There is a bothersome trend in the u.$. media to talk about northern Korea as if it really knew anything about it. We hear standardized propaganda stories about starvation in northern Korea along with admissions that the speaker did not see anything in northern Korea to back the story. Recently, Jonathan Watts writing for the "alternative" weekly Boston Phoenix (and the English Guardian before that) joined the chorus.
Watts is typical in that he admits he did not get to go to northern Korea where he wanted while at the same time knowing generally that the united $tates is still at war with Korea--the model for Iraq where an occupation goes on forever. The basic facts did not stop Watts from writing a story how Koreans are "paranoid" about Amerikan intentions--this shortly after Bush called Iran, Iraq and northern Korea the "axis of evil."
From a protestor at the Republican National Convention 2004. Anyone who thinks the united $tates can spread freedom needs to think again.
X Gen: don't have a cow
35-year-old Watts has fallen for the new propaganda against northern Korea in an X-Generation sort of way. He sees tension and talk of war and calls it "paranoid"(1) in northern Korea. Poor Kim Jong-il, just another overcharged baby boomer without a sense of proportion, right Watts? "The talk of nuclear bombs and first strikes sounds premature,"(1) he says. This comes from a writer based out of Tokyo, not far from places called "Hiroshima" and "Nagasaki." It's pretty typical of Amerikan pragmatism to only speak of what has already been "experienced" persynally. Watts probably does not realize that all people in the world do not share the same philosophy. Some people even learn from other people's experiences.
In fact, northern Korea is right to treat Watts as a potential spy for the u.$. military. He should not be allowed to travel inside Korea to plan how to attack Korea just as CIA assets participating in the weapons inspections in Iraq had helped Bush attack Iraq later. These weapons inspectors were supposed to be doing their job and instead Amerikans' used them to prepare an invasion better. People like Watts should be talking about how Amerika's treatment of Saddam Hussein is likely to make future cooperation with proletarian internationalist weapons inspections more difficult globally. Instead, Watts and others play a lazy and self-indulgent blame-the-victim game.
No media freedom
As Arnold Schwarzenegger proved in his speech to the Republican National Convention, it is possible to tell Amerikans anything about Soviet tanks(2) and they will believe it. He even proved that it was possible to whitewash Austrian Nazis such as his father with his pablum about "Soviet tanks" which drove his father's party from power.
Schwarzenegger also rehabilitated Richard Nixon, who Schwarzenegger cited as the first to steer him to the Republican Party. Jumping on the bandwagon, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the radio gave Schwarzenegger their "conservative" blessings and said his speech was not at all "moderate"--no kidding!
Schwarzenegger lived in the British occupation zone, at a time when it was hard to travel out of zones, but we do not doubt that his father told him the British were Soviet agents or some such similar Nazi story--exactly proving why the German and Austrian people needed to be occupied in the first place. Hitler's feelings that non-Nazi Austria was in the hands of Jews and "socialists" may explain why Schwarzenegger calls Austria "socialist" even when no politicians calling themselves "socialist" are in power--including when the "Terminator" left Austria.
If it is possible to say such things about Austria, it goes without saying that writers such as Cecil Adams writing in February 2004 are going to use northern Korea as a reference point for discussion of the prison state. Without any facts or references to facts, it is possible to assert in the united $tates as Cecil Adams does that northern Korea is maybe the worst prison-state in the world.
Likewise, when northern Korean Kang Chol-hwan escaped to the "West," he threw out some made-for-TV and newspaper lines of the type that Amerikans eat up by reflex, Schwarzenegger-style. "If you don't want to believe us, go to the North [northern Korea--ed.]!"(3) If only it were so easy.
Kang Chol-hwan said this despite the fact that it was illegal by Amerikan and southern Korean laws for Amerikans and southern Koreans to go to northern Korea. Southern Koreans had been invited repeatedly to visit the "North," only to face the threat of prison sentences and torture in the "South." So, for a propagandist to tell people to "go to the North" and "see for yourself" is just plain stupid. Maybe such a line "go see for yourself" was appropriate in one context somewhere in the Cold War, but repeating the slogan with assurance that it will conjure magic effects in other circumstances is reminiscent of the Pavlov dog. The Cold War weapons contractors receiving Pentagon largesse no doubt have the same Pavlovian response as Kang Chol-hwan and his intended Amerikan audience. They hope the incantation leads to massive profits on weapons systems somehow.
