Anarchism in Korea — Chapter 2 : The Wind of Anarchism in Japan

By Dongyoun Hwang

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Untitled Anarchism Anarchism in Korea Chapter 2

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Research Interests: Radicalism and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Eastern Asia, The Guomindang Leftists in the 1920s, Wartime Collaboration in China during the Pacific War. (From:

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Chapter 2

2: The Wind of Anarchism in Japan

Becoming Anarchist in Tokyo

As early as the 1890s, in the eyes of the Westerners Japan was “a shining beacon of enlightenment,” and “for other Asians” “a mecca of progress”[190] toward modernity. Since then Tokyo had served Asian students and radicals as “a mecca of progress” not only as “an exciting place” as the seat of Japanese government, “but also [as] the center of the economic, cultural, and intellectual life of Japan,” which was “seeth[ing] with liberal and radical ideas.”[191] There, Japanese readers of various radical publications and presses were usually able to “obtain the news and documents of world socialism only weeks, sometimes days, after the events,”[192] and so were all Asian students/radicals in Tokyo, including Koreans. Naturally, Tokyo emerged as a breeding place for many kinds of radicals. Even in the 1930s, Tokyo was still called “the Library on Marxism in the East” (makesi zhuyi dongfang tushuguan) because of the availability of the news and information about various types of socialisms.[193]

Japanese radicals, often based on racial unity as Asians, also supported the anti-Western struggles of other Asians who were usually marked by radical and nationalist ideas.[194] It was no wonder that “Tokyo in 1908” was “a haven” even for Muslim activists from West Asia, who were “seeking collaboration with Japan against Western powers.”[195] To many Asians, Tokyo was a symbol of both Asian racial unity against the West and their progress for modernity, both physical and intellectual. On the other hand, in Tokyo many Asians found Japan’s expansionist Asianism unacceptable, and thus realized the necessity to promote universal humanism through “alliance and cooperation over knowledge” among Asians in regard to Japan’s version of Asianism.[196]

Since the turn of the twentieth century, Korean students had chosen Japan, more specifically Tokyo, as their study abroad place for three primary reasons. First, Tokyo had already been known to Korean students as a location where they could satisfy their intellectual curiosity and learn the most up-to-date new, modern knowledge, due to Japan’s emergence as a power and the availability of higher education there. To many Korean students in the early twentieth century, Tokyo indeed served as “the source in the East [dongyang] of importing the Western culture,” taking the leadership role in assisting the development of the “poor” Korean academic and intellectual circles.[197] An example of this kind of observation can be further found in the words of An Jaehong (1891–1965), one of the leaders of the New Branch Society (Sin-ganhoe), a united-front organization between the socialists and the nationalists in the late 1920s in colonial Korea, and an influential political leader immediately after 1945 in South Korea. An recalled in 1935 that “Tokyo was a heaven in our daydream” in the 1910s, whereas “Seoul was a hell in reality.”[198]

Second, just like Chinese students,[199] Korean students understood the obvious advantages of studying abroad in Japan, such as the geographical proximity and cultural affinities between Korea and Japan. Study-abroad in Japan would allow them to save on travel and living expenses and to settle down in Japan almost immediately without much culture shock. The latter was particularly the case in the 1910s to ’20s, because Korea had become a Japanese colony in 1910. What Kim San explained in the 1930s is revealing in this regard. According to him, Korean students had gone to Tokyo in the 1910s and ’20s, where schools were “liberal” and offered “intellectual excitement,” especially after the end of World War I, which was not available in colonial Korea because “no colleges existed at home.”[200]

In other words, third, Korean students since 1910, as a colonized people, didn’t have the option to choose where to study abroad, but had to go to Tokyo, for it was the only place that was allowed; further, no higher education was available in colonial Korea at least until 1924, when Keijō Imperial University finally opened in Keijō (Seoul). As a result, the number of Korean students in Japan reached about 500 or 600 in 1918.[201]

The political climate of 1910s Japan affected Korean students studying abroad in Tokyo. Radicalism in Japan had been in a state of “winter hibernation,” since Kōtoku Shūsui’s execution in 1911, and in the 1910s, students were usually exposed to and therefore possessed liberal ideas of “the Western bourgeois class” rather than “radical ideas”; thus, they saw the role of the state as “decisive in solving social problems”[202] prevalent in then-Japan. When the “winter period” of Japanese socialism ended in 1918,[203] which corresponded to the increasing number of Korean students in Japan, they were to contact radical ideas more often and easily than before. In addition, Korean students studying abroad in 1910s Japan came mostly from wealthy families, while those from the late 1910s and 1920s were basically “poor work-study” (gohak) students, which may also explain why there were more radicalized Korean students in 1920s Tokyo.

It was under the political and intellectual environments of Tokyo that a Korean reception of anarchism was made there, almost in the same way that was the case of their Chinese counterparts who also came to Tokyo as study-abroad students since the 1900s and were radicalized.[204] It is well known that the Chinese Tokyo anarchists became anarchist through exposure to and associations/interactions with early Japanese socialists and anarchists, including reading their books on socialism and anarchism that were readily and abundantly available in Tokyo at the time, both in original text and/or in Japanese translation.[205] And in Tokyo, many of the Korean students too developed interest in socialism and were radicalized accordingly. For example, Yi Jeonggyu was studying abroad in Tokyo in the 1910s, as a student in the Economics Department at Keiō University, where he was exposed to socialist ideas in the wake of developing his national consciousness between 1918 and 1919, similar to the experience of many Korean other students in Tokyo around that time.[206]

As historian Park Chan Seung posits, the United States and Japan are two major countries that have played a significant role even until today in breeding modern Korean intellectuals and their “modern ideas,” including radicalism. Study abroad in the two countries, in other words, Park notes, has played the most significant role in the formation of modern Korean intellectuals and their academic circles,[207] as well as, I may add, that of radicals and their radicalism, particularly in the case of Japan. Suffice to say that, as historian Im Kyeongseok notes, early Korean socialists were born out of the “wind” blowing from two places, one “from the East [i.e., Japan], the other the north [i.e., Eastern Siberia, including Vladivostok].”[208] Many Korean radical students certainly responded to the blowing anarchist wind in Japan, especially Tokyo.

It must be noted here that Korean students, unlike Chinese students, often had different experiences and a radicalizing process in Tokyo, when they arrived there as work-study students in the 1920s. The difference in experiences and process attests to the fact that Koreans were a colonized people of Japan. It was a sense or realization of their being in the colonizer’s country, which was commonly experienced and shared by Koreans based on the treatments they usually received from their Japanese colonizers once they arrived in Japan. Not only was Japanese national discrimination, but also social discrimination they witnessed and even encountered everyday against them, because they were mostly “poor work-study students” (gohaksaeng). The social discrimination didn’t just come from the Japanese, but also from their wealthy compatriots as well, according to anarchist Yang Sanggi, who remembers the mistreatment of Koreans by the members of the Mutual Love Society (Sang-ae hoe), an organization run in the 1920s by a group of Koreans who worked in Tokyo for the Japanese. The society was notorious for its exploitation and “bullying” of other Korean workers who were sent by it to work for Japanese companies and factories in Japan, but as it turned out, they ended up often being wounded, disabled, and even dead without being fully paid for their work.[209] What awaited Koreans in Japan, in short, were two kinds of discriminations, national and social. As a matter of fact, their experiences as work-study students helped them gradually develop their social consciousness as a poor and exploited class under capitalism worldwide in addition to national consciousness as a colonized people.

Hence, the students were frequently introduced to Japanese labor activists or Korean organizations by those who had come from their hometown in Korea and had already formed place-based networks in Tokyo. Students were often grouped according to their native province, hometown, and/or even schools in Korea. Their placed-based networks and/or alma mater usually played an important role in their selection of an organization or in enticing them to a particular radical group. The number of “poor work-study students” continued to increase in the 1920s, particularly as the decade approached its end. Unlike those Korean students in Japan in the 1910s, they had to earn an education and a living at the same time, earning money during the daytime and attending school at night. Almost a half of the Korean students in Tokyo in 1925 were allegedly the “poor work-study students,” who increasingly relied on labor for their school tuition and even living, such as newspaper delivery and/or peddling. No wonder, therefore, that, while working, they frequently got in touch with Japanese labor activists and organizations, let alone socialists, including anarchists. Sometimes they swiftly organized themselves and began their own labor movement. An example was the Society of Like-Minded Work-Study Students in Tokyo (Tōkyō kugaksei dōyūkai), organized in 1921 by work-study students who had been radicalized and interacted with and attended the gatherings of Japanese socialists.[210] Among the Japanese radical groups and societies, including anarchist and communist ones, in the 1910s to early 1920s, with which Koreans were associated or affiliated, were the New Comers Society (Shinjinkai), the Awakened People Society (Gyōminkai), the Free People’s Federation (Jiyūjin renmei), the Socialist Alliance (Shakaishūgi dōmei), and the Cosmo Club (Kosumo gurabu).

