The Labor Movement in Japan by Sen Katayama

The Labor Movement in Japan by Sen Katayama (1918)

Chapter 6
Suppression and Revolt of Socialists in Japan

As in Europe we had conflicts and divisions over the question of socialist tactics in Japan. For some time, we had, practically two socialist groups: - Marxians and direct actionists. I belong to the former, although I never repudiated direct action and general strikes. I voted in favor of the general strike at Amsterdam. But I tried to keep a calm attitude in this matter at that time. I thought it best for the socialist movement in Japan to assume a firm stand on the principles and tactics as decided in the Socialist Congress at Amsterdam. Because our working classes are not so advanced in thought and in practice and even are not yet organized. Amidst brutal oppression of the government, I have been preaching Marxian principles for the past ten years and some of our workers now understand socialism fairly well. But I thought it too radical and hasty for our workers to change our tactics by giving up our political program. It would give a better pretext to the government to suppress our movement.

We have had a fairly good result in our propaganda work in this country. During the autumn and winter of 1906-7 we made several lecturing tours into the cities and towns, sold many socialist books and "the Socialist News", our socialist organ around which we grouped ourselves and worked together for the cause. But I made at this time a serious blunder, being persuaded by co-worker Comrade Nishikawa to take his personal friend, Akaba, into our group. Mr. Akaba proved to be an anarchist. As he was a personal friend of Comrade Nishikawa, the latter always sided with Mr. Akaba. This caused a constant friction and dispute among us on the matter of policy which eventually ended in complete rupture; Comrades Nishikawa and Akaba on the one side and Comrades Tazoye and myself on the other. For a short period there were two "Socialist News" in Tokyo; the one belonged to us and the other to them. But this soon discontinued, and afterwards Comrade Nishikawa went to prison for an old offense. When he came out of prison in 1911, he was no longer a Socialist. To the surprise of many Mr. Nishikawa denounced socialism and repudiated entirely his past work in his book called "Confession".

Soon after the rupture with Nishikawa, we lost our best fighter in Comrade Tazoye, who had studied in America and was the chief champion of the parliamentarian tactics. He fought first with Kotoku on tactics and then with Nishikawa. He was no doubt a victim of these conflicts. His death caused a deep impression on the minds of comrades throughout the country.

In spite of many obstacles and much oppression from the Government we carried on our work. There were then only a few branches, Tanoura, Shizuoka, Mikura Mura and Tokyo. Three of us chiefly engaged in the propaganda work, - Comrades Tateo Suzuki, Fujita and myself. Comrade Fujita's socialist career is very interesting. He started as a newsboy in the streets of Tokyo. Soon he became a leader among the newsboys. There were some five to six hundred. Every newsboy recognized young Fujita as his leader. This gave him an inestimable value and advantage in later years. He is a born mob leader. When he plans a big demonstration or mass meeting he schemes quietly all by himself, but when he acts, his former fellow newsboys and their successors help him to succeed. He could distribute leaflets, say ten thousand, in an hour or two, through several hundred newsboys, before the police could get hold of them and stop it. Demonstrations that were successful in recent years were all planned and executed by this young Fujita. He had little or no education, but habitual reading of editorials of newspapers made him later a fairly good writer. But to become an agitator he had to work hard. First he wrote a speech on Universal Suffrage with great pains and difficulties, after a hard study of several months. With this one speech he went with me everywhere.

In later years he made an extensive tour throughout the country with the same one speech, of course, with largely increased material, so that he could hold his audience from one to two hours. In this way he escaped the government censor. During 1908-1910 Comrade Fujita worked with me. Our chief audiences consisted of workingmen. I spoke mostly on the material finance and on economic subjects, always interpreted in the light of Socialism. We could not mention words such as labor strikes, labor organizations, boycott and socialism or revolution. But we expressed revolutionary socialist thought in a round-about fashion. By such means as these we carried on our propaganda work for about three years. Our group, at first three, increased to five: - Fujita, already mentioned, Sasai, laundry worker; Ikeda, book-peddler; Kobayashi, ex-street-car conductor, and myself. We were in constant touch with the workers, and attempted to organize them, but always frustrated by the authorities. Our work received a great blow at a strike where three of us were arrested, including myself, on the charge of strike-inciting the arrest occurring in January, 1912. But before I tell the story of this strike, we better go back a few years to tell of the activities of our radical comrades.

