From the Archives: ‘Communists vs. Syndicalists in the Japanese Anarchist Movement’, Bulletin of Anarchist Research, May 1989

Front cover of BAR, May 1989, number 17.

Front cover of BAR, May 1989, number 17.Movie Get Out (2017)

The second instalment of From the Archives, a weekly re-print of something different or obscure I’ve found in the past weeks research.

This weeks entry is an article by Jon Crump, ‘Communists vs. Syndicalists in the Japanese Anarchist Movement’, published in issue 17 of the Bulletin of Anarchist Research, May 1989.

BAR has since evolved into the journal Anarchist Studies.


Recently I have been doing some work on the Japanese ‘pure anarchists’ of the 1920s and 1930s and in particular their ablest theoretician, Hatta Shuzo (1). This not has two purposes. First, to provide some basic information on Hatta and his comrades, who are largely unknown outside Japan. Second, to ask those with similar research interests to get in touch with me. It may be that I am the inly reader of the BAR who is currently working on Japanese anarchism, but I fancy there must be others whose research touches on the debates which have taken place in other parts of the world between anarchist-communists and anarcho-syndicalists. It would be interesting to compare the forms which these debates have taken, the historical junctures at which they occurred and their varying outcomes in different countries.

‘Pure anarchism’ appeared in Japan during the 1920s as a reaction against the tendency of some syndicalist-inclined anarchists to immerse themselves in trade union activity because they saw unions as offering the best organisational alternative to the party-building efforts of the social democrats and the Bolsheviks. The reason why this ‘pure anarchist’ reaction occurred at this time was that in earlier years trade unions had be suppressed by the state. When certain groups of Japanese wage earners had taken the first tentative steps towards organising trade unions at the end of the 19th century, the Japanese state had reacted by enacting the ‘Police Peace Preservation Law’ in 1900. This legitimated the police’s routine intimidation of workers who sought to improve their wages and working conditions and the situation did not appreciably change until the period towards the end of the First World War. As a result, when modern anarchism first took on an organised existence in Japan from about 1906, it was inevitably a movement that was forced to concentrate it’s efforts on theory and propaganda. As the noose of state repression progressively tightened, the only form of activity that was open to early anarchists in Japan was terrorism. Yet when a few militants took the first preliminary steps in that direction, it precipitated the disaster of the ‘High Treason case’ of 1910. The state proved far more adept at terrorism that were any of the anarchists and it used the rather inept plotting of a handful to round up many more who had no connection with plans to launch an armed struggle. The outcome was that eleven men and one woman were executed in 1911 and other disappeared into prison, sometimes for decades on end. Amongst those executed was Kotoku Shusui, the foremost anarchist theoretician of this earliest period and the man who first introduced Kropotkin’s ideas to Japan.

The ‘Police Peace Preservation Law’ remained on the statute books until 1925, when it was replaced by an updated piece of repressive legislation to coincide with the introduction of universal manhood suffrage. yet although at the end 9f the First World War trade union activity was still technically illegal, wage earners were in face starting to organise in their thousands. It was against this background that syndicalist theory proved a rationale for those anarchists who focused their attention on the labour movement. Although a number of these anarcho-syndicalists subsequently passed into the Bolshevik camp, others remained committed to anarchism and ensured that anarchists had a sizeable influence within the union movement. Just as Kotoku Shusi had been the most prominent anarchist thinker up till his execution in 1911, it was Osugi Sakae who had much the same stature in this second period in the development of Japanese anarchism. Significantly, Osugi was an outspoken champion of syndicalism until he, in his turn, was murdered by the military police in 1923.

