In defence of the DPRK
The following post was originally written as a reply to discussion on Facebook. It is reprinted here to aid wider circulation and facilitate discussion on this important topic.
We are all agreed about the need to support the DPRK. The questions that have arisen here seem to be mostly attributable to the prejudices that we find hard to shake given the overwhelming anti-Korea propaganda to which we are all subjected on a daily basis.
While we may have recognised this in theory, it still leads to all sorts of spurious allegations being easily accepted as fact. For example, Comrade L’s allegation that there is “very little development of Marxist education among the masses” or that “the party meets very infrequently”.
I can see no basis in fact for these statements. Quite the contrary, evidence from comrades and friends who have visited the DPRK rather points the opposite way. They have found the people to be exceptionally well educated and informed about local, national and international matters - and Marxism is a central plank of the education system.
Here is a short video clip from the National House of Class Education in Pyongyang, for example.
There is an excellent article about north Korea from 2006 by Stephen Gowans that I would recommend everyone to read if they haven’t already. It gives a really comprehensive framework for thinking about and judging all information regarding the country and its leaders.
Growing up infected with imperialist arrogance it is easy for us to dismiss or ridicule the achievements or difficulties of others, and exceptionally difficult to really appreciate how far they have come and against what odds and at what price.
We are helped in this by all those on the fake left who, under the banner of ‘concern’ for the fate of the revolution, are always ready to agree with the imperialists that the socialism of any particular country is not true to Marx’s or Lenin’s aims or ideals - and to provide 101 unfounded assertions by way of proof that this is the case.
But what are the aims and ideals of socialism? Not to conform to some dogmatic formula for Leninist purity, but to free the toiling masses from imperialist and capitalist exploitation and build a society where production and distribution are collectively planned and based on need. To establish firmly the dictatorship of the proletariat to that end and to educate the masses so that they may fulfil the position of rulers while keeping the expropriated exploiters down.
In what way do comrades believe that the Koreans are failing to do this? Are they not rather to be congratulated on keeping closer to these aims than any other socialist country has managed to do, despite the hugely powerful forces ranged against them?
Despite the partition of their country, the hostility between their hugely powerful socialist neighbours (the USSR AND China - a conflict they were alone in managing not to get dragged too far into) and the permanent state of war between their country and the 37,000 US troops in the occupied south, they have developed industry and agriculture, built a strong army and a nuclear deterrent, weathered natural and political/economic catastrophes (floods, collapse of the USSR etc) and still managed not only to keep everyone fed but to provide them with jobs, houses, excellent education and modern health care.
All this in a country that was flattened by more bombs than Europe saw in WW2 and poisoned with more napalm than Vietnam.
I personally worry that the Koreans seem to have abandoned the recognisably scientific terminology of Marxism Leninism in favour of the apparently more fuzzy terminology of juche, which seems to me to lend itself more easily to revisionist or nationalist manipulation.
There are certainly plenty of charlatans masking their flunkeyism in ‘jucheist’ terminology. But should we necessarily blame the Koreans for that? In Stalin’s day, plenty of flunkeys inside and outside of the USSR masked counter-revolutionary positions behind pure ‘communist’ rhetoric. It’s just one aspect of the class struggle after the revolution. And we cannot deny that the Koreans have made use of their juche formulations to masterly effect.
When the USSR collapsed, the USA confidently predicted that the DPRK would follow within a few years - and did everything it could to accelerate the process. And yet the imperialists have consistently failed to bully, blackmail or otherwise coerce the Korean people into giving up their freedom.
One has only to look at Syria to see what kind of methods the imperialists use to divide people and set them against their leaders. Small divisions are made use of and amplified, and unlimited military and financial assistance is channeled to those that can be persuaded to turn against an anti-imperialist government. It is a phenomenal achievement of the Koreans that they have not allowed this to happen. Despite all the difficulties they have faced in the last 20 years, they have maintained a united front against the forces of the enemy - much to that enemy’s chagrin!