Direct Actionists

The direct actionists or radical socialists were now grouped around the Osaka Heimin, published in the city of Osaka, and the Kinyo Kai, their organization, a rival to the Doshikai of the Marxian group. The Kinyo Kai (Friday Society because they met regularly on Friday) was organized in the summer of 1907 in Tokyo by Kotoku, Yamakawa, and Sakai. The last-named comrade is to this day a good Marxian socialist. These comrades, either through the columns of the Heimin, or at the meetings of the Kinyo Kai, fought a most splendid fight for their ideals against the brutal oppression of the government. Their meetings constantly were interfered with by the police authorities. At one of the meetings almost all of those present were arrested, only because they did not obey the orders of the police to break up the meeting. The Osaka Heimin carried on war against capitalists in that city and often their issues were suppressed on account of its radical views. Comrade Morichika, the editor of the Heimin, went to prison several times on account of the press law.

The comrades using the pages of the Heimin conducted a "penny boat" strike with success. The city of Osaka has very narrow streets, but wide canals. In fact, it is a city of canals and rivers, so the "penny boats" take the place of street cars. Osaka is the most conservative city in Japan, as consequence Comrade Morichika had indeed a very hard fight to keep up the Heimin. Although he was financially supported by the owners of the Kokkei News (a humorous paper), and editorially by the comrades of Kinyo Kai, he had to give up the Heimin after one year.

He narrates the hard experiences which led to his failure in the Kumamoto Review, published in Kumamoto by radical comrades in that city, and was quite active during the year 1908-9. In spite of substantial aid from friends, he and his wife had been weak and ill, and after a year's fight had to give up the Heimin and stop their activities entirely. He soon retired to his native province and settled there to till a piece of land, which he soon converted into a beautiful vineyard. His home was there when he was arrested and was murdered with Comrade Kotoku in 1911.

The Red Flag Riot

Our radical comrades are accustomed to call this the Red Flag Riot. No doubt it marks the beginning of an epoch of brutal oppression of socialists by the government and the socialists' revolt against the authorities. On the 22nd of June, 1908, a joint meeting of Kinyokai and Dishikai - Marxians and Direct Actionists - was held at Kinki Kan, Tokyo. The meeting was called in honor of Comrade Yamaguchi, who had just come out of prison. At the close of the meeting the comrades of Kinyo Kai hoisted red flags in the street and sang a revolutionary song (The Chain of Wealth). Suddenly about fifty policemen appeared on the scene and attempted to take away the flags and finally fourteen comrades were arrested. They were tried and ten comrades were sent to prison for from one year to two and one-half years. The whole affair - arrests, trials, and punishments - was most unjust; rather barbarous through and through.

Comrade Sakai did not take part in the skirmish; he was not even on the scene, and yet he was condemned to prison for two years. The sole reason for his condemnation was the supposition of the judge that "he must have been the leader."

The press of the country wildly attacked our comrades as the worst enemies of society. This wholesale condemnation by the newspapers gave the government still a better pretext to suppress all the socialists, irrespective of their views. After the trial, the government became insanely sensitive and began to put the strictest guard over every known leader of socialists. Detectives and policemen hounded them day and night. Comrade Kotoku was weak in health, but his house was guarded by four policemen, two in front and two in the rear of the house. Everyone who visited him was forced to give his name, and then this person was also followed by a detective.

Japan has no law which permits the arrest of a good citizen without some reason or suspicion. But the government wanted to arrest all socialists known to the authorities, especially on occasions when the Emperor or the Crown Prince went out. Then the government sent a policeman or two to each known socialist and told him that if he went out he would be arrested. Or if he was already out, he was arrested at the nearest police station and detained for any length of time. This was done by applying an old law made to arrest a known pickpocket at a fair or festival until the end of the festivity. Socialists are thus often arrested after the manner of pickpockets. In this way the government interferes with even peaceful actions of socialists. I have often met with this treatment. At one time there were two policemen always after me; one at the back of my house and the other opposite my house as a janitor in the school.

With few exceptions the radical comrades were in prison now, but the oppressive and brutal measures, intimidations, and interferences with the life of socialists naturally caused anger and indignation. It was in this period that much underground literature on revolutionary ideas was printed and distributed. Many comrades were caught and imprisoned, as a rule for five years.

