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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Korean books at SOAS 1: 'Aeguk tae yonsŏl chip'

This is the first of what will probably be a series of irregular posts on some interesting old Korean books I've come across in the library at SOAS. By way of explanation, for the last few months I've been toiling away for a few hours a week in a tiny book-filled room in the library trying to get lots of old Korean books onto the computer catalogue. Inevitably a few gems have revealed themselves (at least they're gems to me anyway) and I thought it might be worth blogging them for posterity. I might even expand some of these into slightly longer articles if I feel inclined.

My first choice is probably the most intriguing: a book of speeches published in Keijo (colonial Seoul) in 1940 called Aeguk tae yŏnsŏlchip (愛國大演說集), translating roughly as 'Collection of Great Patriotic Speeches'. The time and place of publication should be a hint that this is no treatise on Korean nationalism. In fact it's a collection of stirring pro-Japanese, pro-war speeches given by (apparently) prominent Korean writers. The editor is Kim Tong-hwan, who appears to have later become an important figure in the North Korean literary scene - a peculiar, but perhaps not completely unique path for a 20th century Korean intellectual.

As you can see from the picture below, much of the front cover has been ripped away, possibly before it came into the posession of SOAS. One can only guess that this was done by an angry Korean reader.

Aeguk tae yŏnsŏlchip (1940)

From a glance at the preface and contents (pictures below), some of the main themes appear to be support for the Japanese empire's 'sacred war' (聖戰) in Asia; the idea of Korea and Japan behaving as one body (called naesŏn ilch'e 內鮮一體); and lots of the usual talk about 'our' duty to serve the country etc.

Aeguk tae yŏnsŏlchip (preface)

Aeguk tae yŏnsŏlchip (contents)

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Pak No-ja speaking at Yonsei this weekend

For anyone living in Seoul you have a great opportunity to hear Pak No-ja (aka Vladimir Tikhonov) speak at Yonsei University this weekend. He will be giving a special talk hosted by Ta Hamkke on "Korean nationalism and the left." As the author of 당신들의 대한민국 ["Your Korea"] and most recently 우승優勝 열패劣敗의 신화 ["The Myth of the Survival of the Fittest"] I think we can expect his views to be very interesting and perhaps quite challenging for some leftwing activists in Korea. Details.

Finished: Kim Ha-yŏng on NK economic development

Finally finished my translation of Kim Ha-yŏng's reply Han Kyu-han on the North Korean economy in the 1950s. All in all a very interesting discussion of the strategies of capital accumulation available in the context of state-led development and the political conflicts that they caused among the North Korean bureaucracy.

part one
part two

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bachelors, barbecues and the new minjung may be one of the best internet ideas of recent times, but it's also a fantastic way to bookmark everthing in sight and then read none of it. So, to force myself to use it more constructively, I present you with a selection from my recent bookmarks on Korea.

First up, yesterday's news that a quarter of rural bachelors in South Korea are marrying women from overseas, a fairly good indicator I would have thought of the ongoing disintegration of Korean rural society. The great majority of men married Chinese women (it doesn't say what proportion were ethnic Koreans - 조선족), followed by women from Vietnam and then Filipina women.

Next we have John Feffer's entertaining article on the restaurant explosion currently taking place in P'yŏngyang (ok that's slightly hyperbolic). Apparently the recent economic reforms have led to a great number of new eateries in the North Korean capital and competition between them is beginning to heat up. A couple of UN workers have even produced a guide to 50 of the best in the city. Here's the passage that blew me away:
On his most recent trip this year to Pyongyang, Randall Ireson lunched at a microbrewery alongside average Pyongyangites in working attire. "The beer was excellent, a dark ale," says the DPRK Assistance Coordinator for the American Friends Service Committee. "You could make a meal of it. And they served the best cold noodles I've had."
On a more serious note, this article provides a fascinating insight into the way in which the market is taking hold in North Korea and the state is losing much of its control. In my view, this doesn't look like a deliberate strategy on the part of the North Korean ruling class, like the Chinese turn of the early 80s, but rather emergency measures taken by a state that has little economy left to control. A sort of disintegrating state capitalism. Of course, as Feffer points out, those who will win from these changes (as they did in the Soviet transition) will be those sections of the nomenklatura who take advantage of their connections to become 'red capitalists' - oligarchs, robber barons, or whatever you prefer to call them.

