Ōsugi Sakae: The Chain Factory

Ōsugi Sakae (1885-1923) was a Japanese anarchist active from around 1906 until his murder by Japanese military police in 1923. Together with his lover, the anarchist feminist Itō Noe, and his 6 year old nephew, Ōsugi was beaten to death and thrown in a well, on the pretext that the anarchists were going to take advantage of the chaos and destruction following the Great Kantō earthquake to overthrow the government. I included pieces by both Ōsugi and Itō in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Adam Goodwin has recently translated the following short story by Ōsugi, “The Chain Factory.” Goodwin describes it as an “allegorical story by Ōsugi to represent the modern economic order as he relates it by recollection of a dream he had one night. The imagery in Japanese is compelling and accurate to an insurrectionary-anarchist’s perspective on our social order.”

Osugi Sakae, Ito Noe and the editors of Rodo Undo, Tokyo 1921

The Chain Factory

Late one night I awoke with a start and found myself in a strange place.

As far as I could see there were countless people busily working away at something. They are fashioning chains.

The fellow beside me wraps a rather long length of chain around himself and passes one end of it to the chap beside him. The second fellow lengthens the chain further, wraps it around himself and, again, passes it to another chap sitting diagonally from him. While this was happening, the first chap takes the end of another chain from the fellow beside him, and, as before, lengthens it and wraps it once around himself, and then passes the end to the chap sitting diagonally from him. This continues on and on, with everyone doing the same thing, and at a dizzying pace.

All of them have chains wrapped around their mid-sections ten to twenty times, and at first glance it seemed that they were completely immobilized, but their hands and feet were free enough to make the chain and wrap it around their bodies. They work so intently. There isn’t a sign of bother on any of their faces. They actually look happy as they work.

But all is not what it seemed. Ten places from me a chap shouted something as he tosses away the end of a chain. But then, another fellow, who was standing near, but also with chains wrapped around his body, gruffly approached him and clubbed him three or four times with the large truncheon he was carrying. Everyone near the clubbed chap cried out in glee. The clubbed chap, crying, picks up the end of the chain, fashions a small link and joins it, makes another link, and joins that one. And, after a while, the tears on his face had all disappeared.

In places there are slightly-more refined men standing with, again, chains wrapped around their mid-sections, and they incessantly speak in a shrill voice, like that one would hear from a phonograph. They speak at length with difficult words and complicated reasoning something to the effect of ‘the chains protect us; the chains are sacred to our freedom.’ Everyone listens intently.

And, in the middle of this expansive factory are a group splendid-looking fellows—perhaps the family that owns this factory—lounging on sofas, smoking what seem to be cigars. Their smoke rings sometimes gently waft past the faces of the workers, making them choke uncomfortably.
As I dwelt upon how strange this place was, I felt my own joints begin to ache. I look down to find my own body wrapped ten to twenty times in chains. I busily attend to linking the chains. I was also, as is to be expected, another worker at this factory.

I cursed myself; I grew saddened, and then angry. I remembered the words of Hegel: “The real is the rational, and the rational is the real.”
Wilhelm I and his loyal subjects interpreted these words to grant the sanctity of philosophy to all political realities of the day, including the despotic government, the police state, the arbitrary courts and the suppression of free speech.

Not just the political realities. But everything. For the dim-witted Prussian people, all of those realities were, without a doubt, necessary and just.
As I cast the chains and bind myself with them, their reality is unavoidable; it is just; and, it is my own fate.

I must cease the casting of my own chains. I must cease the binding of my body. I must break the chains that bind me. I must also create a new self, a new reality, a new sense of justice, a new fate.

The chains that bound my mind were rather much easier to break than I had believed. Yet the chains around my feet and hands dig tenaciously into my flesh, and, with time, down to my bones; even the slightest touch left me in agony. Yet, as I endured, the chains relented somewhat. And, as time passed, that pain was accompanied by a slight sense of satisfaction. I even began to tolerate the the three to four truncheon blows from the fellow on watch. I eventually got to the point that I gladly accepted the taunting and abuse from the lounging men.

However, there were many chains that, try as I might, I could not break alone. Everyone’s chain is cleverly linked with mine. There is nothing I can do.If I at all grew idle, the chains that I had taken great pains to loosen subtly worked their way around my body again. Before I knew it, I found my hands mending the links of my own chain.