The combination of national and class consciousness was a visible complex, ubiquitous phenomenon among Korean students in 1920s Tokyo, which was the main force that gave rise to Korean anarchist movement in Japan. Two kinds of discrimination they received drew them to Japanese radicals and socialists for assistance and consultation at first, and then for the common cause of social justice, although their nationalist aspirations for Korea’s independence from Japan never got debilitated. This explains why the Japanese authorities initially labeled and categorized Korean anarchists and their activities in Japan broadly as “nationalistic,”[211] rather than just as radical or socialist. The Japanese police report on Koreans in Japan, dated December 1926, still reconfirmed their initial evaluation of Korean radicals as being nationalistic, explaining the increasing tendency among Koreans to add socialism to their nationalism.[212] The sense of social justice as well as anticolonialism (i.e., national consciousness) Korean anarchists deeply felt was shared with Japanese anarchists, and by the 1930s convinced the former that the key to “our liberation is anarchism.”[213]

Evidence tells us that anarchist ideas had already been known to many Korean radicals and students studying abroad in Japan, since the beginning of the twentieth century, although their actual reception of anarchism was also prompted mainly around the time during and after World War I, especially after the March First Movement in colonial Korea. For example, the Light of Learning (Hak ji gwang), a journal of the Fraternal Society of Korean Students in Tokyo, Japan (Zai nihon tōkyō chōsen ryugaksei gakuyu kai), published in Korean beginning on April 2, 1914, carried articles written by Korean study-abroad students in Tokyo, which advocated direct actions of tenant peasants as a way for their survival from poverty and hardships. Also included in the journal were such anarchism-oriented or -inspired articles as “On Mutual Aid” (“Sangjo ron”) by Choe Seungman and “A Transformation of ‘Self’” (“Jagi ui gaejo”), both of which introduced and contained anarchist ideas.[214] It is quite obvious that anarchism was broadly discussed by Korean students in 1910s Tokyo, but was not yet elevated to a leading idea and guiding principle for their struggle and movement against Japanese colonialism for the retaking of Korea’s independence. In the 1910s, their interest in anarchism was more or less a product of their intellectual curiosity, in particular in relation to Kropotkin’s mutual aid, when they seemed to be disappointed with the mainstream ideas of Western civilization, such as competition and the survival of the fittest, particularly after World War I. However, it must be noted here that various Korean students’ fraternal organizations in Japan were burgeoning in the 1910s, not just for the promotion of their fraternal relationship and student life but gradually also for equipping and preparing themselves for anti-Japanese national consciousness.[215] According to a Korean historian, as early as 1913 Na Gyeongseok (1890–1959) and Jeong Taesin converted to anarchism and accepted syndicalism as well after interacting with Ōsugi Sakae, Yokota Shōjirō, and Hasegawa Ichimatsu.[216]

Many kinds of publications on radicalism were also readily available in Tokyo for Korean students and radicals. Once they arrived in Tokyo, Korean students were to get intellectually excited by the abundance of information about various modern, radical ideas and the opportunities they had for interactions with Japanese radicals. Books on socialism were abundant and classes at school were taught on the subject of radical ideas, sometimes by radical scholars. They could acquire books and newspapers on anarchism at school, bookstores, and even newsstands on the street. Their intellectual thirst for the origins of social and national discriminations was therefore usually quenched immediately and, as a result, they ended up accepting socialism and becoming radicals in Tokyo, which was commonplace among almost all Korean youth in early 1920s Tokyo. This intellectual phenomenon was even described as catching naturally the common “measles” for the students in Tokyo.[217] Jo Bong-am (1895–1959), enrolled in the Department of Political Economy at Chūo University in Tokyo, came to realize in 1921 that he was “indulged in the books” he had come by in Tokyo. And he realized that they were in quality “good books” he had never known of before, and, as a result, for the first time in his life he read many of them thoroughly, as if, he thought, he would not be able to do so again. Through the readings, he became first aware of “the robber-like invasion of Japanese imperialism” on Korea, and then realized how Japan had possibly exploited the national resources of Korea. In addition, he was also able to understand why Korea had been under the oppression of Japanese imperialism, and had undergone many other difficulties such as the problem of poverty. After reading those books available in Tokyo, Jo was gradually and ultimately transformed into a socialist who was determined to strive for Korea’s independence, but at the same time dedicate himself to transforming Korea into a country good enough to have all people live well and freely. In other words, he found himself drawn into the maelstrom of radical thoughts through the readings that were taking place at the time in the Japanese circle of thoughts. Jo was thus specifically introduced to anarchism, syndicalism, social democracy, nihilism, and Marxism. While in the vortex, Jo eventually made a decision to “study socialism, become a socialist, and join socialist movement.”[218]

It is revealing that Jo in fact was initially drawn to anarchism, which was most popular in Tokyo at the time, and in November 1921 joined Bak Yeol, Kim Yaksu, and Kim Saguk in organizing the Black Wave Society (Heukdo hoe or Kokutō kai), the first anarchism-oriented Korean organization in 1920s Tokyo; he initially accepted anarchism to make “Resisting Japan” (hang-il) his lifetime goal. Key to his conversion to anarchism were the books on social issues, which geared him toward launching a social revolution of his own, not just political independence of Korea. And no Korean students in Tokyo, he recalls, were able to keep distance from the maelstrom of radical thoughts that was sweeping through Japan at the time.[219] Many Korean students like Jo might have been attracted to going to Tokyo for an opportunity for higher education, but what Tokyo offered them was a “broadly defined free [intellectual] space” that often radicalized them. Such space was hardly imaginable at the time for them in their own country.[220] Tokyo certainly was a place where many Korean students felt jolted intellectually.

The next case further demonstrates the particular intellectual milieu Korean study-abroad/work-study students encountered in Tokyo. Choe Gapryong (1904–2003) came to Tokyo via Shimonoseki in December 1921,[221] and was joined in Tokyo later by two other work-study students, Yi Honggeun (1907–?) and Han Won-yeol. The three students rented a room together and soon organized a book-reading society of their own, while selling the Japanese food nattō or delivering milk to earn money for their education and living. In the meantime Choe realized that reading books on socialism in the book-reading society was awakening him to take the first step toward “social movement” (sic). Among the books on socialism he read with the society, Choe found Ōsugi Sakae’s A Heart Seeking Justice (Seigi o motomeru kokoro), of most interest and was impressed especially by a phrase in it that read “the liberation of workers is the responsibility of workers themselves.”[222] Choe was to return to Korea later and became a leader of anarchist movement in colonial Korea, particularly in industrializing northern Korea under Japanese colonial government. Yi Honggeun, one of Choe’s roommates, came to Tokyo in 1924, but had already been exposed in Korea to books on socialism in Japanese, and so had a “good understanding” of anarchist theories;[223] Yi had already read the same and some other books by Ōsugi, in addition to some translated works of Kropotkin, for example, on mutual aid. In other words, he had already been attracted to Ōsugi’s “exciting” and “to-the-point” writings, as he recalls. Therefore, once he arrived in Tokyo, Yi immediately looked for Japanese anarchists and their activities, and soon decided to join their anarchist movement.[224] Yi Honggeun was to be active both in Tokyo and colonial Korea, as he would become a member or organizer of many Korean anarchist organizations such as the Black Friends Society (Kokutomo kai) and the Union of Korean Free Labor (Chōsen jiyū rōdō kumiai), established on February 3, 1927 in Tokyo, and in colonial Korea the Gwanseo Black Friends Society (Gwanseo heuk-u hoe) in 1927, the Federation of Korean Communist-Anarchists (Joseon gongsan mujeongbu juuija yeonmaeng) in 1929, and the Wonsan General Labor Union (Wonsan ilban nodong johap).