Finally, a plug for fellow blogger Jamie at Two Koreas and his excellent piece on the migrant workers' movement in South Korea. He draws parallels between this recent movement and the 'minjung movement' (people's movement) that formed the basis of Korea's labour and democracy movements through the 70s and 80s. Jamie puts the case for migrant workers labouring in the underbelly of the Korean economy being the new excluded, unrecognised group in Korean society:
Though Korean citizens now enjoy a broad range of civil, political, and labor rights and improved standards of living, I’d like to argue that the collective suffering that once defined the life of the minjung today seems to shape the lives of a new group of people in contemporary South Korea. These people are the undocumented foreign workers who now toil in those jobs done by the minjung of the past, in the 3-D (dirty, dangerous, and difficult) industries where, like the minjung, their toil seems endless and their struggles often go unrecognized.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Musical interlude: Callier at the Jazz Cafe

I saw Terry Callier at the Jazz Cafe last night (which by the way, is probably one of London's best venues). I've been wanting to see him live for quite a while, but wasn't really expecting any great revelations. I was wrong: in real life he has a presence. He is an absolutely mesmerizing singer. A man who can spin out his lyrics (which sometimes, admittedly, have an air of richest fromage) in a way that brings tears to the eyes of grown men (and perhaps even women too).

The tracks from his recent album Lookin' Out were another revelation, rivalling his earlier classic tunes from the 60s and 70s. The lyrics to his cover of Dino Valenti's 'What About Me' particularly burned their way into my mind:
I work in your factory.
I study in your schools.
I fill your penitentiaries.
And your military too!

And I feel the future trembling,
As the word is passed around.
"If you stand up for what you do believe,
Be prepared to be shot down."

Oh.......oh What you gonna do about me?
Oh.......oh What you gonna do about me?
The Guardian has a nice interview with the man who was a computer programmer at Chicago University from 1983 until 1998, when they sacked him after finding out about his double life as a musician.

Friday, June 24, 2005

NK economy in the 1950s: a reply to Han Kyu-han, part two

Here is the second part of Kim Ha-yông's reply to Han Kyu-han on the North Korean economy in the 1950s.

part one

Contrary to what Han Kyu-han writes, it is difficult to view the August 1956 so-called ‘Factional Incident’ as something that arose as a result of a “severe crisis of capital accumulation.”

The clash over the correct line for economic development that reached its apex at the all-members meeting of the party central committee in August 1956 had already begun in 1953-1954, at the time when the North Korean economy was in its [earliest stages of revival].

The conflict between different economic lines that was revealed in the clash between Kim Il-song and the Soviet/Yenan factions did not [particularly] reflect the situation in North Korea but was actually symptomatic of the limitations of the Stalinist economic model which were revealed in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

When Stalin died in 1953, the Soviet bureaucracy rushed into limited reforms aimed at solving the problems that had accumulated during Stalin’s rule. To borrow Tony Cliff’s expression, the Soviet bureaucracy felt the need to move from “the stage of primitive accumulation to mature state capitalism.”

To raise the productivity of the Soviet economy, “while they were focusing capital investment into industry that was already to a certain extent developed, they could not any longer refuse to use a chunk of the remaining resources to raise the standard of living in the Soviet Union.”

However, the situation in North Korea was different. To prepare a new industrial basis, all resources had to be focused on this. Even if it meant starving the peasants and squeezing the workers, it had to be done. There was no leeway for taking into account the living standards of the people.

The person who advocated this point of view was Kim Il-song himself and those that took the side of the post-Stalin Soviet bureaucracy were the Soviet and Yenan factions.

Kim Il-song first began to talk about Juche [주체] in 1955, reflecting the fact that the economic interests of the Soviet Union and North Korea had diverged from one another.

Once Kim Il-song had emerged victorious from the central committee meeting of August 1956, he completely scrapped the five-year plan, which had partially reflected the call for an expansion of investment in the consumer sector. The heavy-industry-first line became all the more clear.

According the ordinance passed by the Supreme People’s Assembly [최고인민회의] for the first five-year plan, of the total sum to be invested in industry, 83 percent would go to heavy industry!

The North Korean bureaucracy was desperate to keep workers’ wages low while speeding up the rate of work. The bureaucracy organised mass meetings of employees and rallies of ‘zealots’ in every factory and enterprise, where workers resolved that they would complete the five-year plan a year and a half or more early.

In any case, the high production targets (set in the state plan) were gradually inflated by the party’s policy of expansion of production and the resolutions of workers to increase production.

The North Korean bureaucracy made good use of the deeply held desire for economic reconstruction among a people who had experienced colonialism and war and who were afraid of renewed war with American imperialism. The drive for growth also gave a considerable number of people the opportunity to improve their social status. The ‘Heroes of Labour’ [노력영웅] who came to prominence in the drive to increase production became factory managers and members of the Supreme People’s Assembly.

On the other hand, the majority of workers could not climb the ladder of social mobility and had to endure the appalling conditions that were the other side of economic growth.

Although strict labour regulations were enforced, workers did not have the right to organise themselves to defend their conditions. The Labour Federations [직업동맹] were organisations of the state that enforced “the duty of competition” rather than collective contracts.

However, it was difficult to ensure economic development beyond a certain level by forcing workers to accept low living standards and tiring work. To raise the productivity of labour, it was necessary to offer workers better consumer goods and holiday time.

