Sakae Osugi - Biography - Anarchism and The High Treason Incident

Anarchism and The High Treason Incident

Ōsugi still held military aspirations as a matter of practicality, since he still had no other career ambitions. However, in 1906 he was arrested during a demonstration-turned-riot against increasing trolly fares, after which a military career became impossible. While in prison he took the time to fully study socialism and its various tenets, and completed his transition to a socialist. His interest in science would also lay the groundwork for his eventual shift to anarchism.

While in prison he taught himself various languages, including Italian, Esperanto, Russian, English, French, and German.

His initial prison sentences were due to separate instances of activist-related activity. The first was for the aforementioned trolly fare protest riot. Later he was arrested for violating press laws in connection with two articles he published in late 1906 and early 1907. Still later he served two more separate terms in 1908 for violating the Peace Police Law on two separate occasions, the Rooftop Incident (Yane-jō jiken) and the Red Flag Incident (Akahata jiken) in early and late 1908, respectively.

While in prison, Kōtoku, now an avowed anarchist, encouraged him to research the work of Bakunin and Kropotkin. Ōsugi was particularly receptive to Kropotkin's scientific approach to anarchy, and he would later translate Kropotkin's autobiography in 1920.

When he was arrested in 1908 as part of the Red Flag Incident, he was handed the heaviest prison term he would receive in his life. However, the prison terms saved him and others convicted at the time from being associated with the High Treason Incident (Taigyaku Jiken) of 1910. At the trials, 12 anarchists, including Kōtoku Shūsui and one of the few anarchists found not guilty during the Red Flag trials, were found guilty of conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor and were sentenced to death.

Ōsugi later encountered the defendants in prison, but was too afraid to speak to them too loudly. Kōtoku was unable to hear him, as he was nearly deaf. Ōsugi also encountered their executioner, who retired after their execution.

After this experience he never challenged the state with open calls for violent revolution, and his future essays instead focused on individualism and criticisms of capitalism. He would not be arrested again until 1919, for assaulting a police officer, for which he was sentenced to a three-month term. He was also briefly held in detention in France in 1922 before being deported to Japan.

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