Despite the fact that few books and articles have been published in the Western languages on Japanese anarchism,, both Kotoku Shusui and Osugi Sakae have biographies written on them by American academics (2). It is true that neither is dealt with sympathetically by his biographer, but even a hostile account is perhaps better than nothing. By way of contrast, up till now Hatta Shuzo does not seem to have been considered worthy of attention by any Western scholar. This oversight seems strange since Hatta was probably a more fertile thinker that either Kotoku or Osugi. Kotoku and Osugi are among the giants of Japanese anarchism, They both played an important role in introducing anarchist theories and applying them in a Japanese context. Nethertheless, most of the key ideas were derived from others, from Kropotkin in Kotoku’s case (Kotoku habitually referred to Kropotkin as sensei i.e., ‘master’ or ‘teacher’) and from Sorei and others in Osugi’s. Although Hatta located himself within the tradition of Kropotkin’s anarchist-communism, he was not a writer who was content to echo anybody else. Some of Hatta’s writings attained the level of genuine developments of anarchist-communism, taking it well beyond the theoretical frontiers established by Kropotkin. The fact that Hatta was able to break theoretical ground in this fashion was partly due to his audacity and strong character, but also reflected the maturity of the Japanese anarchist movement in the late 1920s relative to those earlier periods when Kotoku and Osugi had been active. By the late 1920s the Japanese anarchist movement attracted the support of thousands of militants and Hatta’s writings expressed the determination of many of these collectively to devise their own methods of overcoming capitalism and the militarist state, rather than relying 9n ready-made formulae lifted from the imported classics of anarchism. What makes this theoretical innovation on the part of the Japanese ‘pure anarchists’ particularly noteworthy is that it coincided with the qualitative decline in the level of anarchist-communist theorising in Europe following Kropotkin’s death in 1921 (3).

Hatta Shuzo was born in 1886 and drank himself to an early death in 1934. Like many Japanese intellectuals of this period as a young man he was attracted by the ‘modern’ and ‘Western’ aura that Christianity had acquired in Japan. with characteristic total commitment to whatever he believed in, Hatta studied theology and became a clergyman. However, after several years working as an evangelist in various parts of Japan, he became increasingly disillusioned with Christianity and was attracted to anarchism instead. Abandoning his church and his Christian wife, he moved to Tokyo in 1924 and spent the last ten years of his life in a whirlwind of activity for anarchism. as his comrades recalled in later years:

(Hatta) was a person fired with passion, You could say he was a model revolutionary, burning for the ideal of anarchism, and always with young people gathered around him (4).

Hatta put forward his anarchist-communist theories in a stream of articles and pamphlets, and also found time to translate suck works of Kropotkin’s as Modern Science and Anarchism, Anarchist Morality and Ethics: Origin and Development and Bakunin’s God and the State. Much of Hatta’s output was concerned with demolishing syndicalist theories and elaborating an alternative communist theory of how a stateless society could be achieved. These were not random concerns that Hatta had settled on by chance, but reflected major developments that occurred within the Japanese anarchist movement in the late 1920’s. In May 1926 the Zenkoku Jiren (All-Japan Liberation Federation of Labour Unions) was formed, comprised of more than 8000 workers organised in 25 separate unions. Zenkoku Jiren soon took a ‘pure anarchist’ coloration and, according to Hagiwara Shintaro’s rather unsympathetic account, ‘gradually became more like an ideological organisation than a labour organisation’ (5). This resulted in its syndicalist minority breaking away and setting up in 1929 their own rival union federation, the Nihon Jikyo (Japanese Libertarian United Conference of Labour Unions). Despite the fact that the syndicalists withdrew from its ranks, Zenkoku Jiren expanded and, at its peak in 1931, had 16,30 members, compared to Nihon Jikyo‘s 3000. For a brief period this organisational split was accompanied by a flowering of anarchist theory, only to be snuffed out as the state marched steadily towards total war with it’s imperialist rivals, crushing all internal opposition in the process. The roundup of many anarchists in 1935/6 led to the disbandment of Zenkoku Jiren, but over the years previous to it’s suppression some of Hatta’s most important writings had appeared in the columns of its journal, the Libertarian Federation Newspaper. Another vehicle for Hatta’s writings was Black Flag, an organ of Kokuren (the Black Youth League). Although its name gives the impression that it was exclusively a youth movement, Kokuren was, to borrow Akiyama Kioshi’s expression, the ‘link organ’ of the various anarchist groups of this period. As Akiuama has also put it, ‘pure anarchism… became the backbone of Kokuren‘s activity’ too (6).

If I were to attempt to summarise the principle strands in Hatta Shuzo’s ‘pure anarchism’, they would be as follows. For Hatta, the root cause of capitalism’s problems was the division of labour which it involves. human beings are compartmentalised into rival companies or different industries, with only the inhuman and authoritarian mechanisms of the market and the state to synchronise their activities imperfectly. As Hatta often wrote, under such circumstances people in one compartment have neither an interest in, nor an understanding of, nor a sense of responsibility for, what goes on elsewhere. If tis is the case for capitalism as a whole, it is equally the case for the working class as one of the constituent elements of capitalism. The structure of the ‘labour movement’ reflects this, with (shall we say) railway workers and coal miners locked into different organisations (unions) just as rigidly as their class enemies are locked into their (companies, nation-states).

