Shūsui Kōtoku

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Shūsui Kōtoku
Shūsui Kōtoku
Born (1871-11-05)November 5, 1871
Nakamura, Kōchi, Japan
Died January 24, 1911(1911-01-24) (aged 39)
Tokyo, Japan
Occupation Journalist, Anarchist Political agitator

Denjirō Kōtoku (幸徳 傳次郎, Kōtoku Denjirō, November 5, 1871 – January 24, 1911), better known by the nom de plume Shūsui Kōtoku (幸徳 秋水, Kōtoku Shūsui), was a Japanese socialist and anarchist who played a leading role in introducing anarchism to Japan in the early 20th century, particularly by translating the works of contemporary European and Russian anarchists, such as Peter Kropotkin, into Japanese. He was a radical journalist, and he was executed for treason by the Japanese government.

He also contributed articles to Sekai fujin (Women of the World), a socialist women's paper.[1]


Socialist years and imprisonment[edit]

Kōtoku moved from his birthplace, the town of Nakamura in Kōchi Prefecture, to Tokyo in his mid-teens and after graduating from the Tokyo School of English, became a journalist there in 1893. He joined Katayama Sen in the “Society of the Study of Socialism”. From 1898 onwards he was a columnist for the Yorozu Chōhō (Everything Morning News), one of the more radical daily papers of the time; however, he resigned that position when the paper switched to a pro-war stance in October 1903 in the buildup to the Russo-Japanese War.

The following month he co-founded the Heimin Shimbun (Common Peoples' Newspaper) with another Yorozu Chōhō journalist, Toshihiko Sakai. This paper's outspoken anti-war stance and disregard of the state's press laws landed its editors in trouble with the government on numerous occasions, and Kōtoku himself served a five-month jail sentence from February to July 1905.[2]

America and the anarchist influence[edit]

In 1901, when Kōtoku together with Katayama, Sakai and Abe Isoo took part in the first attempt to found the Japanese Social Democratic Party, he was not an anarchist, but a socialist — indeed, Sakai and Kōtoku were the first to translate The Communist Manifesto into Japanese, which appeared in an issue of the Heimin Shimbun and which got them heavily fined.

His political thoughts first began to turn to a more libertarian philosophy when he read Kropotkin's Fields, Factories and Workshops in prison. In his own words, he "had gone [to jail] as a Marxian Socialist and returned as a radical Anarchist."[3]

A clip from the Heimin Shimbun (13 November 1904).

In November 1905 Kōtoku travelled to the United States in order to freely criticise the Emperor of Japan, whom he now saw as the linchpin of capitalism in Japan. During his time in the United States, Kōtoku was further exposed to the philosophies of anarchist communism and European syndicalism.

He had taken Kropotkin's Memoirs of a Revolutionist as reading material for the Pacific voyage; after he arrived in California, he began to correspond with Kropotkin and by 1909 had translated The Conquest of Bread from English to Japanese.

One thousand copies of his translation were published in Japan in March of that year and distributed to students and workers.

Return to Japan[edit]

On Kōtoku's return to Japan, in June 1906, a public meeting was held to welcome him. At this meeting, on June 28, he spoke on "The Tide of the World Revolutionary Movement", which he said was flowing against parliamentary politics (i.e. Marxist party politics) and in favour of the general strike as "the means for the future revolution."

This was an anarcho-syndicalist view, and one which, because anarcho-syndicalism was growing in the United States at the time, with the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, showed the American influence clearly.

He followed this speech with a number of articles, the most well-known of which was "The Change in My Thought (On Universal Suffrage)". In these articles, Kōtoku was now advocating direct action rather than political aims such as universal suffrage, which was a shock to many of his comrades and brought the schism between Anarchist Communists and Social Democrats to the Japanese working class movement.

This split was made clear when the re-launched Heimin Shimbun folded in April 1907 and was replaced two months later by two journals: the Social Democrat Social News and the Osaka Common People's Newspaper, which argued from an anarchist position, in favour of direct action.

Trial and execution[edit]

Although there were anarchists who preferred peaceful means, such as the dissemination of propaganda, many anarchists in this period turned to terrorism as means of overthrowing the state and achieving Anarchist Communism, or at least hitting out against the state and authority. Repression of publications and organizations, such as the Socialist Party of Japan, and "public peace police law", which effectively prevented trade union organizations and strikes, were both factors in this emerging trend in Japan.

In the episode which became known as The High Treason Incident (Taigyaku Jiken), police arrested five anarchists for possessing bomb-making equipment, which was allegedly intended for a plot to assassinate Emperor Meiji.

This was followed by a wave of arrests of political dissidents, including Kōtoku. Though there was conclusive evidence against five, on January 18, 1911 twenty-six anarchists were convicted - mostly on circumstantial evidence. Twenty-four were sentenced to death, and twelve were actually executed - Kōtoku among them. While he may have known of the plot to kill the Emperor in its initial stages, he had certainly distanced himself from it.[4]

Kōtoku was hanged along with ten others on January 24, 1911 (the one woman, Suga Kanno, was executed the following day because it was already turning dark).

In 1965 the Japanese Supreme Court refused a plea to reopen his case and that of the others executed with him.

Christ myth theory[edit]

His final work is Kirisuto Massatsuron (基督抹殺論, On the Obliteration of Christ). In this book, he claimed that Jesus was a mythical and unreal figure.[5][6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Japan and the High Treason Incident edited by Masako Gavin, Ben Middleton November 1890 Page 110
  2. ^ Notehelfer, Frederick George (1971). "Chapter 4: Pacifist opposition to the Russo-Japanese War, 1903–5". Kōtoku Shūsui: Portrait of a Japanese Radical. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 106–107. ISBN 978-0-521-07989-1. LCCN 76134620. OCLC 142930. 
  3. ^ THE ANARCHIST MOVEMENT IN JAPAN - Chapter One: 1906-1911 at
  4. ^ See Sharon Sievers, (1983), Flowers in salt: The beginnings of feminist consciousness in modern Japan, Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, p. 157
  5. ^ 基督抹殺論(Iwanami Shoten, Publishers website, Japanese)
  6. ^ Full text of "Japanese Thought In The Meiji Era Centenary Culture Council Series"

External links[edit]