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The Anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution

lenin5

The Anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution

(llco.org)

November 7th, 2010 is the 93rd anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution. Today we celebrate the great breakthrough of the first successful sustained victory of the proletariat. Prior to 1917, there had been other revolutions, but they were not able to successfully consolidate power. They were quickly defeated by counter-revolution. However, the Bolshevik revolution lasted over three decades before it too was defeated. The Bolshevik revolution was the peak of the first great wave of proletarian revolutions. Let’s look at some of the accomplishments of the Soviet Union:

1. The first proletarian state. Lenin said that without state power, all is illusion. For the first time in history our class was able to consolidate its hold on state power. Rather than being a tool of the reactionaries to oppress the people, the state was used to suppress the counter-revolutionaries and advance the revolution. From the commanding heights of state power, we were able to begin to remake all of society.

2. First successful planned economy. The Soviet Union was the first attempt by the proletariat to create an economy organized to serve the people. It was the first attempt to create an economy where the oppressed were not at the mercy of cold market forces. The proletariat and the oppressed escaped the anarchy of production that is capitalism. Instead, production was brought under the control of the state and the party of the proletariat.

3. Great leap. Under proletarian leadership, the Soviet Union went from an undeveloped backwater to a modern superpower able to challenge imperialism on the world stage. Under the Czar, only a few cities were industrialized. Under the leadership of our class, a whole country was modernized. Even the atom was conquered. The Soviet Union became the second most powerful country on Earth.

4. Defeat of fascism. During World War 2, the Soviet peoples suffered over 26 million deaths, more casualties than all other countries combined. The Great Patriotic War against fascism was a people’s war against fascism. It was the Soviet people who were the front line fighters in this struggle against Hitler and his vile racist ideology. Had the Soviet Union not existed, Hitler’s troops would have marched to the Pacific ocean. They would have won World War 2 and done to Eastern Europe and Asia what the United States did to its Indigenous peoples. In fact, Hitler took the genocide and “Manifest Destiny” carried out by the United States as his model. The Soviet Union, its Red Army, our Party led by Stalin stopped Hitler’s genocidal armies in their tracks.

5. New proletarian culture. The old culture was one that promoted racism, chauvinism, sexism, privileges, and inequality. For the first time in history, the oppressed and exploited were in control of art and media. A new proletarian culture was born to promote the values of peace, equality and self-determination. Our art and our song were seen and heard across the world.

6. Advancing and spreading revolutionary science. The Bolshevik revolution advanced our understanding of revolutionary science. It was out of the Bolshevik revolutionary experience that Lenin developed his theory of the state, of dual power, of the vanguard party, of the self-determination of nations. Lenin’s contributions have become a key part of Marxism today,  Leading Light Communism. A country spanning one sixth of the world’s land mass was now liberated, serving as a base area to spread our science and revolution around the world. It was through the Bolshevik experience that Marxism became Marxism-Leninism. Revolutionary science was advanced to a whole new stage. Marxism-Leninism was the second stage of revolutionary science. The revolution spread revolutionary science across the globe; it spread Marxism-Leninism.

The Soviet Union was not perfect. Our revolution in the Soviet Union was lost to counter-revolution. A new capitalist class emerged and reversed our great accomplishments; they finally  consolidated their counter-revolution after World War 2. All was not lost. The first great wave of revolution inspired a second. Under Maoist leadership, the Chinese revolution advanced even further. We must learn and improve on the past, so we can do better next time. Even with its errors, the Soviet experience has much to teach us today.

Today, the people of the world are demoralized. They do not see a way out of the madness of capitalism-imperialism: poverty, starvation, war, inequality, chauvinism, racism, national oppression, patriarchy, ecological catastrophe. The vast majority of humanity starves in the Third World while those in the First World grow fat. A minority lives at the expense of the vast majority. The imperialists claim that communism is dead,  that history is at its end. They say that socialism and communism are impossible. We answer by pointing to history. The Soviet Union was a shining light, despite its flaws. It represented hope to people everywhere. Its existence proved that another world is possible. It is possible for people to control their own lives. Exploitation and oppression are not the only way to live.  Communists have always been at the forefront of struggles to create a better way. We are leading lights showing the way out of the madness.

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On healthcare and barefoot doctors

chineseculturalrevolutionworkerpeasantsoldierpropaganda

On healthcare and barefoot doctors

(llco.org, npr.org)

The following is an mainstream, bourgeois article from National Public Radio on socialist China’s barefoot doctors. The barefoot doctors were part of socialist China’s alternative approach to medicine. The program sought to provide basic health care to the Chinese masses. Under previous regimes, the vast majority in China had little access to health care. Because of programs and campaigns such as this one, China’s life expectancy doubled while the Communists were in power from 1949 to the 1970s. However, socialism in China was reversed in the 1970s. Today, China is thoroughly capitalist. And, its masses have suffered as a result. Nonetheless, it is important to learn for the successes and failures of past revolutionary movements.

In previous years there has been debate over whether or not to enact health care reform in the United States. The Democratic Party, led by Obama, seeks something close to universal coverage for people in the United States. The Republicans are doing what they can to block the reform. The Republicans seek to keep health care as it is, in the private sector. Even though communists seek health care for all. Under a socialism and communism, health care is a right for all. Everyone deserves a decent life.  Even so,  it is important to connect the dots. The First World does not exist in a vacuum. It  should be pointed out that  if social democratic-type gains are made, they will be paid for by the Third World. Third World peoples, largely without health care, will be paying for health care reform in the United States. People in the United States already, under their current system, have more health care than most people in the world. People in the United States, with their wealth and privilege, already consume way more than their share of the global social product. The real tragedy is that billions of people in the Third World have almost no health care at all. While the liberals, and liberals wearing Marxist masks, concern themselves with increasing the standard of living for First World peoples, Leading Light Communists seek a radical reorganization of the world economy that serves the majority of humanity. Leading Light Communists recognize that by raising the standard of living for First World peoples, one generally lowers the standard of living for the vast majority in the Third World. The wealth it takes to raise First World peoples up has to come from somewhere. Leading Light Communists seek to increase access to health care for the proletariat and its allies in the Third World before they seek to increase health care for the wealthy First World populations. With this goal in mind, China’s experiment with barefoot doctors is especially important. It is a model that relied on people power more than capital. The model pioneered by the Maoists is one that can be applied across the Third World. It is a model that serves the people.

Article follows:

“Health for the Masses: China’s ‘Barefoot Doctors’
by Vikki Valentine

When doctors and money are in short in supply, how does a government provide health care for its people? Brenda Wilson has reported that at a time when they’re needed most, physicians and nurses from developing countries are being recruited away in large numbers by Western countries. This shortage — for example, one doctor for every 10,000 people in Kenya — is complicating the fight against AIDS and other diseases.

On the eve of the 1949 Communist Revolution, China found itself in a situation similar to that faced by African countries today. China had estimated that there were about 40,000 physicians trained in Western and Soviet medicine in the country, serving a population of 540 million people. Worse yet, most of these physicians worked in large cities; 80 percent of the population were rural peasants.

‘Big Belly’ and the Communist Party

Ten million of these peasants suffered from “big belly” — the peasant name for schistosomiasis. The disease is caused by a worm living in snails found in swamps and rivers. Peasants catch the parasite while wading in water; once inside the body, the worm mates in blood vessels, and released eggs travel throughout the body, particularly to the intestines, bladder and liver. It’s the body’s immune reaction that causes the disease’s symptoms, such as seizures and the characteristic swollen belly. Chronic cases risk permanent damage to organs such as the liver, intestines and lungs.

A major platform of the Communist Party was a revolution in agriculture. A “Great Leap Forward” was needed in China. But Party leaders, including Chairman Mao Zedong, knew that improving the health of peasants was integral to increasing agricultural production.

What followed was a backlash against Western-style “elite” medicine. The “bourgeois” policies of “self-interested” physicians who only treated rare and difficult diseases were denounced as “disregarding the masses.”

Chairman Mao’s Snail

One of the Party’s first steps in medical reform called for massive campaigns against infectious disease. Thousands of workers were trained and sent out into the countryside to examine and treat peasants, and organize sanitation campaigns.

Health teams claimed to have examined 2.8 million peasants in 1958, the first year of the schistosomiasis program. (One team claimed examining 1,200 patients in a single day.) Some 67 million latrines were reportedly built or repaired, and over the next few years, hundreds of thousands of peasants were set to work day and night, drying out swamps and building drainage ditches to get rid of the snail’s habitat. Party workers claimed schistosomiasis cure rates of 85 to 95 percent in some areas, and that the disease had been wiped out in more than half of previously endemic areas along the Yangtze River.

Chairman Mao was impressed, and the Party became fond of declaring that it could “cure what the powers above have failed to do.”

But Mao’s revolution was struggling, and in 1965, with his launch of the Cultural Revolution, he expanded the idea of health for the masses beyond infectious disease. Mao ordered, “In health and medical work, put the stress on rural areas.” With that, China’s cadre of “barefoot doctors” was born.

A Peasant Medical Force

Thousands of peasants — men and women who were mostly in their 20s and already had some general education — were selected for an intensive three- to six-month course in medical training. They were instructed in anatomy, bacteriology, diagnosing disease, acupuncture, prescribing traditional and Western medicines, birth control and maternal and infant care.

The barefoot doctors continued their farming work in the commune fields, working alongside their comrades. Their proximity also made them readily available to help those in need. They provided basic health care: first aid, immunizations against diseases such as diphtheria, whooping cough and measles, and health education. They taught hygiene as basic as washing hands before eating and after using latrines. Illnesses beyond their training, the barefoot doctors referred on to physicians at commune health centers.

Ten years after the Cultural Revolution, there were an estimated 1 million barefoot doctors in China. Looking back, however, gauging the program’s success is complicated.

A Model for Rural Health Care?

In the 1970s, the World Health Organization and leaders in some developing countries — even the Soviet Union — began to consider China’s program as an alternate model to Western-style health care. They were looking for inexpensive ways to deliver health care to rural populations; China had seemed to set up a successful model.

But the barefoot doctors program largely fell apart in the 1980s and ’90s: The central government provided less financial support for the program, and the country’s emerging free-market system began forcing farmers to pay for their health care. The World Health Organization recently ranked China as fourth-worst out of 190 countries for equality of health care. Yet 40 years after the program began, the program still holds allure, and lessons, for health officials around the world looking for a solution for inadequate rural health care.

Some of the claims made about the program’s successes weren’t always backed up by data. On a visit in 1972, American doctor Victor Sidel admitted it was hard to measure the quality of the program. Nonetheless, Sidel praised it for supplying health care where previously there had been none; he also singled out the barefoot doctors themselves for their role as patient advocates.

There is also agreement outside of China that the country did go much further than other countries of comparable wealth in reducing infectious diseases, such as polio, smallpox and schistosomiasis, writes historian John Farley in his book, “Bilharzia: A History of Tropical Medicine.”

Farley also relates the observations of Dr. Paul Bausch, of Stanford University, who made a visit to China in 1984. Bausch reported back that there indeed had been a 90 percent reduction of schistosomiasis in some regions. Overall, according to Bausch, cases were down from 10 million people 30 years earlier to 2.4 million, with most cases being mild.

The barefoot doctors, and their predecessors, had in fact, as the Communist Party claimed, turned “snail-infected swamps into ‘rivers of happiness.’”

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Thoughts on Stalin

Thoughts on Stalinstalin-bio

(llco.org)

Many revolutionaries still stumble on the question of Stalin. They just can’t get by the Stalin issue, even though Stalin is still revered in much of the world despite the best efforts of the bourgeoisie to tarnish him. Stalin is a controversial figure, even within our own movement. Yet we say that he was still more right than wrong. Mao said that Stalin was 70 percent good, 30 percent bad. Perhaps Mao’s number is too positive, perhaps too negative. Mao made many errors too. Regardless, the thing we always have to remember about Stalin is that he faced problems which are unimaginable for most First World peoples.

From day one, the Soviet Union was encircled by the imperialists. There we inherited a country that was ravaged by violence and poverty. There the first breakthrough was made. There we built sustained socialism for the first time. Only a few decades after socialism was born, we were hit by the catastrophe of another world war. Twenty six million or so Soviet people died in World War 2. Had Stalin not industrialized as he did, with all the sacrifice that required, Hitler may  have been able to roll on to the Pacific ocean exterminating everything in his path. Or the conflict would have been more long and drawn out. More lives would have been lost. One of the most important lessons of Stalin that we must learn is that we revolutionaries will have to face problems for which there is no perfect solution. Sometimes the world presents us with hard choices. Stalin represents the hard choice.

Making revolution is not going to be easy. We are going up again thousands of years of reactionary social programming. We are going up against thousands of years of reactionary culture and social inequality. For thousands of years we have been taught that one group is better than another: rich better than poor, whites better than blacks, men better than women, etc. It is going to take a lot of hard work to overcome these and other divisions. The road will be long. There will be many twists and turns. Errors will be made, big errors. And, sometimes, we will be faced with hard choices. This is the sad reality of revolution.

Like most things, there is another side to Stalin than the one portrayed in the reactionary media. Many of the finest revolutionaries of the last century spoke well of him. Black communist W. E. B. Du Bois said of him:

“Stalin was not a man of conventional learning; he was much more than that: he was a man who thought deeply, read understandingly and listened to wisdom, no matter whence it came. He was attacked and slandered as few men of power have been; yet he seldom lost his courtesy or balance; nor did he let attack drive him from his convictions nor induce him to surrender positions which he knew were correct. As one of the despised minorities of man, he first set Russia on the road to conquer race prejudice and make one nation out of its 140 groups without destroying their individuality.”

“His judgment of men was profound. He early saw through the flamboyance and exhibitionism of Trotsky, who fooled the world, and especially America. The whole ill-bred and insulting attitude of Liberals in the U.S. today began with our naive acceptance of Trotsky’s magnificent lying propaganda, which he carried around the world. Against it, Stalin stood like a rock and moved neither right nor left, as he continued to advance toward a real socialism instead of the sham Trotsky offered.” (1)

When looking at history, we have to take a sophisticated view. Things are rarely simple when it comes to revolution. Was the Stalin era a harsh one? No one should deny that. But, as Mao said, revolution is not a dinner party. When we take power again, we too will be faced with hard decisions. Enemies will try to destroy us, just as they always have. We will, at times, need to deal with them harshly. This has been shown again and again. Enemies do not simply go away because we wish them to. The enemy will try to drown us in blood. We are not foolish utopians.