This was the reason why one could never proceed from the class struggle to anarchist-communism. Even if the class struggle were fought to an apparently successful conclusion, with workers organisations such as unions or soviets (councils) taking over the administration of society, the division of labour would persist since these organisations were themselves expressions of it. Workers would continue to identify primarily with ‘their’ industry and ‘their’ union or soviet and the only way to solve this problem would be to devise some kind of coordinating machinery to mediate between the different branches of production and the different administrative bodies. However, this would be a solution worse that the problem itself, since such a coordinating machinery would be nothing other than the re-emergent state.

Arguing along these lines, Hatta maintained that class struggle and the revolution are in conflict rather than complementing one another. Classes struggle within capitalism by means of organisations (unions, soviets, parties, states) which are part and parcel of the social division of labour. In order to achieve a revolution against capitalism, a movement is required that transcends the social division of labour rather than being rooted in it. Thus it is not the working class, defined in terms of its insertion into the capitalist production process, which can revolutionise society. Rather, the overthrow of existing society has to be the act of the ‘revolutionary masses’, defined in terms of their ideological hostility to capitalism.

In contrast to unions or soviets taking over existing industries and preserving the social division of labour, albeit in a collectivised form, Hatta Shuzo and his comrades envisages restructuring society as to achieve a decentralised communism. The unit of social organisation was not to be the enterprise engaged in specialised production, even if one black flag fluttered on the roof and a workers committee in the boardroom. Instead, the basic social unit had to be a free commune engaged in generalised production, both industrial and agricultural, and largely self-sufficient. Clearly Hatta took as his model for such a commune the traditional Asian village, remote from the centres of state power and largely self-supporting, even if he expected it to be modified by the diffusion of scientific knowledge and small scale industry. The society resulting from the aggregation of free communes was to be anarchist and communist. State power and authoritarian relationships were to be eliminated and production and distribution were to depend on people working voluntarily and taking freely from the common wealth.

While there was nothing very original about envisaging communist production and distribution as conforming with the norms laid down in the slogan ‘from each according to his/her ability, to each according to his/her self-determined needs’, Hatta did attempt to think through some of the implications of such well worn phrases in a refreshingly independent fashion. For example, he argued that to say that people would freely contribute according to their abilities meant that, in effect, people would engage in whatever production they regarded as essential. In some areas o production, an individuals view of what was essential would very likely coincide with that of all members of the commune, but in other cases this would not be so. Where a single individual regarded a certain product as essential, he or she would take steps to produce it alone. A more likely occurrence would be to have groups of like-minded individuals within a commune cooperating to produce goods or services which they, but not other members of the commune, considered essential. Hatta expected much ‘cultural production’ to fall into this category, resulting from the efforts of spontaneously organised associations of artists, scientists and so on.

To focus briefly on an area of production which it would be reasonable to expect the entire commune to regard as essential, an appropriate example in the case of Japan could well be the rice crop. Since virtually every member of the commune would probably eat rice, everyone would take an interest in its production. ‘Pure anarchists’ like Hatta Shuzo were not implying that every last individual would engage in every single stage of rice production. Growing rice is a complicated process involving a variety of distinct operations (Planting, transplanting, maintaining the irrigation system, harvesting, servicing the machinery, to name a few). Hence, at any one time, there might well be a ‘division of work’ (tewake in Japanese) with different individuals engaged in different operations for which they had a particular liking or aptitude. Hatta distinguished, however, between a division of work, which he regarded as natural and harmless, and a division of labour (bungyo in Japanese), which it was communisms purpose to transcend. People might v=busy themselves with different facets of rice production, but there would be no specialist ‘rice producers’ within the commune, concentrating solely on growing rice to the exclusion of others. Similarly within society as a whole, there would be no specialist rice-producing communes with a monopolistic interest in rice production. Since virtually everyone would regard rice as an essential foodstuff, everyone would quite naturally, in the course of growing up in a communist society, would become familiar with its overall production process and would take constant interest in the current year’s crop. Thus although individuals might insert themselves into that production process at different points and in different fashions, the problems associated with a division of labour – where specialists in one field have neither an interest in, nor an understanding of, nor a sense of responsibility for, other fields – would not arise.