The master of the factory holds the key to our bellies, and by wielding it, he moves our feet and hands. I had always thought that it was my own mind that controlled my feet and hands; how mistaken I was. As far as I look, no one controls their feet and hands with their own mind. Everyone is under the complete control of the master holding the key to our bellies. It sounds so foolish, but the fact is there is nothing we can do.

I then thought I would try to get back the key to my belly from the man holding it. But it was an impossible task to snatch it away from him by myself. It turns out that he holds my key in such a clever way that it is interlocked with the keys of everyone else, and I cannot possibly grab away from him my key alone.

He is also surrounded by many guards. They all have chains wrapped around their torsos, as they stand holding their spears and bows. They are a frightening bunch and I dare not approach them.

I had lost almost all hope. I then shifted my gaze to the fellows around me.

There are so many who do not realize that they are bound by chains. There are many more still who, were they to realize, would only be grateful for their chains. There are also many who, while not grateful, have resigned themselves to work industriously making their chains. And there are the many who see the chain-making as ridiculous, find the gaps in the watch to frequently rest their bodies as they harbour selfish delusions in their heads, and passionately spout nonsense of actually being free, and not bound by chains at all. It is too foolish to bear to watch.

I then suddenly cast my gaze. I found others around me that seemed to be aligned with me.

They are few, and they are scattered all around. But they all desire the key to their bellies in the clutches of the master. And, like me, they seem to be aware of not being able to take back their own keys alone, so they whisper frequently to their neighbours forging alliances.

“They are few; we are many. They are outnumbered. If we act together, we can take back our keys in one fell swoop.”

“However, since we make pronouncements about justice and peace, we must not permit violence. We must proceed through peaceful means. There is a simple way to do this.”

“Once a year, we send a representative to the master to decide every aspect of our lives. All of those chaps in that meeting are representatives of the master, and if we muster up our own true representatives now, we can be the majority in the meeting, and that’s how we can pass the resolutions that we want.”

“All we need to do is shut up and make the chains. Just continue to wrap the chains around ourselves. Then, when the day comes every few years that we choose our representative, we simply vote for our own representative.”

“Our representative will gradually loosen our chains, and will, ultimately, take back the key to our bellies from the master. We will then find ourselves in a factory under a new organization and a new system of our own ideals, with our chains in the hands of our representative.”

For a time, I thought this to be the soundest argument. But the idea of relying simply on numbers, or relying on someone else over myself, did not sit right with me somehow. And when they declared their philosophy to be scientific, I then realized that they were not my comrades.

They were dreadful subscribers to panlogism. Dreaded mechanical fatalists. In their ideal of the new organization of the factory, they believe themselves to be the natural inheritors of the current factory organization, the result of an inevitable economic process. Thus, their belief is vested in simply changing the factory system and organization according to economic processes.

When pushed to decide, I, myself, am also a subscriber to panlogism. I am a mechanical fatalist. But there were a great many unknowns in my thinking, in my mechanical fatalism. As long as I did not discern these unknowns, achieving my ideals would not be certain. They would remain probabilities with a degree of potential. I cannot look favourably to the future like these men. In fact, my pessimism for the future is what nourishes my efforts in the present.

The majority of my so-called unknowns lie with humans. They’re with the development of life, itself. They’re with the power of life, itself. More specifically, they lie with the efforts to realize one’s potential, to realize one’s autonomy, to fight tirelessly for that development, and all of the effort therein.

I have no doubt that economic processes are a major force in determining the future of our factory. Yet, those unknowns—more specifically, our power and efforts—shape what kind of organization and system should be brought about as a result of those processes. Whether it be an organization or a system, these are merely phenomena manifested from the interactions of human beings. The interaction of nothing with nothing—the relationship between nothing and nothing—will, ultimately, be nothing.

And yet, I cannot help but shudder in fear at what might rightly be called the omnipotence of the organizations and systems that already exist today. Those fellows in the factory, steeped in a dream within a dream, consider themselves to be complete individuals and give not a moment’s thought to the destruction of those systems.

Sloth has no ambition. Sloth makes no history.

I looked around myself once again.

I am surrounded almost entirely by sloth. They work dutifully fashioning chains and wrapping them around their own bodies, under the full control of the mind of another; almost not a single one moves of his own mental faculties. It matters not how many of these fellows are brought together, for they have no ambition, no creative power.

I have given up on this vulgar group.

My own hopes rested on me alone. We can only come to realize our own power and autonomy, go through our own small revolutions, and have our hopes rest on the scant minority that put forth all they can to achieve their own betterment.

