Why is Korea still divided?

By Sam Marcy (June 30, 1994)
Just the other day former U.S. President Jimmy Carter paid a visit to the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, which in the United States is all too frequently referred to only as north Korea.

It is easy to overlook the significance of this visit by a former president of the U.S. Just imagine what it would have meant had former President Dwight Eisenhower decided to visit the DPRK, or Richard Nixon, or even Harry Truman. Such a development would have been unthinkable in the atmosphere of the anti-communist hysteria whipped up during the Cold War.

But as matters stand now, the situation does seem to be substantially different, both in terms of diplomacy and of politics.

Korea's division imposed from without

For the most part, the U.S. population has been oriented to think in terms of two entirely separate states, north and south Korea, one being pro-communist and the other anti-communist. The truth of the matter is that Korea, as a nation and a people, has existed for many millennia.

But in the U.S., governed as it is by powerful imperialist monopolies, it is often forgotten that Korea as a country and people not only has a rich history but is a viable nation divided as a result of an imperialist war.

Korea has remained divided only because of the interests of the big powers and not because of any aspect of the relationship between the northern and southern parts of the peninsula. Language, culture and history make it abundantly clear that it is one country. The division, like so many others made by the imperialists, is artificial and reactionary.

It would not be very useful to go over the history of the division at this time. Suffice it to say that a reunification is possible, but is impeded by the fact that the south is organized on the basis of the private ownership of the means of production. The land is in the hands of landlords, and the economy as a whole is in hock to the imperialist powers, the U.S. most of all.

North Korea, on the other hand, is economically and politically organized without the so-called benefit of an exploiting bourgeoisie or landlords who act as agents of U.S. imperialist monopolies.

The principal impediment to any real collaboration between the DPRK and the south is the pressure of the U.S. Nor is it only political pressure. It is military pressure of the most naked type.

A virtual armada assembled by the Pentagon is on the shores of Korea day and night. This is reinforced by an air force that can blot out any part of Korea should a revolutionary storm attempt to break down the puppet regime in the south.

What then can be done?

It would of course be one of the truly great historical feats if the Korean workers, peasants and students were to embark on one of those stirring revolutionary uprisings that have made history all over the world. One such struggle did in fact topple the regime of Syngman Rhee in 1960. It may not have been on the immense scale we are talking about, but it certainly had immense significance. The U.S. had installed Rhee early in its occupation.

President Carter's visit to the DPRK had this salutary effect: It opened the road to negotiations between the U.S. and the DPRK. It is a small diplomatic step in the direction of lifting the diplomatic and political blockade around the DPRK imposed by the U.S. ever since the 1950-53 war.

The division of the Korean peninsula is not an isolated or extraordinary development in the history of the imperialist epoch. The very existence of imperialism, which began with the historical development of monopoly capitalism, has constantly bred artificial divisions of all kinds. Many cause revolutionary uprisings against what is most of the time a foreign oppressor.

Imperialist division: Ireland and Germany

Who but a foreign oppressor like the British would have thought of dividing Ireland? But it is not always the British or Japanese imperialists who are interested in divisions. Who thought of dividing Germany into East and West? That was as artificial as dividing Ireland.

It took a great deal of political and diplomatic maneuvering and all kinds of plans to finally come to the conclusion that East Germany should constitute a country and a government unto itself as against West Germany. Their division might have been a viable one if the eastern part of Germany did not become the butt of harassment and political and diplomatic pressure of the most severe type, which ultimately ended in its disintegration.

A united socialist Germany had always been the objective of the socialists, and in particular of the Marxist wing of German socialism since the days of 1848. It is the divisive character of imperialist politics that derailed it all.

Nevertheless, the economic and technological foundations for a socialist Germany remain viable today more than ever.

The significance of a united Korea should not be underestimated, especially a unification consummated on a socialist foundation that would entail the exclusion of the capitalist monopolies from the country.

Divisions and unifications constitute a significant chapter in world history. Is it too far-fetched to recall the struggle over the division and reunification of what were once the 13 colonies of Britain? And what was the Civil War? One might think that the whole world was completely on the side of the North, but that was not at all the case. Capitalist Europe would at that time have been just as well satisfied if the South had won the struggle.

In Europe, the progressive anti-slavery elements and those for the Union and against the Confederacy were led by none other than Marx and Engels.

Shouldn't being against imperialist enslavement be reason enough to support the unification of north and south Korea on a democratic basis, oriented toward building a socialist society?

Should such a development actually take place, it would become the pivot of progressive and socialist development not only in Asia but elsewhere in the world.

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