On the issue of the leadership, it seems to me that the choice of the successor has put to bed at least one of the common slanders: it is clear that the country is NOT a ‘one-man dictatorship’. Kim Il Sung was a revolutionary of exceptional calibre in world history, who inspired Koreans to incredible feats - he was a leading figure in the revolution and became a figurehead for the party that led Korea successfully through the most terrible trials. His son was an able successor, whose government was able to defend and sustain Korea’s independence when socialist countries were collapsing like ninepins.
Is it not possible that the people and the party have chosen the young Kim on the basis that he embodies their love of the revolution, as well as on the basis that they believe his life training has given him total loyalty to them and to the revolutionary cause? It is perfectly clear that, whatever his personal qualities, he is not governing alone - he is a figurehead for the dictatorship of the workers and peasants against all imperialist interference and capitalist roading. Hence the popular Korean slogan that the leader represents their ’single-hearted unity’.
Why should we sneer at these ‘undeveloped’ Koreans swearing ‘fealty’? Is it not possible that the love the Koreans show to their leaders is merely a symbolised form of their love for their revolution? Who are we, who have done so little to hurt the cause of imperialism, to damn those who have done so much and for so long? How can we, from our comfortable armchairs, appreciate what it means to have peace for your children after generations of genocides?
And how can we, the product of an alienated, fragmented society, imagine what it means to start to rediscover your collective humanity under socialism? We are so used to imagining that our inculcated cynical detachment is the pinnacle of sophistication that we don’t recognise a society that is socially in advance of our own!
The Koreans are proud of the things they have achieved and determined to protect the gains they have made, and it seems to me that their choice of leader is a reflection of that.
Comrade L asked about the lack of great Marxist texts forthcoming from Korea in the last few decades. But where have great Marxist texts come from instead? What is there that needs to be written that has not been covered for our era by the great founders of our movement?
Marx and Engels comprehensively analysed class society, defined scientific socialism and outlined the tasks of the proletarian movement. Lenin masterfully updated their theories for the era of imperialism and revolution. Stalin documented the struggle of the dictatorship of the proletariat before and after the seizure of power and outlined the economic problems of socialism. Mao set out tactics and principles for peasant countries fighting both feudalism and imperialism, as well as working out the principles for successfully waging guerilla warfare.
All revolutionaries since then have merely worked, in their own countries, to explain the principles set out in the works of the aforementioned - to apply the scientific approach to particular situations. Kim Il Sung was particularly talented in this regard, and his writings resonated with many all over the world. He was a great Marxist Leninist. In fact, despite all their brilliance, neither Mao nor Stalin saw themselves as adding to Marxism Leninism, but only as students of the subject - applying the science to the concrete conditions in which they found themselves.
Kim Jong Il wrote long articles on many topics, especially on the arts under socialism, in which he took a particular interest, but his works are ignored in the West. Then again, so are his father’s. And so are Stalin’s, so he’s in good company!
Mostly though, I think we need to remember that people generally, and leaders particularly, write about what is in front of them - writing is not something they sit down to do in the abstract; they do it because it answers a need.
Kim Il Sung wrote during a period of the advance of the world revolution, and much of his writing was concerned with the overthrow of imperialism and the development of revolutionary forces - mainly in Korea but also elsewhere. Kim Jong Il was writing at a different time, and his primary concern was with defending socialism in Korea in an increasingly hostile world, so it is not surprising if his work has less resonance elsewhere in the world. More to the point, neither of the Kims’ works are circulated widely because most of the so-called revolutionaries in the imperialist world don’t actually support Korea.
But their rejection doesn’t prove that Korea is ‘inward facing’, any more than imperialist attempts at economic strangulation prove that it is ‘isolated’. It is not Koreans who are isolated from us, but we who are cut off from them. Koreans know what is going on in the world, they study languages, geography, history and politics and they make a point of understanding the machinations of imperialism. They have had to to survive!
I really don’t think any of the above is particularly controversial to the comrades who are discussing here, but the tone of the discussion leads people to imagine a far greater disparity between their views than there actually is. Perhaps we need to learn a lesson from the Koreans and show some restraint. A little more humility would well become us all!