- Anarchist Modernity: Cooperatism and Japanese-Russian Intellectual Relations in Modern Japan by Sho Konishi
Historians and other academics all too often live and work, consciously or unconsciously, within the epistemological paradigms and methodologies of modernity. In particular, they tend to exhibit a passion for representing historical narratives as discrete moments within the time and place of the nation-state. In making sense of the Meiji period, Sho Konishi’s Anarchist Modernity offers a well-researched and well-written alternative to approaches that stress the seemingly definitive influence of Anglo-Saxon and Western European patterns of modernization on Meiji Japan. He shows us that there are other possible approaches to the question of Japanese modernity—ones that do not place the nation-state at the center of the narrative.
Konishi utilizes bibliographical sources in Japanese, Russian, and English to examine “anarchism through anarchists’ cultural practices, their social networks and transnational relations,” and “their understanding of everyday life”; thus he arrives at a historical analysis that goes far beyond nations, “government politics and organized labor movements” (p. 15). Drawing on the notion of “cooperatist anarchism,” Konishi uncovers a myriad of contact points and exchanges between Russian and Japanese intellectuals, particularly in the late Meiji period and in the immediate aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War (1904–1905). As the author boldly asserts, “only via the examination of Russian-Japanese non-state revolutionary encounters can one see the emergence and formulation” of an “independent vision of modernity” in Japan that avoids traditional interpretations of the overriding influence of Western Europe and the United States (p. 91).
The book’s contention is that this Meiji web of contacts among anarchists helped to create a non-Western form of modernity in Japan that eventually “led to a new discourse on democracy in the 1910s and 1920s” (p. 28). Anarchists’ activities, ideas, and imagination extended to the realm of culture and everyday life in ways that would later help what Dennis Dworkin calls “cultural Marxism” to flourish in twentieth-century Japan.1 And the kind of grassroots associations they created in the prewar era contributed to later ideas about democracy and people power. The author argues that anarchist sociopolitical ideas and cultural practices at the turn of the century and in the period that followed helped to create a civic culture of cooperation and resistance [End Page 170] in modern Japan. The corollary to this argument is that modern Japanese democracy owes a historical debt to anarchism and to the culture of cooperation that it helped foster in the Meiji period and beyond.
Through a large and diverse assortment of bibliographic source materials that include unpublished manuscripts as well as lesser-known texts in several languages, the author also documents how certain Japanese intellectuals were avid readers of the literature of the Russian revolutionary movement of the late nineteenth century. One noteworthy example is provided by Miyazaki Muryū (1855–1889), who “adopted and translated the famous account of the Russian Populist movement Underground Russia by Stepniak-Kravchinskii” (p. 88). According to Konishi, such literature, and the active exchanges between intellectuals that accompanied it, also helped to influence the formation and direction of the Freedom and People’s Rights Movement of the 1880s, suggesting that the influence of transnational anarchism on Japan can be detected in one of the earliest major social and political movements of the Meiji period.
The author goes on to discuss the Nonwar Movement (hisen undō) that was active during the Russo-Japanese War as an important and complex instance of the agency of ordinary citizens independent of the ontological and political framework of the nation-state. The trope against which this movement can be mapped historically was that of “the people” (heimin). While the capitalistic and nationalistic idea of the nation defined the people as subjects of the imperial state, heimin represented what Konishi calls a “concretized notion of humanity that extended beyond race, ethnicity, and the territory of the nation-state” (p. 145). Historically, however, the idea of...