I was invited by some comrades to start a discussion on Japan in the introductions thread. I'm ok with this but I'm going to proceed with the following:
I can only speak from my perspective and the limits of my own knowledge. I don't wish to 'represent' what's happening here, only describe it. Also, my English is terrible recently so have mercy.
Because I don't have a lot of time, I'm going to quote some comments I made on the anti-politics board in an effort to get to the core of where my critique of the Japanese left is coming from. From there we'll see to where the discussion develops. First, a few significant Japanese rebellions/insurrections from the 60s up (all from memory):
1960 Miner's strike, mass protests outside the Japanese Diet against the signing of the AMPO accords, followed by failed, national general strike. Barricaded politicians inside the diet openly wonder 'is this revolution?' Failure of the strike dooms most of the initiative
1966 Waseda University students go on 155 day strike to protest tuition increases, conflict spreads to other schools, intensification of student activity
1968 Youth insurrection in Tokyo's Oji in wake of Zengakuren snake marches through the neighborhoods against the Vietnam war, abandoned by the Zengakuren in pursuit of the next political spectacle hundreds of kids arrested/imprisoned.
1969 Protests against free speech ban on the campus of Nihon university (Nichidai) mushrooms into a massive campus-wide movement, mostly unrecuperated by the left (busy elsewhere), climaxes in mass negotiations with the administration where the fascist emperor-loyal school board is forced to sign accords guaranteeing student control over studies, free speech on campus, self-organizes spaces etc.) voided the next day by the Prime Minister of Japan himself. Results in street riots and the taking of the university. Barricades are erected and the students set about the creation of a 'counter-university' on the basis of what they want to study. Lecturers come country-wide and teach, I believe there was even a Black Panther that came and spoke. Despite its communism, gender roles are policed and women find themselves doing all the cooking and cleaning. Holds out eight months against police repression and fascist violence until finally succumbing to a combined assault by fascists and the kidoutai.
1990 As the bubble bursts from the economic boom of the 1980s, riots break out in the Kamagasaki neighborhood against police violence. More details written by an anonymous comrade for the new issue of Datacide (http://datacide.c8.com), go here: http://anti-politics.net/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1050
On the left:
The logic of 'social cohesion', 'cooperation', 'participation' etc. all originate in Shinto and Buddhist concepts, but took their power in occupation Japan with the help of the Japanese Communist party, who effectively halted all significant strikes and social outbreaks during the occupation and helped defuse the 1960 anti-AMPO movement. By the 60s, the relatively autonomous power of the new Left, emblemized in the student movements and the struggle against the Narita airport at Sanrizuka had grown to the point where the institutional left had been called on their compromises, causing the JCP in turn to employ open violence against what was an emerging communist movement. Yet it is not as simple as saying that 'had the Zengakuren and the Zenkyoto pressed further...' Both of these movements were riven by the plague of 'militance' (some would later become vigilantes), i.e. the fetishization of the gevalt-wielding 'street revolutionary', uniforms (gangified by the sectarian logos on 'militant' helmets) even growing to embrace the antithesis of active critique, the obeying individual in the mass. Watching a film on the New Left a couple weeks ago I saw thousands of men and women in snake marches, five persons to a bar, in rows. They run through the streets, they try to impose their dictatorship. Alongside the columns run other militants with whistles, shrieking at a military pace, a marching rhythm, tweet tweet tweet, tweet tweet tweet.
The student movement, strong because of the relative autonomy of the education process from the career world, quite simply had gone as far as it could go. Its fervor did not spread to all sectors, except for a few sporadic moments it remained isolated from the community of work and the neighborhoods. In the case of the Oji riots the left abandoned a real rupture in favor of spectacle, as I wrote above.
I suppose what was missing was a critique of everyday life. Everything else was ruthlessly polemicized, debated, fought over, murdered over. Dissapointingly, the dictators of everyday life, yakuza, were imagined as having an 'essential role' in Japanese society. Gangster movies were idolized, people talked about the samurai code (though they were also talking about Marcuse, Trotsky and Katayama). This made compromise with people like Yukio Mishima possible, who, while debating with the Zenkyoto said he was sure that what they were doing was 'good for the nation'. The left was occupied by a fascist component as things degenerated and this went largely unopposed, after all if the preliminary logic is standing in front of American military bases shouting 'Yankee go home!' it quite easily fed into feelings of revanchism as well as classic isolationism.
In its own way, the twisted twin disasters of the Japan's Red Armies speak to the final failure of universal emancipation for this period of struggle. The national branch elected to break from the student movement to actuate 'armed insurrection' from the outside, exactly the model of other specialist militias world-wide. After their first training operation was busted by the Kidoutai, they went underground. The story ends in massacre, the leadership conducted an internal purge at the group's hiding place outside of Tokyo, resulting in something like 15 dead out of a group of 20. A standoff ensued with the remaining few members that was televised live all over Japan, allowing the state's triumph against the New Left to be seen by all, but this was as well the 'militant's own paranoid, sickening end.
On the other end of the world, the international fraction of the Red Army was busy teaming up with the terror gangs of the PLO and Hezbollah, and their infamous suicide raid on Lod airport to kill Jews wound up murdering 15 Puerto Rican tourists and only three Jews; the historical shrapnel of this attack allegedly influenced the modern practice of suicide bombing.
I think the experiences of observing these changes in the political landscape alienated profoundly the generation of Japanese who would become the mid-sub-section-managers of the 1980s and onwards. The movement spoke to no one but itself, it had enclosed itself as 'a movement'. This has not been forgotten, the memories are of course put to good use by the state as evidence of the 'chaotic' nature of social movements to which infinitely preferable is 'peace' and 'cooperation'. At the same time in the workplaces, (as written elsewhere):
"Toyota-style management’s overwhelming victory from the 1960s on up meant two things: management/worker cooperation became a fundamental element of the work experience, structurally, previously combative unions like Sohyo lost out against the collaborationist Rengo union federation, whose goal is put forth succinctly as ‘social cooperation’; second, dislocation of traditional arenas of class struggle (the factory) to the East Asian mainland led to a breakdown of traditional methods of struggle, rendering social movement glacier-like. ‘Post-industrial’ capitalism with Toyota at the helm became the ruling reality with these two shifts. A social environment characterized by corporative unions and ‘civil society’ became more and more impossible to stand outside of. The coerced smile made its appearance, like some ghastly red sun rising. A facade of ‘cheerfulness’ becomes mandatory. Capital is wholly of these mediations; it is the social setting which compels people to accept fate. The only exit sign that haunts capital’s biological power is therefore suicide, and about 30,000 Japanese choose that route every year."
Nakasone's words from are unfortunately unassailable, Japan has proven to be 'the invincible steel ship against communism'. There are cracks under the surface but no light shows through, the contradiction prefers not to understand itself as such. I am not optimistic for the future.
Further reading on these subjects [Note: my associates have all of these articles in PDF now]: 'Beyond the New Left' parts 1-3 by Muto Ichiyo and Inoue Reiko
'Class Struggle on the Shopfloor - The Japanese Case 1945-1984 by Muto Ichiyo
both in the now defunct AMPO journal.
Some good news: a loose group of intellectuals and communists will be putting together a webpage soon with many resources about Japan in English. Will post up when they finish.