12144Re: DSP prettifies the feudal monarchy of North Korea
- Dec 28, 2004By Bob Gould
The discussion on North Korea opens the big Pandora's Box of Stalinism
and whether it still exists.
I start by noting that Chris Kerris adopts a generally rational and
careful tone in his latest response to me, although the last paragraph
about shit and pedophiles seems a trifle bizarre, but that's an
aesthetic question, not a major political one, and it seems it's
possible to have a serious argument with Kerris, with a bit of cut and
thrust on both sides, without verbal abuse.
Chris Kerris still broadly defends the view that the North didn't
start the Korean War because there had been previous clashes on the
border. However, he more or less caves in to my view when he says, in
a rather involved way, "was it a tactical error to try to reunify the
nation in such a way? I would say history would answer in the
affirmative on that, although it's a rather pointless discussion".
The point is that the opening of parts of the Soviet archives confirms
that North Korea consulted Moscow and was given the go-ahead to launch
a conventional military invasion deep into South Korea. In any real
military sense, the North started the Korean War.
To say that it would have broken out anyway because both sides were
itching to get at each other is beside the point because it's so
speculative. It's not speculative that launching a major invasion when
the Soviet Union was boycotting the UN Security Council was an
enormous misestimation of the relationship of military and political
forces, and was bound to get the military response it did from US
imperialism and its allies.
In the short term, the carnage and destruction of the war stemmed
directly from the North Korean invasion.
Chris Kerris's further extension of this argument -- that the
degeneration of the North Korean state was a direct result of the war
-- isn't entirely true. Kim Il Sung had already eliminated many of his
opponents in the Korean Workers Party before the war began. The war
sped up the process of Stalinisation, but did not cause it.
These are not questions of whether the North Koreans or imperialism
had the better case. They are questions of military and political
strategy from the point of view of the Korean workers and peasants.
The military invasion from the North substantially damaged the
interests of the Korean masses.
In addition, who began the military conflict is a question of
normative history, political judgement and analysis. It doesn't
educate anyone in the new generation to try to perpetuate a leftist
conspiracy theory that the South started the war. Mystification of
that sort doesn't educate anyone in socialism.
The second issue that has emerged is the current class character of
the North Korean state. What got me going on this question was the
jarring note struck in my mind by Iggy Kim's rather forced phrase
about defending the so-called North Korean deformed workers state.
I hadn't seen the old, but accurate and important Trotskyist
formulation, deformed workers state, used in DSP-speak for many a long
year. Columbo forensic detective that I am, I set out to try to
understand what this reflected.
Maybe North Korea is the only deformed workers state left in the
world. Possibly, in Iggy Kim's view, Vietnam, Laos and Cuba are
undeformed workers states, but I'll leave that question aside for the
This odd note led me to seriously consider my own view of the North
Korean regime. For me, for it to be a deformed workers state it would
need to have preserved some of the gains of the socialist revolution,
and I couldn't think of any significant gains that had been preserved
in North Korea.
All observers agree that industry has collapsed, that the regime is a
military tyranny and that it's doubtful that the Korean Workers Party
still exists in any meaningful sense. All observers who go there who
aren't Stalinists describe a collapsing economy, an extremely
authoritarian social atmosphere, the omnipresence of the army and the
mad, weird, all-pervasive cult of the leader.
That kind of social set-up, in my view, can't reasonably be called a
workers' state, deformed or otherwise. The only analogy that I could
think of was the collectivist empire of the Incas, run by the imperial
family, a kind of "oriental despotism", to use Kurt Wittfogel's term.
North Korea certainly isn't any sort of workers state, and there's no
evidence that it's a capitalist state, either.
A hereditary monarchy and a relapse into feudalism (of the Inca sort)
seems to me the only description that makes any sense.
For some years Humphrey McQueen has been describing North Korea as a
hereditary monarchy, although I haven't heard him develop any view
about the class character of this hereditary monarchy, so I'm not
alone in at least one part of my view: that North Korea is an
Finally, Chris Kerris chides me for introducing the question of
Stalinism, and there's a relative rush of others to support that view:
the Stalinist on Indymedia who attacked me (whose attack has just been
posted on the Green Left list by Nobby Tobby), Alan Bradley, the
serial slanderer Michael Berrell, and now the rather pontifical Dave
At least Chris Kerris still appears to adhere to one aspect of the
deformed workers state notion, when he asserts that there's no
evidence that the DSP has relinquished the concept of political
revolution against Stalinist regimes.
