Sakae, Osugi, 1885-1923

Osugi Sakae
Osugi Sakae

A biography of Japanese anarchist Osugi Sakae.

Submitted by Mike Harman on July 20, 2007

1. Ōsugi and Bakunin

[em]"For Kropotkin one feels respect, but not attraction. There is a man who is much dearer to me ... a born anarchist, one so constitutionrilly rebellious that he would have remained a rebel even in an anarchist society. A man who was neither regular nor ordered in his habits, who lived a life which was bohemian and unruly. I cannot help but smile at myself when I reflect upon the life of our ancestor Bakunin."[/em]

Osugi Sakae

Osugi himself was a born rebel, a truly uncompromising anarchist who put his numerous prison sentences to good use by resolving to learn a new foreign language with each imprisonment. Despite his reputation as a thinker and translator in the fields of natural science and human philosophy (he translated 'Mutual Aid' and 'Origin of Species', as well as much of Romain Rolland and several works by the French biologist Fabre), one would have to say that, though it was Kropotkin from whom he drew most of his scientific inspiration. it was Bakunin that exercised the greater sway over him as a man.

Osugi, it is said by the few surviving Japanese anarchists to have seen him perform, would come striding onto the stage where he was to deliver his speech, wrapped in a black cloak, his eyes flashing with fire: "I am Osugi!'' he would shout. He came across, maybe, as a kind of politicized Mick Jagger-in-his-prime, but the very sight of him at the rostrum was enough to cause the waiting police to allege a breach of the peace and declare the meeting closed. His popularity among socialists was fantastic, and the news of his arrival in some place, as with Bakunin, brought people crowding to meet him and hear him speak.

Osugi interpreted Bakunin's dynamism as figuring in the chaotic transitional period between the decline of European feudalism and the rise of modern capitalism; whereas Kropotkin's scientific bent was more suited to (and in fact grew out of) the half-century of relative peace which followed the triumph of capitalism in Europe. With World War I, however, and the revolutions in Russia and Germany, the world had been ushered into a new phase-of disorder which would eventually mean the death of capitalism and the victory of freedom and justice. In Japan, the repression following the execution for treason in 1911 of Kōtoku Shūsui and eleven others had sent what remained of the socialist movement underground. As for Osugi himself, a three-year prison spell from 1908 to 1910 had given him the opportunity not only to avoid the 1911 mass reprisals, but also to expand his knowledge. From Bakunin, Malatesta, Kropotkin and Jean Grave, the focus of his reading shifted to works of science and philosophy, and for the next five years or so until the socialists began to stick their heads up out of their holes once more he went through a period of high-powered reading and translation. Then came the war, and a fresh departure in the tone of his thinking.

The revival of the popular movement in Japan after the war - particularly the sudden outbreak of the 'Rice Riots' of 1918 - convinced Osugi that the time for action had come again: Japanese capitalism was dying and the people were revolting. Bakunin had ooze beat into his own. From then until the end of his life Osugi remained a Bakuninist, while advocating anarcho-syndicalism as the most practical method of organization in Japanese conditions. Though he continued to read and translate Kropotkin, publishing Japanese editions of, 'Mutual Aid' and 'Memoirs of a Revolutionist' (Kakumeika no Omoide; 1920), the main focus of his studies was Bakunin. In 1926 there appeared a posthumous reprint of Osugis essays 'Studies on Bakunin' (Bakunin Kenkyu), which included 'The Father of Anarchism'. 'Life of Bakunin', 'Marx and Bakunin', and 'An Examination of the Peasant Problem' (on the Lyon insurrection of 1870). This collection was a companion to his 'Studies on Kropotkin' , published in 1920.

As the best-known agitator in the country (and No. 1 on the Kempei-tai's death list), Osugi, prolific as he was, was never given the chance to set down his ideas systematically. As in the Europe of Bakunin, there was always too much happening, and Osugi's natural inclinations, like Bakunin's, led him to the heart of any fight that was taking place. To find the core of "Osugi-ism" one has to read between the lines of his many translations or, even better, examine his actions.

2. Osugi and the Rice Riots(15)

The Rice Riots - three weeks of near-rebellion - were the greatest mass uprising in modern Japanese history, expressing popular anger at the profiteering of money-grabbing rice dealers amid the post-war inflation. Most important of all was the fact that the impetus came as much from the peasants in the countryside as from the urban proletariat. A total of around ten million people took part in the "riots". which occurred at 636 points mainly in western Japan and largely in the rice-producing areas. The army intervened in 107 places, including the three major cities Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, where the Burakumin, an oppressed outcaste ethnic class played a militant role. The overall number of-victims is unknown, though the army killed dozens of people during some of its interventions. The number of arrested ran to several thousand, with an indictment rate of 90% or more.

It was established custom in the Japan of 1918 for rice dealers to sell on credit. No matter how poor the family, as long as they had an address they could count on receiving rice on credit with the understanding that the bill would be settled every autumn and year-end (traditional periods for settling debts in Japan). What was more, the rice would be delivered t their door.

For those unable to pay on the appointed day, however, the results could be dire. Many a family tragedy was sparked off in this way, particularly on the last day of the year; whole households frequently dropped everything and fled before the dawning of the New Year.

Consequently, there was nothing outwardly unusual when housewives In Namerikawa, Toyama prefecture, marched into their local rice merchants' and walked off with their supplies of rice. Although they did not seek to pay, there was no thought of robbery in their minds - who ever paid for rice on the spot? The rice merchants, however, had their own views on the matter, for the price of rice was rising daily, and rice sold tomorrow brought more Profit than today's. They tried to hold on to the rice. The housewives of Namerikawa, angered by the merchants' attempt to hoard the rice, thus merely helped themselves and walked away. The "Rice Riot" only came into being when certain merchants sought to resist.

At the time these events were taking place (early August), Osugi Sakae was on a train returning from Kyushu to Tokyo. Upon reading in the newspaper of the disturbances he left the train at Osaka and went straight to the house of Henmi Naozo,(16) where the sole topic of conversation became, inevitably, the "rice riots".

"There's going to be some action here in Osaka too, mark my words. Meetings and things are being held all over the place already."

"Ah. Sounds interesting. Where's the agitation going on?"

