Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Japanese Student Left in the 1960s

Introduction: this is an undergraduate paper I wrote back in May of 2000 for a survey class on Asian Politics at Calvin College. I was very interested in the Japanese student movement, but I struggled to find decent sources. There is, unfortunately, a lack of accessible English sources available on the Japanese student movement in general, and perhaps in particular at the small Christian liberal arts college library where I was studying. By going through every book the library had on Japan, I was just barely able to scrap enough information together to make a decent paper. (If you look in the bibliography at the end of this paper, you can see just how thin a lot of my sources were.)
Also back in 2000, there was very little information available on the Internet about the Japanese Student Movement. This has changed for the better, so that now a simple search can turn up any number of sources. Obviously if I had written this paper now, it would read a lot differently. Also among the books I've read in the years since, I can recommend Fire Across the Sea: The Vietnam War and Japan by Thomas Havens and "Blood and Rage: the story of the Japanese Red Army” by William Farrell as being useful sources of information. Anyone who knows of any other useful books or articles on this topic, please feel free to add it to the comments section.
Nevertheless, for whatever it may be worth, here is my original paper.

May 10, 2000

The 1960s were a time of student revolution and discontent all over the globe, and Japan was no exception. The New Left in Japan began to be active in 1960, and would remain so until the 1970s. To understand the Japanese New Left, it is useful to look at student protests, various results of the new left, and a brief analysis of the character of the New Left.

Student Protesters

Massive student protests began in Japan in 1960. The movement wielded together two different causes. The first was opposition to the renewal of the Security Treaty with the United States. The left feared that this would draw Japan into the foreign wars of the United States. The second reason for protesting was Nobusuke Kishi becoming prime minister in 1957. Since Kishi had been the vice minister of munitions under Tojo, the left saw both of these events as signs that Japan was giving up on its post war ideals of democracy and demilitarization.1

When Kishi left Tokyo to sign the security treaty on January 16, 1960, the airport had to be cleared of 700 students, members of the All-Japan Federation of Student Self Government Associations (or Zengakuren for short, in Japanese), who had occupied and vandalized it the night before. The same group clashed with police four times that year as they attempted to enter the Diet Compound. They also succeeded twice in entering the Prime Minister’s residence and burning police cars. When the treaty was passed, left-wing demonstrations increased. On the night of June 15, 1960, a massive demonstration occurred in which 236 students along with 570 police were injured and one female student, Michiko Kamba, was killed. Although the demonstrators were never successful in overturning the treaty, they were able to force Kishi to resign from his post as prime minister.2

After these demonstrations Japan had relative quiet until the end of the 1960s, when the whole globe erupted in student movements. However the experience of that first year in 1960 was a radicalizing one for the Japanese students involved, and it would sow the seeds for many of them to become active again later. It is also believed that these first demonstrations in Japan had an influence on American student radicals. Clark Kerr, the administrator at Berkeley during the Free Speech Movement, is on record as saying that given what was happening in Japan, it was inevitable student unrest would eventually spread to America.

Japanese student protest in the late 60s, as in America, were largely fueled by opposition to the Vietnam War. Because of the security treaty between Japan and America, and because of the many US military bases on Japan, the Japanese students felt that Japan bore some responsibility for the Vietnam War. Also the Japanese government officially supported US policy in Vietnam. Thus in 1967, when Prime Minister Sato attempted to visit South Vietnam, rioters blockaded the approaches to Tokyo National Airport and burned police vehicles. They were ultimately unsuccessful in stopping the visit.3

Another issue of discontent in the late 1960s was the students' demand for campus reforms. In 1968 almost 100 incidents of protest occurred in Japanese Universities. At Tokyo University, medical students objected to the medical practitioners' law and began a year long strike. The police were finally called in on June 17 to evict students who were barricaded in the administration building. Students boycotted all classes in response, and ultimately the president, dean of the faculty of medicine, and the director of the university hospital were forced to resign. The following January 400 students were arrested at Tokyo University when they occupied Yasuda Hall. The police were able to clear the students out only after two days of “pitched battles.”4 In another Tokyo protest in 1968, to mark the anniversary of the death of a student protester the year before, 140 students were arrested and 110 policemen injured. Students also protested against tuition increases, and pressed the University to become more democratic, sometimes even asking for a vote in choosing the university president.

By 1969, United States occupation of Okinawa was becoming an issue in the student movement. The Vietnam War had made the United States military presence in Japan even more unpopular. 6000 people were arrested for protesting in the first half of 1969. On Okinawa Day, April 28, Students took over the trains in Tokyo and brought them to a halt. Student organizations such as the anti-war youth committee and the Peace-For-Vietnam Committee were active student groups that always had riot police surrounding their meetings. On International Antiwar Day, October 21, police arrested more than 1,400 students from these organizations.

Images of students battling riot police became increasingly common, and in some cases students even fire bombed university buildings. The government reacted to the increasing social unrest by legislating a bill to restore order. It included a greater concentration of power in the hands of the University administration, severe penalties for disruptive students, staff and faculty, and even a provision for dissolution of the universities in cases of prolonged trouble.