The North Korean bureaucrats could not avoid encountering, somewhat later, the same problems that the Soviet bureaucracy had come up against after the death of Stalin. In 1966-67 Pak Kŭm-ch’ŏl, Yi Hyo-sun and others pointed out the problems of the extensive [?] growth model and argued for the need to find a way of balancing economic growth and controlling the rate of growth.

This was the period when the seven-year plan failed to achieve its target within the allotted time and the three-year extension started to be used as a countermeasure. They [the critics] insisted that defence spending should be reduced so that attention could be paid to the quality of goods produced rather than just economic output.

The year 1966 [1967?] saw another round of purges within the North Korean bureaucracy [the so-called Kapsan Faction Purge, in which KWP deputy chairman Pak Kŭm-ch’ŏl was removed]. Unlike the purges of 1956, this time they did originate in a conflict among the bureaucracy over how to deal with the economic crisis and this reflected the fact that the limitations of Kim Il-song’s ‘more Stalinist than Stalin’ economic model were revealing themselves.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

From democracy in Korea to democracy in Egypt

Some on the Korean left have taken the struggle for democracy in Egypt to heart. From this week's Socialist Worker:

Solidarity with Egypt from South Koreans

On 9 June a diverse group of anti-war and human rights activists gathered in front of the Egytian embassy in Seoul, South Korea to demonstrate against Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak.

People chanted “Down with Mubarak”, “Kifaya!” and “Victory to the Egyptian people’s struggle for democracy”.

It might seem that South Korea is far away from Egypt and that no one here would be interested in what is going on there. This is far from the truth.

When South Koreans hear about Egypt’s Kifaya movement and Mubarak’s desperate attempts to hang on to power, we immediately make a connection to our former military rulers.

We too have seen rulers pushing political “reforms” that are nothing more than shams to maintain control.

Our military rulers also resorted to brutal violence when challenged. A prime example is the Kwangju Massacre in 1980, where citizens of Kwangju city were shot to death by the army.

Rulers all over the world are learning from each other about how to control the people. This is why it is so important that people struggling for democracy build strong international solidarity and also learn from each other.

On behalf of the South Korean anti-war and human rights activists I hope for a great victory for the Egyptian working people fighting for democracy and real change.

CJ Park, All Together, South Korea

Meanwhile, Raed reports on Condi's recent speech in Egypt where she said that the US would now be seeking democracy in the Middle East rather than just stability as it had done in the past. And who was she saying this to? Around "700 invited government officials and academics". Would these be the same government officials who have been busy brutally repressing the Kifaya democracy movement in Egypt? Is this the same government that the Bush administration gives more than a billion dollars a year in military aid and praises for its limited democratic reforms that everyone else believes are designed to smooth the path of succession for Hosni Mubarak's son? (Ring any bells NK watchers?)

The battle lines are clearly drawn between people who want real democracy, whether they are in Korea or Egypt, and the Bush administration, which wants fake democracies that it can easily keep under control:
Abdel Halim Kandil, a member of the opposition group Kifaya, said his organization was boycotting Rice's speech and visit because reformers in Egypt don't want to seek the help of a "big dictator'' against a "small dictator.''

"We believe the U.S. administration is not making a serious effort to support reformers,'' he said.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

New Japanese outrage against Korea

This week's Private Eye (1135) has this clipping from the Yomiuri Shinbun:
Newsweek screwed up. Nearly everyone admits that, including the magazine's editors, who retracted an inadequately sourced report that U.S. inerrogators had flushed a Korean down the toilet at Guantanamo Bay.
I expect imminent outrage from the Korean netizen community, possibly flag burnings.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Flexibilisation: the biggest issue for the Korean left

For the last few months I've managed to studiously avoid what is almost certainly the major issue of the moment for the South Korean left and the labour movement: the awkward-to-translate problem of 'non-regular' workers (비정규노동자). This is probably because I'm quite lazy and I didn't want to do the research and write something proper about the subject. On the other hand it's not an issue that can be ignored, particularly as the National Assembly is in the process of passing a bill which will worsen conditions for non-regular workers.

Fortunately, Jamie at Two Koreas has come to the rescue with an excellent article on the struggle against 'flexibilisation' (a better translation methinks) in Korea. A taster:
The use of casual and contract workers was greatly expanded after the 1997 monetary crisis when the then President Kim Young-Sam administration passed a series of new labor laws, one of which allowed for companies in specific sectors to hire greater numbers of temporary and contract workers, including during times of labor action, causing an almost overnight rise in the number of temporary staffing agencies.

