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Nigel Harris

Campus militants pose threat to US links

Japan’s battling students spearhead revolt
against grip of the dollar

(8 February 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 108, 8 February 1969, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

THE JANUARY 18 assault of 8,000 Tokyo policemen on Yasuda Hall, administrative centre of Tokyo University (Todai), has brought to a close the first phase of the most militant student revolt at the moment.

This summer, the Lower House of parliament comes up for re-election and in 1970 the US-Japan Mutual Security Pact can be altered or scrapped.

In both cases, the official opposition is not presenting an adequate attack. The student movement, as elsewhere, is filling the vacuum.

Eleven months ago, the Todai Medical Faculty went on strike against the disciplining of some students. In June, Todai’s President – like LSE’s Director this month – called in the police to clear the campus.


The result was a storm of protest. Other faculties went on strike and by the end of October the university had come to a halt.

The campus was converted into a series of fortresses, commanded by different factions. The bitter battle to remove these factions has occupied the police ever since.

But this is only Todai, the nucleus of the opposition and the premier university of Japan.

Elsewhere, in some 50 of Japan’s 370 larger universities, the revolt has also developed.

A year ago, students and workers fought to prevent the US atom-powered aircraft, carrier Enterprise, refueling in Japan.

In May, there were violent demonstrations as militants of Zengakuren (Federation of Student Self-Governing Associations) tried to block railway fuel supplies to the Tachikawa US air base.


In the summer, a US military plane crashed into a building of Kyushu University and militants prevented US recovery of the aircraft until the US promised to evacuate nearby Itazuke air base.

Further attempts to block fuel and ammunition trains culminated in the enormous demonstration of October 21 against the Vietnam war and US bases in Okinawa and Japan.

Some reports state that 700,000 workers of the largest trade union federation, Sonyo, and a smaller one, Churitsuroren, demonstrated in 363 areas of Japan. Three and a half million held workshop rallies and the students stormed the parliament building.

The demonstration coincided with government attempts to penalise 10,000 railwaymen for a work-to-rule. The railwaymen held a one-hour strike and boycotted fuel trains supplying US bases, and 175,000 other workers held one-hour solidarity strikes.

This year, apart from the battle over Todai itself, students sacked a Tokyo police station as reprisal for the assault on Todai. Chuo and Meiji universities held solidarity demonstrations and occupations and there was a riot at Kyoto University.


Nihon University, the scene of an enormous demonstration on September 30 that forced the chancellor and five other directors to resign (because they had been milking university funds for their own pockets), and Todai were both closed, affecting perhaps 150,000 students.

In total, the police claim, 4,000 police were injured and 5,000 students arrested. Incidentally, the level of violence was more than it might have been because the Japanese Communist Party students (the Yoyogi faction) fought openly against the action of the militants.

The issues behind the revolt are the same as elsewhere, the same combination of local student grievances and major political issues. In particular, because a majority of Japan’s universities are operated for private profit, the continuous raising of fees is a constant threat to all students.

Again, the universities are much more authoritarian in character than elsewhere, and they have been vastly over-expanded in recent years (the staff-student ratio in private universities is 37 to one; in some universities, it is as high as 100 to one).

But in addition, many of the students recognise the key role Japan plays in the US domination of the Far East. Japanese territory, Okinawa in the Ryukyu islands to the south of Japan proper, has been under US occupation for 23 years, and is now a major supply and servicing point for the Vietnam war.

It is the largest US troop garrison in Asia outside Vietnam, a base for the giant B-52 bombers that raided North Vietnam.


In addition, the US maintains extensive bases in Japan itself, and has long been seeking to push Japan into the role of its major agent in Asia, the lynch pin of an East Asian Treaty Organisation and the major Asian nuclear power.

On Okinawa itself, the local population has been agitating for a long time for US evacuation. US requisitions of land from 1955 now cover 15 per cent of the total land area.

The peasants complain bitterly that the giant Kadena base was built on the best sugar growing soil, and that sugar cane must be cut on demand to a height of one foot so as not to interfere with electronics communications.

They say US troops enjoy extra-territorial rights so that they cannot be tried by Okinawa courts and the waters around the island have abnormal radioactivity because of the transit of nuclear submarines (a frog mutation was discovered by an Okinawa newspaper last July).

There have been peasant demonstrations and sitdowns with the slogan: ‘Yankee land robbers get out? Your dollars are here today, gone tomorrow, but our land bears fruit forever.’

The Japanese government has tried to conceal the fact that it would basically like to be the major nuclear power of Asia, and is not averse to US power in achieving this.

On Okinawa, it has restricted itself to polite criticisms – requesting that schoolrooms be sound-proofed against the noise of US jets.

Even if the US does return Okinawa to Japan in the 1970s, both Washington and the government of Japan would like to keep the nuclear installations intact there. To do so, they must revise the Japanese Constitution to delete the clause which forbids Japan to hold nuclear weapons.

The particular student issues and the wider politics cannot be separated. Control of the universities, the ‘mass-puro’ (mass-production) of students, is part and parcel of the corrupt businessman’s regime of Prime Minister Sato.

And Sato cannot be separated from his friends in Washington.


Whether it is the row at Keio University, which began when medical students protested against the faculty accepting US military funds for research, or at Kyushy University, US foreign policy and the Vietnam war are intimately bound up with Japanese society.

The profits flowing back from Vietnam help Sato survive.

Thus all the central issues of Japanese politics – its relationship to the US, the rearmament of Japan (and the revival of Japanese imperialism), the right of Japanese capitalism to rule, the revision of the Constitution and the fate of Okinawa – are being fought on the campus.

In 1970, Japan can revise its pact with the US, or continue the rightward slither.

At the moment, the students are the most militant forces for the first alternative.

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