The Liberal Democratic Party was able to pass this bill through the Diet despite intense opposition. Once it passed, college presidents all over Japan resigned in protest. In Kyoto University, students reacted so adversely to this bill that 2,000 riot police were used to clear student barricades and arrest radical students. When classes finally began again, they did so under police guard. 5

The Results of the New Left

As in Europe, some of the more radical student groups of the 1960s turned to terrorism in Japan. The most famous of these was the Red Army Faction. The Red Army Faction was responsible for hijacking a Japan Airlines plane to North Korea in March of 1970. The Red Army also hijacked a Japan Airlines plane in Libya in 1973, and in 1974 blew up an oil storage tank in Singapore. Their most famous action was an attack on Lod Airport in Israel, in which 26 people were killed. Yet perhaps the greatest enemy the Red Army Faction ever had was itself. Factional fighting almost tore it apart, and in 1972 fourteen members of the group were killed by more radical elements. These fourteen included five women, and several of them were killed by being tied naked to trees and left to freeze to death.6

Another event at the end of the student movement was the Narita Airport incident. Although opposition to the proposed airport began as soon as it was announced in 1966, most of the fighting took place in the 1970s. The plans for the Narita Airport generated opposition from farmers who would lose their land. The student radicals were able to give ideological justification to the farmers' opposition, and at the same time enjoyed the public sympathy for the farmers. There was also fear among the left that, because of the size of the proposed airport, it could be used to land U.S. military planes. 7

Throughout the 1970s, students opposed to the airport constructed forts, towers, tunnels and underground bunkers as they battled the police. In the end two students were killed as well as four riot police. (Three of the riot police were killed by the Red Army Faction, which used Bamboo spears). The airport was completed in 1978. 8

Comments on the Students

Many of the same remarks that have been made on the 1960s movement in Europe and in the United States can also be made about Japan. There was a generation gap between the old left in Japan and the new left. The old communist left had focused on sacrifice and misery, enduring torture and imprisonment in the 1930s. The new student left focused on joy, hedonism, excitement and happiness. The old left was dogmatically Marxist, while the new left showed a high interest in Marx, but also borrowed heavily from humanist and existentialist thinkers. In fact the student protests in 1960 were significant because they were the first leftist protests in Japan not controlled by the Communist party. 10

Also similar to Europe and America, many of the student organizations resisted the urge to organize themselves into well structured hierarchies despite large public support. A minimalist approach to structure was adopted, with an egalitarian emphasis. Visible leaders were discouraged. The Peace-in-Vietnam committee is an excellent example of this. 11

However despite all the efforts of the students, the movement had little success in affecting the firmly entrenched power of the Liberal Democratic Party. The student movement died out due to the end of an American presence in Vietnam, continuing national prosperity, and a negative public reaction as the student radicals turned violent. 12


Burks, Adrath. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1969

–. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1970.

Dower, John. Peace and Democracy in Two Systems: External Policy and Internal Conflict. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993.

Hayes, Louis. Introduction to Japanese Politics. Missoula: University of Montana. 1992

Koschmann, Victor. Intellectuals and Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993.

Kublin, Hyman. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1968.

Milieu, Its and Kazuko Tsurumi. “The Japanese Student Movement.” Japan Quarterly: Oct-Dec. 1968.

Seligmann, Albert. Japan. New York: Americana Corporation. 1968.

Tsurumi, Kazuko. Student Movements in 1960 and 1969: Continuity and Change. Tokyo: tokyo Press. 1975.

White, James. Dynamics of Political Opposition. Berkeley: University of California Press. 1993.

1. John Dower, Peace and Democracy in Two Systems: External Policy and Internal Conflict (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 21

2. Albert Seligmann, Japan (New York: Americana Corporation, 1968) 396

3. Hyman Kublin, Japan (New York: Americana Corporation, 1968) 378

4. Adrath Burks, Japan (New York: Americana Corporation, 1969) 384

5. Adrath Burks, Japan (Americana Corporation: New York, 1970) 389

6. Louis D. Hayes, Introduction to Japanese Politics (Missoula: University of Montana, 1992) 120

7. James White, Dynamics of Political Opposition (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 440

8. Hayes 120

9. Kazuko Tsurumi, Student Movements in 1960 and 1969: Continuity and Change (Tokyo: Tokyo Press 1975) 202

10. Its Milieu and Kazuko Tsurumi, The Japanese Student Movement (Japan Quarterly: Oct-Dec 1968) 431

11. J Victor Koschmann, Intellectuals and Politics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993) 414

12. Hayes 120.

Professor's Comments: Well done. A good summary and Evaluation
Grade: A-

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

The Formation of the Chinese Communist Party

May 1, 1998

China’s civilization is one of the two oldest in the world. It has a rich history stretching back thousands of years, and a well-established culture which is thick with tradition. This leads into the question: why did China become fascinated with communism, a Western philosophy? One key to solving this puzzle is to look at the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, and determine whether it was the result of forces within China, or the result of outside influence, more specifically the Soviet Union and the Third Communist International. In the end we might find that either position is to be avoided. By looking at the intellectual history of Marxism in China, the theories of Chen Duxiu, party founder, and the actual formation of the party itself, the influence of both internal and external forces can be seen.

History of Marxism in China

Marxism in China does not have a deep historical legacy. Although Karl Marx wrote his famous “Communist Manifesto” in 1848, the first references to Marxism in China were not until the beginning of the twentieth century, by reformers Kang Yu Wei and Liang Qichao. But these were brief references, and nobody seemed to have cared much about them (Ladany 4).

