1990s >> 1995 >> no-1091-july-1995

Pamphlet review: Anarchism and the failure of direct action

The Anarchist Movement in Japan by John Crump (BM Hurricane, London WC1N 3XX. 1995.)This is a brief, but informative, account of anarchism in Japan by the author of The Origins of Socialist Thought In Japan.

Crump traces the origins of anarchism in that country to Kotoku Shusui who first edited an anti-war journal, Common People’s Newspaper, in 1903 until its forced demise at the beginning of 1905. Kotoku was originally a Social Democrat who, together with Sakai Toshihiko and others, formed a short-lived party of that name. In 1904, Kotoku and Sakai translated Marx’s and Engels’s Communist Manifesto into Japanese. But shortly after, when in prison, Kotoku read Kropotkin’s Fields, Factories and Workshops, followed whilst travelling to the United States, by his Memoirs of a Revolutionist. In America, he read Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread, and later he came under the influence of the Industrial Workers of the World—the “Wobblies”.

On his return to Japan, Kotoku held many meetings and wrote many articles attacking what he called Social Democratic parliamentarianism, and advocating direct action. In an article in 1907, he wrote:

   “I hope that from now on our socialist movement in Japan will abandon its commitment to a parliamentary policy and will adopt as its methods and policy the direct action of the workers as one.”

Thus began the anarchist movement in Japan. Crump emphasises that the ideas which Kotoku brought back to Japan from America were a mixture of anarchist-communism, syndicalism and terrorism, although Kotoku was foremost an anarchist-communist. or Kropotkinist; and that anarchist terrorism never really took off in Japan. Before the First World War, both anarchist-communism and anarchist-syndicalism had their advocates and activists: but. together with mounting repression by the state, the anarchist-communists and the anarchist-syndicalists became increasingly antagonistic towards each other. By 1927, there was a complete split between the two factions according to John Crump.

The Japanese anarchists, like many others at the time, were largely sympathetic towards the Bolsheviks following the 1917 coup d’état. Some even joined the Communist Party, only to leave it again soon after. But after the Bolsheviks’ suppression of the Kronstadt Revolt in 1921, one prominent Japanese anarchist, Osugi, “concluded that there was nothing to choose between Russian state capitalism and Western private capitalism”.

In 1923. both Kotoku and Osugi were murdered by the Japanese state, and some anarchists attempted a number of rather insignificant acts of terrorist revenge which were, of course, counter-productive. Mass arrests inevitably followed. During the 1930s the anarchist movement in Japan went, according to Crump, into rapid decline. There was. however, an attempt by some anarchist-communists to form an Anarchist Communist Party in 1934. It claimed to be committed to bringing about a stateless and free communist society; yet it used Bolshevik (i.e. Leninist) organisational methods. It was founded as a highly secretive organisation, whose existence was not openly proclaimed, and whose membership was a hand-picked ”élite”. Its main tactic was to manoeuvre its members into positions of influence in other organisations—just like the Leninists! Not surprisingly, it was soon destroyed by the Japanese state.

During the Second World War, Japanese anarchists largely went underground, and many were killed in air raids together with hundreds of thousands of other members of the working class. Following the war, attempts were made from time-to-time to revive, or recreate, an anarchist movement in Japan, but as Crump indicates, anarchism in that country (as elsewhere, but not mentioned by the author) has merely existed on a much reduced scale compared with earlier times

Peter E. Newell