Chapter Two: 1912-1936


Anarchist Communist Editions § ACE Pamphlet No. 8

Chapter Two: 1912-1936

Throughout the years 1912-36, anarchist communism, syndicalism and terrorism remained identifiable trends within Japanese anarchism. During the first half of this period, it was syndicalism which predominated intellectually, whereas in the latter half the pendulum swung towards anarchist communism. Compared to these two major theoretical influences, terrorism was never more than a minor sub-current in the anarchist movement but, although those inclined to armed struggle were always a small minority, unremitting state repression ensured that there were invariably some anarchists whose anger and frustration boiled over into attempts to pay back in kind their oppressors.

There are a number of reasons why syndicalism should have predominated initially. During the "winter period", which lasted until 1918, anarchists were aware that they were all but defenceless in the face of a particularly vicious state which had overwhelming force at its disposal and would not stop at even legally sanctioned murder to suppress anarchism. Although the organisation of labour unions was still prohibited, at least as a theoretical proposition the idea that a mass union movement could provide a bulwark against the power of the state had strong appeal. Second, with the death of Kôtoku, Ôsugi Sakae was left as the most talented thinker and most productive writer in the anarchists' ranks and he happened to be greatly inspired by the growth of the French syndicalist union federation, the CGT. It was mainly through Ôsugi's articles that the CGT was held up as an example for Japanese workers to emulate. Third, the reputation of anarchist communism was tarnished, albeit temporarily, when Kropotkin succumbed to French chauvinism following the outbreak of the First World War. Subsequently, anarchist communists were reassured when Malatesta and others reiterated principled opposition to the war, but Kropotkin's defection nevertheless delivered a severe shock to those who had absorbed anarchist communism from sources such as The Conquest of Bread.

One fortuitous stroke of luck for the anarchist syndicalists was their success in managing to publish the journal Modern Thought (Kindai Shisô) even in the depths of the "winter period". Throughout the "winter period" there were many attempts by anarchists to launch different journals but, almost without exception, they were closed down and their editors fined and imprisoned. The one exception was Modern Thought, which Arahata Kanson and Ôsugi Sakae started in October 1912 and which they managed to publish monthly until September 1914. Modern Thought survived for two years, mainly because it contrived to present syndicalist ideas in the guise of philosophical discussion rather than as a practicable proposition. In association with Modern Thought, Arahata and Ôsugi also organised a Syndicalism Study Group (Sanjikarizumu Kenkyû Kai) which held numerous public meetings between l913 and 1916. Again, the authorities probably failed to appreciate the true significance of the Syndicalism Study Group's meetings because they attracted mainly young intellectuals rather than workers. Despite this drawback, they were an important morale booster in what was otherwise a period of unrelieved gloom and continuing defeat.


What brought the "winter period" to an end was the spontaneous outbreak of popular anger which expressed itself in the summer of 1918 in the form of nationwide "rice riots". The years of the First World War were a period of boom for Japanese capitalism as Japanese companies took advantage of the problems, brought about by the war, which interfered with the operations of their European rivals. As the economy boomed, inflation took hold and the price of rice, the staple food, spiralled upwards in a frightening fashion in the closing year of the war, leaving wages far behind. As a result, a small demonstration by fisherwomen in Toyama Prefecture on 23 July 1918, in protest against the shipping of rice out of their district, unleashed a torrent of anger which spread across the length and breadth of Japan over the next few weeks, involving hundreds of "incidents" of one sort or another. Not all these disturbances attained the proportions of full-scale riots, but in one major city after another there were pitched battles between tens of thousands of rioters and the police, with the army being called out in many instances. To people in Ôsaka on 12 August 1918, for instance, it felt "as though a revolution had really come".18 Here at last was the kind of situation the anarchists had dreamed about during the bleak years of the "winter period". The state was no longer firmly in control, there were too many disturbances for it to be able to concentrate its forces and smother the protests one at a time, and the ruling class was scared into making concessions. Japan by no means became a liberal democracy overnight as a result of the 1918 rice riots. On the contrary, the "public peace police law" and its 1925 replacement, the "maintenance of public peace act", remained on the books throughout the years to come and the anarchists continued to be prime targets of the state's repression. But the blanket suppression of all activity was no longer possible and the anarchists were quick to seize the opportunities that presented to regroup, launch new journals and involve themselves in the workers' and peasants' movements.

Not only was there widespread rioting on the streets in this period, but in the factories too labour disputes were commonplace. In 1918 more than 66,000 workers were involved in 417 separate disputes. These figures might sound meagre by present-day standards, but they need to be set against the figure of less than 1.5 million workers employed in all factories at the time. Even though unions remained technically illegal, the state was no longer in a position to enforce the letter of the law entirely. A Friendly Society (Yûaikai), which had been formed in 1912 with a mere 15 members, had expanded its organisation and membership to 30,000 by 1918 and in 1921 changed its name to the Japanese Confederation of Labour (Nihon Rôdô Sôdômei). It is true that most newly formed unions, both inside and outside the Japanese Confederation of Labour, were led by out and out reformists, who were simply looking to improve the position of the workers within capitalism, at the same time as they sought to carve out careers for themselves. Nevertheless, among the unions that emerged in this period were some which embraced anarchism, both as the goal of their struggle and as an organisational method. One such union was the Shinyûkai printworkers' union which, although when it was first formed in 1916 had a purely reformist outlook, had by 1919 expanded its membership to 1,500 and opted for anarchism. Also in 1919 another anarchist-inclined printworkers' union, the Seishinkai, was formed by 500 newspaper workers. The Shinyûkai and Seishinkai linked up in 1923 to establish a printworkers' federation and by 1924 this had attained a combined membership of 3,850, a not inconsiderable number by the standards of the time.