The KCTU claims that with the introduction of these temporary agencies, exploitation of temporary workers and job insecurity greatly increased. They also claim that under the guise of sub-contracting workers, practices of illegally hiring and laying-off of temporary workers have also become prevalent. [6]

Since the 1997 crisis, employer’s groups have been advocating greater flexibility in using irregular workers. According to the Korea Herald, the current labor minister Kim Dae-Hwan has also promoted further labor market reforms, and has pushed for the implementation of the recent government-initiated bills.
For more intrepid readers, here are some resources in Korean on this subject:
  • The Democratic Labour Party's special site on non-regular workers.
  • The KCTU announces today that it and its fellow trade union federation (FKTU) are launching an all-out struggle for the rights of non-regular workers. There's also quite a bit on the subject in English in the April edition of the KCTU's English newsletter.
  • Ta Hamkke newspaper has been covering the subject very regularly, including on the front page of their most recent edition.
This struggle is really about the most basic level of the confrontation between capital and labour. The question being posed is: can Korean capital take a greater share of surplus value by forcing down wages and conditions? As is the case all over the world, one of the favourite tools in the neo-liberal box for this purpose is the casualisation or flexibilisation of labour. If pushed through successfully, it also has the added bonus of weakening labour organisation, thus providing further opportunities for capital to squeeze more out of workers for less compensation with less resistance.

In fact, it is probably not an exaggeration to say that the future of the Korean left and the labour movement as a whole may rest upon the struggle to organise non-regular workers and defend their rights. Capitalism doesn't stand still - it's a constantly evolving organism and thus the working class itself and the focus of its struggles is also changing. If organisations like the KCTU and the Democratic Labour Party do not respond to these changes, the danger is that their base could narrow drastically and they could find themselves bureaucratised, corrupted or just irrelevant (there are disturbing signs of this already). As I wrote a while ago, this is one of the warnings that comes from the fate of the Brazilian Partido dos Trabalhadores (PT) and its near complete capitulation to neo-liberalism.

Monday, June 20, 2005


For a bit of fun I've decided to add a flickr badge to my sidebar. Will remove it if it becomes annoying.

NK economy in the 1950s: a reply to Han Kyu-han, part one

Another excellent writer on North Korea, Kim Ha-yông, has written a reply to the Han Kyu-han article I translated recently, in the latest issue of Ta Hamkke. I realise that not all readers are going to find this subject interesting and may be amused by my obsession with the North Korean economy – but what’s a blog for if not for pursuing your own egocentric, personal interests?

I think that Kim makes some very interesting points, particularly about the North Korean economy in relation to long-term trends in the world economy (this definitely brings to mind Kondratieff). I also feel some obligation to translate this reply as I think it provides some important points to balance areas which were perhaps weak in Han’s analysis. Well, anyway, if you can be bothered to read it you can make your own minds up about who is right on this one. Here’s the first part:

Was the North Korean economy in crisis in the 1950s?
Ta Hamkke 57, June 2005
Kim Ha-yông

I won’t deal with all the detailed facts in [Han Kyu-han’s] article, but limit myself to addressing the big picture: was North Korea’s economy doing well in the 1950s or was it in crisis?

To begin with the conclusion, the decade from 1950-1960 was one of renaissance that saw North Korea create a miracle from the ruins of the Korean War.

In the three-year plan implemented from 1953-1956 the economy recorded a massive average annual growth rate of 41.7 percent – almost world record level – and in the ten years after the Korean War, North Korea maintained an annual average growth rate of 25 percent.

To achieve this sort of growth in the place that, after the Korean War, the US had boasted “would never recover, even if it took 100 years” was astonishing. During the war the majority of the North’s industrial facilities had been destroyed and one million people were killed, including some 400,000-480,000 civilians.

It is true that pursuing rapid economic growth in a small country with few resources and almost no aid produces massive contradictions. But during this period the trend of the North Korean economy was an upward curve.

The reason why I’m bringing up this problem is that I worry that comrade Han Kyu-han’s article almost gives the impression that North Korea is a society that has been in a permanent state of crisis from the 1950s right up until the present. This can be a major obstacle to understanding the character of North Korean society.

The impression that North Korea is a society that has fallen into a state of continuous stagnation is a typical, and prevalent misunderstanding and one that is clearly connected to the idea that the South Korean system is superior to the North Korean one.

However, the important fact that people have quickly forgotten as a result of the famine that North Korea is suffering today is that South Korea could not catch up with the North Korean economy at all until the 1970s. In 1982 North Korea’s average food intake was higher than that of South Korea.

It goes without saying that today the North Korean economy has fallen into a severe crisis, but you have to look at this alongside the fact that the country was able to achieve massive economic growth up until the 1970s.

If you don’t look at this contradictory development, it is easy to fall into the view that the North Korean system is fundamentally inefficient, irrational and different to the capitalist system.

However, far from displaying an inefficiency that makes it fundamentally different to capitalism, the [trend of the] North Korean economy followed the rise and decline of state capitalism in the world economy. In the 1950s the trend toward state capitalism remained marked in the world economy, and North Korea was just one country among a number that created an economic success story through the use of powerful state intervention.

In the 1970s, the trend toward “globalisation” (세계화) became more influential in world capitalism than the state capitalist [trend], and those countries that stuck to the state capitalist road began to fall behind. North Korean economic growth had begun to slow down in the late 1960s and by the end of the 1970s it had dropped to 3-4 percent [annually].

part two

[Further reading: T. Cliff, State Capitalism in Russia.]

