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  • michael berrell
    Dec 23, 2004
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      Recently, 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.