Mass Protests in South Korea—U.S. Troops Out!

U.S. Imperialism Hands Off North Korea!

Defend North Korea’s Right to Nuclear Weapons!

Reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 795, 17 January 2003.

JANUARY 13—In the face of Washington’s diktats, as revolutionary Marxists we call on the international proletariat to stand for the unconditional military defense of the North Korean deformed workers state against imperialism. This crucially includes the right of North Korea to develop nuclear weapons to defend itself against the American nuclear cowboys. With the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, which removed a vital military counterweight to U.S. imperialism, America’s rulers feel free from all constraints to strut around like the unchallenged masters of the world. Had the former Soviet Union not possessed its nuclear arsenal, the U.S. imperialists could very well have turned countries like North Korea and China—countries where capitalist rule has been overthrown—into irradiated rubble.

Last year, Bush declared that North Korea was part of an “axis of evil,” and a few months later the Pentagon published a “Nuclear Posture Review” that openly targets that country along with China, Iraq and others for a potential nuclear first strike. It was patently clear that North Korea was next on U.S. imperialism’s hit list after Iraq. After the Pyongyang regime pulled out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty earlier this month, demanding that Washington resume suspended shipments of fuel oil and begin talks on a “non-aggression” treaty, the London Financial Times (12 January) quoted a South Korean official who aptly noted: “North Korea is clearly signalling that it wants the US to address these issues now before an Iraqi war starts. The North realises that if the US succeeds in Iraq, it could confront a more aggressive US.”

At the same time, we note that the Bush administration’s stated intention of pursuing “peaceful diplomacy” with North Korea exposes the utter hypocrisy of its pretext for war against Iraq. While North Korea has kicked out arms inspectors and openly proclaims its right to develop nuclear weaponry, some 150,000 American troops are already being deployed to wage war against Iraq, which denies possession of any nuclear or biological weapons and has allowed United Nations weapons inspectors in.

The North Korean deformed workers state emerged following the liberation of the northern half of the Korean peninsula from 35 years of Japanese colonialism. Following World War II, Korea was partitioned between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the north and the Republic of Korea in the south, a capitalist police state under American military occupation. Before the outbreak of the 1950-53 Korean War, the South was swept by massive peasant revolts, and when North Korean forces moved in to reunify the country in 1950, they were greeted as liberators. In a failed attempt to destroy North Korea as well as the 1949 Chinese Revolution, U.S. imperialism devastated the peninsula in the Korean War, killing more than three million people and obliterating whole cities, including Pyongyang. Following Chinese military intervention, the war ended in a stalemate at the 38th parallel, and ever since the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the South, while North Korea has been subjected to decades of imperialist military encirclement and a starvation embargo.

Despite the rule of a nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy, the overthrow of capitalism in the North was a historic defeat for imperialism and a victory for the working people of Asia and the world. The existence of a planned, collectivized economy brought real advances to the working people of North Korea. Until the mid 1970s, North Korea’s planned economy significantly outperformed the South, creating a modern industrial infrastructure. At the same time, the situation of a nation bifurcated by a “demilitarized zone” packed with more weaponry per square meter than any place on earth severely distorted the economy in the North. Particularly in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet Union, which provided the vast bulk of military and technological aid to North Korea, the situation became dire. In 1992, China cut off shipments of cheap oil to the North as a concession to obtain diplomatic and economic relations with South Korea. Starting in 1995, the country was hit by natural disasters producing a famine of historic proportions.

The disastrous situation in the North has been compounded by the extreme form of economic autarky pushed by the North Korean bureaucracy under the rubric of Juche (self-reliance). The political outlook of the bureaucracy was and is rooted in the Stalinist lie that socialism —a classless, egalitarian society based on material abundance—can be built in one or even half a country. This anti-working-class, nationalist dogma undermines defense of what remains of the collectivized economy and is counterposed to any perspective for international socialist revolution, and particularly to a struggle for workers revolution in the South.

Today, North Korea is ruled by a particularly cultish, nepotistic and bizarre Stalinist regime centered on “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Il. The only road forward for the beleaguered working masses of the North is through the perspective of international socialist revolution. Capitalist counterrevolution can only bring even more extreme hardship and misery to the people of North Korea. Anyone who doubts that can cast a glance at the devastating statistics of life in post-Soviet Russia. By every measure of human progress—infant mortality, life expectancy, income, literacy—the diverse peoples of the former Soviet Union have been brutally hurled back. And given the present economic and industrial backwardness of North Korea, the effects of capitalist restoration there could only be far worse. What is desperately needed is the forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist party to lead the struggle for the revolutionary reunification of Korea—for socialist revolution in the South and workers political revolution to oust 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 proletarian power to Japan, the industrial heartland of Asia.