Friday, June 17, 2005

More on Mr Kim

I had to say a few more words about Kim Woo-chung's return to Korea on Tuesday, particularly since there are some interesting developments in this Korea Times article from yesterday.

First there's the British angle, that I didn't know anything about, but with the reputation of the City, somehow doesn't surprise me. Apparently Kim Woo-chung was stashing his cash here in London in a subsidiary called (imaginatively enough) the British Finance Centre.

Next, there's this amazing nugget:
Investigators disclosed that Kim has worked as an adviser to French rolling stock maker Lohr and received 600,000 euros from the company over the last three years. He also reportedly spent 400,000 euros during his time overseas.
So, let me get his straight, this fugitive from Korean justice, who had allegedly stolen billions of dollars, was working all this time as an advisor to a French train company. And, as if that wasn't enough, he still managed to turn a profit of 200,000 euros while he was on the run. As I said before, this man is the perfect capitalist.

Finally, an amusing manp'yông (political cartoon) from Voice of the People that indicates I wasn't too far from the mark with my flippant comment about kimchi:

Kim, speaking on TV says that he returned because he was homesick and wanted ramyôn (instant noodles), while a victim of the Daewoo collapse sits in his room speechless, eating ramyôn (a sign of poverty).

Thursday, June 16, 2005

He's back

So Kim Woo-chung, [alleged] fraudster extraordinaire, is back in Korea after a few year's sojourn in France, Vietnam and various other rather pleasant places. I note that one other Korea blogger has got there before me, but I thought I could still spin out a few readable lines on this subject.

In case you're wondering what I'm talking about, Kim was the former head of the Daewoo Corporation, one of Korea's largest chaebol until he disappeared in 1999 having embezzled [allegedly] something like $20 billion (and, by the way, the company collapsed).

The BBC covered his return to face the music moderately well (check the picture: he's trying his "ooh, don't hurt me, I'm just a poor little frightened mouse face"), while Korea Times has the latest. Oh My News have the usual quality on-the-spot piece at the airport that we have come to expect from them with excellent pictures like this one:

You can try playing 'where's Kim Woo-chung' if you like. A tip: look for the 白髮.

Actually, I've followed this story since he first disappeared when I was living in Korea back in 1999-2000, so it somehow has personal significance to me (admittedly not as much as someone who worked for Daewoo and lost their job when the whole enterprise went pear-shaped). I even remember that a while back some union or other political organisation sent a team off to France to track him down, without even a hint of success I think. And now he's trundled back all by himself, perhaps because they put too much garlic in the kimchi in France.

To me, someone like Kim Woo-chung is the ultimate capitalist, perfect in every way. He was one of those types that started out polishing other people's boots, rapidly pulled himself up by the bootstraps and then promptly ran off with the booty. Understandably, I suppose, some people are unhappy with his behaviour, but personally I'm fed up with capitalists trying to be 'ethical', it's people like Mr Kim that make capitalism worth criticising.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Anti-Americanism: that much-maligned hobby

The posts have been backing up in my mind while real life gets in the way. Perhaps other bloggers will know what I'm talking about. So an excuse for a post instead.

Noticed the other day that two of my regular reads both had something on that old bugbear 'anti-Americanism' at about the same time (spooky or what).

First up, Hunjang ûi karûch'im has something on anti-Americanism in the epic novel of postwar Korea T'aebaek Sanmaek by Cho Chôngnae. There is an intelligent comment on the post too.

Then, lo and behold, Raed Jarrar had something on anti-Americanism in Iran. It's interesting to hear some strong anti-anti-Americanism from a leftwing Arab commentator.

It's contrived, I know, but I'm trying...

Friday, June 10, 2005

Looking out of the well

For readers of Korean:

Oh My News has a very detailed article on the ID card system that the New Labour government is planning to introduce here in the UK. Particularly interesting to me was the table noting that neither Japan or the US have such systems. This is clearly a massive attack on our civil liberties, but a lot of people say "well other European countries have ID cards and you don't see them complaining". To be honest, I didn't find it a major problem to carry an ID card when I was living in Korea. But then ID cards in Korea and European countries don't hold every kind of information under the sun, they're not biometric, they're not fitted with chips that can be scanned from a distance (which may happen with our ones), they don't cost the user hundreds of pounds and in general they're unlikely to be used to target certain parts of the population because of the colour of their skin (as they will be in the UK). You can check out the anti-ID campaign here.

Meanwhile, the latest issue (no. 24) of leftwing journal Radical Review (진보평론) publishes a translation of an article on the Brazilian Workers' Party by one of my fellow SOASians, Alfredo Saad-Filho. "Shattered Dreams: Lula, Neoliberalism and the Twilight of the Brazilian Workers' Party" looks at the decline of the PT as a radical force for change both before and since Lula's election in 2002. Hopefully they'll put the text up on their site at some stage. I think it should be important reading matter for activists in Korea as there are some interesting parallels with the Korean Democratic Labour Party (민노당).