The Shinyûkai and Seishinkai have been singled out for special mention here since the printworkers formed the backbone of the anarchist union movement throughout the prewar years. Yet anarchist unions were by no means confined to the printing industry alone. A declaration issued in November 1922 by workers' groups which favoured organisation based on "libertarian federation" and rejected "centralised authority" was signed by unions representing, among other sections of the workforce, watchmakers, general labourers, tramworkers, shipbuilders, engineering workers and communication workers.19 This provided an indication of the spread of anarchist ideas among the working class generally.

One important anarchist group which was formed in 1919 in response to the developments described above was the Labour Movement (Rôdô Undô) Group, which issued a journal of the same name. The most striking feature of the journal Labour Movement was that, whereas previously a journal such as Modern Thought had recommended syndicalism as a course of action to be followed and a goal to struggle towards, Labour Movement was more concerned with reporting and analysing on-going struggles, which often assumed an anarchist form, no matter whether the workers were aware of syndicalist theory or not. What this signified was that, with the ending of the "winter period", anarchist syndicalism moved from the realm of theory to the field of practice. In one sense this represented the maturing of anarchist syndicalism in a Japanese context, but in another it forced many Japanese anarchists to face up to problems inherent in syndicalism of which they had previously been unaware. We shall return to this below when we discuss the split between anarchist communists and anarchist syndicalists which occurred in 1928.


In Japan, as in many countries, it took some time to grasp the true nature of the 1917 Russian Revolution. Initially there were many anarchists in Japan who were sympathetic to the little they knew about the Bolsheviks. In the immediate aftermath of the revolution, all that was known about Lenin and his followers was that they had executed the tsar, extricated Russia from the war and thereby earned themselves the hatred of the bourgeoisie and the reformist social democrats alike. At first glance, this appeared to be a course of action which many anarchists might have pursued under the circumstances. Hence it was hardly surprising that, to start with, Bolshevism attracted the sympathetic interest of many Japanese anarchists and that, although some swiftly grasped that Lenin and his fellow leaders were simply a new ruling class which was intent on consolidating its power, others were taken in by the new creed and were lost to anarchism. Indeed, when the Communist Party of Japan was founded in 1922, among its leaders were Arahata Kanson (formerly co-editor with Ôsugi of Modern Thought) and Yamakawa Hitoshi (who had been one of the first to rally to Kôtoku after his "change of thought" and had helped to translate The Conquest of Bread). Furthermore, the Party's first chairman was none other than Kôtoku's old friend, Sakai Toshihiko (who, while never having been an anarchist, had resigned in 1903 from the Every Morning News and had helped Kôtoku to launch the Common People's Newspaper). It is interesting to note that, while none of these had any further association with anarchism, neither did any of them last long in the ranks of the Communist Party, since their capacity for independent thinking prevented them from swallowing every twist and turn of Comintern policy.20

Although Ôsugi never showed any signs of abandoning anarchism for Bolshevism, even he was prepared to accept an invitation to visit Shanghai in October 1920 for discussions with Comintern agents. He returned with ¥2,000 to be used for restarting Labour Movement, which had temporarily ceased publication in June 1920. The result of this Comintern funding was the second series of Labour Movement, which lasted from January to June 1921 and coincided with the high point of cooperation between anarchists and the Japanese supporters of Bolshevism.21 During this brief period articles written from both anarchist and Bolshevik perspectives appeared side by side in Labour Movement, but it was not long before the strains in the relationship started to show. Lenin's regime put down the Kronstadt uprising against Bolshevik despotism in March 1921, Ôsugi soon started to translate eyewitness reports by Emma Goldman and Alexander Berkman of Bolshevik repression of the Russian anarchists and before long Ôsugi had concluded that there was nothing to choose between Russian state capitalism and Western private capitalism. Bolshevik policy, he wrote, "has cast the chains of wage slavery for the Russian proletariat and has dragged the workers down into a worse situation than the conditions of labour found in other capitalist countries".22 Labour Movement continued to be published intermittently until October 1927 but, after the brief anarchist-Bolshevik flirtation which was a feature of its early numbers, it soon settled down into a 100 per cent anarchist journal which was unambiguously opposed to Bolshevism.

