Who Writes History, Why We Write History and How We Write History? From the Movement for People’s History and the Movement of Life-Writing Circles in 1950s Japan.”

Kazuhiro Nishijima 

I would like to discuss movements of history and writing in 1950s Japan.

I believe that these movements should be reviewed today because they offer an alternative perspective compared to traditional history and scientific history.
These movements have similar characteristics to the postmodernist historical approach which Professor White is going to lecture about later.
However, in these movements, there are some possibilities for postmodern history that were not discussed about in Professor White's lecture.
Professor White has been focusing on the fictional character of histories, analyzing the poetics and emplotment in historiography, which frame the preceding stage of writing history.
Today I would like to show the different aspect shed a new light on that preceding stage. I draw our attention to “communication space”, a major part of that preceding stage: It is an area where people can participate in prefiguration of history by writing, reading and sharing their own experiences.
In particular, I would like to consider the problem of who writes history, and why they write history, and how they write history by studying two movements which shared a common theme: “What kind of history can lay people write?” The first movement I would like to discuss is the “Movement for People's History.” In this movement, professional historians tried to participate in common people's lives to write their histories. This was a top-down movement in a sense.
The second movement is the “Movement of Life-Writing Circles.” In this movement, common people actively organized essay clubs and began writing their histories. Later they tried to overcome difficulties of writing histories. This was a bottom-up movement.
Although these two movements were led by different organizations, they emerged from a common background: the chaotic time of the 1950s, right after WWⅡ , when Japanese people needed a new history to re-construct their identities.
I will examine the historical significance of these two movements of 1950's Japan.

1. Common ground with Professor White's discussion
I would like to clarify my question, referring to the draft of Professor White's lecture.
Professor White points that the Holocaust survivors became increasingly concerned with the problems caused by writing history(Paragraph No.36 〜Paragraph No.39).
What mattered to them was the meaning of the survivors' experiences in the Holocaust and the responsibility of the societies that let the event happen.
Professor White said “the growth of a large body of “witness” testimony, about the Holocaust but also about other genocides, about the experience of decolonization, about migration, and about the horrors of modern warfare, showed that “artistic” writing (such as Primo Levi's Se questo e un uomo) or cinema (such as Landsmann's Shoah) were infinitely better suited to conveying the “shock” of new, contemporary experiences than were the dry, measured, and antiseptic tones of the conventional historical narrator”(Paragraph No.39).
Moreover, Professor White stated that postmodernist historical thought is present-oriented and that the central need of our epoch is “coming to terms with” a past “that won't go away,” especially the past of the Nazi genocide (Paragraph No.57 〜 Paragraph No.69).
Then he goes on to say “that this past must be “perlabore,” its burden lifted from the present, so that living men can go into the future without the old delusions” (Paragraph No.64).
Postmodernism focuses on history's potential therapeutic function and questions professional historians' presumption that they alone have the authority to decide what history is, how it must be studied, and what uses can legitimately be made of historical knowledge.

In my presentation I would like to suggest that the two Japanese postwar movements mentioned earlier share in the postmodern present-oriented historical thought found in such works as Primo Levi's writing and Claude Lanzmann's cinema.
However, what I want to address is not static arts, such as writing and cinema, but the dynamic communication spaces these movements made.
I consider that postmodern present-oriented historical thought was keenly practical “perlabore,” not only in postmodern artworks such as those of Levi and Lanzmann but also in the dynamic communication spaces of the two Japanese postwar movements, where the therapeutic function was exerted to the full extent and professional historians' presumptions were challenged.
So, let us look at these two movements in greater detail..

2. History in Japan before and after the Second World War.
I'd like to explain the situation of the historical discussions before and after the Second World War in Japan. These form the background of the Movement of People's History.
There were three major streams of Japanese historical thought at that time: Positivist history within the universities, Marxist history outside of universities,and Imperial Nationalistic history related to the government(1).
Around 1930, these three schools of history made active arguments in magazines.

