1996: Richard Townes, Jr. 1911: Shusui Kotoku and ten other anarchists

Daily Double: The High Treason Incident

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..

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