We must face the men who hold the key to our bellies, look upon the organization and system of the factory they have created to subjugate us, and confront it like wild beasts.

We will likely be a scant minority until the bitter end. Yet we have the will and the effort. And we also have the experience of actions born of this effort. Our aspirations are born from this experience. We will fight to the last.

That fight is a demonstration of our power. It is the touchstone of our personal autonomy. We are the magnets who invite the slothful within our sphere of influence and transform them into warriors.

This fight yields new meaning and new power within our lives, and germinates the seed of the new factory we are trying to construct.

Well, I’ve relied too much on argument alone. Arguments don’t break chains. Arguments don’t snatch back the keys to our bellies.

The chains have grown ever tighter around us now. The keys to our bellies have become ever stiffer to turn. Even the slothful among this vulgar group began to grow restless. The time for the efforts of the self-aware, combative minority is now. I threw off the chains wrapped around my hands and feet, and stood up.

I awoke. The night had past, and the mid-August morning sun lights up my half-asleep countenance.

Ōsugi Sakae

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Anarchism in the Korean Liberation Movement

Korean Anarchist Federation 1928

Korean Anarchist Federation 1928

In this section from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, I discuss anarchist influences in the Korean national liberation movement prior to the Korean War.

Anarchism in the Korean Liberation Movement

Japan annexed Korea in 1910, around the same time that Japanese authorities had made their first attempt to destroy the nascent Japanese anarchist movement by executing several leading anarchists, including Kôtoku Shûsui (Volume One, Selection 102). The Japanese occupation of Korea gave rise to a national liberation movement to free the Korean people from Japanese exploitation and domination. Some of the more radical elements in the liberation movement gravitated toward anarchism.

In 1923, a prominent member of the movement, Shin Chaeho (1880-1936), published his “Declaration of the Korean Revolution” in which he argued that when driving out their Japanese exploiters, the Korean people must be careful not to “replace one privileged group with another.” The goal of the Korean revolution should be the creation of a world in which “one human being will not be able to oppress other human beings and one society will not be able to exploit other societies.” The revolution must therefore be a “revolution of the masses.” To succeed in constructing a free society, the revolution must destroy foreign rule, the “privileged class” that benefits from it, the “system of economic exploitation,” “social inequality” and “servile cultural thoughts” created by conformist forms of “religion, ethics, literature, fine arts, customs and public morals” (Volume One, Selection 105).

In emphasizing the constructive role of destruction, Shin Chaeho was expressing a viewpoint shared by many anarchists that can be traced back to Proudhon and Bakunin (Volume One, Selection 10). He also recognized that to win the masses over to the cause of the revolution, they must be convinced that the revolution will result in material improvements and greater freedom for themselves, not simply the expulsion of their foreign rulers. As Kropotkin put it, for “the revolution to be anything more than a word… the conquest of the day itself must be worth the trouble of defending; the poor of yesterday must not find themselves even poorer today” (Volume One, Selection 45).

This was one of the reasons why Kropotkin had entitled his most sustained argument in favour of anarchist communism The Conquest of Bread (Volume One, Selection 33). When Korean anarchists began publishing their own paper in 1928, they called it Talhwan, or Conquest, and championed anarchist communism, calling for the abolition of capitalism and government (Volume One, Selection 108). They also rejected the Marxist “state capitalism” that was being created in the Soviet Union through the “despotic and dictatorial” policies of the Soviet Communist Party (the Bolsheviks).

Korean anarchists, including Shin Chaeho, were instrumental in forming the Eastern Anarchist Federation in 1927, which had members from Korea, China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Japan. Most of their work and publications had to be carried out from exile, and even then at great risk to themselves. Shin Chaeho was arrested by Japanese authorities in Taiwan in 1928 and died in prison in 1936. However, after the defeat of Japan in the Second World War, it was only in Korea that a significant anarchist movement reemerged in southeast Asia.

In China, the Marxist Communists under the leadership of Mao Zedong had seized control by 1949. They no more tolerated an independent anarchist movement than had the Communists in the Soviet Union. In Japan, the U.S. occupiers engineered the purging of radicals, whether Marxist or anarchist, from positions of influence within the trade union movement, and the reform of rural landholdings, creating “a new class of landowning small farmers” who “then became a bastion of political conservatism” hostile rather than sympathetic toward anarchism (Crump, 1996).