Both Marxist history and Imperial Nationalistic history were interested in Benedetto Croce and both criticized the Positivism under the influence of by Leopold von Rank(2)(3)e.
They both avoided an essentialist view of history and believed that history is composed of the recognition of present people.
Nonetheless, these two schools could not accept each other's historical perspective.
The three schools of Marxism, Imperial Nationalism and Positivism had competed equally until the middle of 1930s. Then the Marxists were restricted in their activities and disappeared from the front stage. Instead, the Imperial Nationalist history began to get the upper hand by working with the government of the time.
Seizing its chance, Imperial Nationalistic history pushed to “Overcome Modernity.” Japanese intellectuals widely debated this issue during the war.
Great attention was given to Japanese spiritualism and myths to counterattack Western scientism and materialism and to reconstruct history.
Imperial Nationalistic history maintained its dominant position until Japan was defeated in 1945.
In the postwar period, nationalist history was sharply purged from academia.
It was replaced by Marxist history, which had continued its activities in hiding.

This was the background to the circumstances of the 1950s.

3. The Movement for People's History
In 1950s Japan, people suffered an identity crisis after the country's defeat in the Second World War.
They asked themselves: What is the nature of the drastic changes that have occurred? What position should we take? What's the prospect for the future?
Such anxieties turned common people to history for their answers.
Marxist historians began the Movement for People's History to respond to these kinds of questions from common people at that time. They aimed to write history together with factory workers, farm workers and others beyond the walls of academia.
Marxist historians in the 1950s criticized nonpolitical positivism, promoted the writing of “correct” political history, and the historians themselves went directly to the people to write history(4).
A large number of historians and students in this movement went to farming villages: some of them wrote down village oral histories that had not appeared before in written histories; others dug up historic sites with local people; others brought in picture-story shows made by themselves in order to show the villagers the history they had created as a result of their activities(5).

Young historians, in particular, actively went into villages and factories. Theywrote history in a new and unconventional style(6). For example, they lived, if onlyfor a short time, in the villages or factories they wrote histories about, in order to share in the life there. These historians tried to unite with local people and write “our history” as members of the village or the factory. At the same time, they questioned their stance on the people they were writing about, on how they should commit themselves to them.
This movement, however, collapsed in a few years(7).
The movement failed because of differences in perspective between historians and lay people, political conflict inside the Japanese Communist Party, and because of sectionalism among student activists. After this movement collapsed, history within Japanese academia removed political elements and shifted to scientism or positivism.
Although the Movement of People's History has been considered to be a failure. However, I believe the movement has value in that professional historians were trying to move beyond the walls of academia.
Sho Ishimoda, the leader of the movement, talked about the historians'motivation for writing history, remembering those days:“I suppose that if I spent time studying instead of joining people's meetings, I could have sped up my studies and gotten more academic achievements. But I chose to go to the meetings because, first of all, it was enjoyable work for me. Not only was getting together fun… but a new relationship of sharing responsibility gave us the pleasure of building a group. That is a creative aspect that previous educator didn't know (8).”
Ishimoda hated the top-down educational campaign.
He believed it was more productive and pleasurable to join factory or village people and create history in communication between common people and historians.
He emphasized the joy of writing history partly because the government restricted his study of history during the war.
Ishimoda's fellow historians in the Movement for Peoples History shared in this joyful feeling in writing history with lay people.

And it is this joyful feeling that led to the spread of the Movement of Life-Writing Circles.

4. The Movement of Life Writing Circles.
While the Movement for People's History was a movement of historians who sought to come closer to common people to write their histories, the Movement of Life-Writing Circles was a movement of workers who belonged to culture clubs where they wrote their own personal histories.
Laborers and housewives organized writing circles and made collection books of the compositions by mimeograph. They read each other's writings, gave comments and critiqued them in circles meetings.
This movement began with “Yamabiko Gakkou” (The Echo School) (1951).
A junior high school teacher, Seikyo Muchaku compiled students' writings and published them. The movement had two aspects: one was the teaching of writing to children; the other was the club activities of adults and laborers. In this presentation, I focus on the latter.
Kazuko Tsurumi initiated the movement for adults.
Her slogans, “A Group Involving Oneself” and “Self-Reestablishment in the Group” encouraged and influenced the Movement of Life Writing Circles(9).

