Many Koreans gathered in Manchuria to avoid oppression from the Japanese empire and formed their own society. Kim Jong-jin, having been inspired by anarchism under Yi Hoe-yeong, aspired to create a society in which all were equal without privilege and discrimination and free to develop and improve as they please. He believed in order to achieve a revolutionary movement, they needed to maintain a long struggle by a detailed plan and a complete organization and Manchuria was an adequate spot to have as a base. So he divided and surveyed the region and reported the results to Kim Jwa-jin.
He suggested to reform the Shinmin prefecture to prevent the invasion of Marxist-Leninists, defeat those who claim “scientific socialism” and hold a long struggle against Japanese imperialism.
Meanwhile in Manchuria, Korean anarchists had created an organization called 자유청년회 (“Ja yu cheong nyeon hoe”) and its members were working all across Manchuria. Kim Jong-jin, along with Yi Dal and Kim Ya-bong gathered all members and formed 흑우연맹 (“Heug u yeon maeng”) focusing on propagating anarchism. More youth organizations converged under the activities of 흑우연맹 and formed 북만한인청년연맹 (“Bung man han in cheong nyeon yeon maeng”) which also studied anarchism and focused on enlightenment of the population. Kim Jong-jin and Yi Eul-gyu established the Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria (재만조선무정부주의자연맹) using 북만한인청년연맹 as a base.
On the other hand, nationalists in Manchuria had failed to unify their factions of 3 prefectures in Manchuria and their innovative congress had disbanded without making much progress. Also, since they have expropriated resources from the populace while reigning over them, they were losing support and the populace were leaning towards Marxist-Leninists. Feeling threatened by this development, the nationalists and anarchists joined forces to create the Korean People’s Association in Manchuria (한족총연합회).
북만한인청년연맹, through their announcement, exposed the Japanese ambitions of Manchurian invasion and opposed political movements. They also opposed capitalism and foreign rule, and sought to respect the will of the individual and established the rule of free association, thus rejecting centralised governance.
The Korean Anarchist Federation in Manchuria, included a society of no rulers, free development via mutual aid and free association, work according to one’s ability and consumption based on one’s need into their programme. They sought to revolutionize the mind and lives of peasants and build an ideal society and progressing the liberation efforts based on it.
Their immediate program:
- We strive to reform the lives of Korean-Chinese people and to cultivate their anti-Japanese, anti Marxist-Leninist ideology.
2. We strive to foster the organization of our fellow compatriots through the self-governing cooperative structures to promote the economic/cultural improvement of Korean-Chinese people
3. We strive with all our might to the education of the youth in order to strengthen the anti-Japanese force and the cultural development of the youth.
4. We as farmers run our own lives with our own strength through collective labor with the farmer population and at the same time focus on the improvement of the lives of farmers and farming methods as well as cultivation of ideologies.
5. We carry a responsibility to research our own affairs and to regularly report self-criticism
6. We have the obligation of friendly cooperation and common operatives with ethnic nationalists on the anti-Japanese liberation front.
According to the rules of the KPAM, its members were comprised of revolutionary Koreans, those who have lived in the region for longer than 3 months had rights and obligations such as donating funds, enlisting in the military, voting and passive suffrage. On its central institution, they installed the representative, executive, conference agencies and military, farming, education and economy committees. The representative agency was the top resolution agency which was held every January by those gathered by the executive agency and the head was picked by the executive agency to represent the meeting. Executive agency composed of over 15 to under 21 members which handled the affairs decided at the meeting and their term was a year. The conference agency composed of members from each committee and handled the connections between each committees and handled the PR decided by the executives.
Within each regional division of the KPAM was the agriculture association and it served as a regional administration handling matters ranging from executive, judicial, finance, to education, security and picked over 5 to under 9 members to carry them out. Also they installed the associations of education and security to handle those matters respectively.
The KPAM sought for maintenance of the region in order to acquire a structural base in it. They also focused on building elementary (소학교) and middle schools(중등학교).
They also built rice mills in order to protect the Korean peasants from being duped by Chinese merchants.
The prefecture started to fall with the assassination of Kim Jwa-jin by Gong Do-jin, a 화요파 (“Hwa yo pa”) communist party member, during the attempt by the Marxist-Leninists to dismantle the nationalist organization as the conflict between both factions escalated. KPAM then blamed and executed 2 figures which brought further condemnation and more assassination attempts from Marxist-Leninists.The association moved its HQ to Jilin and sought to unite the ethnic organizations against the communist party once more and attempted to subjugate the Marxist-Leninists. They also tried to calm down the population and fix its structural problems but ran out of funds so they had to request some money from a meeting in Beijing (무정부주의자동양대회). They got the money and planned to use it to rebuild the commune but 10 members got arrested by the Chinese police who were collaborating with the Japanese embassy. The police confiscated the funds. China based Korean anarchists quickly gathered around Manchuria to resume and rebuild Shinmin efforts.
After gathering, anarchists tried to restructure and enlighten the population once more but their efforts remained in vain for 2 reasons. The first being the internal division in the association and the second being the conflict between nationalists and anarchists. The Anarchists soon found themselves rejected from the main positions of the association as the conflict grew worse. The nationalists assassinated Yi Jun-geun, Kim Ya-un, and Kim Jong-jin, thus finally closing the chapter of the Shinmin prefecture as the anarchists fled from Manchuria.
Why it failed
The KPAM did indeed operate in an anarchistic manner. It was structured in accordance with anarchist principles of bottom-up organization based on free association. Each region would send their share of delegates which would manage the main issues of the association, and the general association would take care of all paperwork and decide on foreign affairs and public relations. Each region would hold a meeting to choose delegates and write proposals to the main branch. However, due to the situation in Manchuria and the lacking state of the Shinmin prefecture forced the association to adopt a top-down approach where they would select a couple candidates for each structure and hold elections respectively.
However, the KPAM had a fundamental flaw. While it was operated and structured by anarchist principles, it was not unified by anarchism nor did every member agree with anarchism.
For example, one phrase of their programme says, “We strive for the complete independence of the nation and thorough liberation of the people”. This meant they did not deny the state rather they acknowledged it. Despite the state being one of the top authorities that oppresses people according to anarchists, anarchists in Shinmin have deviated from anarchist principles by recognizing its existence in order to collaborate with the nationalists as they needed the regional base from them.
This “non-anarchistic” element eventually led to the internal division within the association and between anarchists and nationalists. Despite nationalist ideology having fundamental difference with anarchism, anarchists cooperated with nationalists which was a self-contradiction.
They had not established a regional base by themselves and borrowed it from the nationalists, this carried a certain dangerous factor that ultimately led to their failure from the beginning.
Afterwards the anarchists fled from Manchuria to mainland China, where they resumed their focus on terrorist activities. Unlike in Korea and Japan, there was no Korean populace to rally the movements with and because the efforts to build a base for a liberation movement was shattered as foretold, the only option left for Korean anarchists at the time (early to mid 1930s) was direct terrorism. They were also heavily discouraged from the failures of Shinmin and having to live far abroad, which led them to nihilist terrorism. The remaining anarchists began collaborating with nationalists like Kim Koo as both groups had a common objective that is to achieve liberation through terrorism.
Kim Koo and nationalists had the funds and anarchists had people to carry out assassinations. Another reason is that they had experience cooperating with nationalists in Shinmin. The anarchists also loathed the Marxist-Leninists after they killed Kim Jwa-jin which was a key factor of the fall of Shinmin, which led them to anti-ML activities. ■
Article composed with reference to Dr. Yi Horyong’s Anarchism in Korea and proofread by a couple others including @wrkclasshistory.