Just like Choe and Yi, who converted to anarchism through their readings of Ōsugi Sakae’s works, Won Simchang (1906–1971) also became an anarchist in Tokyo after reading Ōsugi’s works as well as Kropotkin’s The Conquest of Bread probably in Japanese translation. The latter’s idea on mutual aid was of particular interest to him. In the case of Baek Jeonggi (1896–1943), he read Kōtoku Shūsui’s Modern Anarchists (Gindai museifu shugisha) and Ōsugi’s works, as well as Kropotkin’s works on mutual aid and his The Conquest of Bread.[225] Won and Baek had converted to anarchism in Japan but later in the 1930s became active in China in such anarchist groups as the Black Terror Party (BTP) and the League of Korean Youth in South China (LKYSC). In addition, Choe Jungheon, a former member of the Dongheung (Tōko) Korean Labor League (Tōko chōsen rōdō renmei), a Korean anarchist-led labor union, established in September 1926,[226] recalls that he was indulged in reading Ōsugi’s works, which, according to him, paved the way for him to be an anarchist. Yi Yongjun (1905–?), who was a member of two anarchist organizations later in early 1930s China, the LKYSC and the Alliance to Save the Nation through Anti-Japan (Hang-il guguk yeonmaeng), offers another good example. Yi was drawn to anarchism through his readings of Ōsugi Sakae’s translations of Kropotkin’s works, among which An Appeal to the Young particularly impressed him in regard to anarchism.[227]

As Thomas A. Stanley suggests, Ōsugi, for sure, had “great impact on a wider audience,”[228] and Korean anarchists certainly were in the audience in the 1920s. Besides his “impact,” there was a practical reason for Ōsugi’s popularity among Koran anarchists because of his anti-Japanese government and anticolonial stance. For example, Ōsugi gave a special talk at a gathering in Kanda District of Tokyo before the audience from China, Taiwan, Russia, and Korea to criticize the colonial policies of the Government-General in colonial Korea.[229] He even supported Korea’s independence as he hurrahed (banzai) three times for Korea’s independence at a reception held to welcome Yeo Unhyeong (1888–1947), who came to Japan as an official representative of the Korean Provisional Government in Shanghai at the invitation of the Japanese authorities.[230] Besides the works by Ōsugi and Kropotkin, Japanese anarchist newspapers and magazines such as Labor Movement (Rōdō undō), Spontaneous Alliance (Jiyū rengō), Tenant Farmers (Kōsakunin), and Black Youth (Kokushoku seinen) were all easily and mostly available and accessible at the bookstores in the area called Jimbocho in Tokyo. Anarchist books were available at the night market on Jimbocho as well, where Choe Gapryong bought another Ōsugi’s book titled The Philosophy of Labor Movement (Rōdō undo no tetsugaku), which, according to him, changed his view of life for good.[231]

In some cases Korean students were aware of the national question of Korea being a colony of Japan even before their arrival in Tokyo. On his way to Tokyo for study abroad, for example, Bak Giseong (1907–1991) already decided to “save my country with my strength.” It was before his arrival in Tokyo. What happened was that on his way to Tokyo Bak heard from a Korean student of his age, who was returning to a school in Tokyo, about the indescribable pressure and treatment Korean students in Tokyo had been receiving from the Japanese, which made Bak become more nationalistic. What made Bak more so was his own experience in Tokyo after arrival, when he himself received discriminatory treatments from Japanese. He increasingly believed that the retaking of his country from the Japanese was more urgent than his study in Tokyo, thus deciding not to go to a college in Tokyo and rather to join a Korean anarchist group.[232] In his conversion to anarchism in Tokyo, what seemed to be decisive, besides his realization of such discrimination, was not his direct interaction with Japanese anarchists but rather his association with Korean anarchists who had already been in Tokyo. When Bak arrived in Tokyo, he stayed at a place called the Korea Residence (Gyerim jang) in the Nagano District, where Korean students were provided things and information necessary for their self-reliant life in Tokyo. It was there that he met and interacted with some Korean anarchists like Song Jiha, Yi Jihwal, Jeong Chanjin, and Na Wolhwan (1912–1942).[233] Bak subsequently organized the League of Free Youth (Jiyū seinen renmei) in Tokyo with Jeong and Hong Yeong-u. Bak was one of the Korean anarchists who converted to anarchism in Tokyo in the 1920s, but moved to Shanghai in the early 1930s, where he joined the LKYSC and later in the late 1930s organized with Na Wolhwan the Warfront Operation Unit of Korean Youth (see chapter 4). Finally, the case of Im Bongsun (1897–1966) tells us that Bak’s experience in becoming an anarchist was quite commonplace among Korean students in Tokyo. Im had attended many meetings of Koreans in Tokyo, including religious worship services at YMCA, which were held for Koreans in Japan in Kanda District in Tokyo. There, he recalls, he was able to meet with many Korean radicals and gradually became sympathetic with socialist ideas.[234]

To sum up, Korean students in search of higher education had to come to Tokyo where they usually were radicalized and accepted anarchism through their realization of both national and social discriminations, which they experienced by themselves as both a colonized people and “poor work-study students.” Their radicalization and conversion to anarchism took place in many cases through their readings of the works by Japanese anarchists. Most influential on them was Ōsugi Sakae and his works, as well as Kropotkin’s. Of course, some Korean anarchists turned to anarchism through their associations with their radical compatriots in Tokyo. Their radicalization in Tokyo was not surprising because Tokyo had already played an important role as “a mecca of progress” since the turn of the twentieth century in breeding and connecting Asian radicals, and thus by the early 1920s had become a node of the network of radicals in the region as well as a center of radical activities of Japanese radicals, albeit they always suffered from the Japanese police surveillance and continuous suppression. Tokyo was an unlikely center of Korean anarchist movement. Korean anarchists now were ready to organize themselves and propagate anarchism for the cause of both national and social liberation. To do so, however, the support and sponsorship from their Japanese counterparts were of crucial necessity, as their activities, both organizational and publication, were under the much tighter Japanese surveillance and were therefore limited and vulnerable in Tokyo.[235] If not only for their survival, of utmost necessity to them were their close and intimate relationships and interactions with Japanese anarchists, to which now I turn below.

Propagating Anarchism in Tokyo

It was from the early 1920s that the first Korean anarchist organization and its journal appeared in Tokyo. The Black Wave Society (Heukdo hoe or Kokutō kai) was organized in Tokyo in November 1921. The society has been usually regarded as the first Korean anarchist organization in Japan; but it was not an anarchist society per se, as it had diverse Korean radicals in their ideological orientation, most of whom were study-abroad students including work-study students and workers. Its total members numbered about thirty to thirty-five.[236] It was established under the sponsorship of Japanese anarchists such as Ōsugi Sakae, Iwasa Sakutarō, Sakai Toshihiko (1870–1933), and Takatsu Seido (1893–1974).[237] Bak Yeol (1902–1974) was a central figure in this society and was the editor-in-chief and publisher of its journal Black Wave (Kokutō), published in Japanese from July 10, 1922. Bak was a prominent Korean anarchist in Japan, active in the early 1920s, and was later arrested by Japanese police along with his Japanese lover and comrade, Kaneko Fumiko (1903–1926), in the wake of the Greater Kantō Earthquake in 1923, for their “plot” to assassinate the Japanese emperor, which was fabricated by the Japanese police.

Bak Yeol came to Tokyo in October 1919, and was also a poor work-study student who delivered newspaper at the dawn. He had been in and out of many organizations: he had joined the Society of Like-Minded Korean Poor Work Study Students (Chōsen kugaksei dōyūkai),[238] and organized with other students the Righteous Deed Group (Gikyo dan), which was renamed the Iron Righteous Group (Tekkan dan) and again the Bloody Righteous Group (Kekken dan). Bak also used to visit Mochizuki Katsura (1887–1975) at his home where he met Ōsugi and Yamagawa Hitoshi (1880–1958). In particular, Bak seemed to convert to anarchism through his relations with Ōsugi, which leaves an impression that in many aspects such as personality and behavior, Bak was almost a replica of Ōsugi; every bit as audacious as the latter.[239] In fact, Ōsugi’s works deeply convinced Bak at first that the path to socialism lay in labor movement.[240] Given Bak’s prison writings, however, what made Bak different from Ōsugi was his nationalist aspiration, which made him underline the threat and oppression of Japan over Koreans as much more serious and immanent than imperialism of the white race.[241] Bak’s anarchism is usually characterized as his nationalist, individualist understanding of it and a nihilist attitude toward the self, as well as his negation of the state as a “major exploitive company” that exploited human bodies, lives, properties, and even freedom as an organized gangster group. To him, the military and police were equal to the state itself, the latter being unable to exist without the former two. He obviously was opposed to the Japanese emperorship. In addition, he was a believer in direct action, as he thought it was the necessary source for the masses to grasp the power and at the same time for social revolution.[242] Other than Ōsugi, Bak’s various meetings with Iwasa Sakutarō,[243] a “pure anarchist” in the history of Japanese anarchism,[244] seemed to have also been decisive for him to become an anarchist. Bak indeed organized the Black Wave Society at Iwasa’s home in 1921, albeit only a month later the Society was ordered to be dissolved by the Japanese authorities.

