Australasian Spartacist No. 220
Chinese Stalinists: Running Dogs for Imperialist Drive Against North Korea
The following article is adapted from Workers Vanguard No. 1020 (22 March), newspaper of the Spartacist League/U.S.
When North Korea successfully conducted its third nuclear test in February, the U.S. imperialists predictably responded with sabre rattling, and more. As new U.S. defence secretary Chuck Hagel announced that “missile defence” batteries along the West Coast would be expanded to counter the North Korean “threat,” joint exercises got under way involving thousands of U.S. and South Korean troops engaged in land, air, sea and special operations drills. Rallying behind U.S. imperialist threats, Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard labelled North Korea’s conduct “provocative and belligerent” (Australian, 5 April). Concretely assisting the U.S. military build-up, in early May the Australian navy frigate HMAS Sydney joined the U.S. navy’s 7th Fleet under U.S. command.
In addition to overt military provocations, the imperialists also pushed through a new round of United Nations economic sanctions, adding to past measures that have served to throw much of North Korea’s population into hunger. Treacherously, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) regime has supported previous sanctions and helped broker six-party “talks” aimed at the nuclear disarmament of North Korea, which, like China, is a bureaucratically deformed workers state. This time around, Beijing helped draw up the sanctions, an abject expression of the Stalinist policy of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism.
The UN resolution obligates member nations to take actions to enforce the embargo against North Korea, rather than simply requesting that they do so. Playing a balancing act, Beijing has never taken such action against Pyongyang. China is North Korea’s only significant trading partner, helping maintain an economy that was thrown far back by the counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union—North Korea’s former economic lifeline—in 1991-92. However, there are voices in the CCP saying that China should wash its hands of its one-time ally. The London Financial Times (27 February) published a piece by Deng Yuwen, deputy editor of Study Times, journal of the CCP’s Central Party School, which baldly declared: “Beijing should give up on Pyongyang and press for the reunification of the Korean peninsula.” China’s new foreign minister, Wang Yi, who helped lead the disarmament meetings that collapsed in 2008, is known for wanting to cut the ties binding China to North Korea.
Deng Yuwen’s article conceded that people in China commonly “view their relationship with Pyongyang through their shared sacrifice during the Korean war” of 1950-53. Under Soviet military protection following World War II, a workers state modelled on the USSR under the Stalinist bureaucracy was created in the North under Kim Il Sung, and workers and peasants engaged in struggle to smash the capitalists and landlords across the peninsula. When North Korean forces moved to reunify the country in 1950, they were greeted as liberators. The U.S., in its postwar role as the chief imperialist gendarme, and with the participation of British, Australian and other imperialist powers, used a United Nations fig leaf to unleash its war machine against the Korean masses, as the peninsula became the front line in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. After major initial North Korean advances, the U.S. juggernaut was able to push back close to Korea’s border with China, the Yalu River.
It was the massive intervention by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) that turned the tide. A series of human wave assaults, a heroic effort costing one million Chinese lives, threw the imperialist forces back across the 38th parallel. Mao Zedong’s CCP regime, which had taken power the year before, realised that the imperialists aimed to roll back social revolution not only in Korea but in China as well. Indeed, several U.S. political and military representatives at the time mooted the possibility of dropping atomic bombs on China.
A 1953 armistice sealed the division of the Korean peninsula between the deformed workers state in the North and the capitalist state in the South. The imperialists had reduced Korea to rubble, with a staggering four million Koreans dead. Ever since, the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the South, numbering 28,500 troops today. For decades, this force propped up hated dictatorships. At all times, the U.S. military deployment has been a dagger pointed at both the Chinese and North Korean workers states and at the South Korean working class fighting against exploitation and oppression.
