bayon (bayon) wrote in tahomaheretics,

One person's perspective on the Japanese Left

*posted by sphinx on the libcom forums:*

1960 Miner's strike, mass protests outside the Japanese Diet against the signing of the AMPO accords, followed by failed, national general strike. Barricaded politicians inside the diet openly wonder 'is this revolution?' Failure of the strike dooms most of the initiative

1966 Waseda University students go on 155 day strike to protest tuition increases, conflict spreads to other schools, intensification of student activity

1968 Youth insurrection in Tokyo's Oji in wake of Zengakuren snake marches through the neighborhoods against the Vietnam war, abandoned by the Zengakuren in pursuit of the next political spectacle hundreds of kids arrested/imprisoned.

1969 Protests against free speech ban on the campus of Nihon university (Nichidai) mushrooms into a massive campus-wide movement, mostly unrecuperated by the left (busy elsewhere), climaxes in mass negotiations with the administration where the fascist emperor-loyal school board is forced to sign accords guaranteeing student control over studies, free speech on campus, self-organizes spaces etc.) voided the next day by the Prime Minister of Japan himself. Results in street riots and the taking of the university. Barricades are erected and the students set about the creation of a 'counter-university' on the basis of what they want to study. Lecturers come country-wide and teach, I believe there was even a Black Panther that came and spoke. Despite its communism, gender roles are policed and women find themselves doing all the cooking and cleaning. Holds out eight months against police repression and fascist violence until finally succumbing to a combined assault by fascists and the kidoutai.

1990 As the bubble bursts from the economic boom of the 1980s, riots break out in the Kamagasaki neighborhood against police violence. More details written by an anonymous comrade for the new issue of Datacide (, go here:

On the left:

The logic of 'social cohesion', 'cooperation', 'participation' etc. all originate in Shinto and Buddhist concepts, but took their power in occupation Japan with the help of the Japanese Communist party, who effectively halted all significant strikes and social outbreaks during the occupation and helped defuse the 1960 anti-AMPO movement. By the 60s, the relatively autonomous power of the new Left, emblemized in the student movements and the struggle against the Narita airport at Sanrizuka had grown to the point where the institutional left had been called on their compromises, causing the JCP in turn to employ open violence against what was an emerging communist movement. Yet it is not as simple as saying that 'had the Zengakuren and the Zenkyoto pressed further...' Both of these movements were riven by the plague of 'militance' (some would later become vigilantes), i.e. the fetishization of the gevalt-wielding 'street revolutionary', uniforms (gangified by the sectarian logos on 'militant' helmets) even growing to embrace the antithesis of active critique, the obeying individual in the mass. Watching a film on the New Left a couple weeks ago I saw thousands of men and women in snake marches, five persons to a bar, in rows. They run through the streets, they try to impose their dictatorship. Alongside the columns run other militants with whistles, shrieking at a military pace, a marching rhythm, tweet tweet tweet, tweet tweet tweet.

The student movement, strong because of the relative autonomy of the education process from the career world, quite simply had gone as far as it could go. Its fervor did not spread to all sectors, except for a few sporadic moments it remained isolated from the community of work and the neighborhoods. In the case of the Oji riots the left abandoned a real rupture in favor of spectacle, as I wrote above.

I suppose what was missing was a critique of everyday life. Everything else was ruthlessly polemicized, debated, fought over, murdered over. Dissapointingly, the dictators of everyday life, yakuza, were imagined as having an 'essential role' in Japanese society. Gangster movies were idolized, people talked about the samurai code (though they were also talking about Marcuse, Trotsky and Katayama). This made compromise with people like Yukio Mishima possible, who, while debating with the Zenkyoto said he was sure that what they were doing was 'good for the nation'. The left was occupied by a fascist component as things degenerated and this went largely unopposed, after all if the preliminary logic is standing in front of American military bases shouting 'Yankee go home!' it quite easily fed into feelings of revanchism as well as classic isolationism.

In its own way, the twisted twin disasters of the Japan's Red Armies speak to the final failure of universal emancipation for this period of struggle. The national branch elected to break from the student movement to actuate 'armed insurrection' from the outside, exactly the model of other specialist militias world-wide. After their first training operation was busted by the Kidoutai, they went underground. The story ends in massacre, the leadership conducted an internal purge at the group's hiding place outside of Tokyo, resulting in something like 15 dead out of a group of 20. A standoff ensued with the remaining few members that was televised live all over Japan, allowing the state's triumph against the New Left to be seen by all, but this was as well the 'militant's own paranoid, sickening end.

On the other end of the world, the international fraction of the Red Army was busy teaming up with the terror gangs of the PLO and Hezbollah, and their infamous suicide raid on Lod airport to kill Jews wound up murdering 15 Puerto Rican tourists and only three Jews; the historical shrapnel of this attack allegedly influenced the modern practice of suicide bombing.