Marx’s influence had not increased ten years later, even though plenty of other things in China had. The 1911 Revolution, and the resulting chaos it brought with it, had sparked new modes of thought in China. On September 15, 1915, in Shanghai, Chen Duxiu began his publication of “New Youth” (Chang 41). The Magazine’s impact on the youth of China was immense. New Youth “had a devoted following that took its every editorial pronouncement as an article of faith” (Bianco 35). Because the magazine was written in the vernacular language, instead of the formal writing style, Chang Kuo-t’ao, one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party, was later to write that the magazine “was to thought and scholarship what the abolition of bound feet was to women. Hu Shih called it ‘the birth of a living literature’ and Chen Duxiu hoisted high the banner of the literary revolution. Thus began the debate between new and old Literatures” (Chang 41). Although Chen originally wrote New Youth himself, he was soon joined by many of the most brilliant minds in China’s intellectual sphere (Bianco 34).

Yet despite this revolution in thought, the question in 1915 was not why was Marxism so prevalent, but rather why was it lacking? New Youth featured articles on just about every Western thinker imaginable except Marx. The reason for this absence was certainly not fear of radicalism. The thinkers of the time could not seem to get radical enough. Rather, the explanation is that Marxism did not apply to China. Marx expected capitalism to crumble at its most advanced point, Western Europe. China was still largely under a feudal system at the time, and could not participate in the revolution (Schwartz 7).

The May Fourth movement in 1919 soon joined the literary revolution of 1915, and that was when things really began to happen in China. It is not surprising that the Chinese Communist historians see this as the beginning of the modern China era, and not the 1911 Revolution (Bianco 26). The May Fourth movement contained many radical ideas. Because it was a mass movement though, extreme radicals never grew to more than a little clique (Bianco 31). Within the May Fourth movement, many different streams of thought were contained, and it became the intellectual base of both the Communists and the Kuomintang (Bianco 43).

“The May Fourth Movement had united all the ‘new intellectuals’ around such vague or general concepts as democracy, science, humanitarianism, liberalism, and reason, and even more around a common desire for destruction. Success having been won–and so swiftly!–it was inevitable that differences should arise” (Bianco 45). Division soon occurred within New Youth itself. One one side were the liberals: Hu Shih and Lu Hsun, on the other, the Radicals: Chen Duxiu and Li Ta-Chao. Chen and Li founded the “Weekly Critic” in 1918, in an effort to build up more support fo their increasingly Marxist beliefs. Hu, meanwhile, attacked all “systems of thought with universal claims or appeal, notably Communism and Socialism” (Bianco 45).

It was the Russian Revolution that brought Marxism to the attention of China. Lenin’s twisting of Marx now allowed the theory to be applied to pre-industrial nations, and his writings on imperialism appealed to the Chinese, who were victims of imperialism. More importantly, the Chinese were impressed by the policies of the new Soviet Union (Schwartz 7-8). On July 25, 1919, the Soviet Union formally announced its plan to return the Chinese Eastern Railroad to the Chinese people, as well as giving up any concessions enjoyed by the Czarist government. The Soviets also pledged to help the Chinese in their struggle for freedom. Within less than a month, over thirty important Chinese organizations expressed thanks to the Soviet Union (Houn 16). In contrast, at the same time the Chinese experienced continued exploitation by the rest of the Western powers, most evident at the Paris Peace Conference. This caused many Chinese to become disillusioned with the capitalist powers (Houn 15).

As a result of the Soviet Union, interest in Marxism exploded. In May 1919, New Youth devoted a special section to Marxism, edited by Li Ta-Chao. By the fall of the same year, a large number of Socialist Study groups were organized among intellectuals. By December, the Society for the Study of Socialism was founded at the National Peking University, containing Chen Duxiu, Li Ta-Chao, Mao Zedong, and over 100 others. In May 1920, the Communist Manifesto was published for the first time in Chinese. It enjoyed great success (Houn 15-17).

By the fall of 1920, the pragmatism of Hu-Shih and Lu Hsun could no longer be reconciled with the growing radicalism of Chen Duxiu and Li Ta-Chao. Hu and Lu quite the magazine, and New Youth became a Communist publication (Bianco 45).

Chen Duxiu

Before going into the history of the Chinese Communist Party, it is worthwhile to spend some time looking at its founder, Chen Duxiu. Chen was born in 1879 to a wealthy family. Instead of training for the examinations, Chen opted for a Western education. Chen, like many of his generation, was pro-Western and looked down on Chinese things. He even refused to join Sun Yatsen’s Revolutionary alliance because he considered it too nationalistic (Bianco 34). Shortly after beginning New Youth in 1915, Chen was appointed dean of Faculty of Letters of Peking University in 1918. At thirty eight, Chen was simultaneously one of the oldest and most influential figures in the May Fourth Movement (Bianco 36).

Chen Duxiu’s changing ideologies reflected the turbulent times he lived in. After being attracted to anarchism as a youth, Chen later became a staunch believer in what he believed were the twin pillars of Western Civilization: democracy and science (Schwartz 8). So dedicated was he to the concept of democracy, that Chen was initially unfazed by the revolution in Russia that affected so many others of the time (Schwartz 14). Rather, it was the growing interest that his students exhibited in Lenin that caused Chen to start studying him (Schwartz 18-19).

In 1919, John Dewey came to Peking University as a sort of visiting professor. His impact on Chen was profound. Dewey’s speeches on democracy caused Chen to come to the conclusion that the reason democracy had failed to take root in China was because it had been imposed from above, instead of being organized by the people. Dewey also raised questions in Chen’s mind about economic democracy, something Chen had given little thought to before. Although this began to open Chen’s mind to class oppression, as late as December 1919, he still advocated that capitalism was good for China (Schwartz 19-20).

