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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1924: Daisuke Namba, for the Toranomon Incident

1 comment November 15th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1924, just two days after his sentencing, Japanese student Namba Daisuke was hanged for attempting to assassinate the the future emperor Hirohito.

Namba (or Nanba) was a 24-year-old Communist and son of a Japanese parliamentarian.* Inflamed by reports of Japanese atrocities in Korea and by the execution years earlier of leftist agitator Shusui Kotoku, Namba fired a pistol at the 22-year-old Prince Regent in a Tokyo intersection.**

It was a pretty simple case: no doubt he’d done it, and no sympathy for the assailant. The act shook Japan so deeply that Namba’s prosecutors stuck to the story that the offender must be deranged — even though he clearly was not. Under the circumstances, that wouldn’t cut enough ice to mitigate the sentence anyway.

In the words of the judge who sentenced him:

Daisuke has made a blot upon Japanese history. He believed in violence and had determined to kill the Prince Regent. He committed a great crime in attempting to injure the imperial family, which has never oppressed the poor.

To which Daisuke had a direct reply:

Long live the Communist Party of Japan!

As is often the case, the gesture of violence against the established order provoked a still more repressive crackdown. The Prime Minister resigned for the security lapse, to be replaced a more conservative government that pushed through the radical-hunting measures of the Peace Preservation Law.

And the award goes to …

Simple enough as far as the assassin goes.

Let’s take a sideways turn into a digression from the blog’s macabre daily fare to ponder a strangely pleasant ripple effect of this young man’s shot.

According to Ben-Ami Shillony’s Politics and Culture in Wartime Japan, the incident forced the resignation of a senior police official charged with keeping an eye on subversives.

You’re welcome, Ichiro. (The Major League superstar won the Matsutaro Shoriki Award twice during his Japanese professional career, in 1994 and 1995.)

This gentleman, Matsutaro Shoriki, transitioned into a career as a media mogul, building up one of the country’s most prominent papers. In that capacity, he took to promoting baseball in Japan.

Though this imported sport had an existing — and growing — popularity from the first decades of the century, Shoriki became the father of Japanese baseball by sponsoring American all-star teams to play on Japanese tours and creating the country’s first professional baseball team.

Shoriki even survived an assassination attempt of his own, at the hands of a nationalist who thought bringing Babe Ruth to the Land of the Rising Sun was treasonable.

Today, he’s remembered generously and his name adorns one of Japanese baseball’s major awards. But if not for Daisuke Namba’s shot, he might have served those years moving paper in the tokko, trying to ferret out dangerous elements.

* The father had to resign his seat in the Diet, of course; not only his immediate family but his former schoolmasters and his whole hometown were put under the pall. According to Time, Namba’s relatives were formally released from their debt of shame by Hirohito in 1926, and took the unblemished name Kurokawa.

** Hirohito did not become Emperor until his father’s death in 1926.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Assassins,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Execution,Hanged,History,Infamous,Japan,Notable for their Victims,Notable Participants,Revolutionaries,Treason

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