"Well, I reckon it's going to start down by Kamagasaki a [workingclass ghetto district in downtown Osaka]."

"Right. Let's go down now and take a look."

Leaving their police tails with the impression that they were still talking inside the house, Henmi and Osugi changed their clothes and slipped into the street, When they arrived in Kamagasaki, though, they found little out of the ordinary. Even in front of the rice dealers' there were no signs of any people gathering. Only when the went through into a backstreet tenement block did they find a group of women gossiping. One of them, who knew Henmi, Promptly greeted them with a question:

"What do you think then, about these women up in Toyama sorting out the rice dealers?"

"Twenty-sen rice is selling for fifty sen now here in Kama - let's go and get them to reduce it to twenty-five - all of us just walk in and tell them to. That's what we've been talking about just now. We can't take much more."

Osugi, who had been standing listening with arms folded, now grabbea Henmi's arm and hustled him out into the main street where they hailed a rickshaw.

"What's up? Where are we going?"

"Never mind, just stick close to me, There's going to be some fun soon."

Getting the rickshaw to wait for them, Osugi and Henmi made the round of Osaka's newspaper offices:

"Down in Kamagasaki they've started agitating for rice hoarders to sell all their stocks at twenty-five sen. He and I have just been there and seen it happening. The sparks from Toyama have already drifted down to Osaka!"

This was pure Osugi, agitation mixed with bluff. As soon as the editor was sold on the story the pair moved on to the next paper. Before they had even finished their rounds the sensational press had brought out their early evening editions with great headlines splashed across the front pages: "Kamagasaki Rice Dealers Forced to Sell at 25 Sen!!''

Sure enough, by 4 pm that day tens of thousands of People were converging at top speed upon Kamagasaki in search of cheap rice. One after an other they began to crowd into the dealers' shops, but:

"Twenty-five sen!? We can't sell at that price! You'd better try some where else..."

So went the initial response. Soon, however, cowed by the mounting numbers of people, dealers began to sell at the demanded price after all, but instead tried to limit each person to one sho (1.8 litres). After that it was not long before people began helping their selves. There was little the dealers could do about it.

When one shop's stocks ran out the crowd would move off in search of the next, shouting victory cries, milling around on the corners and growing ever bigger until someone shouted the location of another dealer, when they would surge off in the appointed direction. Gradually the agitation spread through the city.

For example, at that very time the lnukai/kido faction of the opposition National Party (Kokuminto) was holding a public meeting in nearby Tenno-Ji on the subject of - ironically enough - the rising price of rice.

"O-oy! Fuck your public meetings! They selling rice at twenty-five sen!"


"All over the city!"

The hall was empty in seconds.

After gathering in Tenno-ji Park for a few minutes to get the adrenalin going, the crowd moved off in search of rice, taking in as they went liquor shops and goal merchants. Moving haphazardly about the streets, they invaded every shop they could find until a shout went up:

"The Sumitomo warehouse in front of Minato-machi station is stocked cram full of rice! What are we waiting for!?" No-one paused to elect a leader. The agitation was developing into a full-scale riot, even an insurrection, for Sumitomo was one of the major zaibatsu with close ties to many political figures.

With the approaching darkness the crowds had begun to swell to even greater proportions. When, they reached the Sumitomo warehouse, however, they found drawn up in front of it the 8th and 37th regiments of the Imperial Japanese Army. no less, part of the division based permanently in Osaka. The troops responded to the bamboo staves and stones wielded by the crowd with blank volleys fired over their heads and with bayonet charges. After several hours of similar skirmishes and minor conflicts all over the city, people at last began to drift away to their homes The fire, however, was only dampened, not extinguished, and the embers remained to be fanned into new life the next day.

Henmi and Osugi, meanwhile had gone home.(17) There they found several local anarchists waiting to greet Osugi, including Takeda. Denjirô, Kanasaki Domei, Iwade Kinjiru, Yoshimura Otoya and Yamazaki Shojiro.(18) Osugi, wearing an air of innocence, went back into town once more that evening in their company. His police tail, though there was no evidence of his involvement in the afternoon's events, had suddenly multiplied twenty-fold.

"Thanks!" he told them, "with so many of you to look after me I can relax! OK everybody, we can go sight-seeing without any worries. . . "

Osugi, openly delighted, visited every inch of Kamagasaki, responding to the comments of the others with "Uh", "Right!", "I see" more as if he were talking to himself. Finally the police chief who was following us around complained :

"Sensei! (a term of respect] Give us a break, will you! Call it a day. If anything happens, it's awkward, and if HQ finds out about it I'm in a fix."

After a while it was decided to call a rest at an inn run by a sympathizer of the movement.

At the time I was still a mischievous boy of no more than sixteen. I ran about the town watching A the day's events as if in a trance. It was my first meeting with Osugi. My initial impression had come when his police tail, strung out in a line behind him, attempted to enter our house along with him:

"You bastards get back down there!"

They all jumped as if they had seen a tiger and fell back immediately to the stipulated twenty-metre distance. The sound of Osugi's voice, filled with dignity despite his famous stutter, has rung in my ears ever since.

That night, the gathering having moved to the house of Yamazaki Shu-Jiro, Osugi described his impressions of what had happened riots" had cleared the way for a new surge my the popular movement; whatever the authorities' reaction, the people were now uncrushable; their movement had bared its strength for the first time; we ourselves now had to get down to serious work, go even deeper among the people then we had already, and stand in the forefront of the struggle. he had never felt so confident as he did today. The rest of us too, infected by what we had seen and heard that day, discussed spiritedly the various ideas which people raised.

Early next morning , Osugi, his face a picture of unconcern, took a train for Tokyo, leaving Osaka and the still-simmering rice agitation behind him. He never, subsequently, touched upon his activities in Osaka that day, nor did he ever mention them to anyone. Henmi Naozô, though the words were on his lips any number of times, also kept his mouth sealed. He could only wonder at Osugi's unique combination of careful insight, boldness, and unashamed prudence, The way he described these three qualities was as follows.

In the first place, Osugi , after one look, had immediately sized the situation up and selected the most appropriate way of exploiting it. There had been no plan, no strategy worked out on paper, just his political instinct.

