Anarchism against Bolshevism
The sole means is the bomb.
The means whereby the revolution
can be funded too is the bomb.
The means to destroy the bourgeois class is the bomb.
—Revolution (Kakumei), December 1906
Japanese socialism had a long-standing tradition, harking back to the late 1890s. However, until Lenin’s sudden rise to power in 1917, not orthodox Marxism but rather anarchism was considered to be the best solution to capitalism and imperialism.1 Between 1919 and 1923, anarcho-syndicalism enjoyed great popularity among Japanese workers and students, who were attracted to the anarchist “direct action” (chokusetsu kōdō) strategy of industrial organization and strikes, and its rejection of all forms of political activity.2 The main features of Taishō anarchism were insistence on the primacy of the individual over society; noncentralized, independent labor unions; and the rejection of both Marxist socialism and Russian communism’s assumption of a party-based political movement. This chapter demonstrates that post–World War I anarchism (Taishō anarchism), while rooted in the substantial Japanese socialist tradition, was largely developed in conversation with Russian Bolshevism. Ultimately, the anarchists’ rejection of the Russian Revolution proved to be their undoing.
Japanese interwar anarchism developed and envisioned itself as a transnational movement. From the early days, following the end of the Russo-Japanese War, Japanese anarchists imagined the struggle against capitalist imperialism in spatial terms, cultivating regional networks across East Asia by forming ties among Russian, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese radicals. This chapter focuses on how Japanese anarchists facilitated the introduction of the Russian Revolution in Japan and argues that for Japanese anarchists Asia-wide resistance to Japanese imperialism was the main appeal of Russian communism. Subsequently, Japanese communism muted this current, because it situated the revolutionary struggle in national historical temporality, thus squarely focusing on domestic issues of capitalist development.
Often missing from the conventional history of Japanese anarchism is its propensity for political violence. Taishō anarchism was born with a bang—that is, the alleged anarchist plot to assassinate Emperor Meiji in 1910, followed by the public trial and execution of twelve radicals. Japanese anarchists were conscious that Japan shared many socioeconomic features and state repression with agrarian and politically backward tsarist Russia, and thus they found inspiration in the terrorist tactics of Russian populists (narodniki), the first modern political terrorists in global history. Anarchists also were initially attracted to Bolshevik militant tactics, inherited from the same Russian populists. Hence, considering the strong impulse for anti-imperialist struggle and a bent toward militant tactics, we come to see that Japanese anarchists’ attitude toward the Russian Revolution and Soviet Russia was not straightforwardly antagonistic, as historians have generally presumed, but rather more complex and nuanced.
Ōsugi Sakae (1885–1923) and Takao Heibē (1895–1923) were among the first Japanese radicals to go to Shanghai, the Siberian towns of Chita and Irkutsk, and Moscow to make contact with Russian Bolsheviks and Asian radicals and establish regional revolutionary networks. Significantly, it was after these trips that they declared that the end of the Japanese empire could be brought about only by the anticolonial, proletarian struggle of Asian peoples with the help of the Soviet Union. However, due to their disagreements with the JCP and the Russian communists, both men withdrew their support for the Russian and Japanese communist parties just a few years after their historic visits. Takao and Ōsugi were murdered within two months of each other in 1923—by a rightist gang and the military police, respectively. Their funerals turned into mass social gatherings attended by thousands of people who showed up to pay homage to them and express support for their ideas and principles. Their deaths, however, marked the end of the Left’s original, noncommunist encounter with the Russian Revolution.
Focusing on the lives and deaths of these two chief representatives of Taishō anarchism, I show how Japanese anarchists rejected Marxism and Russian communism, and how, as a consequence of that rejection, in a matter of a few years their strategy of general strikes (anarcho-syndicalism) changed to individual terrorism, driven by despair. Ultimately, because the remaining anarchists rejected the notion of a vanguard socialist or communist party—or any centralized organization, for that matter—they were not able to unify into a coordinated movement; neither were they successful in the regional anarchist network, itself overrun by communist influence. Anarchists’ quarrel with the communists made it easy for the imperial government to suppress its internal enemies and coopt many of its adherents for the sake of the national moral community.
Interest in socialism originated in the 1890s in Japan and was understood as the latest Western thought that aimed at solving social problems (shakai mondai) created by the Meiji state’s capitalist industrialization. Unlike later leftists, many of the first generation of socialist thinkers were Christians, inspired by Christian humanitarian idealism and seeing in Christ the original communitarian. Socialism therefore was still a vague and heterogeneous concept, denoting a general perception of a collective need to treat justly all members of society and the people’s right to participate in the political and economic life of the country. Troubled by the corruption and cliquism of contemporary politics and the growing impoverishment of the people, the early socialists believed that a socialist revolution (kakumei) to overthrow corrupt politicians and inject fresh blood into the government would be a necessary step in returning to the democratic principles of the Meiji Revolution. Their aspirations, they believed, did not contradict the kokutai, or the official ideology centered on the imperial family and the body politic. In fact, armed with socialist theory, they believed that they struggled against the exploitative and immoral structure of the capitalist economy that threatened the health of the kokutai and the national community.3 Furthermore, because Japanese socialists’ introductions to and translations of canonical Marxist and anarchist works were the first to appear in any East Asian language, Japanese socialism strongly influenced Chinese and Korean intellectuals as well. Tokyo became the hub of radical knowledge in East Asia in the first two decades of the twentieth century, drawing in students and radicals from across Asia and introducing the latest anarchist, socialist, and later Marxist theories.4
The Russo-Japanese War of 1904–5 led to the radicalization of the Japanese socialist movement. Kōtoku Shūsui, leader of the radical wing, began to advocate new maxims of Japanese socialism: anti-imperialism, antinationalism, antimilitarism, and anticapitalism. Simultaneously, he became attracted to the anarchist creed of Pyotr Kropotkin. However, Kōtoku’s turn to anarchism happened in San Francisco, where he stayed in 1905–6 after his escape from police harassment and mingled with immigrant communities of Russian political exiles and Japanese and Chinese workers.5 The dominant historical narrative maintains that Japanese socialism’s conversion to anarchism happened because of Kōtoku’s contact in San Francisco with the American organization Industrial Workers of the World. However, Kōtoku gravitated more to Russian political exiles, establishing contact through them with Pyotr Kropotkin himself, who in a 1907 letter asked him to distribute copies of his own journal Bread and Freedom among Russian POWs.6 By the time of his 1904 proclamation of solidarity with the oppressed Russian people, Kōtoku had found more shared circumstances with economically backward Russia and its radicals’ fight with the repressive tsarist state, as well as immigrant Asian communities, than with white American laborers. Back in Tokyo, Kōtoku became actively involved in Chinese student leftist activities, simultaneously trying to attract the students to the tenets of anarchism. He would comment that “it is most hopeful that these Chinese are not content with their slogans of People’s rights and opposition to the Manchu dynasty and have made a step forward… . China is the Russia of the Far East. Japan has become for China what Switzerland was for Russia, namely a training-school of young revolutionaries… . I believe, a Nihilist party would shortly make its appearance in China.”7
In 1906–7, under the impact of the Japanese state’s increased suppression and his newly acquired anarchist beliefs, Kōtoku essentially split the Japanese socialist movement into those who followed him in adopting anarcho-syndicalist tactics, and their opponents who insisted on gradualist reform through parliamentary politics. The general features of anarcho-syndicalism were industrial strikes, centrifugal political organization, and rejection of parliamentary politics. It also accepted political violence against opponents. Kōtoku publicized in Japan the resolutions passed at the Amsterdam International Anarchist Congress (August 1907), which approved of general strikes, armed insurrections, and even terrorist actions.8 Russian terrorist populist groups also legitimized violence in Japanese anarchists’ eyes. Prohibited from advocating socialism openly, Kōtoku and other members of the movement came to believe that the only way they could succeed was to take “direct action” in the form of terrorism against the imperial house itself. Japanese anarchists, like their Russian populist counterparts, reached the same conclusion—that their heroic terrorist acts would awaken the people to radical solutions, and the elimination of the imperial system would lead to a thorough and lasting restructuring of the whole imperial society and beyond.9
The High Treason Incident of 1910, in which Kōtoku, as the head of a group of twenty-four defendants, was tried for having plotted to assassinate the emperor, ended the early socialist movement but also started Taishō anarchism. Kōtoku’s followers—Sakai Toshihiko, Ōsugi Sakai, Takabatake Motoyuki, and Arahata Kanson—had been previously sent to prison after the Red Flag (Akahata) Incident in 1908, which saved them from being incriminated and arrested in the High Treason Incident.10 Kōtoku’s centrality to the plot has been questioned by historians, but it is undeniable that the details of the assassination, including the obtainment of nitroglycerine, were worked out by his friends. For the anarchists and the government, the assassination plan was intrinsically linked to the assassination of one of the most powerful Japanese politicians, Itō Hirobumi, in Harbin in 1909 by a Korean nationalist.11 The imperial institution and its government found itself under assault from domestic and colonial radicals. After the annexation of Korea in 1910, the assaults by Korean insurgents (who often claimed to be followers of anarchism) intensified. While fighting its new colonial subjects in the steppes of Manchuria and northern Korea, the government at home acted swiftly to suppress domestic anarchist opposition. Branding the defenders as hikokumin (nonnationals or traitors), in 1911 the government executed Kōtoku and eleven others, ushering the Japanese socialist movement into its “winter years.”
News of Kōtoku’s execution and his idea of revolution spread well beyond socialist circles and radicalized many young people. Tokutomi Roka, a renowned novelist, made a famous speech “On Rebellion” (Muhonron) at the elite First Higher School in Tokyo in February 1911, one month after the executions, in which he said: “My friends, Kōtoku and the others have been labeled rebels and executed by the present government. But one should not be afraid of rebellion… . To do something new has always been called rebellion… . To live is to rebel. Kōtoku and the others died rebelling. They have passed away, but they have also come back to life again. And now their graves are empty.”12
A number of people turned to anarchism in protest, such as the poet Ishikawa Takuboku (1886–1912), the feminist historian Takamure Itsue (1894–1964), and the champion of minority rights Sumii Sue (1902–1997). Because the trial was so notorious at the time, interest in Kōtoku, socialism, anarchism, and Russian populism sharply increased. In cultural and literary production, anarchist ideas relating to the rejection of hierarchy, authority, status systems, and the state proliferated. Celebrated writers such as Tanizaki Jun’ichirō, Nagai Kafū, Satō Haruo, and Akutagawa Ryūnosuke expressed these tendencies in their literary works and lives. At that time, the pan-Asianist Mitsukawa Kametarō was a journalist for the rightist newspaper Dai Nihon and attended all the public sessions of Kōtoku’s trial. During the trial, he developed a strong disapproval for the workings of the state bureaucracy and the police and sympathized with Kōtoku’s revolutionary ideals. Writing in 1917, Mitsukawa proclaimed that the execution of the socialists in 1911 induced the Japanese people to embrace Kōtoku’s version of the violent revolution and consequently to support the Russian Revolution as a reaction to the authoritarian methods of the state.13
During the “winter years” of the Japanese socialist movement, which lasted from 1911 to 1919, very little political literature could be published, no political parties or groups could be organized, and defections were numerous. The socialist movement was almost rooted out of existence. Many members of the group were arrested or under constant police surveillance, some recanted (like Nishikawa Kōjirō), some distanced themselves from the movement or disappeared and lost contact with it, and some succumbed to mental illness as a result of government pressure.14 Young Yamakawa Hitoshi, who would become the main theoretician of the Left after 1917, departed for his home in Okayama after his release from prison and lay low there until he returned to Tokyo in 1916. Although after the death of the Meiji emperor in 1912, many socialists were released from prison and police surveillance ceased, the authorities remained vigilant for any sign of political opposition. It is a well-known story that the very word “society” (shakai) was considered subversive because of its association with socialism. A book titled The Society of Insects was prohibited simply for having the word in its title.