Since the Black Wave Society consisted of both anarchists and communists, it was resolved and broken up in December 1922 into two different societies: the Black Labor Society (Heungno hoe or Kokurō kai), led by anarchists, and the North Star Society (Bukseong hoe or Hoksei kai), led by communists. A year later the Black Labor Society was renamed and reorganized into the Black Friends Society (Heuk-u hoe or Kokutomo kai) and began to publish its journal, Recalcitrant Koreans (Hutoi senjin), which later was renamed The Contemporary Society (Hyeon sahoe or Gen shakai). The Black Wave, in its first issue on July 10, 1922, carried a short inaugural editorial in which the journal’s main goal was stated: to introduce the actual situation and conditions of Koreans as “the weak” in Japan to those Japanese who had “warmhearted humanity.” The ultimate goal in publishing it, however, was, through the stated introduction, the realization of the “amalgamation of Japan and Korea” (nitsen yūgō) by removing the “barriers” such as national prejudice and hatred, which stood in the way of realizing the journal’s ultimate goal. The two peoples’ amalgamation would eventually develop into the foundation for an “amalgamated world” (sekai yūgō), where national prejudice and hatred were nonexistent, the editorial predicted. And when the amalgamated world came true in the future, it would be “our days,” the editorial added. Toward a realization of the envisioned cosmopolitan world, its readers were asked sincerely to offer their spiritual and material supports for the society’s cause, concluded the editorial, which was probably written by Bak Yeol or at least with a collective agreement of the Society’s members.[245] The cosmopolitan idea the Black Wave Society promoted was, I suspect, possibly a factor for Kaneko Fumiko to join with Bak in the Korean-led anarchist society.[246]

Of interest here is the journal’s propagation of the amalgamation of Japan and Korea, a kind of pan-Asian idea on the basis of transnational solidarity of the masses. At first hearing, it may sound strange and even incomprehensible that the journal projected an amalgamation of Korea and Japan and made it as the foundation for a future amalgamated, cosmopolitan world, if we consider that Korea had been a colony of Japan since 1910. The journal, the society, and its editor and members could easily be branded as “traitors” to their country and compatriots and “running dogs” or “tools” of Japanese colonialism and expansionist version of Asianism for this kind of idea and advocacy. Their idea of the amalgamation, of course, was far from being identical or similar to that of Japanese pan-Asian expansionists as it was based on transnational ideas rather than cultural and racial solidarity, which would become evident, as I demonstrate below.

The declaration of the Black Wave Society carried in the inaugural issue of its journal further clarified its two main goals for the cosmopolitan world: social revolution and cultural transformation of “self” (ja-a or jiga) into the one who understood mutual aid and liberated oneself from any compulsory forces hindering self-development. Valuing a self through the mutual aid principle was the society’s point of departure for the realization of a social revolution it advocated and ultimately of the amalgamated cosmopolitan world. Both a forced, man-made (as opposed to natural) unity of individuals and “any fixed ism” were not preconditions for such a cultural transformation.[247] Historian Oh Jang-Whan suggests that we understand this declaration, in particular its emphasis on self, in the context of Max Stirner’s individualist anarchism, and also argues that Korean anarchists in Japan were much more attached to theoretical issues in anarchism than their counterparts in China.[248] I rather think the declaration expressed the importance of individual transformation as a point of departure for social revolution (and thus for national liberation). Given the intense interactions with many Japanese anarchists in the process of receiving anarchism, it probably was true that Korean anarchists were engrossed in some theoretical problems more frequently than their counterparts in China or colonial Korea. They nevertheless must have taken into consideration national problems as well as place-based demands in applying theory, as I demonstrate below.

Yi Gangha, who in February 1923 had organized the first anarchist organization in Seoul, the Black Labor Society (Heungno hoe), not the one with the same name in Tokyo that was renamed the Black Friends Society, contributed his writing to the same inaugural issue of Black Wave, in which he expressed his transnational concerns about capitalist society and its “propertyless class.” In the article titled “Our Outcries,” he pointed to the evils of capitalism that had forced people to work all day without gaining a piece of bread, a suit of clothes, and a place to call home, starving and freezing them to death as if they were wild dogs. This situation made Yi lament how “unnatural” and “unreasonable” the human society at the time was and that “propertyless class,” breaking down the “unnaturalness” and “unreasonableness,” was making “righteous outcries” for freedom and equality. Yi, therefore, concluded that there would be no peace without a struggle against his contemporary society under such rampant exploitation and that there couldn’t be a construction without destruction of it.[249] The same issue of the journal also carried Bak Yeol’s “An Example of Direct Action” in which Bak showed his belief that direct action was the only assured method to debilitate the power of laws, the moral, and customs.[250]

The Black Friends Society, renamed in February 1923 from the Black Labor Society, was formed initially with ten members but later grew in its membership to list twenty to thirty members on its roster, including Japanese female anarchist/nihilist Kaneko Fumiko, but most importantly Korean work-study students along with some workers. In 1923, the society published two issues of its journal titled Recalcitrant Koreans (Hutoi senjin), but was soon ordered not to use the title by the Japanese authorities due to its alleged provocativeness.[251] The first issue of Recalcitrant Koreans, although some parts of it were deleted due to the Japanese censorship, carried its short inaugural editorial containing the journal’s two goals. According to the editorial, one goal was to determine whether the “rebellious Koreans” (hutei senjin) in Japan were human beings who were living with a burning wish for freedom or were they just secretly plotting assassinations, destruction, and other conspiracies, and to inform many Japanese workers who were in a similar situation as the Koreans in Japan of the Korean workers’ situation.[252] The other goal was deleted by the Japanese censorship, but it could possibly have been about Korea’s independence. As is clear in the editorial, the journal attempted to juxtapose the Koreans in Japan with Japanese workers, by which the meaning and implication of “rebellious Koreans” began to transcend national distinctions and boundaries. It is quite arguable, therefore, that the journal’s main goal was social. The second issue of Recalcitrant Koreans carried Bak Yeol’s critical article on Asianism propagated by the Japanese government at the time. In it Bak rejected the Japanese version of Asianism, since, he contended, it was wrong to have Koreans united forcefully with Japanese as Asians, when there was an unmovable fact that Korea had been invaded and colonized by Japan. Korea could not be united with Japan just because they belonged to the same “Asian race,” Bak maintained.[253] Here we can see again that the idea of the “amalgamation of Korea and Japan” advocated by the journal’s predecessor, the Black Wave journal with which Bak had been affiliated, was profoundly different from that of Japanese expansionists.[254]

The Black Friends Society also published another journal titled Mass Movement (Minshū undō), in order to study workers and their thought.[255] In addition, it held various lectures for which it received support and sponsorship from their Japanese comrades, and the lectures were given by Japanese anarchists such as Iwasa Sakutarō, Kondo Kenji (1895–1969), Hatta Shūzō (1886–1934), and Mochizuki Katsura (1887–1975). The society also gained support from the Black Youth League (Kokushoku seinen renmei), one of the two nationwide federations of Japanese anarchists formed in 1926, which was usually abbreviated in Japanese as Kokuren and swiftly expanded its organization to include even anarchists in Japanese colonies, Korea and Taiwan.[256] The Black Youth League was known for its support and sponsorship of Korean anarchists and their national goal. For example, it once sponsored a meeting of 500 attendees to support the demand for a solution of the “Korea question” (chōsen mondai) on March 29, 1926. At the meeting Iwasa and Kondo delivered a speech, respectively. Also present at the meeting were Hatta, Mukumoto Unyū, Hirano Shōken (1891–1940), Mochizuki Katsura, and Take Riyōji (1895–1976?).[257] Among these Japanese, Mukumoto is known for keeping Kaneko Fumiko’s ashes after her death in 1926, and his role played later in the attempted assassination with Korean anarchists of Ariyoshi Akira, Japanese consul general in 1930s Shanghai.