Secondly, he selected a method for carrying out his propaganda which was at once the most effective and the most reliable. The newspapers' reporting of the reaction to the Toyama rice riots was suddenly turned into an Osaka problem, ensuring the maximum effect upon their readers. As Osugi had guessed, the papers never tried to verify the story.

Thirdly, Osugi successfully resisted the desire to talk about his own role in the unfolding of the Osaka rice riots, and never gave way to the temptations of heroism and self-indulgence. Had he divulged the matter to even his closest comrades, there is little doubt that it would have come out one day under police interrogation, and Osugi would have been for it. Perhaps even everyone present on that day would have been implicated. Such was the prudence which invariably accompanied even the boldest of Osugi's actions.

The rice riots themselves, having started with such a spontaneous flourish, were only too soon put down by the military, Before the flames had turned to embers, the police too were in action, frenziedly arresting people up and down the country until the gaols overflowed. For the people involved, having seen for themselves the power which lay within them, a new sense of self-confidence and arousal meant that there was no returning to the world of yesterday. The shock which they had dealt out to the authorities was inestimable.

The "rice riots" were the signal for all kinds of activities to break out. The socialist movement which had emerged in the early Taisho period (1911-1925), confined largely to a small intellectual minority of enlightened pioneer agitators, now spread to the workers themselves and their families. In 1919, with a large worker following, Osugi founded his magazine 'Labour Movement' (Rodo Undo). The stage was set for the late Taisho movement, one which was to sink its roots deep among the people before being crushed by the combination of military and secret police which marked the opening of the bloody reign of Hirohito in 1926.

At the same time the politicians, following the fall of the govern ment of the time due to opposition pressure, saw the writing an the wall and set about making minimal changes to protect their base. In 1920 the franchise law was reformed by reducing the property qualification from ten to three yen thus increasing the electorate to just over three million. The authorities had survived, but only by the skin of their teeth.

Osugi Sakae in Paris

1. Alias "Chin Chen"

At the fiftieth anniversary commemoration of the 1872 international anarchist conference in St Imiers, Switzerland, it was decided to reconvene in Berlin in February 1923 in order to set up a now international federation. An invitation went out to the anarcho-syndicalist Rodo Undo group In Tokyo, addressed personally to Osugi Sakae, who was already in contact with anarchists in France. On the night of December-11 1922, Osugi, after borrowing enough money for the trip and fooling police agents into believing that he was critically ill in bed, set off via Korea and Manchuria for Shanghai, the first stage on his ,journey.

It was only a few months since an irrevocable split had taken place in Japan between the Anarchists and the Bolsheviks (that is, supportera of the revolution in Russia), and the anarchists were seeking to form new international ties instead of the purely national ones they had concentrated upon up to then.' Osugi himself placed greatest emphasis upon building links with other Asian anarchists and creating an organization which would allow them to cooperate better. He had already visited Shanghai two years earlier, during the anarchists' abortive attempt at collaboration with the Comintern; on this second trip he was resolved to renew the contacts he had first made a dozen years earlier when he enrolled Chinese students in Tokyo into his Esperanto School. Fear of being discovered by the secret police, however, now that his absence from Tokyo had surely been detected, made it too risky, and all he could do was wait for the others to contact him in a flea-bitten foreigners' hostel.

Osugi, for obvious reasons, was not likely to get a passport in Japan. Korea having been since 1919 part of the Japanese empire, he had no difficulty in getting as far as the Chinese border, which he presumably crossed by posing as a (dumb) Chinese coolie. The plan from Shanghai onwards was to use the even-closer Chinese anarchist contacts of Yamaga Taiji, another Japanese anarchist and esperantist who had agreed to precede Osugi to China in order to help forge him a set of Chinese identity papers. After Yamaga had wasted several days in Paking waiting for the anarchists there to secure the papers, they were finally put together in Shanghai with the help of a doctor, formerly head of the Sino-French Institute in Lyon, Cheng Meng-hsien. Dr Chang also supplied Osugi, alias "Chin Chen", alias !'Tong Chin Tangle (both names applied to him by the Paris press after his arrest in May), with a place to settle in France: the address of young Chinese anarchists then studying at the Institute, who then numbered only about ten.(19)

With this passport Osugi, ostensibly a Chinese student going to study in Lyon, left Shanghai on January 5 1923 and arrived in Marseilles on February 13. The next morning, after bidding farewell to one "Madame N" whom he had met on board ship, he left for Lyon bearing a letter of introduction from comrades in China. After a week in Lyon he went on to Paris, where, at the HQ of the French Anarchist League's organ 'Le Libertaire' in the Boulevard de Belleville (shared with 'La Revue Anarchiste' and 'La Librairie Socials'), he was able to meet Coromel, from whom the original invitation had come.

It was a time when reactionary forces all over Europe were flexing their muscles, and the post-1917 euphoria was dying away in the cold light of recognition. 1922 had seen Mussolini's March on Rome at the head of his fascists, while 1923 brought Hitler's "Beer Hall Putsch" in Bavaria. The latter had been sparked off by France's occupation of the Ruhr just a few weeks before Osugi's arrival, and the confrontation between the French Left and the increasingly-powerful Right brought about as a result of the occupation remained at its height.

The atmosphere, therefore, was hardly auspicious for the success of Osugi's trip, particularly his plan to cross from France into Germany. He arrived, moreover, to find that government persecution in Germany had forced the postponement of the Berlin conference to April. The general conclusion was that it would not open at all, and., sure enough, it was finally put back to an indefinite date. Osugi was disappointed, but took advantage of the opportunity to meet the many anarchists then living in exile in Paris. Most Important of all, from the multitudes who had fled or been expelled from post"revolutionary" Russia he was able to get a clearer picture of the state of things there than he could have got in Japan. What he heard confirmed the rumours which had been trickling through, already borne out by the behaviour of the Japanese communists, which had caused the Anarchist - Bolshevik split mentioned earlier.

Osugi also seized the opportunity to meet with the twenty or so Chinese anarchists then living, on a half-work, half-study basis, in Paris. Meeting every day, they laid plans for a conference, to be held after the Berlin meeting, which would lay the groundwork for an organization of Chinese anarchist students in Paris. What the fate of this organization was is unknown, but the importance which Osugi attached to China's role in the international anarchist movement is clear.