A central aim of America’s rulers remains the restoration of capitalism in those countries where it was overthrown —mainly China but also North Korea as well as Vietnam and Cuba. For its part, China’s ruling bureaucracy has repeatedly emphasized agreement with the imperialists’ demands for a “non-nuclear Korean peninsula,” and has sought to lean on the Pyongyang regime to “moderate” its policies. Such criminal appeasement, denying North Korea the right to defend itself by acquiring nuclear weapons, simply emboldens the rapacious U.S. imperialists in their drive to foment counterrevolution in China itself.

Imperialist belligerence against North Korea is hardly exclusive to the Republicans. It was Democratic president Harry Truman who launched the Korean War. And it was Bill Clinton who in the midst of the 1994 Korean nuclear crisis moved stealth bombers into South Korea. As he boastfully recalled last month: “We actually drew up plans to attack North Korea and destroy their reactors, and we told them we would attack unless they ended their nuclear program” (New York Times, 19 December 2002).

Washington rants about “weapons of mass destruction,” but it was the U.S. imperialists who actually used nuclear bombs against the civilian populations of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. In an article titled “North Korea in the Vice” in New Left Review (November/December 2002), Gavan McCormack notes:

“North Korea has few cards in its pack. The nuclear one has been its joker for at least a decade. It should be recalled that the country is well acquainted with nuclear terror, having been at its receiving end for over half a century. In the winter of 1950 General MacArthur sought permission to drop ‘between thirty and fifty atomic bombs,’ laying a belt of radioactive cobalt across the neck of the Korean peninsula. During the Korean War the Joint Chiefs of Staff deliberated about using the bomb, and came close to it several times. In Operation Hudson Harbour, late in 1951, a solitary B52 was dispatched to Pyongyang as if on a nuclear run, designed to cause terror—as it undoubtedly did. From 1957, the Americans kept a stockpile of nuclear weapons close to the Demilitarized Zone, designed to intimidate the then non-nuclear North. It was only withdrawn in 1991, under pressure from the South Korean peace movement; but the US continued its rehearsals for a long-range nuclear bombing strike on North Korea at least up to 1998, and probably to this very day....

“North Korea knows that the world is full of nuclear hypocrisy. Non-nuclear countries bow to the prerogative of the great powers that possess the bomb, while resenting their monopoly. They recognize that entry into the ‘nuclear club’ paradoxically earns the respect of current club members—at the same time as it threatens annihilation for those outside.”

In today’s world, where the nuclear madmen in Washington declare their “right” to carry out “pre-emptive” strikes against anyone at any time, the only measure of real sovereignty left is possession of nukes. Indeed, we regret that North Korea’s current facilities for nuclear development are exceedingly modest.

South Korea: Mass Protests Against U.S. Troops

Increased American belligerence toward North Korea comes in the context of unprecedented mass demonstrations in South Korea against the presence of 37,000 American troops in that country. The protests were touched off after soldiers driving an American armored personnel carrier killed two schoolgirls during a training exercise last summer, then escalated when a U.S. military court acquitted the soldiers. Hundreds of thousands gathered in Seoul and other cities in early December for the largest anti-American demonstrations in the country’s history. The wave of protests formed the backdrop to that month’s presidential elections, which were won by Roh Moo Hyun, who beat the U.S.-backed candidate by pledging to renegotiate South Korea’s military pact with the U.S.

The substantial U.S. military presence in South Korea is not only a dagger aimed at the North Korean and Chinese deformed workers states but an assertion of American interests in the region against potential rivals in Asia, chiefly Japan. It also serves as a warning to South Korea’s combative union movement, threatening to drown in blood any challenge to the capitalist order. From its suppression of the “autumn harvest” rising in 1946 to orchestrating the bloody Kwangju massacre of 1980, in which some 2,000 people were killed to put down an insurrectionary revolt, the U.S. military has been a key force for counterrevolutionary repression on the peninsula.

