This post is meant to attack bourgeois democracy and humanize the people of the DPRK.
To better understand my arguments, you may want to read the information in these three reddit links from the informative /u/comintelligence before continuing. Concrete information on the workings of the DPRK is rare. There is a reason.
Watching the following videos with an open mind will help to understand why I’m doing this. The people of the DPRK are ideologically far removed from the average Western citizen; however, their support for their government must be genuine and not based on “totalitarian” terror, or something along those lines, given the below evidence. It is, to me, irrational to believe otherwise.
- Mass Rally of North Koreans against U.N. Human Right report!
- Mass Dance in Pyongyang, North Korea on May Day 2015
- Local elections in North Korea (2015)
- Summer Camping at North Korea’s Songdowon International Children’s Camp
- Joint Meeting for Peace and Reunification of Korea Held
If anyone still feels uncomfortable with the idea of me making these arguments, please see my page on DPRK counter-narratives (and people in the DPRK dancing) that you can use for further acclimation. There are nice videos and everything.
My rhetorical strategy will be polemics, pure and simple, and I make no other pretenses. No nuance will be found below.
Nihil humani a me alienum puto
(Nothing human is alien to me)
– Karl Marx
Parroting propaganda backed up with liberal ideological terms (“Totalitarian!”) is the easiest thing in the world to do. The plight of the anti-imperialist is to come out of a very difficult position, in the face of hegemonic opposition, and say “no, you are wrong, and it kills good people.” Not an easy thing to convince people of!
After viewing the videos above… can a government simply organize that level of popular participation without the actual support of the people? Does it make sense to say that the “regime” enjoys no support, and all it requires is some good old fashioned US bombers to tip things in the “peoples” favor? For a liberal this makes perfect sense. For the more sophisticated, they may use some anarchist-type reasoning: this would shock them out of their supposed brainwashing and release them from their status as sheeple into glorious Western subjects!
But for a Marxist this begs the question (or it should): Why not confront this apparent contradiction? Why not ask what material circumstances accounts for this level of support and the ideology behind it, instead of denying there is support when there is clear evidence that it exists – why not move beyond ideology into an historical-materialist analysis?
(Or maybe just admit that we’ve been lied to?)
Let’s look at the DPRK’s history. For this I will be pulling from Stephen Gowan’s Understanding North Korea. Japan colonizes the country in 1910 and it is used to extract extreme profits, as they treat the country with disdain (including with its use of sexual slaves as “comfort women”). In the aftermath of WW2, Japanese forces are required to remain as an occupying force in part of southern Korea, and the USSR remains in power over the North. Both of these are supposed to leave the country to allow for a re-unification. In the South, Japanese occupation increasingly turns into an American occupation, and the US sabotages re-unification of the country, as belligerence between the leftist North and occupied South begin to increase. The occupying forces have a campaign during this period to isolate and destroy leftist elements, killing many and jailing hundreds of thousands, and unrest begins becoming significant. Eventually this leads to a war with the US wherein 3 million Korean civilians lose their lives. More bombs are dropped on Korea than were used in the whole of the European theater of WW2, and the entire North is leveled to the ground, with Pyongyang being left completely flattened.
Not mentioned by Gowans is that there was, in fact, germ warfare used against North Korea during the Korean War. A report was made in 1950s on what this warfare consisted of, The International Scientific Commission Report on Bacterial Warfare during the Korean War. Here is what the Korean Central News Agency reports on the issue (emphasis added):
The U.S. imperialist aggression forces who had put the northern half of Korea under their temporary occupation during the June 25 war were beaten back by the Korean People’s Army and took to flight when they spread in a crafty manner a number of contagious disease germs including smallpox in many areas including Pyongyang, Yangdok County of South Phyongan Province, and Kowon and Jangjin counties of South Hamgyong Province between November 29 to December 8, 1950.
A top secret document dated September 21, 1951 which ordered the “large experiment of specified pathogens in actual situation to see their effects for germ warfare in operational situation” was discovered at the U.S. national archives in 2010.
In November 1951 the U.S. imperialists dropped the first germ bomb in the areas north of the River Chongchon and south of the River Amnok and in Yangdok, Hamhung and Wonsan with the involvement of the U.S. third bomber wing in the Kunsan air base and the 19th bomber wing under the command of the U.S. air force in the Far East based on Okinawa.
Entering 1952 they began an all-out germ warfare, massively dropping germ bombs in all areas of the northern half of Korea.
They made no scruple of using even internationally banned chemical weapons, to say nothing of germ weapons.
During the indiscriminate bombing of Nampho City on May 6, 1951, the U.S. spread toxic gas, killing 1,379 inhabitants. On July 6 and September 1 it dropped tear, asphyxiating, and other toxic gases in the area of Wonsan and several areas of South and North Hwanghae provinces, poisoning and killing many people.