Defence of North Korea as well as China against imperialism and capitalist counterrevolution is the duty of the proletariat internationally. But you will certainly not hear this from the followers of the late Tony Cliff, including Solidarity and Socialist Alternative in Australia. In “Why Are Tensions Rising in Korea?” (socialistworker.org, 15 March), David Whitehouse from the U.S. Cliffite group, International Socialist Organization (ISO), allows that “the current crisis is made in the U.S.A.” But he also takes pains to denounce North Korea as “a tyranny in which most of the population lives in poverty.” Retired U.S. basketball superstar Dennis Rodman displayed a far better impulse, joining North Korean Stalinist leader Kim Jong Un at an exhibition basketball game in Pyongyang and reporting that Kim had one thing to relay to Obama: call me. For his simple act, Rodman was vilified, ridiculed and smeared by everyone from the White House press secretary on down to local media. To his credit, Rodman remains defiant.
The ISO article warns about possible plans by the U.S. and South Korea for a land invasion of the North. This is rather rich considering that the last time such an invasion took place, in 1950, Cliff and his cohorts capitulated to the U.S. and British imperialists by refusing to defend North Korea, marking their definitive break from Trotskyism. Since then, the Cliffites internationally have supported every imperialist-sponsored counterrevolutionary movement arrayed against the former Soviet Union, China and other non-capitalist countries. The South Korean Cliffites, operating closer to the Demilitarized Zone, made their anti-Communist stance unambiguous. A 23 February article on the socialistworker.co.uk web site by Young-Ik Kim, titled “North Korea: A Nuclear Bogeyman Created by the US,” denounces the North Korean nuclear test as having “nothing to do with anti-imperialism or socialism.” The article goes on to opine that the North’s “nuclear programme—pursued at the expense of its people’s livelihoods—will only increase tension in the region.” This sentence could have been written word for word by the Wall Street Journal.
Those who, unlike the Cliffite bootlickers, see the need to stand with the workers states against the capitalist class enemy must understand that this includes supporting their development of nuclear weapons and necessary delivery systems—a crucial means of deterrence against imperialist attack. Chinese leftists would do well to remember China’s own struggle to achieve nuclear weaponry. As we wrote in “Bureaucracy and Revolution in Moscow and Peking” (Spartacist No. 3, January-February 1965): “China’s development of the A-bomb must be greeted by all revolutionary Marxists as a welcome strengthening of Chinese defenses at a time when the Chinese Revolution is not only being aggressively threatened by U.S. imperialism but when it is also being systematically betrayed by the Soviet bureaucracy in the search for ‘peaceful coexistence’.”
Some may see a fundamental discontinuity in the PLA’s heroic struggle in 1950-53 and Beijing’s toadying to the imperialists over North Korean nukes today. In fact, these events speak to the contradictory nature of the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy. Deriving its privileges from the collectivised economy that is at the core of the workers state, the bureaucracy is forced at times to defend that state against capitalist forces. At the same time, the Stalinist dogma of “socialism in one country” means that the needs of one’s own state are paramount. Inevitably, this leads to seeking accommodation with world imperialism, stabbing other Communist regimes in the back and selling out revolutions elsewhere.
After the Soviet and Chinese bureaucracies fell out in the late 1950s and ’60s, Mao’s China forged a counterrevolutionary alliance with U.S. imperialism against the USSR. In sharp opposition to both regimes, we Trotskyists declared: For Communist unity against imperialism! The continuity between Mao’s CCP and today’s regime, with its “socialist market economy,” lies in their shared opposition to the Marxist program of world proletarian revolution. Ultimately, as Bolshevik leader Leon Trotsky pointed out in The Revolution Betrayed (1937) and other works, unless the Stalinist caste is swept away by the workers, bureaucratic privilege, political suppression of the working class and appeasement of imperialism threaten the very existence of the workers state. That prognosis was tragically borne out in the Soviet Union.
In North Korea, “socialism in half a country” à la the Kims has been particularly vulgar in its nepotism and cult of personality. Despite strident rhetoric against the U.S. and its South Korean lackeys, the Pyongyang regime renounces any perspective for the revolutionary overthrow of the South Korean capitalist class. We call for the revolutionary reunification of Korea, through proletarian political revolution in the North and workers socialist revolution in the South. This is part of the International Communist League’s perspective for a socialist Asia, which requires as well a political revolution to sweep away the Chinese Stalinist regime and, crucially, the proletarian overthrow of Japanese imperialism and the jackal Australian imperialists. The ICL is dedicated to forging Leninist-Trotskyist parties to lead such struggles around the world.