During the Cold War, the U.S. as well as Japan aided in the rapid economic growth of South Korea as an anti-Communist bulwark against North Korea, China and the Soviet Union. With the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union in 1991-92, the interests of the U.S. in the peninsula have shifted. Counterrevolution in North Korea remains one of its goals, but a stronger South Korean bourgeoisie is not. When South Korea’s rulers pleaded for assistance from Washington and Tokyo during the 1997 Asian financial crisis, they had the door slammed in their faces. Indeed, the door to the imperialists’ elite club was slammed shut by the 1890s and not since reopened.

According to press reports, the recent wave of demonstrations in South Korea has been accompanied by a growing sympathy for the North. A New York Times (28 December 2002) article quoted one protester saying, “If North Korea would be threatened by the United States with nuclear weapons, North Korea can also have them.” But it is vital to distinguish between solidarity with North Korea on a class basis—defense of the deformed workers state against South Korea and the U.S. and Japanese imperialist powers—and solidarity on the basis of Korean nationalism.

Much of the radical student movement in South Korea has supported the North Korean regime as the most consistent purveyor of Korean nationalism against the U.S. and Japanese imperialists. However, nationalist ideology serves to tie the potentially powerful South Korean proletariat to its own ruling class, buttressing the latter’s aspirations for a united capitalist Korea.

The combativity of the working class has been demonstrated repeatedly, not least in the enormous struggles of the 1970s and ’80s which broke the stranglehold of the CIA-sponsored, corporatist Korean Federation of Trade Unions and gave rise to independent unions, now grouped in the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU). These struggles also helped put an end to open military rule in the late 1980s. But the KCTU leadership has increasingly sought to channel the militancy of the workers into support for political representatives of the rapacious South Korean bourgeoisie.

U.S. imperialist belligerence toward North Korea nearly capsized the “Sunshine Policy” of South Korean president Kim Dae Jung, whose attempts at “engaging” Pyongyang were aimed at undermining the deformed workers state through capitalist economic penetration. But Roh won the presidential election vowing to continue Kim’s policy.

For their part, the North Korean Stalinists have long called for “peaceful reunification” with the South. This is a recipe for reunification on the basis of capitalist wage slavery and the annexation of the North by the chaebol, the giant conglomerates that dominate South Korean capitalism. In an attempt to attract capital investment from South Korea and elsewhere, the Pyongyang regime is now promoting the construction of two large free-trade zones and has made other moves toward Chinese-style “market reforms.” Despite continuing severe food shortages, rationing was abolished and housing rents and utility charges have been introduced. Meanwhile, Pyongyang’s pleas for the U.S., Japan and other imperialist powers to adopt policies of “non-aggression” foster dangerous illusions that these imperialists can be appeased.

Western left groups like the U.S. Workers World Party (WWP) which act as cheerleaders for the North Korean regime also play into the hands of the South Korean bourgeoisie and U.S. imperialism. Workers World (9 January) hails the Pyongyang rulers’ “skill at defending the socialist base of their society even while opening political and commercial relations with the south.” Meanwhile on the ground in the U.S., WWP fosters illusions that the Democratic Party is in some way a progressive alternative to the Republicans, most recently by building platforms for Democratic politicians at rallies against Bush’s threatened war on Iraq. Yet if anything, the Democrats today have a harder posture toward North Korea than Bush’s Republicans. Thus Warren Christopher, former secretary of state in the Clinton administration, recently called on Bush to “step back from his fixation on attacking Iraq” because “the threats from North Korea and from international terrorism are more imminent” (New York Times, 31 December 2002).

Democratic Labor Party: Left Cover for Korean Nationalism

During last month’s South Korean elections, various left groups in South Korea and abroad touted Kwon Young Kil’s new Democratic Labor Party (DLP) as an alternative to both the traditional right wing and bourgeois liberals like Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo Hyun. In the 1997 elections, Kwon, a former KCTU leader, ran for president under the rubric “People’s Victory 21.” This was a class-collaborationist lash-up with various liberal groups that promoted nationalist opposition to “foreign interference” and similar rhetoric seeking to deflect class anger away from the domestic exploiters. This time, Kwon won 3.9 percent of the vote as the DLP’s presidential candidate. While the DLP is based in large part on the KCTU union federation, Kwon from the outset defined it as a “party of progressives” which sought to create a “coalition of liberal forces” with groups such as the Green Party (Joong Ang Ilbo, 29 June 2002).

