Archive for the ‘Korea’ Category

Crisis in Korea: For a Socialist Solution

May 27, 2010

 “We will immediately deliver a physical strike at anyone intruding across our maritime demarcation line,” proclaimed the North Korean news agency KCNA as tensions continue to escalate following the sinking of a southern warship by a northern submarine in March. Yet this latest ratcheting up of warlike rhetoric is a continuation of a sixty year long crisis which will never be solved under capitalism.

Since 1953, when the Korean war came to an unofficial end, a series of similar incidents have left both North and South on the verge of conflict as each develop into extreme forms, both economically and ideologically, of the competing cold war systems.

The Korean peninsula has been divided since the Japanese occupying army surrendered to an invading American force in the South and the advancing Soviet Red Army from the North at the end of the Second World War.  As the uneasy allies became embittered rivals each new occupying power developed their half of Korea to mirror their own systems. In the North the failed resistance leader Kim Il-sung was installed to lead a pro-soviet puppet government, while in the South the American backed ‘strongman’ Syngman Rhee was installed to lead a vehemently ‘anti-communist’ government, ruled by a small clique of capitalist families.

Under Kim Il-sung the North became a stalinist style dictatorship, proclaiming itself to be a socialist society while crushing all genuine forms of worker’s democracy by military force in favour of a bureaucratic caste. While the role of Stalinism and Stalin himself was crucial in the early years of the state, Stalin himself edited the North Korean constitution, the two states differed in a crucial aspect.

The Soviet Union was a ‘degenerated worker’s state’ meaning that following the 1917 revolution, led by Lenin and Trotsky, a genuine worker’s state was formed, with worker’s democracy expressed through the Soviets, or worker’s councils. While events such as the civil war hindered the development of a fully socialist society the rise of Stalin, who took power following Lenin’s death and represented a bureaucratic layer of society, transformed the fledging socialist state into a militaristic dictatorship. This meant that while the apparatus of a socialist state, such as the nationalisation of industry, existed in the USSR; the system was commandeered and degenerated under Stalinism.

Trotsky, writing following his exile from the Soviet Union, argued that such a bureaucratic system would not be able to sustain itself, or the suppression of the people and would eventually collapse. However, he warned that the system would need to be overthrown by a new revolution of the working class, with a genuinely socialist program for worker’s democracy – otherwise the system would collapse, inviting the return of capitalism.

North Korea experienced no revolution like that seen in Russia; rather the system of Stalinism was imposed upon the Korea workers by the advancing Red army in 1945. This meant that Korea had not ‘degenerated’ from a worker’s state into Stalinism, but rather this ‘deformed’ system had been imposed from the top. While Red Army troops officially left North Korea n 1948 the system they had imposed continued and the bureaucracy increased its hold, creating the Junche ideology. Junche not only made the cult of personality around ‘the great leader ‘Kim Il-sung, the national ideology but also placed the principles of ‘Korea self-reliance’ and ‘Military first’ firmly in the heart of the official ideology.

In 1950 North Korea invaded the South, leading to a three year war involving the United States and it’s European allies, as well as the Chinese forces of Mao Zedong, had come to power in 1949. After three years of bloodshed the waring powers reached an armistice and drew a border across the 38th parallel. This not only drew the fault line of conflict for the next 60 years, but replaced the Soviet Union with China as the superpower on which North Korea economically and politically depended.

Since this time North Korea has continued to develop as a one-party, militaristic dictatorship, using repression and starvation as its methods of keeping the working class subjected to the rule of the bureaucracy. Today Kim Il-sung’s son Kim Jong ill, who has led the dictatorship since 1994, has increasingly turned to more repressive measures and warlike gestures to maintain power, most recently the creation and detonation of a Nuclear weapon, built at huge cost while the population starves.

A Hermit Nation?

 It is easy to see North Korea as being a hermit nation, completely isolated from from its neighbours. While the dictatorship of Kim Jong-il has made the state a political pariah this hasn’t prevented the North Korean working class from being further exploited by their neighbouring states.

Aside from China, North Korea also shares a border with Russia and it was in the Amur region, almost 1,000 miles from the border, that BBC journalist Simon Ostrovsky visited a camp of North Korean workers ‘employed’ in the timber industry. Each worker earned a mere $1 for each truck he loaded with timber, often around nine per day, but workers that Ostrovsky spoke to said he had not been paid since May. Sergey Sarnavsky, the director of the firm which has a contract said: “The Koreans work year round with two days off per year. All the other days are working days no matter what the weather conditions, they always work.

The company is part of the Russian Timber Group, founded by British businessman, Peter Hambro and a Russian business partner, who bought up a number of forestry rights across Russia covering an area roughly the size of Belgium.

Cold War That Caught Fire

The Korean War of 1950 has been called the ‘Cold War that caught fire’, and in many ways the global conflict between Stalinism and Capitalism can be found, in microcosm, on the Korean Peninsula. In isolation since the collapse of the Soviet Union the North has become an increasingly extreme and warped version of the worst aspects of Stalinism, complete with gulags and mass starvation. The demarcation lines across the 38th parallel serves as a modern Berlin wall, while the South, built up as a showcase for neo-liberial capitalism, resembles the reconstructed economic power house of West Germany.

If the ongoing conflict resembles the Cold War then the lesson to be drawn must be that if the North were to collapse, and become annexed by the South, the North Korean working class will share the fate of their Polish, Ukrainian and former Eastern Bloc cousins. Following the collapse of Stalinism in 1989 the triumphant capitalists, with Yeltsin’s blessing, began to ruthlessly exploit the cheap labour that Eastern European workers represented, imposing the ‘gangster capitalism’ that still holds sway over Russia and the former Soviet states today.

 As the 20 year ‘celebrations’ for the fall of the wall took place in Berlin last year the financial times asked Polish workers how life differed since the collapse of the Soviet Union, they replied: “We have simply replaced once set of masters with another.” Today working and living conditions in Eastern Europe continue to be lower then the West, while unemployment remains higher as Western Europe uses the former Soviet states as a source of cheap labour.

It is unlikely that the North Korean leadership directly ordered the sinking of the South’s warship in March. More likely it was the result of disputed naval borders in the Chinese Sea which has led to similar incidents in 1999 and 2002.  It is however clear that the North Korean leadership is consumed with its own internal divisions as the question of Kim Jung-ill’s successor becomes paramount, resulting in the state resorting to increasingly wild gestures to maintain its grip on society, however it is also clear that unless it is the North Korean working class who bring about the down fall of the dictatorship they too will become a source of cheap labour for South Korean capitalism.

As Trotsky wrote about the USSR, only a genuine movement of the working class will topple the North Korean dictatorship, replacing it with true worker’s democracy. Even were this to be achieved it alone would not solve the question of Korean unification. While the south is not a militaristic dictatorship it is a capitalist society, dogmatically run under a ideology of neo-liberal, with increasing attacks on the wages and living standards of the working class. The solution is for a mass worker’s party of South Korea which would unite the working class together to demand an end to the rule of market capitalism and for a planned, socialist society, run in the interests of working people.

 As socialists, and therefore as internationalists, we would then call for the reunification of the peninsula as one, united worker’s state. However, the right to self determination is a right enshrined in the principles of the 1917 Russia revolution, so a second solution would be two worker’s states within the framework of a Socialist Federation of Korea.

While the rhetoric may continue to rise, with trade and communications links between the two states severed, the North will retreat further into international isolation and deeper into total dependency upon China. Yet in the unlikely case of a war, the people of North Korea may find themselves replacing one set of masters for another.