I think the experiences of observing these changes in the political landscape alienated profoundly the generation of Japanese who would become the mid-sub-section-managers of the 1980s and onwards. The movement spoke to no one but itself, it had enclosed itself as 'a movement'. This has not been forgotten, the memories are of course put to good use by the state as evidence of the 'chaotic' nature of social movements to which infinitely preferable is 'peace' and 'cooperation'. At the same time in the workplaces, (as written elsewhere):

"Toyota-style management’s overwhelming victory from the 1960s on up meant two things: management/worker cooperation became a fundamental element of the work experience, structurally, previously combative unions like Sohyo lost out against the collaborationist Rengo union federation, whose goal is put forth succinctly as ‘social cooperation’; second, dislocation of traditional arenas of class struggle (the factory) to the East Asian mainland led to a breakdown of traditional methods of struggle, rendering social movement glacier-like. ‘Post-industrial’ capitalism with Toyota at the helm became the ruling reality with these two shifts. A social environment characterized by corporative unions and ‘civil society’ became more and more impossible to stand outside of. The coerced smile made its appearance, like some ghastly red sun rising. A facade of ‘cheerfulness’ becomes mandatory. Capital is wholly of these mediations; it is the social setting which compels people to accept fate. The only exit sign that haunts capital’s biological power is therefore suicide, and about 30,000 Japanese choose that route every year."

Nakasone's words from are unfortunately unassailable, Japan has proven to be 'the invincible steel ship against communism'. There are cracks under the surface but no light shows through, the contradiction prefers not to understand itself as such. I am not optimistic for the future.

Further reading on these subjects [Note: my associates have all of these articles in PDF now]: 'Beyond the New Left' parts 1-3 by Muto Ichiyo and Inoue Reiko

'Class Struggle on the Shopfloor - The Japanese Case 1945-1984 by Muto Ichiyo

both in the now defunct AMPO journal.
I don't believe that the Anarchist Federation is still active, though there are of course informal contacts in many places. Although I would not endorse the praxis of any communist or anarchist group on the islands, there are some groups out there that even if I disagree with aspects of their orientation, do put in motion some impressive actions.


釜パトロル The Kamagasaki patrol in North Osaka, who while not explicitly anarchist or communist, are part of a broader direct-action based perspective that includes people who are pro-revolution:

I would criticize their attachment to the critique of globalism and unemployment, which are both particular instances of a larger phenomenon of dispossession.

イラク市民レジスタンス Iraqi people's resistance - A great organization based in Tokyo that is literally the only presence on the Japanese left that openly criticizes the resistance in Iraq and calls for both a defeat of the occupation and a defeat of Islamism. Consistent and impressive coverage of Arabic publications especially vis a vis the WCP of Iraq. Their parent organization, the movement for democratic socialism (MDS) seems to ask all the right questions but come to many wrong answers.

Although this page is old, its link page shows the caliber of consciousness of those involved. Somehow they regard themselves as anarcho-syndicalists but they've translated works from Echanges e Mouvement, Loren Goldner and other communists. This group appears to be inactive anymore, sadly.

Fem-net is a great resource for feminist activity around Japan, although it is not pro-revolution.

Internationalism. This is a group I don't know much about but they are together with some of the anti-capitalist Action anarchist/anti-globalization folks and I suspect they are different from traditional Leninists:

An individual, Kogawa Tetsuo does great things with micro-radio:

This page is a great destruction of 'Japaneseness' (English available):

I believe there is some resistance to evictions and institutionalization in Tokyo, there is actually an anglophone person working with park squatters in Shibuya IIRC. But Osaka is the only area standing up directly to the wave of institutionalizations so far. From what comrades tell me, the park resistance is quite indigenous. It's problem seems to be that very few people from 'citizen society' will come defend it and less a dependence on people from outside.

I realize that above I did not cover the impressive riots against the Yakuza and the police in Sanya in the 1980s (which incidentally lead to the closing of its hiring hall). I'll look for more detailed information on this and then post later.

Much of my information on Anarchist groups across the islands comes from rebel_jill and not my own experience, so I wouldn't feel comfortable confirming that. It's not without precedent however. Anarchists have historically poor records of joining wars of national liberation (especially in East Asia), and Japan is no exception. The so-called 'pure anarchists' mostly went over to the side of the Emperor as the Japanese invasion of China broke. Although I have a great deal of respect for the Anarchist comrades that I work with here, generally I've seen some very distressing behaviour within the larger milieu, that mirrors the ideology of 'Japaneseness', i.e. 'We do this because we're Japanese' and/or a total bewilderment at 'foreign' participation or critique of these tiny circles. Not that the communists are much better!

I don't have all the details together on Sanya yet, but I have a great story about self-organization in Tokyo. IIRC in 1996 (after a comparatively large Iranian worker immigration to the country), Iranian day workers were regularly recruited out of Ueno park in Tokyo. One day two big fascist black buses showed up to the park to harass the Iranians and make a stand against creeping 'foreignization'. These organizations and their street presence is now institutionalized in Japanese society with basically no-one standing up to them (except for Sanya and a few brave Anarchists in Tokyo). However, the Iranians did not take kindly to being roughed up and having racist slogans hurled at them so they turned on the fascists and drove them out of Ueno park in a mini-riot. At least for a good while there were no more fascists in Ueno park, and all it took was some foreign workers with guts... Edit: Apparently brawls like these happened almost every sunday back in the bubble era!
*Other links:
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