What kind of organization?

Federation issue in Japan - 2 (Part 1 was published in LI2)

Submitted by Spartacus on February 2, 2011

The Japan Anarchist Federation (JAF) dissolved itself in 1968. In the words of its dissolution manifesto, the move was a "deployment in the face of the enemy." Social conditions were heading for a new high point, and all sorts of new social movements were being born. JAF's decision to deploy was thus based on the expectation of a re-birth (of the anarchist movement, that is) in the midst of this refreshing atmosphere. What it amounted to was, in fact, JAF's admission of failure to relate to people as it was currently constituted.

Of these new social movements, two are most worthy of notice. One was the student rebellion (Zenkyõtõ), a link in the world-wide chain of student outbursts of the late 60s. The other was Beheiren (see part 1), a movement which denounced the rape of., Vietnam by U.S. imperialism and the Japanese government's complicity therein. Although with the subsequent lapse of the overall social movement into a "quiet" phase, the former fell into the hands of the so-called "New Left" Marxist-Leninist sects, both Beheiren and Zenkyõtõ were once distinguishable by their reliance on individual spontaneity.

Neither of the two were movements of anarchists, nor did either of them profess anarchist beliefs. Truth to say, very few people involved made the connec- tion between their activities and "anarchist" ones. In any case, the nature of the two movements made such distinctions irrelevant. When a movement is prospering, and in practical terms moving towards the realization of anarchy, not only do such arguments and false distinctions not arise, there is no time even for debating them.

Overall, conditions at the time were very close to the theoretical projections of anarchism. That is, the movement seemed to be heading towards a state of anarchy, to judge from the attitudes and actions of its participants. Even the mass media were forced to confess that the revolutionary doctrine of anarchy, so long hidden under the shadow of Marxism, had been rediscovered. For the first time, reflected in the mass media as well as in general publishing activities, anarchism began to receive the serious attention it deserved. For example, it was at this time that Daniel Guerin's Anarchism was published and attracted a wide readership, to be followed by a spate of publications concerning anarchism. The appearance of Guerin's book marked the first time since the war that the ideas of anarchism had been made available in a genuine, complete, compact and, moreover, cheap form. For many young Japanese, I think, this book worked as an introductory course to anarchy.

With the popular movement at its height, interest in anarchism was widespread, and many "new" anarchists were appearing. The problem was, to what extent were the anarchists themselves able to grasp the significance of the fact that many people were becoming acquainted with anarchism through a movement which was developing, by and large, independent of the anarchists? Frankly speaking, not well enough, though some people admittedly worked hard to realize their proposals for restructuring anarchist theory to suit the changing social conditions and to anticipate future developments.

Even after JAF's dissolution, local anarchists continued to form their own groups and engage in local activities as before. For some, indeed, it could even be said that the end of JAF offered a fresh opportunity for action. Apart from the anarchism study circles up and down the country, other groups which immediately spring to mind are the Mugi Sha (Barley Society - so named because the character used to transliterate the "ba" of "Bakunin" into Japanese means literally "barley") and the Libertaire group in Tokyo; the Rebel Association (Futei Sha), Osaka Anarchism Study Society and Kyoto Anarchism Study Society, both in Kansai; and the Liberty and the Pale Horse Society groups in northern Japan. There must surely have been many more than that which we don't know about. Most of them seem to have been small. The biggest was the Libertaire group in Tokyo, still active today, holding regular meetings and putting out a small magazine, Libertaire (in Japanese). However, one more group which formed at this time demands attention. This comprised the people who formed around the monthly Osaka publication Jiyü Rengõ (Free Federation).

The Osaka Jiyü Rengõ published its first "preparatory issue" on March 10, 1969, and ceased publication 3 1/2 years later on October 15, 1972. Circulation grew from 1000 at the outset, through 1800. a year later, to 2500 when publication ceased. The regular readership also grew, from 800 after the first year to 1800 at the end. While many of the readers lived either in Tokyo or in the Kyoto-Osaka-Kobe areas, distribution was nationwide. In social terms, while a large proportion of the readership naturally comprised young people and students, in fact there was a very broad mix. Space does not allow a detailed examination of the part played by the Osaka Jiyü Rengõ. What follows are just the impressions left by its most outstanding features.

In the first place, it should be pointed out that the Osaka Jiyü Rengõ took its name from that of an earlier JAF broadsheet of the same name. However, as the Osaka Jiren (we use this abbreviation to distinguish it from the JAF paper, which was usually known as Jiren) stated time and time again, while it retained the name of the JAF paper, it was not the organ of any one group. Instead, it insisted, by paying for the paper through taking out subscriptions the readership was expressing and concretely proving its "sincere desire to create a free federation within the movement." Thus was a new kind of managerial form created. The idea which its title suggested, of an anarchist organ, was wrong.

"Through this paper we are aiming at a broad, anti-establishment, free-federated movement, including but not restricted to anarchists. This is because we believe that, above all else, the complete equality of every movement, joined together in a federation allowing complete freedom of action, is essential if the present anti-establishment struggle is to wage a successful fight.

"Jiren must at all times correspond to actual conditions. The idea of a 'free federation' with no relationship to current conditions is simply nonsense. This is why the backbone of Jiren is on-the-spot, subjective reports from actual participants in concrete struggles." (No. 13, 20/3/70)

In other words, what the Osaka Jiren was aiming at was to encourage awarenesss that the kind of organizational forms then being created within the Beheiren and Zenkyõtõ movements amounted to free federation forms. For this purpose, it would provide an open forum and a meeting place for people actually involved in these struggles. While anticipating that it would be confused with the old JAF Jiyu Rengo, the Osaka Jiren insisted that the name was simply the most appropriate to express the position of the Osaka group. So the question which cropped up over and over again during the 3 1/2 years of the paper's life was: What is a free federation?

As the above quote made clear, Osaka Jiren did not want to be labelled an anarchist paper produced by anarchists, and deliberately assumed a ppsture which rejected such a position. For outsiders this must have seemed a highly curious situation. The paper was rich in information about anarchism and news of anarchist groups - in fact it was the only national outlet for such material. For people trying to find out more about anarchism (as we said, great numbers of young people were then turning on to anarchism), and for the anarchists themselves, there was simply no other source covering the whole country. Hence the impression of an "anarchist monthly" which Osaka Jiren gave was quite inevitable.

Nevertheless, the paper rejected the strict anarchist standpoint, on the grounds that it sought to create a much broader-based, federated social movement. For the establishment of the "open forum" envisaged by Osaka Jiren, its members felt that to accept the label of "anarchists" would have been a hindrance.

That they were reasonably successful in this attempt can be seen from the figures for circulation and subscription. Very few other libertarian papers went beyond the groups which published them, and almost all circulated only in a limited area. For people without a strong interest in anarchism, they were extremely boring and suggested a closed shop. Osaka Jiren, on the other hand, was somewhat different. The "liberated" impression which it gave was largely due to its attempts to break away from the anarchist framework. Its subscribers, scattered all over the country, and including senior and middle-school students and many non-anarchists, were the measure of its success.

So what exactly did the Osaka Jiren people mean when they talked about a "free federation?" We will pass on to this in part III.


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