Workers Vanguard No. 1108
24 March 2017
U.S. Steps Up Military Provocations
Defend China, North Korea!
Seizing on recent weapons and missile tests by the Pyongyang regime, the U.S. warmongers are escalating their threats against North Korea and China. On March 7, the U.S. began the installation of an advanced missile shield system in South Korea, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), with its battery of weapons and powerful missile-tracking radar. Nearly a week later, Washington announced that Gray Eagle surveillance and attack drones would also be permanently stationed in South Korea. On March 17, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, speaking in Seoul, threatened a military strike against North Korea, declaring, “All options are on the table.”
The Trump administration, echoed by the capitalist media, claims that the purpose of THAAD and other such measures is to protect Washington’s South Korean client state from a nuclear nightmare supposedly about to be unleashed by North Korea. In fact, it is the U.S. imperialists who have the North in their gun sights. Some 320,000 U.S. and South Korean troops are currently staging joint military exercises, whose scenarios include “decapitation” raids aimed at “taking out North Korea’s leadership” (Korea Herald, 13 March). With the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in the port of Busan and F-35B stealth fighter planes overhead, the war games include the elite SEAL Team Six assassination squad that killed Osama bin Laden. In addition, Japanese, U.S. and South Korean warships met up on March 14 for coordinated military drills near the North Korean coast.
Beyond all this, the National Security Council is reportedly considering the open redeployment of nuclear weapons in South Korea. While North Korea is in the U.S. imperialists’ immediate crosshairs, their ultimate target is China, the largest and most powerful remaining country where capitalist rule has been overthrown. Military experts have noted that the THAAD batteries would be of no use against a hypothetical low-altitude North Korean missile launch directed at the South. However, the system’s tracking radar could cover much of eastern China, giving the U.S. the ability to degrade the viability of Beijing’s nuclear deterrent. Stating that China would “take the necessary steps to safeguard our own security interests,” a Chinese foreign affairs spokesman warned the U.S. and South Korea not to “go further and further down the wrong road.”
In his March 17 press conference, Tillerson stated in regard to North Korea, “The policy of strategic patience has ended.” In fact, whether under Republicans or Democrats, U.S. imperialism’s sole policy toward North Korea has always been to destroy its social revolution on the road to overturning the 1949 Chinese Revolution. This included the 1950-53 Korean War—waged under the flag of the United Nations—in which the U.S. and its allies devastated the peninsula.
China and North Korea are bureaucratically deformed workers states where capitalist class rule was overthrown through social revolutions. Capitalist/landlord rule was toppled in North Korea by guerrilla forces acting under the protection of the Soviet Army following World War II. The establishment of proletarian, collectivized property relations freed the northern half of the country from imperialist domination. At the same time, both the Chinese and North Korean workers states have been ruled since their inception by nationalist, Stalinist bureaucratic castes that exclude the working class from political power.
Despite Stalinist mismanagement, North Korea’s planned economy significantly outperformed the capitalist South until the mid 1970s, creating a modern industrial infrastructure. Yet being divided from the South by a “demilitarized zone” packed with more weaponry per square meter than anywhere else on earth greatly distorted its economy. The situation became desperate in the aftermath of the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, which had provided the bulk of North Korea’s military and technological aid. In the mid 1990s, the North was hit by a terrible famine, stemming from floods and droughts, from which it has never fully recovered.
It is the duty of the working class internationally, especially in the U.S., to stand for the defense of China and North Korea against the predatory U.S. rulers, their Japanese allies and their South Korean underlings. The overturn and expropriation of capitalism in these countries—as well as in the other remaining deformed workers states of Cuba, Vietnam and Laos—are historic gains for the international proletariat. Their unconditional military defense against imperialist attack and capitalist counterrevolution is integral to the cause of world socialist revolution.
The defense of China and North Korea against imperialism necessarily includes these countries having nuclear weapons and effective delivery systems. The U.S. openly threatens a nuclear “first strike” against its perceived enemies. Indeed, U.S. rulers are the only ones to have ever used such weapons, killing 200,000 Japanese civilians in the 1945 atomic incineration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The threat of imperialist war and the nuclear annihilation of humanity can ultimately be ended only through the revolutionary overthrow of the world imperialist order by the working class. But, today, in the face of U.S. imperialism’s unchallenged global nuclear hegemony, the only meaningful way to ensure national sovereignty is the possession of a credible nuclear deterrent. It is welcome that the North has gone some way toward developing such a deterrent, including ballistic missiles covering northeast Asia. North Korea has also made important advances in developing missiles that could reach the U.S. Pacific coast.
The dangers of lacking such a deterrent were demonstrated in Libya. In 2003, as part of signing on to the U.S. rulers’ “war on terror,” Muammar el-Qaddafi renounced Libya’s nuclear weapons program and welcomed imperialist inspectors. Eight years later, he was overthrown and murdered by local forces sponsored by the U.S. and other imperialist powers, setting the stage for the bloody chaos that has since engulfed that country. It was one thing for the U.S. to attack semicolonial Libya. But it would be quite another to go to war with North Korea, which has some means to defend itself. Though no rational human being would consciously embark on such a course, the system of imperialism is not rational and neither are the rulers in the White House and Pentagon.