Parallel to the temporary cooperation between anarchists and Bolsheviks in the field of publishing, which has been described above, there were also attempts in the early days of the union movement to bridge the ideological divide. Unions of different ideological persuasions jointly organised the first ever May Day demonstration in Japan in 1920 and out of this emerged a Labour Union Alliance (Rôdô Kumiai Dômeikai). Yet, when a May Day rally was held again the following year, members of anarchist and reformist unions came to blows and the Labour Union Alliance foundered. In 1922 there was one last attempt to form an all-encompassing federation of unions, this time in the shape of the All-Japan General Federation of Labour Unions (Zenkoku Rôdô Kumiai Sôrengô). Its founding conference was held in Ôsaka on 30 September 1922 and was attended by 106 delegates, representing 59 organisations with a combined membership of over 27,000. The unions represented were split three ways ideologically between anarchists, reformists and Bolsheviks. Although there was no love lost between the reformists and the Bolsheviks, they cooperated temporarily to oppose the anarchists' preference for a decentralised federation and insisted instead that the union movement should have a centralised leadership with powers to enforce its decisions. Naturally, where the reformists and Bolsheviks disagreed was over which of them should be exercising leadership. This antagonism was to come to a head three years later in 1925 when the Bolshevik-controlled unions broke with the reformists to set up the Japanese Labour Union Council (Nihon Rôdô Kumiai Hyôgikai). From the point of view of this account, however, the most significant outcome of the failed attempt in 1922 to establish the All-Japan General Federation of Labour Unions was that 20 unions revealed their strong preference for anarchist organisational principles by signing in November 1922 the "Announcement to Workers Throughout the Country" to which reference has already been made.23 Four years later this core support was to be the focus around which the first nationwide federation of anarchist-inclined unions, the All-Japan Libertarian Federation of Labour Unions (Zenkoku Rôdô Kumiai Jiyû Rengôkai) was to crystallise.

By 1922, then, antagonism between anarchists and Bolsheviks had reached a level of intensity which made all future cooperation impossible. From that point on, anarchist hostility to the Communist Party of Japan equalled the long standing contempt in which anarchists held the reformist social democrats.


In September 1923 anarchism in Japan was dealt a blow as hard as the execution of Kôtoku and his comrades twelve years earlier. It has already been mentioned that, after Kôtoku's death, Ôsugi was indisputably the most talented thinker and writer in the anarchists' ranks. Throughout the harsh repression of the "winter period" and into the years of resurgence that followed, his combination of passionate commitment to personal liberation with an equally ardent enthusiasm for the aims and methods of anarchist syndicalism had provided inspiration for many. Now, tragically, he was to be cut down in his prime. On 1 September 1923, Eastern Japan (the Kantô region) was hit by a major earthquake. More than 90,000 people died and close to half a million buildings were destroyed, partly from the initial effects of the earthquake but mainly from the subsequent fires which burnt out of control for days on end. As swathes of fire cut through Tôkyô, Yokohama and elsewhere, rumours that arsonists and revolutionaries were out on the streets spread as frighteningly as the flames themselves. Hysteria took hold and led to lynchings, many of the victims of which were Korean immigrants. In this situation of panic and chaos, the authorities were presented with another golden opportunity for eliminating enemies of the state. Ôsugi Sakae, his partner Itô Noe (who was herself an outstanding anarchist) and Ôsugi's six year-old nephew Tachibana Munekazu (who happened to be with them) were seized by a squad of military police and all three were brutally put to death. Taken into custody on 16 September 1923, their battered bodies were discovered four days later where they had been dumped in a well.24

The brutality of Ôsugi's and his companions' murders was compounded by the state's hypocrisy. Amakasu Masahiko, the captain in command of the military police unit, was put on trial and sentenced to ten years' imprisonment, but within three years he was free again and back on duty. Comrades of Ôsugi who had known him personally, as well as others who knew him as an inspired propagandist and an irrepressible champion of freedom only through his writings, were incensed by the casual ease with which the state had killed the ablest anarchist of his generation, as though it were swatting a fly. Not surprisingly, there were those who vowed to exact revenge. In September 1924, an anarchist group which was aptly named the Guillotine Society (Girochin Sha) made two attempts on the life of Fukuda Masatarô, the general ultimately in command of the troops who had murdered Ôsugi. In the first attempt one of Ôsugi's old comrades, Wada Kyûtarô, shot General Fukuda but only succeeded in wounding him, while in the second Fukuda's house was bombed, although he was not at home at the time. Wada was tried and sentenced to life imprisonment, but committed suicide while in prison in 1928. Other members of the Guillotine Society were given long prison sentences and two, Furuta Daijirô and Nakahama Tetsu, were executed for their part in a bank robbery which was undertaken in October 1923 in order to raise funds and in the course of which a bank employee was killed.

However righteous the indignation which fired these attempts to retaliate against the cruelty perpetrated by the ruling class, terrorism proved to be totally unproductive in advancing the anarchist cause. Mass arrests and stepped up repression were the inevitable outcome of attacks which mostly missed their targets and inflicted insignificant damage on the structures of power. Despite the evident failure of these various incidents, however, they did not finally lay the terrorist ghost to rest. Terrorism was the result of the systematic inhumanity practised by the capitalist state and the persistence of this causative factor guaranteed that in years to come a minority of anarchists would continue to be provoked into attempts to pay back the ruling class in kind.


