Socialism or barbarism in Korea
The beginning of 2013 saw the beginning of a new year, filled with the hopes many people had for positive change across the world. We have seen this hope quickly dashed in eastern Asia since North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February. Since the close of the Cold War almost 20 years ago, we have seemingly forgotten the terrifying possibility of nuclear decimation at the hands of a “communist” state. Bombs have been dismantled and sabres lowered since that time by both sides but we may now face the same threat again, with many of the same powers on the brink of total war. Despite conventional armed conflict ceasing on the Korean peninsula 60 years ago this June, North Korea has declared a “state of war” with South Korea after threats of “thermonuclear war” have been made over the past few weeks, also on the part of North Korea. Despite the North’s long history of skirmishes and rocket attacks against South Korean border towns, never before have relations deteriorated so quickly through the actions and threats of the involved belligerents.
Despite North Koreas crippling food shortages and enormous debt, they seem prepared to stand their ground against the United States as an emerging nuclear power in the east. This recent state of affairs has escalated surprisingly and worryingly quickly since the US flew nuclear-capable stealth bombers close to the North Korean border and deployed stealth fighters to South Korea. Currently the United States is on military exercises with South Korea, provoking more bellicose rhetoric from the North. They have moved intermediate range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear warheads to the eastern coast, and have recently raised the missile platforms, seemingly in preparation to fire. Though North Korea may be the butt of many political jokes in the west and not taken as seriously as some nations without any nuclear weapons of any kind, the situation is undeniably serious. There should be no confusion about this.
This frighteningly tense situation is the product of many years of deceit, spite and competition between two powers just as bad as the other.
With the Korean peninsula divided in 1953 along the 38th parallel into north and south after the Korean War, the two countries signed a cease fire, but did not end the war, continuing it to this day. After the war, the North and its Soviet-backed despot, Kim Il-Sung consolidated his power, purging his countrymen and enslaving his working citizens in a Stalinist horror show. Never has another head of state become a Stalinist bootlick so quickly. As if this was not enough, he closed the borders and turned his country into an isolationist bastion of Stalinism, earning the name “hermit kingdom” for his nation. The South was no better. The U.S-backed South Korean yesman, Syngman Rhee, arrested and in some cases executed communists, social democrats, Korean reunification activists and other political dissidents who could be portrayed as North Korean sympathisers, his Korea developing a shocking human rights abuse record (almost on par with the Norths) as a result of his anti-communist and self proclaimed pro-authoritarian government. With these strongmen at the helm, as they fought their war and consolidated their power, their citizens, whom they are sworn to protect, became the first casualty of the imperialist Cold War strategy of proxy conflicts. Ever since the two states have been arguing, threatening and provoking each other, at times allowing the situation to degenerate into skirmishes. As socialists committed to peace between workers, we see this as an utterly shameful and completely unacceptable way to run a country. The leader of any nation taking their country to war, or threatening and provoking war that would result in the harm of the people of said country is a purely criminal act.
Socialist Aotearoa is a member of the International Socialist Tendancy. We believe that North Korea is neither a communist nation nor a degenerated workers’ state, instead identifying it as state capitalist. North Korea was never a communist state. The workers do not and have never held power, owned the means of production and have not been democratically integrated citizens of the nation since the election of the late dictator, Kim Il-Sung, who was elected in the first and only election in the North’s history. The North Korean leadership operates the nation with nothing but naked self interest at heart and runs the completely nationalised economy as a giant corporation, stealing the profits created by workers, competing against private businesses and other states whilst with-holding food from the workers who created this profit. Its biggest exports are cocaine, prison labour and counterfeit currency. No nation that is communist, that is run by workers for workers can possibly claim communist status if it represses and abuses its people as North Korea does.
We also hold that the former U.S.S.R, China, Vietnam, Cuba, Cambodia, Myanmar and Albania were not communist (and for those surviving states, still not communist), but state capitalist in their very essence. State capitalist China has kept a good relationship with North Korea over the years, lending gargantuan amounts of money and selling advanced arms to the North Koreans, perpetuating this war since the beginning. This demonstrates China’s refusal to embrace peace and its commitment to war, enduring since its creation in 1947.
China has openly aided North Korea in erecting and maintaining the fourth largest standing military in the world, which requires tens of billions of dollars each year to do so. However, in doing this the continuing Korean conflict has proved correct the International Socialist Tendency’s analysis of the permanent arms economy to be correct, and provided what may be the longest uninterrupted example of this phenomenon.
The permanent arms economy is a theory developed by the prominent revolutionary Marxist Tony Cliff, who answered a question that had confronted international Marxists and Trotskyist Marxists for years. Another revolutionary leader, the Ukrainian Leon Trotsky, had predicted massive capitalist economic stagnation, and then a severe economic crash after the Second World War, as there was after the WW1. But this never occurred. The reason this collapse never happened was because of the amount of military industry being built during the Second World War and a possible new war in Europe with the Soviets and in Asia with the founding of the People’s Republic of China.
Therefore, no nations in the prospective war zones disarmed for fear of fresh conflict. They continued maintaining disproportionately large armies (in some cases such as North and South Korea after the Korean war, grossly disproportionate) even when there was no tangible military conflict taking place. Certain nations increased their military output, some far more than others. This was a continuation of the military industrial complex, which North Korea and China have maintained, though instead of maintaining the military infrastructure of the Second World War, the aftermath of the Korean and Cold Wars is what has helped to maintain these permanent arms economies within eastern Asia. South Korea’s key ally, the United States, has assisted them in maintaining their own permanent arms economy, and has helped the South establish its own through a series of loans and gifts of both a military and fiscal nature.
Part of the perpetuation of the permanent arms economy is nuclear weapons. These weapons are built purely to deter nations from using their nuclear weapons, which other nations own for the same purpose. No workers’ state would produce nuclear weapons, for defence or otherwise. Nuclear weapons have no use but to kill people, destroy housing, raze economic installations and poison the earth. Their use is only applicable to the most apocalyptic of wars. Socialists see these as a completely unnecessary waste of resources and, in the event of their use, human life. In the short term, we think it vital that the North and South Korean regimes and their allies step down from the threat of fresh conflict. In the long term, we deem nuclear disarmament key to our survival as a species - we must rid ourselves of them forever or become extinct at their hands. We think the same of those who would sanction their construction and use.
The Korean tinderbox is a very real threat. It could stop being a local war and turn into a regional war in eastern Asia, possibly evolving to include Oceania and western Asia or even the world superpowers, who are already taking a keen interest in the events transpiring on the Korean peninsular if not already taking an active role. Socialist Aotearoa supports only one war in Korea– the class war. We believe that the working class must rise up and take power, relieving those from power who would even threaten the use of a nuclear bomb against our working brothers and sisters in the two Koreas. The undivided, unified working class collaborating to bring down the government of the ruling class is the only hope to defeat any future attempt at such a heinous war.
Though we may not know what the future holds, whether it be the continuing stalemate of a decades-old conflict or immolation at the hands of a nuclear bomb, we see now that socialism has passed from the realm of a rosy alternative to a critical step in human preservation and development. This change must occur quickly if we intend to see humanity intact during the next century. This is why we must fight now. Our government may not be able to threaten a thermonuclear war, but it has unabashedly fought the United State’s imperialist war for them in Afghanistan for the last twelve years. We cannot continue with the current system of international politics. It is fratricide from a moral standpoint, and suicide from a social and economic standpoint. We demand a permanent end to all imperialist wars, occupations, thefts, intimidation and bullying. For peace and socialism on the Korean peninsula.
-George M., Socialist Aotearoa