During the war, some Korean anarchists participated in the Korean Provisional Government in exile. Their desire for Korean independence superseded their commitment to anarchist ideals. Before the war, the Korean Anarchist Federation had rejected the establishment of a “national united front” (Volume One, Selection 108). After the war, Yu Lim, who had served as a cabinet minister in the Provisional Government, urged the anarchists to support an independent Korean government to prevent Korea from falling “into the hands of either the Stalinists to the north or the imperialistic compradore-capitalists to the south” (Volume Two, Selection 9).

Other Korean anarchists, while seeking “to cooperate with all genuinely revolutionary nationalist groups of the left,” continued to call for “total liberation” through the “free federation of autonomous units covering the whole country” (Volume Two, Selection 9). At the conclusion of the war in 1945, grass roots committees for the reconstruction of Korea sprang up across the country, and peasants and workers began forming independent unions. However, this process of social reconstruction “from the bottom upward” came to a halt after the Soviet Union and the United States imposed their own “national” governments in the north and south in 1948, leading to the divisive and inconclusive Korean War (1950-1953).

Robert Graham

Shin Chaeho

Shin Chaeho

Japanese Anarchism Before the War

Museifushugi brief history of anarchism in prewar Japan

Continuing with my installments from the “Anarchist Current,” the Afterword to Volume Three of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas, here I discuss anarchism in Japan prior to the Second World War. I included several selections from pre-War Japanese anarchists in Volume One of the Anarchism anthology, and in Volume Three, I included an update on Japanese anarchism since the 1960s.

Anarchist_flag_with_A_symbol.svg

Class Struggle and ‘Pure’ Anarchism in Japan

In contrast to the decline of the Chinese anarchist movement in the 1920s, according to John Crump, “the anarchists in Japan were organisationally stronger than ever before, and there was a corresponding flowering of ideas and theories, particularly among the anarchist communists” (Crump, 1996). The anarchist communists identified themselves as “pure anarchists.” They criticized the anarcho-syndicalist concept of workers’ control of the existing means of production. As Hatta Shûzô (1886-1934) put it, “in a society which is based on the division of labour, those engaged in vital production… would have more power over the machinery of coordination than those engaged in other lines of production.”

The Japanese “pure anarchists” therefore proposed a decentralized system of communal production “performed autonomously on a human scale,” where “production springs from consumption,” being designed to meet local and individual wants and needs, in contrast to existing systems of production, where consumption is driven by the demands of production. Under such a system of decentralized human scale production, people “can coordinate the work process themselves,” such that there is no need for a “superior body and there is no place for power” (Volume One, Selection 106).

anarcho-communism

Japanese anarcho-syndicalist advocates of class struggle agreed that the existing authoritarian system of production should be replaced by “communal property… where there is neither exploiter nor exploited, neither master nor slave,” with society being “revived with spontaneity and mutual free agreement as an integral whole” (Volume One, Selection 107). However, in order to create such a society a profound revolutionary transformation was required. The anarcho-syndicalists argued that it was only by participating in the workers’ daily struggles against the capitalist system that anarchists would be able to inspire a revolutionary movement capable of creating the anarchist community to which the “pure anarchists” aspired.

Contrary to the claims of the “class struggle” anarcho-syndicalists though, the “pure anarchists” did not hold themselves aloof from the workers’ struggles but convinced the anarchist Zenkoku Jiren labour federation to adopt a “pure anarchist” position which emphasized that their goal was not to take over the existing means of production, replacing the capitalists and the government with a trade union administration, but to create a decentralized system of communal production based on human-scale technology, a position similar to that developed by Murray Bookchin in the 1960s (Volume Two, Selections 48, 62 & 74).

anarcho syndicalism

The Zenkoku Jiren reached out to Japanese tenant farmers, seeing them “as the crucial social force which could bring about the commune-based, alternative society to capitalism” advocated by the “pure anarchists” (Crump, 1996). The appeal of this vision to radical Japanese workers and farmers is illustrated by the fact that by 1931, the Zenkoku Jiren had about 16,000 members, whereas the more conventional anarcho-syndicalist federation, the Jikyô, had only 3,000.

In the early 1930s, as the Japanese state began a concerted push for imperialist expansion by invading Manchuria, the state authorities renewed their campaign against the Japanese anarchist movement, which was staunchly anti-imperialist. In the face of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, the Japanese Libertarian Federation had called on all people to “cease military production, refuse military service and disobey the officers” (Volume One, Selection 110). Anarchist organizations were banned and hundreds of anarchists arrested. By 1936, the organized anarchist movement in Japan had been crushed.

Robert Graham

War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army

War flag of the Imperial Japanese Army