Soon after his arrival in France Osugi had contacted an old comrade from the Syndicalism Research Group formed in Tokyo in 1913, an artist named Hayashi. Though Osugi had decided upon a policy of avoiding all Japanese while in Europe in order to maintain secrecy, Hayashi was to be the means by which he could keep in contact with the Rodo Undo group and with Ito Noe, the feminist with whom he had been living for the past seven years, Unknown to him, however, the Japanese government, having lost track of him in China, had instructed its French embassy to watch Nayashi since, as they rightly guessed, he was the first personOsugi would visit if he happened to arrive in Paris. Consequently, Osugi was under constant surveillance from the day of his arrival.

One of the more curious aspects of Osugi's stay in Paris was his apparent ignorance of the anarcho-syndicalist Association Internationale des Travailleurs (AIT), whose founding conference had been 'held there the previous December 25 to January 2. As an anarcho-syndicalist him- self, Osugi should have been concerned, and ought to have sought to meet members of the organization, but he did not. The only imaginable explanation is that factional squabbles among the French anarchists kept him in ignorance, for otherwise it is difficult to understand his total failure to mention the AIT in his memoir of his French trip.

2. May Day, 1923

Osugi and Hayashi, after taking a room together in a cheap Paris hotel, spent their days and nights in the cafes of Montmartre while Osugi quietly continued his efforts to acquire a visa to enter Germany. On March 17, after getting wind of the Japanese embassy surveillance, the two moved to Lyon, where also the prospects of getting the German visa seemed more promising. For the next six weeks Osugi was confined to Lyon, paying daily visits to the local police HQ, the passports section and the security office. As March turned into April and his frustrat ion became unire irable, he wrote to Ito Nod telling her of his intention to cross the border illegally.

Dissuaded of this plan by his friends in Lyon, who feared the backlash, Osugi remained where he was, but his funds were dwindling away and the trip, even had the visa come through, was fast becoming impossible. On April 29, finally despairing of the visa, he left secretly for Paris where he had been invited to take part in a rally to be held in a hall in the suburb of St Denis.

On the morning of May 1 Osugi got up to sniff the atmosphere of the city. He was shocked. It was as quiet as the grave. The only distinguishing sight was that of streams of French workers taking advantage of the holiday to depart with their families for the countryside. This set the tone for the rest of the day. Osugi has recorded some of his feelings about the state of affairs in Paris in his book 'Diary of an Escape From Japan' (Nippon Dasshutsu Ki):

"... Outdoor meetings had been banned, and no-one seemed inclined to ignore the order, Communist politicians, as well as the bureaucrats of the CGT [Confederacion Generale du Travail] , were terrified of a clash with the police, and did everything they could to keep a damper on things. Consequently, only the CGT's main rally was to be hold in the city centre, while the others, including the St Denis meeting, were confined to the suburbs. Even the protest demonstration against the US government's plan to murder the Italian-Americans Sacco and Vanzetti was forcibly re-routed by its communist stewards into the suburbs."

Osugi, when he arrived at the meeting, was not impressed at all. This is his account of it:

"The slogans of the day were explained at interminable length by some horribly self-satisfied orator, while the applause from the audience grew weaker and weaker... 'It's too much! Let's go out and leave him to it!' called someone - a comrade from either 'Le Libertaire' or 'La Revue Anarchists'. But no-one echoed his call, and meanwhile the speaker on the rostrum was urging him to behave himself... I was supposed to meet Coromel after the meeting, but by this time I didn't 'give a damn. I wanted to get up and shout from the platform, 'Let's get outside, where we should be...!'"

Unable to stand it any longer, Osugi finally demanded the microphone. The gist of his speech (the original printed version, when it appeared, was so heavily-blue-pencilled by the Japanese censor that it is impossible to restore it) was as follows:

"The history of May Day in Japan is still very short the first demonstration was held in 1920 , and the number of workers who take part still very small. But those Japanese workers are quite clear about what May Day is! Japan's May Day rallies do not take place in the suburbs. They take place in the city centres. Neither are they held in halls for the benefit of would-be orators. They take place in the parks and streets and public squares, and their objective is to demonstrate. Japanese May Day is no mere carnival!"

After speaking for twenty or thirty minutes, Osugi stepped down from the rostrum amid thunderous applause and walked outside - straight into the arms of several plainclothesmen waiting there to arrest him. He was then carried off bodily to the nearest police station. When the crowd inside heard what had happened they at once marched to the police station to free him, led by a score or so of women workers. Few knew anything about him beyond the fact that he was a Japanese, or perhapsa Chinese comrade; most knew not even his name. He was just a comrade in need of help. In the scuffle that took place in the street in front of the police station, 100 or so were arrested and many more injured by police nightsticks. Osugi himself wrote later of hearing from his cell the sound of the Internationale, followed by that of beating, mixed with that of thuds and screams as the crowd was forcibly dispersed by the police.

While the French newspapers continued to refer to him as a Chinese, the police were already on the scent of Osugi's real identity. Osugi, who on the advice of Coromel and others had originally insisted that his Chinese papers were genuine, admitted his real identity when he found that the police knew all about him already. As soon as the fact that he was Osugi Sakae, Japanese anarchist without a passport, was confirmed, he was sent to the notorious detention centre at La Santa', temnorary home for so many political prisoners. On May 3, following the visit if a man from the Japanese embassy, he was arraigned on charges as familiar today as they were then: insulting a policeman, resisting arrest, disturbing the peace, and being without identity papers. Mean-, while the right-wing press, notably 'Le Figaro', began to use the incident to whip up an anti-anarchist scare. The only thing new about it was the variation upon A Osugi's Chinese alias, which changed with every issue.

Osugi found conditions in La Santa luxurious compared with the insanitary dungeons where he had spent his previous sentences. In a letter, to Ito Noe he wrote, "It's an easy-going place for a gaol. I spend all day lying down on my bed blowing smoke-rings; there're bottles of wine and beer on the table, and I can swig away at them all day if I feel like it."(20) Even so, gaol is gaol,' and his thoughts went immediately to his family particularly his favourite daughter, four-year old Mako. In order to reassure Mako of his safety he wrote her a poem, 'Mako yo, Mako!', and sent it to her. In it he describes his life of luxury, picturing himself eating Western food, nibbling chocolate and smoking cigars while lying on a sofa.

