a cipher. They refuse to remain just members of
honoured and respected groups: they want to be individuals. Student revolts —
in Japan as anywhere else — are complex social affairs which will engage the
attention of devoted scientists for a long time. But the revolt in Japan — much more than anywhere else — is the revolt of the Individual. In other countries
the individual may aspire to more rights, to social justice, to a saner and
more human society; in Japan he aspires to be born.
I heard a distinguished dean of a
faculty ask one of his rebellious students (the conversation was exquisitely
polite), what the students’ aim was.
‘Our aim? We want to bust society.
‘And what do you intend to put in its
It is this attitude Japanese society
fails to grasp. The few who grasp it condemn it as wicked but it is no more
wicked than a cry of despair. Society argues with this small minority on the
level of right-wing and left-wing politics, trying to refute the doctrines of
Mao, Lenin or Castro which, although in the foreground, have little to do with
the real issues. Or they promise overdue university reforms, failing to realize
that the students’ eyes are, in fact, on post-university life.
It is legitimate to ask: on what
level can they solve anything? Even if they understood, would their
understanding help? You cannot end the Vietnam war; neither can you argue with
despair, with a desire for wanton destruction, with a man who cries out in a
Understanding always helps. But it is
the students themselves, not their elders, who will solve their problems, and
not, I am afraid, in a grand or heroic manner. Problems, more often than not,
tend to sort themselves out. A lot of students talk of ‘permanent revolution’ —
a phrase Chairman Mao publicized after taking it over, like most of his ideas,
from his much greater predecessor, Karl Marx. But there is no such thing as
permanent revolution. As soon as revolution becomes permanent it ceases to be
revolution and becomes the established order, itself a target for
revolution. The old revolution has spent itself. The student revolution will
also spend itself: the youthful revolutionaries will soon enough cease to be
not only revolutionaries but also youthful.
Most of them will settle down and
become pillars of the very society they seem to be so keen on destroying.
Theirs will not be the first revolution to be betrayed by its paragons.
Napoleon was not born an emperor; the Soviet Union of Lenin and Trotsky was not
a bureaucratic, nationalistic tyranny of petty officials; the church bequeathed
by Christ to humanity was to be the church of poor, humble and progressive men.
The conflict between freedom and over-organization, the clash between growing
comfort for all and less exquisite, artistic beauty for the few, the parallel
growth of prosperity and ugliness is not the problem of the students only; it
is the problem of all of us and not a simple one in which black and white can
easily be told apart. Their revolution will neither be defeated nor triumph: it
will fade away only to break out in other forms, in other fields, under
different flags and slogans, led by new protesters. And to add insult to
injury, some of the vast companies are already fishing in the troubled
university waters, keen on recruiting the most militant student leaders. These
young heroes, they say, show initiative; and initiative is the stuff good
businessmen are made of.
The steering-wheel of a motor-car has the
same effect on a modern, civilized man as the smell of blood has on the average
But the Japanese is no average tiger.
He is a suppressed, frustrated and over-teased tiger, forced by sadistic
tiger-tamers to keep smiling and bowing when he feels like growling and
devouring the boss. Sitting behind the steering-wheel he does not feel
malicious; he is not after blood: he simply throws all restrictions
Steam Books, Stacey Allure