The Japanese student movement has won world-wide publicity in recent years for its militancy. Repeated images have been conveyed of helmeted, stave-wielding students doing massive and heroic battle with the police, of their holding out against helicopter-borne assaults on their university strongholds, or of their hi-jacking aircraft at swordpoint. The media coverage of such incidents, however sensational, vague and sporadic, seems to have left a deep impact. Yet there has been relatively little serious information or discussion on the Japanese student Left in the other advanced capitalist countries. In this article, I will try to set out my impressions of the direction and present state of the movement, based on my recent experience in Tokyo University (May 1969–August 1970), on readings of the regular press and revolutionary journals in Japan, and those few writings which are available in Western Europe or North America.footnote1 It should not be thought, of course, that the student movement is the only form of militant socialist struggle in Japan today. It is much to be hoped that some complementary study of the Japanese workers’ movement will become available in English in the near future.

The developments of the decade just ended form a convenient unit, set off in time by the two Security Treaty struggles: the huge and dramatic one of May–June 1960, and the somewhat anticlimactic one of June 1970 against the renewal of the us–Japan Joint Security Treaty.

This Key North Pacific alliance was originally the bargain struck by the us with Japan in which the terms of liquidation of the post-war occupation were agreed upon, sovereignty restored to Japan by the occupation ghq and the Peace Treaty signed. It is necessary to distinguish two sides to this Treaty settlement, one implicit and one explicit. To understand the implicit part, a brief comment is needed first on the situation of the Left in Japan in the immediate post-war years and on the kind of policy then pursued by the occupation. In a crucial way the experience of the established Left, the Communist Party, was unique in these postwar years, in that it found itself collaborating quite closely with the Americans indeed welcoming them as liberators. The early occupation policy was noted for the degree of enthusiasm and idealism that accompanied the carrying out of bourgeois-democratic reforms and the dismantling of some elements of the old semi-feudal, semi-fascist régime—the partial breakup of the Zaibatsu, an extensive land reform, purge of most fascist officials, release of long-imprisoned communist cadres, lifting the restrictions on trade-union organizing activity, and last but not least passage of a constitution unique in that by its Article 9 it was declared that ‘the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right to the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes . . . land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained. The right of belligerency of the state will not be recognized.’ In defeated Japan’s post-Hiroshima mood the general programme was a welcome one—bourgeois-democratic and pacifistic.

But though the reforms were extremely wide their limits soon became apparent; already by September 1946 MacArthur was declaring that the Left was the main enemy and in early 1947 he intervened to forbid a projected general strike and to declare illegal strikes by public employees. The jcp, used to co-operation with the occupation, erred seriously in accepting the prohibition. Then in 1949 the jcp won 3 million votes in the General Election, the communists were victorious in the Chinese civil war and the Korean war broke out the following year—events which combined not just to delay but to reverse the thrust of democratic reforms. For Japan had to be built up as a base for a new China/Korea strategy, the threat of the Japanese Left to be forestalled, and Japan gradually rearmed, despite the Constitution, and built up as a firm free-world ally.footnote2

In 1950 the red purge, begun sporadically in 1949 with police raids on Universities and harassing of striking workers and pursued in earnest with the sacking of communist teachers and workers, the banning of communist papers and the hounding of the Party leadership either underground or to refuge in Peking. The jcp was not able to reemerge as an open political force until 1955.