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

North Korea in the 1950s: Capital accumulation and power struggles, part two

Part one

In terms of agriculture, forced collectivisation was carried out [during this period]. Immediately after the end of the Korean War, in August 1953, a policy of creating agricultural cooperatives was decided upon. The collectivisation of agriculture would make it far easier to secure both the raw materials and labour that was needed for industrial expansion.

Although in the beginning private ownership rights were formally recognised and when farmers withdrew or were dismissed from the cooperatives, they could receive back their land that had been absorbed into the co-op, when the problem of ownership rights [was discussed] at the 1959 National Conference of Agricultural Cooperatives, the principle of private land ownership was abolished.

The process of collectivisation gave rise to resistance from the peasants. In the early period of collectivisation the rate of subscription to the co-ops was very low. The peasants slaughtered their main means of production: their draught animals. They thought, “well, if it’s not going to be mine anyway it’s better to eat it.” In Hwanghae province the farmers left the cooperative en masse and their actions took the form of an uprising.

The result of this was that even up until the mid 1950s grain production did not recover to the level of the wartime year of 1953.

Although North Korea has long called the South a US colony in its propaganda, after the war Soviet aid made up the largest part of the North Korean economy. Aid money came close to making up 30 percent of North Korean state finances, almost the same as in South Korea. The US provided the basis [and direction] for the South’s economy through aid, and the Soviets of course did the same thing north of the DMZ. “Let’s turn to the Soviet Union and learn from her” became one of the slogans of the time.

But in 1956 the Soviet aid money began to be reduced. To make matters worse, the fragile North Korean economy encountered a severe crisis.

The so-called ‘factional affair’ at the all-members meeting of August 1956, occurred against this sort of background. Differences of opinion were expressed over the speed and direction of accumulation and conflict arose over the way in which workers and peasants should be controlled.

For example, vice premier Ch’oe Ch’ang-ik criticised Kim Il-sŏng, saying, “The heavy industry first policy is causing hardship to the people.” Chairman of the Workers’ Confederation (직업총동맹), Sŏ Hwi argued that “the right of workers to strike” must be guaranteed and called for concessions to be given to the workers. This reflected the fact that despite the Korean War and the strengthened control over them, North Korean workers continued forms of resistance such as walking out of their workplaces and carrying out ‘go slow’ strikes.

However, the opposition faction failed. Kim Il-sŏng’s position within the party was solid. Already, during the Korean War, he had purged Pak Hŏn-yŏng and the rest of the South Korean Workers’ Party (남로당) faction and replaced them with his own supporters.

Pak Yŏng-bin, who was a member of the Soviet faction, recalls the occasion: “When Yun Kong-hŭm made a speech criticising the problem of [Kim Il-sŏng’s] cult of personality, the public gallery erupted into shouts of “get off!” and “bastard!”

Among the opposition faction Yun Kong-hŭm, Sŏ Hwi and others, sensed the personal danger they were in and sought exile in China. Kim Il-sŏng stripped the opposition of their party membership and forced them out of their positions. China and the Soviet Union put pressure on him to reverse this decision and if they had needed to they might have tried to remove him.

However, they had no alternative to Kim Il-sŏng and on top of this the uprisings in Poland and Hungary were once again increasing the pressure on them to maintain their systems. The Soviets did not want the North Korean leadership, which was on the Northeast Asian frontline, directly confronting the Americans, to become unstable.

As soon as Kim Il-sŏng had overcome the political crisis of August and September 1956, he began a wholesale retaliation. The opposition faction was almost completely purged and the system of one-man dictatorship was created.

This political and economic crisis was one of the pressures that made Kim Il-sŏng emphasise [North Korea’s] independence from the Soviet Union and ‘Juche’. The conflict between China and Soviet Union, which began in earnest in 1957, also granted Kim Il-sŏng considerable autonomy.

The response to the reduction of Soviet aid could not fail to express itself in the emphasis on ‘salvation through our own efforts’ (자력갱생) and the ‘will’. But with the limited supply of natural resources and the unstable economic situation, systems of control like the one-man management system and material initiatives like the ‘contract system’ prevented even the settling down of the economy.

The mass mobilisation movements that began in 1958, like the ‘Chollima Movement’, and the system of ‘on-the-spot guidance’ by the leader, reflected these contradictions that were besetting North Korea. And the rapid economic development of this period also harboured the seeds of today’s economic ruin.

Monday, June 06, 2005

North Korean factionalism

As a supplement to my translation of Han Kyu-han's piece on North Korea in the 1950s, I've just discovered that Andrei Lankov had a recent article in the Korea Times on factions in North Korea. It gives a potted overview of the four main factions among the Korean communists of the late 1940s and early 1950s: 'domestic' (국내파), 'Yanan' (연안파), 'Soviet' (소련파) and '[Manchurian] guerilla' (만주파).