They even made no scruple of mixing poisonous substances in sweets, biscuits, taffy, toasts, canned food, shellfish and other foodstuff and bank notes before dropping them from planes.
The U.S. imperialists used prisoners from our side as guinea pigs for germ and chemical warfare in wanton violation of international agreement on treatment of POWs and killed them in a barbarous way.
After the war ends, the DPRK develops its economy extraordinarily quickly, with coming support from the USSR and China. The DPRK is a more economically successful country than its southern neighbor up until the 1980s, once South Korea becomes a development project for the West and unrest leads to a democratization of the country. When the Soviet bloc disintegrates, the DPRK loses its main trading partner, and during the 1990s starvation spreads as sanctions choke the country and natural conditions generate problems with internal food production. The DPRK eventually recovers from this dark period.
Often those disparaging the DPRK on the left obscure the horrors of imperialism behind superficial attempts at comparisons of social forms (never substance, mind you, they don’t have enough information to do that) reliant on propaganda instead of concrete facts of how the DPRK works. They can even go so far as compare it to a place like South Vietnam or another US proxy dictatorship, conflating an imperialist ideological construction (the pervasive lies about the DPRK) with an imperialist concrete construction (the horrors visited upon Vietnam). The level of chauvinism in many Western Marxists, especially those of the more individualistic camps, frankly disheartens me more than the good people of the DPRK ever could!
De omnibus dubitandum
– Karl Marx
Typically when elections in the DPRK are brought up (here is the link on elections from the top again) the response is to make a joke along the lines of, “well, of course there are elections! And Un wins 100% every time!” [Ghoulish imperialist laughs follow.] The 100% is of course an unavoidable consequence of an uncontested ballot. The election system is set up to work this way: candidates are chosen by consensus in separate mass meetings that result in the uncontested ballot. Even disregarding this, I think it’s presumptuous to suspect that if they had a superfluously contested ballot you’d get much of a different result. So, the question of which country, the US or the DPRK, is more substantively democratic is open despite possible ideological issues – which country has people working in specifically undemocratic institutions their entire lives? The US does. The vast majority of workers have very little say in what they do and who they work for. Meanwhile, the DPRK has democratic elections that affect their workplaces directly. They have free housing and are untaxed, and they always have a job available. No one starves to push wages lower. (They starve because of sanctions from imperialists and betrayals from revisionists.)
Here is some relevant information that can be found in a document detailing the DPRK’s parliamentary system from 1992 (emphasis added).
A voter casts a ballot personally to a deputy in candidacy so that this will may be directly reflected in an election of deputies and does so in a place where secret ballot is thoroughly maintained.
An announcement of election day varies a bit, but usually in case of election of deputies to the SPA [Supreme People’s Assembly] it is made 60 days before and in case of election of deputies to provincial, city and county People’s Assemblies it is made 30 days before.
Following is the composition of deputies to the 9th SPA elected on April 22, 1990. The total number of deputies are 687.
– Workers of factories and enterprises take up 37 per cent, cooperative farmers 10.4 per cent, and the rest is shared by officials or parties, power organs, economic institutions and social organizations, servicemen of the Korean People’s Army and the Korean People’s Security Forces, officials in the fields of science and technology, education, public health, culture and art, religious people and officials of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan and its subordinate organizations.
– Members of the Workers’ Party of Korea take up 87.5 per cent (601 seats), members of the Korean Social Democratic Party 7.4 per cent (51 seats), member of Chondoist Chongu Party 3.2 per cent (22 seats) and independent deputies 1.9 per cent (13 seats). Women take up 20.1 per cent (138 seats). And the rate of deputies who are awarded the titles of Hero of Republic and Labour Hero and other highest orders of the State and honour titles is 63.8 per cent and the rate of those who have won academic degrees and scholarship such as Ph.D and professorship and other scientists, technicians and experts is 64.5 per cent.
– As for the ages of the deputies, the rate of those below 35 is 2.9 per cent, the rate of those from 36 to 55 is 56.8 per cent, and the rate of those over 55 is 40.3 per cent.
The term of office of the SPA is 4 years.
Turning to the US, popular opinion in the US is known to have essentially no effect on policy that is supported by elites. Elections are basically bought in the US. The vast majority of lived life in the US is determined by an anarchic system filled beyond the brim with corporate propaganda that people have no democratic influence on. The US has a cult around a government system that is objectively not in the interests of working people, has a cult around a military that serves as the violent arm of US hegemony over the world and is the agent for killing millions of working people, and has a cult around an election process that quite purposefully relies on mass delusion. Let’s keep things in perspective.
