- Created: Saturday, 24 December 2011 15:28
- Written by Trevor Rayne
Following the death of President Kim Jong-il on 17 December 2011 the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK-North Korea) is again the target for British ruling class media vilification. Kim Jong-il is portrayed as mad and corrupt, the better to present North Korea as dangerous and its state worthy of overthrowing. In January 2002 former US President George W Bush said that Iraq, Iran and North Korea constituted an ‘axis of evil’. Four months later the US ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton added Libya, Syria and Cuba to the list. When the US and Britain invaded Iraq in 2003 Bolton said that North Korea, Iran and Syria should ‘draw the appropriate lessons’.
North Korea has been threatened by the US with nuclear attack in 1951, 1953, 1976, 1993 and 1995. It has been under siege from imperialism for 60 years, faced repeated US-South Korea military exercises conducted off its coast and across its border in South Korea, where the US still maintains 30,000 troops. (see FRFI 195 , February/March 2007 Five Minutes to Midnight Part one). The North Korean economy has been subjected to sanctions designed to strangle it. With the collapse of the Soviet Union and socialist countries in Europe North Korea lost its major trading partners and between 1990 and 2001 its gross domestic product (GDP) fell by about a third. Faced with imperialist threats the state adopted a policy of ‘the military first’; consequently, about a quarter of the country’s GDP is spent on defence. North Korea conducted its first nuclear weapons tests in 2006; it calculates that by having nuclear weapons it can reduce its spending on defence and thereby strengthen its economy. Imperialism is responsible for North Korea attempting to defend itself with nuclear weapons.
Below we reproduce the article we carried in FRFI 120 in August/September 1994 after the death of President Kim Il-sung. In this article we state, ‘The much remarked personality cult which surrounded Kim Il-sung and his acquisition of the substance of a monarch – his son inheriting his position – reflects the weakness of a revolution which stands isolated in a largely peasant country with only a small working class and laid siege by powerful outsiders. Whilst socialists do not approve of or condone such distortions of the socialist idea, nevertheless we recognize that in the current imperialist campaign against Korea, all socialists must stand full square against the US and its allies.’ We have no reason to state a different position on the proposed succession as leader of the DPRK of Kim Jong-un. All socialists should demand Imperialist hands off Korea! Self-determination for the Korean people!
Korea – imperialism lays siege
Following the collapse of the socialist bloc in Europe, US imperialism has directed its anti-communist crusade against the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Using the pretext that North Korea was preparing a nuclear weapons system, the US has sought to isolate, undermine and blockade the country and bring it to its knees. Its ultimate ambition is to destroy the socialist North and incorporate it into the capitalist South. In the aftermath of the death of President Kim Il Sung TREVOR RAYNE and EDDIE ABRAHAMS explain the historical and political background to imperialism’s attacks on Korea.
Kim Il Sung’s death has precipitated a new round of imperialist diplomatic, political and military manoeuvring against socialist Korea. They are hoping that political uncertainty and instability following his death will lead to the emergence of ‘moderates’ prepared to negotiate with imperialism and lead the way to the restoration of capitalism throughout Korea. The propaganda against socialist Korea has presented a picture of an impoverished nation, with millions living in rural poverty on the edge of starvation, cowed by a concentration camp regime headed by a megalomaniac demi-god. What is the truth?
The 1994 UN Human Development Report refutes the most vulgar charges against North Korea and demonstrates the social achievements of the Northern government. Life expectancy is 70.4 years in the South and 70.7 years in the North. Daily calorie intake in the North is above that of the South and is at 20 per cent above the minimum necessary for health. Food production per person in the South has fallen by 5 per cent since 1981 while in the north it has grown by 4 per cent. As a result, the North needs to import only 8 per cent of its food whilst the South imports 50 per cent. In the South there is one doctor per 1,370 people, in the North one doctor serves 370 people. Infant mortality rates in both parts of the country are virtually identical. The 99 per cent literacy rate in the North is higher than that of the USA. Such statistics place North Korea way ahead of most Third World nations.