By February of 1920, Chen was beginning to become committed to socialism. At about the same time, he converted to Christianity, inspired by the Christian socialism practiced by idealistic young Koreans. This conversion is perhaps not all that surprising, given that both were aspects of Chen’s love affair with the West. Chen claimed that Christianity was originally a doctrine of the poor. His conversion to Christianity helped to quicken his transition to communism. However, as influential as this phase was, his Christian phase proved to be extremely short lived (Feigon 144).

Chen advocated a synthesis between socialism and democracy for a brief period, but by September 1920, he had made a total conversion to Marxism-Leninism. The lateness of this conversion is astonishing, considering Chen founded the Chinese Communist Party in May of the next year (Schwartz 23). However, there remained several differences between Lenin and Chen.

Lenin’s influence on Chen should not be underestimated. Not only did Lenin turn Chen’s attention to the problem of the proletariat, but Lenin’s adaptation of Marx’s theory allowed for “backwards nations” to be included. However, it is questionable if Lenin would have approved of Chen stretching his theories to apply to China. Russia may not have been an industrial nation, but capitalism had made its impact. China, by contrast, fell in Lenin’s category of “semi-colonial”. Although Lenin’s writings are somewhat open to interpretation, it seems he would have thought a proletariat revolution impossible in such a state (Schwartz 30).

Beyond this, Chen also differed from Lenin in his concept of party organization. Lenin’s party was based on seizing power, but Chen was more concerned with what would happen once power was seized. Chen was also worried about the way Sun Yatsen had initially dominated the Koumintang, and instead of a strong chief he wanted a party general secretary elected by the committee heads and held responsible to the party. A final, but significant difference between Chen and Lenin is that Chen’s qualifications for party membership were quite different from the strictness of Lenin. Although government officials were excluded from membership, anyone else who was vaguely sympathetic to Marxist ideas was allowed membership (Feigon 153).

The Formation of the Party

The Chinese radicals were there; all they needed was organization. The Soviets realized this, and their visits began in the summer of 1919 to Li Ta-Chao. Two Russian Communists, N. Burtman and A.A. Muller made contact with Li and worked to promote Marxist ideas, as well as strengthen ties between workers and student groups. Other Russian visitors followed, and in late 1919 official representatives of the Third Communist International (Comintern) approached Li. Comintern wanted to establish a Chinese Communist party, but Li did not think that China was ready. Instead, Li referred Comintern to Chen Duxiu, writing in a letter that Chen was the only one who could establish a communist party in China (Feigon 163-164).

In the Spring of 1920, Chen met in Shanghai with Gregory Voitinski, the head of the Department for Eastern Affairs of the Communist International. Chen introduced Voitinski to various revolutionaries, who included Anarchists, Socialists, Marxists, and some Koumingtang members. At a secret meeting in May 1920, these diverse revolutionaries formed the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). A Communist Youth League was established in August (Houn 17).

In addition, Voitinski and Chen also established a Russian News Agency and a Foreign Language school in Shanghai. The Russian News Agency was supposed to function as a propaganda medium. The language school was to be a disguised training center for communists, and included those sent to Russia for further training. Two publications for the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were formed as well, the Labor Circle and The Communist. At the same time, Chen paid close attention to the labor movement, which was going on in Shanghai at the time, hoping to forge links with the working class (Houn 17).

Inspired by Chen’s accomplishments in Shanghai, other communist groups started appearing throughout China. Li Ta-Chao organized a group in Peking, while Mao Zedong, who was an elementary school teacher at the time, started a group in Changsha. With the help of Comintern, groups appeared in Wuhan, Hangchow, Tsinan, Tientsin, and even among Chinese students studying in Japan and France (Houn 17).

In its earliest stage, the members of this fledgling Communist party were far from orthodox Marxists. In fact, in 1920 the CCP was made up largely of anarchists, who were very suspicious of the “Dictatorship of the Proletariat” (Feigon 154, 192). The Communist Youth League, when it was founded, consisted of Marxists, anarchists, and anti-Confucists (Schwartz 31). The party was vague enough to accommodate these differing ideologies in its early stages (Feigon 163).

It is unknown why Voitinski showed such un-Leninist toleration in allowing such diverse views into the party. It has been suggested that he either hoped he could turn the young radicals into communists, or that his limited Chinese made him unable to distinguish between the various factions among Chinese radicals (Schwartz 32).

In September 1920 another meeting was called. At this meeting, they discussed what steps could be taken to produce a more orthodox party. The process of eliminating non-communist from the ranks began, most notably the anarchists. For the next year, most of Chen’s writings were directed against the anarchists, who refused to buy into the essential communist tenet that “coercion could be used for good in the proper hands” (Chen as quoted by Schwartz 33). By May of 1921, Chen had become so frustrated with anarchists that he accused them of not subscribing to Western thought at all, but rather a revival of Taoism. In the atmosphere of the May Fourth Movement, this was no light accusation (Schwartz 33). The attraction anarchism held for the Chinese at the time should not be underestimated. Chen himself used to be an anarchist, as well as Mao Zedong and many of the Chinese intellectuals in France (Schwartz 26). In a famous debate, Chen defended the “dictatorship of the proletariat” against a group of anarchists, which included his two oldest sons (Feigon 154).