However, this was also a period when literature and art—which now turned inward to examine individual feelings and anxieties—flourished, exemplified by the emergence of the literary group Shirakaba, I-novels, the Esperanto movement, and diary culture. New philosophical trends that stressed universalism, rationalism, and faith in the primacy of culture were represented by Nishida Kitarō and his school, Taishō vitalism (Taishō seimeishugi), educationalism (kyōyōshugi), the philosophy of personalism (jinkakushugi), and neo-Kantianism. Anarchists also moved into the sphere of thought and culture. Influenced by Nietzsche and Max Stirner, Ōsugi began to preach radical individualism in his influential journal Kindai shisō (1912–14), attracting the attention of students, writers, and intellectuals.15 After the journal’s cessation in 1914, Ōsugi started the newspaper Heimin shinbun (1914–15) as a continuation of Kōtoku’s activities. In 1917, Ōsugi launched a short-lived monthly, Bunmei hihyō, and in February 1918 the newspaper Rōdō shinbun.
Meanwhile, Sakai Toshihiko organized a small publishing company, Baibunsha, which became the main source of income for many former activists. He also organized regular meetings, attended by some ten socialists, mainly to discuss developments in European socialist movements. In 1914, Sakai began to publish the monthly literary magazine Hechima no hana. Renamed Shinshakai (New society) a year later and staffed by Sakai, Arahata Kanson, Takabatake Motoyuki, and Yamakawa Hitoshi (since 1916), the magazine published pieces by Katayama Sen, who left Japan in 1914 never to return, and the anarchist Ishikawa Sanshirō, who immigrated to France in 1913. Sakai described his effort in the first issue as “the raising of a small flag on the tip of a worn-out fountain pen,” expressing high doubts that any large uprising would result from the activities of his small group. He compared himself and his fellows to a “group of fugitives, loyal to a wretched but ambitious army, who had entrenched themselves in a mountain cave and devised a plan for holding out: ‘We have no plans to descend the mountain in the near future to attempt a counterattack on the enemy’s front, but in concert with like tribes of fugitives far and near … we are determined to wait our opportunity patiently.’ ”16
When the February Revolution broke out in Petrograd, Japanese leftists, like the rest of the Japanese public, regarded it as a popular revolt against the corrupt, feudal tsarist government and bureaucracy. The small circle of Japanese socialists that endured the “winter years” of state suppression immersed themselves now in the study of Russian radicalism, being vaguely aware of the differences between numerous factions of the Russian Left.17 During 1917, their publishing organ Shinshakai published numerous articles educating their readers about the worker-oriented Social Democrats and the pro-peasant Socialist Revolutionaries, Lenin’s April Theses of 1917, the weak liberal movement in Russia, and the dual government established between workers’ soviets and middle-class liberals. Over the course of 1917, Japanese socialists largely focused their attention on Russian Socialist Revolutionaries, whom they considered the heir to the populists and who were very much admired by Japanese radicals.18 On August 31, 1917, the Bolsheviks had won an absolute majority in the Petrograd and Moscow soviets, calling for “all power to [be held by] the working class, led by its revolutionary party, the Bolshevik-Communists.”19 Only then did Japanese socialists focus on Lenin and the Bolshevik group, although Takabatake wrote as early as August that Lenin was not an anarchist, which was a commonly held view during 1917. Initially, however, the Japanese leftists did not differentiate between Bolsheviks and the soviets. In fact, the soviets, councils of workers and soldiers, attracted great attention from Japanese anarchist socialists. Not the Bolshevik Party but the numerous soviets in the capital and around Russia were considered responsible for the success of the proletarian revolution.
In late April 1917, on their way from the United States back to Russia, Nikolai Bukharin (1888–1938) and Vladimir Volodarsky (1891–1918) visited Japan.20 Inspired by their encounter with the Russian revolutionaries, Japanese socialists organized a meeting on May 1 in Yokohama to commemorate the February Revolution. The meeting resulted in a resolution from Japanese socialists to Russian workers, written by Yamakawa Hitoshi. Katayama Sen published the resolution in his New York newspaper Heimin, and Sebald Rutgers, a Dutch Marxist who stayed for two months in Japan on his way from the United States to Russia in the spring of 1918, read it at the Comintern’s First Congress in Moscow in March 1919. The Japanese version was published in Shinshakai in December 1917 and signed by “The Committee of the Tokyo Socialists.” It read as follows:
We, Japanese socialists, gathered on May 1 in Tokyo in order to express our deepest sympathy for the Russian Revolution, which we are following with great eagerness. We understand that the Russian Revolution is, on one hand, a political revolution of the bourgeoisie against the medieval autocratic system; but, on the other, it is a proletarian revolution in which workers rose up against the contemporary capitalist system. That the Russian Revolution must become a world revolution concerns not only the Russian socialists but every socialist in the world. The capitalist system is reaching its highest stage of development all around the world, and we are already living in the age of mature capitalist imperialism. Socialists of the world, if they do not want to become prisoners of imperialist ideas, must take a firm internationalist position. All the power of the international proletariat must stand against international capitalism, our common enemy. When the proletariat starts down this road, it will accomplish its historical mission. Russian socialists have made their utmost effort to end the war. And now they have to convince the proletariat class of the enemy country to do the same, to point its weapons, which brothers in trenches now point at each other, at the ruling class of its own countries. We, socialists all around the world, together with the Russian socialists, trust in the bravery of our comrades.21
In addition to the resolution, Japanese socialists also sent a letter through Sebald Rutgers, addressed “To the Russian Comrades.” Significantly, the letter, dated July 19, 1918, squarely focused on Japan’s imperialist activities and expressed the socialists’ regret that they could not stop the Japanese government from sending troops to Siberia, due to the strong suppression of the radical movement in Japan.22
The socialists also suddenly found themselves in the public limelight: youth, often from elite circles, grew increasingly interested in their ideas; the police intensified surveillance of their work; and newspapers sought to print articles on socialism and Russian radicalism. The postwar economic depression, the increased number of labor disputes and strikes, and the Rice Riots contributed to a growing preoccupation with politics among the general public, especially students. Inflation and political scandals created a new image of the rich as swindlers, politics as essentially rotten, and the whole system as unfair.23 In 1919, Yamakawa Hitoshi and Sakai Toshihiko published Shakaishugi kenkyū; Hasegawa Nyozekan and Ōyama Ikuo started Warera; the Tokyo University-based Shinjinkai initiated their publication Demokurashī; Takabatake Motoyuki published Kokka Shakaishugi; and Ōsugi Sakae started the newspaper Rōdō undō, to name only a few of the most famous leftist publications. Leftist magazines such as Kaizō and Kaihō, along with the established and widely respected Taiyō and Chūō kōron, shaped and promoted interest in socialist ideas by publishing articles about social and labor problems and studies of socialism and Marxism. After dedicating a number of its issues to labor disputes from September 1919 onward, the progressive but bankrupt journal Kaizō improved its finances and subscription rate immensely.24 Translations of Marxist classics and studies of Marxism also began to be published on a mass scale.25 Red Cover Library, a series of books dedicated to socialist thought, was widely popular. So great was the interest in Marxism that in 1920, the Daitōkaku publishing company began to publish the Collected Works of Marx and Engels, while Takabatake Motoyuki was commissioned to translate Marx’s Das Kapital into Japanese.
The labor movement showed a parallel surge in membership and activities. Between July and October 1919 alone, there were over three hundred strikes, more than the total of the preceding several years. In 1919 there were seventy-one labor unions, a huge number in comparison to only five in 1914. The first and largest nationwide labor union, Yūaikai (the Friendly Society), formed in 1912 to reconcile labor and capital, took on an increasingly radical tone as its younger leaders replaced the old moderates.26 As the number of labor strikes began to grow rapidly in 1919, the workers’ impact on politics and society became the center of attention for both the public and the increasingly radicalized students, some of whom even moved into the working-class slums in the Tsukishima area of Tokyo. By and large, questions of social change and social class divisions in Japanese society were brought to the forefront, and growing concern with class relations stimulated interest in socialism as a means of resolving social problems. Specifically, interest in syndicalism surged because it appealed mostly to the growing and volatile urban working class and prescribed immediate plans of action to improve workers’ lot.
In 1917, there was worldwide confusion among leftists over the nature of the Russian Revolution. The October Revolution, which was interpreted as the first genuine social revolution in history carried out by workers, appeared to many Japanese socialists as an anarchist revolution. In his articles, Sakai Toshihiko consistently referred to Lenin as an anarchist and pacifist.27 Moreover, the figureheads of global anarchism—Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and Pyotr Kropotkin—whose writings were widely translated and published in Japan, believed that the revolution had the potential to develop into an anarchist social revolution. One of the most famous Taishō anarchists, Ōsugi Sakae, recollected: “The Russian Revolution was the first socialist revolution that overthrew the capitalist system. Because of this revolution, workers of the world were emboldened and strongly influenced in their thoughts and actions… . I myself was one among those who was deeply excited and influenced by the Russian Revolution.”28 Ōsugi mentioned the revolution for the first time in April 1918, at the Meeting to Commemorate the Russian Revolution (Roshia Kakumei Kinenkai), attended by about forty radicals of all persuasions. He praised the revolution, claimed that Bolshevik tactics were essentially the same as those of anarchists, and welcomed the dictatorship and tough policies of the Bolsheviks as necessary to success. When Takabatake Motoyuki asked him whether the dictatorship was not against the anarchist creed, Ōsugi replied that “among early anarchists there were those who insisted on dictatorship, too.”29 Ōsugi was not immune to the elitist view shared by both Marxists and syndicalists that the unenlightened masses needed strong leadership to guide their thoughts and actions. He believed that the Bolshevik dictatorship eventually would give birth to “freedom.” Moreover, according to Yamakawa’s memoirs, during Ōsugi’s visit to Yamakawa’s house in the summer of 1919, Ōsugi commented that “the soviets’ regional autonomy is good. But, when [the soviets] created the central government, they killed the revolution.” He qualified this statement, however, by speculating that “if we had been in Russia at that time, if we had been in their shoes, we would probably have done the same thing.”30
In October 1919, Ōsugi and his followers, with the help of Sakai Toshihiko and Yamakawa Hitoshi, established the Organization of the Workers’ Movement (Rōdō undōsha), and a newspaper, Rōdō shinbun. To raise funds for his organization, Ōsugi toured western Japan during the Rice Riots. Historians have argued that the Tokyo socialists largely ignored the peasant riots as inconsequential to the industrial proletariat’s revolutionary struggle, but this is not entirely accurate.31 Ōsugi, for one, considered the riots a manifestation of general revolutionary fervor in Japan: “The second Russian Revolution made an enormously deep impression on the masses. The dispatches that appeared in the daily newspapers were read avidly and with great interest. However, the capitalists and the government were confident that revolution was a foreign, not Japanese, thing. Then suddenly, but occurring naturally, there erupted the Rice Riots of the summer of ‘18 two years ago.”32 Moreover, the feminist anarchist Itō Noe, Ōsugi’s partner and comrade, also placed high hopes on the rural areas, idealizing village communities and considering them to be a model of broader social organization.33 Nevertheless, before Ōsugi made contact with Russian revolutionaries, he shared the opinion of other Japanese socialists that a socialist revolution would happen in Japan only after the rest of the advanced capitalist world accomplished its revolutions, rather than with a peasant uprising at home.
