[Marxism] Understanding North Korea

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Nov 6 11:38:01 MST 2006


November 5, 2006

Understanding North Korea

“Che Guevara visited Pyongyang around (1965) and told the press that North 
Korea was a model to which revolutionary Cuba should aspire.” (1)

By Stephen Gowans

North Korea is a country that is alternately reviled and ridiculed. Its 
leader, Kim Jong-il, is demonized by the right and -- with the exception of 
Guevera in 1965 and many of his current admirers -- mocked by the left. Kim 
is declared to be insane, though no one can say what evidence backs this 
diagnosis up.  It’s just that everyone says he is, so he must be. If Kim 
had Che’s smoldering good looks he may have become a leftist icon, leader 
of “the one remaining, self-proclaimed top-to-bottom alternative to 
neo-liberalism and globalization,” as Korea expert Bruce Cumings puts it. 
(2) Instead, the chubby Kim has become a caricature, a Dr. Evil with a bad 
haircut and ill-fitting clothes.  The country he leads, as befits such a 
sinister character, is said to be a danger to international peace and 
security, bent on provoking a nuclear war. And it’s claimed that years of 
economic mismanagement have reduced north Korea to an economic basket-case 
and that its citizens, prisoners at best, are starved and repressed by a 
merciless dictator.

While many people can recite the anti-north Korea catechism – garrison 
state, hermit kingdom, international pariah – they’ll admit that what they 
know about the country, apart from the comic book caricatures dished up by 
the media, is fuzzy and vague.  But this has always been so. As early as 
1949, Anna Louise Strong could write that “there is little public knowledge 
about the country and most of the headlines distort rather than reveal the 
facts.”  (3)  Cumings dismisses US press reports on north Korea as 
“uninformative, unreliable, often sensationalized” and as deceiving, not 
educational.

One of the reasons the headlines distort, even today, especially today, can 
be summed up in a syllogism. World War II, as it was waged in the Pacific, 
was in large part a struggle between the dominant economic interests of the 
United States and the dominant economic interests of Japan for control of 
the Pacific, including the Korean peninsula. Japan had occupied Korea from 
1910 to 1945, until it was driven out by the Korean resistance, one of 
whose principal figures was north Korea’s founder, Kim Il-sung, and the 
entry of the Soviet Union into the Pacific war. After Tokyo’s surrender, 
the US tried to assert control over Japan’s former colonial possessions, 
including Korea. Kim’s guerilla state upset those plans. The corporate rich 
and hereditary capitalist families that dominate both US foreign policy and 
the mass media recognize north Korea to be a threat to their interests. The 
DPRK condones neither free trade, free enterprise nor free entry of US 
capital. Were it allowed to thrive, it would provide a counter-example to 
US-enforced neo-liberalism, a model other countries might follow, a model 
revolutionaries, like Che, have found inspiration in.  The headlines 
deceive, rather than educate, because north Korea is against the interests 
of those who shape them.

My perspective is not that of the mainstream or of the investors, bankers 
and wealthy families who, in multifarious ways, define it. I am not for 
subjugating north Korea, nor for sanctions or war or forcing north Korea to 
disarm, and I am certainly not for what John Bolton, US ambassador to the 
UN, once called Washington’s policy toward north Korea. Asked by the New 
York Times to spell out Washington’s stance toward the DPRK, Bolton "strode 
over to a bookshelf, pulled off a volume and slapped it on the table. It 
was called 'The End of North Korea.'" "'That,' he said, 'is our policy.'" 
(4)  I do not believe that Kim Jong-il is insane. The insanity slur is a 
way of giving some substance to the perfectly ludicrous claim that north 
Korea is a danger to the world.  It is not. The only threat north Korea 
poses is the threat of a potential self-defense to long-standing US plans 
to dominate the Korean peninsula from one end to the other.

Continued at <http://gowans.blogspot.com/>http://gowans.blogspot.com/


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