Echoing the reformist verbiage traditionally associated with West European social-democratic parties, the DLP’s fundamental role is to act as a pressure group on the “liberal” wing of the South Korean bourgeoisie. Thus, Kwon saluted former president Kim Dae Jung’s “Sunshine Policy,” saying: “He achieved historic feats such as reducing military tension on the Korean peninsula and setting the foundation for a peace regime between the two Koreas.” The DLP also cosigned a June 2002 “Solidarity Message for Peace from Korean Peace Groups” which stated that “North Korea’s nuclear and missile development must be settled to build [a] peaceful Korean Peninsula.” Such calls for disarmament of the North and “peaceful relations” ultimately reflect the interests of South Korea’s chaebol bourgeoisie and its drive for capitalist reunification.

The International Socialists of South Korea (ISSK), affiliated to the late Tony Cliff’s Socialist Workers Party in Britain, supported Kwon’s 1997 candidacy and has more recently liquidated its forces into the DLP. An article on the South Korean elections in the 11 January British Socialist Worker (which is entirely uncritical of Roh) states: “The division of the Korean peninsula into two states is a relic of the Cold War.” And the Cliffites would like nothing more than to get rid of that “relic” through “democratic” counterrevolution.

In fact, the origins of the Cliffite tendency lie in its refusal to defend the North Korean workers state against the counterrevolutionary invasion by U.S., British and other imperialist troops in 1950-53, for which it was rightly expelled from the Trotskyist movement. Under the rubric “Neither Washington nor Moscow,” the Cliffites went on to embrace every conceivable CIA-backed anti-Soviet force, from Lech Walesa’s Solidarność in Poland to the Islamic fundamentalist mujahedin who fought the Red Army in Afghanistan to the Yeltsin-led counterrevolution in the Soviet Union itself.

In South Korea, the Cliffites have long gone out of their way to make clear that they share the chaebol bourgeoisie’s hatred for the North Korean deformed workers state. The ISSK demonstrated this in 1993 even as their own comrades were dragged off to prison under the National Security Law (see “Free Choi Il Bung and All South Korean Class War Prisoners!” WV No. 574, 23 April 1993). They assured the deeply anti-Communist regime that ISSK leader Choi “had not broken the National Security Law by reading banned literature from the North or belonging to a foreign organization. On the contrary, he had published books critical of regimes like North Korea” (Socialist Worker [U.S.], February 1993).

Striking a much more left posture is the British Workers Power (WP) group. While also presenting support for the DLP as a “positive development,” WP calls “for the immediate withdrawal of the USA’s troops and for scrapping all military treaties with it,” and states that “revolutionaries should stand for the unconditional defence of North Korea. This includes its right to possess nuclear reactors and to develop nuclear weapons, if it can” (Workers Power Global, 22 December 2002). This principled defensist position on North Korea stands in sharp contrast to WP’s refusal to defend China, whose fate is of even greater significance for the international proletariat. WP declared “Capitalist Restoration Triumphs in China” (Workers Power, November 2000). Despite massive inroads by overseas Chinese and imperialist capital, encouraged by the venal Stalinist bureaucracy, China remains a deformed workers state based on a collectivized economy. It must be defended against capitalist counterrevolution.

In fact, far from having a principled Trotskyist position in regard to the deformed and degenerated workers states, WP has a history of sashaying back and forth across the class line depending on the prevailing political climate and its own political appetites. With widespread popular opposition among South Korean workers and youth to the American military presence and significant sympathy for the North, WP today calls for defense of North Korea. At the time of the Soviet intervention into Afghanistan in 1979, WP took a step to the left, breaking with its Cliffite origins and acknowledging that the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state. But in the end what was definitive for WP was the anti-Soviet political climate at home. Thus, WP simultaneously joined with the Cliffites and other social-democratic apologists for imperialism in denouncing the Soviet military intervention. By the late 1980s, WP was apologizing for anti-Soviet Baltic nationalists and touring Russian fascists in Britain. At the time of Yeltsin’s pro-imperialist power grab in August 1991, WP boasted that one of its supporters stood on the barricades of counterrevolution outside Yeltsin’s headquarters in Moscow.