The media and people have no reason to trust Kang Chol-hwan given the Amerikans' and southern Koreans' sorry record criminalizing travel to northern Korea. It was not until September 1999,(4) that the united $tates allowed its own people to take up trade, business and travel with northern Korea. Even commercial air flights to Korea were illegal. Then, bone-heads like Kang Chol-hwan who departed from northern Korea to southern Korea in 1992 wonder why no one believes the Amerikan story about Korea.
The simple fact is that it was against the law for the citizens of the "land of the free" to go to northern Korea and many a southern Korean youth suffered torture or death for talking about the idea of visiting northern Korea. The difference between genuine Soviet dictatorships and the West is that Soviet dictatorships do not ban travel and then brag about having "freedom." Kang Chol-hwan had 238 pages of space to point out somewhere that the southern Koreans and Amerikans could not travel to northern Korea to "see for yourself" --thanks to Amerikan and southern Korean regimes. No where did he actually inform his reader of that basic fact.
In fact, when Kang Chol-hwan landed in southern Korea, the longest serving political prisoner in the world was still in prison in southern Korea--there since the Korean War. His crime for which he was still being held was refusing to renounce communism. That is all. Renounce it verbally and the prisoner KIM SUN-MYUNG would have gone free. Instead he served 45 years before his release and was lucky that his mother still survived to see him.
When Kim Il Sung died in 1994, the U.$. puppet regime arrested dozens of southern Korean students for wanting to visit northern Korea. The New York Times of July 15 1994 reported that prior to the arrests, there were still four people languishing in prison for visiting northern Korea before. Again, this was going on well after Kang Chol-hwan made his statement about just going to visit northern Korea.
This is not to mention so-called cases of "espionage," when the only evidence was that a Korean visited northern Korea. Amnesty International took up that cause as well and opposed the torture by the U.$.-puppet regime. An example would be the case of Kim Chang-ho years after Kang Chol-hwan's defection and flippant remarks about visiting northern Korea.
In 1995, Yu Chong-sik received an extra three years tacked on to his 20 year sentence served. The reason was praise of northern Korea according to Amnesty International.
Kim Song-man received a death sentence commuted three years later for passing leaflets out to northern Koreans in Europe. His total sentence was 13 years served in the U.S.-puppet regime's prisons.
According to Amnesty International, the U.$.-puppet regime may have fabricated a 1982 visit to northern Korea to imprison Lee Jang-hyong for 14 years till 1998. His case was otherwise completely murky with no evidence available.
Even today, after the lifting of many restrictions, the Treasury Department requires that U.S. citizens obtain permission before spending dollars in northern Korea.(5) As for Kang Chol-hwan, he went through a southern Korean control process. Even in 2003, higher-ranking defectors than Kang Chol-hwan face travel restrictions--by the southern Korean Yankee puppet regime. An October, 2003 report by anti-communists at the freekorea.net said that Hwang Jang-yop had defected from northern Korea six years previously and still did not have the freedom to travel--even to or within the united $tates.(6) A German attempting to visit Hwang Jang-yop was denied--in the united $tates by the united $tates, not to mention other Koreans trying to visit Hwang Jang-yop. The anti-communists trying to "free" northern Korea to enjoy such "freedoms" admitted that the restrictions on Hwang Jang-yop were political--on account of his strategy of drawing attention to northern Korea's alleged "plight."
The black market
MIM cannot say it knows much about northern Korea. We know its political line, because we read it and we know the U.$. role in occupying Korea.
With regard to the political line of northern Korea, it is too similar to Brezhnev's for us at MIM not to notice. Thus we suspect that northern Korea is not unique in the world and has gone the same corrupt way as the revisionist bloc led by Brezhnev against Mao. Specifically, the Kims leading Korea never endorsed Mao's theory of continuous revolution or the thesis on the bourgeoisie in the party in particular.
In fact, we would cite Kang Chol-hwan as proof that the battle between socialism and capitalism is not over. The famine occurred at the same time as a huge increase in the black market according to Kang Chol-hwan himself. The question then arises: did the black market and corresponding bourgeoisie in the party cause the famine or did the famine cause the black market? That's all presupposing there was a famine. Kang Chol-hwan says he does not know for sure how extensive hunger problems were and talks of figures ranging from one to three million people involved.
The bourgeois critics want us to believe that socialism failed and produced a black market which is alleviating conditions instead of making them worse. In Kang Chol-hwan's book Aquariums of Pyongyang, there is actually no evidence to this effect. What we see instead is corruption of party officials followed by economic hardship.