Devastation of Korea
Today, most bourgeois commentators characterize North Korea’s development of nukes as the product of a bizarre and rogue dictatorship. There is much that is peculiar about the dynastic, mythologized, bureaucratic rule of the Kims. But, as North Korea’s post-World War II history underscores, Pyongyang’s drive to secure nukes is a rational, indeed essential, policy of self-defense.
Following the World War II defeat of Japan, the former colonial master of Korea, the peninsula was partitioned along the 38th parallel between the deformed workers state in the North and a capitalist police state under American military occupation in the South. The U.S. puppet government staged ruthless attacks on insurgent workers and peasants over the next several years, notably the suppression of the 1948-49 Jeju uprising, which saw the slaughter of up to 30,000 people.
U.S. imperialism’s full-scale invasion of Korea was preceded by a civil war that erupted in June 1950 when the North Korean army crossed into the South. North Korean troops reached Seoul within a week, pushing aside South Korean forces that had been trained by the Japanese imperialists. As they advanced, the North Koreans were welcomed as liberators by the workers and peasants.
The U.S. military inflicted unspeakable barbarities in the course of the war. This included the slaughter of three million North Koreans and nearly a million Chinese soldiers, whose intervention was instrumental in turning the tide against the U.S. and other imperialists. As historian Bruce Cumings wrote in his 2004 book North Korea: Another Country:
“North Koreans will tell you that for three years they faced a daily threat of being burned with napalm; ‘you couldn’t escape it,’ one told me in 1981. By 1952 just about everything in northern and central Korea was completely leveled. What was left of the population survived in caves.”
Eighteen of the country’s 22 largest cities were largely or totally obliterated. In the closing weeks of the war, U.S. bombers deliberately destroyed irrigation dams that provided water for three-quarters of the North’s food production. The war ended in a stalemate. But a peace treaty was never signed, and since then the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the South while subjecting North Korea to decades of military threats and economic sanctions.
During the war, the U.S. repeatedly threatened nuclear strikes, but held back out of fear of retaliation by the Soviet Union, which had developed its own nuclear capacity. Had the Soviets not possessed a nuclear arsenal, the U.S. imperialists could very well have turned North Korea and China into irradiated rubble. The U.S. deployed nuclear weapons at its bases in South Korea starting in 1958, only officially withdrawing them in 1991 amid the collapse of the USSR. To this day, nearly 30,000 American troops are stationed permanently in the country, a daily threat not only to North Korea and China but also to the combative South Korean working class. All U.S. forces and bases out of South Korea!
and Stalinist Treachery
Since China is vastly more powerful than North Korea both militarily and economically, the U.S. rulers often invoke supposed threats from the Pyongyang regime to justify their military operations in East Asia that are primarily aimed at Beijing. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, stated last year, “We’re going to war in the South China Sea in five to ten years.” More recently, Tillerson threatened that the U.S. and its allies would block China’s access to islands and land reclamation and construction projects in the South China Sea. China’s development of reefs and islands in this area is an important measure of defense against imperialist encirclement. Tillerson’s statement is an ominous declaration of intent to attack China at the heart of the world’s busiest maritime trade route.
Washington’s military buildup in East Asia is a bipartisan policy. It was Democratic Party president Barack Obama who prepared the THAAD deployment, part of an escalation of U.S. military pressure against China and North Korea that followed his 2010 declaration of a “pivot to Asia.” Obama greatly increased the number of U.S. troops in the Asia-Pacific region, oversaw repeated aggressive naval operations in the South China Sea, and put in place a cyber- and electronic-warfare program to disrupt North Korean missile tests. On leaving office, he reportedly urged Trump to make North Korea his “top national security priority.” Now Trump wants tens of billions of dollars in additional funding for the Pentagon.
The Beijing regime retaliated against the U.S.’s THAAD deployment by forcing the closure of South Korean businesses inside China and banning tours and charter flights to South Korea. Such measures could have a real impact on South Korea’s already faltering economy since China is, by far, the country’s main trade partner and source of foreign tourism. These economic sanctions against Washington’s South Korean quislings are principled and defensible—and stand in stark contrast to the Beijing regime’s repeated, utterly indefensible support to sanctions against North Korea.
In 2013 and again last year, China helped the U.S. to draw up UN sanctions resolutions against North Korea following the latter’s nuclear tests. Washington has at times been frustrated by China’s unwillingness to actually enforce such sanctions. However, last month the Chinese government announced that it would suspend coal imports from North Korea, a measure that, if implemented, would greatly undermine the beleaguered North Korean economy. Such treachery is nothing new for the Beijing Stalinist bureaucrats, who, as early as 1992, cut off cheap oil shipments to the North in order to secure diplomatic and economic relations with South Korea.