I think Lankov's suggestion that there is something endemic about Korean factionalism is a little misleading (although of course factionalism in various forms has been an important part of Korean history in a number of different contexts). The merit of Han Kyu-han's article (and the series in general) is that he looks at some of the underlying causes behind the factional conflict that lasted into the 1950s. That is, both conflicts over what was the appropriate accumulation strategy in the post-Korean War period, and the tensions caused by international dimension of Korea's division (ie the imperialist rivalry between the US and the USSR) and the North Korean leaderhip's relationship with its sponsor. Ultimately, as in any capitalist society, divisions develop within the ruling class over how to manage the economy and how to relate to the rest of the world, and these divisions are clearly spurred on by economic crises, which are definitely endemic to all capitalist societies.

Kotaji monitoring: McNamara on Today

Robert McNamara, former cold warrior extraordinaire, a man who actually makes Rumsfeld look slightly less sinister and who starred in the excellent documentary Fog of War (2003), was interviewed on last Friday's edition of the Today programme (BBC morning radio news and interview programme). He bemoaned the recent failure of the talks on the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty and had some especially clear words to say on North Korea:
I've said, I want to repeat [it], there's no acceptable military solution to either the North Korean problem or the Iranian [one]... We must move to effective diplomacy, which we're not... I don't believe there'll be a diplomatic solution to either North Korea or Iran that does not involve US bilateral negotiations, which we have refused to undertake. That's insane.
You can hear the short interview here (Real Audio).

Saturday, June 04, 2005

North Korea in the 1950s: Capital accumulation and power struggles, part one

Time for another translated article from Ta Hamkke newspaper. For the last few months they've been running a series of excellent articles by Han Kyu-han on post-liberation Korea to mark the 60th anniversary of liberation from Japanese colonial rule. I've started, somewhat illogically, with part 9. Hopefully I'll get around to some of the others at some stage, but this one particularly interested me as it covers both factional struggles and the [state capitalist] economy in the 50s. Original here in Ta Hamkke no. 56. Any mistakes in translation are of course my own...

First here's the editor's introduction on the purpose of this series of articles:
This year is the sixtieth anniversary of [Korea's] liberation. During that time the analysis of modern Korean history has been divided on the basis of one's attitude toward the US and the Soviet Union and between those who supported the South Korean regime and those who supported the North Korean regime.
But these [two sides] are just mirror images of one another. This view of history could only present in a distorted form, or give a secondary role to the lives, anger and resistance of ordinary people.
The viewpoint from which we look at Korea's modern history is closely bound up with our approach to the specific incidents that actually occurred. Ta Hamkke will therefore publish a series of articles looking at the main contentious issues in modern Korean history.

North Korea in the 1950s: Capital accumulation and power struggles
Han Kyu-han

In February 1956 the Communist Party of the Soviet Union held its 20th congress where Stalin’s successor Krushchev openly criticised Stalin.

This incident brought a great wave of change to Communist Parties in many different countries. As Chris Harman has pointed out, “Every Communist Party in the world experienced great difficulty maintaining internal discipline.”

The commotion within the ruling class of the Soviet Bloc even gave rise to popular uprisings in Hungary and Poland.

North Korea was no different. Krushchev’s criticism of Stalin’s cult of personality could also be applied to Kim Il-song. In fact, the opposition faction within the North Korean Workers’ Party, centred around the old Yanan and Soviet factions, used the opportunity of the all-members meeting of the party’s central committee in August 1956 to mount a challenge to Kim Il-song.

North Korea’s ‘August Incident’ of 1956 was not a simple power struggle. The August meeting actually revealed the structural contradictions of the position that North Korea was in.

At the time, the North was experiencing a severe crisis of capital accumulation. In fact the country was suffering a double crisis because in addition to the contradictions that are characteristic of a strategy of high speed heavy industrialisation, foreign aid was being curtailed.

The South similarly experienced an accumulation crisis as a result of the reduction of aid from the US and this led to the collapse of Syngman Rhee’s one-party dictatorship triggering the series of events that led subsequently to the dictatorship of Park Chung-hee.

North Korea’s rapid heavy industrialisation strategy was based on the sacrifices of the majority of workers and farmers. The origin of this accumulation strategy was the pressure of military competition with the South.

Completing the transition from a “machinery importing nation to a machinery producing nation” was seen as the “most important condition for guaranteeing the independence of the state.”

This was something that Kim Il-song demanded. In a 1958 speech he said, “We can achieve in the course of two five-year plans what the other Socialist nations have achieved in three five-year plans.”

Superficially at least, North Korea’s economy developed rapidly during this period. During the ten years after the Korean War the country achieved an average of nearly 15 percent [annual] growth.