Kang Chol-hwan even admits that in the 1960s he was doing rather well materially and had reason to believe that it was even better in northern Korea than in southern Korea--conditions-wise for the people. In the 1960s, Kang Chol-hwan "had a refridgerator, washing machine, vacuum cleaner, and even the most sought after of all luxury goods: a color television set."(7) These facts lead us to wonder what would have happened had Kim Il Sung launched a struggle against the bourgeoisie in the party as Mao did.
It's hard to know how much is true from reading Kang Chol-hwan, because this supposedly heroic defector admits that he made up stories about people in order to get them punished in northern Korea. If we decide to take him seriously at all about economics, then he points out that by the time police arrested his family, the police were taking 90% of the arrested family's wealth for themselves.(8) That would surely be the sign of capitalism, not socialism.
Even more directly, Kang Chol-hwan admits that he had sudden black market success at his prison camp and then the food situation seriously deteriorated for people. He does not say so, but MIM reads between-the-lines that the black market bourgeoisie like Kang Chol-hwan had succeeded in corrupting the system to such an extent that the people suffered. Kang Chol-hwan's grandmother came to see the regime as similar to Hitler's (9) but if so, it would be the class struggle by people like Kang Chol-hwan which made it so. His motto became "man's limitless capacity for vice."(10)
As of 1987, Kang Chol-hwan said he found no evidence of starvation.(11) Instead, his family became ever bigger grafters. He admits he sabotaged the supply system of northern Korea without using the word "sabotage."(12) In echoes of China's Great Leap, when the worst starvation happened after the move to private responsibility systems in farming had already been completed, Kang Chol-hwan tells us that after he became a gigantic grafter and after peasants all abandoned collective farms and put their efforts into private plots,(13) famine came calling. If he and the peasants are indicative, then famine came about because of capitalism, not the earlier successes of the class struggle.
"This wild trend toward privatization--or appropriation, if you prefer--explains why peasants are now having an easier time procuring food than workers who live in small towns, where famine has struck hardest."(14) That sounds very typical of capitalist logic to us--not socialist planning which accounts for the city's right to eat while forcing those living on the land to work or be deported elsewhere.
Things that Kang Chol-hwan found wrong only proved to MIM that his opponents were often correct. For example, while people were facing malnutrition, Kang Chol-hwan objected to the state's practice of discouraging use of land for cemeteries,(15) a problem also found in China.
In any case, Kang Chol-hwan is only one persyn. MIM would never make a general statement about conditions in Korea based on him. We can only say that Kim Il Sung's line is too close to Brezhnev's for us to think that he avoided the fate of countries with that line implemented. If Kang Chol-hwan is right that: "It's clear: North Korea is a total sham. Officially, it outlaws private business, but in the shadows it lets it thrive,"(16) then MIM is right about the facts in northern Korea as well. It's exactly what a Maoist would expect from a situation where the alleged communist party does not lead a struggle against the bourgeoisie in the party.
1. http://www.bostonphoenix.com/boston/news_features/ other_stories/multi-page/documents/03007197.asp
2. This is a basic fact of history. http://www.cnn.com/2004/ALLPOLITICS/09/03/schwarzenegger.ap/index.html
3. Kang Chol-hwan & Pierre Rigoulot, Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 224.
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4. New York Times stored here: http://www.globalpolicy.org/security/sanction/nkorea/99-09-17.htm;
the BBC admitted that southern Koreans only started allowing travel to the "North" in 1997. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/special_report/1998/09/98/korea_at_50/166604.stm ;
U.S. restrictions on travel to Cuba are here: http://www.commongroundtravel.com/assets/pdf/travel-restrictions.pdf
7. Kang Chol-hwan & Pierre Rigoulot, Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag (New York: Basic Books, 2001), p. 6.
8. Ibid., p. 39. On page 185 he admitted to telling stories to get people arrested for the purposes of revenge.
9. Ibid., p. 101. There would be some backing for this idea in northern Korea's favoring eugenics and Kim Il Sung's destruction of Stalin's theory of nation.
10. Ibid., p. 160.
11. Ibid., p. 161.
12. Ibid., p. 174.
13. Ibid., p. 175.
14. Ibid., p. 176.
15. Ibid., p. 102.
16. Ibid., p. 196.
A chant inspired by the Bush-league propaganda on northern Korea:
"What do they want?"
"When do they want it?"
What do they want?"
"When do they want it?"
"What do they know about it?"
"When do they know about it?"