One thing about Stalin’s approach that we should try to avoid, which was also common during the  Mao era too, is looking at the problem of counter-revolution through the police paradigm. Now, the Chinese revolutionaries did reject the police approach on the level of theory, but the reality is that they did not always reject it fully in practice.  Usually their practice was muddled. A quick look at material from the period reveals that all of those leaders denounced in the period, both communist and capitalist, were seen through the police paradigm. They were seen as spies, wreckers, agents on the payroll of foreign states. The verdicts against them were police verdicts. Counter-revolution was seen through the lenses of the police. This is the wrong approach.

Of course there are real spies. Of course there is real wrecking. We are not fools. In fact, there are probably more FBI and CIA agents in the US than activists organized in self-described “socialist” organizations; there are probably more Hare Krishnas too — a sad indicator  of the lack of revolutionary social base in the First World.  While there are genuine cases of infiltration by spies and wrecking, such infiltration is not the main reason for counter-revolution. Maoists in China began to see the problem structurally, even if they were not always consistent. They saw that the continuation of inequalities and the continuation of  backwards ideas will solidify, congeal and spread if not continually attacked. Those structural and ideological problems will result in a new capitalist class arising within the organs of power, within the Communist Party and state. The problem of counter-revolution, therefore, is not mainly an issue of perfecting policing measures. Rather, combating counter-revolution and advancing socialism are a matter reducing inequalities in power, privilege and decision making. And, it is a matter of combating the backward culture, the backward social programming. Replacing old culture with new culture. This is part of continuing the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat. This is continuous revolution, Cultural Revolution. It is key that we look at the problem of counter-revolution through the lenses of power, of structure, not through the lenses of the police. In many ways, the police paradigm of counter-revolution shares similarities with the Great Man theory of history, the idealist conception that historical progress is achieved by the acts of individual great men. The Leading Light Communist approach to counter-revolution is really just Marx’s historical materialism applied to the problem of counter-revolution.

We uphold the Stalin period in a general, but non-dogmatic way. Their errors are our errors, so to speak. We do not simply wash our hands. We do not simply walk away. Accepting this is part of what being a real leader is. Yet, we see the limitations of Stalin’s approach, one that was also shared by Maoists to an extent. However, the Maoists began to break with that, even if they did not break with it consistently and even if their practice lagged. Revolution is a long road. We will make many mistakes, twists and turns, false starts, retreats. This is why it is so important to put revolutionary science in command. Today, this means putting Leading Light Communism in command. Science learns. And, quite frankly, we have learned many powerful lessons from Stalin. Let’s not shrug our responsibility. We are Leading Light Communists, the vanguard of the world revolution. The people deserve an honest accounting  from us.

Red Salute to all those who came before!

Sources
1. W.E.B. Du Bois, The Oxford W.E.B. Du Bois Reader (NY: Oxford University
Press, 1996), p. 287.

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Notes on today’s Maoists who uphold Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge

Notes on today’s Maoists who uphold Pol Pot and the Khmer RougeMTIwNjA4NjMzOTQzOTgzNjI4

(llco.org)

The Communist Party of India (Maoist) is one of many democratic, progressive, anti-imperialist, groups fighting the Indian state, a part of the global empire. They are one of many movements fighting for the liberation of the poor in the second most populous country on Earth. They are a movement that deserves our critical support even though, as of today, their organization has refused to give up the dogmatism of the past. One example of this dogmatism is their continued embrace of the Khmer Rouge as the last genuine communist movement with state power.  And, for Maoists, upholding Mao’s theories is the dividing line between Marxism versus revisionism. So, since, according to the CPI (Maoist), only fellow Maoists are communists in the present era, it stands to reason they also regard the Khmer Rouge of the past and Democratic Kampuchea as Maoist. Around 2002, the Communist Party of India (Maoist) highlights the Khmer Rouge in key documents, including their basic course on Maoism for their cadre:

“After the death of Mao in 1976, the capitalist roaders who had remained in the party staged a coup under the leadership of the arch revisionist Deng Tsiao-ping and took over the control of the party under the nominal leadership of Hua Kuo-feng, a so-called centrist. As Mao had often taught, with political control going over to the hands of the revisionists the socialist base had gone out of the hands of the proletariat. At the same time the leadership of the Albanian Party of Labour switched over to an opportunist line attacking Mao Tse-tung Thought and projecting Mao as a petty bourgeois revolutionary. Though the Khmer Rouge continued to hold power in Kampuchea they were waging a constant struggle against the internal and external enemies of the Revolution and were yet to emerge from the economic ravages of war and consolidate their rule when they were defeated by the Soviet backed Vietnamese Army.” (1)

According to the CPI (Maoist), the Khmer Rouge were the last remaining communist organization with state power:

“The mid-70s saw the final overthrow of many long standing colonial regimes after long guerrilla wars. Thus the US and their puppets were thrown out of Vietnam, Kampuchea and Laos in 1975. In Africa the republics of Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia, Congo, and Benin were formed in this period. However most of these countries were taken over by puppets or satellites of the new imperialism – Soviet social imperialism. A prominent exception was Kampuchea, where genuine communist revolutionaries – the Khmer Rouge – remained independent until invaded in 1978 by Vietnam on the behest of the Soviet imperialists.” (2)

On the anniversary of Mao’s birthday, December 26,  2006, the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist) further stated at an international conference:

“Many communist movements were ruthlessly crushed as in Kampuchea. Now, after over 150 years of the communist movement we can count the number of genuine communist movements with some mass base on our finger-tips. ” (3)

Furthermore, according to some of their critics, People’s War Group,  the main predecessor group of the CPI (Maoist), did not just praise the Khmer Rouge in print, but distributed Pol Pot badges. Thus they promoted Pol Pot’s cult of personality.  An editorial in Dalit Voice reports:

“If DV can also get hold of the erstwhile PWG’s literature boasting of how it distributed Pol Pot badges, our savarna maoists (in this context, a reference to the CPI (Maoist) and its predecessors – ed.) will be totally exposed globally.” (4)

The CPI (Maoist) are not the only Maoists who express for their admiration of the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge are popular amongst some of the smaller Gonzaloist and Gonzaloist-influenced sects. For example, a Panamanian Gonzaloist-influenced blog reproduces a document that states:

“The experience of the Khmer Rouge revolution is unprecedented and it shows that young people can also do great revolutions and these are not huge heritage of countries or world leaders. There are also ‘small’ leaders who acquire greatness but their victories pretend to be ignored and maligned worse.” (5)

The Panamian blog reproduce a video entitled “Kampuchea :Honor and glory to the beloved Comrade Pol Pot, a communist steel and his gift to his beloved Kampuchean people!”  (6)  Brazilian Gonzaloists also celebrate Pol Pot:

“Today, we celebrate the 87th birth anniversary of the historic cambodian communist leader, Comrade Pol Pot (1925-1998).” (7)

Thus there is a strange convergence of opinion on this point between the CPI (Maoist), some Gonzaloist and Gonzaloist-influenced sects, and the imperialist media. The former praise the Khmer Rouge as “communist.” At the same time, the imperialists pin the “Maoist” and “communist” label on the Khmer Rouge as a way to taint Maoism and communism as a whole. For example, the reactionary media used to refer to the Communist Party of Peru as “the Khmer Rouge of Latin America.”

Several points must be made:

1. Imperialism, not the Khmer Rouge, was the main perpetrator of violence against the peoples of Kampuchea. More bombs were dropped on Indochina during the years of the Vietnam War than were dropped in every country in World War 2. The violence inflicted by imperialism on the peoples of Kampuchea, Vietnam, and Laos reached genocidal levels. Millions were killed by the imperialists. By 1975, already an estimated 10% of the Kampuchean population– 600,000 had died as a result of the Vietnam War. (8) When the Khmer Rouge took power in April in 1975, the country had been devastated. The cities had swelled from refugees fleeing the bombing of the countryside. Food production was disrupted. The Khmer Rouge inherited a crisis situation where they had to attempt social transformation in a country that was ruined and in a country that was under constant threat by imperialists. We must never forget that imperialism caused the most harm to the Kampuchean people, not the Khmer Rouge.

2. The Khmer Rouge were an extremely opportunist movement. They only claimed to be “Maoist” after Mao had died. And they only claimed to be “Maoist” to get aid from the post-Mao, revisionist regime in China. In fact, the Khmer Rouge did not claim to be Maoist in their internal documents or to their domestic audience. Furthermore, the Khmer Rouge denounced the “Gang of Four,” arguably the last remaining leftists in the Chinese Communist Party, as “counter-revolutionary.” Furthermore, the Khmer Rouge praised the revisionist leadership of Hua Guofeng and Deng Xiaoping in an effort to secure support. (9)

3. Despite their rhetoric of independence and self reliance, the Khmer Rouge always aligned politically with whatever forces would give them aid. This opportunism led them into supporting the revisionists in China when the Chinese were giving them support. Later, this opportunism led them into an alliance with Western imperialism. The United States delivered aid to the Khmer Rouge and other anti-Vietnamese and anti-Soviet forces after the Khmer Rouge were driven from power in 1979. It was the United States that was instrumental in keeping The Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea, which included the Khmer Rouge, as the official representative of Kampuchea at the United Nations up until 1993. As part of their opportunism, the Khmer Rouge quickly dropped the communist label after they were deposed in 1979. In his last interview before his death, Pol Pot was honest about his disregard for communism:

“When I die, my only wish is that Cambodia remain Cambodia and belong to the West. It is over for communism, and I want to stress that… When I say Cambodia {should} be part of the West, I mean that if you belong to the West, at least there is no fascist regime.” (10)

The reality is that the Khmer Rouge were never a real communist organization. Rather, they were a nationalist organization that opportunistically used communist rhetoric and symbols to secure aid. And, when China no longer cared about communist rhetoric, the Khmer Rouge dropped the communist rhetoric altogether in an attempt to befriend Western imperialism, especially the United States.

4. The way that the Khmer Rouge understood socialist construction was not unlike some of the Chinese revisionists. They placed extreme emphasis on economic development carried out by a terrorized, disciplined, and docile population. They embraced a version of the revisionist Theory of the Productive Forces, which overemphasizes economic and technological development at the expense of class struggle. They embraced crackpot schemes to propel Kampuchea forward that ended in disaster. Although their developmental schemes failed miserably, their model put development and economic prosperity at the forefront, not class struggle that would prepare the masses for taking power.

Even though they used rhetoric from China to describe their model, they modified Chinese slogans to suggest their approach would outdo even the Chinese. Thus they claimed to outdo the Chinese “Great Leap Forward” with their own Khmer “Super Great Leap Forward.” They claimed that their Khmer revolution was unprecedented. There is an underlying nationalist chauvinism in this bombast, in their false claim to have outdone previous revolutions, especially the revolutions of their Chinese, Maoist neighbors. Thus like many other movements nationalism accompanied developmentalism at the expense of revolution.

5. The communist movement had always placed great emphasis on ideological education. This was especially true of Mao’s revolution, which elevated the importance of ideology to a whole new level. Ideological education is one of the main forms of class struggle. However, not all ideological education is the same. At its best moments, the Chinese Maoist efforts of ideological remolding were ones that actively involved the population. The masses were not simply told what was right and wrong. Rather, the masses were motivated to actively question many aspects of the system. Top leaders, even President Liu Shaoqi, were forced to answer questions before the masses during the Cultural Revolution. Big debates on the nature of the revolution, history, aesthetics, and other topics were published in the Chinese press. The Chinese masses were encouraged to discuss and debate the issues. Although the Chinese experience was not perfect, at its best moments, it promoted Socratic questioning, open and free criticism, and science over the blind obedience of Confucianism. Along with this, the Chinese Communist Party was patient with masses. The Communist Party of China criticized the errors of commandism and Confucianism, both of which denied the ability of the masses to think for themselves and lead themselves. In its best moments, the Chinese Communist Party recognized that it was necessary to understand that to transform the masses, it is necessary to take a gradualist approach. This principle is also behind the Maoist leadership method of mass line. Communist leadership must be humble and patient enough to meet the masses where they are. Only by coming to the masses with patience and humility can the trust of the masses be won so that the masses become open to transformation by communist leadership. This principle is also behind the gradualist approach of Maoist collectivization of agriculture, which happened in stages: New Democracy, collectives, then People’s Communes. This is part of the meaning behind the most famous Maoist slogan: “Serve the people.”

By contrast, in an effort to outdo the Chinese and previous revolutions, to re-establish a golden age of Khmer greatness, the Khmer Rouge did away with Maoist gradualism. The most infamous practice of the Khmer Rouge was the emptying of cities. Whole populations of cities were labeled as “new people,” and treated like class enemies. They were stripped of their possessions and marched from the cities to the countryside where they labored at bayonet point. Violence and control of the food supply were two ways they motivated the population. One Khmer Rouge slogan stated: “Hunger is the most effective disease.” (11) The Khmer Rouge were also known to persecute minorities. The Khmer Rouge seemed more interested in obedience than transformation of the population to prepare it for active leadership. This is reflected in the Khmer Rouge’s descriptions of themselves. Even after they had taken power, the Khmer Rouge, for a long time, did not even tell the population that they claimed to be a communist party. Instead, they referred to themselves simply as “Angkar” or “Organization.” Also, they described themselves as omniscient, invincible, immortal. This high-handedness  is reflected in some of their slogans:

“Let Angkar pour truth into your head.”

“Angkar has [the many] eyes of the pineapple.”

The Khmer Rouge’s attitude toward dissent was much different than Mao’s. The Chinese Cultural Revolutionaries emphasized “big debates,” protests, power seizures, criticism, etc. By contrast, the Khmer Rouge looked on dissent very critically:

“You can arrest someone by mistake; never release him by mistake.”

“Better to kill an innocent by mistake than spare an enemy by mistake.”

The terroristic aspect of the Khmer Rouge is reflected in several slogans that threaten death upon the population:

“He who protests is an enemy; he who opposes is a corpse.”

“If someone is very hungry, the Angkar will take him where he will be stuffed with food.”

“If you wish to live exactly as you please, the Angkar will put aside a small piece of land for you.”

“No gain in keeping, no loss in weeding out,” (also rendered: “To destroy you is no loss, to preserve you is no gain.” – ed)  (12)

Think of how different the Khmer Rouge’s approach is to Mao’s approach. Written in April, 1956, Mao’s “Ten Major Relationships” was produced amid reports of excessive executions during the Stalin era in the Soviet Union:

“We must keep up the policy which we started in Yenan: ‘No executions and few arrests’. There are some whom we do not execute, not because they have done nothing to deserve death, but because killing them would bring no advantage, whereas sparing their lives would. What harm is there in not executing people? Those amenable to labour reform should go and do labour reform, so that rubbish can be transformed in something useful.

Besides, people’s heads are not like leeks. When you cut them off, they will not grow again. If you cut off a head wrongly, there is no way of rectifying the mistake even if you want to.