The So-called Anarchist Trials

Secret activities of radical socialists and severe suppression of the same by the government caused more and more desperate tactics on both sides. Just at this time the ever-brutal government officials got up the blackest scheme to destroy the entire socialist movement in the bud. With such a determination the cruel and cunning bureaucrats worked strenuously and untiringly, calling on every possible resource and all possible knowledge and powers at their command. At last they fabricated and instituted the world-famous anarchist trial, which condemned Kotoku and twenty-three comrades as traitors and murdered him with eleven others.

In order to frame up the trials, they went to arrest one comrade after another, commencing in May, 1910, on some supposed crime, or no crime at all. Once arrested, he was kept entirely isolated. All the preliminary investigations and trials were carried on in absolute secrecy; every means was used to convict him at any cost. Then, when the final trial came, those lawyers who defended the accused looked into the papers under solemn oath to keep them in strictest secrecy, under severe punishment if they were brought to light, and so they were tried in the highest and last court with closed doors.

We know only the verdict against twenty-four comrades, given on the 19th of January, 1911. The verdict rendered on that day against our comrades is a most elaborate piece of legal phraseology, well worded and most adroitly patching up numerous disconnected and conglomerated data taken from conversation and letters and what-not, true or false, extending over many years and supposed to have taken place in different parts of the country at different times. By such tedious and painstaking means the preconceived notions in the minds of a few influential bureaucrats were worked out skilfully and arrived at the desired conclusion. To get what was desired by the authorities, they seem to have freely manufactured evidences given by policemen. In Japan the evidence given by policemen is always final against those statements made by witnesses or defendants. Their words or confessions do not count at all.

The framed-up anarchist verdict painted every one of the twenty-four as an awful terrorist of the extremest type. Each one was part of a great conspiracy to commit awful crimes. If we believe all those eloquent verdicts and speeches of the presiding Judge, there is nothing to say at all. But why did the government keep the entire trial secret? Why is it that even today any criticism of the trial is lese majesty? Why did the government hasten to murder those so-called anarchist convicts. Usually even the worst murderer is allowed to spend at least sixty days in prison after them instead of the usual sixty or more days. Even their remains were not yielded to their relatives. Why did they hasten in this particular case? We do not yet know the exact reasons. But I know that the court used false telegrams freely in order to compel the accused to confess. Moreover, from Kotoku's letter, written in prison and smuggled out, we know that he and the others were subjected to the severest cross-examinations day after day and night after night without cessation, often standing twelve to fourteen hours at a stretch. Many cunning devices and traps were laid for them in an attempt to saddle them with the highest crimes. Each one, after long hours of cross-examination, when worn down almost to unconsciousness, had a prepared confession read to him by the prosecutor, which was of course written by the prosecutor himself to suit his aim and incriminate the defendant.

I know this from my own experience with the very same prosecutor who convicted Kotoku and the others. They investigated me four long days and nights to compel me to confess to the effect that I was an anarchist. The very confession might have brought upon me the same fate that descended on Comrade Kotoku. I realize clearly, from the logic and arguments they used against me, that those comrades, less educated in debates, and therefore, not finding out previously what the prosecutors were driving at, were inveigled into such verbal traps.

Although the Japanese government gave full assurance to the comrades in foreign countries who protested against the unjust murder of Kotoku and the others that Japan is not persecuting socialists at all, those hung being all active anarchists, the foreign comrades were deliberately deceived in this. In fact the government went on persecuting socialists and suppressing socialist literature. All books on socialism were confiscated and all the public libraries were ordered to withdraw socialist books and papers. Even moderate papers like ours were severely censored and a few months after the said trial it was practically suppressed by the authorities.

A guard of the court who attended the Kotoku trial from beginning to end became insane at Kotoku's execution. This guard served twenty years in the same court and had an absolute confidence in the judges, but in this case he said it was utterly unjust to hang the accused. This little incident shows that the trial was not fair at all. In fact, the severity of the punishment of Kotoku and others caused a change of the public attitude toward socialists; as the dealings of the government with socialists were regarded as too severe and as the ill-treatment and oppression of the authorities caused the comrades to adopt extreme tactics.