Many accounts of anarchism in Japan, particularly those which are sympathetic to Bolshevism, suggest that from about the time of Ôsugi's death anarchism was locked into a downwards spiral. This is far from being the case. During the 1920s the anarchists in Japan were organisationally stronger than ever before, and there was a corresponding flowering of ideas and theories, particularly among the anarchist communists.

In 1926 two nationwide federations of anarchists were formed. The first, organised in January 1926, was the Black Youth League (Kokushoku Seinen Renmei) which was usually known by its Japanese abbreviation of Kokuren. When Kokuren was set up it was mainly composed of young anarchists from Eastern Japan (the Kantô region) but it swiftly expanded to take in all generations and to extend its federal organisation throughout Japan and even beyond into Japanese colonies such as Korea and Taiwan. The second federation was the All-Japan Libertarian Federation of Labour Unions (Zenkoku Rôdô Kumiai Jiyû Rengôkai) whose name was generally abbreviated in Japanese to Zenkoku Jiren. At its founding conference on 24 May 1926, 400 delegates attended, representing 25 unions with a combined membership of 8,400. These figures compared with the 35 unions (with around 20,000 members) which had remained in the reformist Japanese Confederation of Labour when 32 of its constituent unions (with 12,500 members) had split away in 1925 to form the Bolshevik-led Japanese Labour Union Council. Although Zenkoku Jiren was thus smaller than its reformist and Bolshevik rivals, the unions which comprised it were implanted in virtually all areas of Japan, from the island of Hokkaidô in the far North, through major urban centres such as Tôkyô and Ôsaka in Japan's industrial heartland, to cities in the South-West of the country, such as Hiroshima. In addition to the wide geographical spread of Zenkoku Jiren, it also had roots in most major industries. Its unions were organised along industrial lines and encompassed sectors of the workforce as varied as printworkers, textile workers, engineering workers, food workers, rubber workers, general labourers and so on.25

There was another sense too in which Kokuren and Zenkoku Jiren could be said to have been widely based when first formed. This was that they took in most shades of anarchism, from anarchist syndicalism to anarchist communism. For example, although the heavy presence of anarchist communists in Kokuren's and Zenkoku Jiren's ranks was obvious from the start, the progamme which the latter's founding conference adopted was nevertheless clearly influenced by the classic statement of syndicalist principles - the French CGT's Charter of Amiens (1906). Zenkoku Jiren's founding programme declared:

* We take the class struggle as the basis for the movement to liberate the workers and tenant farmers.

* We reject all political movements and insist on economic action alone.

* We advocate libertarian federation organised industry by industry and we reject centralised authoritarianism.

* We oppose imperialist aggression and advocate the international solidarity of the working class.


Relations between Kokuren and Zenkoku Jiren were extremely close, with the former acting as a hard core of committed and battle-hardened activists within the wider ranks of the latter. 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. In this respect, the relationship between Kokuren and Zenkoku Jiren has often been compared to that between the FAI and CNT in Spain. However, this analogy cannot be pressed too far since, as we shall see, the ideas which inspired many Japanese anarchists increasingly diverged from those held by their counterparts in Spain and elsewhere.

The story of the next few years is of an ever-sharpening antagonism between anarchist communism and anarchist syndicalism, which led the anarchist syndicalists to withdraw from both Kokuren and Zenkoku Jiren in 1927/28 in a mood of considerable bitterness and to set up their own independent organisations. The reasons for this confrontation are various. One of the easiest to identify is the influence of two outstanding anarchist communist theoreticians and propagandists, called Hatta Shûzô and Iwasa Sakutarô.27 Although Hatta was active in the anarchist movement only during the last ten years of his relatively short life (1886-1934) he was widely acclaimed as "the greatest theoretician of anarchist communism in Japan".28 Iwasa lived much longer (1879-1967) and increasingly came to be regarded, with a mixture of affection and respect, as the grand old man of Japanese anarchism. Although different types in many ways, Hatta and Iwasa complemented one another extremely effectively and what they shared was a profound distrust of both syndicalism and the conventional labour movement. As a lapsed Protestant clergyman, Hatta was a masterly public speaker, the sort of man who could hold an audience of tenant farmers or workers spellbound for hours on end, moving them to tears with his description of the iniquity of both conventional capitalism and Bolshevism, and firing them with passion for an alternative society which would successfully combine individual freedom and communal solidarity. Iwasa was a quieter, less flamboyant type, who was at his best in informal chats and discussions. Forever on the move, he travelled the length and breadth of Japan, quietly making friends and implanting the ideas of anarchist communism wherever he went.

Yet, however talented Hatta and Iwasa might have been as exponents of anarchist communism, the resurgence of this doctrine in Japan at this particular time cannot be adequately explained in terms of their influence alone. For anarchist communism to have enjoyed the popularity it did in Japan in the late 1920s, it had to provide a convincing explanation for the oppression which so many were experiencing and, equally, had to correspond with their aspirations for a new life. Many tenant farmers and workers found that anarchist communism could fulfil these roles far more effectively than anarchist syndicalism could. From the point of view of the desperately poor tenant farmers, who comprised the bulk of Japan's population in this period and far outnumbered factory workers, the reasons for this are perhaps not difficult to understand. When the anarchist communists talked about converting by revolutionary means the miserably impoverished farming villages into flourishing, self-supporting communes, their message seemed directly relevant to the tenant farmers in a way in which the predominantly urbanised, industrialised and unionised approach of the anarchist syndicalists could never be.

