Abandoning Family for the Cause – A Look at Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko

Though historian Arif Dirlik recognized anarchism as a body of widely varying ideas, he argues that all anarchist thought contains a ‘repudiation of authority, especially of the state and the family’.1 By this definition, anarchists must reject connection to their own families for the cause of total social revolution. While many would find this task difficult, looking at the lives of two anarchist thinkers, Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko, one can see why they may have been driven towards anarchist thought; at the least, one can see how the spurning of family could be so easily accepted by these revolutionaries. I’d like to make it clear that I’m not suggesting an individual must have had a difficult homelife in order to become an anarchist, but I would like to draw attention to its role in the lives of these particular anarchist women.

Both Kanno and Kaneko faced a great deal of hardship in their youth, which contributed to the shaping of their worldviews as teenagers and adults. In the case of Kanno Sugako, she lost her mother at ten, which soon left her at the mercy of a cruel stepmother.2 By the time she was fifteen, Kanno was the victim of rape by a miner who worked for her father. This experience, possibly encouraged by her stepmother, left Kanno with a deep-seated sense of shame, which she coped with by reading Sakai Toshihiko’s essay, ‘in which he counseled rape victims not to be burdened with guilt’.3 The comfort she found through Sakai’s work led her to read his other essays on socialism, therefore exposing her to the ideology for the first time. If it had not been for the cruelty of her stepmother and her sexual assault, Kanno may not have read any of Sakai’s works and may have been less likely to join in the movement as a young adult. What’s more, if she had grown up in a loving family environment, she would have been less likely to agree with the devaluation of family that is essential to anarchist thought. Instead, Kanno proudly claimed that ‘even among anarchists I was among the more radical thinkers’.4 That she found comfort in socialist/anarchist thought rather than in her familial network can only be taken as guiding her towards a more radical way of organizing society. However, how much of Kanno’s radicalism could be attributed to her personal background cannot be determined by this short of an examination.

As for the life of Kaneko Fumiko, she suffered through multiple years of poverty in her early childhood due to her father’s alcoholism before being put under the care of her grandmother.5 While living with her grandmother as Japanese colonists in Korea, Kaneko’s extended family treated her as little more than a maid and often physically abused her. This treatment compounded with her anger over ‘the arrogant manner in which the Japanese occupiers treated the native Koreans’.6 Like Kanno, Kaneko ‘s childhood experiences certainly primed her to accept the anarchist rejection of family’s authority in society. It is no wonder that she questioned why one should remain loyal to a person simply because they are a relative, when hers had always treated her so heartlessly. Instead, she would seek to revolutionize society to equally respect all people. This view in turn connects to her refusal to recognize the authority of the state. After viewing firsthand the abuses enacted on the Koreans, it is understandable that Kaneko would desire a nonhierarchical society based on mutual respect.

Anarchism’s tenet of individual abandonment of family as a central authority, according to Dirlik’s definition, doubtlessly drew in the loyalties of Kanno Sugako and Kaneko Fumiko. As two women who had received years long abuse at the hands of their biological families, it should be no surprise that they were drawn to a social framework that decentralized the family. While all anarchists may not have had comparable experiences, it remains intriguing that both of these Japanese anarchists did share this background. With more comparison of anarchist thinkers’ personal lives, we could learn more about why they were drawn to this seemingly impracticable social ideology. As for now, this observation is interesting but simply coincidence.

  1. Arif Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution (Berkeley, 1991), p. 12. []
  2. For all biographical information found here see Mikiso Hane, Reflections on the Way to the Gallows: Rebel Women in Prewar Japan (Berkeley, 1988), pp. 51-2. []
  3. Hane, Reflections, p. 51 []
  4. Ibid., p. 56. []
  5. For all her biographical information see: Ibid., 75-79 []
  6. Ibid., p. 78 []