If government departments were to adopt a policy of no executions in their work of suppressing counter-revolutionaries, this still would not prevent us from taking counter-revolution seriously. Moreover it would ensure that we would not make mistakes, or if we did they could be corrected. This would calm many people.

If we do not execute people, we must feed them. So we should give all counter-revolutionaries way out of their impasse. This will be helpful to the people’s cause and to our image abroad.

The suppression of counter-revolution still requires a long period of hard work. None of us may relax our efforts.” (13)

This injunction by Mao against summary executions reflects how the Chinese revolutionaries emphasized the importance of “uniting all who could be united,” “big debates,” mass line, populism, patience and humility when dealing with not only the masses, but even many enemies.

Serve the people truth, not falsehood

In the 1970s, during and after Mao’s death, the Chinese press referred to the Khmer Rouge in glowing terms. However, the Chinese press referred to numerous states and movements in a similar way. For example, numerous Eastern European and national liberation movements were labeled “socialist” by the Chinese even though such regimes and movements would not be considered as such by Maoist nor Leading Light standards. When examined closely, the Khmer Rouge has never deserved the label. Just as there are communist movements that have adopted national liberation as a means of advancing communism, there are also nationalist movements that have adopted communist rhetoric and policies as a way to gain support in the pursuit of purely nationalist goals. The Khmer Rouge are the latter, not the former. Although the Khmer Rouge was once an anti-imperialist movement that drove the United States out of Kampuchea, like other narrowly nationalist movements, they later opportunistically aligned with the imperialists and revisionist anti-communists when it suited their purposes.

It is important today to come to terms with the real history of revolutionary and national liberation movements. Just because a movement claims to be “revolutionary” or “communist” does not make it true. There is a long history of movements that “wave the red flag to oppose the red flag.” Revolutionaries in China used to warn: “Be careful not to board a pirate ship.” Just because Beijing Review in the 1970s identified the Khmer Rouge in such a way does not mean they were. If today’s Maoist movement is ever going to advance scientifically, then it must deal honestly with history. One of the irony of ironies is that many of the same Maoists who uphold Pol Pot denounce Lin Biao as a Confucian and authoritarian with no real evidence at all. Such dogmatism would be funny if it weren’t so sad, if lives were not on the line.

Mao himself noted the importance of the correct, scientific line:

“The correctness or otherwise of the ideological and political line decides everything. When the Party’s line is correct, then everything will come its way. If it has no followers, then it can have followers; if it has no guns, then it can have guns; if it has no political power, then it can have political power. If its line is not correct, even what it has it may lose. The line is a net rope. When it is pulled, the whole net opens out.” (14)

The correct, scientific line is the key to victory. The incorrect line only leads to defeat. It is a sign of the weakness of the Maoist movement today that even though they claim to be scientific and materialist, the reality is that they are dogmatic, metaphysical, idealists that share much in common with religious sects. The dogmatic embrace of the Khmer Rouge by a Maoist organization so prestigious as the CPI (Maoist) reflects the sad state of affairs. Thus the claim by Maoism that it is the highest stage of revolutionary theory rings hallow today. Of today’s Maoist bombast, perhaps Mao would repeat his famous words: “It is an empty drum that beats the loudest.”

We can do better. If we are to initiate the next great wave of revolution, it is necessary to articulate a truly liberating vision of the future. It is also necessary that our vision of the future be based on genuine science, not old dogma. Those who uphold the Khmer Rouge today set themselves at odds with the advances of revolutionary science. We hope that those Maoists who continue to uphold the Khmer Rouge correct their line on this and other questions. We encourage the remnants of the Maoist movement to advance to the next, highest level of revolutionary science, Leading Light Communism. The masses deserve the best.

Notes

  1. https://ajadhind.wordpress.com/marxism-leninism-maoism-basic-course/
  2. ibid.
  3. The Worker, #11, July 2007, pp. 39-47. http://www.bannedthought.net/India/CPI-Maoist-Docs/Nepal/CPIM-Paper2007W11.htm
  4. http://naxalrevolution.blogspot.com/2006/10/dalit-voice-naxalism-gets-complicated.html
  5. http://nuevademocraciapanama.blogspot.com/2010/11/kampuchea-democratica.html
  6. http://nuevademocraciapanama.blogspot.com/2015/04/kampuchea-honor-y-gloria-al-querido.html
  7. http://nuevademocraciapanama.blogspot.com/2012/05/blog-grande-dazibao-quando-os.html
  8. www.prisoncensorship.info/archive/etext/faq/polpot2.html
  9. ibid.
  10. http://natethayer.typepad.com/blog/2011/10/second-thoughts-for-pol-pot-fallen-tyrant-defends-his-brutal-regime-but-now-wants-cambodia-tied-to-west-the-washington-pos.html#sthash.ZS5DE2zj.dpuf
  11. Locard, Henri. Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar. Silkworm Books, Chiang Mai, 2004
  12. ibid.
  13. Mao Zedong, “On Ten Major Relationships,” April 1956
  14. https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-9/mswv9_88.htm

Comments on the evolution of empire

Comments on the evolution of empireus-imperialism-latuff-latin-america-racism

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Empire is constantly evolving to thwart the people’s movement. Imperialism has changed significantly since its beginning. The period of traditional colonialism during which the imperial powers literally occupied colonial lands mostly came to a close around the end of World War 2. The shattered empires of Europe could no longer occupy vast lands around the world. Their weakened armies could not match the people’s movements and decolonial struggles that emerged. Decolonization did not mean real independence for most former colonies. Even though former colonies were granted formal independence, real power was held by the imperialists. The United States emerged as the main leader of the Western imperialists. The nature of the Soviet Union also changed in the last decade of Stalin’s life. Like all major socialist revolutions, the Soviet Union wasn’t defeated by invasion by imperialists, but by the internal enemy, by revisionism. The revisionist Soviet Union emerged as another imperial bloc, but one that opposed the West. These two imperial blocs contended for power over the countries of the Proletarian World. Both created vast neocolonial empires that channeled resources and labor from the neocolonies to themselves. The entire Proletarian World became a battleground between these two imperial blocs. All the world was threatened with nuclear destruction by the power struggle between the Western and Soviet imperialists.

Today, empire is changing again. Just as the revolutionary movement learns from our past, just as revolutionary science evolves, the forces of reaction also learn. Even though there remain some conflicts in the world between powerful countries, these conflicts will not result or even risk world war. The cycle of world wars predicted by Lenin’s generation is over. Both world wars so weakened the capitalist system that proletarian revolution was able to erupt on a massive scale. During the first world war, the Bolshevik revolution created a wave of liberation that would not only spread throughout the old Czarist empire, but also into Eastern Europe, even Germany. Not long after World War 2, China, a quarter of the world’s population, raised the red flag. Although defeated now, at the time, these waves of revolution shook the capitalist system to its core. The capitalists do not want a repeat of the past. Thus the capitalist system has evolved. International institutions have arisen to mediate conflicts. National capitalism is surpassed by transnational capitalism. The global capitalist class is less and less tied to particular countries, rather they’ve become more and more transnational. The capitalists have a mutual interest in jointly exploiting the Proletarian World in a way that does not lead to intra-imperialist war. Thus the economies of the bourgeois countries are more and more intertwined with each other such that intra-imperialist wars do not make economic sense. At the same time, the Bourgeois World, the wealthy imperialist bloc, is penetrating and controlling the Proletarian World in ever new ways. Transnational corporations play a bigger and bigger role in today’s economy and politics. There is an increased overlap between big corporations and government.  As governments have downsized, corporations have been charged with managing those sectors of society once under the state’s control, or in other cases, corporations have been charged with the sell-off of massive state sectors as economies of weaker countries are forced to restructure by their creditors, the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc. At the same time, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have an increased role as the traditional state has declined. The network of NGOs taking on the role of social services, population management, etc. are beholden to global interests, not to the communities they serve. They too are part of the new globalized, neoliberal face of empire.

Two antagonistic worlds have emerged, the Bourgeois World versus the Proletarian World. Contradictions within the Bourgeois World are becoming less and less antagonistic. Power and wealth are becoming more and more socialized. Social divisions have become less and less relevant in the Bourgeois World. The Bourgeois World is a world of comfort. The Proletarian World, by contrast, is a world of poverty, hunger, environmental devastation, instability, etc. The contradictions between the rich and the poor, between those who hold political and economic power and those who do not, is sharper than ever in the Proletarian World. The gap between the rich and poor grows.  The dogma of the past is not enough to win. Ideology is a weapon. If we are to really win, we must develop ever more advanced revolutionary science to place into the arms of the masses. With all our hearts we follow the Leading Light of the most advanced science applied to the task of reaching real communism.

We are the organization of the global poor, exploited, truly oppressed and their real allies. We are the organization of the true proletarians, the Proletarian World, who “have nothing to lose but their chains.” We have a world to win.

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Settlerism, Global Empire, and American opinions about Gaza

Settlerism, Global Empire, and American opinions about Gaza

(llco.org)

A new poll by the Pew Research Center was released on US opinion about the conflict in Gaza. The results were interesting. Only a quarter, 1 out of every 4, Americans believes that Israel had gone “too far.” The figure is basically unchanged since 2006 when Israel invaded Lebanon in its war against Hezbollah. This seems to indicate that much of the pro-Palestinian activism over the last decade has done little to shift US public opinion broadly. Even though it seems like there is more opposition to Israel’s actions now, this is probably more the result of a shift in the opinions of the elite, journalists, etc., not a shift at the grassroots. This may suggest agitation and propaganda aimed at First World media makers, intellectuals, and policy makers is more effective than aiming at the grassroots. The poll also suggest that youth and people who identified as Democrats are more evenly divided on the issue:

“Democrats split almost evenly on which side bore the greater responsibility for the current violence, with 29% blaming Hamas and 26% Israel and 18% citing both.”

“Among those who identify as liberal Democrats, 44% said Israel’s actions have been excessive, while 33% said they had been about right and 7% said they had not gone far enough. Among conservative Republicans, only 10% said Israel had gone too far, 51% said its actions had been about right, and 21% said Israel had not gone far enough.”

What is especially interesting is that 22 percent of whites responded that Israel had gone too far. And  36 percent of Blacks and 35 percent of Latinos responded similarly. The African diaspora and Spanish-speaking populations in the US were better on the question of opposition Israel’s genocide, but not that much better.

There is a myth amongst one segment of the First Worldist left that understanding the origins of the United States as a “settler society” is the most important aspect in understanding the United States today. The idea is that leftover social divisions from the origin of the United States as a settler society still run so deep that they are the key to making revolution today. This is connected to the view that the United States is a white apartheid state, that a white nation rules over all the others in the same way apartheid South Africa ruled over its African population or the same way Israel occupies Palestine. Revolution, according to this myth, is a matter of encouraging national liberation amongst the non-white “internal semi-colonies” or “captive nations” in order to topple the white nation. It is true that the United States originated as a European-settler invasion of North America, and it is true that white supremacy and its terror still afflicts the captive nations within the United States, as mass incarceration rates and police repression of Black and Brown people clearly indicate. What is not true is that this is the main thing in understanding US social dynamics, including the lack of revolutionary potential in United States or the First World generally. And it is also not true that national liberation of internal semi-colonies within US borders is playing or will likely play a significant role in the defeat of capitalism and imperialism under current conditions. It may be useful for traditional activists to agitate as through these myths are accurate, but the advanced will recognize that this kind of rhetoric is, at best, a “noble lie,” a front for more serious revolutionary work. At worst, the rhetoric is simply delusion or a front for opportunist gain or police work of various kinds. This kind of analysis, if taken seriously, is one of the last bastions of First Worldism.

These myth makers correctly point out proletarian consciousness does not exist amongst white laborers because they are not a proletariat. What they fail to point out is that national consciousness barely exists amongst most of the populations of the internal semi-colonies, and proletarian consciousness does not exist. Here it is important to point out that differences do exist amongst non-white populations. For example, national consciousness is much more a reality amongst many indigenous peoples than those of the African diaspora in the United States, where it is negligible. National consciousness remains more in force amongst the migrant Mexican population than the Chicano population, where it is also negligible. It is a kind of chauvinist outlook that reduces the diverse situations of non-white populations to a single analysis of internal semi-colonies as “people of color”. It is a kind of chauvinism, naivety, or both that fails to recognize the contradictions between various non-white populations, which, in everyday life, can be experienced more sharply than the conflict with the white population. Such an analysis is often more rooted in white guilt and the projection of a romanticized “other” than reality. Someone recently joked that such an analysis amongst white “anti-imperialists” is the revolutionary equivalent of “the magical negro” in film and literature who saves the day. (2) (3)

The poll numbers suggest that there is slightly more solidarity expressed by those in the African diaspora than whites in the US regarding Palestine. The Latino populations in the US also shows slightly greater solidarity. However, the degree of solidarity shown in the poll is not that much greater among the non-whites than the whites. One would expect it to be much greater if the myths were accurate. One would expect a much greater degree of solidarity if the relationship of non-whites to whites in the United States was basically the same as the relationship of Palestinians to Israelis. The poll numbers indicate self-identification as a “Democrat” and “liberal Democrat”  are far better predictors of opposition to Israel’s actions than “race” or “nation” in these cases. Youth is also a better indicator than “race.” The reason so many Americans, white and non-white, support Israel is because they perceive it is in their imperial interest to do so.

The reality is that the United States has integrated many diverse populations into its multi-racial, multi-national society. There is a long history of this. At one point, Jews were migrants at the bottom of US society. Irish migrants too experienced terrible racism. So did other populations. These populations first “became white,” then they were allowed a privileged position within US empire. Some claim this transformation is seen in language itself. Some historians claim that the word “honkey” was originally a derogatory term for Hungarians and Eastern Europeans generally, who were not seen as properly white. Today, the term is aimed at whites generally. However, to share in the spoils of empire today, it is not necessary for a population to become white. Today, Asian populations within the United States have a higher per capita income than whites yet are still not perceived as fully white in the same way Irish-Americans are, for example. The people of the indigenous nations (latino and non-latino alike) and the African diaspora within the US, for the most part, share the spoils of empire, without being perceived as fully white. White national consciousness does not have anything like the power or influence it once did over white society. There is a residual idea of “race” that exists. This is based on phenotypical differences, stereotypes, some cultural differences, history, and speaking styles. Social and economic position still play a role, but not the role they once did. The United States has integrated many of its non-white populations into its multi-racial, imperial society. However, not every population has been equally integrated, which is why national consciousness amongst the Lakotah, for example, is greater than national consciousness amongst Chicanos or those of African descent. This is an ongoing process. And there is no guarantee every population will be integrated this way. For example, will the United States be able to absorb the massive migrant populations from Latin America? In any case, it is the massive exploitation of the Third World that allows for the integration of these populations into the United States and into the First World generally.