Meanwhile, Ōsugi and his fellow socialists and anarchists engaged in a flurry of organizational activities. In 1919, Ōsugi was among the organizers of a syndicalist study group, Hokufūkai (North Wind Society), which attracted many students and workers, including twenty-four-year-old Takao Heibē. In 1920, the syndicalist movement saw a significant influx of activists, students, and labor unions, who had become disillusioned with the universal suffrage movement after it was halted by Prime Minister Hara Takashi and with the liberal-democratic movement in general, and who now placed their hopes on expanding the union movement. The biggest labor union, Yūaikai, was renamed the Sōdōmei (Japan Federation of Labor) in 1921, which took a more radical, anarcho-syndicalist position. In December 1920, Yamakawa, Sakai, Ōsugi, Takabatake, and others organized the Shakaishugi Dōmei (Socialist League), which was ordered to disband, by which time membership had grown from 1,033 to 6,000–7,000 members.34 In June 1921, the seventh issue of their magazine, Shakaishugi, published the Comintern Declaration, which was sent to Japan from Moscow by Katayama Sen, but the issue was banned.35 The Shakaishugi Dōmei’s membership was eclectic, ranging from anarchists to Marxists and unionists. Many Chinese and Korean residents of Japan also joined the league, including Li Dazhao, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party—a diversity that reflected the internationalist mood of the time.36 There was no adopted program or unity in the objectives of the league, but the overall goal was to unite the socialist and labor union movements. The ban on the league, a legal socialist organization, later in 1921 was devastating and convinced many of its younger members that only illegal activity was possible, pushing them to work toward the creation of an illegal communist party.
Many Korean and Chinese anarchists found refuge in Tokyo, which was in the early 1920s safer than Seoul and Shanghai. In November 1921, under the sponsorship of the anarchists Ōsugi Sakae and Iwasa Sakutarō (1879–1967), and socialists Sakai Toshihiko and Takatsu Seidō (1893–1974), the Korean anarchist group Kokutōkai (The Black Wave Society) was established in Tokyo. Its editor in chief was the Korean anarchist Bak Yeol (1902–1974), who was arrested with his Japanese partner Kaneko Fumiko (1903–1926) in the wake of the 1923 Kantō earthquake for their alleged plot to assassinate the Japanese emperor. In the first issue of its publication, the group issued a statement claiming that their goal was to fight Japanese and Korean nationalism and strive for a social revolution both in Korea and Japan, which they believed would result in the creation of a united world (sekai yūgō) beyond national borders.37 Eventually, in many instances programs of international solidarity and mutual aid offered by Korean anarchists proved to be more radical and progressive than those of Japanese anarchists.
The real test of Japan’s anarchist internationalism arrived from abroad. Port cities—Tokyo, Shanghai, Pusan, Shimonoseki, Kobe, Yokohama, Vladivostok, and even San Francisco—not only became the end points of extremely politicized travel routes but emerged as the centers of Asia-wide radical networks, from which people, texts, and ideas traveled inland. During 1919, the Far Eastern branch of the Comintern in Vladivostok sent Chinese and Korean radicals to initiate contact with Japanese socialists on behalf of the Comintern. They approached Yamakawa and Sakai first, and invited them to Moscow for the Second Comintern Congress, held in July–August 1920. But Sakai and Yamakawa, not trusting these messengers or the Comintern itself, and concerned that they might be charged with treason, declined the offer.38 They were long blamed for this reluctance and labeled as cowards by Japanese Marxist historians. Yamakawa wrote in his autobiography: “In 1920, we heard that there was a Comintern person in East Asia, but we did not know who this person was, what his status was. That person was trying hard to make contact with us, it seems. But we were not familiar with the official institution of the Comintern in Shanghai; we could not just go there without an official invitation.”39 Yamakawa advised the Korean envoy, who came in August 1920, to approach Ōsugi, as he was sufficiently “reckless” to go to China and meet the Russians.
Ōsugi accepted the offer and went to Shanghai in October 1920.40 He wanted to meet the Russian revolutionaries but was also attracted to the idea of meeting with Korean radicals in Shanghai. In April 1919, a Korean provisional government was established in Shanghai, which drew together Korean nationalists and communists. The elected prime minister at the time was Yi Tong-hwi (1873–1935), who in 1911 had immigrated to Vladivostok after the annexation of Korea and in 1918 had become one of the founders of the Korean People’s Socialist Party in Khabarovsk. At the Conference of East Asian Socialists in Shanghai, Ōsugi befriended Yi Tong-hwi and was impressed by his ideas about military resistance to the Japanese empire. (Dissatisfied with the provisional government’s lack of action, Yi Tong-hwi returned to Manchuria after the conference to resume his armed guerrilla struggle against the Japanese interventionist forces.) Ōsugi also met with Yo Un-hyung (1885–1947), the cofounder of the provisional government, who in 1945 became one of the founders of the Korean People’s Republic; Chen Duxiu (1879–1942), who in 1921 cofounded the Chinese Communist Party and served as its first general secretary until 1927; and the Comintern agent Grigory Voitinsky.
According to Ōsugi’s account of the trip in Nihon dasshutsu ki (Account of an escape from Japan, 1923; in English, My Escapes from Japan, 2014), Chinese and Korean radicals in Shanghai were not communists and were at times annoyed by Voitinsky’s intrusive directives. In fact, by 1920 Asian radicals had already developed an alternative to the Comintern plan—namely the creation of an Asia-wide “League of Far Eastern Communist Party”—which Ōsugi enthusiastically supported. They also agreed with Ōsugi’s view that the socialist movements in Asian countries were each unique and ought to be independent of the Comintern. In 1920, however, Ōsugi’s insistence on independence was probably less staunch than it was in 1923, when Nihon dasshutsu ki was published, because he accepted the hefty sum of 2,000 yen from Voitinsky and promised to work in close cooperation with the Comintern. On returning home, he revived his journal Rōdō undō (January–June 1921), which published both anarchist and communist articles and included most notably the communist Kondō Eizō, which suggests Ōsugi’s commitment to communism and the Comintern’s program.41
Ōsugi’s first article after his return from Shanghai, the famous “Nihon no unmei” (Japan’s destiny, January 1921), reflected his changed position after making contact with Asian and Russian communists. Most significantly, Ōsugi began to place the utmost importance on the activities of the Asian communist movement and the Comintern. The Asian and Russian revolutionaries, he argued, would instigate the struggle against the Japanese empire in the colonies, which would in turn shake to the core the political and social system in the metropole. Japanese imperialist actions in East Asia would disrupt Japanese society itself and bring all its contradictions out into the open in the most extreme way. Ōsugi thus sided with Lenin’s prediction that “imperialism is the eve of the proletarian social revolution,” and believed that a socialist revolution would come to Japan within a year, as a result of the new anti-imperialist revolutionary struggle in Asia. He pointed out that foreign intervention in Russia had failed, that Soviet Russia was regaining its power in East Asia, and that Japan was helpless to curb the Bolshevization of the Siberian, Mongolian, Chinese, and Korean radicals. In the near future, he warned, Japan would face a joint enemy in Russia, Korea, and China, which it would not be able to withstand. What would follow, Ōsugi continued, would be a civil war, similar to the ongoing Russian civil war. A “revolutionary war between old Japan and new Japan” would result in the emergence of a completely new Japan, and he urged Japanese radicals to be “prepared when a conflict erupts” to seize control of the country.42 In his view, an upcoming revolutionary upheaval would be the result of a war and not depend on the level of development of labor or the socialist movement within Japan, the position he had held before his trip to Shanghai.
In the same year, he proclaimed: “Kropotkin is not my ideal. I passed this stage already. And I am not an anarchist; it is too limited.” As the historian Asukai Masamichi pointed out, it would be incorrect at this point to label Ōsugi and his fellows as anarchists in a strict sense.43 In his memoirs, the communist Kondō Eizō wrote that Ōsugi honestly wanted a united front with communists and envisioned a communist revolution in Japan in which he would play a central role. When a Korean envoy visited Japan in April 1921, Ōsugi sent Kondō to Shanghai to renew contacts with the Comintern and obtain the rest of the funds promised by Voitinsky to Ōsugi during his trip to Shanghai in October 1920. However, according to Beckmann and Stanley, Ōsugi increasingly began to suspect that the Japanese communists did not want the anarchists to be in contact with the Comintern and tried secretly to cut ties between him and the people in Shanghai.44 The matter, of course, involved money: who would control the flow of the Comintern cash from Shanghai to Japan. According to Kondō, however, Yamakawa and his followers always wanted to have Ōsugi as a member of the JCP and kept urging him to join. In the end, as a result of a clash of personalities and quarrel over funds, from late 1921 Ōsugi distanced himself from the communist movement.
Beginning in this period, Ōsugi’s support of Russian Bolshevism began to wane. All fifteen issues of Rōdō undō that appeared between December 1921 and July 1923 published articles critical of Russian Bolshevism. The Bolshevik government’s repression of its own anarchists, of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and of the Kronstadt Rebellion of March 1921 had a large impact on some Japanese radicals who, like Ōsugi, started to criticize the Russian Communist Party.45 Moreover, Ōsugi’s writings circulated via radical underground newspapers across Asia and influenced the Chinese anarchists’ critique of Russian Bolshevism as well. Ōsugi translated into Japanese anti-Bolshevik reports by Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, and Pyotr Kropotkin, whose disillusionment with the Soviet Union played a significant part in the increasing critique of Bolshevism by anarchists worldwide. Echoing Emma Goldman’s words, Ōsugi maintained that the Bolsheviks betrayed their own revolution by implementing the New Economic Policy (NEP), which permitted private trade and property.46 So great was Ōsugi’s disappointment that he began to claim that Russian workers had in fact little to do with the October Revolution and its success. The Russian Revolution was not a bottom-up social revolution, he argued, but instead a political coup through which a small group of people usurped power. Ōsugi wrote: “The October Revolution, which overthrew the democratic government of Kerensky, taught us how revolution must be done. However, the development of the Bolshevik revolution after October taught us how revolution must not be done.”47 Ōsugi’s critique of Soviet Russia went so far that he began to support the Siberian Intervention by the Japanese interventionist forces in the hope that it would crush the Bolshevik regime. Later, he actively opposed the recognition of the USSR by Japan, a position he shared with nationalist right-wing groups.48
Ōsugi’s critique of Russian Bolshevism launched what is known as the ana-boru debate (ana-boru ronsō).49 The first public debate provoked by the Russian Revolution among Japanese socialists, the ana-boru debate spelled out new goals and strategies for the socialist movement.50 It was during this debate, which lasted roughly from 1921 to 1924, that Japanese socialists began to identify themselves as anarchists or Bolsheviks based chiefly on differences of opinion concerning organization and tactics.51 The formal separation between anarchists and Bolsheviks took place in September 1922 at a conference in Osaka, the goal of which was to establish a national labor union. Opinions split over the union’s organization: anarchists insisted on a free alliance of small, local, self-governed unions having an absolute right to join or withdraw from the national union at any time, while Bolsheviks wanted a more disciplined centralized body in which a central committee would coordinate nationwide activities. The participants in the conference regarded the conflict as a power struggle between different factions—the labels “anarchist” and “Bolshevik” meant very little to them. At the close of the debate, radicals who were unwilling to condone centralized authority of any sort or a regulated organizational discipline withdrew and sabotaged the attempt to create a new national labor union.
However, the conflict at the Osaka conference, which ended in a physical brawl that required police intervention, exposed far more fundamental problems. The debate touched on a variety of important questions. Should the radical movement struggle to transform and liberate the individual first, or should its primary aim be to end class exploitation? This led radicals to the question of how revolutionary change ought to take place: through long-term social changes based on individual transformations or rapid political change enacted by a group of conscious revolutionaries? Socialism from below or socialism from above? Another variation on this problem was the question of whether the model of the Russian Revolution—that is, a highly centralized proletarian movement under the control of the vanguard party—was applicable to the Japanese case.
