New Left in Japan

The New Left (新左翼, shin-sayoku) in Japan refers to a 1960s Japanese movement that adopted the radical political thought of the Western New Left, breaking from the established Old Left of the Japanese Communist Party and Japan Socialist Party. In the 1970s the Japanese New Left became known for violent internal splits and terrorism. This caused the movement's influence to wane, although it continued to develop new political ideologies such as Anti-Japaneseism (反日亡国論, han'nichi-bokoku-ron).


In 1956 Nikita Khrushchev secretly denounced Stalinism in his speech "On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences". This speech went unreported in official Party organs, so the Stalinist Japanese Communist Party did not offer any reaction. But copies of it circulated around the world and had a great impact on youth and student Communist organizations. In 1957 the Japan Trotskyist League was founded by young dissidents from the Communist Party such as Kuroda Kan'ichi and Ryu Ota, which quickly split into a Fourth International and an "post-Trotskyist, anti-Stalinist" party called the Revolutionary Communist Party.

In 1958 a Maoist group split from the Communist Party advocating violent revolution. In 1959 the Zengakuren, where the violent radicals had concentrated, broke into the Diet of Japan during discussions of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan, eliciting praise from a segment of the Japanese population. It was widely noted that the Old Left had not taken any such extreme measures, and thus the New Left began its ascendance.


In 1963 the Revolutionary Communist League split into the Japan Revolutionary Communist League, National Committee (Middle Core Faction) and the Japan Revolutionary Communist League (Revolutionary Marxist Faction). In 1965 the Socialist Party's Youth Alliance developed a "Liberation Faction" (社青同解放派) that rejected Trotskyism and advocated for Luxemburgism.

The protests of 1968, a global "student power" movement reached Japan, coinciding with the renewal of the US-Japan Mutual Cooperation Treaty, triggering the 1968–69 Japanese university protests. Many of the New Left factions took the opportunity to occupy university buildings, halt classes, and make demands. They regularly battled against police and each other on campus grounds, donning distinctive colored helmets so that they could recognize fellow members.[1]

In 1969, several anarchist groups were revised and formed. In the campus battles these groups wore black helmets (黒ヘル, kuro-heru), along with the "nonaligned" demonstrators, to demonstrate that they would not rally with any particular group.


The US-Japan Mutual Cooperation Treaty was successfully renewed in 1970 and students returning to work left the New Left groups virtually deserted, with only career leftists remaining. The groups split into dozens of warring factions and internal violence, which had been occasional up until then, grew ever more severe. One of the factions further radicalized into the infamous United Red Army which killed twelve of its own members in self-criticism sessions. The Japanese Red Army, a militant communist organization who's goals were to overthrow the Japanese government and the monarchy, as well as to start a world revolution and where responsible for Lod Airport massacre and two Japanese aeroplane hijackings also formed in 1971.[2]

From 1969 to 2003, from 1 to 4 people died every year as the result of internal conflict between New Left groups.


One major intellectual current among the New Left was Anti-Japaneseism, which responded to the Old Left's Anti-Japanism. The Anti-Japanism theory posed that Japan's actions since the Meiji period had been tainted by imperialism, and a new regime was needed. Anti-Japaneseism radicalized this argument by claiming that the Japanese themselves are evil and all traces of Japaneseness must be purged from the "Japanese" archipelago. Proponents of this theory believe that the only way to redeem oneself from the "oppressor and criminal Japanese race" is to fight against all Japanese interests.[3] Anti-Japaneseism has been compared to anti-Semitism except that it is argued by members of the ethnic groups themselves.


  1. 絓, 秀実 (Suga Hidemi) (2006). 1968年 [1968]. Tokyo: 筑摩書房. ISBN 4480063234.
  2. "Japanese Red Army (JRA) Anti-Imperialist International Brigade (AIIB)". Retrieved 2022-09-22.
  3. 治安フォーラム別冊『過激派事件簿40年史』立花書房、2001年

Legacy of 1960 protest movement lives on - The Japan Times

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