Nevertheless, the split between anarchist communism and anarchist syndicalism cannot be adequately grasped simply in terms of the different social positions of tenant farmers and industrial workers. For one thing, there was a good deal of movement between the countryside and the towns, with new workers being absorbed by the factories as the economy periodically expanded and just as regularly discharged whenever the inevitable economic downturns occurred. For another, even among permanently town-based workers, anarchist communism impressed many as constituting a more fundamental break with the structures and values of capitalism than anarchist syndicalism could ever achieve.

Many of these workers found Hatta's argument convincing when he insisted that, because anarchist syndicalism based itself on union organisations that were outgrowths of the capitalist workplaces, it would replicate in its social relations the centralisation, hierarchy and power found under capitalism. Hatta argued that, by adopting a form of organisation which mirrored capitalist industry, anarchist syndicalism would perpetuate the division of labour. It was predicted that, even if the bosses were eliminated so that the mines were controlled by the miners, the steel mills by the steelworkers and so on, tensions would still arise between different industrial sectors and different bodies of workers. Even though it was recognised that anarchist syndicalism was ideologically committed to abolishing the state, Hatta maintained that there would be an inherent tendency for some form of arbitrating or coordinating body to emerge in order to deal with conflicts of interest between different economic sectors and those who worked in them. Not only would the danger thus exist that here would be a new state in the making, but those able to exert control over this coordinating body were likely to become an emergent ruling class. As Hatta put it:

In a society which is based on the division of labour, those engaged in vital production (since it forms the basis of production) would have more power over the machinery of coordination than those engaged in other lines of production. There would therefore be a real danger of the appearance of classes.


Hatta and Iwasa were also highly critical of anarchist syndicalism's belief that the revolution could be pursued via class struggle. In the first place, they pointed out that the social relations which existed between the millions of tenant farmers and the landlords from whom they rented their land were closer to feudalism than to capitalism. Hence Japanese society could not be reduced to a schematic class structure of workers versus capitalists, as anarchist syndicalists (and the Communist Party of Japan, for that matter) tended to assert. Secondly, and more fundamentally, it was argued that victory in the class struggle at most changes the pecking order between classes but does not bring about the classless condition which is implicit in anarchism. Iwasa expressed this by means of an analogy which became famous among Japanese anarchists - the analogy of a gang of mountain bandits. If the bandit chief (equivalent to the capitalists) was ousted and replaced by one or more of his henchmen (equivalent to the conventional labour movement), the pecking order (class structure) could be said to have changed, but not the exploitative nature of society (represented in Iwasa's analogy by the continued marauding activity of the bandit gang).30 It was on grounds such as this that Hatta drew the conclusion:

If we understand...that the class struggle and the revolution are different things, then we are forced to say that it is a major mistake to declare, as the syndicalists do, that the revolution will be brought about by the class struggle. Even if a change in society came about by means of the class struggle, it would not mean that a genuine revolution had occurred.


Allied to these criticisms of anarchist syndicalism, Hatta in particular wrote extensively about how an anarchist communist society could overcome the division of labour and, in doing so, he pushed forward the theoretical frontiers of anarchist communism in a way which had not been done since the days of Kropotkin. His vision of anarchist communism was essentially of an array of "small societies" (communes), each of which would be largely self-supporting by virtue of engaging in all-round agricultural as well as (small-scale) industrial activity.In theorising about how this might work in practice, he developed further some of the ideas which had remained in a fairly rudimentary form in Kropotkin's writings (e.g. the notion of a "physiology of society"32) and made some important contributions towards developing an economic theory of anarchist communism.33

What was at least as striking as the high calibre of Hatta's theoretical writings was the extent to which such ideas struck a responsive chord among many workers, even those accustomed to living in an industrial and urban setting. To take just one example, a Tôkyô printworker wrote an article entitled "Let's Abandon the Cities" in Zenkoku Jiren's journal Libertarian Federation (Jiyû Rengô) in December 1926. Here the argument was made that the industrial workers should not aim to take over the cities from the capitalists and run them in their own interests. Rather they should rise against the bosses and take their industrial skills to the countryside, thereby enriching village life and achieving unity with their brothers and sisters on the farms.34 As for anarchist syndicalism, an article that appeared in the Kokuren journal Black Youth (Kokushoku Seinen) in December 1929 forcefully put what became the majority view when it declared:

The anarchist movement is progressing a great deal in Japan at the present time. In other countries we find an anarchist movement which links up with the syndicalists. But in this country we do not approve of them, driving them away just as we do the bolsheviks. We are even against anarchist syndicalism and we adhere to anarchist communism.