This process of the United States emerging as a multi-national empire should also be seen alongside the United States playing a leading role in an emerging multi-racial, trans-national First World, a kind of global empire. In any case, the old formulation of oppressor verses oppressed nation inherited from national liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s does not apply as it once did. Instead, what is happening is the development of a global imperial system, but at the same time the First and Third Worlds are still preserved, even if the borders of these spheres do not always correspond to the the borders of countries.  Just as imperialism is globalizing, so too is resistance to it. As the Bourgeois World continues its barbarous brutality, the Proletarian World responds with new methods of resistance. Armed with all-powerful Leading Light Communism, the Proletarian World is beginning to organize a Global People’s War to liberate humanity and the Earth. Our sun is rising. Our day is coming.

Notes

1. http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-israel-hamas-poll-20140728-story.html

2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magical_Negro

Book review: The Cleanest Race (2010) by B. R. Myers

Book review: The Cleanest Race (2010) by B. R. MyersThe-Cleanest-Race-9781933633916

(llco.org)

The Cleanest Race (2010) is a must read for those trying to understand northern Korea. Ultimately, the book aims to influence US policy toward northern Korea in order to further imperialist ends. In that sense, it is a book by the enemy for the enemy. Even so, the book represents a real, very rigorous attempt to get to the bottom of how northern Korean society thinks. The book is cutting-edge thinking from the CIA wing of US imperialism, from liberal imperialism. For Leading Lights and anti-imperialists, the book is worth reading because it is important to know thy enemies and to know thy friends. The enemy is not all thumbs. The book is an example of contemporary literary and cultural analysis in service to imperialist policy makers. Even if the outlook of the book is fundamentally imperialist, even if it is organized around a set of imperialist questions, the book, in many respects, demonstrates an understanding of northern Korean ideology that is far more advanced than those orthodox “Marxist-Leninists” who defend northern Korea as their own. The book confirms the Leading Light’s position on northern Korea: Though it should be defended from imperialist attack, northern Korea is not a communist-led society, it is not socialist. Northern Korea’s regime is a monarchy that serves  one segment of the national bourgeoisie. Power there passes from father (or parent — more on this later) to son. The Cleanest Race shows that, even though it is a monarchy, the regime has some unique and surprising features that do not easily fit with preconceived notions. The book seeks to refute the cliches that northern Korea is “the last Stalinist state” or that it is a Confucian, patriarchal despotism. According to the author, northern Korea is unlike the Soviet regimes of Eastern Europe. Instead the book claims that northern Korea’s ideology is a racial one much more akin to the fascist states of World War 2. Although the author may overstate his case on some points, the book itself is an important piece of a puzzle. It increases our understanding of how northern Koreans see the world and how some of their more enlightened, liberal adversaries are coming to understand them.

Imperialists don’t get it, neither do orthodox “Marxist-Leninists”…

In the tradition of liberal imperialism, the author dispels the crudest lies about the northern state. The author  makes the point that the regime is, despite crude Western propaganda, a genuinely popular one. The sensationalist accounts promoted by the southern Korean regime, of dissidents who hire themselves out to the Western propaganda apparatus,  and other reactionaries, are dismissed by the author. The author admits that the regime is a plainly popular one; it had mass support even in the crisis years of the famine. Even so, external realities are slowly pushing the regime closer toward a legitimacy crisis:

“What is more, this ideology has generally enjoyed the support of the North Korean people through good times and bad. Even today, with a rival state thriving next door, the regime is able to maintain public stability without a ubiquitous police presence or a fortified northern border. Sensationalist American accounts of the ‘underground railroad’ helping North Korean ‘refugees’ make it through China to the free world gloss over the fact that about half of these economic migrants—for that is what most of them are —voluntarily return to their homeland. The rest remain fervent admirers of Kim Il Sung if not of his son. Though we must never forget the men, women and children languishing in Yodŏk and other prison camps, we cannot keep carrying on as if the dictatorship did not enjoy a significant degree of mass support. How significant? Enough to make the regime desperate to hold on to it. I intend to argue, however, that this support cannot be sustained for long, because what the masses are taught—especially in regard to South Korean public opinion—is coming increasingly into conflict with what they know to be true. It is the regime’s awareness of a pending legitimacy crisis, not a fear of attack from without, which makes it behave ever more provocatively on the world stage.”

The author describes migrants from northern Korea:

“Even among the few North Koreans who have left the country and stayed out, a heartfelt admiration for the Great Leader is mainstream. (I personally know migrants who still cannot talk of him without tearing up.”

In place of cliches, the book asks imperialist policy makers to take a new look at their subject matter. The author observes that the Western world is not interested in ideology. True enough. Americans know as much about Islamism after 9/11 than they did before it. Even with the 9/11 attacks, policy makers believe that the end of history is at hand and that the age of the big idea is over. Western liberalism is, so the story goes, the highest form of society. The ideology, the personality cult, in the view of many, could be nothing but a cynical tool used by the northern regime to create obedience. Northern Korean leaders could not actually believe such nonsense. The idea that ideology does not matter, that the northern Korean ideology is patently absurd, is a big obstacle in understanding the regime. Liberals believe that ideology must be epiphenomenal. Nothing so absurd as northern Korean ideology could influence its state’s decisions on the world stage. A similar criticism could be made of those “on the left” who advocate on behalf of the northern Korean regime. While the Pyongyang watchers put too little emphasis on ideology, the collection of Korean Friendship circles, internet Juche-ists, friendly leftist scholars, and others put too much emphasis on the regime’s official statements of ideology, its statements about the so-called “Juche Idea” and its statements crafted for an external readership. Just as the imperialists get it wrong when it comes to northern Korean ideology, so do many of those who elevate the obtuse speeches or works of Kim Il-Sung as the leading ideology of the regime. Just as those who dismiss the role of ideology will never understand the logic of the regime either will those who take the regime’s proclamations about “Juche” at their word. Juche, according to the author, is, at best, window dressing. To understand the regime and society it is necessary to dig deeper:

“Unfortunately a lack of relevant expertise has never prevented observers from mischaracterizing North Korean ideology to the general public. They call the regime ‘hard-line communist’ or ‘Stalinist,’ despite its explicit racial theorizing, its strident acclamation of Koreans as the world’s ‘cleanest’ or ‘purest’ race. They describe it as a Confucian patriarchy, despite its maternal authority figures, or as a country obsessed with self-reliance, though it has depended on outside aid for over sixty years. By far the most common mistake, however, has been the projection of Western or South Korean values and common sense onto the North Koreans. For example: Having been bombed flat by the Americans in the 1950s, the DPRK must be fearful for its security, ergo it must want the normalization of relations with Washington…. In this book, therefore, I aim to explain North Korea’s dominant ideology or worldview—I use the words interchangeably—and to show how far removed it is from communism, Confucianism and the show-window doctrine of Juche Thought. Far from complex, it can be summarized in a single sentence: The Korean people are too pure blooded, and therefore too virtuous, to survive in this evil world without a great parental leader. More must be added perhaps, if only to explain that ‘therefore’ to an American reader, but not much more of importance. I need hardly point out that if such a race-based worldview is to be situated on our conventional left-right spectrum, it makes more sense to posit it on the extreme right than on the far left. Indeed, the similarity to the worldview of fascist Japan is striking. I do not, however, intend to label North Korea as fascist, a term too vague to be much use. It is enough for me to make clear that the country has always been, at the very least, ideologically closer to America’s adversaries in World War II than to communist China and Eastern Europe. This truth alone, if properly grasped, will not only help the West to understand the loyalty shown to the DPRK by its chronically impoverished citizens, but also to understand why the West’s policy of pursuing late Cold War-type solutions to the nuclear problem is doomed to fail.”

Just as “Marxism-Leninism” and Confucianism are neither northern Korea’s real ideology,  Juche or “self-reliance” isn’t.  Despite proclamations of the regime to the contrary, despite much pomp, Juche is not its real ideology. Juche is described correctly as a “sham” doctrine by the author. The works of Juche, the writings of Kim Il-Sung, are convoluted, repetitive, and banal. Despite official praise of the works to the skies, the works are filled with little that is original. And what is true in the works are banalities repeated in better style by many others throughout history:

“The official worldview is not set out coherently in the leaders’ writings. These are more often praised than read. So-called Juche Thought functions at most as an imposing row of book-spines, a prop in the personality cult. (A good way to embarrass one’s minders in the DPRK is to ask them to explain it.) Unlike Soviet citizens under Stalin, or Chinese under Mao, North Koreans learn more about their leaders than from them.”

The propagandists of the regime are very good at their jobs, the clumsy thoughts and prose found in the works of Juche are not meant to be read seriously. They are to be admired from afar, proof that Kim Il-Sung is a great thinker, just like Mao. This is by design. In addition, the Northern Korean Central News Agency’s English-language press releases do not represent the worldview of the regime either. According to the author, domestic propaganda aimed at northern Koreans differs significantly from the image that is projected worldwide:

“Too many observers wrongly assume that the (North) Korean Central News Agency’s English-language releases reflect the same sort of propaganda that the home audience gets. In fact there are significant differences. For example, where the DPRK presents itself to the outside world as a misunderstood country seeking integration into the international community, it presents itself to its own citizens (as I will show later) as a rogue state that breaks agreements with impunity, dictates conditions to groveling U.N. officials, and keeps its enemies in constant fear of ballistic retribution. Generally speaking the following rule of thumb applies: the less accessible a propaganda outlet is to the outside world, the blunter and more belligerent it will be in its expression of the racist orthodoxy.”

According to the author, there is a big disconnect between what the regime projects and its deeper ideology. In order to understand the regime and its ideology, it is necessary to go beyond the clumsy banalities found in the works of Kim Il-Sung and the official press releases meant for the outside world. It is necessary to look at the propaganda diet that northern Koreans are actually fed. It is necessary to look at the history of those ideas in northern Korea. This is the key to understanding northern Korea, according to the author.

Imperial Japanese origins of northern Korean ideology

According to the author, Korea has a long history of xenophobia. Even so, Korean nationalism is more recent. Koreans historically saw themselves as part of the edge of the great Chinese cultural realm. This state of affairs existed for many centuries. This began to change when, in 1905, the Japanese established a protectorate over the peninsula. Annexation followed in 1910. Patriotic opposition grew toward the Japanese conquest until on March 1, 1919 in Seoul, Korean nationalists read a declaration of independence. A nation-wide Korean uprising was followed by a brutal crackdown by the Japanese. The mess caused the Japanese to reevaluate their strategy. The Japanese decided to change their game plan to avoid further rebellions. Rather than fight Korean nationalism, they would now try to cultivate it. They would promote Korean nationalism within the context of Korean-Japanese unity. The new message was: Koreans should be proud to be Korean, as Koreans are part of the greater Japanese people. The Japanese now promoted Korean-language media outlets. The Korean-language media spread the message of Korean-Japanese unity. Korean intellectuals and celebrities promoted the Japanese message that “Interior [Japan] and Korea as one body.” The Japanese co-opted Korean patriotism by asserting that Koreans and Japanese shared the same ancient racial progenitor. The peoples were part of the same ancient family, the same ancient bloodline. As early as the 1920s, the Korean upper and middle classes and celebrities were speaking Japanese fluently. Marriages between Koreans and their Japanese colonizers were socially accepted, such a marriage was “perhaps even a mark of distinction.”

“But even while these writers glorified the emperor, they urged their countrymen to cherish their Koreanness. In romance novels frail Japanese women fell in love with strong Korean men, much as they still do in South Korean films and dramas. Illustrations in newspapers and magazines showed girls in traditional hanbok costume waving the Japanese flag, and Confucian gentlemen in horsehair hats standing proudly by their newly recruited sons. The regime stimulated pride in ‘peninsular’ history for imperial ends, encouraging Koreans to reclaim their ancient territory by settling in Manchuria. One writer invoked the elite hwarang soldiers of the Silla dynasty to whip up fighting spirit. Another called on young men to ‘demonstrate the loyalty of a Japanese citizen and the spirit of a son of Korea’ by volunteering to fight in the ‘holy war’ against the Yankees. As the historian Cho Kwan-ja has remarked, these collaborators regarded themselves as ‘pro-Japanese [Korean] nationalists.’”

At first, the author informs, there were some nationalist efforts to resist the Japanese co-opt of Korean nationalism. Nationalist writers revived interest in the legend of Tan’gun, the mostly forgotten progenitor of the uniquely Korean people described in works dating from 1284. Tan’gun established a Korean bloodline distinct from that of the Japanese in the eyes of the nationalists. One writer pointed to Mount Paektu, a volcanic mountain on the Chinese border, as Tan’gun’s birthplace. Even though the nationalists were trying to oppose Japan, this Korean ideology was a carbon copy of the Japanese one. Tan’gun replaced the ancient Japanese emperors. Mount Paektu replaced Mount Fiji. By the 1930s, however, the ideological resistance to the Japanese had mostly crumbled among the nationalists. When dissidents were rounded up in the early 1930s, most did an about face. Whether they had been communists, nationalists or libertarians, the author states, most began to support the pro-Japanese order. Even though the middle and upper classes, intellectuals and celebrities, supported the Japanese war as part of the same Korean-Japanese racial team, little of this propaganda reached the illiterate lower classes. As World War 2 progressed, the burden fell heaviest on the poor as Japanese demands for soldiers, workers, prostitutes, etc. increased. Even near the end of the war, Korean papers wrote: “If our destiny is thwarted in this war… it would be a tragedy for all mankind.. We must win.”

The US dropped two atomic weapon in the summer of 1945. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese civilians died in this warcrime. The Japanese empire stood defeated. The Soviets occupied the northern part of Korea. The Soviets set out to create a Soviet-friendly people’s democracy similar to the states of Eastern Europe that had been liberated by the Red Army. However, unlike other places, according to the author, little effort was made at decolonization of hearts and minds by the Soviet or American authorities. The persecution of collaborators, the author informs, was greatly exaggerated by later accounts:

“Contrary to South Korean left-wing myth, which the American historian Bruce Cumings has done much to nurture, almost all intellectuals who moved to Pyongyang after liberation had collaborated with the Japanese to some degree. Several who had done so with special enthusiasm, like the novelist Kim Sa-ryang, had been virtually run out of Seoul. The North was more and not less hospitable to such collaborators. As a history book published in the DPRK in 1981 puts it, ‘the Great Leader Kim Il Sung refuted the mistaken tendency to doubt or ostracize people just because they … had worked for Japanese institutions in the past.’ Kim’s own brother, it is worth remembering, had interpreted for Japanese troops in China.”