During the period between 1954 and 1960, investment in heavy industry occupied 80 percent of all investment in industry in North Korea.

The characteristic ways in which capitalism functions – that is the competitive accumulation of capital – also operated in North Korea. It is for this reason that the [North Korea] working class were subjected to superexploitation.

North Korea continued to maintain the harsh labour regulations it had introduced during the Korean War, even after the war had ended. This meant that even though the war was over the ‘wartime labour system’ continued. Workers who left their workplaces voluntarily were subject to strong punishments.

Workers’ control over production was blocked from the beginning and ‘one-man management system’ was introduced. The government also introduced the ‘contract system’ to encourage competition among the workers.

North Korea boasted that workers’ nominal wages had risen rapidly. Workers’ income in 1956 had risen 158 percent as compared to 1953.

But this rise was purely nominal and was meaningless in reality. The reason for this was that the production of consumer goods, which had been sacrificed to the ‘heavy industry first’ line, had been massively curtailed. There were actually no goods to buy with one’s wages. As Kim Yôn-ch’ôl has noted, “It was planned so that the quantity of goods being distributed in many of the workers’ districts could not absorb even 50 percent of the wages of the [industrial] workers and office employees at the local enterprises.”

Part two

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Japan's heroic hostage

Aljazeera keeps up its good reporting on East Asia with a piece from a few days ago by Gavin Blair on the Japanese hostage Akihiko Saito, who was recently found dead in Iraq.

The reporter points up the glaring difference between his glorification in the Japanese media and the vilification of the three hostages who returned to Japan unharmed last year. Akihiko Saito was a private security officer [read: mercenary] whereas the 2004 hostages were NGO workers and a photojournalist. Sort that one out.

As I've mentioned before, Asano Kenichi of Doshisha University called the treatment of the three 2004 hostages a 'media bludgeoning'. Something of a contrast with the latest hostage who was working for a British security firm and was a veteran of the Foreign Legion. Nonetheless, the Japanese media found this far more acceptable:
...the media has been keen to establish the distinction between professionals such as Saito or the SDF, and "misguided do-gooders" such as the three taken hostage last year.

The Sankei newspaper, in an editorial about Saito, said: "This is very different from previous abduction cases as Mr Saito is a trained professional with much experience."

To be honest, Aljazeera might be part of the mainstream media, but its English website is providing some of the sort of journalism that we should be hoping for from the non-mainstream media. Journalism that is questioning, rigourous but not afraid to be partisan (of course the mainstream media is partisan it just tries to pretend it's not by hiding behind the ideology of 'balance').

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

"A hen strutting around in the White House, crowing arrogantly"

This is priceless. The North Korean government tries satire and actually does something worthwhile for once (although they had to spoil it by being just a tad sexist).

Actually the reaction of the good 'ole reactionary Chosun Ilbo is even more priceless:

The sketch, it observed sarcastically, was littered with "gems of totalitarian wit".

The paper accused the radio station of attacking Ms Rice "in
terms that more enlightened societies would consider manifestly sexist".

An enlightened, feminist Chosun Ilbo? Well I never.

The First Chinese Materialist, part four

While the first two sections are purely philosophical, the next two enter into the realms of religion and mythology. The style matches the content. Instead of sharp, clear, and concise definitions, we find the habitual indulgence in “historical” quotations from the classics. It was customary in the tracts of the time to prove everything by biblical sayings. The Buddhists themselves were fond of relying on biblical authority as a heavy defense weapon against their Confucian opponents. Section 3 (questions 25-27) treats of the like quality of spiritual power in the holy sages of antiquity, the argument being conducted in somewhat unconvincing metaphors. Finally, in the fourth section (questions 28-30), Fan Chen attempts to come to grips with the problem of the relation between human and supernatural beings, a problem that arises from the double meaning of shen: “soul” or “spirit,” and “spirits” in the sense of supernatural beings. But he gives confused and evasive answers to the opponent’s questions, the opponent having meanwhile been converted to the belief in the mortality of the soul. On the one hand Fan argues that the ancestral cult has a merely educative value – a point of view that comes very close to Confucianism in its original form – and uses the same arguments as Wang Ch’ung against ghost stories about evil spirits, while on the other he acknowledges the existence of dark spirits and only denies the possibility of men changing into spirits. This is the contradiction – whether conscious or unconscious is an open question – upon which Fan’s materialism founders.

The last section is no longer a discussion. The opening question on the application of the mortality theory is merely a prelude to the great peroration on the harmfulness of Buddhism. Fan Chen here expounds his own beliefs, which combine Taoist naturalism and Confucian social views. He states his preference for the well-being and happiness of the human family on earth over salvation in the next world. To be contented with one’s lot and resigned to one’s fate are what maintain the upper and lower parts of society in a permanent state of balance.

Source: Etienne Balazs, Chinese Civilization and Bureaucracy, (Yale university Press, 1964) pp262-3.

Part one
Part two
Part three