The split between anarchist communists and anarchist syndicalists occurred first in Kokuren. As 1927 progressed, the anarchist communist majority in Kokuren expressed their opposition to syndicalism increasingly openly, leading the minority of anarchist syndicalists first to group around a new journal, The Anti-Political Party Movement (Han Seitô Undô), which they started in June, and eventually to withdraw from Kokuren entirely. From Kokuren the tension spilt over into Zenkoku Jiren, leading to chaotic proceedings at its second conference, which was held in November and had to be adjourned as the debates degenerated into slanging matches.36 By this stage, reports of the impending split between anarchist communists (who were sometimes known in Japan as "pure anarchists") and anarchist syndicalists had spread beyond Japan and one of those who became alarmed was Augustin Souchy, secretary of the anarchist syndicalist International Workers' Association (IWA, or AIT when known by its French initials). In a letter addressed to Zenkoku Jiren's second conference, Souchy wrote:

Comrades! We have heard something about a current theoretical dispute between the pure anarchists and pure syndicalists within the Japanese libertarian labour movement. If we might express our opinion, now is not really the time for a dispute over such an issue. It has taken on an entirely theoretical character. On this occasion, we would like to draw your attention to Argentina and to the South American countries in general. In these countries the labour movement acts in the spirit of Mikhail Bakunin and also, at the same time, is under the spiritual guidance of our indomitable pioneer Errico Malatesta. In these countries, all anarchists heroically take part in the syndicalist movement, while, at the same time, all syndicalists are fighting to abolish the oppressive machinery of the state and to resist capitalist exploitation. In Spain too, anarchists and syndicalists apportion between them concern for economic questions and for the spiritual side of things in such a way that theoretical disputes do not arise.


Although Souchy's letter was published on the front page of Zenkoku Jiren's Libertarian Federation in January 1928, it did not have the desired effect. Instead, Kokuren's Black Youth carried an article "On the International Workers' Association's Message" in its February issue which stated uncompromisingly that since 1927 it had been struggling against "the betrayers, opportunists and union imperialists" in Zenkoku Jiren's ranks.38 This attitude was carried over into Zenkoku Jiren's second conference when it reconvened in March 1928. After hours of bitter debate, with the insults flying thick and fast from both sides, the anarchist syndicalists decided to recognise the inevitable, unfurled their banners and marched out of the hall. Not only did this formalise the split within the anarchist union movement, but subsequently the same open opposition between anarchist communists and anarchist syndicalists manifested itself in all the other fields where anarchists were active. For example, the flourishing anarchist literary and cultural movement split in the same way into communist and syndicalist wings which were henceforth at daggers drawn.39

It might have been thought that the split between the anarchist communists and anarchist syndicalists would have had a negative effect on the growth of the anarchist movement in its entirety, but this was not the case. It is true that Zenkoku Jiren lost several unions outright and the syndicalist-inclined branches of other unions too in the split of 1928. In addition, its backbone, in the form of the 5,000 strong Tôkyô Printworkers' Union, divided in April 1929 into hostile anarchist communist and anarchist syndicalist organisations. Yet, by 1931, the by now exclusively anarchist communist Zenkoku Jiren had a total membership of 16,300, which made it virtually twice as big as it had been at the time of its formation in 1926. As for the anarchist syndicalist unions which withdrew from Zenkoku Jiren, most of them eventually federated under the name of the Libertarian Federal Council of Labour Unions of Japan (Nihon Rôdô Kumiai Jiyû Rengô Kyôgikai), generally known by the abbreviation Jikyô. Although considerably smaller than Zenkoku Jiren, by 1931 Jikyô too had grown to the point where it had a membership of almost 3,000.40

It is important to differentiate between anti-syndicalism and anti-unionism when seeking to understand the theory and practice of the anarchist communists. The basis of their opposition to syndicalism has already been explained by summarising the theories of Hatta Shûzô and Iwasa Sakutarô. However, anti-syndicalism should not be taken as implying hostility to union activity. Zenkoku Jiren remained a federation of labour unions even after the anarchist syndicalists had withdrawn from its ranks. As we have seen, over the next few years it continued to attract significant numbers of workers into its ranks. Furthermore, its constituent unions were ever ready to confront the bosses over wages and working conditions, and were involved in some notable disputes, such as the struggle by 1,300 workers against redundancies and wage cuts at the Shibaura Works of the Mitsui Company and the American General Electric Company in 1930.

What distinguished the anarchist communist attitude towards the union movement were basically two factors. First, they constantly emphasised the wider struggle for a new society which lay above and beyond the immediate issues such as wages and working conditions. Second, even though Zenkoku Jiren's unions were comprised of industrial workers, they focused attention on the tenant farmers as the crucial social force which could bring about the commune-based, alternative society to capitalism. It was the importance they attached to these two factors which induced them to channel considerable time and energy into theoretical work aimed at clarifying the nature of the new society and the social forces which could bring it into existence.

