Wot? Organization?

Federation issue in Japan - 1 (Part 2 was published in LI3)

Submitted by Spartacus on January 30, 2011

One way or another, few anarchists in Japan these days are able to ignore the current debate over the need for a new national organization. The ball was first put into play two years ago by young Kyoto activists who then, last summer, suddenly issued a program and statement of principles for the new organization they advocated. The clearness with which these two drafts were set out suggested a great deal of preparation, and most people were taken by surprise. Once they recovered, however, the issue of anarchists' attitudes towards organization in no time became the central one within the Japanese movement. While not everyone supported the suggestion, few people were left untouched by the succession of arguments which exploded everywhere.

What was it that made young Japanese anarchists, almost without exception, throw themselves into this discussion despite the suddenness with which it emerged? The answer lies, beyond a doubt, in the current low ebb in anti-establishment activities in Japan, and the need which most people feel for a basic re-evaluation of the anarchist movement's fundamental tenets.

In the immediate aftermath of the voluntary dissolution of the Japan Anarchist Federation (JAF) in 1968, discussion of forming a new national organization was sporadic and uncoordinated. Once the heady days of the late 60s / early 70s passed, however, and the anarchists entered upon a period of circumspection - the "period of winter", as they call it - voices again began to be heard urging the rebuilding of group relations: in particular, the reconstruction of the national federation. The realization that the "summer" had not been fully exploited (see below) made these voices the more strident.

At the centre of the new movement were the 'Japan Anarchists' League Preparatory Committees' in the Tokyo, Nagoya, and Kansai (Kobe-Osaka-Kyoto) districts. Their minimum suggestions were, first, concrete contacts between Tokyo and the provinces; and second, a national information centre.

In this three-part article we'll summarize the proposals of the Preparatory committees and the criticisms that have been made of them, describe the progress of the new movement to date, and finally add some notes of our own. First of all, however, in this first part it'd be useful to look back briefly at conditions before and after 1968, for the arguments surrounding the recent revival of the national federation issue can be said to date back to JAF's self-dissolution in that year. Hence the main theme of the arguments coming from the preparatory committees has been the old JAF and the situation which it left in the wake of its disappearance.

The situation preceding JAF's demise in 1968

1. JAF's Political Failure

The best English-language source on the recent circumstances of the anarchist movement in Japan is Tsuzuki Chushichi's article 'Anarchism in Japan' in Apter & Joll's Anarchism Today (see 'Now Read On...' in this issue). The paper is brief and to the point, especially in its evaluation of the post-war movement. After quickly dealing with pre-war conditions, Professor Tsuzuki then focuses on the anti-war activities launched by students and local citizens' groups all over Japan in the 60s and 70s. In particular, he makes the important point that, while these did not call themselves anarchist movements, they should be recognized as having been highly anarchistic in their aims and methods. In choosing to lay the stress on this area, Tsuzuki accurately reflects the post-war development of the Japanese anarchist movement.

After the war, Japanese Marxists, skillfully riding the waves of 'Potsdam Democracy', succeeded in seizing the lead of the labour and social movements, and quickly turned them to their own purposes. The anarchists, meanwhile, missed the bus, failed utterly to expand their support, and never neared achieving anything which might truthfully have been called a real movement. Despite the vigorousness of the labour and student movements in those early years, very few anarchists took an active part, and it must be confessed that what few activities they did promote were largely ineffectual. The one exception was their work in the pacifist movement - such as the Japanese branch of War Resisters International - yet this bore little relation to the dominant trends of the time.

JAF, for its own part, concentrated on putting out its bulletins, and one would have been hard-put to pinpoint any concrete activities amongst its isolated and scattered groups of members (except however, for a few in the Tokyo, Nagoya and Kansai regions). Meanwhile, social conditions in Japan, and the overall trend of the Left in general, were changing dramatically.

In common with developments in the rest of the world, the violent confrontation policy of the Japan Communist Party's (JCP) immediate post-war days was bankrupted by the events in Hungary in 1956 and the international criticism of Stalinism which followed. The myth of the CP as the pre-ordained vanguard of the revolution crashed. The effect on Party members and on the Japanese Left in general was catastrophic. The first indication of the new state of affairs was the eruption in 1960 of the AMPO (Amerika-Japan Joint Security Treaty) struggle - the first great popular outburst in post-war Japan.

JAF, unlike most other revolutionary organizations, was left far behind by the rapidly accelerating rate of change. For the anarchists, this new criticism of Stalinism was already a fundamental part of their programme. The repression in Hungary should merely have confirmed their arguments: the opportunity was a golden one, but did they exploit it? Far from it - JAF completely underestimated the traumas which the events had sparked off among the Marxists. As a result, when the anti-AMPO struggle broke out, JAF took no part, and members ignored it as they threw themselves into their own local activities.