These achievements were recorded in the face of an unending imperialist military assault against the DPRK. On 6 September 1945, the DPRK was declared after the overthrow of Japanese colonialism by the national liberation movement, led by communists, at whose head stood Kim Il Sung. Two days later a US invasion force under General MacArthur landed in the South. He declared US military rule south of the 38th parallel and proceeded to construct a government of former Japanese colonial stooges in preparation for war against the socialist North and China.
The imperialist plans were countered by radical reforms which built a powerful popular base for the DPRK. In the North, agricultural reform was implemented alongside the nationalisation of key industries, transport, banking and foreign trade. Feudal land-ownership was attacked from above by legislation and below by peasant committees. The reform went in stages with an initial reduction in peasant rents followed by a peasant mobilisation for ‘land to the tiller’. Land confiscations were made without compensation, but the land was not taken as state property; it was left with the peasantry. However, they could not sell, lease, or mortgage it, thereby preventing the emergence of a new landlord class. These measures secured the solid support of the peasantry who constituted 80 per cent of the total population of North and South Korea.
During the Korean War the peasants joined the communist organisations in the North; many had been impoverished and saw little future in private plots. They joined a voluntary movement for cooperative agriculture even before the technical foundations for higher productivity were laid. Richer peasants were not expropriated but with the state controlling the distribution of commodities, raw materials and financial resources for expansion there was little further benefit in private enterprise. Just as the shift from feudal to private commodity production, so the move onwards to cooperative farming was also achieved peacefully by 1959. By 1990 the DPRK grain output was five times the 1946 figure.
… and counter-revolutionary war
In 1948, the Soviet Red Army which had helped the Korean revolutionaries defeat Japanese colonialism withdrew from the North. The US on the other hand could not withdraw from the South without risking the collapse of its stooge Syngman Rhee regime. This regime was battered by wave upon wave of popular revolt, inspired by the North, demanding land reform and national independence. Between 1945 and June 1950 100,000 people in the South had been killed in what was effectively a national democratic war of independence.
Having by such means consolidated their position in the South, imperialism and its stooges prepared for war against the North. In September 1949 the US learned of the Soviet achievement of an atomic bomb. On 1 October Mao Ze Dong declared the People's Republic of China. The US began mass production of nuclear weapons and long range B-36 bombers capable of striking deep into Soviet and Chinese territory. Along with US and British re-armament, the US sought the rapid reconstruction and re-armament of Germany and Japan to hold on to its strategic dominance against the Soviet Union. US imperial circles considered holding the line in Asia as vital to securing their positions in Europe. Korean unification in the interests of the popular struggle North and South for self-determination was impermissible.
After a series of border clashes a full-scale war between the Korean People's Army (KPA) and the US-backed Republic of Korea’s (ROK) forces broke out on 25 June 1950. The British media reported an ‘unprovoked North Korean attack’. On 27 June the US ordered its troops to give the ROK forces ‘cover and support’. It interposed the US Seventh Fleet between Taiwan and China and made an increase in military aid to the Philippines and the French in Indochina. The Labour Prime Minister Attlee placed Royal Navy ships at the disposal of the US Command and two battalions were sent from Hong Kong to Korea and raised to infantry brigade strength. Twelve thousand British troops were sent to Korea in a multi-national force of 16 armies all under US command but acting in the name of the recently formed UN.
Within one and a half months, the KPA had liberated 90 per cent of Korean territory and 92 per cent of the population. Rhee and the US occupation forces had retreated to the far south. As they fled they massacred an estimated 400,000 people. The British Labour cabinet considered prosecuting David Winnington of the Daily Worker for reporting this. James Cameron resigned from the Picture Post when his reports of crucifixions conducted by ROK forces were suppressed. Rene Cutforth’s BBC news reports on the atrocities were censored
On 13 September 1950 the imperialist forces launched a massive counter-assault. By the end of 1950 the US air force grounded its bomber fleet: ‘There are no more targets in Korea.’ Schools. factories, hospitals, theatres, villages and towns were bombed to dust. Britain’s Labour government drafted a resolution giving MacArthur UN authority to cross the 38th parallel. Twelve hours before it was passed in the UN British forces had marched across on 7 October. By mid-November they had reached the Chinese border.