When his case came up for -trial on May 23, all charges save that of breaking the passport regulations had been dropped, and he was sentenced to three weeks' detention. Since he had already been held since May 1 he was released the next day. Before finally quitting his La Santa cell , Osugi inscribed on the wall the following message to posterity:




LE 1 MAI 1923.(21)

As soon as he stepped through the gates of the gaol he was hustled off to Police HQ and issued with a deportation order. The French government had originally intended merely to dump him over the Spanish border but, at the insistence of the Japanese embassy, agreed to allow him to be sent back to Japan via Marseilles.

With a week to kill before his boat left, and finding that police surveillance had been called off, Osugi made up his mind to travel around Europe illegally. Before he could leave Paris, however, a letter arrived from Ito Noe asking him to return as quickly as possible. Apart from complications arising from Noe's fifth pregnancy, it appears that there was friction within the Rodo Undo group. At the end of the week he gave himself up to the police and, on June 3, 101 days after his arrival, Osugi was escorted to Marseilles and forced to board a Japanese passenger ship bound for Kobe.

When he arrived, on July 11 , he was bundled into a small police launch which took him to the local harbour police HQ, thus avoiding the hordes of reporters waiting for him on the quay side. After a five-hour grilling conducted on orders from the Interior Ministry, which was furious at his being able to get as far as Paris without their knowing, Osugi was released. He was greeted like a conquering hero, newspapers clamoured for the rights to the story of his secret trip, and amid all the fanfare he and Ito Noe and Mako were able to return to Tokyo next morning by first-class carriage, paid for by the papers, of course.

The last word, however, belonged to the state and the police* Two months Osugi was dead, along-with 6000 Korean and Chinese forced-immigrants and hundreds of revolutionary militants, caught in the government-engineered bloodbath which followed the Great Kanto Earthquake that September. His body, along with that of Ito Noe and their sevenyear old nephew Soichi who had been beaten and strangled to death with his in their Kempeitai cells, was thrown into a well to decompose. In the trial which followed the discovery of the putrefying corpses, themurderer, a secret policeman on orders from Emperor Hirohito, was given ,just tan years' gaol. Released by personal order of Hirohito himself four years later and assigned to "special duties" in Manchuria, he finally committed suicide in 1945 before his crimes could be avenged by the many anarchists after his blood.

For Osugi, though rendered a lifeless corpse, there was yet one more vindictive twist of the state's knife to come. On December 16 comrades of the three victims gathered to say one last farewell to their ashes be fore seeing them formally interred (according to Buddhist ritual this ceremony must take place three months after the death occurred). On that day right-wing thugs slipped into the room before the ceremony began, posing as mourners. When no-one was looking they picked up the casket containing the ashes of Osugi and fled, and the ashes have never been seen since (needless to say, the police made only a half-hearted search). The farewell ceremony took place, in unprecedented fashion, without the ashes of Osugi, while the state laughed up its sleeve,

3. Trying to Reach Makhno

Osugil's recollections of his three months in, France give the impression that he was just having a lot of fun, going backwards and forwards between Paris and Lyon, meeting with the Chinese comrades, occasionally staying with 'Madame NO, etc. To some extent this was true. Trying to keep a low profile to avoid being arrested and prevented from attending the Berlin conference, Osugi and Hayashi had held aloof from all political activities and become regular customers in the cafes and dance-halls of Montmartre. Osugi also struck up a relationship with a young danseuse named Doré.

At the same time, however, Osugi relates in his memoirs that he took the opportunity of being in Paris to make an intense investigation of an episode which had been a great inspiration to him: the Makhno Movement in the Ukraine, 1918-1921. Osugi regarded the Makhno movement as the most important aspect of the Russian revolution - indeed the only real revolution to have taken place and also one embodying the most important lessons for the Japanese anarchists. On this point he was highly critical of the Russian anarchists for ignoring the movement. His view of Makhno may be paraphrased as follows:

"In their excess of fervour for the 'revolution' the Russian anarchists allowed themselves to be used by the Bolsheviks and, dazzled by their revolutionary battle-cries, lost the opportunity for organizing and marshalling the people's strength. Meanwhile the Makhno movement in the Ukraine was aiding and encouraging the creative activities of the peasants and so carrying out the real social revolution. The Makhno movement was not a movement based on anarchist theory, but a spontaneous rising of the peasants themselves which in broadening its bass turned naturally in an anarchistic direction. The role of the anarchists there was not that of leaders, but of supporters, not commanders but catalysts."

Osugi's efforts to enter Germany despite the cancellation of the anarchist conference stemmed from his desire to get more information about the movement. "My greatest regret of all concerning my European trip". he wrote later, "was that I had no chance, since I could not enter Germany, to meet the many ex-Makhnovists then living in exile in Berlin, particularly the so-called 'Head of General Staff' Voline." Osugi satisfied himself by gathering all the newspaper end magazine articles he could find in Paris, and by talking with whomever he could, and when he returned to Japan put the information thus pained together in his last written work, 'An Anarchist General: Nestor Makhno' (Museifu Shugi Shogun: Nesutoru Mafuno).

Conclusion: On Nationalism

Without attempting to present, on the one hand, Bakunin as less than a revolutionary or, on the other, Osugi as a hero (on re-reading the text it sometimes seems that such an impression might be construable), their respective behaviour was, nevertheless, extremely revealing. Bakunin, for all the praise heaped upon him by his successors in the anarchist movement (anarchists in general may be said to be rather uncritical of. themselves and to possess a tendency to be over-lavish with their selfcongratulation - which is what the praise of Bakunin often amounts to), for all but the last ten years of his life was primarily a Slav chauvinist. In a letter to Herzen, for example, written after arriving in San Francisco on October 15 1861, he wrote of "the Polish-Slavonic question, which has been my 'Idea Pixel since 1846....the glorious free Slav federation, the one way out for Russia, the Ukraine, Poland and the Slavonic peoples generally" (emphasis added)* He even, during his imprisonment, went so far as to appeal to Tear Nicholas I to attack Western Europe bearing the message of Slavism. and to bring down the parliamentary democracies that flourished there. He hated Germans, he hated Jews (these, incidentally, seem to have been the fundamental reasons for his antipathy towards Marx) - perhaps he even hated Japanese?