What especially alarmed Ōsugi was Lenin’s vision of the relationship between socialist intellectuals and workers. Ōsugi and Yamakawa were well aware of their differences from the working class in terms of upbringing, education, and vocation yet refused to present themselves as “intellectuals,” which they both regarded as a problematic category within the revolutionary program. Yamakawa was content with this difference, because he believed (as did Karl Kautsky) that labor and socialist movements, although separate, flow in the same direction and eventually merge.52 It was Lenin, however, who most persuasively resolved the problem of working-class dependence on intellectuals. Unlike Kautsky, Lenin emphasized the necessary difference between the working class and intellectuals as a precondition for the former to realize socialist goals for itself:
There could not yet be Social-Democratic consciousness among the workers. This consciousness could only be brought to them from without. The history of all countries shows that the working class, exclusively by its own effort, is able to develop only trade union consciousness… . The theory of socialism, however, grew out of philosophic, historical and economic theories elaborated by educated representatives of the propertied classes, by intellectuals. According to their social status, the founders of modern scientific socialism, Marx and Engels, themselves belonged to the bourgeois intelligentsia.53
By proposing that someone needs to occupy a position of leadership and arguing that the working class is unable to fill this role from within its own ranks, Lenin established the dominant position for the socialist intelligentsia, whose task was “to divert the labor movement from its spontaneous, trade unionist striving to go under the wing of the bourgeoisie, and to bring it under the wing of revolutionary Social-Democracy.”54
Ōsugi, however, rejected the idea of a difference between socialist (bourgeois intelligentsia) and labor movements. Ōsugi criticized Lenin’s idea of the socialist intellectual and firmly rejected Lenin’s framework of socialist intellectuals leading the working masses. For Ōsugi, the dictatorship of the proletariat was, in reality, a dictatorship of communist party intellectuals.55 Preoccupied with theoretical questions and concerned with holding on to power, these intellectuals distorted and harmed workers’ movements. Ōsugi could not imagine the enforcement of uniform rules and discipline on a national level; his rejection of the difference between socialist (intellectual) and labor movements led him ultimately to abandon the Leninist notion of the dominant authority of one party. To prove his point, Ōsugi even moved into a workers’ slum and started to dress and talk like a worker and to attack Yamakawa for his intellectualism and self-imposed distance from the revolutionary class. He criticized any self-proclaimed champions of the masses, whether liberal democrats, moderate unionist leaders, or Marxists.56 The irony, of course, was that the workers did not accept Ōsugi as one of them (they saw him as an odd figure, an outsider in the slum surroundings); nor did those in other anarchist workers groups, such as Takao Heibē, because they thought him too preoccupied with debates and writings instead of action.
This problem lies at the core of the ana-boru debate. Should workers gradually and on their own grow into class and revolutionary consciousness, or should they be subjected to the supervision and leadership of the vanguard? Ōsugi insisted that a genuine social revolution starts with a transformation of consciousness, which would prevent the need for coercion when a revolution finally comes about. He insisted that the workers could not be forced into a more advanced state of political consciousness: this would need to be a process that developed gradually. Ōsugi maintained: “Within the old society, within the old state, a new society, a new state will be born naturally. The reconstruction of society and the reconstruction of the state will happen naturally.”57 The goal was not to create a new ruling class (for Ōsugi, exemplified by the new Bolshevik elite in Soviet Russia) but to abolish classes altogether, which would also eliminate the need for the state and politics. The dictatorship of one party would only reproduce the evils of the old society. The liberation of workers, he believed, begins with developing individuality (jinkaku), which becomes the guarantor of personal freedom from the state and capitalist system.58
Both anarchists and “Bolsheviks” focused on labor unions as the primary area for their work. Speaking for the “Bolsheviks,” Yamakawa Hitoshi urged socialist intellectuals to merge with the unions—precisely because it was the centralized labor union movement, not the communist party, he insisted, that was the key to revolutionary change. The success of the revolution depended on the centralization and unification of labor unions into one national union governed by a central committee. This was why the debate with Ōsugi over the organization of nationwide labor unions became so important to Yamakawa, who considered the ana-boru debate decisive for the whole Japanese socialist movement.59 Yamakawa thus attempted to merge the socialist and labor movements into one entity, under which labor unions would assume a political character and begin to function as a party. Socialist intellectuals would become labor activists, while labor unions would assume the character of the legal “vanguard party.”60 Japanese historians contend that cooperation between anarchists and Bolsheviks ended at the end of the Osaka conference, in September 1922.61 However, on the level of political activities, there was more cooperation than division. Not only Ōsugi and Yamakawa were convinced that cooperation between the communists and anarchists was necessary for the Japanese revolution, but both also agreed that labor unions, not a vanguard party, must be their priority.
On the theoretical level, in contrast, anarchists and communists split widely. Ōsugi envisioned nonstate- and nonparty-centered concepts and practices, which would allow regional formation and adaptation. The main attraction of the Russian Revolution for him was its transnational, internationalist, and anti-imperialist perspective. The Comintern and Japanese Bolsheviks’ insistence on the creation of a national communist labor union or party with centralized leadership betrayed his ideal, which prompted him ultimately to reject not simply cooperation with the JCP, but communism and Marxism all together. This was an unfortunate development for East Asian leftist radicalism, also keenly realized by the Comintern. Unconstrained by any Marxist doctrinal matters, anarchists were the most adept at launching Asia-wide anti-imperialist socialist activities. Unlike Japanese communists, anarchists managed for a while to remain aloof from national-chauvinist culturalism and embrace as equals Korean and Chinese radicals with different agendas.
Revolutionary violence was as much a feature of Japanese radicalism as it was elsewhere. Modern revolutionary terrorism was inaugurated in tsarist Russia, beginning in April 1866 with the first unsuccessful attempt on the life of Tsar Alexander II, through July 1918, when Lenin and his associates ordered the assassination of Tsar Nicholas II.62 Compared to Russia, in Japan leftist political violence developed much later and was less frequent. In both cases, however, leftist militancy was a reaction to the state’s denial of certain political rights: the demand for a constitution and the liberation of serfs in tsarist Russia, and for universal suffrage and rights for the working class in imperial Japan. Japanese leftists took note of Russian revolutionary terrorism as the more effective “propaganda of the deed.” In this instance, Kemuyama Sentarō’s Kinsei museifushugi (Modern anarchism, 1902), which introduced Russian political terrorism to Japan, was hugely influential among leftists. How influential the Russian path became is shown in the further radicalization of Japanese socialist émigrés in the United States. A Japanese anarchist group in Berkeley, California, published Revolution between late 1906 and early 1907, a magazine that openly advocated terrorism. “Our policy is toward the overthrow of Mikado, King,” the first issue stated, “The sole means is the bomb. The means whereby the revolution can be funded too is the bomb. The means to destroy the bourgeois class is the bomb.”63 In November 7, 1907, on the birthday of Emperor Meiji, a leaflet was distributed in California titled Terrorism (Ansatsushugi), most probably composed by the Japanese anarchist émigré Iwasa Sakutarō (who on his arrival to Tokyo in 1919 joined Ōsugi’s Rōdōsha group). The 1907 pamphlet asserted that it was necessary for socialists to progress from propaganda to assassination. It pointed to the terrorist attacks which had been made on state officials in Russia and France and vowed that Japanese terrorists would base themselves on the rich experience of those countries.64
The post–World War I period saw the upsurge of anarchist and labor union militancy, attracting more and more people—petty workers, students, and even yakuza. One of these new anarchists was a young worker from Nagasaki, Takao Heibē (1895–1923). His peak activities lasted a mere four or five years, but his case amply represents the attraction Bolshevik tactics had for Japanese anarchists. His name became nationally known after his murder in June 1923 by the leader of a nationalist gang, which almost coincided with the murder of Ōsugi by military police some three months later. For socialists, these murders exemplified the authoritarian nature of the imperial state and the advent of popular fascism in Japan, backed by the conservative government. But Takao’s short life was no less significant, as he was one of dozens of Japanese leftists who carried out subversive activities in Siberia and one of the very few who met Vladimir Lenin himself. He exemplified the current within Japanese anarchism that was strongly attracted to Bolshevism—its success, tactics, resoluteness, and militancy. This current continued in the cooperation between the anarchist Zenkoku Rōdō Kumiai Jiyū Rengōkai, or Zenkoku Jiren (All-Japan Libertarian Federation of Labor Unions, established in 1926) and the Profintern (Red Trade Union International), a branch of the Comintern, in 1926–27. Nevertheless, for Takao, as well as for many other young men, communism and its party, with its perspective on the future and strong stress on centralized and coordinated organization, remained fundamentally alien. At the same time, the JCP was not able to accommodate and restrain these hot-headed militant activists, many of whom left its ranks to embark on independent activities. Situated here and now, rather than in the coming communist “tomorrow,” Takao resorted to independent actions with his small anarchist band. This tendency for noncentralized—and ultimately uncoordinated and chaotic—activities of disparate anarchist groups eventually proved to be one of the reasons for the demise of the whole anarchist movement in interwar Japan.
From early 1918 on, anarchist ideas grew in popularity among workers, especially in the Kansai area centered around Osaka. Anarchist periodicals such as Rōdō undō, Jiyū rengō, Kōsakunin, and Kokushoku seinen appeared one after another and contributed to the spread of anarchist ideas. That is how the restless Takao heard about Ōsugi Sakae and anarchist activities in Tokyo while doing certain small jobs in Osaka. In 1918, he finally decided to move to Tokyo to take part in Ōsugi’s activities. He joined the Hokufūkai, which was established by Sakai, Wada Kyūtarō, and others and was the main socialist gathering of the day, with a strong anarchist agenda. Sakai Toshihiko and Yamakawa Hitoshi also frequented the gatherings for a short time before they moved on to work on establishing a communist party in Japan. Even among rowdy members of the anarchist group, Takao stood out for his deliberately uninhibited and radical stance. At one meeting, for example, Takao attacked a student from the prestigious Waseda University, saying that he studied the science of bourgeois exploitation and therefore could not understand the plight of the workers. At another meeting, he called for a discussion about not when a revolution would occur, but when and how they ought to make it happen.65 He adopted this arrogant attitude to quell the concerns of other members that he was a police spy. It was common police practice to infiltrate leftist organizations with agents provocateurs or to buy off existing members, which was not that difficult because the socialist and labor movements attracted a great many drifters, people without any particular profession, and adventurers.