Together with the KPA the Chinese People's Volunteers counter-attacked. They drove the occupying army south and by the end of December 1950 the whole territory north of the 38th parallel was liberated. Within a year the US had lost more manpower and equipment than they lost on two fronts fought in the Second World War.
MacArthur, who was obsessed with using nuclear weapons, urged their use against China and Korea to minimise US losses and to secure control of the area which he regarded as strategic in the war against international communism. Truman made his first public threat to use nuclear bombs in November 1950. The US Joint Chiefs of Staff in a March 1953 memo stated: ‘The efficacy of atomic weapons in achieving greater results at less cost ... points to the desirability of re-evaluating the policy which now restricts the use of atomic weapons in the Far East.’ When the allies opposed the use of nuclear bombs, Eisenhower remarked that if they ‘objected … we might well ask them to supply three or more divisions needed to drive the communists back in lieu of the use of atomic weapons.’ Nuclear weapons were in the end not used primarily because of British and French fears of Soviet nuclear retaliation against their own cities, and also a US fear that its own Far Eastern troop concentrations could be targeted by Soviet nuclear bombs.
An armistice was finally agreed on 12 July 1953. 478,700 napalm and other bombs had been dropped on Pyongyang alone; one bomb for every citizen; 8,000 bombs for every square kilometre; 7.8 million gallons of napalm used for the first time drenched the North in flames. Yet for the first time in over 100 years the US ruling class signed an agreement without victory. Imperialism had been fought to a standstill. Only nuclear blackmail held the revolution at the 38th parallel.
The Korean revolution and Juche Idea
A distinctive feature of the Korean socialist experience has been the Juche Idea – it combines the masses as the makers of history with national ‘self-reliance’. The struggle for national self-reliance has taken the form of an exaggerated nationalism and personality cult. This is understandable given Korea’s history of invasions and occupations and more specifically its experience during the Sino-Soviet split which began in 1963. Reliant on both Chinese and Soviet economic. military and political support, the Korean government had struggled to find a neutral stance in the bitterly divisive Sino-Soviet clash. It emphasised its independent position and sought support for this in Korea’s nationalist legacy. The Juche Idea led the Korean leadership to avoid integration into the international or Comecon division of labour. This inevitably produced its own economic problems. Socialist construction was made more difficult as a result of the limited size of domestic resources. Inefficient production had to be maintained by state subsidies and there was a shortage of foreign exchange with which to purchase on the international market. These problems were subsequently exacerbated with the end of the fair trading system and support provided by the socialist bloc.
The much remarked personality cult which surrounded Kim Il Sung and his acquisition of the substance of a monarch – his son inheriting his position – reflects the weakness of a revolution which stands isolated in a largely peasant country with only a small working class and laid siege by more powerful outsiders.
Whilst socialists do not approve of or condone such distortions of the socialist idea, nevertheless we recognise that in the current imperialist campaign against Korea, all socialists must stand full square against the US and its allies. Now the US will seek to use the argument over North Korean nuclear potential as a lever with which to open the DPRK to the penetration of capitalist investment. Their first ‘offers’ will include promises of aid in return for abandoning any nuclear ambitions and introducing a programme of economic reforms. This will be accompanied by inducements to create free trade zones including US and South Korean investment in the North. They seek to lure an element of the Korean Workers Party and government towards collaboration with and personal benefit from multinational capital. In alliance with this faction, they will then attempt to engineer the controlled collapse of the socialist system in Korea.
In the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were to fall, its people will face the same fate as those millions in the one-time socialist bloc. All the progressive achievements of the DPRK will be lost. Its people, like those of Russia and Eastern Europe, will face soaring unemployment, poverty, hunger, homelessness, the rise of crime, the domination of the economy by a greedy mafia in alliance with international capital. They will face the conditions endured by workers in the South who have produced the ‘economic miracle’: a combination of some of the world’s lowest wages, longest hours and unsafe working conditions enforced by a huge army of police and troops. On the day of Kim Il Sung’s funeral the South deployed 34.000 armed police on the streets of Seoul to prevent any manifestation of grief or support for the dead North Korean leader.