Collaborators were mostly welcomed back into the post-war fold. The author informs that the post-war regimes needed them. After all, the Soviet effort to build a people’s democracy in the north was hindered by the lack of a left-leaning population, especially a left-leaning intelligencia. Prior to the Soviet occupation, the north of the country was a haven of conservatives and Christians. The Soviets moved quickly to install the Workers’ Party into leadership, transferring ownership of the media outlets in 1945. The Soviets sought to establish the legitimacy of their order in the peninsula at a mass rally on October 14, 1945:

“Among the Koreans who took the podium that day was Kim Il Sung, a Pyongyang-born thirty-three-year-old who had attained the rank of captain in the Red Army. Although Kim had sat out the Pacific War in the USSR, he had earlier fought against the Japanese as a commander in Mao Zedong’s army, acquiring brief renown in 1937 for an attack on an imperial outpost just south of the Yalu River. For better or worse Kim was the closest thing to a resistance fighter the Koreans had. He is said to have wanted a military career, but the Soviets, finding no more appropriate person to work with, persuaded him to assume leadership of the new state. Yet Kim was by far the least educated of all the leaders in the socialist world. His spotty schooling had ended at seventeen, and although he had spent a year at an infantry officer school in the USSR, it is unlikely that he understood enough Russian to grasp anything theoretical. None of his writings evinces an understanding of Marx. Equally ignorant of communist ideology were the guerilla comrades who comprised the core of Kim’s power base. Andrei Lankov, a prominent Korea researcher, has written that ‘with the exception of the Soviet Koreans, no top cadres had undergone training in … Marxism- Leninism.’ It is no wonder that instead of guiding the cultural scene in ideological matters the party allowed itself to be guided by it.”

It would not be until 1948 that the Workers’ Party received its own crash course in Marxism-Leninism. In the meantime, artists, writers, and intellectuals, many of whom had been collaborators, were expected generate support among the masses for the new regime. The cultural elite fell back into what it knew. Their work bore similarities with the racial outlook that existed when the Japanese occupied the country, albeit with some important differences:

“Having been ushered by the Japanese into the world’s purest race, the Koreans in 1945 simply kicked the Japanese out of it. The legend of the ancient racial progenitor Tan’gun, which Korean nationalists had failed to popularize during the 1920s, came almost overnight to be regarded as historical truth. Japanese symbols were transposed into Korean ones. Mount Paektu, hitherto known only as the peninsula’s highest peak, suddenly attained a Fuji-like, sacral status as the presumed place of Tan’gun’s birth. Much of the Japanese version of Korean history—from its blanket condemnation of Chinese influence to its canards about murderous Yankee missionaries—was carried over whole.”

Unlike other racial ideologies, the northern Korean racial purity and moral superiority did not necessarily translate into superiority in other areas:

“No physical superiority over other races is claimed. Propaganda freely acknowledges, for example, that Americans are much taller. Nor is superior intelligence asserted with any real conviction, though Kim Jong Il has described Koreans as ‘sensible’ and ‘prudent,’ and propaganda acclaims the will power they show in the face of adversity. To be uniquely virtuous in an evil world but not uniquely cunning or strong is to be as vulnerable as a child, and indeed, history books convey the image of a perennial child-nation on the world stage, wanting only to be left in peace yet subjected to endless abuse and contamination from outsiders. Films and novels routinely show invaders mistreating Korean children.”

Greater racial and moral purity does not translate into greater material wealth. As the information wall between the North and South has weakened, the author states that it is common knowledge in northern Korea that southerners are wealthier in material terms. According to the author, the northern regime does not derive its legitimacy from the level of consumption it provides. The author informs that the drastic drop in consumption following the collapse of the Soviet Union and the famine of the 1990s did not drastically affect the stability of the regime as some Pyongyang watchers anticipated. With a rival regime in the south able to provide its population with greater consumption, the northern regime, less able to provide, will, according to the author, fall back on its racial ideology to justify its existence and its claims to military prowess. Getting aid from the West was only a side benefit to displays of northern military strength in recent years. The more important reason for the displays was to prop up the regime’s legitimacy at home.

The Korean racial ideology from which the regime derives its legitimacy is very different than the racialism of  the Japanese occupation. Gone is the tone of a regime bent on conquest and the subjugation of  others. Although there is a kind of wish-fulfillment depicted in posters of northern Korean soldiers and missiles obliterating the US.

“This racialism is utterly irreconcilable with Marx and Lenin; not for nothing was the DPRK almost as isolated from the rest of the East Bloc as it still is from the West. But while drawing a clear line between North Korean ideology and communism, we should not overlook that which distinguishes the former from Japanese and (even more so) German fascism. The Text has never proposed the invasion of so much as an inch of non-Korean territory, let alone the permanent subjugation of foreign peoples. This is not to say that it does not propose military action against the US either as a pre- emptive strike or as revenge for past crimes. (I have already mentioned the wish-fulfilling posters of the US Capitol being blown to pieces.) But this is not the same as wanting to re-shape the world. Where the Nazis considered the Aryans physically and intellectually superior to all other races, and the Japanese regarded their moral superiority as having protected them throughout history, the Koreans believe that their childlike purity renders them so vulnerable to the outside world that they need a Parent Leader to survive. Such a worldview naturally precludes dreams of a colonizing or imperialist nature.”

The author states that purity of the Korean blood does not, according to the ideology, allow the northern Koreans to be world conquerers as the Japanese imagined themselves to be. Rather, their pure blood has historically made them victims until the arrival of the Leader and his protective embrace. According to the author, the propagandists portray Koreans as innocent and childlike in a world of monsters. Their purity was a weakness in the hostile sea of the less pure. There racial virtue had made them too pure for the world until the Leader’s arrival:

“The new racial self-image manifested itself clearly in stories of Soviet-Korean friendship written and published in the late 1940s. Writers depicted ailing men and women being carried to hospitals on the backs of Russian nurses and female doctors. Lest anyone miss the symbolism, the heroines were explicitly compared to mothers, the locals to children… The genre was evidently meant to flatter the Soviets with the implication of faithful subservience, and at the same time to plead for motherly protection of a race too pure to survive on its own. These tales should not, however, be misread as asserting the moral equality (let alone superiority) of the Russian people… so it is that only the child race is inherently virtuous; foreigners can at best do the occasional good deed.”

The author continues:

“Like the blood-based Japanese nationalism of the colonial era, the new Korean nationalism went hand in hand with the slavish imitation of foreign models and an often contemptuous indifference to indigenous traditions. In his speechifying Kim declared servile tribute to the USSR’s ‘superior’ culture. Literary critics  tossed around Soviet catchwords—“typicality,” and so on—in an effort to cut down their rivals on the cultural scene. University students scrambled to learn Russian, the new linguistic ticket to social status.”

To appease the Soviets, the regime would project Soviet-style “Marxism-Leninism” as needed. And, after the fall of the Soviet Union, the regime has dropped mention of “Marxism-Leninism” for the most part if not entirely. Neither the works of Marx or Lenin are allowed to be read without special permission. Similarly, the author states, Juche is just another face projected, often, for external consumption. The actual ideology that governs the regime’s domestic propaganda machine is a racial one that has little to do with real Marxism. If the author is correct, then Pyongyang watchers and Korea’s self-styled orthodox “Marxist-Leninist” friends are both wrong. If the author is right, then  — surprise, surprise — then the ones who have the best understanding of the regime in its own terms  are the weird circles of internet fascists, third positions, nationalists, and video game enthusiasts. This is not to say northern Korea is fascist, it isn’t. It is a bourgeois-nationalist state in the Third World that has come into conflict with imperialism, especially US imperialism. It is a society that has suffered terribly under the jackboot of the United States. The author makes a compelling case that imperial Japan’s fascist ideology has been transformed, modified in many ways,  in Korean hands into a tool that, at least at times, has served to resist American, Western, and Soviet fascism and imperialism albeit in limited ways. Whereas the Japanese regime a century ago used the dualism of racial purity versus impurity, cleanliness versus filth, toward imperial ends, northern Korea does so to thwart the efforts of northern Korea’s imperialist enemies.

A tale of two Great Marshals…

Kim Il-Sung, according to the author, took on many of the characteristics of the Japanese emperor. Just as Hirohito was depicted in white clothing, symbolizing racial purity, so is Kim Il-Sung. Just as Hirohito was depicted against a backdrop of white mountains and pure snow, so is Kim Il-Sung. Just as Hirohito is depicted on a white horse, so too is Kim Il-Sung. Later, Kim Jong-Il would be depicted in many similar ways. Even Pyongyang itself is a white city filled with white plazas and marble. Kim Il-Sung was dubbed “the Great Marshal,” the exact title used by Korean collaborators to designate Hirohito in the war years.

Kim Il-Sung’s biography was rewritten. Instead of living in the Soviet Union, he was now depicted as spending the Pacific War years fighting from a secret base on Mount Paektu, the birthplace of Tan’gun, mythological progenitor of the Korean race. Contrary to popular belief, Koreans had not always venerated the peak. The author states that veneration of Mount Paektu began in the 1940s in the north and decades later in southern Korea. Kim Jong-Il’s biography, as heir to the Great Leader, would be re-written also. He was now born, like Tan’gun, on Mount Paektu though he was really born in the Soviet Union. Later, the regime would claim to have excavated the tomb of Tan’gun outside Pyongyang, furthering establishing a link to the ancient racial progenitor. “As one propagandist recently put it, Kim Il Sung is ‘the symbol of the homeland.’”

The author informs that the cult in northern Korea differs significantly from Marxist cults. It has far more in common with fascist cults of personality. Stalin and Mao were both depicted as teachers. Marxist authority was, at least to a large degree, depicted as derived from their mastery of revolutionary science. The cult of the Kims, by contrast, derives from their embodiment of ethnic virtues: Kim “is the most naïve, spontaneous, loving, and pure Korean—the most Korean Korean—who ever lived.”

According to the author, the regime’s propagandists, in accord with the racial view, stress that the Leader’s virtues are inborn rather than acquired. They do this by stressing his impeccable lineage. Kim Il-Sung’s grandfather is said to have led a famous attack on a US warship in 1866. His father Kim Hyŏng-Jik is portrayed as a resistance fighter, even if enthusiasm for him is somewhat lacking. The invented link to the legendary Tan’gun, his birthplace on Mount Paektu, and resting place at Pyongyang are also significant. The young portrayals of the Leader’s virtue also underscore that his traits are innate and, ultimately, racial. This lineage is also carried by Kim Jong-Il and, now, Kim Jong-un.

“A wall poster photographed in September 2009 bears the lyrics of the song under a legend congratulating the masses on being blessed not just with the General, but with ‘the young General Kim Jong Un’ as well. The latter, whose title is written with a different Korean word for general (taejang) than the one applied to his father (changgun), is described as carrying on both the ‘bloodline of Man’gyŏngdae,’ i.e. of Kim Il Sung’s birthplace, and ‘the bloodline of Mount Paektu,’ i.e. the birthplace of Kim Jong Il. This roundabout way of indicating his parentage seems to reflect the regime’s sense of awkwardness in celebrating someone whose very existence was kept secret for so long. The song itself, with its puerile onomatopoeic refrain, adds nothing to our knowledge of the young man.”

The Leaders, beginning with Kim Il-Sung, are presented as ideal types, according to the author, of a child race. This runs into problems with depicting the Leader as, well, uh, as a leader:

“One may well ask how a leader can pose as the embodiment of naivety on the one hand and a brilliant strategist and revolutionary on the other. In the 1940s and 1950s writers made ludicrous efforts to explain away this contradiction, claiming, among other things, that Kim’s best ideas came to him in his sleep. The propaganda apparatus soon realized it would be better simply to divert public attention elsewhere. While the leader’s genius and invincibility on the battlefield are accorded all due praise, only his ethnic virtues— his naivety, his purity, his spontaneity and solicitude—are constantly shown in action.”

This is also why, according to the author, the regime cannot be considered a patriarchal Confucian one. Even though the Korean race is portrayed as a child too innocent for the world, the Leader is portrayed not so much as a father figure, but as a motherly figure in many instances. According to the author, the motherly wins out over the fatherly qualities in northern Korean ideology, especially when depicting the Leader.

Motherland, Mother Party, Mother,  child race

The author argues that the cult of the Leader, so central to the regime, is not a cult of the father, but a cult of the parent where the maternal is emphasized more then the paternal. For domestic consumption, “Motherland” is preferred over “Fatherland.” Kim Jong-Il himself stated: “The homeland is everyone’s mother … [from whose] bosom all true life and happiness springs.” A mythological Mother Korea, informs the author, plays an important role in the ideology. It was on this peninsula that, thousands of years ago, one of the first distinct races, the Koreans emerged. Tan’gun later arrived to create the Korea nation with Pyongyang as his capital. Over the hundreds of years since, Korea had been subjected to invading forces, Chinese, Japanese, American. Even so, northern Korean purity survives intact, according to the state mythology. It is only when a great leader emerges that the innocence and purity of the race becomes a source of strength in this narrative. Since the arrival of the Kim dynasty, northern Koreans can be free to indulge their childlike instincts. They can  be Korean  in peace.

Similarly,  the Workers’ Party of Korea is referred to in maternal terms. The Rodong sinmun newspaper explained the metaphor in 2003:

“The Great Ruler Comrade Kim Jong Il has remarked, ‘Building the party into a mother party means that just as a mother deeply loves her children and cares warmly for them, so must the party take responsibility for the fate of the people, looking after them even in the smallest matters, and become a true guide and protector of the masses.’”

The following is an excerpt from “Mother” (Ǒmŏni), one of the country’s best-known poems:

“Ah, Korean Workers’ Party
At whose breast only
My life begins and ends;
Be I buried in the ground or strewn to the wind
I remain your son, and again return to your breast!
Entrusting my body to your affectionate gaze,
Your loving outstretched hand,
I will forever cry out in the voice of a child,
Mother! I can’t live without Mother!”

Just as there is the Motherland, and the Mother Party, there is the Mother herself, as leader. In depictions of his guerrilla days, the young Kim Il-Sung is not pictured in combat. Instead, his motherly qualities are emphasized. Kim Il-Sung is depicted as plump. He usually “appears between battles, fussing cheerfully over his soldiers’ food and well being.” Even his wife, Kim Chong-Suk is depicted in a more martial role in her position as bodyguard. He, unlike Lenin, Stalin and Mao, does not personify the triumph of intellect and will over the instincts. Kim Il-Sung did not need to pose as an ascetic or intellectual. Motherly qualities have been even more emphasized in the depictions of Kim Jong-Il. The Leader’s designation is pointedly androgynous. He is mostly referred to by the hermaphroditic designation “parent,” as in “Parent Leader” (ŏbŏi suryŏng).  Even so, his maternal qualities are always at the fore, according to the author. His maternal side is praised far more often. Kim Jong-Il himself has long said that the key to his father’s success was his motherly qualities, which had manifested “even in his teenage years.”