Now let’s look at some interaction between these two democracies. After WW2, North Koreans had their efforts for trying to decolonize their peninsula rewarded by having their country bombed to rubble (really the entire thing), having germ warfare being used against them, having mass atrocities performed against them (and sometimes blamed on them afterwards), and having millions upon millions of their people die in the worst ways. This is the substance of US “democracy” – this war was fought by feeding the citizens of the US constant propaganda, having leaders working specifically in the interests of the elites, and having an election process performed on the basis of propagating mass delusion. Which “democracy” kills millions of people by propagating specifically mass delusion – it is the US. THIS IS A FAR MORE SUBSTANTIVE ANTI-DEMOCRACY THAN EVEN THE WORST DPRK DETRACTORS CAN COME UP WITH FROM AN OBJECTIVE STANDPOINT.
I’m not holding the DPRK up as a goal for a socialist movement (because the goal is to not be under imperialist siege – not something the DPRK has a choice in) – I want to disarm the vileness of people’s reactions to it. The vileness in Western media, and especially among Western people, is in my opinion far more disturbing than the idolization of the Kims, because even the average person could easily be led to believe that a war with the DPRK would be humanitarian. However, the citizens of the DPRK have, despite how anyone personally feels about it, come out of a thoroughly anti-US, anti-imperialist milieu, and such a thing would result in millions dead and would be a losing fight due to the dedication of the DPRK people, who by all (undistorted) appearances seem to actually vigorously stand behind their social system.
Question 17: What will be your first measure once you have established democracy?
Answer: Guaranteeing the subsistence of the proletariat.
– Friedrich Engels
However, while recognizing the democracy, are we still not left with the monolithic ideological system? From my research, I do believe we are. But the application of historical materialism requires us not to, like idealists, settle for this just being the way North Koreans are or anything that simple. That would, of course, be racist (someone should tell the liberals). Ideologies arise out of material conditions. Let’s look at more of the material conditions that underlie this specific superstructure.
There is a clear issue with a monolithic ideological system in the DPRK – what has created it? Why does this exist? Looking at this from a materialist standpoint, the primary culprit is US imperialism with all its sanctions, propaganda, and military aggressions – supposedly a country that respects democracy as it sponsors coups and has “civil society” groups whose purpose is openly to influence elections in other countries (not stated but obvious to everyone: for US geopolitical interests), and even influence the appearance and results of civil unrest.
Now, under this kind of siege, what would a successful defense require? It would require precisely unity. Weak links, under such conditions, could hardly be afforded. The people of the DPRK are aware of this. Does this not, at least partially, explain the monolithic ideology? Does this not, concretely, enable a defense against the kind of aggressions we’ve seen in Syria, Ukraine, and Latin America? I think socialists should acknowledge how much it can take to really defend a country from imperialism, and they should place the blame for the situation squarely where it belongs: imperialism.
Let’s, for a bit, abstract away any support for the “regime” and say that the regime is oppressive, but maintain an acknowledgement of this ideological unity… this leaves us with a question: should they defend themselves? This is where we’re led to. Do you think you could get them to agree to stop defending themselves so that they can become a nice pleasant capitalist paradise? Or is there a magical Trotskyist cell that will be able to emerge, with the backing of Western European Trotskyist cells coming to power, of course, so that they can supersede their current system into an if not full, than a mostly full communism? Of course not, so how about we confront contingency as it actually exists.
So we will look at what would be a likely outcome of imperialism winning in a relatively positive scenario (relative because there is no truly positive scenario).
A relatively positive scenario: An internal faction with interests in the special economic zones (SEZs) gains influence over higher-ranking officials and begins reforms to liberalize the government. These reforms cause internal unrest, which is propagandized by the West as a fight for further liberalization. The liberal elements in government seize this opportunity to begin to dissolve the current government structure and implement a liberalization of the media. External Western or Western-influenced media begins propagandizing to the people of the DPRK, fracturing even more a society that has become uncertain of itself. This allows for further liberalization, as confusion spreads. The economy begins to liberalize significantly; those with interests in the SEZs begin to take over the economy as public enterprises are privatized, foreign money is brought in to “develop” the economy, and services begin to cost money. Homelessness rises from almost 0% to 15% and higher as joblessness is required to put downward pressure on wages to secure foreign capital, crime increases, food insecurity increases, and medical services become increasingly precarious. Re-unification with South Korea is used as leverage by imperialism for further liberalization, and the government of the DPRK eventually dissolves under the above pressures. A liberal government is established and structural adjustment is imposed, one reason of which is in order to destroy the economy so that the Western views on the DPRK remain justified. Homelessness again shoots up, and social ills spread. The life expectancy drops significantly. The ideological clashes of integrating the society into a liberal order and being forced to believe lies causes a rise in mental illness, despair, and deep disillusionment. Hundreds of thousands die prematurely as a result of a significantly lowered average life span, infant mortality increases, and deaths from preventable diseases increase (basing this off of Soviet experience).
This is obviously horrible, and any such thing should be prevented from happening.
Anti-imperialism must be central to socialist practice. There can be no actual movement into communism without the prior destruction of imperialism, and imperialism makes socialism nearly impossible to sustain in practice by all evidence. It’s the most concrete obstruction to social progress currently facing working people.
Solidarity with the people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea!