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Friday, February 04, 2005

Organic intellectuals... in North Korea?! (pt. 1)

SOAS is hosting three very interesting Korea-related seminars in quick succession this week and next. I attended the first last night, given by Dr Lee Hyang-jin of Sheffield University and entitled, tantalisingly, "State Cinema and the Passive Revolution in North Korea" (or something approximating that - my notes were a little haphazard).

Dr Lee's paper was really very interesting - I've never heard anyone apply Gramsci to North Korean society before so it was refreshing and I think she was on to something, up to a point at least. Specifically, her presentation centred on part of an absolutely mammoth film cycle which has been in production since 1993 called "The Nation and Destiny" (민족과운명 - you can buy all of the 58 parts made so far here, if you're really keen) and which, as you might have guessed, concerns the struggle against Japanese colonialism and the forrmation of North Korea's socialist paradise [sic]. More specifically still, Dr Lee looked at a part of the series that deals with the KAPF (Korean Proletarian Artists Federation) and hence is important for getting to grips with the current North Korean understanding of the orgins of 'Juch'e* art'.

So briefly, the salient points of Dr Lee's paper (as I see them) and then (in pt. 2) some criticisms:

1. Kim Jông-il has long been very concerned with propaganda and the arts and he has used the arts as his base and a way of promoting himself as an 'intellectual'. He is portrayed as continuing his father's tradition, but of course it has not been possible for him to use any involvement in the anti-Japanese struggle to legitimise his authority as he was a mere twinkle in his mother's eyes at that point.

2. Kim Jông-il has used these films and the theme of Korean leftist artists in the Japanese colonial period (the KAPF) to promote the idea that he and his father were have been continuing a tradition that began at that time.

3. Korean cinema in general and these films in particular put forward the principal ideas of Juch'e, which (she says) combine Marxism-Leninism and traditional Confucian ideas - ie that the great leader must command the party and the masses. Lee uses Gramsci's idea of 'passive revolution' to analyse this - so the films encourage the passivity of the audience in accordance with their role as followers of the great leader.

4. Dr Lee also analysed the film's depiction of the KAPF artists as showing the formation of a group of organic intellectuals - ie using Gramsci's idea of intellectuals who are deeply and actively connected to a particular social group.

5. Kim Il-sông is shown as having played an almost god-like role in purifying these intellectuals in the early years of the North Korean state. Many had undesirable associations with nationalists or were deemed to have capitulated to the Japanese colonialists in the later years of the colonial period. However, in the KAPF film, they are forgiven and given a chance to live a fulfilling life by Kim Il-sông.

*The Wikipedia entry on Juch'e is ok, but I think Mi Park's definition is good and succinct: "Jucheism is a mixture of extreme voluntarism, positivism, idealism and nationalism." So broadly speaking then, all the worst aspects of bourgeois ideology wrapped up in a neat little bundle.


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