Some members of the Black Friends Society, like Bak Yeol, Kaneko Fumiko, Hong Jin-yu, Yuck Hongpyo, Han Hyeonsang (1900–?), and Choe Gyujong (1895–?) also organized a separate society, called the Rebellious Society (Futeisha), with the participation of Japanese anarchists like Kurihara Kazuo (1903–1981), Niiyama Hatsuyo (1902–1923), and Noguchi Shinaji (1899–1973). This society, unlike its sister organization, the Black Friends Society, was basically formed by both Korean and Japanese anarchists to study and propagate anarchism together without any visible direct action, because of which most of its members were not even arraigned by Japanese prosecutors when Bak and Kaneko along with Kim Junghan were arrested, tried, and sentenced at their trials for their alleged plot to kill the Japanese emperor.[258]

The Black Friends Society’s journal was renamed later The Contemporary Society, and its first issue was published in July 1923, with the circulation of about 300 copies of an issue per month.[259] Bak Yeol contributed to its fourth issue an article titled “The Masses and Political Movement in Korea—Rejecting the Swindling Power-Minded Maniacs,” in which he problematized the relationship between politics and power. Drawing on the situation of the workers in Soviet Russia at the time, he specifically accused the Bolsheviks of having become a “new privileged class,” exploiting and ruling the masses, and, therefore, of simply replacing bourgeoisie. Bak, after explaining further the situation of the workers of the world, insisted the usefulness of direct action as the most efficient means against communism and capitalism, in order to prevent the problem of creating a new privileged class from happening in Korea. “Crushing capitalism by a means of general strike,” however, was excluded in his definition of direct action.[260] Given that his initial conversion to anarchism was affected by a syndicalist version of anarchism, this was a bit of surprise. Yuck Honggeun’s writing in the same issue also maintained the same tone and position regarding the critiques of the communists and their reliance not on labor union but on the majority or the masses; to Yuck, the communists simply made use of the term the masses to grasp power and satisfy their ambition.[261]

The fact that Bak still preferred direct action but rejected union-led activities (i.e., general strike) could be a sign of his (and possibly other Tokyo-based Korean anarchists’) departure from anarcho-syndicalism, which had been dominant until the early 1920s in the Japanese anarchist movement since the “high treason” incident in 1910. It is premature, though, to judge whether this one article by Bak could be seen as a sign of his (and therefore, the Tokyo-based Korean anarchists’) turning to “pure anarchism” that came to the forefront of Japanese anarchist movement after Ōsugi’s murder in 1923,[262] or to “nihilism” as he stated later in his trial.[263] It seems, however, that his statement was at least a clear reflection of the split between Korean anarchists and communists in Japan after the long polemics between the two in the 1920s,[264] which began when the Black Wave Society was split into two. In the same issue of The Contemporary Society, an article by Han Hyeonsang, who joined the Black Friends Society in March of 1923,[265] delineated the meaning of social movement led by anarchists as an expression of rebellion and righteous indignation against the contradictions in his contemporary society. Criticizing communists for their power-mindedness and disrespect for individuals, Han asserted that spontaneous will of individuals be the most crucial factor in the consideration of struggle for an individual’s life.[266]

Later in May 1926, the Black Friends (Heuk-u or Kokutomo) journal was allegedly planning to be launched by a Korean anarchist organization, the Black Movement Society (Heuksaek undongsa or Kokushoku undōsha) led by Choe Gyujong, Yi Honggeun, Jang Sangjung (1901–1961), and Won Simchang. It is not known, though, if it was actually published and, if so, how long it continued. At least it seems that the Black Movement Society too had a close relationship with Japanese anarchists, as it regularly held several study meetings or seminars among its members with their invited Japanese anarchist lecturers, including Iwasa Sakutarō, Ishikawa Sanshirō (1876–1956), Mochizuki Kei (1886–1975), and Hatta Shūzō, the latter in particular being the primary lecturer of those meetings probably because he was a renowned “anarchism polemicist” (anakizumu ronkaku).[267] Later, possibly in 1927, the society renamed their Korean-language journal Black Friends as Free Society (Jiyū shakai), published in Japanese. The Black Movement Society was a registered member of Kokuren. Some of Korean anarchists worked for Japanese anarchist press; for example, Yi Honggeun was involved in 1929 in the publication of International Information (Kokusai joho), which was renamed later International Workers (Kokusai rōdōsha), and Hong Yeong-u in 1929 participated in the publication of Free Youth (Jiyū seinen).[268]

According to Yi Honggeun’s recollection in 1984, he and other members of the Black Movement Society subscribed to Japanese anarchist journals such as Black Youth (Kokushoku seinen), Tenant Farming (Kōsaku), and Labor Movement (Rōdō undō) to study their respective theories. Yi also recalls that they were also able to construct a “communication network” (tongsin mang) with those anarchists in Korea, China, and Manchuria.[269] It is unclear, though, to what extent the transnational “communication network” was actually able to work and function to connect the dispersed anarchists in different locations in the region and, thus, generate mutual inspiration and influence as well as to share their transnational commitments. What Yi recalls nevertheless is indicative of the interactions across the borders among Asian anarchists, in general, and Korean anarchists in different locations, in particular. Tokyo, to be sure, functioned as a node of the network of radicals, confirming its earlier role as “a mecca of progress.”

Korean Anarchists and Labor Issues in Osaka

During the first two decades of the twentieth century, Osaka emerged as one of the “growing industrial centers” in Japan, along with Tokyo, Kobe, and Yokohama. And with the development of “an energetic working-class movement”[270] it would become the most active city, only second to Tokyo, in terms of Korean anarchist activities.[271] In fact, Osaka in the 1910s and 1920s was enjoying economic prosperity as the center of various industries, such as the textile industry (especially cotton textiles) and the machine industry, as well as of commerce and finance. Emerging as the biggest industrial city in Asia at the time, Osaka was transforming itself into a significant industrial zone, probably because of which the city had earned its nickname, an “Amsterdam in the Orient.” In addition, Osaka outnumbered Tokyo in terms of the concentration of people in it, who were probably from both inside and outside Japan, and presented itself as a different kind of concentrated location of various people. Among the people arriving in the city were Korean workers who were mostly from the southern rural areas of the Korean peninsula, deprived of their land after Japan’s colonization in 1910, because of the new land investigation and subsequent policy that were enforced on them by the Japanese colonial government. These Koreans who left their hometown now provided Osaka with its much needed cheap labor forces, which in turn upheld from the bottom the prosperity of the city during the Taishō period (1912–1926).[272] Unlike Tokyo, Osaka was known to Koreans at the time mainly as a place of opportunity to earn money as cheap labor workers, certainly not as a place in which to receive higher education.

Indeed, those who came to Osaka from the peninsula were largely workers in search of jobs available there, but there too were some students in Osaka. And the first Korean anarchism-oriented organization in Osaka was the Fraternal Society of Koreans in Osaka (Ōsaka chōsenjin shinbokkai), organized on September 1, 1914, by Korean radical students in Osaka, such as Jeong Taesin, Bu Namhui, and Sin Taegyun. It was not an anarchist organization but the radical students, it seemed, had already been associated with Japanese anarchists in Osaka such as Hasegawa Ichimatsu (1883–1917) and Yokota Shōjirō (1883–1936). Jeong, in particular, gradually accepted anarchism through his interactions with Yokota and Hasegawa.[273] Just like in Tokyo, the role of individual Japanese anarchists must have been of paramount importance in the initial reception and activities of Korean anarchists in Osaka.

In the 1920s Osaka remained as an industrializing city in need of workers, and Koreans were to fill the need. The number of Korean workers who came from Busan to Shimonoseki by ferry between the late 1920s and early 1930s numbered from about 100 thousand or 160 thousand annually, many of whom came to Osaka. Those who came from Jeju Island to Osaka directly by ferry were approximately between fifteen and twenty thousand annually. Osaka was the destination of people particularly from Jeju Island,[274] because most of them were desperately in search of a job. And it seemed that once they came to Osaka they had a tendency to continue to stay and settle in the city, rather than to move to other cities in Japan.[275] This explains why there used to be many Korean anarchists from Jeju Island in Osaka. Go Sunheum (1890–1975) was one of them. Go came from Jeju island to Osaka in March 1924, but had already been inspired by Kropotkin’s mutual aid idea[276] and involved in a labor organization in Seoul, having played a key role in penning the platform and charter of the Association for Labor and Mutual Relief in Korea (Joseon nodong gongje hoe), established in April 1920 as the first labor association in colonial Korea. Go was arrested in August 1922 in Korea for his activities for the Association. After released from prison in 1924, he crossed the Korea Strait to come to Osaka in the same year, where he immediately became engaged in the activities of the Namheung Dawn Society (Nagyo reimei kai) led by Choe Seonmyeong, and also organized the Alliance of the Societies of Korean Propertyless People (ASKPP, Chōsen muchansha shakai dōmei) with Choe and Kim Taeyeop in June of 1924. Although the Alliance had just a handful of members, it often was empowered by collaborations with other radicals and radical organizations in Osaka. The Alliance defined its mission “to definitely escape from the current [colonized] status [of Korea] by Koreans’ own strength and construct a new culture.”[277] Later Go returned to his native province of Jeju Island, where he participated in a mutual relief/financing native organization called Our Mutual Loan Club (Uri gye) which, according to his memoir, attempted to realize an ideal society in the island by adopting to his anarchist ideas Laozi’s idea of “Three Treasures” (sambo) in human life, that is, diligence (geun), frugality (geom), and modesty (yang).[278]