She thought that Life Writing was a movement in which lay people could write contemporary Japanese history from various perspectives and re-establish themselves in the process. She approved of various expression forms and said “the Life-Writing can be diaries, letters, books or movie reviews, comments on current events, oral transcripts, autobiographies, biographies, histories of workplaces or villages, documentaries, dissertations, literary works, and so on(10)”.
She thought that, through this movement, people could recover history from historians and remake it to be more familiar, to make it their own history, by writing about their lives.
Thus, the purpose was not only to write objective history accurately, but also for people to confirm their position and re-establish themselves through the act of writing history in the familiar group to which they belonged.
The Movement of Life-Writing Circles was a movement that focused on the action of writing history and narratives. Also it focused on the aspects of communication and psychology, which had not previously fallen within historians'sphere of interest.
The movement was also conscious of the “space” where people narrated history.
The Movement of Life-Writing Circles wanted people “to write as they are without decorating,” about their births and their poor daily lives. So people were encouraged to build friendships by talking naturally in culture circles of singing or theater before joining Life-Writing Circles(11).
In one group mainly comprised to spinner girls, the participants wrote histories of their hard working situations, the poor lives in their village, their mother's lives and war memories. This was done not in the spirit of recreation, but from their severe and harsh experiences. They wrote history with a different awareness of the issues and a different narrative than historians.
The group members first circulated notebooks amongst themselves discussing their descriptions, and later copied their writings of self-history or their mother's history by mimeograph and bound them into books.
The bound compositions were sent to the writers' birthplaces or exchanged among Life-Writing Circles throughout Japan(12). Comments were exchangedbetween different writing circles.

In the Movement of Life-Writing Circles, it was important to “write history in a group.” The writers could grow through communication and writing in the circles made “networks.”
In networks composed of common people with no clear distinction between writers and readers, they wrote present-oriented history and shared the same era.
Muchaku and Tsurumi led the Movement of Life-Writing Circles, but it went beyond their original intentions. The writing of self-histories was a process not only of individuals re-establishing themselves but of change in the groups and the environments they belonged to. It developed independently, influencing laborers'and factory girls' identities.

Concluding remark
Finally, I'd like to pose several questions raised by these two movements.
My first question is: Who should write history?
In postmodernism, the subjects of writing history include not only professional historians but also a wider range of writers, such as novelists, artists, and so on. I believe lay people can be included in writing history.
For example, factory workers and housewives wrote history in the two movements discussed about previously. How should their history writing be evaluated?

Second, why do people write history? “The great schemata” has broken down in post-modernity; therefore history is referred to as far as it is useful for the present. In other words, I think people's motive for writing history is important to the history.
Not only survivors of the Holocaust but also Japanese people who lived in the postwar confusion took history as an issue of their identity. However, what would be the motive for writing history for other people?
For example, Sho Ishimoda of the Movement for People's History spoke about the joy of writing history. Kazuko Tsurumi of the Movement of Life-Writing Circles held out the possibility of Self-Reestablishment by writing history. Do their motives have potential?
This can be said in a simple question: why do we write history?
The third question is how to write history. I understand that Professor White's study of this issue has mainly focused on figurative moment in historical writings, such as style, rhetoric and emplotment. But I would like to suggest that some attention be paid to communication space, in which people make history together.
In the Movement of Life-Writing Circles, laborers and housewives got together in circles, narrated and wrote about their experiences, made books and handed them out, and held meetings of review to remark upon them. Of these gatherings, I think it can be said that the space in which the people wrote their histories had more importance than the written histories or works themselves.
Professor White says that studying poems and plots are important in postmodernism. In addition to that, I think it is equally or more important to study how people might communicate to write history together, and in what space the history writing activity might happen. I'd like to have your comment on this point.