The party had its official birth on July 1, 1921, at the First National Congress. The Congress took place at a girls school in a French Concession in Shanghai. The participants were therefore safely out of the reach of Chinese law. Although Chen himself was unable to attend, being busy in Canton at the time, twelve delegates, representing about fifty members each, were present, as well as two representatives from Comintern. Fearing surveillance by concession police, the delegates cut off the meeting on the fourth day. They went to South Lake in Chekiang province “where they hired a boat, brought food and wine, and carried through the work of the Congress under the pretense of having a quiet respectable outing” (North in Houn 18).

Although no records of the meeting exist, the delegates decided to base the party strictly on Marxist-Leninist philosophy, restricting all those who were not genuine Communists from party membership. A party constitution was formed, as well as a Central Committee to which Chen was elected to General Secretary in his absence (Houn 17). Other than that, there was little agreement among the delegates. Chen Duxiu’s goal of eventually having a people’s government led by the Chinese Communist Party was considered to radical by some in attendance. A suggestion was made by one of the delegates, Li Han-chun, to send delegates to Russia and Germany and compare the merits of each Revolution. This proposal received some support. The question of joining Comintern never even came up (Schwartz 34).

Although Chen had made some steps towards the formation of a Communist Party before the arrival of the Comintern, their help was invaluable to him. However, despite his agreement to associate with the Comintern and listen to their advice, Chen was worried about the initial attempts of Comintern to dominate the party. He even went as far as to refuse financial adid from Comintern (Feigon 167). The new Comintern representative, a Dutch Communist called Maring, whose real name was Hendricus Sneevliet, was rather untactful in his dealings with the Chinese. Not only did he strike them as unbearable arrogant, but his attempt to gain control of the party by offering financial help from Comintern was seen by Chen for the blatant bribe that it was (Chang 161-165). However, idealism soon gave way to necessity, as Chen realized how important money was in keeping the party afloat. He reluctantly accepted Comintern aid (Feigon 168). Fear of Comintern domination turned many nationalists away from the Communist party such as Tai Chi-t’ao (Schwartz 32).

Although it would be almost thirty years before the CCP would gain control of China, the idealism and motivation that would contribute to their eventual success was present early on. When one considers how small the party was at its conception, it is amazing how quickly support for it grew, making the CCP one of the most successful parties in modern history.


After looking at the history of Marxism in China, the ideologies of Chen Duxiu and the formation of the Chinese Communist Party, we can see how the party was formed both as a result of internal forces within China, and the external influence of the Soviet Union and Comintern. Without the atmosphere of the May Fourth Movement, or Chinese figures like Chen Duxiu, the CCP would never have come into being. Likewise, without the example of the Soviet Union and the help of Comintern, the CCP would also never have been created. Both internal and external forces combined to produce the entity of the Chinese Communist Party.


Bianco, Lucien. Origins of the Chinese Revolution. Stanford University Press. Stanford. 1971. (Translated by Muriel Bell).

Chang Kuo-t’ao. The Rise of the Chinese Communist Party, 1921-1927. University Press of Kansas. Lawrence. 1971.

Ch’en Kung-Po. The Communist Movement in China. Octagon Books, Incorporated. New York. 1966.

Feigon, Lee. Chen Duxiu: Founder of the Chinese Communist Party. Princeton University Press. Princeton. 1983

Fitzgerald, C.P. The Birth of Communist China. Penguin Books. Hammondsworth. 1964.

Han Suyin. The Morning Deluge: Mao TseTung and the Chinese Revolution, 1893-1954. Little Brown and Company. Boston. 1972.

Houn, Franklin W. A Short History of Chinese Communist. Prentice-Hall. Englewood Cliffs. 1967.

Ladany, Laszlo. The Communist Party of China and Marxism, 1921-1985. Hoover Institution Press. 1988.

Levine, Marylin A. The Found Generation: Chinese Communists in Europe during the Twenties. University of Washington. Seattle. 1993.

Price, Don C. Russia and the Roots of the Chinese Revolution, 1896-1911. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. 1974.

Scwartz, Benjamin I. Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao. Harvard University Press. Cambridge. 1961.

Professor’s Comments: Good clear paper based on a good number of sources–but not the most influential recent study of this very question, Arif Dirlik’s Origins of Chinese Communism. I think I mentioned this work to you. Well written
Grade: A-, 92%

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Organized Gang Warfare in the Late Republic

December 9, 1998

His exploits caused the forum to be soaked with blood, and led to armed conflict in the streets as a part of daily life in ancient Rome. To a Republican government that was already outdated, Clodius helped deliver the final deathblow. His actions showed the flaws of the Roman Republic, and ultimately necessitated the rise of dictators such as Pompey and Caesar who could restore order.

Mob violence had always played an important role in the Republic. In the late Republic it was much more evident. Demagogues such as the Gracchi and Saturninus based their power on the support of the Roman Proletariat, which was politically emasculated but physically a force to deal with. However, the organized gangs that Clodius and his opponent Milo used were unprecedented. We can see the significance of these gangs by looking briefly at the history of Clodius himself, the nature of the coalition he assembled, and at the reign of violence he brought to the city of Rome, and its effects.

Born Publius Pulcher Claudius, Clodius changed his last name to make it less respectable. Clodius’s early political career is known only in fragments. Surprisingly he, like many of the young nobles who would later join him, was from an optimate family (Rome’s conservative party) (Huzar 25). Clodius’s father was one of Sulla’s patrician officers and was killed at the Colline Gate in 82 BCE (Weigal 93), leaving Clodius to be raised by his older brother Appius Pulcher Claudius (Gruen 59). In 70 BCE Clodius joined his brother-in-law Lucullus (Weigal 93) as an officer in Lucullus’s army against Mithridates. Here, Clodius started a mutiny from the headquarters of the army. Declaring himself the “soldier’s friend”, Clodius successfully encouraged the soldiers to rebel by contrasting Lucullus’s tightness with the spoils to Pompey’s generosity. Lucullus was unable to continue the war on account of his brother-in-law, and Clodius soon found himself unwelcome (Kahn 115). Clodius transferred to the army of his other brother in law, and had many adventures (such as joining the Syrian army against the Arabs, or being captured by pirates) before returning to Rome in 65 BCE (Weigal 93).