By way of contrast, the Japanese anarchist syndicalists were less accomplished in the realm of theory. It is probably fair to say that there was no-one in Japan who made a major, original contribution to anarchist syndicalist theory. In this regard, it is significant that the most prominent theoretician on the anarchist syndicalist side is generally considered to be Ishikawa Sanshirô. Yet, although the fact that Ishikawa refused to dismiss anarchist syndicalism out of hand made him something of a counterweight to anarchist communists such as Hatta and Iwasa, he was primarily oriented towards agrarian anarchism (and, incidentally, towards Christian anarchism too). Hence one can say that, in the Japanese context, the most significant contributions made by anarchist syndicalism were not in the realm of theory but on the field of action. For example, in a dispute at the Nihon Senjû Company in April 1931, the Jikyô-affiliated union not only occupied the factory but used innovative methods of struggle, such as the hunger strike and the extensive involvement of women in the surrounding community. One Jikyô militant, Chiba Hiroshi, successfully dramatised the struggle in order to win public support by climbing the factory chimney and remaining perched there 40 metres above ground over the next fourteen days. Although the Nihon Senjû dispute ended in compromise, this in itself was an achievement under the conditions prevailing at the time, when all the cards were stacked against the workers.


The turning point for the prewar anarchist movement came in 1931, when the so-called Manchurian Incident occurred. Under the influence of the world economic depression, which took effect from 1929, all the imperialist powers started to erect higher tariff barriers within the territories they controlled so as to use their colonial possessions as a cushion against economic crisis. Yet, compared to major imperialist powers, such as the USA, Britain or France, Japan's colonial territories were insufficient to provide it with adequate markets or sufficient supplies of cheap raw materials. The Manchurian Incident was the beginning of the process whereby the Japanese capitalist state attempted to extend its control over ever larger slices of Chinese territory in order to make up for these deficiencies. If the process described here began in Manchuria in l931, it was to culminate in the attack on Pearl Harbour in 1941 and full-scale war with the USA, for as Zenkoku Jiren's journal summarised the situation in November 1931:

The true cause of the mobilisation to China is none other than the ambition of the Japanese capitalist class and military to conquer Manchuria. Japan has its own Monroe doctrine. Japanese capitalism cannot develop, or even survive, without Manchuria. That is why its government has made up its mind to risk anything so as not to lose its many privileges in China...American capital has flowed into China in larger and larger amounts. This represents an enormous menace to the Japanese capitalist class. In other words, now Japan is forced to oppose American capital in China.


As the Japanese state moved towards a life-and-death struggle with its international rivals, so it became increasingly determined to crush any dissension on the home front and the anarchists were high on the list of those to be eliminated. Kokuren was driven out of existence in 1931 and, from their peak memberships in that year, both Zenkoku Jiren and Jikyô saw their numbers start to fall as the screws of repression were relentlessly tightened. By 1933, Zenkoku Jiren had shrunk to 4,400 members and Jikyô to 1,100. With their backs to the wall, three strategies for attempted survival emerged within the ranks of the anarchists. One was for Zenkoku Jiren and Jikyô to sink their differences, reunite as a union federation encompassing both anarchist communists and anarchist syndicalists, and engage in united front-style resistance to fascism. Reunification came in January 1934, when Jikyô disbanded and the majority of its members and constituent unions re-entered Zenkoku Jiren. Despite this closing of the ranks, however, it did not halt the atrophy of the anarchist union movement. Whether organisationally separate or united, unions were simply no match for the power at the disposal of the state once it had decided to drive them out of existence. By 1935 the membership of even the reunified Zenkoku Jiren was down to a mere 2,300.42

A second strategy for meeting the state's repression was that employed by the Farming Villages Youth Association (Nôson Seinen Sha), which was generally called Nôseisha for short. Formed in February 1931, Nôseisha was a network of anarchist communists which pushed decentralisation to its furthest limits. Nôseisha favoured extreme decentralisation in its organisation, not only because this prefigured the type of anarchism it wished to achieve, but also because it believed that this would reduce the vulnerability of anarchists to state repression. The expectation was that, without any recognisable centre to strike at, the state would not know where to direct its blows. Nôseisha criticised those anarchists (Bakunin was a case they cited) who thought it sufficient to replace the top-down system of control found in authoritarian organisations with a supposedly libertarian, bottom-up system. What was needed, argued Nôseisha, was not to have the base in control of the apex, nor the periphery in control of the centre, but an organisational form which dispensed altogether with apices or centres.

Another distinctive feature of Nôseisha was that it advocated a form of "practical anarchism" that could be implemented immediately and which would be based entirely in the villages. In the seminal text Appeal to the Farmers, which was written by Miyazaki Akira, the farmers in their villages were urged to delink from the cities, refuse to pay taxes or recognise the state in any other way, and switch immediately to a communist system of production and consumption. Nôseisha recognised that, at least initially, the result would be a communism based on shared poverty, but their conviction was that, even in the early stages of social reconstruction, the advantages of communal solidarity would more than offset economic hardship.

Even this brief account of Nôseisha's ideas conveys the point that, in its theory as well as organisationally, it was an outgrowth from the main current of anarchist communism. Nôseisha's members took some of the elements which were already present in anarchist communist theory and practice and developed them further into a distinctive approach to anarchist organisation and activity. Perhaps it was predictable that, given their emphasis on extreme decentralisation, they would gradually come to question the need for their own organised existence.

