1 (5): 2–30.

Bowen Raddeker, H. (1997) Treacherous Women of Imperial Japan: Patriarchal Fictions, Patricidal Fantasies. London and New York: Routledge.

Bowen Raddeker, H. (2001) Anarcho-Feminist Discourse in Prewar Japan: Itō Noe’s Autobiographical Social Criticism. Anarchist Studies (UK) 9: 97–125.

Bowen Raddeker, H. (2002) Resistance to Difference: Sexual Equality and its Law-ful and Out-Law (Anarchist) Advocates in Imperial Japan. Intersections (e-journal, Murdoch University, Western Australia) 7 (March): 1–11.

Crump, J. (1983) The Origins of Socialist Thought in Japan. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Crump, J. (1992) Anarchist Opposition to Japanese Militarism, 1926–1937. Japan Forum 4 (1): 73–9.

Crump, J. (1993) Hatta Shūzō and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

Crump, J. (n.d.) The Anarchist Movement in Japan. London: Kate Sharpley Library.

Hagiwara, S. (1969) Nihon Anakizumu Rōdō Undōshi (A History of Japan’s Anarchist Labour Movement). Tokyo: Gendai Shichō.

Kokushoku, S. (1977) Kaneko Fumiko, Pak Yōl Saiban Kiroku (… Trial Records). Tokyo: Kokushoku Sensensha.

Mackie, V. (2003) Feminism in Modern Japan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Maruyama, M. (1974) Studies in the Intellectual History of Tokugawa Japan. Tokyo: University of Tokyo Press.

Matsuda, M. (Ed.) (1963) Gendai Nihon Shisō Taikei, 16: Anakizumu (An Outline of Modern Japanese Thought, Vol. 16: Anarchism). Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō.

Ooms, H. (1985) Tokugawa Ideology: Early Constructs, 1570–1680. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Tsuzuki, C. (1971) Anarchism in Japan. In D. E. Apter & J. Joll (Eds.), Anarchism Today. London and Basingstoke: Macmillan.