In other words, the simple answer in our opinion to why Bakunin did not spend longer in and retain a memory of Japan is: he was just not interested. That in itself would not put him in a minority of one, by any means, but there do seem to be certain implications which are worth raising.

The thing we are criticizing here is not merely Bakunin himself, for in his Euro-centredness he was the victim of conditioning and anyway, at this stage, still in his Blanquist 'revolutionary dictatorship', pre-anarchist phase. No, the thing which must be attacked, more than any one individual, is the essence of nationalist ideology, and the mind-distorting myth of nationalism as a revolutionary force. Bakunin .himself definitively exploded this myth after he throw off its shackles in the years following his escape from Siberia.

Nationalism does not appear out of the blue: it is the major component of all statist educational propaganda, for the creation of an externalenemy is the state's greatest weapon in its battle against its subject peoples. Nationalism's most vociferous believers in Russia, China, and in present-day Indochina have always been the intellectuals (at least, in those countries which lacked a comprehensive education system; in Japan, where such a system was introduced almost immediately after the Meiji Restoration, the effect was to allow nationalism to penetrate to every corner of the country, with results that need no describing here).

Bakunin was no exception to this rule. During the 1840s, before his capture and imprisonment, his natural audience comprised Polish intellectuals, despite his faith expressed in the downtrodden poor, To appeal in nationalistic terms to the poor to revolt against the established order (as opposed to jingoism, which by mystifying the process of subjection turns the poor into enthusiastic slaves-of the state) is about as effective as King Canute ordering the tide to ebb. But this home truth was not recognized by Bakunin until almost twenty years later. The result of this "conditioning" was his lack of interest in Japan, a lack of interest which clashed sharply with his call in the 'Appeal to the Slavs' (1847) for an end to national frontiers.

Osugi Sakae, except for a brief period in his extreme youth, did not embrace the doctrine of the Italian, Russian, German, and Esperanto.

No doubt, in this self-effacing description he was doing himself less than justice. Still, it should be clear enough that he had managed from almost the very start, to overcome the enticements of the establishment -'perhaps stronger in pre-war Japan than anywhere else, and always backed up by the assassin's sword as Osugi found.

There is no question that the contemporary situation had much to do with the contrast between Osugi and Bakunin;. The 19th century Slavonic peoples were enslaved to the West by the Austro-Hungarian empire, and to the East by the Russian empire, so that Bakunin could conceive of the emancipation of the Slavs from the yoke of these two great despotisms as a giant step towards worldwide revolution. Osugi's Japan, on the other hand, had already defeated China in 1894-959 and was beefing up its jingoist propaganda at the very time when Osugi entered the socialist movement in 1903. His initiation to socialism therefore, was by way of a concrete struggle: that of Japanese social!:,t3 against the brewing Russo-Japanese War, and Osugi threw himself into it whole-heartedly with his first published article 'To the New Constripts', translated from a French original in the magazine 'L'Anarchie'.

* * *

Historical conditions thus played a great part in forming the respective attitudes of Bakunin and Osugi. Had their birth dates been switchad around, Bakunin would have found himself operating in a post-world war I Europe where nominal independence at least had been granted to the Slavs; Osugi, for his part, would surely have joined in the movement to wrest Japan from the shackles of the Tokugawa dictatorship and thrust it, as a powerful nation-state, into the modern world. in either case their ways of thinking would have been very different from what they were in reality.

The question, then is why the force of nationalism was so strong in the case of Bakunin, and so weak in the case of Osugi. Bakunin was an extremely Perceptive revolutionary. His approach to nationalism and the concept of the "Fatherland" is summed up in two paragraphs cited in 'Anarchism and the National Liberation Struggle' by Alfred M. Bonnano, published by Bratach Dubh collective in 1976:

"The State is not the Fatherland, it is the abstraction, the meta- physical, mystical, political, juridical fiction of the Father land. The common people of all countries deeply love their father- land; but that is a natural, real love. The patriotism of the people is not just an idea, it is a fact; but political patriot- ism, love of the State, is not the faithful expression of that fact: it is an expression distorted by means of an abstraction, always for the benefit of an exploiting minority.

"... Only that can be called a human principle which is universal and common to all men; and nationality separates men, therefore it is not a principle. hat is a principle is the respect which everyone should have for natural facts, real or social. Nationality, like individuality, is one of those facts, Therefore we should respect it. To violate it is to commit a crime, and, to speak the language of ..azzini, it becomes a sacred principle each time it is menaced and violated. Ana that is why I feel myself always sincerely the patriot of all oppressed fatherlands."

These paragraphs (with suitable editing to remove sexist assumptions) could stand as an epitaph to the misguided efforts devoted to the anti-Vietnam War struggle. Yet the fact remains that Bakunin, like other Russian revolutionaries of the 19th century, was primarily a fighter for oppressed Slav fatherlands.

In discussions within the Libero group we developed the idea that perhaps it was the vastness of the Slav regions that made Slav consciousness so difficult to overcome. In other words, one is governed to a large extent by one's horizons. A close examination of revolutions in agrarian countries like Vietnam or China reveals that the broad majority of peasants were fighting, not for the establishment of a state or even a nation, but to regain the autonomy over their own lives which they had enjoyed in the past. Their horizons, that is to say, were village ones. Such was not the case with intellectuals, whose horizons had been expanded by education to create the idea of a nation or state as the object of political activity. The transformation of struggles for personal autonomy into struggles for "national independence" has been one of the major counter-revolutionary achievements of this century, and the primary responsibility lies with bourgeois intellectuals out to seize the reins of power from the foreign imperialists. Bakunin, to his credit and our advantage, forecast such a development more than a century ago.

Yet, for a long period his own horizons were determined by his Slav consciousness, horizons which set him apart from those Russian peasants whose physical and mental boundaries were determined by their mir or community. The sheer extent of one's mental horizons when one identified with the Slav race as a whole effectively blurred one's vision of non-Slav peoples (compare today the Great Russian chauvinism of the "New Tsars" in Moscow towards national minorities like the Uighurs, Kazaks and so on).

