Autonomism in Korea
Reading conservative or liberal commentators on Korea, expat bloggers, experts or professional journalists, one thing that irritates is the tendency to lump together the Korean left into an amorphous mass of crazed stick-wielding students with a grudge against all things American and bolshie workers and farmers, who probably get paid too much anyway (to be 'globally competitive' that is).
Some of these stereotypes may exist in real life (I dunno), but the Korean left is actually quite a diverse and rapidly changing place. In some ways this is nothing new as anyone who knows about the various factions of the 80s (handily denoted by easy-to-remember abbreviations like NL and PD) will know. But the biggest difference these days is that much of the left is no longer dominated by Stalinism of one form or another as it was 20 years ago. There are social democrats of various stripes, Trotskyists of different hues and, as the title of this post indicates, the current vogue for autonomism is also present on the Korean peninsula.
I thought about making this the first of a series on the 'new' left in Korea, but I'm not sure I can actually come good on the promise of a series, so we'll see what happens. I might write some more on other aspects of the Korean left... and I might not.
The term used for Autonomism in Korean chayulchuûi (자율주의) must be of fairly recent coinage, although I'm not sure whether it reached Korean via Japanese, as many other newish words have done. Another interesting term that is relevant here is tajung (다중/多衆), a term that I've not seen used elsewhere on the left and which is used by the Korean Autonomists to translate Hardt and Negri's concept of the 'multitude' (their alternative to the proletariat as the modern world's revolutionary agency).
Anyway, according to people I've spoken to, the ideas of Autonomism, particularly in its recently revived form championed by Hardt and Negri, John Holloway, the Tute Bianche and the Zapatistas, have gained quite a bit of popularity on Korean campuses. This is perhaps a result of the general crisis of the old Stalinist left (in Korea and around the world) and the turn by quite a bit of the old Korean left toward social democratic politics.
Of course Korea did have a tradition of non-Stalinist revolutionary politics during the colonial period with the Korean anarchism of Sin Ch'ae-ho and others. But since liberation, anarchism or alternative forms of Marxism seem to have had little chance to make any impact on the left. Now, however, there is a Autonomist publishing house called Galmuri with the slogan 'Intellect of the Multitude' (다중지성).
There is also an Autonomist journal called Chayul P'yôngnon - 'The Autonomy Review'. The July issue (no. 13) is recently out, containing articles on subjects ranging from the debate on the left over the European constitution to the work of Giorgio Agamben. Much of it is translations of the work of European Autonomists, but there is also some interesting-looking writing by Koreans, including some debate between Autonomists and socialists like Ch'oe Il-pung.
So there you go, if Autonomism is your thing and you can read Korean, you now know where to go. Just don't let it be said that the Korean left consists of a load of North Korea-loving America-hating bbalgaengidûl.
Wanted to add some extra information from one of my Korean correspondents who put this in the comment box:
"The [Korean] autonomists also emerged from the disorganisation of the old PD faction. Part of the National Students' Conference (전학협) and the Socialist Party (사회당), particularly the students, became autonomists or other sorts of anarchists... At the moment the PD faction is not only isolated but in an extremely severe state of disintegration, and there are a lot of areas [where the members] are no longer under their control."
Blogger doesn't really seem to do trackbacks, so I'll manually link back to Marmot's link to me here and Budaechigae's here. Thanks for the links guys.