Understanding the 'problem' of Korea
Published Jan 4, 2012 8:50 PM
Following is a talk given by Deirdre Griswold to a Workers World Party public forum on Dec. 22 in New York.
I’m sure you all have heard the news about the death of the leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong Il. But you didn’t just get the news; you got it packaged in a wave of propaganda against the DPRK.
What I want to focus on is to define the “problem” of Korea, first from the point of view of U.S. imperialism. For them, the problem can be briefly described as this: How can they crush the Korean Revolution?
Forgive me as I go over some history, because it is absolutely necessary to know what happened in order to understand Korea today.
The U.S. has been trying to crush the Korean Revolution for 66 years, since 1945 when they first rushed troops to Korea to take command as the Japanese empire was crumbling at the end of World War II. These U.S. troops occupied the south, with ambitions to soon take over the north.
In the northern part of Korea, however, there was an indigenous liberation movement based in the people. Soviet troops helped this movement, led by Kim Il Sung, to defeat the Japanese colonial rulers in the north. For those of you more familiar with the history of the Vietnam struggle, Kim Il Sung was like the Ho Chi Minh of Korea. He had been organizing against the colonial oppressors since he was a teenager. His revolutionary guerrilla army helped the workers and farmers set up their own councils, which took the power away from the Japanese and their collaborators among the bourgeoisie and the landlords. It was a people’s revolution in the north.
The Korean people as a whole wanted to unite and rebuild their war-torn country. Both U.S. and Soviet troops were supposed to withdraw within three years so Korea could be reunified. The Soviet Union withdrew its troops from the north in 1948, as scheduled. But the U.S. has kept its troops in the south ever since. That same year the U.S. sabotaged the reunification of Korea, picking a stooge named Syngman Rhee, who had sat out the war in the U.S., and anointing him as president of a newly created south Korea.
It was only after that betrayal by the U.S. of plans to reunify north and south that the revolutionary forces in the north declared the founding of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Two years later, the U.S. invaded the DPRK in an all-out war. The Truman administration eventually sent hundreds of thousands of ground troops to Korea and bombed every building above one story in the north. Nevertheless, the fierce resistance of the Korean People’s Army was able to inflict amazing blows on the mighty Pentagon.
The Koreans were the only people to ever have captured a U.S. Army General — Gen. William Dean. And they forced U.S. troops to make their longest strategic withdrawal in history — some 78 miles, from deep inside the north to below the military demarcation line.
Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Oliver Smith tried to put a happy face on this defeat, saying: “We are not retreating — we are just advancing in a different direction.”
You can see in this general’s words how the outcome of the Korean War was a humiliating defeat for U.S. imperialism, which viewed itself after World War II as the supreme power in the Pacific. With the Cold War, which had become a hot war in Korea, the U.S. was going to roll back the revolutionary movements not only in Korea but everywhere that the people were in motion: the Philippines, Malaya, Indonesia, Indochina and especially China itself.
But it didn’t happen. For the first time in U.S. history, all they got was a stalemate in Korea. So they have stayed in south Korea ever since, refusing to sign a peace treaty and trying in every way to inflict damage and pain on the revolutionary regime in the north.
And over all these years, the Korean people have continued to resist. And they have remained unified behind their leaders — which is a big part of the problem for imperialism.
What our movement must do
What is the second problem, the problem for Workers World Party, as well as for all revolutionaries who are anti-capitalist, who support socialist revolutions as well as the national liberation struggles of oppressed countries against imperialism?
Our problem is this: How can we best defend the Korean Revolution? It has survived more than six decades of unrelenting imperialist hostility, during a time in world history when the imperialists succeeded in pushing back so many gains made by the workers and oppressed. They brought down the Soviet Union and the workers’ states of Eastern Europe. They have rolled back many, many national liberation movements. They forced China to open up to capitalist investment.
Many countries that had ousted colonial rule after valiant struggles to reclaim their territory have fallen into the clutches of finance capital and neoliberalism. And where they didn’t succumb peacefully, the U.S. with its imperialist allies have carried out new invasions, like against Iraq and Libya, to impose their domination once again.
Now, after fattening off the sweat and resources of the whole world, the ruling classes of the U.S., Europe and Japan are turning on the workers at home, tightening the screws of exploitation to prevent the collapse of their chaotic and destructive system.
This is the world context in which we have to view the Korean people’s continuing struggle to build socialism while defending their hard-won sovereignty.
The paramount problem for us revolutionaries, us communists, is: How do we best defend the Korean Revolution? All other questions are secondary.
And how do we do it in this country, the United States, where poisonous hostility toward the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea permeates every area of public discourse? Have you ever heard anything good about the DPRK on television, in the corporate newspapers, on radio, or in columns, magazines, movies, etc.? Everything they say is negative, degrading, poisonous.