Criticism of JAF's obvious impotence began almost at once. "JAF is just another group; while it may claim national boundaries, it has absolutely no meaning as a federation. We should concentrate on our own local activities and ignore it." Views of this sort were commonly held - particularly among the Kansai members - and were voiced as early as the autumn of 1953 in a speech entitled 'On Rebuilding the Federation, and the Present State of the Movement', delivered to that year's National Conference by the delegate Yamaguchi:

"We have an elaborate programme for current activities, but have never considered how to put it into practice. We have an ideal set of principles, but they remain unrealized. We have a few members dotted around the country - most are simply names on the register who make no real contribution; others are just sympathizer types, whose allegiance we can never rely on. Then there are a few "old" anarchists who, if you run across them, give you a little money "for the cause" and chat a bit, and finally the young ones who, no sooner than they become members, withdraw again. With only these people to call upon, cooperation between local branches has become comatose. Instead, we have a few scattered efforts, and that's the lot.

"On the positive side then, what do we have? Well, we have an irregular bulletin, Anakizumu;and then we have sporadic, unplanned meetings which nobody pays much attention to..."

While JAF thus amounted to little more than a political contemplation circle, there were in fact some who wanted to make it into something more, such as the same delegateYamaguchi:

"Since the federation is no more than a circle, why don't we just face facts and reorganize it accordingly? I don't mean that we should destroy the federation - it is what it is, so we simply acknowledge the truth by changing both the form of the organization and our own attitudes accordingly. We have three tasks: number one, to face the facts; number two, on the basis of these facts, to make a clear-cut decision as to what direction we want to go in; and number three, after considering concrete measures to take us in that direction, to agree amongst ourselves to concentrate the strength of all members of the federation to implement those measures." [quoted in Mukai Ko" Yamaga Taiji,p 1771]

Consequently, in 1962, just as people were beginning to assess the meaning of the now-finished anti-AMPO struggle, JAF at last amended its principles to state specifically: "JAF is not a movement organization", but a "study group on theory and ideology". Few practical changes followed, however, as this merely made the name fit the facts.

On the other hand, unforeseen consequences were to follow. What - the principles it laid down for itself, just the name 'Japan Anarchist Federation' gave the impression of are volutionary organization engaged in practical and useful activities. Hence many young people drawn to it for this reason were quickly disillusioned. Behind the decision to turn the federation into a pure study group had been the desire to prevent disillusionment with the federation by reducing the gap between theory and practice. By retaining the name 'Anarchist Federation', however, the effect was to destroy people's faith in anarchism itself, as well as in JAF.

2. The 'New Left' in Japan

The 1960-1970 period witnessed a new flowering within the anti-establishment movement of the Japanese Left. Most significant was the growth in the late 60s of the 'non-sect radicals' - anti-Stalinist militants opposed to the hegemony of the JCP. This was the principal factor distinguishing the first anti-AMPO struggle, peaking in 1960 - which was led for the most part by the established (ie, JCP-dominated) Left - from the second, aimed at preventing the renewal of the Treaty in 1970. In fact, this second phase was no more than one aspect of a broad popular movement emerging simultaneously on several fronts.

The movement at that time comprised a union of students, particularly the non-JCP radicals, under the banner of the 'Students' Joint Struggle Committee' (Zenkyõtõ), and the group representative of the anti-war sentiments strong among the Japanese people, the 'Citizens' Committee for Peace in Vietnam' (Beheiren). The students' tactic, that of making each university a separate "storm centre" of the revolutionary struggle, had a great effect, one which continues to this day even though the movement itself has entered a quiet phase.


In the mid- to late 60s, Beheiren groups were born all over the country, and immediately began to initiate local struggles to eradicate local grievances through their own efforts. While they recognized, people like Oda Makoto, the first to advocate a citizens' movement, as their theoretical and practical leaders, this anti-war, anti-JCP popular movement was certainly not one to allow itself to be led by the nose. It was a genuine social movement capable of drawing in all people living in Japan, free of domination by either the labour movement or the students.

'Citizens' group' was simply a generic term to apply to a whole multitude of spontaneous popular activities. When activists decided to come together to give their spontaneity some kind of "movement form", therefore, the idea of an 'organization' was strongly resisted. "Beheiren is born when we ourselves declare it so!"; "Not an organization, but a movement!" Consequently, Beheiren existed so long as there was an active movement involving its members in their own local struggles. Since that movement has itself disappeared because of the new conditions in Indochina, Beheiren too has been dissolved.

Beheiren was like a breath of fresh air to the Japanese Left, its style something completely new in the history of popular movements in Japan. In its dependence upon horizontal relationships, based on a nationwide mutual consciousness of solidarity in the same struggle, it was a manifest criticism of the centralized organizations hitherto dominant on the left. In the Beheiren movement, we caught a glimpse of the kind of solidarity which only a free federation could achieve.