Well to the right of WP’s current stance on Korea is an Internet statement by the International Bolshevik Tendency (IBT) titled “South Korean Presidential Election: Vote for the DLP!! Oust Its Reformist Leadership!!” (18 December 2002). The IBT was formed two decades ago by a handful of defectors from the Spartacist tendency who couldn’t stomach our hard Soviet-defensist line at the height of Ronald Reagan’s Cold War II. In its lengthy treatise, the IBT nowhere calls for U.S. troops to get out of South Korea or for the right of North Korea to possess nuclear weapons!

The IBT admits that the DLP’s stand for “reunification of the fatherland” would mean capitalist reunification. But this doesn’t stop the IBT from giving “critical support” to a party that advocates capitalist counterrevolution. The IBT has a pro forma paragraph saying that reunification of Korea under capitalism “would be a defeat for the proletariat internationally” and noting that “the working class should defend North Korea against the designs of the South Korean and international bourgeoisies to plunder the deformed workers’ state.” At the same time, the IBT waxes eloquent about the supposed virtues of the South Korean rulers’ “Sunshine Policy”: “The realization of the ‘Sunshine policy’ would have removed a major justification for the 37,000 U.S. troops stationed in South Korea. It would have brought about economic advantage to the North Korean regime and closer relationships between it and South Korea, Russia, Japan, China and EU member nations.” Seven pages later, the IBT laconically concedes that such policies “aim to exploit Pyongyang’s endemic difficulties with the object of capitalist reunification.”

However, even its warnings against capitalist reunification are motivated solely by the effect it would have on workers in the capitalist South: “Workers in the South would suffer higher unemployment and suppression of wages, while at the same time bearing the social costs of capitalist reconstruction of the North.” It speaks to the IBT’s sneering indifference to the fate of the workers state itself that it says not a word about the devastating impact counterrevolution would have on the already impoverished North Korean working masses.

Reforge the Fourth International!

The common hostility of U.S. and Japanese imperialism to the North Korean and Chinese deformed workers states does not moderate interimperialist rivalry but on the contrary serves as an arena for its intensification, as they jockey over who would get the spoils in the event of capitalist restoration. The fact that Tokyo is currently seeking to counter Washington’s bellicosity toward North Korea with attempts to broker a “normalization” of relations does not mean that the Japanese bourgeoisie’s approach is in any way “peaceful.” This was underlined when the Japanese coast guard one year ago sank a North Korean ship in Chinese waters. While certainly not excluding military confrontation, Tokyo is today concentrating on economic penetration of North Korea. Japan is North Korea’s second-largest trading partner, and Japanese capitalists are increasingly entrusting production to North Korean plants, where labor costs are low and the quality of work is high.

The right-wing Koizumi government used North Korea’s recent admission of the bizarre and senseless kidnapping of Japanese citizens years ago to whip up an atmosphere of anti-Communist, chauvinist hysteria. Revolutionaries in Japan have a special duty to defend the North Korean deformed workers state and to oppose growing Japanese militarism and the bourgeoisie’s persecution of Japan’s ethnic Korean minority. On December 31, our comrades of the Spartacist Group Japan (SGJ) joined with other Japanese and Korean leftists at a Tokyo demonstration against the U.S. troops in South Korea. Our comrades raised placards calling for U.S. troops out of South Korea, for the right of China and North Korea to have nuclear weapons, for the unconditional military defense of China and North Korea against Japanese imperialism, and for citizenship rights for Koreans, Chinese and all foreign workers in Japan.

Fundamentally, the defense of those states where capitalism has been overthrown requires the extension of proletarian rule to the advanced capitalist countries. Yet it is this perspective that is not only alien but anathema to the nationalist bureaucratic castes that rule in North Korea and China. The Stalinist bureaucrats in Pyongyang and Beijing fear that socialist revolution in South Korea and Japan would quickly inspire proletarian political revolutions that would result in their forced evacuation from their positions of privilege and power. Likewise, a political revolution in China or North Korea would have an enormous impact on South Korea and Japan, the industrial powerhouse of Asia.

What is needed above all is the forging of internationalist proletarian parties around the world. Our comrades of the SGJ are committed to the struggle to forge a Leninist vanguard party to lead the fight for proletarian revolution in Japan. For our part, the Spartacist League/ U.S. fights to build a revolutionary workers party—part of a reforged Fourth International—that can lead the multiracial proletariat in socialist revolution to sweep away U.S. imperialism, the most dangerous force on the planet. U.S. troops out of South Korea now!

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