Spartacist Canada No. 167
Down With Imperialist Provocations Against North Korea!
The following article is reprinted from Workers Vanguard No. 970 (3 December).
NOVEMBER 30—In a calculated provocation directed against both North Korea and China, the U.S. has dispatched the nuclear aircraft carrier USS George Washington along with other warships for a joint exercise with its South Korean junior partners in the Yellow Sea. This brazen display of imperialist military force comes less than a week after a South Korean naval exercise prompted an exchange of artillery fire in nearby waters off North Korea’s coast. North Korea’s shelling of the garrison island of Yeonpyeong resulted in the deaths of four South Koreans, including two civilians. U.S. president Barack Obama responded by openly threatening North Korea, declaring its regime to be “a serious and ongoing threat that has to be dealt with.”
It is in the vital interest of the proletariat internationally to defend North Korea, a bureaucratically deformed workers state, against U.S. imperialism and the South Korean capitalist rulers. It is the imperialists and their lackeys who are an ongoing, deadly threat to Asia’s working people. U.S. imperialism carried out the atomic incineration of 200,000 people in the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. U.S. imperialism went on to slaughter some three million Koreans in the 1950-53 Korean War and another three million Vietnamese in the 1960s and ’70s in failed efforts to crush social revolutions. Among the crimes of Japanese imperialism was its brutal 40-year colonial occupation of Korea, which ended with Japan’s defeat in World War II. In the aftermath of the war, the northern part of the Korean peninsula was liberated from capitalist rule through a social revolution carried out under the protection of Soviet troops.
In addition to its military provocations, the U.S. is demanding that the UN tighten economic sanctions, attempting to starve North Korea into submission. For its part, the Japanese government has strengthened coast guard monitoring in the Sea of Japan and increased the number of spy flights in the area. Treacherously adding their voices to the war cries against North Korea are Japan’s Social Democratic and Communist parties, whose parliamentary deputies voted for a resolution calling to “strengthen collaboration with South Korea and the U.S.” and to consider further sanctions against Pyongyang. In South Korea, where right-wing legislators demanded aggressive action against the North, including air strikes, the government dumped its defense minister and the military issued new, less restrictive guidelines on how to “respond” to North Korea.
A Pentagon official has hinted that the U.S.-South Korean exercises might well take place within 200 nautical miles of China’s coast—a zone that China considers to be under its sovereignty. The U.S. is increasingly trying to pressure Beijing to “rein in” North Korea, which is heavily dependent on its economic as well as diplomatic ties with the Chinese deformed workers state. In the trove of U.S. diplomatic cables just released by WikiLeaks is a stern message from 2007 demanding that China “take action” to stop North Korea from shipping missile parts to Iran through Beijing. Now, with China refusing to condemn North Korea for the shelling of Yeonpyeong, the U.S., Japan and South Korea are rejecting Beijing’s request for emergency talks over the crisis.
The Yeonpyeong incident took place only days after the Obama administration raised a renewed hue and cry over North Korea’s nuclear capacity. Stanford University scientist Siegfried Hecker, a former director of the U.S. nuclear lab at Los Alamos, had reported that North Korean officials had shown him a light-water reactor construction site at the Yongbyon nuclear complex. While Hecker noted that the facility was “much more suitable for making electricity than for bombs,” he also opined that a companion ultramodern uranium enrichment facility designed to support civilian electrical generation had the ability to provide fuel for dozens of nuclear bombs. North Korea manifestly needs both electricity and nuclear weapons, the latter to deter imperialist military attack. Indeed, the fact that Pyongyang has demonstrated such capacity has served to stay the hands of the U.S. and its South Korean client state.