The ASKPP held a mass gathering in June and July (or August) of 1924, respectively, in protest against the Japanese oppression of Koreans’ freedom of speech and gathering, in collaboration with the Society for Korean Labor Alliance in Osaka (Ōsaka chōsen rōdō dōmei kai), the March First Korean Youth Society in Kansai (Kansai chōsenjin sanpin seinen kai), the Osaka Korean Study-Abroad Students’ Fraternal Society (Ōsaka chōsen ryūgaksei gakuyū kai), and the Namheung Dawn Society, with which Go had been affiliated closely since his arrival in Osaka. At the gathering Go gave a speech along with Choe Seonmyeong and Kim Taeyeop. In addition, in an effort to protect Korean women workers’ rights in Osaka, Go also organized the Society to Protect Korean Women Workers (Chōsen jokō hogo kai) on January 6, 1926, partly because most of the female workers in Osaka were from Jeju Island, of which he also was a native. The Society, the first and unique Korean anarchist organization that exclusively worked or advocated for Korean female workers and their rights, had fifty members and continued to be active until 1929. Go also subsequently organized the League of Free Korean Workers in Sakai (Sakai chōsen jiyū rōdōsha renmei) and the League of Free Workers in Osaka (Ōsaka jiyū rōdōsha renmei). Thanks to Go’s efforts and activities in Osaka and later in colonial Korea, Jeju Island became known at that time as a center of Korean anarchist movement, breeding many young anarchists. More importantly, with his activities in Osaka, Korean workers’ movement in Osaka enjoyed its golden years until the mid-1927, when their movement began to be undermined by Korean communists and their activities there. Go would become a central figure in Korean anarchist movement in Osaka, along with Kim Taeyeop and Choe Seonmyeong.[279]

Besides Go, one of the frequently mentioned Korean anarchists in Osaka was Choe Seonmyeong, but little is known about Choe. What is known today is that Choe was a graduate of Tōyō University and had organized the Namheung Dawn Society in Osaka with Kim Taeyeop, before Go Sunheum’s arrival in Osaka in 1924. Choe is believed to have gone to Soviet Russia sometime after Go’s arrival in Osaka, but seemed to disappear after being arrested by Japanese police on the way back to northern Korea from Soviet Russia. Also unclear are when Choe traveled to Soviet Russia, when Choe’s arrest took place, and the whereabouts of Choe afterwards. Choe seemed to have been close to Kim Taeyeop, who remembers and describes Choe in his memoir as a nationalist, without reference to Choe’s gender, who fought against the proletarian dictatorship of the Communists.[280]

In addition to Choe and Go, Kim Taeyeop (1902–1985) played an important role in Korean anarchist movement in Osaka. Kim came to Osaka along with many other Korean workers in 1915 as a child labor worker. Until he was deported to Korea in September 1935, after having spent four years in Japanese prison, Kim had been known for his involvement in many labor movements in the Kansai area of Japan.[281]He began to work as a child laborer in Osaka at a shipbuilding yard, where he realized that, somewhat prematurely, “we workers just work to death and are only exploited” and that “we Koreans” suffered from the harsh oppression from Japanese.[282] Gradually developing class consciousness as a worker as well as national consciousness, he attended a “labor night school” (rōdō yagaku) in Osaka, at which he learned that workers could liberate themselves from poverty only by uniting themselves and resisting unjust oppression and exploitations by all enterprisers.[283] Kim’s case is revealing in that he developed his interest in labor issues because they were his own; and he then was increasingly inclined to anarchism. Unlike most Korean anarchists in Tokyo, who in general encountered both national and social discriminations and almost simultaneously contacted anarchism through reading anarchist works and/or becoming acquainted with Japanese/Korean anarchists, subsequently converting to anarchism, Kim first faced hardships and pains in labor as a child laborer and gradually came to realize this as a social issue. He then found an answer to it in anarchism, or at least found anarchist principles as a way to tackle the problem.[284]

Kim’s anarchism was most likely based on syndicalist labor movement but without any leading theory that guided his labor activities. In his memoir he recalls that in the labor movements he was involved in Osaka and other places he needed no theoretical explanations for Korean workers there to organize and mobilize them, because the main effective principle to mobilize and organize them was to provoke their national consciousness by indicating that they were colonized people who lost their country, rather than offering them any meaningless labor theory.[285] In Osaka, just like Tokyo, national consciousness too must have been utilized to raise social consciousness among the workers. Unlike in Tokyo, however, it seems Korean anarchists like Kim prioritized and dealt first with the labor-related issues prevalent in Osaka, which directly affected their lives and labor conditions, rather than heavily relied on such unappealing issues as the fate and status of their nation or the broader issues pertinent to the question of freedom and equality. There certainly were some peculiar aspects to the Osaka-based Korean anarchist/labor movement in the 1920s, which were different from those in Tokyo. Kim probably knew this and thus recalls that he combined two different categories, the nation (minjok) and the “working masses” (geullo daejung), and rendered them the main guiding ideas for his labor movement activities in the ensuing years.[286]

After spending many years in Osaka, Kim, just like all other Koreans of 1910s to 1920s Japan, left for Tokyo from Osaka in 1920, in search of his education at Nihon (Japan) University as a work-study student. When he traveled to and stayed in Tokyo for a while in 1920, Kim interacted and associated himself with many Japanese and Korean anarchists and even communists there. Obviously Kim was open to various ideologies and also willing to become acquainted with many kinds of socialists. He soon participated in the establishment of the Society for Korean Labor Alliance in Japan (Zainichi chōsen rōdō dōmei kai) in November of that year. While living in Tokyo, he continued to meet many Korean anarchists such as Jeong Taeseong (1901–?), and Bak Yeol. His perspective was accordingly transformed in Tokyo, Kim recalls. It was at this moment that he began to focus more on labor issues and socialist theories and that, according to him, he was inclined toward Fabianism.[287] His stay in Tokyo didn’t last long. In the wake of the Greater Kantō Earthquake in 1923, he was detained and tortured by the Japanese police like many Koreans, and, once released, thus decided to return to Osaka in December of that year. Back in Osaka he actively organized and led a meeting to criticize the Japanese massacre of Koreans in Tokyo after the earthquake. Also organized by him was the ASKPP in June 1924, in league with Choe Seonmyeong and Go Sunheum, two major figures in Osaka-based Korean anarchist movement.

The next year Kim Taeyeop opened a Korean Labor School (Chōsen rōdō gakkō) with Kim Suhyeon. The former also organized the New Advance Society (Shinshin kai) with Yi Chunsik in January 1926, and subsequently the Voice of Self Society (Jigasei sha) also with Yi as chair of the Society, which published its journal, The Voice of Self (Chigasei [sic]). While involved in the above-mentioned several anarchist organizations, Kim Taeyeop was in charge of publishing and editing the journal of the Voice of Self Society, the first Korean anarchist publication published in Osaka. It is notable that the journal could have been endorsed by Bak Yeol, who had been arrested and in prison at the time of its publication in 1926, for his alleged plot with Kaneko Fumiko to assassinate the Japanese emperor. Kim could have possibly developed friendship or comradeship with Bak when he was in Tokyo between 1920 and 1923, since Bak contributed a short piece of writing from prison to the inaugural issue of The Voice of Self, titled “The Declaration of the Strong,” albeit most parts of Bak’s contribution were deleted and thus not readable due to Japanese censorship.[288]

In fact, the first issue of The Voice of Self, published on March 20, 1926, was banned just two days after it had come out, albeit the issue has survived and was available for the current study. The “Declaration” of The Voice of Self, written by Yi Chunsik, chair (daihyō) of the Society, carried in its first issue, also had some parts deleted. Nevertheless, from the part readable, it is clear that the Society maintained its harsh criticism against Korean independence movement activists, socialists, and “labor union activists” (i.e., communists). First, Yi in the Declaration labeled Korean independence activists “our enemy” because they were those who, “entrapping us,” utilized “our unity” for independence and national liberation for the sake of their ambition and power-mindedness. Both socialists and “labor union activists” too were avaricious for power, Yi continued, so that they also “force us to be united” under a certain type of theory in order to sacrifice “us” to meet their “avarice.” All of them, independence activists, socialists, and “labor union activists,” eventually were in fact acting on behalf of capitalists, adding oppression and tyranny to “us,” Yi insisted in the Declaration. According to Yi, therefore, it would turn out that digging the graves of the capitalists must be a work “we” had to do in “our” lives.[289] Here, Yi separated “us”—those who were anarchists (and possibly the masses)—from both other socialists, including communists and syndicalists, as well as the nationalists working for independence.