On the hand Bradley, to use his own phrase, takes off his DSP hat and
says he's not too keen on political revolution these days because it's
dangerous and may lead to capitalist restoration.
The eclectic and opinionated Berrell, the sweeping political pundit
from nowhere much, comes out in full Stalinist plumage, asserting that
he supported the Berlin Wall and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan,
and repeats the slander that I'm like Hitchens because I supported the
overthrow of the Stalinist regimes in eastern Europe. Well, I'm not
Robinson Crusoe on that point. So, to their credit did the DSP and the
ISO, and even Berrell's SEP/WSWS.
Support for working-class revolts against Stalinism is a deep-rooted
part of my view of the world. Revolutionary socialists supported the
uprising of the East German workers against Stalinism in 1953, they
supported the Hungarian uprising in 1956, and that was a decisive
moment in my own political life because it shook me free of Stalinism.
Revolutionary socialists also supported the uprising of the
Czechoslovak workers in 1968, and opposed the suppression of that
uprising by the USSR's tanks and troops. They supported the uprising
of Solidarnosc in Poland in 1981, they supported the Chinese students
against the tanks in Tien an Mien Square.
Supporting the uprisings of the oppressed masses in Stalinist
countries against their bureaucratic oppressors is integral to the
whole world outlook of revolutionary socialists, in my view.
The rather incoherent Riley takes matters even further. In his world
view, not all the Communist parties were Stalinist in the 1930s and
there are no Stalinists in Australia now. He says poor old Peter
Symon's party isn't Stalinist. Like hell it's not. From time to time
the Peter Symon Communist Party of Australia still publishes paeans of
praise for Stalin and defence of the Moscow Trials.
It's hard to imagine what Stalinism would be if defence of the Moscow
Trials isn't Stalinism.
This hullaballoo about Stalinism raises very serious questions facing
revolutionary socialists. In any meaningful sense, the feudal monarchy
in North Korea is also a thoroughly Stalinist political set-up, and
the disappearance there of any significant vestige of socialism, and
particularly of workers' power, clearly brings that regime into
conflict with the masses of North Korea.
It's a bankrupt Stalinist regime, which in due course will go the same
way as Albania and Rumania. The fact that it uses (increasingly
infrequently) rhetoric about socialism is beside the point.
Was Pol Pot's Kampuchea a deformed workers state? Was Mengistu's
Dergue regime in Ethiopia a deformed workers state? Were the 10 or so
states in sub-Sarharan Africa, the elites of which proclaimed
Marxism-Leninism and one-party states in the 1970s, also deformed
workers states? Even more importantly, should socialists side with the
corrupt dictatorships of those regimes against their own masses?
In my view, socialists should stand beside the masses in these places
in the democratic demands that they tend to raise.
Two good current examples of this kind of problem are Zimbabwe and
Hong Kong. This particular revolutionary socialist sides unequivocally
with democratic opposition in Zimbabwe (including the ISO group there)
against Mugabe. Similarly in Hong Kong, I support unreservedly the
democratic opposition (including socialists such as the hairy bloke
with the Che T-shirt who just won a parliamentary seat), in their
struggle for democratic demands such as full extension of the
franchise. I take this position even if the people who may be elected
under an extended franchise are not socialists.
Obviously, working out the bounds of questions such as these is not
easy, or simple, for revolutionary socialists in current conditions,
but it's necessary to support the self-activity of the masses in such
Finally, I emphatically oppose supporting a group such as Sendero
Luminoso in Peru taking exclusive power, on the same grounds that Hugo
Blanco does: they would exterminate all political opposition. I also
oppose supporting exclusive power for Jose Maria Sison and the
Communist Party of the Philippines, because there is strong evidence
that they also would exterminate all their opponents.
I would describe Sendero Luminoso and Sison's group as thoroughgoing
If Dave Riley is in any serious doubt as to whether Stalinism still
exists, he should consult Sonny Melencio and Reihana Mohideen, who
have just published on the web evidence that the Sison group had an
apparent assassination list with Sonny's name on it. In recent weeks
the Sison group has assassinated several supporters of Sonny's
If Riley has doubts about the continuing existence of Stalinism he
needn't look further than the Philippines, which aren't all that far
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