In taking the decision to dissolve, they were undoubtedly influenced by the fact that most of their members in Tôkyô were arrested early in 1932, following a campaign of robbery to raise funds. Hence, it was partly as an act of self-preservation that Nôseisha was disbanded in September 1932. This does not mean that its members ceased to be anarchist communists or that they lapsed into inactivity. Rather, it was just that from then on they immersed themselves in local work, often in the poverty-stricken villages of the mountainous districts, and maintained only informal contacts. As we shall see, however, this strategy of dispersion did not save Nôseisha's ex-members when the state's crackdown eventually came.43

The third strategy aimed at preserving the anarchist movement in the face of a state which was determined to crush it was that put into practice by the Anarchist Communist Party (Museifu Kyôsantô). In many ways, this strategy was precisely the opposite of that favoured by Nôseisha. As its name suggests, the Anarchist Communist Party was established in January 1934 by a small group of militants who remained committed to bringing about the kind of stateless and free communist society with which the term anarchist communism had always been identified. Yet, if the ends to which the struggle was directed remained unchanged, the means to be employed were a different matter altogether. As far as the means were concerned, those who set up the Anarchist Communist Party were determined to use Bolshevik organisational methods for anarchist purposes! The Party was founded as a highly secretive group, whose existence was not openly proclaimed and whose membership was restricted to a hand-picked elite. One of the Anarchist Communist Party's frequently employed tactics was to manoeuvre its members into key positions in larger organisations, which could then be manipulated from within. For example, by applying these tactics, the Party largely took over the Libertarian Federation Newspaper, which had served as Zenkoku Jiren's journal ever since it was launched in September 1928. Indeed, Anarchist Communist Party members like Aizawa Hisao, who was one of the Libertarian Federation Newspaper's editors, played an important behind-the-scenes role in bringing about the reunification of Zenkoku Jiren and Jikyô, since this coincided with the Party's promotion of a united front.

For anarchists, there will be few surprises about to where this flirting with Bolshevik methods led. The atmosphere within the Anarchist Communist Party soon became infused with the paranoia habitually found in vanguard organisations. Fears of betrayal and sell-out became the order of the day and culminated in one Party member, called Futami Toshio, shooting another, known as Shibahara Junzô, because of suspicions that the latter was a police spy. Following Shibahara's murder in October 1935, there was a bungled armed robbery the next month, in which Futami, Aizawa and another Party member attempted to seize money from a bank. Both the murder and the attempted bank robbery set the police on the trail of the Party's activists and, once Aizawa was arrested and tortured, details of the Anarchist Communist Party's organisation were revealed.44

Here, once again, was a godsend for a state which was seeking to throttle the anarchist movement entirely. The police cast their net as wide as it would stretch and some 400 anarchists were taken into custody in the closing months of 1935. As the level of repression escalated, Zenkoku Jiren was forced out of existence early in 1936 and that anarchist stronghold, the Tôkyô Printworkers' Union, was crippled when approaching one hundred of its members were arrested. Nor did the decimation of the anarchists' ranks stop there. As more and more of those arrested were interrogated, the police pieced together an increasingly accurate picture of the long since disbanded Nôseisha network. Despite the fact that Nôseisha had ceased coordinated activity more than three years before in September 1932, another wave of arrests, targeted at its ex-members and beyond, was unleashed in May 1936. This time a further 300 anarchists were apprehended.

As in the case of Kôtoku and his comrades a generation earlier, only a small proportion of those arrested were eventually brought to trial. On this occasion, it was only Shibahara's murderer, Futami Toshio, who was sentenced to death and, as it turned out, even his sentence was commuted to twenty years' imprisonment. Other prominent members of the Anarchist Communist Party and Nôseisha received shorter sentences than Futami. For example, Aizawa Hisao, the principal organiser of the Anarchist Communist Party, was sentenced to six years in prison, while Miyazaki Akira, the author of Appeal to the Farmers, and others judged to be Nôseisha's "leaders" were given terms of up to three years. Although the individual punishments were less Draconian than in Kôtoku's day, the pressure brought to bear on the anarchist movement generally was even worse than during the "winter period". From 1936 onwards, organised activity became literally impossible. This does not mean that anarchists disappeared from Japan after that date. Obviously, they remained a presence within Japanese society throughout the war years, but there was no longer any way in which they could give organised expression to their existence. For each individual anarchist, survival now became the top priority and most had no alternative but to maintain a low profile, keep their thoughts to themselves, and wait...

Full-scale war with China from 1937 merged into war with the USA and its allies after 1941 and ultimately led to the carpet bombing of Tôkyô and other major cities in 1945, not to mention the ultimate horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. More than three million Japanese died during these years of slaughter and it hardly needs mentioning that the bombs and the bullets made no distinction between rabid militarists and those who opposed the war, like the anarchists. Not a few anarchists disappeared without trace, victims of the blitz or of some other disaster brought about by the war. Although the Japanese state was finally forced to surrender in August 1945, its machinery of repression remained intact until the very last. As a result, when the war finally came to an end, the anarchists had to attempt to rebuild their movement from scratch.

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