This motherly side is often depicted in how Kim Il-Sung approaches problems:

“Indeed, the Leader’s published remarks are always trite: ‘Rainbow trout is a good fish, tasty and nutritious.’ Foreigners who mock these platitudes fail to realize that the content of Kim’s guidance is not as important as the time and effort he takes to administer it. (In many pictures of these visits, he is merely listening with a smile.) After all, to impart consciousness and discipline to the child race would be to make it less pure and childlike, which must never happen. Nor could Kim pose as an educator or disciplinarian without seeming an imperfect embodiment of Koreanness. In short stories, the emotional climax comes after Kim’s breezy solution of the problem, usually in a scene in which he fusses over someone in the adoring throng who looks cold or tired. It is this loving attentiveness on the part of the world’s busiest man that moves the characters to tears, and is meant to make the reader cry too. Even when Kim is referred to as Father Leader (abŏji suryŏng), therefore, there is nothing Confucian or patriarchal about him. In a short story called “Father,” for example, he neither exercises authority nor imparts wisdom, but rushes an injured child to hospital. The official encyclopedia praises the story in maternal terms, describing “the Great General as the loving parent who holds and nurtures all Korean children at his breast.”

His motherly breast is a recurring theme in northern Korean art and literature. Depictions in art often exaggerate the size of his chest to make him, physically, more woman-like. Northern Korean soldiers and children are depicted burying their faces in his breast. His face too is depicted soft, pale, and woman-like. “In one illustration he is tucking children into bed. The title of another, “The Parent Leader General Kim Il Sung Holding the Children of Mt. Ma’an to his Breast,” speaks for itself.” The first verse of a northern Korean children’s song:

“The Leader came all the way to the sentry post
And held us affectionately to his bosom
So happy about the warm love he bestowed on us
We buried our faces in his bosom
Ah! He is our parent! Ah! A son in his embrace Is happy always, everywhere!”

Depictions of the masses as forever infantile alongside depictions of the Leader as an intuitive caregiver has little in common with the official ideologies and state-promoted myths that existed in true communist-led regimes. Although the care-giver aspect may exist to various degrees in Marxist cults, the masses are regard as the true heroes and leaders, not as children.  The reality of northern Korea’s ideology is also very different than what is professed, in a very poor style, by the sham ideology of Juche.

The author speculates that this may protect the regime:

“This has much to do with the far greater psychological appeal of nationalism itself, but Kim Il Sung’s peculiarly androgynous or hermaphroditic image also seems to exert a far more emotional attraction than any of the unambiguously paternal leaders of Eastern Europe were able to… This may explain why Jesus and Buddha are far more feminine and maternal figures in the popular imagination than in the original scriptures of Christianity and Buddhism. The North Koreans’ race theory gives them extra reason to want a leader who is both mother enough to indulge their unique childlikeness and father enough to protect them from the evil world… Interestingly enough, the absence of a patriarchal authority figure may also have helped the regime preserve stability by depriving people of a target to rebel against. C. Fred Alford has written, ‘In ‘society without the father’ … everything just is, nature-like in its givenness, so that it does not even occur to one to rebel, just as one does not rebel against the mist.’ Perhaps it is no wonder that the propaganda apparatus decided to make the country’s next leader even more of a mother than Kim Il Sung had been.”

In a patriarchal world, it may be more difficult for the masses to direct their displeasure at an androgynous or even motherly leader than a fatherly one. In such a world, it is harder to think of a mother as an adversary, especially a worthy adversary. There may be a tendency to write off the problems of the regime as beyond mother’s control. Mom cannot be blamed after all. The “que sera sera”-style  comments of Kim Jong-Il only reinforce the author’s point.

The Cultural Revolution in China

People all over the world were looking toward China for inspiration. A quarter of humanity was standing up to embark on a radical social course to try to eliminate all oppression, end all exploitation, end all class, to reach communism. The Cultural Revolution was a storm. Chinese students began criticizing Kim Il-Sung as a revisionist just across the border. The northern regime sought to protect itself.  Propagandists in northern Korea further inflated the cult to out pace Mao’s. Northern Korea sought to insulate itself from any potential storms inspired by China. Mao, of course, had a much more genuinely impressive resume than Kim Il-Sung:

“The personality cult also played a vital role in garnering support for the regime. With the young Kim Jong Il at its helm, the propaganda apparatus made sure that the cult kept pace with its Chinese counterpart. Mao’s renown as a poet, for example, inspired the DPRK’s cultural apparatus to ‘revive’ revolutionary plays, hitherto unmentioned, which Kim Il Sung had allegedly written during his youth. It was also ‘remembered’ that in the 1930s the General had taken his partisans on an Arduous March every bit as heroic as Mao’s Long March. And if Mao had routed the Japanese without foreign help, then by golly, so had Kim. This last claim necessitated the withdrawal of countless reference works and school books that had paid fawning tribute to the Soviet Red Army.”

It was in this context that the sham of Juche was born. One of Kim Il-Sung’s advisers, a self-styled philosopher named Kwang Chang-yop, persuaded the leader to entrust him the task of creating a philosophy. In September, 1972, Juche was revealed to Japanese journalists:

“Establishing the subject/juche means approaching revolution and construction with the attitude of a revolution and construction with the attitude of a master. Because the masses are the master of revolution and construction, they must assume a master’s attitude in regard to revolution and construction. A master’s attitude is expressed in an independent position and a creative position. Revolution and construction are endeavors for the sake of the masses, and endeavors that the masses themselves must carry out. Therefore, in reshaping nature and society an independent position and a creative position are called for.”

The author comments:

“Only when talking of Juche Thought does the regime express itself in this peculiar style, which is far too repetitive and dull not to be so by design. It recalls a college student trying both to stretch a term paper to a respectable length and to discourage anyone from reading it through. Far more concise and stirring language is used to espouse the true ruling ideology of paranoid nationalism. Though Juche Thought is enshrined in the constitution as one of the country’s guiding principles, the regime has never shown any indication of subscribing to its universal-humanist bromides: ‘man is the master of all things,’ ‘people are born with creativity and autonomy,’ etc. I do not mean to imply that if an ideology is not lived up to, it is ipso facto a sham. (Judged by that standard, no ideology will ‘scape whipping.) But Juche is not even professed in earnest, and no wonder; its central notion of the masses’ mastery of their fate runs counter to the sacrosanct notion of a uniquely vulnerable child race in the Leader’s protective care. Koreans must thank him, after all, even for what they earn by their own labor.”

The author continues:

“The pseudo-doctrine of Juche continues to serve its purpose all the same. It enables the regime to lionize Kim Il Sung as a great thinker, provides an impressive label for whatever policies it considers expedient, and prevents dissidents from judging policy on the government’s own ostensible terms. Just as importantly, it decoys outsiders away from the true dominant ideology. Instead of an implacably xenophobic, race-based worldview derived largely from fascist Japanese myth, the world sees a reassuringly dull state-nationalism conceived by post-colonial Koreans, rooted in humanist nationalism conceived by post-colonial Koreans, rooted in humanist principles, and evincing an understandable if unfortunate preoccupation with autonomy and self-reliance.”

Mao was a genuine man of the people. Mao was a genuine intellect. It was said of Mao that, while not a technical thinker, he is a deep thinker. People all over the world who seek a revolutionary, new world, read Mao’s works, looking to the questions and approaches found in them. By contrast, Juche was not designed to be read, but designed to convince — by way of book spines and verbosity — the childlike population of the regime (and naive onlookers) that its leader was as great as Mao. In part, this is the origin of the sham of Juche.

In orientalist style, enemies and friends alike stand stupefied before Juche:

“But how could foreign scholars read the English-language versions of the official Juche discourse without realizing how empty it is? One answer is that by the time those texts started appearing in the 1970s, North Korea’s allegiance to the mysterious doctrine was already accepted overseas as fact. Another answer is that the very incoherence, dullness and evasiveness of Juche convey to the postmodern Western reader an impressive difficulty. Now this, he thinks, is what an ideology should look like, as opposed to the race-based nationalism espoused in the DPRK’s schoolbooks, films and paintings, which is too crude and direct to be taken seriously. Even scholars aware of the triteness of the Juche discourse assume there has to be more to it than meets the eye. The historian Bruce Cumings, in apologetic desperation, concludes that it is ‘inaccessible to the non-Korean.’ As if North Koreans were not as baffled by it as everyone else! The regime’s decision not to publish a comprehensive Juche treatise under Kim Il Sung’s name turns out to have been a stroke of genius. Whatever one reads, one is always left thinking the profound stuff must be somewhere else.”

The emperor has no clothes.

Despite superficial similarities, the Maoist outlook in China was very different than that of the northern Korean regime. Both regimes put on extravagant displays that involved masses of people. Both regimes elevated personality cults. While both emphasize collectivism, the collectivism are of two very different varieties. Even in those years where the personality cult was the greatest in China, the collectivism was never a kind of narrow, racial nationalism witnessed in northern Korea. The Chinese leadership made an effort to show China’s ethnic diversity. Mao and the Chinese leadership took a humble stance toward their foreign guests. Mao would extend his hand to the smallest of communist parties in the world. Just as Black-leader Robert F. Williams was honored by standing alongside with Mao and Lin Biao from Tiananmen, the Chinese leaders were also honored to have met the emissary of North American revolution. The Chinese press was very worldly, always emphasizing the importance of struggles all over the world. By contrast, the northern Korean regime often portrays foreigners as coming to pay tribute to the Leader. The Maoist personality cult was much more in the Marxist tradition of leader as teacher. Mao himself once remarked that he only wanted to be remembered as a teacher. The goal of communists is to raise the people up, to elevate the best in them, to help them become capable of leading. Eliminating the division of labor between leadership and led is an important part of reaching classless society. By contrast, the northern Korean cult is there to protect the purity and innocence of a child race. The Marxist personality cult seeks to empower the masses to make them masters of their own destiny, the northern Korean cult, says the author, seeks to preserve their ethnic identity as an innocent, child race. The author comments:

“Believing that ‘the people is an eternal child,’ as the French revolutionary Saint-Just famously remarked, Lenin saw the communist party’s raison d’être in forcing it to grow up. The Soviet party posed as an educating father, as did the dictator who so famously talked of the need to “re-engineer” the human soul. A leading American scholar of Stalinist culture has shown that the so- called spontaneity-consciousness dialectic forms the master plot of socialist realist fiction. Nikolai Ostrovsky’s How the Steel Was Tempered (Kak zakalyalas’ stal’, 1936), for example, tells how a party cadre, armed with the teachings of Lenin and Stalin, educates a headstrong youth into a politically conscious ‘positive hero.’

In contrast, the DPRK’s propaganda is notably averse to scenes of intellectual discipline. Because Koreans are born pure and selfless, they can and should heed their instincts. Often they are shown breaking out of intellectual constraints in a mad spree of violence against the foreign or land-owning enemy. Cadres are expected to nurture, not teach, and bookworms are negative characters. In short: where Stalinism put the intellect over the instincts, North Korean culture does the opposite. When a sympathetic British documentary about life in the DPRK entitled A State of Mind (2004) was shown in Pyongyang, the authorities changed the title to ‘Maŭm ŭi nara’” or The Country of Heart.”

Rather than seeking to overcome the contradiction, the division of labor, between between leader and led, northern Korea propaganda codifies the importance of the leader over the masses. Even at the highest point of Mao’s cult, there was the promotion of the theories of Maoism that spoke of overcoming traditional divisions between intellectual and manual labor, between cadre and masses, between leader and led. Even at the height of the cult in China, the Maoists sought to remain in touch with the masses through calls for “big debates” and “mass line.”

“The following excerpt, which is strikingly reminiscent of the imagery of Japanese wartime propaganda, puts the cult of the ‘military-first’ leader in a nutshell.

Held together not by a mere bond between a leader and his warriors but by the family tie between a mother and her children, who share the same blood and breath, Korea will prosper forever. Let the imperialist enemies come at us with their nuclear weapons, for there is no power on earth that can defeat our strength and love and the power of our belief, which thanks to the blood bond between mother and child create a fortress of bond between mother and child create a fortress of single-heartedness. Our Great Mother, General Kim Jong Il”

Again:

“An enormous sign held up in a recent parade, footage of which was shown on the television news in 2009 whenever ‘The Song of General Kim Jong Il’ was played, bore the slogan, ‘We Cannot Live Away From His Breast.’

This is no empty rhetoric; the masses are reminded with increasing frequency that because the nation cannot survive without the leader who constitutes both its heart and its head, they must be ready to die to defend him. As if the logic were not in itself reminiscent of fascist Japan, the regime makes increasingly bold use of the very same terms—such as “resolve to die” (kyŏlsa) and “human bombs” (yukt’an)—that were so common in imperial Japanese and colonial Korean propaganda during the Pacific War. In the summer of 2009 the evening news periodically played a stirring anthem entitled “We Will Give Our Lives to Defend the Head of the Revolution.” The text runs, “Ten million will become as guns and bombs … to give one’s life for the General is a soldier’s greatest honor.”

The people are there for the leader, not the other way around. Such sentiments are more inline with Hirohito’s cult than Mao’s or Stalin’s or Lenin’s.

The Cultural Revolution was unleashed in China in order to further propel society toward communism. According to Mao, antagonistic contradictions continue to exist throughout the socialist period. Therefore, it is necessary to continually make revolution. Otherwise society slides back toward capitalism. Communist art of the Maoist era sought to depict these life-and-death struggles within society in very exaggerated, vivid ways. The art and outlook in northern Korea is fundamentally different than the communist view. Although northern Korean art depicts conflict with the outside world, especially the US, it downplays conflict within northern Korea. Although some minor conflicts are portrayed in northern Korean art, they are not seen as antagonistic ones.

“While the party does not explicitly deny the existence of conflict inside the republic, it contends that conflict is not ‘typical’ of North Korean life and therefore unworthy of depiction. There are few of the harsh clashes between rural and urban values, older and younger generations, chauvinist husbands and progressive wives, etc, that were so common in Soviet propaganda.”

Communists aim at communism. The northern Korean regime does not. The northern regime depicts itself as having already reached a harmonious state where class is dissolved into racial unity.

Depiction of foreigners

The racial ideology is revealed in the regime’s depiction of foreigners. There is little effort to depict proletarian internationalism in Korean propaganda. During the Korean War, Americans as a whole are condemned. Little effort is made to distinguish between the US government and its citizens as both the Soviet Union and China did, rightly or wrongly. There is little effort to draw the kind of distinctions the Soviets did when they, rightly or wrongly, distinguished between the Nazi state and the average German. No effort was made to distinguish between the US state and women and children, for example. Even if the demarcation between friends and enemies regarding the First World may be slightly more correct than that of First Worldists who failed to recognize the bourgeois nature of First World peoples as a whole, the northern Korean demarcation is made for all the wrong reasons. In this sense, it can be compared to some Islamists that point their spear at the West as a whole. During the Korean War, some northern writers celebrated abuses heaped on captured prisoners of war. The Caucasian features were depicted in racist, exaggerated ways in the northern Korean press. One author asserted that such features reflected an inner “idiotization.” They are also portrayed as stinky and unkempt. Americans are sometimes depicted with Caucasian and African features to get across the point that the American bloodline is polluted.