A similar criticism of nationalists was made by Kim Taeyeop in the same issue. Kim, using his nickname Toppa in Japanese or Dolpa in Korean, meaning “breaking through,” which he had earned after his audacious actions against Japanese, wrote in the inaugural issue an article on “The Movement in Korea,” in which he placed Korea’s liberation movement in the context of global movement for “the liberation of propertyless class.” According to him, the liberation of “weak and small nations” in the world had two meanings, that is, independence and national liberation, for “the powerful nations” had exploited them economically and enslaved their people as well. Political movements such as the March First Movement of 1919 in those “weak and small nations,” therefore, could have no essential effect on liberation, Kim contended. The nature of their liberation rather must be economic and social in consequence, although the March First Movement as a political movement paved the way to the coming socialist as well as labor union movements in Korea, Kim added. For the Koreans without jobs and food under capitalist exploitations, their “savior” was a “socialist new thinking” (shakaishugi deki sin shisō) with the “self-awareness of the masses.” The “savior” called for a liberation movement generated by the power of the unity of the proletarian masses, Kim asserted. In his analysis, the new liberation movement appeared as a response to the call from the “savior,” which had exhibited its genuine power to the movements by labor unions, tenant unions, and so on. throughout Korea. He, of course, observed that there had been terrible oppressions and tyranny by the authorities and police in colonial Korea that had suppressed the new movement. However, “we must not be saddened and depressed,” because the more oppressive and tyrannical the suppression became, the more powerful and intensified became “our movement,” which based itself on the “awareness of humanity” and the “social truth,” Kim concluded. To him, the target of anarchism was not only imperialism or colonialism but also capitalism that had economically exploited and enslaved people, in addition to the privileged ruling class called yangban of the Korean society.[290]

The “powerless people” were not just limited to those colonized in Korea. Yi Chunsik in the next issue of The Voice of Self called for the establishment of the right for human beings to live, not based on the competition for existence between the strong and the weak but rather based on Kropotkin’s mutual aid idea.[291] Here we find the transnational concerns and cosmopolitan outlook of the journal. It is quite arguable here, once again, that, just like Yi Hayu and Shin Chaeho in his new conceptualization of minjung, Yi Chunsik and Kim Taeyeop along with the members of the Voice of Self Society opened up a way to expand the meaning of “people” to transcend the national boundaries of Korea and encompass the exploited and oppressed in the other parts of the world. The contemporary liberation of the “powerless people” (or “propertyless class”) would not spring from an old-fashioned political independence movement, with which the Society seemed to agree; rather, it would stem from the liberation movement for all human beings that was demanded by contemporary socialism.[292] Transnational concerns and goals were to be put forward by the Korean anarchists in the Society, which in turn required them to prioritize and discuss the social rather than the national questions. And the transnational meaning of “powerless people” could possibly have been dissipated to the region quite effectively, as Choe Gapryong recalls that The Voice of Self was sent out as far as to northern Manchuria, so as to eventually convert radicals like Bak Seokhong there to anarchism.[293]

Drawing on Kropotkin’s mutual aid idea, Yi Chunsik continued to express his rejection of the “formula” that “the powerful wins over the weak” and pointed out that one truth was that all the living things possessed the right to live. Yi contended that “we the Korean proletariat,” although they had been “loyal slaves” and “silent,” now had only one path of life under hardships, starvation, oppressions, and so forth, which after all was “to be rebellious.” Only this way, Yi posited, they were able to grasp their own freedom and happiness by their own hands.[294] Here, the meaning of freedom, probably shared by the Society members, was undoubtedly anarchist. An anonymous author of a short article carried also in the inaugural issue of The Voice of Self defined “genuine freedom” as “the freedom of will,”[295] close to what many Korean anarchists upheld at the time, that is, absolute freedom of individuals. The shared understanding of freedom as “the freedom of will” of individuals developed into a much more refined understanding of a self, as Kim Taeyeop in his writing went further to say that without understanding a self it was impossible to understand the masses; likewise, without transforming a self, it was impossible to transform the masses; and without perfecting and comprehending a self, no one could return to a self. Therefore, Kim simply raised two related questions: “how can you claim that you understand the masses when you don’t have any understanding of yourself at all?” and “Are there such things as a class separated from a self?” According to Kim, the motive to pursue a national proletarian movement sprang from the concept that a self was an incomplete product (of the society). In other words, if a self is comprehended as hypocritical and feeble-minded, that would have the self endeavor to perfect the self and ultimately launch a movement to set up a genuine society full of natural humanness.[296] Corresponding to the Society’s name, the Voice of Self, its members seemed to stress individuals and their self-reflections as a way to deal with their contemporary society and its problems under capitalism.

Another influential anarchism-oriented organization established in Osaka was the New Advance Society, although just fragment pieces of information about it are available now. It was established on January 16, 1926, with Yi Chunsik as its chairperson and 500 members, including Kim Taeyeop. The Society passed its platform on the same day of its establishment, which included the following: (1) we anticipate absolute liberation through united actions and mutual aid spirit of the compatriots; (2) we, from a particular national position, endeavor to break down the unreasonable environment and gain economic freedom; and (3) we, from a civilizational position, make a rush to create a new culture.[297] The Society’s main activities included one that cherished the memory of Sunjong, the last emperor of the Joseon (Chosŏn) dynasty of Korea, as well as the participation with other Korean and Japanese organizations in a much larger Osaka-based organization named the Central Council for Koreans (Chōsenjin chūo kyōgi kai). The core members of the Council included Korean anarchist organizations in Osaka such as the New Advance Society and the Voice of Self Society, although it was not to develop at all as an anarchist organization. The Council dealt with the standing issues regarding Korean workers in the Kansai area, including Osaka.

The New Advance Society shared its main office with the Voice of Self Society Yi and Kim had already established. It is not clear why Yi and Kim established an additional anarchist society, but it seems the New Advance Society, as its platform and activities demonstrate, was probably concerned with some standing national issues that required the Society’s attention as much as its anarchist goal, which was not disclosed transparently in the platform. Anyhow, the New Advance Society published the first issue of its organ newsletter on March 20, 1926, with the same title as its name,[298] albeit not much is known about it. Other than the New Advance Society, there were the ASKPP, the Union of Free Korean Workers in Sakai (Chōsen sakai jiyū rōdōsha kumiai), established in 1925, and the Osaka Free Workers Federation (Ōsaka jiyū rōdōsha renmei), also established in the same year. Korean anarchists in Osaka continued to work with their Japanese counterparts well into the early 1930s.[299]

As historian Jeong Hyegyeong correctly suggests, Korea anarchist movement in Osaka needs to be approached and understood from a comparative perspective. It had its own salient traits quite different from that in Tokyo, in terms of its focus of activities and tactics, not to mention the nature of the issues in need of its attention. According to Jeong, there were several conspicuous differences in the Korean anarchist movement in the two cities of Japan. The Korean anarchist organizations in Osaka were quite small in their size, particularly in terms of their membership. And it seems to me there were overall far fewer anarchist organizations in Osaka than in Tokyo in the 1920s. In addition, many anarchist or anarchism-oriented organizations in Osaka stated and included anarchist principles in their platform and goals but not just for the purposes of propagating anarchism and realizing an outright ideal anarchist society. And, as the case of the New Advance Society’s activity to commemorate the last Korean emperor reveals, their activities were sometimes undiscernible from those of other nationalist or socialist organizations, as Jeong points out. Other than the languages of freedom, individual, liberation, mutual aid, and so on, the Osaka-based Korean anarchist organizations, sometimes with no pithiness in theory, did not go further in their respective platform and goals to propagate their radical anarchist ideals, such as revolution. According to Jeong, this explains, in part, why there were fewer conflicts and tensions between the Korean anarchist and other socialist organizations in Osaka, at least around the time when the above-mentioned anarchist societies were organized and active simultaneously.[300] Maybe it was a necessity for them to cooperate closely with other organizations for the maximum effective result of their movement or to cope with and survive the Japanese police surveillance and oppression in the city. It is also possible that they didn’t or didn’t want to distinguish any theoretical differences among various branches of socialisms from anarchism, as in the case with Kim Taeyeop.

