The following is an account of one section of the student revolt all across Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The insubordination at Nichidai was the most widespread and uniquely common eruption of all those storied tales from the era of the Zengakuren and Zenkyoto. This story’s precedent is of course the Zenkyoto's emergence on the Todai campus in Tokyo(Japan's Harvard). But Nichidai went much further. This story has not been available on the internet until now, and the only articles on the Zengakuren and Zenkyoto that were translated into English exist in the now-defunct AMPO journal, which I pull this history from. The article was written by longtime AMPO writers Muto Ichiyo and Inoue Reiko. It is in the interest of the establishment that such secret history goes trammeled into the sewers of history, that the glorious hopes and dreams of generations of individuals get lost in Japan’s "sea of consensus." Against that boredom, I present an excerpt from Nichidai history, replete with photographs from this struggle of hope.
Nichidai was different from Todai in some important aspects. The largest university in Japan with more than 100,000 students, Nichidai was designed not to produce power elites but to supply Japanese business with white-collar proletariat and technical staff. It was a huge money-making system comprising 11 departments, four subsidiary colleges, 25 research institutes, and more than 30 high schools as well as numerous training schools and courses strewn all over the country. Nichidai was a rightist university. The trusteeship headed by notorious rightist Furuta Jujiro mercilessly repressed any spontaneous student activity. There were no independent student associations, and freedom of speech and expression did not exist inside the campuses. Students and professors were unable to criticize the university leadership. Order was maintained by sheer violence. The university bureaucracy hired a private army recruited from rightwing gymnastic club and professional fascist groups. They would enforce Furuta’s directives by beating up dissidents. Nichidai students rightly likened their school to a huge concentration camp. But even that heavy establishment was shaken in the era of rebellion, liberating long suppressed youthful energies which gushed forth with unprecedented force.
The explosion was triggered by university corruption. In 1968, the Tax Agency exposed the embezzlement of 34 billion yen ($17 million) by university authorities. During the agency’s investigation, the chief accountant disappeared, and a clerk committed suicide.
Moved by a common sense of justice, a handful of students started to organize secretly, and at midnight put up wall posters and slogans. Class discussion started and spread. Open, protest action was unimaginable in the fascist-controlled environment. But the Department of Economics students were the first to rise up, classes and clubs issuing statements demanding clarification of the embezzlement and freedom for students. The Department of Humanities and Physics followed suit. On May 21, the first public rally was held by 300 economics students. The action encouraged other departments, and on May 25, 2,000 students gathered at Tokyo’s Kanda campus to organize the first street demonstration ever held by Nichidai students. A modest demonstration, it nonetheless had an insurrectionary value for the participants. Watching their columns swell to more than 3,000 as they walked over 200 meters, they overcame their fear of fascist terror. School authorities replied by locking the students out and sending in their private army armed with real swords to attack them. But the crowds of protesting students snowballed, record crowds turning out every week.
Action committees were organized at all levels, which were unified into the Nichidai Zenkyoto(, “All student struggle committee). Their demands were the resignation en bloc of the trusteeship, the disclosure of university accounts, freedom of assembly, the abolition of censorship over campus publications, and the retraction of disciplinary action against activist students. The Zenkyoto demanded a collective bargaining with the trustees, but Furuta and his private army only escalated their violent attacks. Cases of violence by rightist thugs were too numerous to count. Furuta mobilized as many as 1,000 armed thugs on a single occasion, to give an idea of the scale of violence. That happened on June 2 when students gathered in front of the university’s head-office in Kanda to demand mass negotiations. The fighting units mobilized by the trusteeship were arrayed at nearby Yasukuni shrine in a stand-by position, poised to attack the protesting students. That day, the demonstrators outnumbered and overwhelmed the fascists, who were unable to make a sortie, but some were called to the headquarters, where they showered Cocacola bottles down to the students who massively encircled the building. On June 11, as thousands of students planned to hold a rally inside the campus, armed fascist groups joined by university employees in the student-control section attacked them. These para-military forces were brutal, and more than 200 students fell to the tarmac, bleeding and groaning. It was at that point that the riot police arrived to intervene. The students naively welcomed them, thinking that the police were protecting them from the thugs, but the fully geared police turned on the students, attacking and beating them, together with the fascist groups. That opened the students’ eyes. State power sided with Furuta.
The enraged students then occupied the school buildings, one department after another. Barricading the edifices, they began to live there, in the Nichidai community they had created, defending their citadels and developing their thinking.
The Nichidai struggle culminated in a mass bargaining session held on September 30 in a huge auditorium formerly used for sumo wrestling matches. The four-floor hall was packed by 35,000 students, whose collective weight threatened the old building with collapse. Furuta and other leaders at last had to appear before the angry crowds to reply to them. Reading the proceedings, one is struck by the spirit of democracy that prevailed in the hall. The front rows were occupied by 800 Furuta troopers, all big and strong men from sports clubs, who booed and slandered the Zenkyoto in a rude, menacing manner, red-baiting them and shouting “smash Zenkyoto.” Using its overwhelming presence, Zenkyoto could have easily silenced the guards, but it patiently tried to convince them of the correctness of their cause.