Clodius became the leader of what Cicero described as a “gang of young incorrigibles” (as qouted in Huzar 24). These youths from powerful families were involved in drinking and playing dice. They seemed almost to desire that their actions would shock respectable Rome. Among Clodius’s gang were Mark Antony and Curio, who would later become rising political stars on their own.

Although Clodius and his company loved to shock their fellow citizens, Clodius was unprepared for the backlash that followed his most outrageous stunt. Clodius disguised himself as a woman and attended the Bona Dea (good goddess) festival. For a man to attend this fextival was a sacrilege that the Romans were terrified would upset the Pax Deorum. When Clodius was found out, he was attacked by a mob of furious women and barely made his escape. Since Julius Caesar was Pontifex Maximus at the time, the festival had been held at his house. It was rumored that Clodius was having an affair with Caesar’s wife. Caesar divorced his wife because of this, but appears to have held no grudge against Clodius (Ward 205-209).

Clodius was brought to trial for his sacrilege, but insisted he was innocent since he had been in Interama on the day in question, fifty miles away from Rome. Cicero destroyed Clodius’s alibi by revealing that Clodius had visited him on that same day. Clodius was acquitted, but he never forgave Cicero (Weigal 95).

Desirous of increased political power, Clodius wanted to get elected into the Tribune of Plebs. However, since he was a patrician, he was ineligible. With the help of Julius Caesar, acting as Pontifex Maximus, Clodius arranged to have himself adopted into a Plebeian family (Kahn 203). Clodius was elected as a Tribune, just as he desired. Clodius made it clear he was out to get Cicero from his new position of power. During the Catiline conspiracy, Cicero as Consul had put to death Roman citizens without a trial. Clodius hoped to condemn him for this. Without waiting to see what Clodius would do to him, Cicero fled into voluntary exile (Furhmann 94-96).

As a Tribune, Clodius worked to increase his power base. He succeeded in passing two bills, one of which reconstituted the collegia, previously outlawed in 64 BCE, and allowed the formation of new collegia. The second bill provided free grain to all citizens, dramatically increasing Clodius’s support with the urban poor. Despite optimate criticism, Clodius opened up the temple of Castor to registration in the new collegia (Kahn214, 215).

“Despite his adventurism and the instability of the coalition he assembled, Clodius represented Caesar’s most effective ally,” (Kahn 214). However, regardless of how useful Clodius was, Caesar was soon to regret the support he had lent to him. “Whilst it is true that each of the triumvirate at various times hoped to use Clodius for his own ends, the fact remains that the tribune’s program was of his own construction to suit his own ambition for dominance,” (Shotter 71). Once Caesar left for Gaul, Clodius was unleashed.

Pompey and Caesar were both becoming unpopular, and Clodius saw this as a chance to switch his allegiance. Clodius picked apart some of Caesar’s legislation, but as the self-declared champion of the people, his primary target was Pompey. Pompey and Crassus were competing with each other. Clodius supported Crassus in this competition in return for interest-free loans from the richest man in Rome (Huzar 25). Clodius undermined Pompey’s treaties in the East, attacked him verbally, and even had his roughs assault Pompey in public. Soon, Pompey would not even leave his house because of Clodius (Gruen 99).

The worst insult of all concerned the son of Tigranes, who was a hostage Pompey had brought back from the East. He was kept captive in the house of Praetor Lucius Flavius. Clodius liberated the captive, and when Flavius tried to recapture him, a battle was fought outside the city gates. Clodius was ultimately successful, but not without heavy losses on both sides (Greenhalgh 11-13).

In retaliation, Pompey gave his support to Titus Annius Milo, an impoverished nobleman who would soon become Clodius’s worst enemy (Heaton 71). Milo formed his own gang to counteract that of Clodius, and thereafter, until the death of Clodius in 52 BCE, the streets of Rome were filled with blood as the two rival gangs battled each other for control.

Before proceeding further, it is worthwhile to examine the nature of Clodius’s support, as well as that of Milo’s. Clodius’s supporters were mostly the urban poor, recruited through the collegia and organized either by profession (guilds) or district (Lintott 193). Clodius’s gang consisted largely of slaves, but included a large number of freemen and urban poor. Of the latter, many were down and out, but many were also skilled men with trades who felt exploited by those who strived to maintain the status quo (Lintott 196-197). Clodius had several other gang leaders to help him keep his men organized. Their names are given to us by Cicero, but little other information remains of them (Lintott 83).

The tactics of Clodius were unique to his time. Outside of the city lay proconsular armies that could crush Clodius and his gang. However, as long as the law was observed and these armies could not enter Rome, Clodius was more than a force to be reckoned with. His gang was equivalent to a miniature army. Futhermore, Clodius was not interested in votes outside of the city of Rome, as both the Gracchi and Saturninus had been. Clodius “pursued urban political power as an end to itself,” (Lintott 196).