The characteristics of the Beheiren movement may be listed as follows:

  • Rejecting the 'leaders and led' syndrome, it stressed the spontaneity of individual groups;
  • Once the movement's aims had been clearly set out, any political tendency was acceptable on condition that it contributed to these aims, and did not seek to coerce others' acceptance of its own premises. Consequently, Beheiren activists included Marxists, anarchists, social democrats, liberals, and all the shades in between.
  • A positive appeal was made to people who belonged to no organization, and who had hitherto been denied a chance to take part in any activity.
  • The concept of 'organization' was rejected in favour of that of 'movement'. As noted before, this amounted to a rejection of the centralized power structure common to most Left groupings in the past.


    Japan was no exception to the ferment which hit the world's universities following the 1968 May Days in Paris, and the non-sect radicals played a major role. Although the alliance later degenerated into a struggle for hegemony over the student movement, in the beginning these groups placed a premium upon spontaneous activity. The organization which they created, Zenkyõtõ, constituted a major revolt against the establishment, and it is significant that the most violent attacks on the new style, physical as well as political, were launched by the JCP-oriented section of the students (known as Minsei).This period of student rebellion is usually referred to as the "ZenkyõtõMovement".

    Zenkyõtõ, with branches in every university, rebelled specifically and violently against the university authorities. From here, the struggle exploded naturally and simultaneously against the authority of the Japanese system itself. The solidarity created by the realization of a common aim was the strongest characteristic of the Zenkyõtõ Movement. In the most popular slogan of the time "Strength in Solidarity, Without Fear of Isolation" - can be seen the all-important combination: self-reliance and determination, and the knowledge of complete solidarity within the movement. In short, the characteristics which we already noted as typical of Beheiren, were equally representative of Zenkyõtõ.1

    In terms of political results, these two movements, Beheiren and Zenkyõtõ, achieved little. However, what they did achieve was something far greater - through their concrete activities and agitation, they played an immeasurable educative role which affected not only those taking part, but also the consciousness of vast numbers of people throughout Japan. This effect can now be seen in the multitude of anti-pollution, anti-inflation, anti-war and other groups existing all over the country. Practically every issue, however minor, is capable of giving rise to a new citizens' group.

    The conditions of the time were a thorough exoneration of anarchist theory. In fact, one could say that, for a time, to use a time-worn phrase, "anarchy prevailed". There was a general tendency to look beyond Marx to explain the theoretical meaning of this multi-centred, spontaneous movement. So fertile was the soil at this time! The only problem for the anarchists was that, while this great upsurge was taking place, JAF wasnowhere to be seen.

    3. JAF's Death Agony

    In the late 60s, 'Anarchism Study Groups' had sprung up in practically every university of Japan. Members took an active part in the Zenkyõtõ Movement, gaining a reputation as the 'Black Helmet Brigade' (although, since they generally abstained from the kind of street-fighting designed to enhance one's own group's position as ideological standard-bearer of the Left, they did not receive the international acclaim that many ofthe quasi-Trotskyist factions did).

    JAF was way out of line with all this activity. Most members of the federation simply forgot it as they got on with their own thing. JAF therefore found itself stranded - both by the movement itself and by the rapidly-changing social situation. Subsequently observing the difficulty of raising any enthusiasm in its ideology study groups, and seeing its mutual contacts with local groups falling off, JAF, via a succession of self-critical reviews (an anachronistic occupation at the time, for a start!), gradually began to get the message.

    At the same time, however, the attitude towards it of anarchist activists also began to harden. From "the movement can get along fine without a national federation", the general feeling turned to "this national federation is a positive hindrance to the movement!" The final breakdown came as a result of the crack which yawned within the federation itself over the Haihansha (Society of Rebels) Incident. This was a raid on a Nagoya factory carried out in the name of the anti-war movement by a small anarchist group affiliated to JAF. From this incident may be dated JAF's last days. In 1968, at long last, it resolved upon voluntary dissolution. The last issue of its bulletin, Free Federation (Jiyü Rengo), which appeared in January 1969, announced the move as "progressive dissolution", and even as "deployment in the face of the enemy". Be that as it may, JAF, in 1968, finally acknowledged what had been the truth since the early 60's, and voluntarily put an end to itself. Ironically enough, this ignominious end came at the peak of a new upsurge in the anarchist movement, and amongst increasing activity by the "new" anarchists. As for the reasons for JAF's demise, only now, midway through the 70's, is the work of evaluation beginning.


    • 1NOTE: "Zenkyõtõ" should not be confused with "Zengakuren," the National Union of Japanese Students, which was a child of the 60s and played no role in this new struggle. Although it continued in name, after the first anti-AMPO struggle ended in defeat, its organization was fragmented and fell apart. Moreover, while Zengakuren was a single organization, Zenkyõtõ should rightly be regarded as a movement.