- Dec 23, 2004Recently, I came across North Korea: Another Country by Bruce
Cumings while browsing at Berkelouw's bookstore in Paddington. It
was of interest to me and I must have spent a half hour or so
flicking through it. It painted another side to the reclusive North
Korean state than that which is so thoroughly demonised by the
capitalist press. I think there are always two sides to every story
and probably North Korea is no exception.
I agree strongly with Bob Gould that regardless of how we view the
DPRK we should defend it against U.S. military aggression in the
region. Such action will have nothing to do with bringing "freedom"
and "democracy", but rather will have everything to do with
establishing U.S. supremacy in the North Asian region and ultimately
bringing pressure to bear upon China whom the United States regards
as a strategic competitor, not only in the Asia/Pacific but also in
increasingly in Latin America. China's recent foray into this region
can only heighten rivalry between these two powers. The same should
apply to Iran. I believe there is every likelihood of a clash
between the U.S. and Iran sometime in the next twelve months,
certainly at some point in Bush's second term. The immediate
priority for Socialists should be to defeat U.S. strategic interests
and bring about military defeat for U.S. Imperialism. At this stage
I am inclined to support anyone who comes into conflict with U.S.
It is often forgotten now, but up until about 1975 North Korea
outstripped South Korea in terms of economic growth. How to explain
this? Well interestingly enough I think David Christian's analysis
of the Soviet Union applies equally well to North Korea and helps to
validate his argument. As with the former Soviet Union, North Koreas
pattern of economic growth follows a parabola, initial rapid growth
leading to an eventual decline. This can be explained by the
Stalinist engine of growth, a brutal but effective means of bringing
rapid industrial growth to an essentially backward and agrarian
nation. In the Soviet case it took almost sixty years for this model
to run out of steam whereas in North Korea it took about thirty.
This can be explained by the Soviet Union's much larger population,
land mass and resources. Of course North Korea's decline was
exacebated by the fact that nearly all it's urban areas and industry
were flattened by the war, the crippling economic embargoes placed
upon it by the United States at the conclusion of the war and
finally by the collapse and loss of its markets following 1989/91.
It must also be remembered that while at the same time North Korea
has been crippled by economic embargoes, and we all saw what effects
these had in Iraq over the relatively short period of ten years, the
U.S. has poured billions of dollars into South Korea to prop up its
economy, most recently as 1997/8 when its economy all but collapsed.
For nearly the entire period from 1948 to 1988 South Korea was
anything but a model of freedom and democracy, for most of that
period it was a brutal military dictatorship and I believe there are
still prisoners languishing in South Korean jails under the
notorious National Security Act from as long ago as 1951.
Interestingly whenever the North Korean capital, Pyongyang is
featured on television it appears a modern well planned clean city
with spacious parks and wide roads. This is in stark contrast to the
lurid stories we hear about North Korea in the capitalist press. It
may well be the case that Pyongyang is a kind of "potemkin city",
and we see little of what goes on in North Korea outside the
capital. Much of my impressions of the former "deformed workers
states" comes from old copies of the National Geographic. The
National Geographic was certainly part of the U.S. Cold War machine
and in the 1950s featured hysterical stories about was was going on
within the 'Socialist' bloc. But from about the early seventies it
mellowed and its stories from these countries became more balanced
and one could see that these societies weren't all bad. The National
Geographic featured an article on North Korea in its August,1974
edition. Perhaps Bob has a copy of it somewhere at his bookstore.
Its certainly worth a read and gives a balanced assessment of life
inside North Korea. It is certainly a far cry from the outright
demonisation that passes for analysis in the quality press these
Other interesting editions of the National Geographic are February
1968 which examines Czechoslovakia, particularly of interest
considering the events later in that year, October, 1973 Chile,
September 1974 East Germany February 1976 The Soviet Union, January
1977 Cuba, January 1982 which focusses on a contrast between life
in East and West Berlin and February 1983 which looks at economic
reform in Hungary. These are but a few.
Another thing about South Korea is that women have almost no
rights there. Divorce is looked upon as a disgrace and the woman has
no chance of gaining custody of her children. I can speak
anecdotally about this having taught for a time in a language
college in Chatswood which contained many women from South Korea
many of whom were here with their children.
As Cumings' book points out following the collapse of Japan at the
end of the Second World War, Korea was an extemely hierarchial
feudal society. The revolution which swept Korea was a popular one.
In many respects it was similar to the revolutions which later swept
China and Vietnam, revolutions which swept aside feudal relations.
North Korea adopted the Soviet model of development which provided
for rapid industrialisation. South Korea with the aid of billions of
dollars in support from the United States followed a more
conventional capitalist path of development, more in line with what
Marx would have expected. It was not until 1975 that South Korea
caught up and eventually began to pull away from the North in terms
of economic development. South Korea is now a highly developed
Capitalist country not unlike Australia or Western Europe. In any
case however this was achieved it has now accumulated a sufficient
material base in which the next logical step is Socialism. South
Korea's develpment serves to vindicate Marxist theory.
Feudalism/Capitalism/Socialism. North Korea on the other, like the
Soviet Union before it, attempted to move directly from Feudalism to
Socialism. North Korea is really the Soviet Union in microcosm. All
the problems which befell the Soviet Union in the 1980s have
developed in North Korea much more rapidly. But essentially they are
the same problems and can be traced to the Stalinist engine of
growth and the general lack of material abundance at its inception.
Exacerbated in no small degree by economic isolation and the
lingering influence of Confucianism which has served to raise the
father and son leadership to deities.
I fundamentally agree with Bob's assessment of China. It is
undergoing a period of dizzying, breakneck capitalist development. I
thought Cort Greene's article forwarded from "In defense of
Marxism", very illuminating on this subject. At some point a
burgeoning middle class must come into conflict with the
totalitarian Stalinist regime. The most likely scenario for China is
a bourgeois, democratic revolution in the next ten to fifteen years
if not sooner.