Under these circumstances, the only way Clodius could have been opposed was by a man like Milo. Milo’s gang consisted not of dedicated volunteers like that of Clodius, but mostly gladiators he had bought. His success against Clodius’s forces “showed that a small group of professionals could be as satisfactory as Clodius’s mass movement where violence alone was required” (Lintott 85). Also, whereas Clodius only relied on the City for support, Milo had men outside of Rome he could call in for support when he needed to.

Because the activities of these gangs were legally defensible if it could be proved that the other gang had struck first, they were largely immune to the courts, although gang leaders were occasionally brought to trial (Lintott 29).

With two rival gangs now in place, the violence increased dramatically. Sympathy turned against Clodius, and many began to wish taht Cicero was back in Rome to make trouble for him. When the question of Cicero’s recall was discussed in 57 BCE, Clodius and his forces attacked the assembly, killing many. Cicero’s brother, Quintus Cicero, escaped the slaughter only by hiding under a pile of corpses. The senate continued to deliberate the question of Cicero, and when Clodius tried to stop them, Milo retaliated in kind. By midsummer, Clodius’s forces were worn out, and the vote was Cicero’s recall (Heaton 72).

Cicero returned and attached himself to Milo for support against Clodius. Since Cicero returned a hero, he was able to convince the Senate to restore his house (which Clodius and his gang had destroyed) at public expense (Fuhrmann 96). Clodius and his company drove away the workers from Cicero’s house, and destroyed what was already there. Clodius also burned Quintus Cicero’s house, and then went to storm Milo’s property. After doing battle with Milo’s forces, Clodius succeeded in setting fire to his house, but not before losing many of his men (Gruen 294).

Often, Clodius attacked Cicero directly with his gang, doing battle with Cicero’s bodyguards. In one of these encounters, Clodius apparently got himself into a position were he was at the mercy of Cicero, but Cicero gave his bodyguard the signal to let Clodius go (Furhmann 119).

Clodius ran for Aedile in 56 BCE. Although Milo as a tribune tried to postpone the elections, he was unsuccessful. Clodius attempted to bring Milo to trial for using gladiators to defend himself, even though Clodius was guilty of this as well. Pompey tried to speak in Milo’s defense, but he was constantly interrupted by personal abuse from Clodius. Clodius acted like a cheerleader with the crowd, shouting out, “Who is starving the people to death? Who wanted to be sent to Alexandria? Who is the dissolute general? Who scratches his head with one finger?” After each question the crowd would shout out “Pompeius!” Clodius than asked, “Whom do you want to go to Alexandria?” and the crowd replied, “Crassus!” Pompey was forced to listen to these insults until Milo and his men rushed forward chasing Clodius off the rostra (Seager 119).

Clodius continued his hostility toward Pompey, even going to the extent of plotting against his life. Pompey was irritated by Clodius, and summoned more men from the country for his defense. The Senate did not like Clodius, but they like Pompey even less, and so Clodius was allowed to continue his antics (Heaton 76).

Clodius’s positions were always changing though, making it hard for both his friends and enemies to know where he stood. “Clodius’s explosive political strands were combined with dramatic transfers of allegiance” (Gruen 59). By 54 BCE, Clodius shifted his alliance back to the Triumvirs, and reconciled himself to Pompey. The reasons for this drastic change of position are not clear. Perhaps it has to do with the fact that Pompey’s son married Clodius’s niece (the daughter of Appius Claudius) (Rawson 139).

Despite his reconciliation to Pompey, Clodius and Milo remained bitter enemies. This had the effect of straining Pompey’s relationship with Milo. Milo asked Pompey for more support, but Pompey promised him nothing, and increasingly began to distance himself from Milo (Gruen 150). Pompey also claimed to have reconciled Cicero to Clodius, but the fact that relationships remained poor between the two cast doubts on the validity of this reconciliation (Rawson 136).

Also in 54 BCE, one of Caesar’s henchmen, Publius Vatinius was put on trial for violence through the collegia and corruption. Cicero had by this point submitted to the Triumvirs in return for their protection, and agreed to defend Vatinius. Clodius also came to Vatinius’s aid, ascending the tribunal and scattering the lots for jurors. Vatinius was acquitted (Heaton 80).

In 53 BCE, Clodius decided to become a candidate for praetorship. In the same year, Milo ran for consul, feeling that the current chaos Rome was in would allow him to win despite his unorthodox methods. Clodius was terrified of the idea of his enemy obtaining the most powerful political position in Rome, and supported Hypsaeus as an opponent candidate to Milo. Clodius used all the violence and murder for which he was famous to try and stop Milo. Pompey may have even helped Clodius gather rustics and slaves from the Apennines. Clodius openly declared that Milo was going to be killed.

Milo had already demonstrated he was able to play the same game, however. The two gangs continually fought it out in the streets of Rome, with elections being postponed repeatedly until it was necessary to appoint an interregna (Gruen 300).

In one of these battles in the Forum, Mark Antony, having long since left Clodius’s gang, attacked his former leader with a sword. Clodius escaped only by barricading himself in the stairs of a nearby bookstore. Why Mark Antony did this is a mystery. Since Antony was without question Caesar’s man at this point, it is hypothesized that Caesar, realizing that Clodius had once again gotten out of control, ordered his death. However it was unlike Caesar to order an execution in the Forum in broad daylight. Another possibility is that Antony was acting on his own impulse in what he thought was Caesar’s best interest. A third possibility is that Antony had a personal vendetta against Clodius. Clodius had accused Antony of having an affair with Clodius’s wife Fulvia (who would in fact later marry Mark Antony, after the death of both Clodius and her second husband Curio), and if this is true, then perhaps Antony wanted Clodius out of the way. In any case, Antony was soon to see what good luck it was to fail, for if he had been responsible for the death of Clodius, it would certainly have ended his political career (Huzar 37).