The quarrels that Takao initiated were not isolated incidents but denoted a larger problem in the growing misunderstanding between new working-class members of anarchist circles and veteran socialist anarchists (who had a solid theoretical and literary background), together with elite university students who were attracted to new socialist and anarchist theories. Quite soon, Takao would turn against his teacher Ōsugi. In March 1921, Takao organized the Rōdōsha group (not to be mistaken for the Rōdōsha group organized by Ōsugi), which actively participated in the resurgent Ashio mine strikes that since 1907 had been a battleground between government and big business, on one hand, and mine workers and their socialist supporters, on the other.66 Takao called Ōsugi and his followers to join his battles on the ground instead of meeting in coffee shops and town halls. In a personal attack, in the first issue (April 1921) of the group’s newspaper Rōdōsha, Takao chastised Ōsugi for his habitual drinking and gambling and notorious love affairs—which, Takao argued, diverted Ōsugi’s attention from important revolutionary matters.67 Takao also criticized Ōsugi for taking what he saw as an intellectual approach to the workers’ question. Instead of writing articles, Takao insisted, Ōsugi ought to take the fight to the streets. Of course, it was ironic that Takao charged Ōsugi with intellectualism at the same time that Ōsugi criticized the Russian communists for their elitist approach.68
Takao’s first run-in with the police and experience with right-wing agitation came about during his involvement in the famous Morito Incident in 1921. A junior economics professor at Tokyo Imperial University, Morito Tatsuo, published an article on “Kropotkin’s Anarchist Communism as a Social Ideal” (Kuropotokin no shakai shisō no kenkyū, January 1920), analyzing Kropotkin’s critique of both the monarchy as an institution and parliamentary government. Morito praised Kropotkin’s vision of an anarcho-communist society but rejected illegal means to achieve it. Articles on Kropotkin and other socialist thinkers had routinely appeared in numerous publications before and after Morito’s article. In March and May 1920, the magazine Kaizō published twelve articles on Kropotkin, and none of these issues was banned. The publication of Morito’s article was inflated into a major incident through the agitation of the Brotherhood for National Support (Kōkoku Dōshikai), a group of right-wing students organized by the conservative professor Uesugi Shinkichi. The brotherhood and Uesugi were successful in blowing the incident out of proportion, attracting nationwide attention. The Morito Incident became one of the first episodes in the growing confrontation between the emerging, and increasingly militant, left-wing and right-wing groups.
The Justice and Home ministries seized on the Morito scandal to mount a show trial condemning foreign ideologies that might “sow misgivings among the general public regarding the sovereignty of our state or promote a tendency to hold the property rights of the individual in contempt.”69 The courts sentenced Professor Morito to three months in prison for disturbing public order under the Newspaper Law (passed in 1909), and he simultaneously lost his teaching post.70 The Morito Incident was significant because it was the first state crackdown on oppositional thought, even though there was no evidence of riots, strikes, or other crimes being perpetrated under the article’s influence. The incident was symptomatic of the growing concern over domestic instability and the undermining of national morals by the infiltration of foreign modes of thought. In a way, the conservative bureaucracy and pundits were correct in holding that foreign ideologies did “sow misgivings”; because angered by the reactionary bureaucracy, Takao challenged them with his individual actions. Acting on his own, Takao printed Morito’s article together with Kropotkin’s Law and Authority and distributed them on the streets of Tokyo, for which he was arrested and served a five-month prison sentence. During one of the court hearings, Takao famously took off his clothes and remained naked in protest, an incident that earned him fame in certain circles.71
Very soon after his release, Takao was drawn into the international revolutionary activities emanating from the Comintern. As a counterresponse to the Washington Naval Conference (1921–22), to which Soviet Russia was not invited, the Comintern organized its own Congress of Far Eastern People. The Comintern’s executive committee declared that it would convene at Irkutsk a “simultaneous conference of representatives of Eastern Revolutionary movements and thus indicate the strength of eastern opposition to imperialist plans in the East.”72 Apparently, the response of the toilers of the east was so great that the site of the congress was moved to Moscow and Petrograd, where the conference was held in January–February 1922. Japan occupied a central role in the Comintern’s policy in East Asia. The Comintern agent Grigory Voitinsky sent his envoy—a young Chinese professor and one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, Zhang Tailei (1898–1927)—to Japan to persuade the various left-wing groups to send delegates to the congress. All seven Japanese representatives, including three anarchist members of the printing workers’ union, were more or less supporters of anarcho-syndicalist tactics—that is, labor strikes and labor education as the main forms of political activity. In Moscow, they were joined by five Japanese radicals from the United States. During the several days of the congress, Soviet leaders (such as the head of the Comintern Grigory Zinoviev, Georgy Safarov, Nikolai Bukharin, and Bela Kun) tried to persuade the Japanese delegation to abandon the “infantile sickness of anarcho-syndicalism” and join forces in establishing a communist party in Japan. They did persuade some, as one of the Japanese delegates remained in Moscow as a student of the Communist University of Toilers of the East to study Marxism-Leninism, and several of those who returned declared themselves to be followers of communism.
Takao Heibē was among the original seven representatives who departed Japan in the winter of 1921. However, Takao did not reach Moscow because in Shanghai he met with Voitinsky, who persuaded him to return to Japan with Comintern funds for organizational expenses. These funds were first used to sway public opinion to the Soviet side by organizing a pro-Soviet movement in Japan.73 The Comintern reckoned that broad public movements were a good opportunity for spreading Bolshevik ideas and gaining emotional sympathy for Russia. Takao and his eighteen anarchist friends initiated drives to aid hunger relief in Russia, which became part of a worldwide campaign. In response to a widespread and severe famine in war-torn Soviet Russia, the Comintern founded the International Workers’ Aid Society, which proved to be quite successful at drawing sympathy and support from many noncommunist intellectuals and workers. Takao also brought radicals together to participate in the movement to repeal the “three evil Laws” (the Extreme Socialists Control Law, Labor Unions Law, and Conciliation of Tenant Farmers Dispute Law). Takao Heibē’s group also cooperated with the labor union Sōdōmei, the international socialist Cosmo club (Cosmopolitan Club), and some Korean socialist and anarchist organizations.
Takao was able to unite socialist activists around himself, and they proved to be particularly useful in transregional leftist undertakings. In March 1922, at the urging of the Comintern, Takao and other members of his Rōdōsha group entered Siberia with the aim of establishing a printing press to produce propaganda leaflets for the Japanese army stationed there. Takao brought with him workers from the Japan Printers’ Union, who established a printing press in Chita and for the next six months produced propaganda leaflets for soldiers stationed in Vladivostok, as well as pamphlets for distribution in Japan. The printing press was obtained by the wife of another of Takao’s fellow travelers, Yoshihara Tarō, a Japanese radical émigré from the United States. Yoshihara’s wife was a geisha in Manchuria. She purchased and brought the printing press to Manchuli, where Takao picked it up.74
Yoshihara was a curious figure. He had been trusted as an operative, extensively traveling between Russia and Japan on the Comintern’s instructions and funds. During 1922, he was sent by Profintern to organize unions but mysteriously lost the diamonds he had received on his way, and thus he arrived without organizational funds. In December 1922, he accompanied the anarchist Arahata Kanson to Beijing to meet Adolf Ioffe. There, at the request of the nationalist Kokuryūkai, he tried to negotiate the purchase of North Sakhalin from Russia, a topic that Ioffe flatly refused to discuss. Incidentally, Arahata was not aware of Yoshihara’s secret mission on behalf on Japanese nationalists. On his return to Japan, Yoshihara began to associate increasingly with right-wing groups. Arahata later claimed that when he was in jail in 1937, Yoshihara was brought in drunk and boasted that he had been a Comintern agent disguised as a right winger.75 Besides Yoshihara, the Soviet side was particularly interested in another friend of Takao, the ex-military man Nagayama Naoatsu, who converted to socialism during his service in the Japanese interventionist forces in Siberia. They tried to persuade him to stay in Russia and become a member of the Russian Communist Party, but Nagayama declined.
Russian Bolsheviks’ efforts to win over anarchists bore fruit when Takao adopted communist tactics. Interested in winning over Japanese anarchists, the Comintern central committee invited Takao to Moscow in the summer of 1922, where he met, among other notable figures, Vladimir Lenin. Takao’s several meetings with Zinoviev, Bukharin, and most importantly Lenin left a permanent mark on him, which he always acknowledged.76 After his experience in Russia, Takao penned the pamphlet “Revolution or Death,” which his fellows tried to smuggle into Japan, but it was seized by the police at the port of Nagasaki in September 1922.77 The pamphlet preached violent revolution according to the Russian model. It projected that a violent revolution would erupt in the fall of 1924 because the economic situation was grave and unemployment was rising. The first steps toward this revolution, the pamphlet suggests, are organizing a nationwide general strike and destroying the machines. After this, revolutionaries could arrest politicians and the rich, disband the army, and establish soviets, revolutionary committees, and the Red Army. The new society would abandon private property under the slogans of communism, establish total administration by revolutionary committee, manage industry with the help of local soviets, and build a dictatorship of the proletariat.78
Takao’s piece very much resembled Ōsugi’s “Japan’s Destiny”: both were written in the wake of the authors’ direct contact with the Russian Bolsheviks. The two pamphlets reflect how loose and flexible the positions of Taishō anarchists were, at times indistinguishable from the tenets of Leninist communism. But what was novel for socialist discourse in Japan, and what these thinkers owed to the Comintern theoreticians, was a new observation that another world war was coming, and that that war would originate in the Pacific region. The eventual world war between the United States and Japan would draw in all surrounding countries, creating a revolutionary situation, which Japanese and other Asian socialists must exploit to the maximum. As the head of the Comintern Zinoviev announced at the Congress of the Toilers of the Far East in 1922:
The war [in the Pacific Ocean] is inevitable. As sure as morning follows night, so will the first imperialist war, which ended in 1918, be followed by a second war which will center around the Far East and the problem of the Pacific. This can be avoided only by a victory of the proletarian revolution. It is not possible to say whether this war will break out in 1925 or 1928, a year earlier or later, but it is inevitable. It can no more be avoided than fate. It will be possible to avoid this war only if the young working class of Japan rapidly becomes sufficiently strong to seize the Japanese bourgeoisie by the throat, and parallel with that there will be a victorious revolutionary movement in America.79
Zinoviev continued in his speech to say that there was no issue in East Asia that did not involve the Japanese empire, and that the Japanese proletariat held “the key to the solution of the Far Eastern question,” and would decide the fate of several hundred million people living in China, Korea, and Mongolia.80 The task of the Japanese socialists thus was to prevent the war by creating an anti-imperialist front. Simultaneously, socialists in Japan and in the rest of Asia must anticipate that the coming war in Asia would become a catalyst and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for toppling the existing regime and social order—the opportunity that the Bolsheviks successfully exploited in Russia during the last world war in Europe.
Ōsugi and Takao openly approved of not only direct action but a militant takeover in the manner of the Bolshevik Revolution. In his 1922 letter from Lyon, France, Ōsugi wrote, “I am still unable to decide whether I should work with the masses or carry on the purest anarchist movement we have now.”81 While Ōsugi pondered if anarchists should merge with the labor movement or act as an independent, “pure” group, some of his comrades resolved this by actions. In the summer of 1921, a member of Ōsugi’s clique planned the assassination of Prime Minister Hara Takashi—who was, however, killed by a rightist man in November 1921. In 1922, anarchists were planning to assassinate the English prince of Wales, the future King Edward VIII, during his visit to Japan. When this plan was foiled, they set their sights on Crown Prince Hirohito, the next emperor Showa. It was a lone shooter, Nanba Daisuke, inspired by Kōtoku and Russian populists, who finally made an attempt on Hirohito’s life. It was against “hotheads” like Ōsugi, Takao, and their followers that Yamakawa Hitoshi wrote his celebrated article “A Change in Course for the Proletarian Movement” (Musan kaikyū undō no hōkō tenkan), published in the July–August 1922 issue of Zen’ei, which criticized the idea of a militant struggle in favor of a gradual approach to social revolution.82 For Yamakawa, one of the most important tasks of the day was to fight the “infantile malady of the anarcho-syndicalist ideology,” which had won over the most active and influential subgroups of industrial workers. He tried to convince his fellows that the anarcho-syndicalist position of rejecting political activity in favor of individual terrorist acts was childish, old-fashioned, and nonproletarian. The urgent task was to go back “To the Masses!” and work on educating the workers and infiltrating the unions.