■ Notes

(1)Narita 2001 p.69 Narita labeled these three streams Academism, Marxist, and Nationalism. In my presentation, their names have beenmade changed.
(2)Ludwig Riess, who was Ranke's pupil, became a Professor of Tokyo Imperial University.
(3)Narita 2001 p.76 . p.77
(4)Oguma 2002 p.314
(5)Oguma 2002 p.334
(6)Narita 2006 p.131
(7)Oguma 2002 p.346 – 347
(8)Ishimoda 2001(1960) p.368
(9)Sawai 2009 p.46

(10)「Sugimoto 2009 p.70 . p.71 Tsurumi 1998(1961) p.527
(11)Sawai 2009 p.46
(12)Ukai 2009 p. 194 . p.225

■ References
Ishimoda, Sho 2001(1960) '”Kokumin no to tame no rekishigaku” oboegaki'(A note of “History for People”), Ishimoda sho chosaku shu 14, Iwanami
Narita, Ryuichi 2006 'Rekishigaku no positionality: rekishijojutsu to sono shuhen'(the positionality of history historiography and its periphery), azekura
Narita, Ryuichi 2001 'Rekishigaku no style: shigakushi to sono shuhen' (the style of history: history of historians and its periphery),azekura
Oguma, Eiji 2002 ' to : sengo nihon no nationalism to koukyousei'( and : Nationalism and Publicness in Japan after WW Ⅱ ), shinyosha

Sawai, Yoshiro 'Bousekikouin no Seikatsukiroku kara kougai no kiroku he'(From Spinning Workers' Life-Writing to Writing about Pollution) Nishikawa, in Yuko and Sugimoto, Seiko(ed.) Kyoudou kenkyu Sengo no seikatukiroku ni manabu: Tsurumi Kazuko bunko tono taiwa, mirai heno tsushin, Nihon Tosho Center
Sugimoto, Seiko 2009 'Tsurumi Kazuko to Seishi Bouseki de Hataraita “Sandai no onnatachi”'(Kazuko Tsurumi and three women of three generation who work in filature and spinning factories), in Yuko and Sugimoto, Seiko(ed.) Kyoudou kenkyu Sengo no seikatukiroku ni manabu: Tsurumi Kazuko bunko tono taiwa, mirai heno tsushin,Nihon Tosho Center
Tsurumi, Kazuko 1998 'Tsurumi Kazuko mandara2 hito no maki: nihon no life-history'(the Mandara of Kazuko Tsurumi a number of “people”:Life-histories in Japan), Fujiwara
Ukai, Masaki 2009 'Seikatsu tsudurikata kara tsunagaru sekai' (the possibility of network of the Life-writing), in Yuko and Sugimoto,Seiko(ed.) Kyoudou kenkyu Sengo no seikatukiroku ni manabu: Tsurumi Kazuko bunko tono taiwa, mirai heno tsushin, Nihon Tosho Center
White, Hayden 1992 'Historical emplotment and the problem of truth' Friedlander, S. ed., Probing the Limits of Representation, Harvard White, Hayden 2009 'Postmodernism and historiography' the draft of After Metahistory

吉田:Thank you very much Mr.Nishijima and thanks for being conscious of the time-keeping. But the time is little pressing. Prof. White, please offer comments, the three or four comments the whole of ten minutes or so, OK?


吉田:Thank you very much.


ホワイト:Thank you Mr. Nishijima for your paper on the Movement for People's History and the Movement of Life-Writing Circles. It's very interesting, I didn't know about this movement, and I'm very much interested in the idea of groups writing history and groups composing history collectively. I'm very much interested in this, I don't think however, that the story of one's own life in historical, we speak of personal history but it's a misnomer. An individual life is not historical, it's past, it's in time and it develops, but it is not historical.


ホワイト:Not all treatments of the past are historical. There are many treatments of the past that do not use a historical method for investigating the past, psychoanalysis for example is one and psychological – memory is another, memory is concerned with the past and reconstructing one's own memories is a valid activity, writing autobiography is an activity, it is not however a historical activity, by which I mean this, the past belongs to all of us, we all have a right to investigate the past, both the communal past and the individual past, the past of our family, we all have a right, who has a right to investigate the past? Everyone has the right. Professional historians claim to be studying the past in a particular way, so they create out of the whole past, a part, let's call this Japan past. They create Japan's past. This past exists only in books called histories, written by histories, no one experienced this past while it was happening, no one experienced the overcoming modernity until someone named that, now it's in the history books. The Tokugawa Period, no one knew how long the Tokugawa Period would last while it was going on, it's only the historians later who give a plot to it, that sets limits on what will be, so then this historical past, this, whatever's left over there, your past, no historian is interested in your past, you may be interested in your past, but no historian would be unless you became someone who was famous, then they might use your past, but otherwise, most of us, historians have no interest in at all. And so when we people decide to write our own history, the historians, well, will not even take notice of it. OK there is the historical past, there is past that I call the past that interests the rest of us, that we have in our own memories, I call this the practical past, practical, Japanese word?


ホワイト:Speak, loud.

通訳(平賀):Practical past は実際の役に立つ過去と言う事です。

ホワイト:Want to do something more? Say more.

 記憶というのが構築されていくのですが、個人というのが記憶を再構成していくということも充分可能です。例えば、個人が自分の記憶を再構築して自伝を書くということもありますが、ただ、これは歴史的な記述とはなりません。past と呼んでいます過去に関しては、調べる権利は誰にでもあります。これは、過去というのが集団の過去、地域の過去、個人の過去。何の過去でもいいのですが、これを調べてみるという権利は、どんな人にもあります。
 例えばOvercoming Modernity ということで、近代の超克というものがありますが、それが起こっている時代には、近代の超克などというものはありませんでした。これは、のちの時代になって、歴史家によって歴史書に書かれて、そのときプロットを含めて筋書きと一緒に書かれてから、近代の超克という歴史が存在するのです。

ホワイト:OK, this is going to be my last commentary, it's a little long, so bear with me. In the western tradition, I don't know about the Japanese, discussion of the nature of historical reality we always make it distinct between fact and fiction, right. Ms. Hiraga, fact, what is that?


ホワイト:And fiction?

通訳(平賀):Fiction, we also call it フィクション。

ホワイト:You call it fiction, well. How about the difference between real and imaginary?

通訳(平賀):Real と言います、現実。imaginary は想像した。

ホワイト:There's a real past, there's an imaginary past, past that I had in my imagination. Now what happens when you mix fact with fiction, is that reality and the imaginary world get confused The result if you stay out of the fictional world and you stay away from the imagination then you can write a history, there are two kinds of history however, there's a factual history, and there's a fictional history, an imaginary history and many people think they're writing factual history when they're really writing imaginary history, you follow me? You understand the distinction? Yes, you. Do you?
Finally under the imaginary, we usual think that that is literature, we say literature is about the imaginary world, the fictional world. But not all literary writing is fictional. This includes autobiography, biography, travel writing and a great deal of narrative historical writing, here, fictional, here, literary devices are used to make the world more real, it does not turn the real world into fiction. This is what allows me to make a distinction between fictional literary writing and factual literary writing. What your people are doing in factual literary writing of their own past, that is not historical, however, that is not historical. It is much more poetic and artistic activity than a historian would recognize. OK?

通訳(平賀):事実、それから現実と、もう一方ではフィクション、想像のimaginary というものがありまして、時代の歴史の部分と……。この時代を混乱してしまうことが問題であると。普通、歴史を書くという人は、こちらのフィクションとか、想像というものからなるべく離れて、離れて歴史を書こうとするのですが、実は歴史にも2種類ありまして、factual、事実に基づいたものと、fictional、虚構のものがあります。
 こちらが、フィクションとimaginary、想像の文学作品ですね。これにも、実はfictional とfactual とありますね。文学作品で、全く想像で書くfictionalな文学作品と、もう一方、より事実に基づいた文学作品を想像で書いているものもあります。
 西嶋さんの発表にありました、こちらの自分たちの生活を書いていくというのは、factual な、事実に基づいた文学的な文章をもって、自分の過去を書いていく。それは、このような手法を使うことによって、よりリアルに見えるように表現することができるのですが、どちらかというと詩的、ポエティックとか、芸術的な記述になるかと思います。