Sunday, November 28, 2010

North Korea and Confusion

I'm on a bunch of different Left-wing listservs of various sorts, so I've seen a handful of discussions/debates about the saber-rattling standoffs between North Korea and the US/South Korea. Now, I have no wish to see the provocations escalate into a full-fledged war. I don't support the US imperialism in any form, and the recent provocations of North Korea are no exception.

But I am incensed by the confusion that some on the not-so-critical Left sometimes bring to issues of this sort. I observed a couple of stand-offs on message boards where one person was simply claiming that "everything the West says about North Korea is a lie", following every criticism of North Korea with a jab at George Bush and the U.S. This is pure confusion. This is complete non-sense. Luckily, people with views of this sort are a small fringe on the Left and are dwindling in numbers with the (welcomed!) demise of the legacy of Stalinism.

No sane person could say that North Korea has anything whatsoever to do with socialism. Even the North Korean government doesn't bother to claim such things! The official state ideology is far more akin to a religious founding myth --Kim Il Sung is treated like a God. His son, Kim Jong Il is merely the "de facto" leader because, officially speaking, the "Eternal President" (his father, deceased) is still the de jure leader. I'm not making this shit up. On the face of it, North Korea has more to do with feudalism than any other kind of social formation. I would claim, with little hesitation, that it is probably the most repressive country on the whole planet. The majority of the population is held in contempt by a strata of military elites, led by a quasi-monarch who rules by "birthright".

This is all a way of saying the obvious: there is nothing Left-wing whatsoever about the regime in North Korea, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with socialism. Socialists must support struggles from below within North Korea to try to bring down their own government. The government itself, however, deserves nothing but scorn from the Left.

But, and this is the crucial point, none of this commits us to saying anything positive about U.S. imperialism. On the contrary, the only progressive stance here is to unequivocally condemn both U.S. imperialism, on the one hand, and the repressive regime in Pyongyang on the other. I don't think the U.S. military can play a progressive role anywhere on earth- so my stance on intervention or provocation of any sort is resolutely negative. But condemning U.S. imperialism doesn't commit us to giving one ounce of support to North Korea. As far as I'm concerned, the quasi-feudal North Korean government is the most repressive and controlling on the planet. As such, it deserves nothing but harsh critique from the Left. But criticizing a repressive government hardly means that you therefore support a U.S.-led bombing raid against it.


Richard said...

It is sad that this nonsense still persists. I recall going to a rally in the auditorium at Berkeley High School after the end of the second Gulf War in early 1991 (the first Gulf War being the one between Iraq and Iran), and hearing then Berkeley councilmember Maudelle Shirek insist that the next target for US imperialism was North Korea and that we must work to defend the regime against this threat. I guess that, strictly speaking, she was correct in that such a military attack should be resisted, but I saw no reason to believe that one was imminent (and, of course, it wasn't), and her obvious sympathy for the North Korean regime was depressing (I believe that she called it "our brothers").

t said...

Agreed. But I am comforted by the fact that this kind of confusion really is only applicable to a small fringe. I haven't really spoken directly to many people with these views, but from what I can gather they never answer the "hey, but North Korea is an oppressive, dictatorial mess" objection. They just change the subject and start talking about US imperialism. Yes, US imperialism sucks... but that, of course, is no reason to apologize for the repressive quasi-feudal regime in Pyongyang.