“While the Text strongly implies that all foreigners are inferior, and occasionally criticizes the Jews’ influence on world affairs, it subjects only the Japanese and Americans to routine vituperation. As might be expected, the ‘Japs’ (oenom) feature mainly in accounts of the colonial era. In contrast to Soviet depictions of the Germans in World War II, the Text does not distinguish between colonial-era Japanese according to class; all are inherently rapacious. It follows that they have no right to humane treatment. In this scene from a classic novel of the 1950s, one of Kim Il Sung’s guerrillas exacts retribution on an unarmed prisoner.”

And:

“Like the ‘Japs,’ the Yankees are condemned as an inherently evil race that can never change, a race with which Koreans must forever be on hostile terms. Readers should therefore not be misled by the Marxist jargon so common in the KCNA’s English-language rhetoric. In propaganda meant only for the domestic audience, the terms ‘US imperialism’ (mije) and ‘America’ (miguk) are used interchangeably, and Americans referred to routinely as ‘nom’ or bastards. In a recent picture printed in the monthly art magazine, a child with a toy machine gun stands before a battered snowman. The caption reads, ‘The American bastard I killed.’ The DPRK’s dictionaries and schoolbooks encourage citizens to speak of Yankees as having ‘muzzles,’ ‘snouts’ and ‘paws’; as ‘croaking’ instead of ‘dying,’ and so on.”

Racial animalization of other peoples has a long history. Historically, the imperialists have been experts at it. Some might argue that such racist and nationalist hate is justified or acceptable given the history of imperialist aggression against Korea. To a limited extent this would be true, hating the enemy is better than capitulating to him. However, such a tone that plays to the lowest instincts of the masses is hardly compatible with trying to reach communism in the longterm. While hate can be the beginning of liberation, it cannot be the end. Such small-minded racism and nationalism when put toward the anti-imperialist struggle quickly reveals its limits. Such a racial outlook not only makes racial enemies of the imperialists, but all outsiders. The regime’s allies and other oppressed peoples become racial enemies too. Even during the Korean War, northern Koreans regarded their Chinese allies with hostility. This disdain for friendly foreigners is depicted in the culture, according to the author:

“Typical of the disdain shown even to the friendliest foreigners is a panoramic painting of a procession of exultant visitors to 1989’s Pyongyang World Youth Games. Whatever direction they happen to be looking in, their faces are all partly obscured by a sinister shadow. A fat Caucasian woman wears a low-cut blouse, while a few African women sport what appear to be halter-tops: even in today’s DPRK such clothing is considered indecent. Here and there, unsavory-looking men show long sideburns and denim, more signs of Western decadence. The only well-groomed and attractive person in view, and the only one whose face is evenly lit, is the Korean guide—a girl, naturally—who leads the way in traditional dress. There are no Koreans in the procession proper; the pure race must be kept apart. On the rare occasions in the Text when foreigners and locals meet, the former employ highly respectful, sometimes obsequious Korean, while the latter respond informally as if to subordinates. Real fraternity between the pure and the impure is impossible; the DPRK’s so-called Friendship Museum contains only gifts given by foreigners— ‘offered up,’ as the Text always puts it— to the Leaders.”

This was reported by diplomats too:

“East European diplomats had, however, already begun reporting home about the xenophobia in Pyongyang. Some were cursed and pelted with rocks by children on the street. Koreans who had married Europeans were pressured to divorce or banished from the capital. (Internally the East German embassy compared these practices to Nazi Germany.) One Soviet wife of a Korean citizen was beaten unconscious by provincial police when she attempted to travel to Pyongyang. In 1965, the Cuban ambassador to the DPRK, a black man, was squiring his wife and some Cuban doctors around the city when locals surrounded their car, pounding it and shouting racial epithets. Police called to the scene had to beat the mob back with truncheons. ‘The level of training of the masses is extremely low,’ a high-ranking official later told the shaken diplomat. ‘They cannot distinguish between friends and foes.’ This was precisely the mindset that the regime sought to instill.”

As late as 2006, a northern Korean general criticized the southern regime for welcoming an American football star, only one of whose parents had been Korean. The southern delegate had mentioned that people in his half of the peninsula were now marrying those from other countries. The northern general responded: “Our nation has always considered its pure lineage to be of great importance… I am concerned that our singularity will disappear.” When the southerner rebutted him that such miscegenation was merely a “drop of ink in the Han River,” the northern general stated that “since ancient times our land has been one of abundant natural beauty. Not even one drop of ink must be allowed.”

Only a few weeks earlier, similar views were echoed in the northern media:

“Mono-ethnicity [tanilsŏng] is something that our nation and no other on earth can pride itself on … There is no suppressing the nation’s shame and anger at the talk of ‘a multi-ethnic, multi-racial society’… which would dilute even the bloodline of our people.”

Along with the such racist depictions, homosexuality too is attacked as a distinctly American or Western perversion. Stories based on the capture of the USS Pueblo in 1968 contrast the purity of the Koreans to the depraved Americans. One retelling of story:

“One crew member, it is claimed, felt so disillusioned by the incestuous goings on in his family that he ‘began sleeping with whatever women came his way. Tiring of that, he became gay.’ The Text regards homosexuality as a characteristically American ‘perversion.’ Here one of the Pueblo’s crew pleads for the right to indulge it in captivity.

‘Captain, sir, homosexuality is how I fulfill myself as a person. Since it does no harm to your esteemed government or esteemed nation, it is unfair for Jonathan and me to be prevented from doing something that is part of our private life.’

[The North Korean soldier responds,] ‘This is the territory of our republic, where people enjoy lives befitting human beings. On this soil none of that sort of activity will be tolerated.’”

According to the author, one of the regime’s main anti-American books, The Jackals (1951), continues to be published to this day. Its story of American missionaries injecting Korean children with malicious germs has far more in common with fascist propaganda than propaganda of Marxist regimes. It seems less designed to raise the understanding of the masses about the real enemy, about power or class. Instead it seems closer to anti-Semitic tales about Jews who eat babies during the witching hour. The author remarks that the book, as popular as it is, has “one obvious root in nineteenth-century peasant rumor and another in fascist Japan’s anti-Christianity campaign.”

The book is an important piece of a larger puzzle

For a long time, efforts have been made by the northern regime to liberalize aspects of its economy. There have even been attempts at creating Special Economic Zones. The northern Korean website even boasts of the “lowest labor costs in Asia.” Chinese capitalists are heavily invested there.

“Nor did they consider their entrepreneurial activities to be at odds with the official ideology. ‘Making money is patriotic’ was said to be a popular if informal slogan. In short, the spread of capitalism did not appear to be eroding support for the regime.”

The author points out that exposure to more and more Western culture may not lead to a quick downfall of the regime as the imperialists hope. He makes the point that the fascist regimes of World War 2 that had based themselves on race incorporated many of the consumer goods, styles and fashions from more liberal societies. Whatever the future of the regime, the author makes the point that it will not commit suicide. To abandon its ideology and military means doing just that. The regime needs to maintain some reason for its existence vis-a-vis the South.

Leading Lights have long recognized that the northern Korean state is not socialist. It is not heading toward communism, it is not communist-led. The book implies that northern Korean was never socialist. Its Party and state were never communist-led, according to the author. Rather, from the beginning, the state was a regime of patriotic-national development that legitimated itself using the idea, language, cultural forms of a Korean-version of Japanese-fascist ideology. It is not as simple as all this. Of course there is more to the story. In order to prop themselves up, the regime wedded itself to its powerful socialist neighbors: the Soviet Union and China. When those neighbors went revisionist, northern Korea continued to maintain the relationships. As a result of the years of interaction with the socialist camp, no doubt, northern Korea adopted some of the models, some of the language, and ritual of their neighbors, even if it was often superficial. As the new century progresses, northern Korea mentions “socialism” less and less. Despite its talk about self-sufficiency, northern Korea makes unequal deals with its capitalist Chinese neighbors. Northern Korea long received aid from the Soviets until the demise of the Soviet Bloc. Northern Korea has strong-armed much aid out of the United States, becoming one of the top aid recipients at times. At the same time, northern Korea has continued to build up its military program, especially its nuclear and missile capabilities. The regime makes defiant shows to drum up domestic support, but also to keep the imperialists negotiating. The regime has come into numerous conflicts with the US over its military. Although the regime produces vivid propaganda posters, a favorite of the state’s internet groupies, video-game enthusiasts, and nostalgists, its anti-imperialist practice lags behind other states like Iran and Venezuela that are more engaged with the world. Northern Korea is not at the forefront in the construction of institutions like ALBA to challenge First World hegemony in the global market. Northern Korea is not fanning up regional Bolivarian or Islamist movements to weaken imperialism’s hold over its neighbors. There is no northern Korean-aligned Hezbollah or Hamas. Although northern Korea has reportedly sold its ballistic technology to other oppressed countries, the racial and xenophobic nature of the regime tends to run counter to such internationalist sentiments. In this sense, northern Korean, in its best moments, should be seen as junior, lesser partner in the united front. Northern Korea should be defended against imperialism, yet we do not do anyone any favors by removing our brains and pretending northern Korea is a good society or even “the last Stalinist state.” It isn’t. One doesn’t build convincing anti-interventionist solidarity by slobbering all over internet forums in praise of northern Korean leaders or by pretending Juche is some deep idea when it plainly isn’t. Pretending northern Korea is a workers’ paradise is absurd. The KFA can’t even convince its own tourists of this, it sure isn’t going to convince anyone else. Such cheerleading does not help the Korean people. (1)

Real solidarity involves building a credible anti-interventionist movement. It involves educating people around the history of US imperialism in Asia, and Korea. It means exposing real warcrimes and atrocities committed by Americans and other imperialists, not adopting the internal language of a monarchy that whips up anti-Americanism with ghoulish tales of Christian missionaries. Real solidarity means building anti-interventionist alliances with humanists, people of good conscience and other bourgeois liberals. Real solidarity means defending the regime in a way that does not lie to the global proletariat. Despite what the weird circles of self-styled internet Juche-ists, third positionists, fascists, nationalists, nostalgists, “Marxist-Leninists” and video game enthusiasts who latch onto northern Korea think, nobody, except Koreans, outside those circles will ever be inspired by the regime. And Koreans are inspired by it for many of the wrong reasons, as the author demonstrates. The global proletariat may lag, but it does not lag that much. You will not con your way to revolution on the back of the Kim dynasty or other crackpotism. Proletarian revolutions are not con games. Real revolutions are the result of proletarian social forces armed with the highest revolutionary science, organization, and leadership in command. The people’s movement may be in disarray, revisionism is widespread, but the situation is not to the point where northern Korea’s ideology will ever be confused with genuine liberation by the broad masses globally. In this time of confusion, it is absolutely necessary for real communists, Leading Lights, to come forward, to blaze a trail, to lead. It is imperative that people understand the real revolutionary science, organization, and leadership from the shams out there. Leading Lights do not tail. Fight  for Leading Light science, organization, and leadership within in the united front. Uphold the broad united front against imperialism! Hold the Red Flag high!

Notes

1. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M-43MB5_QKQ

To see a video lecture by the author visit here: http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/292562-1

B. R. Myers youtube interview: The Myth of Juche

B. R. Myers youtube interview: The Myth of Juche

(llco.org)

B. R. Myer’s The Cleanest Race traced the origin of the northern Korean state and its ideology to Japanese fascism. In his latest interview, B. R. Meyers continues debunking the claim that northern Korea is a far-left state. Even though northern Korea ended up allied to the Soviet Union and China, even though Kim il-sung had been involved in the anti-imperialist struggle, those who constructed the ideology of the northern Korean state borrowed heavily from Japanese fascism. Even the word “Juche” itself, claims Myers, is from the Japanese.

Northern Korea is not and has never been a socialist society. It has always been an ultra-nationalist state that has projected a socialist message when it is useful. According to Myers, the propaganda that is created for domestic consumption in northern Korea is very different from the more socialist-sounding propaganda that is exported. Looking at the origin of Juche reveals what its purpose is. Myers states:

“To understand the fraudulence of Juche, you have to walk yourself back through the Juche story… and you can tell me how plausible it sounds, OK? Kim il-sung waits until 1955 to declare the ideology that has been guiding him since his guerrilla years. Does he do this at a Party congress? No. He does this at a relatively undistinguished gathering of propagandists. And the declaration of the ideology doesn’t even take up the whole speech, just the first half of it. The speech doesn’t mention self-reliance nor does it criticize the USSR. In fact, Kim il-sung tells his listeners that loving the USSR is just as good as loving Korea. And yet somehow it manages to be an anti-Soviet declaration of self-reliance. And even more magically, just by using the word ‘Juche’ in its usual Korean sense of the acting subject or main actor, Kim somehow turns it into a uniquely North Korean coining that must be left untranslated in English with a capital ‘J’ if possible. That is not where the strangeness ends, strangely enough, Kim does not revisit the topic of Juche at any length until 1965. So he didn’t even mention it again until 1960. And he didn’t revisit it at any length until 1965 when he happens to be in Indonesia. OK, then in 1972, Juche ideology was dramatically redefined into a human-oriented “man is the master of all things” ideology. But this was done in a manifesto delivered to Japanese journalists. So they got it before Kim il-sung’s own people did… Yet, according to Bruce Cummings…, Juche thought is only fully accessible to the Korean mind. Ok, I could go on and on… But I think you’re getting the idea here.” (1)

There is no question that northern Korea must be defended from imperialist attack. However, defending it from imperialist attack does not require misrepresenting the class nature of northern Korea. It is our duty to the proletariat to tell it the truth. There are no revolutionary societies today. Initiating the next great wave of revolution will not come about by opportunistically cobbling together the fragments of the past, cobbling together the dogmatic Marxist-Leninists and Maoists. And it certainly won’t be made by relying on northern Korean ultra-nationalism posing as socialism. Real revolutionary waves have always come about by elevating and advancing the science. The revolutionary wave that began in 1917 was not merely a product of repeating the past in dogmatized form. Gramsci, called the Bolshevik revolution a revolt against past Marxism. Similarly, the Maoist wave did not merely repeat 1917. Rather, revolutionary waves are made by advancing science. Learning from the past and then going forward with new ideas adapted for today’s reality. Those who look to northern Korea for direction are not even looking to past socialist dogma, they are looking to past ultra-nationalist dogma packaged to look like socialism. Leading Light is about science, pure and simple. The light of true science will guide the masses to the future.