After the fascists left, having failed to disrupt the rally, Furuta and his trustees arrived. Furta made excuses and refused to negotiate. The mass meeting was held, according to him, as a gesture of goodwill on the part of the university. But the students were patient. Akita Meidai, Nichidai Zenkyoto Chairperson, spoke on behalf of all, after which other students rose and spoke, trying to persuade Furuta. The session lasted for 12 hours, until three a.m. Overwhelmed by the moral superiority of the students and having exhausted his last subterfuge, Furuta and the other trustees finally succumbed and signed an agreement accepting all Zenkyoto demands. The Nichidai struggle seemed to have ended in victory for the students.
But the next day, Prime Minister Sato himself intervened. He declared that the Nichidai agreement was not valid as it was forced on the trusteeship by the “mass violence.” Nichidai immediately negated all the promises it had made, and the trusteeship reversed its pledge to resign en masse. The agreement, solemnly signed by all trustees, was declared null and void. Four days later, the police issued arrest warrants for Akita Meidai and seven other Zenkyoto leaders, who had to go underground.
One of the fascist groups involved in the Nichidai struggle was the Nippon Kai (Japan Association) whose president was Furuta himself and whose chairman was Prime Minister Sato Eisaku. The Nippon Kai members included top business and political magnates, such as Keidanren president Uemura Kogoro, former prime ministers Tanaka Kakuei and Fukuda Takeo, and current prime minister Nakasone Yasuhiro. Moreover, the thugs sent into Nichidai to terrorize Zenkyoto students came from 12 different fascist and Yakuza (gangster) organizations, all of which had close ties to big business and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The Nichidai Zenkyoto defied not just the fascist trusteeship of a single university but this whole structure of Japanese society, in which underworld borders on, or even fuses into, the world of dignitaries. This structure, usually concealed from public view, surfaces in all its squalor, deploying its built-in mechanisms of open violence, when masses of people rise up and endanger it.
The perfidious behavior of the Nichidai trustees, instigated by state leaders, was a traumatic revelation to Nichidai students, who realized that they were fighting not merely the corrupt and arrogant university leadership but state power itself, which was based on the Nichidai type control of the common people. This was why the Nichidai Zenkyoto defined their struggle as “Nichidai Revolution.” By this, they meant that changing Nichidai totally was tantamount to changing the entire structure of Japanese society. This awakening radicalized the masses of Nichidai students. An activist who had been among the non-political students at the beginning of the struggle explained a few months later: “Our struggle is fought precisely at a university in whose image the ruling class hopes to reshape all universities. Our struggle is therefore not to modernize Nichidai in which to bring it up to 20th century standards. Our task rather is the most advanced one facing contemporary society.” Why? Because Nichidai despite its pre-modern practices was a built-in instrument of an over-mature capitalist society. He argued, “We entered this university to learn the truth,” he argued, “but the university refused to treat us as human beings. Instead, it tried to supply us as commodities to bourgeois society. Our revolt is a revolt against all this. It is not merely against Furuta and university corruption, but against the dehumanizing functions imposed by capitalist society on the university.”
The Nichidai barricades were sturdily built. Inside, well-organized student communes were set up, rules made by the occupying students well observed, committees organized for different functions, political discussions and cultural activities held constantly, and Molotov-cocktails and other casual weapons prepared to ward off fascist and police attacks. The students began a counter-university, lecturers were invited from outside, and films were shown. A student recalled, “We had lectures everyday. There we listened to first-rate lecturers we had never heard before, and saw so many films. Ironically, we felt we were enjoying university life for the first time.” Students who had been so many isolated “commodities” merged together into the commune, where all people were comrades. Thousands lived in such communes. Despite the constant fear of fascist attacks, they felt that they had at last become themselves, free and dignified. It was a cultural revolution, and especially a social revolution, for they found that through the struggle, social relationships in everyday life had changed. The students felt strongly attached to the barricade, which became the symbol of their new identity.
The Nichidai Zenkyoto struggle gained broad popular support. It was closer to the grassroots than the Todai struggle. The students were not elites, and the issue was simple. Nichidai graduates were everywhere, and many of them knew the Zenkyoto students were right. The corruption of the Nichidai leadership was clear to everybody, violating common people’s sense of justice. The media also had to denounce Furuta for employing violence against the students. Akita Meidai, the Nichidai Zenkyoto leader, was an extremely popular personality, a shy young man from the working class with no halo around him. The major Nichidai departments and other large private universities, like Chuo, Meiji, and Senshu, were located in Tokyo’s Kanda district, which abounded with bookstores, coffeeshops, student restaurants, mahjong parlors, and other service stores frequented by the students. In 1968-69, that area became an arena of serious clashes between students from Nichidai and other schools and the police. Whenever the police attacked students with tear gas and clubs, the local community sympathized, offering asylum to students chased by the police and caring for the injured.
Here the article breaks off.
I know from an Anarchist comrade that at some point, the fascists and police led a joint assault upon communized Nichidai, beating to a pulp faculty and students. The communes were raided and this unprecedented community was brought down. I haven’t found out when or how yet, perhaps I’ll amend this when I do find out…for now I leave it to your imagination, to spark dark fires in the silos of your fighting mind. So that such desires surge forth once more, in Japan or elsewhere, heedless of the constraints of “reality,” seeking accomplices in the destruction of boredom and the creation of community.