There has been a full-court press to demonize the Korean Revolution, especially by attacking its leaders. All the niceties of diplomacy are disregarded when it comes to Korea. Any north Korean who is elevated to leadership is belittled and abused here. The language is not only personally insulting to the highest degree but is totally subjective. You have all heard it, and I’m not going to dignify such garbage talk by repeating it here.
Where does this hostility come from?
This is the hostility of the slave masters toward people who resist being enslaved. It’s the hostility of the bosses toward workers who are demanding a union. The ruling class uses slander and outright lies to turn the public against those it wants to destroy.
Koreans’ allegiance to their leaders
It is particularly galling to them that the Workers’ Party of Korea and the Supreme People’s Assembly continue to choose descendants of Kim Il Sung to represent the state in the highest capacity. We should understand this allegiance to Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il and now Kim Jong Un. Selecting these leaders is how the Korean revolutionaries tell all the forces of reaction, in the U.S., in south Korea, everywhere, that the DPRK will not depart from its revolutionary traditions. It will not bow down before the “public opinion” created by foreign imperialists. It remains true to the ideals that so many generations of Koreans have fought and sacrificed for.
When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, there was a flurry of speculation in the capitalist media. Would there be a power struggle, would a faction emerge that wanted to accommodate with the West? We hear the same thing today, with the death of Kim Jong Il, who was a son of the legendary Kim Il Sung. The media here express scorn that the party has decided he is to be replaced by his son, Kim Jong Un. But is that really the issue? How many U.S. presidents have been relatives of other U.S. presidents? [Audience replies: “Bush! Roosevelt! Adams!”]
The DPRK has many seasoned revolutionary leaders, who have learned how to deal with the U.S. militarily, diplomatically and politically. They supported Kim Jong Il’s difficult decision to put defense of the DPRK first, at a time when the Bush administration had added Korea to its ridiculous “Axis of Evil” — which really was a list of countries the U.S. intended to invade.
Now the leaders and the country are united behind Kim Jong Un, and because of that there is no doubt that he will continue the path set by the Korean Revolution to guard at all costs the sovereignty of the DPRK and its right to the social system of its own choosing.
Let’s talk about political leaders. Do the political leaders in the United States do what the people want?
In the U.S., there is high productivity, but half the population of this country has now been officially classified as either poor or “near poor” — meaning they can easily lose the little they have if they become unemployed. U.S. corporations make billions of dollars exploiting people all over the world, but that doesn’t make the people here rich, only the 1%.
According to many opinion polls, the people here don’t want foreign wars, but they never stop. People don’t want tax breaks for the rich, but the rich get them anyway. The people want affordable health care and good schools. They want a government jobs program. They are getting none of these things.
People don’t trust the politicians and know that they work for the rich. This is how capitalist “democracy” works, where the politicians are nothing but paid agents of the bankers and billionaires. That is not how politics are conducted in Korea, where the wealth of society is publicly owned and is not in the hands of a capitalist ruling class.
The DPRK is a developing country that was literally destroyed by the U.S. in the 1950-53 war, but it never gave in. It was able to rebuild after the war and thrived economically in the 1960s and 1970s, but it has had to spend much of its resources on defense. It has a food problem because it is a mountainous, far north country with a short growing season. Some 80 percent of its territory is high mountains and narrow valleys.
Before Korea was divided, much of the food consumed in the north came from the south, just as most of the fresh food we eat here comes from southern states. But the U.S. has created a dead zone of razor wire and land mines between the two halves of Korea, preventing the exchange of goods. It has imposed sanctions on Korea and forced other countries to obey U.N. sanctions that the U.S. pushed through the Security Council.
So how do we in the United States go about defending the DPRK?
By telling the truth about this valiant country that has resisted U.S. imperialist aggression for 63 years.
We tell it again and again and again, until the people finally understand it. There was very low political consciousness in the United States in the 1950s, when the U.S. launched its war against Korea. The imperialists had a free hand to go anywhere. Today, consciousness is rising and imperialism is losing ground in the world.
The contradictions inherent in capitalism itself are being felt at home — in unemployment, especially among young people, who have the highest jobless rate; in people losing their homes to foreclosure and eviction; in increased suffering and want in a country where 9 million housing units sit empty and food is thrown away because malnourished people cannot afford to buy it.
The people here are finally beginning to understand that military victories for imperialism only weaken our class, while victories for the workers and oppressed in other countries strengthen our class here at home in our struggle against the greedy few.
It is in this spirit of class solidarity that Workers World Party thanks the people of the DPRK for their long and heroic struggle. We remember with great admiration the achievements of leaders like Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il. And we congratulate Kim Jong Un for having taken on the job of defending and guiding the glorious and continuing Korean Revolution.
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