The differences between the Korean anarchist movement in Tokyo and Osaka, I argue, need to be approached additionally with the understanding of different local practice of anarchism. As Jeong criticizes historian Horiuchi’s general assessment of all Korean anarchist movements in Japan as a “thought movement” (shisō undō) and “nationalistic,” Horiuchi’s assessment is mainly tenable to the anarchist organizations in Tokyo. This does not mean that the Osaka-based anarchist organizations were not nationalistic. It seems the Korean anarchist organizations in Osaka mainly had their activities more focused on the standing issues of Korean workers in Osaka, such as the improvement of their treatment as workers and the protection of their rights at the workplace. This prioritization of labor issues stemmed from two facts—that many Korean anarchists themselves were workers and that Osaka was an industrializing city full of Korean workers as cheap labor forces. The Osaka-based Korean anarchist emphasized individuals, as opposed to the society, and their transformation, which was as a point of departure for the projected coming cultural transformation toward an anarchist society in the future. This vision was exemplified in The Voice of Self. To be sure, they projected a social transformation in the city with their particular local-based vision, which in turn helped them escape any outright suppression of their activities by the Japanese police. Indeed, the Japanese police were less attentive to these anarchist organizations in Osaka than those in Tokyo.

The above-mentioned two facts might have been of importance to the anarchists in Osaka and thus may be able to explain the differences in their practice of anarchism and focus of activities from their counterparts in Tokyo. As long as their focus was, at least on surface, not placed on national liberation and independence of Korea but on the livelihood and well-being of Korean workers, their movement could be viewed as part of a much broad social, labor movement in Japan, led by Japanese anarchist and socialist organizations. On the contrary, the Korean anarchist movements in Tokyo not only were inspired by nationalist aspirations that usually resulted from national discrimination against Korean study-abroad students in the metropolitan city, but also in many cases were involved in radical revolutionary movements, potentially making them a threat to the Japanese state and its rule in Korea.[301] Comparatively speaking, the number and size of anarchists and their organizations in Tokyo seemed to far surpass those in Osaka, which obviously was one of the reasons why Korean anarchists seemed to have relatively more breathing room in Osaka without much tighter Japanese police surveillance.

We are reminded here that Kim Taeyeop decided to move back to Osaka from Tokyo after the 1923 Greater Kantō Earthquake, and was able to continue his labor activities there without being arrested and put in prison until he was finally deported to Korea in 1935.[302] It is also notable here that Kim’s labor activities must have been known to the Chinese through some kind of information network. Kim, whose activities were mainly limited to Osaka and its vicinity in the mid-1920s, was, to his surprise, formally invited to the congress of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions (Zhonghua minguo zonggonhui), which took place in Shanghai on May Day 1925. There Kim met many labor activists from across the world, including CCP leaders like Liu Shaoqi (1898–1969).[303] It seems that there was a kind of network that did connect and work effectively among radicals in the regional labor movement.

As one of the important anarchist labor movement organizers and activists in Osaka and non-Tokyo area, Kim corroborates regarding the difference between Tokyo and Osaka in his memoir by calling himself more of a nationalist, not an anarchist like those in Tokyo. He nevertheless admits that his success in forming a labor organization in Osaka came basically from how effectively he was able to utilize the national sentiments among Korean workers and relate them to their hardship in daily life. In his view, the workers at the time in Osaka were not able to understand any difficult theories and ideas about labor movement, and so on.[304] I think the key could be the hard life of Korean workers who generally received much lower wages than Japanese workers, as well as various kinds of discrimination experienced; of course, they often must have been victims of national discriminations in the process of employment and in terms of salary, but I think the focus of the Kim-led movements must have been placed on workers’ “hard life” as foreigners in Osaka.[305] Therefore, if I may add to Jeong’s observation, the differences in the Korean anarchist movement between Tokyo and Osaka had something to do with the place of their activities and the composition of Korean population in the two cities, which must have resulted in the different way Korean anarchists in Osaka practiced anarchism. Tokyo certainly was a metropolitan city with abundant opportunities for higher education, the best place for Korean study-abroad students and intellectuals, while Osaka was an industrializing city where Koreans came to earn money as cheap labor forces, and thus had fewer students and intellectuals.

Korean anarchists in Tokyo in the 1920s were generally following the polemics in the Japanese anarchist movement, regarding ideological and theoretical issues, which could have ushered in the vitality of their own movement. Korean anarchists in the second city of Japan, keeping their distance from the polemics, must have seen “life-related issues” corresponding to Korean workers’ living and working conditions as more important. And this difference, in addition to all the others mentioned above, must have contributed to the different deployment of anarchist movements by Koreans in the two cities. Above all, Korean labor/anarchist society organizers in Osaka were in many cases workers themselves in the city and were working for their own families/relatives and those from their hometown, as Go Sunheum’s case demonstrates. Theories that didn’t meet the reality in Osaka could have received less attention from Korean anarchists there. A different practice of anarchism was therefore an obvious and logical outcome of the environment and conditions surrounding Korean anarchists in Osaka.

Korean students and radicals in Japan received and considered anarchism, just like their counterparts in China, as a means and principle for both independence and social transformation. The conversion of Korean students and radicals in Japan to anarchism was a product of their interactions—both direct and indirect—with their Japanese counterparts. And due mainly to their intimate associations with the Japanese anarchists, their particular focus, somewhat different from that of Korean anarchists in China, was more on the social, including the labor issues, and on organizing and educating Korean workers who experienced both national and social discriminations. As a result, comparatively speaking, they often had a sophisticated understanding of anarchist principles, union activities, and so forth, for which Korean anarchists in Japan were all often called “theoreticians,”[306] which can be confirmed by what Kim San says about the general level of Korean anarchists’ theoretical understanding of anarchism by the early 1920s.[307] Among all others, Ōsugi Sakae’s works were most widely read and thus he was considered the most influential of Korean anarchists in Japan, even posthumously. Iwasa Sakutarō, also influential and supportive of Korean anarchists, seemed to develop and maintain his personal relationship with many Korean anarchists by teaching Esperanto at his house or sponsoring and supporting many of their organizations and activities.[308] Indeed, the connectedness of Korean anarchism to Japanese anarchism was inevitable also for the survival of Korean anarchists.

The experiences and activities of Korean anarchists in Japan were to be of great importance in nourishing Korean anarchists and their movements in colonial Korea, as I examine in the next chapter. This does not mean that Korean anarchist movement in Japan was in unity in terms of its activities and visions. The major activities of Tokyo-based Korean anarchists were focused mainly on propagating anarchist ideals and principles for social revolution, as well as national liberation, through their organizations and their publications, jointly with their Japanese comrades. On the contrary, Osaka-based anarchists were eager to protect Korean workers and promote their rights at their workplace. Korean anarchist movement in Japan, mainly organized and conducted in Tokyo and Osaka, sometimes with their Japanese comrades, can be characterized by its general trend toward pure anarchism, an obvious sign of their overall ties with Japanese anarchist movement.

However, there too was a trend toward labor movement in Tokyo and Osaka. A large number of Korean workers in Osaka, who provided cheap labor for the Japanese industrial development, were the object of Korean anarchist movement in Osaka, but they were not necessarily anarcho-syndicalists. What Korean students in 1910s Japan received was mainly anarcho-syndicalism, because it was a leading trend among Japanese anarchists at the time. This influence was to culminate in helping Korean workers organize themselves into various labor organizations after 1922, when Korean workers were murdered at the Nakatsuka dam construction site in Nagata Prefecture, which in turn resulted later in the culmination of labor movements in the late 1920s. There must have been close relationships between Korean anarcho-syndicalists and their Japanese counterparts.

The split in Japanese anarchist movement between pure anarchists, represented by Hatta Shūzō,[309] and anarcho-syndicalists, represented by Ishikawa Sanshirō, also had an impact on Korean anarchists in Japan, who replicated the split.[310] However, it didn’t develop into conflicts among them, according to Yang Sanggi, a former member of Tōkō Labor Alliance of Koreans. Yang recalls that Korean workers in Japan, compared to their Japanese counterparts, experienced double or triple oppressions in daily life because of which Korean pure anarchists too had to organize labor unions, albeit to them it was theoretically contradictory when, as he states, it was anarcho-syndicalists who organized unions and conducted union activities. There was, therefore, he continues, no tensions and conflicts in the League between (pure) anarchists and anarcho-syndicalists, although it was a different story in the Japanese anarchist movement.[311] Yang’s explanation vindicates that, unlike the Japanese anarchists, there were no major clashes or conflicts among Korean anarchists regarding the difference between pure anarchists and syndicalists, when it came to the issue of labor unions and their roles in anarchist movement. Rather, Korean anarchists were generally involved in union activities between the mid-1920s and -30s, covering their other goal for Korea’s independence. What I suggest above does not mean, however, that anarcho-syndicalism disappeared in the Japan-based Korean anarchist movement; rather, unionization activities of Korean workers in Japan by Korean anarchists continued until the 1930s.[312]

From :

Research Interests: Radicalism and Nationalism in Twentieth-Century Eastern Asia, The Guomindang Leftists in the 1920s, Wartime Collaboration in China during the Pacific War. (From:


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