China has also repeatedly pressured North Korea to stop its development of nuclear weapons. In so doing, China’s Stalinist rulers are spitting on the memory of the Chinese troops who died fighting imperialism in the Korean War. Beijing’s collaboration with Washington against Pyongyang harms the defense of China itself. Capitalist counterrevolution in North Korea would bring U.S. forces right to the Chinese border, hugely intensifying the imperialist military threat. For its part, the various manifestations of the Kim dynasty in North Korea have episodically displayed a willingness to abandon their efforts to obtain deterrent capacity in exchange for economic assistance from the U.S. imperialists.
Key to the defense of the deformed workers states is the fight for workers political revolution to sweep away the nationalist ruling bureaucracies. These privileged, parasitic bureaucratic castes offer their services to the imperialists as they pursue the chimera of “peaceful coexistence” with the world capitalist order. The imperialists, for their part, may be willing to deal in the short run, while never abandoning their hostility to the survival of proletarian power anywhere on the planet. If these workers states had governments based on workers democracy and revolutionary internationalism, they would forge communist unity against the imperialists, including through regional economic planning and support to struggles by working people and the oppressed abroad.
South Korea in Turmoil
Washington’s rush to deploy the THAAD missile shield comes amid widespread social unrest in South Korea. Since last October, up to two million protesters have taken to the streets of Seoul and other cities to demand the ouster of President Park Geun-hye, an arch anti-Communist who oversaw sweeping attacks on the unions and democratic rights alongside a particularly belligerent stance toward North Korea. Park Geun-hye is the daughter of the U.S.-backed dictator Park Chung-hee, a former Japanese collaborator who ran South Korea through savage repression in the 1960s and ’70s. Having donned a thin “democratic” veil in the late 1980s, the South Korean rulers have continued to repress militant labor struggle and groups that express any support to the North.
Facing impeachment on corruption charges, Park Geun-hye was kicked out of office only three days after the THAAD deployment began. While Park and her interim replacement have strongly backed Washington’s missile shield, the opposition Democratic Party of Korea (Minjoo) called on the U.S. to delay its installation. With the opposition far ahead in the polls, the U.S. moved to make THAAD a fait accompli before presidential elections in May.
The mass demonstrations against the now-ousted president were joined by students, workers in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) and farmers whose livelihoods have been devastated by the 2012 U.S.-South Korea free-trade deal, as well as opposition bourgeois parties. South Korea’s working class has repeatedly shown its potential power, not least in the enormous struggles of the 1970s and ’80s that broke the stranglehold of the corporatist, CIA-sponsored unions and gave rise to independent unions, now grouped in the KCTU. Amid the turmoil of the past six months, the KCTU has led strikes at Hyundai Motor Co. and among truckers and rail workers as well as other large-scale work stoppages.
But the KCTU leadership has long channeled working-class militancy into support for the liberal wing of the South Korean bourgeoisie. In 1998, it supported the election of Kim Dae-jung, a capitalist politician who made a fortune in the shipping and newspaper industries, and whose “sunshine policy” of engagement with the Pyongyang regime aimed at undermining the deformed workers state through capitalist economic penetration.
Today, Minjoo’s likely presidential candidate, Moon Jae-in, seeks to revive such policies. He also calls himself “America’s friend,” adding: “If necessary, we will have to strengthen sanctions even further, but the goal of sanctions must be to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.” In the last presidential elections, the South Korean supporters of the British Socialist Workers Party (SWP) called for a vote for this bourgeois politician, claiming that “giving critical support to Moon” was a “tactical compromise” (“Statement by All Together on the South Korean Presidential Elections,” 10 December 2012).
Such support to a representative of the enemy class is a flagrant betrayal of the workers’ interests. But being in bed with elements of the South Korean bourgeoisie is nothing new for the SWP and its Korean followers, now known as Workers Solidarity. SWP founder Tony Cliff and his supporters broke from the Trotskyist Fourth International in 1950 when they refused to defend the Soviet Union, China and North Korea during the Korean War. Steeped in Cold War anti-Communism, the Cliffites went on to support any and all reactionary forces arrayed against the Soviet Union in the name of “anti-Stalinism,” cheering on the counterrevolution that finally destroyed the USSR.
The South Korean working class can only advance its struggles through a complete break with all wings of the capitalist class enemy and by standing for the defense of the North against counterrevolution. What is needed is the forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist party that can lead a struggle for the revolutionary reunification of Korea: socialist revolution to oust the rapacious bourgeoisie and expropriate the capitalist chaebol—the conglomerates that dominate the economy in the South—combined with workers political revolution to remove the Stalinist bureaucrats in the North.
The fight for revolutionary reunification must be linked to the struggle for proletarian political revolution in China and the extension of working-class power to the centers of world imperialism—from the U.S. to West Europe and Japan. Vanquishing the U.S. imperialist war machine requires an American workers revolution. The Spartacist League is dedicated to building the party that can lead such a struggle as the U.S. section of a reforged Fourth International, world party of socialist revolution.