By way of contrast, quite the opposite set of circumstances might be cited to explain the behaviour of Osugi Sakae. The awareness of Japan's smallness compared with China triggered off very early in Japanese history a sense of "uniqueness", a defensive reaction which ultimately le d to the national fascism of the 19300 (Wilhelm Reich's "small man complex" on a national scale). At the same time though, while the Chinese have always maintained a strict lack of interest in things non-Chinese, the Japanese, on the contrary, have traditionally been eager to keep abreast of foreign events and ideas. The isolationist policy of the Tokugawa shoguns was a historical aberration brought on by fear of social change; yet even during those two centuries the rulers in Edo kept in touch with developments in the West through compulsory regular visits by Dutch trade missions to the Shogun's palace. Long before, both Korea and China had been taken as models for the shaping of Japanese civilization, and when the Tokugawas' hold was finally broken the sudden rush to absorb Western learning was a return to normalcy rather than the historical curiosity it is usually taken to be.

Japan, then, was a small country, and the horizons of its educated class narrower than those of the Slav intellectuals. In those early days, Japanese intellectuals on the Right and on the Left saw, nothing strange and nothing shameful in borrowing foreign ideas, if those ideas appeared definitively to be good ones, As time went by, reactionary politicians turned the sense of Japan's uniqueness into a national myth, adorned it with a veil of Shinto and closed the doors on foreign ideas once again. At the time Osugi Sakae was alive, however, the West still offered an exciting source of new inspiration. The readiness with which he initially applauded the Russian revolution, sought to absorb the lessons of the Makhno movement, set up his Esperanto school, translated Western writers, and, finally, set out for the international conference in Berlin, can thus be understood.

Osugi's Japanese-ness itself made him both open to external influences and eager to take part in overseas activities. Bakunin's Slav-ness rave him an outlook that was at once broad - thanks to the geographical spread of the Slav peoples - yet narrow. That restriction precluded him from responding positively to the opportunity offered by his visit to Japan.


It can be readily seen that little is 'crown about Bakunin's activities in Japan (but, see below). As indicated in the text and in the footnotes, however, there are numerous leads which, if followed up, promise new revelations. Among these are Kee's diary and Heine's post-1861 writings. We would like to appeal to interested readers (particularly, in the case of Heine, German readers) to check out these sources and let us know if they provide any important new information,

* * *

Just as we were about to begin typing the final draft of this pamphlet Wakayama Kenji sent us a dozen or so new documents concerning Bakunin's stay in Japan, including two by the anarchist Kube Jo and the historian Itabashi Tomoyuki on which both Henmi's and Wakayama's own article draw heavily. The problem was, whether to hold up printing and incorporate the now information contained in these documents into the text, or to publish the original text as it was and put out a further edition later. Although Wakayama urged us to read the new material before publishing the pamphlet, insisting that they took precedence over his own, after discussion in the group we decided to go ahead. We reasoned that, not only were we anxious to put out a new issue after a break of two years, but we had already sent out an announcement to the effect that this pamphlet's publication was imminent (it had in any case been delayed by the failure of a typewriter). Since it would take several months to read and digest the new documents and rearrange the text accordangly, the best idea seened to be to go ahead and print, and that is what vie did. The new edition (or rather, supplemental edition) will, if all goes wall, become 'Libero International' No. 7.


1. The Japanese emperor in pre-Perry days had become no more than a figure-head whose continued existence in Kyoto, the traditional capital, sanctified that of the Tokugawa shôguns or generals who eff ectively ran most of the country from what was then Edo, now Tokyo.

2. From 1863 to 1867 there were 61 recorded peasant uprisings; the most violent year was 1866 with 32. In 1867 the number fell off to only twelve and, it is said, a kind of calm pervaded the whole country. Soon after that the 'Eija Nai Ka' movement broke-out (see below).

3. E.H. Norman, the Canadian progressive academic, suggested that the anti-Korean, anti-socialist pogrom whipped up by the Japanese govern ment after the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake (see below) was made easier by the still-powerful social pressures on the people, which had forced them to keep their emotions in check for so long that they seized arty chance for emotional release (in his 'Feudal Background of Japanese Politics', contained in John W. Dower (ed.) Origins of the Modern Japanese State: Selected Writings of E.H. Norman (Pantheon paperback, 1975).

Norman also worried (he was writing in 1944) that the Japanese authorities would provoke a similar outbreak if Japan was defeated in the war. On the contrary, the zaibatsu (financial cliques) had already arranged the enrolment of most citizens into a home defence corps precisely to prevent any kind of outbreak that would give the Americans cause to rule Japan with a heavier hand than necessary, and to stifle any chances of social revolution before they, the zaibatsu leaders, had had time to ingratiate themselves with their new rulers. The significant fact about the 1867 movement was that there was no open political interference, unlike 1923, when the government and police actually invited people to take revenge on their "enemies" the Koreans and the socialists.

4. Also known as the Shakkinto or Debtors' Party. The incident was one of the many which broke out in the early Meiji period in connection with the movement for civil rights. Local peasants, supported by militant liberals, created their own political organization and rais- ed the flag of rebellion against the central government. When the police and troops arrived the peasants resisted, but failed to get support from neighbouring, areas and were forced to flee, The leaders were arrested and executed, while soldiers were allowed to pillage and rape their way through the villages in a way that has not been forgotten to this day.

5. Section three is a partial and amended translation (with personal comments added) of Henmi Kichiza's article 'Nihon ni Tachiyotta Bakunin, to which have been appended extracts from Wakayama Ken-ji's 'Bakunin to Hakodate, Yokohama, Kanagawa'. It should be said here that the former, though officially credited to Henmi, is actually the work of Mukai Kou, Osaka libertarian poet and esperantist who, after hearing the bones of the story from the ailing Henmi, filled it out and wrote it up himself. Both these articles are based on earlier ones by Kube Jo and Itabashi Tomoyuki, which will be incorporated into the second edition of this pamphlet.

6. Dates of Bakunin's movements at this time differ according to the source. It has not always been possible to verify which are correct, and usually only rough dates have been given.

7. There are several conflicting theories concerning Bakunin's escape route from Siberia.

The one related here is that given by Masters (Bakunin: The Father of Anarchism),

which follows the one in E.H. Carr's Bakunin.