Agreeing in principle with the Bolsheviks’ militant tactics and their insistence on an anti-imperialist front, Ōsugi saw gross inconsistencies in how the Bolsheviks were organizing their state and society—the terror against their opponents, NEP, and the bureaucratization of the Bolshevik Party. He also came to despise the way the JCP attempted to centralize leftist activities in the country. Takao, however, seemed to have no qualms about Bolshevik state building. On his return to Japan in the fall of 1922, Takao became an active member of the JCP. Takao subsequently addressed an open letter to Ōsugi in Rōdō undō, written during his one-month stay in Shanghai after returning from Moscow, “Why Do You Not Support the Russian Revolution?” (Naze shinkōchū no kakumei o yōgo shinainoka). In the letter, Takao wondered why Ōsugi did not support worker-peasant Russia when any real friend of the proletariat was obligated to support the ongoing revolution there. He disagreed with the whole ana-boru debate because it weakened the proletarian movement and empowered the enemy. Takao even went so far as to compare Ōsugi to Takabatake Motoyuki, who left the socialist group in 1919 to start a national socialist movement. The whole debate seemed to him too intellectual, and he was sure that Ōsugi and the Japanese anarchists misunderstood the premises of Marxism.
I believe that before arriving at an anarchist society, we must pass through the same [communist] revolutionary process that Soviet Russia is going through now. It is impossible for the present inadequate productive forces to jump into a heavenly future in one leap. Of course, the workings of the present Soviet government are not all ideal, but they are struggling with many difficulties and are nevertheless engaged in constructive work. The destruction of the old forces is not yet finished in Russia.83
In September 1922, Ōsugi answered in “Why I Do Not Support the Ongoing Revolution” (Naze shinkōchū no kakumei o yōgo shinainoka): “I also doubt one can ascend to Heaven in one bound. But the argument that, to reach anarchist society, it is necessary to pass through socialism or Bolshevism, is invented by the enemies of anarchism … In any case, I will make clear that I believe in the immediate realization of anarchism.”84 Instead of the statist conception of socialism introduced from above, Ōsugi insisted that society’s revolutionary transformation had to come from below in order to be the product of the workers’ self-activity and self-organization at the point of production. Ōsugi accused Takao of taking up the side of the enemy of anarchism, Bolshevism, and thus Takao could not be called a true anarchist. Be that as it may, Takao did indeed champion the cause of Soviet Russia in Japan, by bringing Lenin’s message of Russia’s nonaggressive plans for Asia to Gotō Shinpei through his good acquaintance, the nationalist politician Nakano Seigō, and organizing various pro-Soviet movements.
Both Ōsugi and Takao, however, very soon found themselves critically targeted by their communist comrades. Although the ana-boru debate began with the anarchists’ attack on the Bolsheviks, the debate was initiated from the Bolshevik side and directed not at anarchists in general but at those in the labor unions and the JCP. The polemics against the anarchists, which sought to expose deficiencies in the anarchist creed, were intended primarily as a campaign for ideological purification within the party and the unions. One reason for this “purification” seemed to be trivial: money. Because anarchists were initially the ones who traveled to China and Russia to obtain funds, they became the target of scrutiny at home, focused on how these funds were spent. After the JCP was established as a branch of the Comintern, it had to submit receipts and account records regularly to Moscow. Some historians have speculated that Sakai Toshihiko probably decided to cleanse the party of individuals suspected of “improper” use of general funds. Both Sakai and Arahata, in their letters and reports to the Comintern, sounded very scrupulous and ashamed about the inappropriate behavior of their countrymen. Moreover, the Japanese Bolsheviks accused anarchists of accepting bribery from the Japanese government and profligacy with Comintern funds.85 The accusations, which were to some extent true, were directed primarily against Ōsugi, Takao Heibē, and a few others.86
After returning from the Fourth Congress of the Comintern (November–December 1922), Takase Kiyoshi (Sakai’s son-in-law) created a committee to investigate how Takao had spent Comintern funds. For example, people remembered that Takao helped a Japanese prostitute return home by giving her money but questioned his motives. Offended by the investigation, Takao withdrew from the JCP. Ōsugi was another easy and obvious target because of his very public, at times scandalous lifestyle. Blame from his fellows for spending Comintern money insulted Ōsugi as well: “Eventually I realized, albeit late, that cooperation with the Communists in real life and in theory is impossible. More than that, I understood that the Communist party is similar to the capitalist parties and is the most disconcerting enemy of us, the anarchists.”87 JCP members claimed that the Comintern funds were never intended for personal use, contrary to what Ōsugi understood when he met Voitinsky in Shanghai. Ōsugi was accused of not discriminating among his financial sources, even to the point of requesting and receiving money from Gotō Shinpei. In other words, he was receiving support from the very people against whom the whole socialist movement was struggling.
After Ōsugi and Takao distanced themselves from the communist movement at the end of 1922, they engaged in separate activities. Ōsugi decided to bring Japanese anarchism into the international anarchist network. With this aim, he left Japan for Europe in December 1922 to participate in the International Anarchist Conference that was to be held in Berlin the following January or February. Unable to obtain a visa for Germany, Ōsugi stayed in France for several months. In France, he became fascinated with Nestor Makhno, a self-proclaimed Ukrainian anarchist who fought simultaneously against the communists, the counterrevolutionary army, and the interventionists. Ōsugi found in him a true revolutionary, the only leader who embodied the true meaning of the Russian Revolution by supporting autonomous and self-ruling communities.88 Ōsugi also studied the Rolland-Barbusse debate, in which Romaine Rolland criticized the Soviet Communist Party’s dictatorship, violence, arrogance, and intention to universalize the Soviet model to include non-Russian societies. Just before his death, Ōsugi published two pieces on Mikhail Bakunin: the article “Marx to Bakunin: Socialism and Anarchism” (January 1923, in Kaizō) and the book Two Revolutionaries: Marx and Bakunin (1922). Why had Ōsugi become interested in Bakunin at that juncture? In the preface to the book, he wrote that he had read Bakunin for the first time some twenty years earlier but quickly moved on to Pyotr Kropotkin. However, he continued, he recently found himself attracted again to Bakunin as a man of the time of destruction (ranse), as a man of action. Bakunin was the perfect inspiration for his turn toward criticizing Marxist socialism. Ōsugi even went so far as to write that “Marxism will never allow the people to create their own destiny.”89 Ōsugi was especially drawn to Bakunin’s critique of Marxism as essentially statist and therefore authoritarian doctrine. It was in large part due to popular disillusionment with the Russian Revolution that interest in terrorism, Russian populism, and Bakunin experienced a resurgence in Japan.
Ōsugi returned to Japan shortly before the Great Kantō earthquake in September 1923. In its aftermath, on September 16, Ōsugi, the anarchist-feminist Itō Noe (his partner), and his six-year-old nephew were murdered by the military police captain Amakasu Masahiko. Amakasu did not act alone; the Tokyo police and government officials were implicated in the murders of leftists and Asian migrants. Specifically, Minister of Justice Hiranuma Kiichirō encouraged rumors that the Koreans, aided by Japanese anarchists, “were burning houses, killing people, and stealing money and property.” He also provided funds to rightist organizers of anti-Korean violence, who staged acts of arson all over Tokyo. As a result, over the next few days about six thousand Korean residents in Japan, as well as several Japanese socialists and anarchists, were massacred. Even after his death, Ōsugi was not left alone. The rightist organization Taikakai stole his ashes from the funeral home. Amakasu, after three years in prison, went on to have a solid career in Manchukuo, while members of the Taikakai were never prosecuted. The ashes of Ōsugi were never recovered.
Takao’s fate was no less tragic. As he distanced himself from the communist organization, Takao immersed himself in labor activities. He did not engage, however, in organizational matters but became the labor unions’ fighting arm.90 Since 1919, there had been a proliferation of political violence simultaneously from the Left and the Right. As the militancy of anarchists’ and labor unions’ strikes increased, the Right mobilized as well, sweeping in the lower orders and middle strata. Drawing from the disaffected and disoriented, rightist organizations disseminated pamphlets and newspapers and organized rallies in the name of defending the emperor and national community against the foreign threat and its internal agents. The primary activity of nationalist organizations was to contain labor unrest, intimidate labor unions, and threaten their political opponents: socialists and others of a leftist orientation, as well as leaders of the universal suffrage movement. These groups espoused various ideas—from reverence for the emperor to aggressive imperialism—but they all shared a reactionary desire to crush leftist activism inspired by the Russian Revolution.
Most notorious were the Kokusuikai (est. 1919), the Yamato Minrōkai (Japanese People’s Labor Society, est. 1921), and the Sekka Bōshidan (est. 1922).91 Among them, the Kokusuikai was the most numerous, and its fistfighters were involved in crushing famous strikes—including those at Yahata Ironworks (1920), the Singer Sewing Machine Company (1925), and Noda Shōyu (1927–28). In one well-known incident in 1923, more than one thousand members of the Kokusuikai fought for three days in the streets of Nara city against more than one thousand supporters of the Suiheisha (est. 1922), a prosocialist organization struggling against discrimination against the Burakumin outcast community. The Kokusuikai justified the violence as expressions of loyalty to the imperial house, prevention of corruption of national morals, and promotion of harmony between labor and capital.92 Hundreds of the Suiheisha members were brought to trial, while the Kokusuikai members were hardly punished, because they enjoyed the patronage of the Home and Justice ministries.
In 1922–23, street fights between leftists and rightists seemed to become a new norm. Both sides formed combat squads and in this, the streets of Japan’s industrial cities resembled those of Europe, where political violence had been escalating since the end of the Great War. In the last year of his life, Takao dedicated his energy to combating the violence perpetrated by right-wing groups by organizing Sensen dōmei (Front League), with his loyal ex-military friend from the Siberian Intervention, Nagayama Naoatsu, and the anarchist Yoshida Ichi. After engaging in several street fights with rightist gangs, Takao decided to confront the leader of the Sekka Bōshidan, Yonemura Kaichirō. In a confrontation between the two men that occurred on June 26, Takao was shot and killed by Yonemura, who received only a suspended sentence.93
State repression—whether conducted through its military and thought police (Akamasu’s murder of Ōsugi and Itō), rightist organizations (the Sekka Bōshidan’s murder of Takao), or laws (the Peace Preservation Law)—undoubtedly contributed to the demise of the anarchist movement in interwar Japan. But the group’s internal intellectual and political trajectory was no less detrimental. The anarchists’ rejection of Soviet communism and anything that reminded them of it (centralized organization, movement, or party—anathema to anarchists’ ears) backfired strongly. Anarchism in Japan thus evolved into either “propagation by the individual deed”—that is, terrorism—or rejection of the labor movement as another form of class-based organization. Both trajectories isolated and greatly weakened anarchism. Japan’s interwar anarchist evolution is reminiscent of the evolution of the Russian radical movement of the late nineteenth century, which went through a similar development. After the “going to the people” movement failed in 1874, the populist organization Zemlya i volya (Land and Freedom) split into rival factions: the elitists of Narodnaya volya (The People’s Will), who embraced terrorism, and the gradualists of Cherny peredel (The Black Repartition of the Land), who opposed terrorism and stuck to propaganda among the workers. The People’s Will spent the next several years in a campaign of terror that culminated in the assassination of Alexander II in 1881.
The targeted murders of anarchists and indiscriminate slaughter of Asian migrants during the summer and fall of 1923, combined with the state’s tacit approval of the violence, sent shock waves throughout the Left. The repressive government was reminiscent of the tsarist tyranny, and as happened in Russia, its attacks called for an equal retribution. Japanese anarchists, harking back to their own history of militant resistance, set out on the path of terrorism to avenge the deaths of their leaders.94 Wada Kyūtarō, Muraki Genjirō, and a few others from the Girochinsha attempted to murder Fukuda Masatarō (the former commander under martial law) in September 1924 and to blow up a police station and a prison in Osaka; they also succeeded in setting off a bomb in a Ginza-area train. The whole group (five people in Tokyo, sixteen in Kyoto and Osaka) was captured and tried in 1925; most of them died in prison.95 Yet another self-professed anarchist terrorist, Nanba Daisuke, attempted to murder the emperor (the Toranomon Incident). The Korean anarchist Bak Yeol and his Japanese partner, Kaneko Fumiko, were arrested in 1923 and convicted for an alleged plot to assassinate the prince regent Hirohito (the Bak Yeol Incident). The anarchist Mukumoto Un’yū, who kept Kaneko Fumiko’s ashes after her suicide in prison in 1926, together with Korean anarchists attempted the assassination of the Japanese consul- general in 1933 in Shanghai. Finally, in the so-called Sakuradamon Incident of January 1932, the Korean anarchist Lee Bong-chang made an unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Emperor Showa. Anarchist terrorism culminated in the activities of the Nihon Museifu Kyōsantō (Anarchist Communist Party of Japan, established in January 1934). Paranoia over police infiltration reached its height as one of the party members murdered another out of suspicion. After a series of bank robberies, the party was crushed by the police in 1936. Looking back at these events, the anarchist Yamaguchi Kensuke’s verdict was not far from the truth: “The Party … due as much to its elitist heroics and self-righteousness as to its adventurism, which was completely isolated from the masses, delivered the final blow to an army already on the brink of defeat.”96
Notwithstanding the terrorism, anarchists attempted to organize. Two nationwide popular anarchist organizations were established in 1926: the Kokushoku Seinen Renmei, or Kokuren (Black Youth League) and the Zenkoku Jiren. The two were extremely close, with the Kokuren (a tighter and more militant organization) often acting as muscle for the Zenkoku Jiren. When unions affiliated to Zenkoku Jiren became involved in industrial disputes, it was often Kokuren militants who took on the most dangerous forms of direct action, such as battling with the police and firebombing the bosses’ houses.97 Yet unity was short lived. The advocates of “pure anarchism” from the Kokuren (a pejorative term coined by their anarcho-syndicalist opponents), most notably Iwasa Sakutarō (the author of the pamphlet “Terrorism,” published in Berkeley in 1907) and Hatta Shūzō, came to reject the principles of anarcho-syndicalism and, remarkably, the whole labor movement.
“Pure” anarchism stood on the same old anarchist rejection of the Russian Revolution and Russian communism. Most importantly, the “pure” anarchists now doubted not simply the communist principle of centralized organization but the very concept of class struggle conducted by means of union organization. In what is known as his “labor union mountain bandit theory,” Iwasa argued that the labor union movement was a minority of urban, male workers who occupied a relatively advantageous position within the working class. As the historian John Crump explained, “just as whoever might seize the leadership of a gang of mountain bandits would have no influence on their pillaging relationship with the surrounding villages, so whichever side emerged victorious from the class struggle between the capitalists and the ‘labor movement’ would leave the basically exploitative nature of society unaffected.”98 As happened with the Soviet dictatorship of the proletariat, the labor leadership in Japan would maintain its privileged position, while the working masses would see little improvement in their lives. “Pure” anarchists claimed that Japanese society could not be reduced to a schematic class structure of workers versus capitalists. Instead, Iwasa proposed to abandon labor union organization in favor of a wider mass workers’ movement. Not class struggle, but a classless, mass movement was in order.99 Exactly how the mass workers’ movement would be coordinated was, however, unclear.
Initially, in 1926 it seemed as if the anarchist movement was about to be brought into the communist fold. The main cause of this was the new aggressive course in China that the Japanese government, under the premiership of General Tanaka Gi’ichi beginning in April 1927, resolved to take. Since 1925, the Chinese Revolution had been gaining momentum with anti-Japanese strikes in Shanghai (the May Thirtieth Movement) and anti-British strikes and boycotts in Canton and Hong Kong. In May 1927, Tanaka initiated the Shandong Expedition that would “separate Manchuria and Mongolia,” and confirm Japan’s special position in both areas. The immediate goal was to stop the Chinese Northern Expeditionary forces, led by the Guomindang, and prevent the Chinese Revolution from spreading to Manchuria.100 Japan’s militarism in China greatly alarmed both Japanese socialists and the Soviet leaders. The Profintern, run by the Comintern and the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party, stepped up its activities, organizing the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Conference, held in Hankow on May 20–26, 1927.101 The Profintern’s general objective was to accomplish international unity among trade unions and gradually win them over, not simply to the communist cause but to the creation of an anti-imperialist united front that would simultaneously defend the Soviet Union. Greatly focused on Asia, the Profintern actively sought the inclusion of Japanese unions.102
Concerned not only with the increasing state crackdown on labor activities within Japan but also with the deployment of the state military machine to crush the Chinese Revolution run by labor unions, the Zenkoku Jiren sought ways to establish contacts with international unions in order to coordinate a united opposition to escalating Japanese imperialism. The Zenkoku Jiren accepted the Profintern’s invitation to the Pan-Pacific Trade Union Conference in 1927. One of the conference’s declared themes was “Preventing a Pacific War.” It appealed to the workers of Japan and China, warning them of an upcoming war in the Pacific: “The struggle between the imperialist powers, particularly between England, Japan and the United States, for hegemony in the Pacific grows every day and inevitably leads to a new imperialist world war.”103 The final resolution stated: “The only way to prevent a new world war is to transform the threatening imperialist war of races and nations into a war of classes, a war of exploited against the exploiters. To accomplish this, it is necessary to draw into the trade unions millions of workers; to imbue the masses with the spirit of class consciousness and of class war.”104
As with Ōsugi and Takao a few years earlier, the Japanese anarchists were warned that because of Japanese imperialism, the East Asian region was on the brink of a war that would eventually develop into a world war. For that reason, Japanese socialists, anarchists, and unions held an enormous responsibility to wage a class struggle within their nation and to unite with their counterparts in China, Korea, and elsewhere in anti-imperialist efforts. Initially, Ōsugi and Takao in 1920–22, and then the Zenkoku Jiren delegates in 1927, became attracted to the anti-imperialist agenda of Soviet communism because they recognized Japanese imperialism as the main evil on the destruction of which both social revolution at home and peace in the region essentially depended.
Unfortunately, none of these plans materialized, because Japanese anarchism once again distanced itself from the communist-led international movement in favor of a nation-focused struggle. The faction of “pure” anarchists in the Kokuren attacked the returning delegates for their betrayal in siding with the treacherous Russian Bolsheviks and denounced the conference and the proposal for collaboration as evidence of Bolshevik intrigue. Remarkably, the “pure” anarchists’ reasoning found wide support among the two anarchist federations. They were able to expel those remaining activists who still tried to strengthen the movement through domestic and international networks of labor unions. Insistence that the reform of Japanese society could not be reduced to a class-based struggle, as the “purist” Iwasa Sakutarō proclaimed, but instead should unite all segments of national society was a slippery argument. By the late 1920s, the anarchists’ anti-authoritarian quest and continuous striving for communality and totality evolved into support of the national polity (kokutai) for Ishikawa Sanshirō or the idea of local/national community (kyōdōtai) for Hatta Shuzō.105 Finally, in February 1937, Iwasa published an essay titled “Outline of the Theory of the State” (Kokka ron taikō), where he stated: “Isn’t it only our unique Great Japanese Empire which is a naturally generated state and the others which are all artificially constructed states, no matter whether monarchical or democratic?”106
Japanese anarchism seemed to come full circle. For the Taishō anarchists, Kōtoku’s assault on the imperial state and its head marked the beginning of their movement. After disappointment with the Russian Revolution set in, they revived the tradition of direct assault on the head of the imperial and imperialist state. In this sense, the historian Asukai Masamichi’s claim that anarchists were the most revolutionary radicals holds true, because only anarchists confronted the emperor and the police state face to face. Early Taishō anarchists were creative and proactive in terms of casting a critical eye on the Russian Revolution in Japan and, above all, establishing contacts with Russian and Asian revolutionaries. The anarchist origins of many Japanese Marxists and communists influenced how they became Marxists and shaped certain features of the Japanese Left that diverged from the Leninist interpretation of Marxism that they formally espoused.
Nevertheless, as I have argued, because of their fundamental disagreement with the premises and the course of the Russian Revolution, Japanese anarchism developed in a seemingly dead-end direction. Moreover, with the deaths of Takao and Ōsugi, Taishō anarchism’s orientation toward an international movement also vanished, together with its organized cooperation with Chinese, Korean, and Russian radicals and its confidence in the workers’ movement.107After 1923, Japan-based Korean anarchists moved en masse to China, bringing to the national liberation movement the transnational and internationalist appeal of Japanese anarchism. Tokyo, and Japan in general, ceased to be the hub of East Asian anarchism. Anarchism in Japan was inherently anti-authoritarian and came from a longing for individualism. Suspicious of any centralization and witnessing the “degeneration” of the Russian Revolution, anarchism in Japan ended in individual acts of terror. Undertaken out of selfless idealism and sincere revolutionary convictions, anarchists’ terrorist campaigns hardly shook the foundation of the political regime. As anarchist groups acted largely independently and did not unify into a coordinated movement, the imperial government was able to suppress them effectively. By the 1930s, many anarchists began to differentiate between the state and the nation on historical terms, arguing that the latter, moral and egalitarian, preceded the former, artificial and repressive. The nation thus was identified as a national community, for the sake of which the anarchist struggle for liberation of the people from capitalist productive relations must be accomplished.
. During the same period, anarchist ideas were also the main ideology of Chinese radicalism, due largely to the influence of Japanese radicals. See Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991). For the popularity of anarchism in global radicalism, see Ilham Khuri-Makdisi, The Eastern Mediterranean and the Making of Global Radicalism, 1860–1914 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010).
. The labor history of the Taishō period is relatively well studied in English. See, for example, Stephen S. Large, Organized Workers and Socialist Politics in Interwar Japan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981); and Andrew Gordon, Labor and Imperial Democracy in Prewar Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
. For the only comprehensive study of Kōtoku Shūsui in English, see F. G. Notehelfer, Kōtoku Shūsui: Portrait of a Japanese Radical (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971). See also Hyman Kublin, “The Origins of the Japanese Socialist Tradition,” Journal of Politics 14, no. 2 (1952): 257–80; and Hyman Kublin, “Japanese Socialists and the Russo-Japanese War,” Journal of Modern History 22, 4 (1950): 322–39. For the early anti-imperialist movement in Japan, see Robert T. Tierney, Monster of the Twentieth Century: Kōtoku Shūsui and Japan’s First Anti-Imperialist Movement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2016).
. Miyashita Takichi, one of the dozen socialists executed in 1911, said during the trial: “when the emperor is attacked by a bomb and injured, he will bleed like us. I believed that this was the best way to destroy the superstition that the emperor Meiji was a descendent of kami” (quoted from Asukai Masamichi, “Roshia dai ichi ji kakumei to Kōtoku Shūsui,” in Taishōki no kyūshinteki jiyūshugi: Tōyō keizai shinpō wo chūshin toshite, ed. Inoue Kiyoshi and Watanabe Tōru (Tokyo: Tōyō Keizai Shinpō, 1972), 263.
. The Akahata Incident refers to an incident in which, after a party to celebrate a fellow activist’s release from jail, a group of Kōtoku’s followers staged a demonstration by waving two flags inscribed with the words “anarchism” and “anarchism-communism.”
. Umemori Naoyuki, “The Historical Context of the High Treason Incident: Governmentality and Colonialism,” in Japan and the High Treason Incident, ed. Masako Gavin and Ben Middleton (London: Routledge, 2013), 52–63.
