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.”
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.
Part of the Daily Double: The High Treason Incident.
On this day..
- 1970: Three in Baghdad - 2016
- 1538: Anna Jansz, Anabaptist - 2015
- 1963: Lazhar Chraiti and nine other Tunisian conspirators - 2014
- 1846: Elizabeth Van Valkenburgh, in her rocking chair - 2013
- 1936: Allen Foster, who fought Joe Louis - 2012
- 1938: Han Fuqu, Koumintang general - 2010
- 1989: Ted Bundy, psycho killer - 2009
- 1992: Ricky Ray Rector, "a date which ought to live in infamy for the Democratic Party" - 2008