8. There is some confusion as to whether this meeting took place in Hakodate or in Yokohama, Masters, following Carr's account, locates it in Yokohama, though most Japanese sources give Hakodate. Herzen's 'Bakunin and the Polish Question' is unclear but seems to suggest Hakodate (Yokohama is not mentioned at all in this account). In any case, a moment's thought suggests that the port could only have been Hakodate. Had the ship in which the encounter with the consul took place been bound for America instead of southern Japan, Bakunin's story would hardly have held water.

9. Heine is rather an elusive character, but we took trouble to investigate him since his writings, if there were any, seemed to offer leads for new information on Bakunin. So far we have discovered the following information.

Peter Bernhard Wilhelm Heine (1827-1885):

After escaping from Dresden Heine went first to New York, then to Central America where he travelled for several years. The record of this expedition was published in 1853 as the Wanderbilder aus Centralamerika. Soon after that he returned to New York, where he was selected from among several score of applicants for the post of official artist to the Perry expedition.

After arriving in Japan he made several visits to Edo, possible only because of his position on Perry's staff, since Edo was officially closed to foreigners. His sketches of the city as it was before the foreigners arrived in force are thus a unique record.

When he returned to New York in 1855 he published several mementoes: a collection of prints entitled Graphic Scenes of the Japan Expedition; 400 sketches which were included in Perry's official report; and his memoirs, Reiss um die Welt nach Japan (Leipzig, 1856). The memoirs apparently proved an enormous success, and were immediately translated into both French and Dutch.

Two years later Heine published a German translation of the report of the Rodgers Expedition sent by the US government to te Japan, China and Okhotsk Seas, under the title Die Expedition in dir Seen von China, Japan und Okhotsk (Leipzig, 1858-9). In which he also urged the Prussian government to send more expeditions to Asia before the Americans became established there.

In 1859 he returned to Germany, where he published Japan und Seine Bewohner (Leipzig, 1860). While in Berlin he received an invitation to join a projected Prussian expedition as official artist once again, and was simultaneously given a premium to send back reports for a Cologne newspaper. This expedition, the Eulenberg one mentioned in the text, went on from Japan to Tientsin, and here Heine left to return to America alone; it was while he was waiting in Yokohama for the connection to San Francisco that the historic meeting with Bakunin took place.

Once back in America he took part in the Civil War on the Union side ans was made an officer. In 1864 he published his major work, a voluminous book on travel in the Orient, Eine Weltreise um die nordliche Hemisphare in Verbindung mit der Ostasiatischen Expedition in den Jahren 1860 und 1861 (Leipzig, two volumes), After the war ended Heine was named US consul in Paris and Liverpool concurrently, but after the establishment of the Hohenzollern Empire in Germany in 1871 returned to Dresden where he wrote his last book about Japan, Japan, Beitrage zur Kenntnis des Landes und Seiner Bewohner (Berlin, 1873-80).

The reason for going into such detail about Paine's life is not for the sake of promoting archaeological research, but in the hope that comrades who can read German - unfortunately, none of us can - be able to look into these sources for information about Bakunin. We hope that you will let us know if you have any luck.

10. All quotations have been translated into English from Japanese, and may thus vary from the original.

11. Proper names - apart from those of well-known people - have had to be guessed from the Japanese transliteration.

12. Philipp Franz von Siebold, a German, had been attached to a Dutch company at Deshima, Nagasaki, from 1823 to 1828 as doctor and naturalist. During that time he received the shôgun's permission to instruct Japanese doctors in Western medicine, and gathered about him quite a body of disciples. On his return to Germany, however, he tried to take away with him forbidden articles such as maps of Japan, and was discovered. After a year's confine. ment he was deported and ordered never to return. His friends and disciples were persecuted and many imprisoned. This was th "Siebold Incident".

After being rejected for the Perry Expedition, he was able t return to Japan in 1859 after a diplomatic treaty had been sign ed between Japan and Holland the previous year. This time he came as political advisor to the shogun.

The five years he spent in Deshima, despite the black cloud he fell under as a result of the "Incident", were very influential for the development of modern medicine in Japan. The daughter born to him. and his Japanese second-wife (sic) later became Japan's first Western-style midwife.

13. Some sources give the date of departure as September 7, while others name the ship as either the 'Peterson' or the 'Wellington'.

14. Evidently Bakunin had disposed of much of the money he was carrying when Siebold met him, either on the billiard table or in buying his passage to San Francisco.

15. This section is an amended translation of the final Dart of Hen mi's article, in which he gives his own eye-witness account of Osugi's activities during the "rice riots".

16. Henmi Naozo: militant anarchist, the father of Henmi Kichizo. In his youth he stayed in America and worked with Alexander Berkman and Emma Goldman. He died later in 1923.

17. Osugi's part in the riots seems to come close to the "behindism" castigated by the Situationist Internationale. A closer reading of these pages though, surely, reveals that what he did was more akin to what - at least in my interpretation of the cc cept - is called "creating a situation". He did not begin the riot then fade away; he listened to the complaints of the women, -then went to the newspapers, and left the people to react in whatever way they saw fit. One could compare it to Durrutti's tactic during the Spanish Civil War, which was, when passing through a village, to merely point out the traitors, explain a few political facts to the villagers, then pass on having created a situation in which the villagers could act as they saw fit.

18. Takeda Denjiro: took part in several attempts to popularize libertarian socialism; his elder brother had received life imprisonment in the High Treason Plot (Taigyaku jiken) trials of 1911 in which twelve anarchist militants were murdered by the state.

Kanasaki Demei/lwade Kinjiro: both later became communists.

Yamazaki Shojiro: died in prison after arrest in connection with the Guillotine Sha anarchist-terrorist group affair in 1924.

Yoshimura Otoya: disappeared soon after the riots in unexplained circumstances.

19. For more information on Chinese anarchists in France see Robert A.Scalapino and George T. Yu: The Chinese Anarchist Movement, pp. 44-53.

20. Standard requirements in Japanese prisons even today require the prisoner to sit all day cross-legged inside a ring drawn in the centre of the cell, facing the door. If they want anything, even to take a piss, they must first ask permission from the warder, who they are obliged to call "teacher" if they do not want a beating.

21. Osugi's given name "Sakae" can also be read "Ei", and he apparently sometimes used this version to avoid confusion with another socialist militant of the time, Sakai Toshihiko.