. It is quite remarkable that in the same period the Fraternal Society of Korean Students in Tokyo (Zai Nihon Tōkyō Chōsen ryūgakusei gakuyūkai) was able to publish (beginning in April 1914) the periodical Hak ji gwang (The light of learning), which advocated direct action by agrarian tenants as a way out of their poverty and hardship. It also published anarchism-inspired articles on mutual aid, transformation of the self, and women’s liberation. See Dongyoun Hwang, “Beyond Independence: The Korean Anarchist Press in China and Japan in the 1920s and 1930s,” Asian Studies Review 31, no. 1 (2007): 22n6.
. For introductions to Lenin and the Bolshevik group in Japan, see Yamanouchi Akito, “Borisheviki bunken to shoki shakaishugi, Sakai, Takabatake, Yamakawa,” Shoki shakaishugi kenkyū 10 (September 1997): 101–15. As the prominent socialist Arahata Kanson wrote in his memoir: “I did not know about the character of the Russian Revolution or the Soviet organizations or parties that formed the new government. I knew the difference between the Socialist Revolutionary party and the Social Democratic party. But no one had heard about the Mensheviks and Bolsheviks. There was almost no one who knew the names of Kerensky, Lenin, or Trotsky. The leaders of the Russian Social Democratic proletarian party whom we knew were Plekhanov, Zasulich, Deich, but strangely there was no information about Lenin’s party. Thus it is no wonder we were absolutely in a fog” (Arahata Kanson jiden [Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1975], 228). For the contemporary reaction to the February uprising, see Yamakawa Hitoshi, “Jihyō,” Shinshakai (April 1917).
. For example, the same May 1917 Shinshakai issue featured an article about one of the founders of the Russian social revolutionary party, a former anarchist herself, Ekaterina Breshko-Breshkovskaya, “Grandmother of the Revolution” (Kakumei no obāsan), and about the famous Russian female narodnik Vera Figner, “Contemporary Woman Revolutionary Like a Beautiful Flower” (Senkenka no gotoki tonen no kakumei fujin). In August, Arahata Kanson published a poem dedicated to the narodniki.
. The letter and resolution were published on August 14, 1918, in the newspaper CentroSibir and on September 27, 1918, in Pravda. See Adibekov and Wada, eds., VKP(b), Komintern i Iaponiia, 1917–1941, Doc. 270. For the activities of the Japanese socialists in 1917–1918, see Yamabe Kentarō and Takemura Eisuke, “Jūgatsu kakumei wa Nihon ni ataeta eikyō,” Zen’ei, no. 135 (December 1957): 124–48; and Yamanouchi Akito, Shoki Kominterun to zaigai Nihonjin shakai shugisha: Ekkyōsuru nettowāku (Kyoto: Mineruva Shobō, 2009).
. Matsuzawa Hiroaki, Nihon shakaishugi no shisō (Tokyo: Chikuma Shobō, 1973), 148. In 1922, someone sent a letter to the wealthy residents of Kanagawa, Osaka, and Hyōgo prefectures titled “Declaration of Death Sentence” (Shikei wo senkoku suru), threatening the rich with the death penalty for their “exploitation of the proletariat.” See the full text in Kindai Nihon Shiryō Kenkyūkai, eds., Tokubetsu yōshisatsujin jōsei ippan: Zoku 2 (Tokyo: Meiji Bunken Shiryō Kankōkai, 1957), 156–57.
. See Sakai Toshihiko’s articles in the May, June, and July 1917 issues of Shinshakai. In October, Sakai published his translation of Lenin’s “Russian Revolution,” based on Lenin’s lecture in Zurich, “The Task of Russian Social-Democratic Party in the Russian Revolution” (March 1917). Sakai’s translation, however, did not include the notion of the dictatorship of the proletariat.
. Ōsugi Sakae, “Museifushugisha no mita Roshia kakumei,” in Ōsugi Sakae zenshū. Roshia kakumei ron (Tokyo: Gendai Shichōsha, 1963), 7:3–4. Originally published in Rōdō undō (December 1922). Thomas Stanley argues that Ōsugi did not make a connection between World War I and the possibility of revolution and thus did not engage in any antiwar revolutionary activities. The Russian Revolution of 1917 was a surprise for him (Stanley, Ōsugi Sakae: Anarchist in Taishō Japan: The Creativity of the Ego [Cambridge, MA: Council on East Asian Studies, Harvard University, 1982], 196n8).
. Kondō Kenji, Ichi museifushugisha, 17–18; Yamakawa Hitoshi, Yamakawa Hitoshi jiden, ed. Yamakawa Kikue and Yamakawa Shinsaku (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1961), 371; Ōsugi, “Dokusai to kakumei,” in Ōsugi Sakae zenshū, 7:59–66. Originally published in Rōdō undō (October 1922).
. It is true that socialists and anarchists were largely preoccupied with industrial workers, a trend that originated in Kōtoku’s time. For example, in 1931 Sakae Toshihiko published A History of the Japanese Socialist Movement (Nihon shakaishugi undō shi), in which he did not mention the Rice Riots.
. There is still little research on Ōsugi’s contacts with the Comintern. See Yamaizumi Susumu, “Ōsugi Sakae, Kominterunu ni sōgūsu,” Shoki shakaishugi kenkyū, no. 15 (2002): 86–121; and Yamanouchi, Shoki Kominterun.
. On Ōsugi’s reaction to the Kronstadt Rebellion, see Ōsugi, “Rōnō seifu wo toose,” Seishin (April 1921). The Kronstadt Rebellion of March 1921 was an anti-Bolshevik uprising of radical sailors and soldiers at the naval fortress of Kronstadt, who were dissatisfied with the economic policies of the Bolshevik government. After twelve days of fighting between the rebels and the Red Army, the uprising was crushed, leaving thousands dead. The Kronstadt Rebellion, it is said, prompted Lenin to initiate the NEP that relaxed state economic control.
. On the women’s ana-boru ronsō, see Patricia E. Tsurumi, “Feminism and Anarchism in Japan: Takamure Itsue, 1894–1964,” Bulletin of Concerned Asian Scholars 17, no. 2 (April–June 1985): 9–12. The Korean Black Wave Society also broke into anarchist and Bolshevik groups in December 1922. In July 1923, Bak criticized the Bolsheviks as a “new privileged class” exploiting and ruling the masses, rejected centralized union-led activities, and supported direct action strategy (Dongyoun Hwang, Anarchism in Korea: Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development, 1919–1984 [New York: State University of New York Press, 2016], chap. 3). The Suiheisha (a political organization fighting discrimination against outcasts) also had an ana-boru debate; for them, the question was: should they join the socialist movement and rely on its political activity or should outcasts liberate themselves?
. The end of the syndicalist phase is usually attributed to the annual meeting of Sōdōmei in 1924, when the union took the new direction of “realistic socialism.” It took, however, until 1927 for the labor movement to decide on a course of action. In 1927–28, the left wing of the labor movement assumed leadership of the illegal Japanese Communist Party, while the right wing moved toward parliamentary political action and the strategy of accommodating the institutions of capital and the state (Matsuzawa, Nihon shakaishugi, 174; Gordon, Labour and Imperial Democracy, 183–84).
. Already by 1922, many prominent anarchists had proclaimed the syndicalist tactics of industrial struggle to be a dead end. The most famous example was Arahata Kanson, the leader of the Kansai anarchist group who, after the failure of Italian strikes in 1921, shifted his support to communism. See Arahata Kanson, “Shindikarizumu no hatan,” Nihon rōdō shinbun, February 10, 1921.
. In 1915, Ōsugi was married to Sakai Toshihiko’s sister-in-law and had two lovers simultaneously. The next year, his wife left him, and one of his lovers stabbed him. Ōsugi stayed with his second lover, Itō Noe, until their death in 1923. There were also allegations that he had made off with the wife of another prominent anarchist, Tsuji Jun (Stanley, Ōsugi Sakae, chap. 7).
. For more on the Morito Incident and the outrage it caused among university students and in the intellectual community as a whole, see Henry D. Smith, Japan’s First Student Radicals (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1973), 63–65; and Richard H. Mitchell, “Japan’s Peace Preservation Law of 1925: Its Origins and Significance,” Monumenta Nipponica 28, no. 3 (1973): 324–25.
. Takao went from Shanghai via Pusan, where he met a Japanese prostitute from Harbin, who was gravely ill and wanted to travel back to Japan but had no money. Takao paid for her ticket and a doctor out of the Comintern’s funds, but on arrival at Tsushima she died (Hagiwara, Takao Heibē, 97–100).
. Matsuo Takayoshi, “Wasurerareta kakumeika: Takao Heibē,” Shisō, no. 577 (1972): 96; Kurokawa, Teikoku ni kōsuru shakai undō, 173–77. The Comintern was very keen on establishing a printing shop in Chita and enrolling Asian radicals in the Communist University of Toilers of the East in Moscow (Adibekov and Wada, VKP(b), Komintern i Iaponiia, Doc. 272, 254).
. “Zinoviev’s Analysis of the Eastern Situation and of the Tasks in the East (Second Sessions of the Congress of the Toilers of the Far East, January 23, 1922),” in Soviet Russia and the East, 1920–1927: A Documentary Survey, ed. Xenia J. Eudin and Robert C. North (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1964), 224–25. From East Asia, twelve Japanese, fifty Koreans, and thirty Chinese participated in the Congress.
. Militancy increased on the leftist side as well. See Sheldon Garon, The State and Labor in Modern Japan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1987), 42, 71; and Gordon, Labor and Imperial Democracy, 144–48.
. By 1930, Kokusuikai membership was estimated to be around 200,000, with branches all around the country; by 1932, Seigidan had 70,000 members; Yamato Minrōkai had 20,000; the Kinno Renmei had 3,000; and the Dai Nippon Sekka Bōshidan had 2,000. See Eiko Maruko Siniawer, Ruffians, Yakuza, Nationalists: The Violent Politics of Modern Japan, 1860–1960 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2008), 108–38.
. Among the activities of Sekka Bōshidan were disputes with anarchists, militant dispersal of labor strikes, public showings of the movie The Misery of Red Russia (which they borrowed from the Home Ministry), and demonstrations against the visit of the Soviet diplomat Ioffe. After the murder of Takao, the organization gradually disbanded. See Matsuo, “Takao Heibē,” 112.
. Interestingly, contrary to the conventional view of yakuza as fervent nationalists, according to some memoirs, anarchist groups and some Japanese gangs grew very close in this period. Many Japanese criminal gangs, especially in the Kansai area, sympathized with the anarchists and assisted them in avenging Ōsugi’s and Takao’s murders.
. Chairman Lozovsky’s speech in November 26, 1926 included the following: “we must pay particular attention at present to Japan; we must see that the workers’ movement of this highly developed capitalist country does not remain outside the world union movement” (Eudin and North, Soviet Russia and the East, 269).
. Takamure Itsue, an anarchist and pathbreaking feminist historian, glorified Japanese expansion overseas and wrote extensively on imperial history. As Eiji Oguma pointed out, Takamure believed that ancient Japan offered examples of women’s liberation, nature unrestricted by artificial morals, and open freedom, and that the war meant the revival of these ideals. Ishikawa Sanshirō, another prominent anarchist and a close friend of Kōtoku Shūsui, admired The Record of Ancient Matters (Kojiki, compiled in 712) and the Kiki myths, which claimed that the founder of the imperial family had descended from the heavens in 660 BC. For more information, see Eiji Oguma, A Genealogy of “Japanese” Self-Images (Melbourne, VIC: Trans Pacific, 2002), introduction, chap. 10 (Ishikawa Sanshirō), chap. 11 (Takamure Itsue).