Workers Vanguard No. 1025

31 May 2013


On the Korean War


14 April 2013

Dear Workers Vanguard,

The article “Chinese Stalinists: Running Dogs for Imperialist Drive Against North Korea” (WV No. 1020, 22 March) is a good article. However, the article states, “That war [in Korea] was launched by an imperialist invasion led by the U.S. in an attempt to smash social revolution.” This is only partially accurate. U.S. imperialism’s invasion was preceded by a civil war (dubbed a “national liberation war” by Kim Il Sung) that erupted in June 1950 when the North Korean army crossed the 38th parallel. That line had been drawn by the U.S. in 1945 out of fear that the Soviet Union would advance into the southern part of the peninsula following Japanese imperialism’s defeat at the end of World War II. At the time, Moscow immediately agreed to the division of the peninsula.

The North Korean army reached Seoul within a week, pushing aside South Korean forces that had been trained by the Japanese imperialists. In 1994, the Spartacist Group Japan wrote the article “Defend North Korea Against Imperialist Provocations!” in which we noted: “When North Korean troops advanced south in 1950 they were welcomed as liberators; popular support for the Northern side was often expressed in strike action” (reprinted in WV No. 602, 10 June 1994). The South Korean masses hated the reactionary Syngman Rhee government. Supported by American imperialism as well as the UN, this puppet regime sought to smash the North Korean deformed workers state.

Democratic Party president Harry Truman’s government was upset and caught off guard by the sudden onslaught of the North Korean army. Truman authorized war against the North on June 27 and on September 15 U.S. forces carried out an invasion in the name of the UN, landing at Inchon. By then, the North Korean army had already advanced near Busan (formerly Pusan), a city on the southern coast of the peninsula. The U.S. invasion inflicted a big defeat on the North Korean army, cutting off its military supplies and forcing it to retreat north.

The North Korean army was very brave and heroic. In 1949, it had been reinforced with tens of thousands of Korean troops who had fought together with the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA). These troops were combat-hardened and efficient. Mao Zedong had agreed to their transfer back to Korea more for economic reasons than out of concern for the defense of North Korea and the extension of its revolution. By that time, he considered the PLA’s war against the bourgeois-nationalist Guomindang basically won and thought the Korean troops would become an unnecessary economic burden on the Chinese workers state. The battle experience acquired by these troops while fighting in China—shown also in military skirmishes between the North and South, particularly in August 1949, when the North came out on top—made it possible for the North Korean army to reach Seoul as quickly as it did.

The North’s advance represented an opportunity to carry out a social revolution in the capitalist South. There was a space of almost three months between the North’s initiative at the end of June and the U.S. invasion on September 15. In the meantime, Moscow and Beijing hoped the U.S. military would not intervene.

In Japan, the leadership of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) refused to defend North Korea. But about 4,000 Korean members of the JCP demanded that North Korea be defended to the death. After the war, the JCP lost all its Korean members, who went on to form Chosen Soren. Today, JCP leader Tetsuzo Fuwa and other reformists like the Kakehashi group denounce North Korea for having crossed the 38th parallel. We defend the North Korean advance as progressive because it posed the possibility of driving American imperialism, as well as the UN forces, out of the peninsula and overthrowing the South Korean capitalist class.