Archive for January 24th, 2011

1911: Shusui Kotoku and ten other anarchists

4 comments January 24th, 2011 Headsman

A century ago today, eleven Japanese anarchists were hanged for plotting the assassination of the Emperor.

Radical journalist Shusui Kotoku challenged Meiji Japan from the insurrectionary anarchist left.

A socialist early on — he helped translate The Communist Manifesto into Japanese — Kotoku turned towards anarchism when he read Kropotkin while serving time for opposing the Russo-Japanese War. He “had gone [to jail] as a Marxian Socialist,” he said, “and returned as a radical Anarchist.”

After his release, and a trip to America which had just birthed the anarcho-syndicalist Industrial Workers of the World, Kotoku returned to Japan as his nation’s patriarch of anarchism.*

All of this, naturally, drew a Sarah Palin-sized targetsurveyors’ symbol on Kotoku’s back.

So, when police uncovered an apparent plot by other radicals to off Emperor Meiji, and opportunistically used it to sweep up as fellow-travelers a nationwide “conspiracy” of twenty-plus alleged plotters, Kotoku was naturally one of the bad apples they were pleased to indict.**

The twelve ultimately doomed to death were slated to receive their judicially appointed sanctions on this occasion, just six days after conviction. (The rest of the anarchist movement was harshly suppressed in the years ahead.)

Among the most noteworthy of these Japanese Saccos and Vanzettis:

The first eleven (all men) took so long that the twelfth doomed soul, Suga Kanno — Kotoku’s lover and a genuine bomb-plot participant, who enjoys the distinction of being the only woman her country ever hanged for treason — had her execution put off to the 25th for want of daylight.

Though he’s never been officially [judicially] exonerated, Kotoku’s native Nakamura voted in 2000 to declare his rehabilitation. A secret letter that surfaced only in 2010 appears to support that position.

* Shusui Kotoku in turn greatly influenced Chinese anarchism.

Some of Kotoku’s writing is available online in Japanese here.

** George Elison translated a Kotoku Shusui letter denying any interest in the anarchist assassination racket. It appears as “Discussion of Violent Revolution, From a Jail Cell,” in the Vol. 22, No. 3/4 (1967) Monumenta Nipponica.

How is the anarchist revolution to be brought about if not by bomb-throwing attempts upon the life of the sovereign? The Japanese word for “revolution” — kakumei — is Chinese in origin. In China, the term was used to describe the process in which the emperor of dynasty A, receiving the Mandate of Heaven, replaced the emperor of dynasty B; so it signified mainly the change of emperors, the change of sovereigns. Our “revolution” has quite a different meaning. We do not place much value upon the mere transfer of power between potentates; we do not use the word “revolution” except to mean a fundamental change in the governmental system and in the organization of society.

… they who for the sake of universal peace and liberty participate in this revolution must endeavor as best they can to avoid violence, to avoid producing victims to the revolution. For it seems that the great revolutions of the past were accompanied by much violence and required a great number of victims … I only hope for the disappearance of the misconception that the anarchist revolution has as its objective the assassination of the sovereign …

the prosecution and the examiners first put the title “Violent Revolution” to what I had said and contrived the stern-sounding phrase “death-defying band,” with other similar phrases. And I believe they condemned us under this syllogism: “The anarchist revolution is concerned with the destruction of the Imperial Family. But Kotoku’s plan was to carry out a revolution by violence. Therefore, all who were party to this plot planned to commit the crime of High Treason.” So the fact that these people used to discuss such things as direct action and the revolutionary movement has now served to get them into trouble! This I deeply regret.

On the other hand, Kotoku openly celebrated the assassination of Ito Hirobumi by a Korean nationalist.

Part of the Daily Double: The High Treason Incident.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Intellectuals,Japan,Martyrs,Power,Revolutionaries,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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Daily Double: The High Treason Incident

Add comment January 24th, 2011 Headsman

It’s a century since Japan extirpated its anarchist menace.

“Anarchists in Japan!” begins our (enthusiastic) source. “For many the very idea is surprising.”

Japan’s popular image is of a hierarchical and regimented society, while the Japanese are widely regarded as unswervingly loyal servants of the company and the state. Even within Japan there are many Japanese who are unaware of the anarchist movement’s existence, of the martyrs who have died for the cause, and of the sustained struggle that has been fought against the capitalist state and the inhumanity it has perpetrated over the years.

Now, sure, Japan’s modernizing Meiji government was challenged by the feudal rearguard.

But even “hierarchical,” “regimented,” “unswervingly loyal” Japan displayed the characteristically lethal conflicts of the early 20th century: Communist assassins, wartime moles, nationalist putsches.

In 1910, a bust of anarchists caught scheming an imperial assassination led to a guilt-by-association roundup known as the High Treason Incident, an in camera trial of 26 anarchists hysterically “connecting” people to friends to comrades to alleged inspirations like Glenn Beck’s blackboard. One of the accused (according to Shusui Kotoku) had been badgered into “admitting” having once talked admiringly about the Paris Commune.


Newspaper sketch of the High Treason Incident defendants. (From here.) Shusui Kotoku is on the left; Suga Kanno is in the center.

Where radicalism itself is treasonable, small surprise that a trial of 26 radicals resulted in 24 death sentences. The offended sovereign majesty generously commuted half of them.

Over January 24 and 25 in 1911, the less fortunate dozen faced death, just days after their convictions.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Daily Doubles


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