This is not the place to explore further the many interesting features of Japanese ‘pure-anarchism’. I hope enough has been said to demonstrate that Hatta Shuzo made some original contributions to the theory of anarchist-communism, particularly in his criticisms of syndicalism and his discussions of how a community society would be organised. Would anyone whose research interests overlap with any of the above kindly get in touch with me, addressing correspondence as follows:

Jon Crump

1. Japanese names are given in the customary East Asian fashion of family name (Hatta) first and personal name (Shuzo) second. The macrons over Shuzo indicate that the vowels are pronounced long. Hence the Shu in shuzo is roughly as in ‘shoe’; so rhymes with ‘saw’.

2. P.G. Noteheifer, Kotoku Shusi: Portrait of a Japanese Radical (Cambridge U.P., 1971); Thomas A. Stanley, Osugi Sakne: Anarchist in Taisho Japan (Harvard U.P., 1982).

3. See Alain Pengam’s chapter on ‘Anarcho-communism’ in Maximilien Rubel and John crump, Non-market Socialism in the 19th and 20th Centuries (Macmillan, 1987) pp.60-79

4. Musifushugi Undoi, November 1963.

5. Hagiwara Shintaro, Nihon Anakizumu Rodo Undo Shi (Tokyo, 1969) P. 138.

6. Kondo Kenji, Watashi no Mita Nihon Anakizumu Undu Shi (Tokyo, 1969) P. 91.

On an aside, I have decided to rename this feature to “From the Archives”, as “Something from the Archives” was a bit cumbersome.

Issue 8 to issue 22 of BAR can be found in an unmarked box in MAC‘s library. Sorry I can’t be more precise.

I am particularly keen to get hold of any materials produced by the Brisbane Self-Management Group.


  1. Francisco SolerSeptember 16, 2013 at 12:46 am

    Compañero Víctor García, researched and published quite a number of articles on Japanese anarchism in Combate Sindicalista published in France, Tierra y Libertad in Mexico and in September of 1975 the magazine Ruta from Venezuela published his essay “Kotoku, Osugi, Yamaga – Tres Anarquistas Japoneses”.

    In February 1976, Editores Mexicanos Unidos, published his book “Museihushugi El anarquismo japonés”. It is my understanding that the Freedom Collective with the assistance of Stuart Christie took on the challenge to translate and publish same.

    Salud y anarquía

    Francisco Soler

  2. “For as soon as the distribution of labour comes into being, each man has a particular, exclusive sphere of activity, which is forced upon him and from which he cannot escape. He is a hunter, a fisherman, a herdsman, or a critical critic, and must remain so if he does not want to lose his means of livelihood; while in communist society, where nobody has one exclusive sphere of activity but each can become accomplished in any branch he wishes, society regulates the general production and thus makes it possible for me to do one thing today and another tomorrow, to hunt in the morning, fish in the afternoon, rear cattle in the evening, criticise after dinner, just as I have a mind, without ever becoming hunter, fisherman, herdsman or critic.” Karl Marx, The German Ideology

    Comrade Hatta was elaborating on Marx’s conception of communism – whether he knew it or not. There’s nothing wrong with that. I regard Marx as a great economist, possibly the greatest ever. It’s Marx as a political activist that Anarchists should criticise, for he was an authoritarian scoundrel.

    Whilst Comrade Hatta had a praiseworthy desire to avoid the problems of entrenching the capitalist division of labour in society after the Revolution, I think he was wrong to make a drastic opposition between workplace and community organisation. There is no substitute for workplace organisation in fighting capital, since it is in the workplace that capital obtains the power to compel people to waste their lives doing things they would rather not do and it is only by organising in the workplace that we can take that power off capital.

    What is necessary, and this is where Comrade Hatta’s insight comes in, is to complement workplace organisation with community organisation. Once the working class has abolished capitalism, we will be in a position to move towards the gradual fusion of workplace organisation with the local communes. The key to this is the abolition of money and wage labour, which will abolish the difference between “work” and “recreation”. While I doubt this will be possible the morning after the Revolution, we should be able to make rapid strides towards it in many areas and accomplish the transition, for the most part, within a few years.


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