The current U.S.-South Korean exercises follow similar military maneuvers that began in July, ostensibly in response to the sinking of the South Korean Navy corvette Cheonan near Baengnyeong Island in March. A U.S.-South Korean report claimed that the warship had been sunk by a North Korean torpedo, which Pyongyang denied. China and Russia refused to go along with the story. We noted at the time that “the ‘official’ story stinks.” But we insisted that “even if the North Korean navy did sink the Cheonan, it would have been an act of defense against repeated provocations by the U.S. and South Korea” (“Defend North Korea Against U.S. Imperialism!” WV No. 960, 4 June). Our article explained, “As Marxists, our attitude regarding this affair is determined not by claims of who was responsible for the sinking, the cause of which is shrouded in mystery, but by class considerations: Despite being saddled with a nationalist Stalinist bureaucracy, North Korea is a workers state based on the overthrow of capitalist rule.”
The U.S. launched the Korean War (under the UN flag) not only to smash social revolution on the peninsula but also to overthrow the Chinese bureaucratically deformed workers state that issued out of the 1949 Revolution. The entry of a million Chinese People’s Liberation Army troops turned the tide against the imperialist forces, leading to a stalemate at the 38th parallel, which divides North from South Korea. A peace treaty was never signed, and the South refused to sign the armistice agreement between the U.S. and North Korea. Both Yeonpyeong and Baengnyeong islands lie in disputed waters demarcated by a line unilaterally drawn by the U.S. which the North has never recognized. Since the Korean War, the U.S. has maintained a massive military presence in the South, today numbering 28,500 troops, while subjecting North Korea to decades of military encirclement and embargo. We say: All U.S. troops and bases out of South Korea!
Despite the rule of a nepotistic and bizarre Stalinist regime, North Korea’s planned economy significantly outperformed the South until the mid 1970s, creating a modern industrial infrastructure. At the same time, being divided from the South by a “demilitarized zone” packed with more weaponry per square meter than any place on earth has severely distorted the North’s economy. The situation became desperate in the aftermath of the 1991-92 counterrevolutionary destruction of the Soviet Union, which had provided the bulk of military and technological aid to North Korea. In 1992, China’s nationalist Stalinist regime cut off shipments of cheap oil to the North in order to obtain diplomatic and economic relations with South Korea. In 1995, North Korea was hit by a horrific famine, stemming from floods and droughts, from which it has still not recovered.
As Trotskyists, we stand for the unconditional military defense of the deformed workers states—North Korea, China, Vietnam and Cuba—against imperialism and internal capitalist counterrevolution. At the same time, we fight for proletarian political revolution to oust the nationalist Stalinist bureaucracies, whose policies are encapsulated in the dogma of “building socialism in one country.” Opposing the fight for international proletarian revolution, the privileged bureaucracies instead pursue a futile quest for “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, undermining the defense of those states against the class enemy.
In 2006 and again in 2009, China criminally voted for sanctions against North Korea in the UN Security Council following missile tests by Pyongyang. Likewise, Beijing has repeatedly brokered “six-party talks”—involving the U.S., China, Japan, Russia and the two Koreas—aimed at disarming North Korea. Beijing’s craven appeasement of imperialism not only imperils North Korea but dangerously undermines the defense of China itself.
For their part, the North Korean Stalinists have long called for “peaceful reunification” with the South—a recipe for reunification on a capitalist basis. An article titled “WikiLeaks Row: China Wants Korean Reunification, Officials Confirm” in the London Guardian (30 November) cites Chinese officials in Europe who say that Beijing also favors the “independent and peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula in the long term.” The program of capitalist reunification is a betrayal not only of the North Korean workers state but also of the historically militant and combative South Korean proletariat. As we go to press, Hyundai workers on temporary contracts are in the 16th day of a plant occupation in Ulsan, and warrants have been issued for the arrest of seven of the strike leaders.
Many South Koreans feel a sense of solidarity with the North based on strong nationalist sentiments fed by a century of Japanese and American imperialist overlordship. But Korea is divided along class lines. Korean nationalism, promoted by both the North Korean Stalinist regime and the South Korean reformist left, serves to tie the South Korean proletariat to its own capitalist ruling class. What is needed is the forging of a Leninist-Trotskyist party based on proletarian internationalism 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. Linked to the fight for proletarian political revolution in China, this struggle must ultimately extend to the victory of proletarian rule in the imperialist heartlands of Japan and the U.S.