On January 18, 52 BCE, Clodius and Milo met on the Appian Way, and Clodius was killed as a result. Exactly how it happened was never quite clear. Cicero claimed that Clodius was waiting in ambush for Milo, and when Milo and his escort passed through, Clodius and his roughs attacked them. In the course of the fight, Clodius was wounded and carried by some of his men into a nearby inn. Cicero claims that Milo, once he realized what happened to Clodius, was unsure of what to do. However, when realizing that he would be blamed for the murder either way, he sent his men into the inn to drag Clodius out. When they went into the inn, Clodius was already dead from his wounds, and so Milo was saved from his guilt.

Other stories were not quite as sympathetic to Milo. Some claimed that Milo initiated the battle. When Clodius was injured, Milo’s men went into the inn, killed the innkeeper, dragged Clodius out, stabbed him several times, and left his corpse on the road. Another version is that Clodius and Milo passed each other with their escort without incident. Then, one of Milo’s men managed to slip into Clodius’s gang, and after following Clodius for a while, stabbed him in the back (Kahn 280).

Clodius’s widow, Fulvia, sent runner throughout the city to alert the people of his death. That same night, a large crowd gathered outside of Clodius’s house, and Fulvia’s lamentation excited the crowd. After the multitudes were further riled up by two tribunes, Titus Munatius Plancus, and Quintus Pompeius Rufus, the city was soon to see how much the people valued their champion. A huge crowd carried Clodius’s body through the streets and into the Senate house, naked so as to show his wounds. Then, the whole Senate house was burned down as a funeral pyre for Clodius (Kahn 281).

Anarchy reigned in Rome following the death of Clodius. Many optimates were murdered, as well as any well dressed person foolish enough to be caught walking in the streets (Weigal 132-133). “The commoners ranged through the city beating and murdering all whom they suspected of sympathy with their hero’s murderer, and wreaked their fury on the rich, attacking especially those who wore fine clothes and gold rings” (Kahn 281). Milo was prudent enough to stay hidden for most of the ordeal, but when he was convinced to make a speech in his defense, a riot ensued. Milo escaped only by disguising himself as a slave. Lepidus’s house was besieged, and his family saved only by Milo’s gladiators. Clodius’s relative, Sextus Clodius, assumed leadership of the gang. He led them on an attack of Milo’s house, but they were driven off by arrows from Milo’s defenders.

The Senate, in desperation, decided to vote Pompey an unprecedented and illegal sole consulship, with power to raise troops and restore order. Because of the circumstances, even strict constitutionalists, such as Cato, approved the measure. Although other consuls were later appointed, Pompey was to retain this power in fact if not in name until the civil war with Caesar. In an effort to maintain order, Pompey implemented many laws that were thought by Caesar’s allies to be indirectly against Caesar, and this helped to hasten the civil war (Greenham 83).

Cicero undertook the defense of Milo. Despite Pompey’s soldiers, Cicero was so intimidated by the howling crowd that he probably would not have been able to deliver his speech even if the crowd had let him speak. There was often violence between the crowd and Pompey’s soldiers, and many of the crowd was killed. In the end, Milo was ultimately condemned and exiled (Heaton 81).

Clodius’s politics were far from orthodox, and the rules of his game were much different than the rules of Caesar and Pompey, but for a period of time it can be said that he was the most powerful man in Rome. That Clodius’s methods could be so successful demonstrates the frustration of the urban poor in Rome, and should be taken as a sign that the Republic was on its way out. Clodius hastened this departure. The anarchy he created in the city was only restored by giving Pompey sole power, which was one of the factors leading to civil war and Caesar’s eventual dictatorship. Also, the reign of violence he unleashed on the city of Rome caused both rich and poor to wish for law and order as opposed to freedom under the republic. Clodius is certainly one of history’s most colorful characters. He took mob violence to an extreme no one had done before him, and his effects on history remain visible.


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Greenhalgh, Peter. Pompey: The Republican Prince. University of Missouri Press. Columbia. 1982

Gruen, Erich. The Last Generation of the Roman Republic. University of California Press. Berkeley. 1974

Heaton, J.W. Mob Violence in the Late Roman Republic: 133-49 B.C. University of Illinois. Urbana. 1939.

Huzar, Eleanor. Mark Antony. University of Minnesota Press. Minneapolis. 1978

Kahn, Arthur. The Education of Julius Caesar. Shocken Books. New York. 1986.

Lintott, A.W. Violence in Republican Rome. Clarendon Press. Oxford. 1968.

Rawson, Beryl. The Politics of Friendship: Pompey and Cicero. Sydney University Press. Forest Grove. 1978.

Seager, Robin. Pompey: A Political Biography. University of California Press. Berkeley. 1979.

Shotter, David. The Fall of the Roman Republic. Routledge. New York. 1994.

Ward, Allen. Marcus Crassus and the Late Republic. University of Missouri Press. Columbia. 1977.

Weigal, Arthur. The Life and Times of Mark Antony. Garden City Publishing Company. 1931

Professor's comments: Generally well done, if somewhat rough around the edges. The most serious flaw is the lack of adequate explanation at certain points (see comments throughout). [Editor's note: I have not duplicated margin comments throughout].
Grade: B