Notes

1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aepwppHT6Fc#t=1017

* Also see video of B. R. Myers speaking on The Cleanest Race http://www.c-span.org/video/?292562-1/book-discussion-cleanest-race

** Also see our review of B. R. Myers on The Cleanest Race http://llco.org/book-review-the-cleanest-race-2010-by-b-r-myers/

Turning Money into Rebellion edited by Gabriel Kuhn part 3

Turning Money into Rebellion edited by Gabriel Kuhn part 3KUF_Plakat-212x300

(llco.org)

Turning Money into Rebellion: The Unlikely Story of Denmark’s Revolutionary Bank Robbers (Kreplebebad, 2014) edited by Gabriel Kuhn documents the story of one of the most interesting revolutionary trends to emerge from the First World. It is the story of Mao-friendly, modern-day Robin Hoods from Denmark, the so-called “Blekingegade Group.” This trend began in 1963 as the Kommunistisk Arbejdskreds (KAK). Later, in 1978, it split into two groups. One retaining the original name. The other became the Manifest-Kommunistisk Arbejdsgruppe (M-KA). What made this trend unique was that it saw revolution in the West, including Denmark, as hopeless at present because the workers were simply too comfortable to support revolution. So, this trend saw it as their proletarian duty to support Third World liberation movements by providing material aid. They ended up financing the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) to the tune of millions of dollars through bank robberies. Once the split happened in 1978, the KAK regressed toward typical, traditional solidarity, symbolic activism. The M-KA continued their illegal work providing material aid. It is the latter group that the book focuses on. In the previous parts of this review, the focus was on political economy and practice. In this final part, there are some final reflections on the M-KA and their own summations of their work.

Sino-Soviet split

The KAK had originally taken the Chinese side of the Sino-Soviet split. However, the KAK broke off the relationship with Beijing in 1968. They protested to the Chinese that their coverage of the First World was grossly inaccurate. The Chinese Communist Party continued to churn out First Worldist articles that overestimated the revolutionary potential in the First World despite the KAK’s objections. The KAK originally took its analysis very seriously. After the 1978 split between the KAK and the M-KA, the KAK patched up relations with Beijing. The KAK became a Danish mouthpiece of the Chinese state after 1978. Even though Mao was dead and the Gang of Four were arrested by 1978, even though China was now reversing its revolution and aligning with the Western imperialists more than ever, the KAK submitted to their leadership of the internationalist communist movement. The M-KA did not follow the KAK’s lead. Even though the M-KA was sympathetic to the Cultural Revolution and the Maoist domestic policy, the M-KA were always critical of the rightward turn in Chinese foreign policy in the 1970s:

“Jan: Ideologically, we found ourselves in a dilemma. We did see that the Cultural Revolution in China as a positive attempt to revise communism, but China was no ally in the support of liberation movements. In that respect, the progressive force was the Soviet Union, It had an objective interest in the liberation movements’ success and in the global expansion of socialism. Its leaders also chose their allies wisely. Their criteria were  very similar to ours: they were looking for socialist movements with popular support. The Chinese leadership, on the other hand, was so hostile toward the Soviet Union that it basically supported anyone who shared that sentiment. China developed ties to the most obscure political groups, and its foreign policy began to border on the absurd. In Angola, for example, they supported UNITA and worked alongside the CIA.

Torkil: In the late 1970s and early 1980s, China held the position that the Soviet Union was the most dangerous of all imperialist powers, and they encouraged the liberation movements to side with Western European nations and the U.S. As Jan said, it all became petty grotesque, and it also changed the perception of China among many liberation movements and their allies. KAK was far from the only organization that had a falling-out with the CPC around that time. If you go back to the early 1970, the PFLP was very pro-Chinese and hugely inspired by Mao’s guerrilla strategies. They were not very close to the Soviet Union. All this would change in the next decade.” (106-107)

Also:

“Torkil: …What I said before concerned exclusively the Soviet Union’s foreign policy — and even there, we would have wanted the Soviet government to be more radical and stronger in its support of Third World liberation movements. Regarding the country’s political and economic system, we had no sympathies at all. In the so-called ‘real socialism,’ a ‘democratic economy’ meant ‘nationalization,’ which, in turn, meant the state apparatus owned all the means of production. However, just because the state owns the means of production, the mode of production doesn’t necessarily change. The mode of production in the Soviet Union was very similar to capitalist ones, and sometimes worse. Look at Volkseigener Betriebe, the so-called ‘publicly owned companies,’ in the former East Germany: people never felt they were really in charge. It was the state that was in charge, and the people were not the state. The planned economy of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies was not democratic but very hierarchical. That is why the Soviet Union was never a model for us. However, it was a tactical ally in the support of liberation movements. One must not forget that the simple existence of the Soviet Union as a global superpower was very important to them, It created a space for them to be active. Had it not be for the Soviet Union, the U.S. might have used nuclear weapons to wipe out the Vietnamese resistance. Without the international balance of power guaranteed by the Soviet Union — also with regard to armament — things would have looked very different.” (105-106)

The fall of the Soviet Union, even though it had long gone off the rails, even though it was revisionist and social-imperialist since around the end of World War 2, was a setback for many liberation forces. Heightened contradictions between the imperialists gave liberation movements and independent, progressive regimes room to maneuver, to play one imperialist against another, to play East against West. With the fall of the Soviet empire, the armies of Western empire got a boost. Western imperialism had a freer hand to exploit and control the Third World. The fall of the Soviet Union created more global, transnational imperial unity. The fall of the Soviet Union was a further step in the emergence of a transnational First World empire. The Maoists, even outside China, had seen the Soviet Union as the main imperialist threat in the 1970s. They celebrated its fall in 1990s. Yet that fall had terrible repercussions of liberation struggles around the world. Numerous popular struggles folded or sued for peace as a result. This is something many contemporary Maoists have not come to terms with honestly.

More on the United Front

The M-KA had correct intuitions about the limits of nationalism. For revolutionaries, national liberation is merely a means to a greater end, not an end in itself. It is a means toward achieving socialism and communism. Similarly, anti-imperialism is not an end in itself, but a means for revolution:

“Torkil: For us, there has never been any valid anti-imperialism without a socialist base. We have always been primarily socialists. Anti-imperialism is important as a means to strengthen socialism, and it  doesn’t serve that purpose, it is not relevant for us. The principle of ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ is way too simple — and dangerous.” (164)

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” is usually associated with the tactic of the United Front. The idea is that one should strive to unite as many forces as possible against the main enemy at any given moment. Smaller enemies ought put aside their differences to unite against the main oppressor. Interestingly, the M-KA seem to bend to the United Front when it came to the Soviet Bloc. They considered the Soviet Bloc a partner in the United Front against imperialism. At the same time, they seem to simply dismiss the idea that the Islamic Republic of Iran or other Islamists could be partners in some contexts. “The religious regimes that claim anti-imperialist values have not liberated anyone.” (164) The PFLP that the M-KA supported, for example, has accepted Hamas as a legitimate part of their broader struggle. The Palestinian struggle has received aid not simply from the Soviet Union, but also Iran and the Gulf states. The PFLP has received aid from very reactionary regimes at times. It is odd that the M-KA don’t apply their argument consistently. They themselves acknowledged the Soviet Union could be worse than the liberal capitalist regimes, but it was still a tactical ally. No so with Iran.

“The enemy of my enemy is my friend” can quickly become inadequate in practice. There are multiple layers of alliances, some are apparent, but others hidden. Alliances can shift rapidly, which makes applying such a principle difficult or impossible in practice at times. There are also considerations about who is the main enemy in the long term versus the main enemy immediately. Even if the United Front is not perfect, one should nonetheless strive to make it a reality. Revolutionaries of the past have had to make all kinds of unsavory tactical alliances to win. There is nothing special about religious forces that make them unworthy of tactical alliances. Remember, the United Front is for our benefit first and foremost, not theirs. Has the Islamic Republic of Iran murdered leftists? Yes, but so had the Soviet Union. At the same time, the Islamic Republic is in the crosshairs of the First World, of imperialism, of Israel, of the Gulf states. The situation here is somewhat similar to the revisionist-era Soviet Union, although Iran is not imperialist on anywhere near the scale the revisionist-era Soviet Union was. Iran is more of a regional hegemon than an imperialist. The revisionist-era Soviet Union had snuffed out revolution inside and outside its borders. It had snuffed out revolutionary energy in many of those forces and regimes it controlled. Yet, despite its terrible policies, the Soviet Union played a progressive geopolitical role sometimes. Similarly, Iran is extending support to Hezbollah, the Palestinians, and fighting the Gulf states, Israel, and sometimes the West. The bigger problem in the “left” in the First World is not one of making unwise tactical alliances, but rather the bigger problem with “left” forces is the rejection the United Front. Those who reject the United Front often  end up as useful idiots for neoliberal efforts at regime change, for imperialist attacks on the Third World. There are plenty of First World “left” forces who have allied with imperialism, who supported imperialist intervention to further regime change in places like Zimbabwe, Libya, Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, etc. Neoliberalism has its origin in Trotskyism and social democracy in the service of empire. Even Maoists have ended up serving neoliberalism. Once the United Front is rejected, it is easily to slide into social imperialism.

Looking back and forward

The M-KA interviewees reflect on their practice:

“Torkil: Marxism in general has underestimated capitalism’s ability to adapt and transform. Since the days of Marx, capitalism’s ‘final crisis’ has been announced many times. It was no different than during the 1970s.

Second, I think the imperialist powers have learned a lot from the war of the era. The U.S. has changed its tactics since Vietnam and has confronted liberation movements much more effectively since…

Third, I think we overestimated the socialist element in the liberation movements, especially in its relation to the national element. Many of the movements were deeply nationalistic, but wore socialist colors. Not to be misunderstood: they weren’t consciously deceiving, and the socialist attire wasn’t fake, the socialist convictions just didn’t run very deep. Socialism promised a better life and it gave people hope. But it wasn’t at the core of the struggle, and national liberation rarely led to social liberation.

Fourth, I think we believed too strongly in the possibility of ‘delinking’, that is, of a nation being able to detach itself from the global economic system and introducing a socialist economy within the framework of a liberated nation state. This is a much more daunting task than we thought…

Fifth, whatever one’s opinion of the Soviet Union, its demise also meant the disappearance of the strategically most important counterpower to the U.S. No matter how you want to look at it, this was a strong blow to socialism.” (162-163)

On all these important points, the Leading Light is in agreement. Capitalism has proven very resilient. It should not be underestimated. Just as capitalism refines its science of oppression, so we advance our science of liberation, of Leading Light Communism. A transnational, global empire has emerged, the First World. Just as capitalism is globalizing, so too must resistance to it. Leading Light emerges to lead the transnational Global People’s War against Empire. The future is ours.

Zapatistas or Leading Light?

Further highlighting the contrast between the M-KA and Leading Light Communism are the M-KA interviewees’ comments on the future. When asked about movements today that are contributing positive, new visions, that might point the way forward, the M-KA interviewees identified the Zapatista movement of southern Mexico:

“Torkil: I think the Zapatistas provide an example. They are expressing socialist ideas in a new language. They are also anti-imperialists, although this might be anti-imperialism 2.0. In any case, the perspective of their struggle is global, not national.

We can see similar tendencies in many struggles, addressing everything from privatization to copyright issues to the ‘discursive struggles’ that Foucault has written about. Of course there are important struggles happening on the governmental and institutional level, but there are many small struggles in everyday life that concern very basic questions about what is good and bad, right and wrong, and so forth. All of them include the potential to strengthen socialist ideals. Here, too, the Zapatistas are a good example. They have a Foucauldian understanding of power: the micro level is very important; they don’t have power concentrated in institutions.” (174-175)

It may be true that the Zapatistas are not simply nationalists, especially Mexican nationalist. They are focused on their local communities with less emphasis on Mexico as a whole. It may be true they have raised awareness of their struggle to an international audience very successfully. They are very worldly in their outlook. However,  the M-KA interviewee has a mistaken view about their potential as revolutionary or anti-imperialist force.

As it happens, this reviewer worked, albeit briefly, with the Zapatista National Liberation Front (FZLN) and Indigenous National Congress (CNI) in Mexico in the mid-1990s. Although the Zapatistas were very worldly, they had lowered sites of what was possible. When I was there, the Zapatistas and allied institutions seemed unwilling to seriously ally themselves to other militant struggles in Mexico for fear of tainting their image. The Zapatistas were deeply rooted in a social base in Chiapas. However, outside Chiapas, they played to the Mexican social-democratic and liberal bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie. They also directed their message to Western liberals in North America and Europe. Marcos t-shirts were as popular as Che ones. Rage Against the Machine used an image of the Zapatistas on one of their albums. The Zapatistas were part of the people’s struggle, but they were always armed reformists. The Zapatistas themselves denied they sought state power on numerous occasions. They were very successful at appealing to the social-democrats and liberals in Mexico and abroad. They very consciously erected a personality cult around the romantic figure of subcomandante Marcos. Marcos was playing for the cameras when he shared a meal with Danielle Mitterrand in 1996. In typical Marcos style, he handed the former first lady of the French social-democratic, imperialist state a rose. “Madame, I am but a paper knight and all I can offer you is a paper rose.” They did not seek power by uniting popular classes across Mexico through a people’s war. Rather, a large part of their strategy seemed to be aimed at garnering sympathy with social-democrats and liberals in Mexico and abroad. They hoped these forces would pressure the Mexican regime into granting greater rights to Mayan and indigenous communities. To appeal to the conscience of imperialists and social-democrats is not a realistic nor sustainable anti-imperialist strategy. Whatever ideological rhetoric is used to justify this orientation, it is an orientation that is very much idealist. It fails to recognize that revolutionary social change is not made by appealing to the mercy of the exploiter. Revolutionary social change is made by broadly mobilizing the masses, by forming New Power, by people’s war, by putting revolutionary science in command. Maoists were fond of saying “the masses are the real heroes” and “the masses are the motive force in history.”

Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas Solórzano was an important candidate for the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), a social-democratic, liberal bourgeois party in Mexico. In the context of Cardenas’ election bid for mayor (head of government) of the Federal District (“Mexico City”) in 1997, the Zapatistas had distanced themselves even further from revolution. They had distanced themselves from groups like the Popular Revolutionary Army (EPR) and even broad mass organizations that had suffered repression like the Broad Front for the Construction of a National Liberation Movement – Organization of the Peasants of the South Mountains (FAC-MLN-OCSS), victims of the Aguas Blancas massacre in 1995. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) had ruled Mexico for 80 years at the time, but was feeling pressure to step down. It began looking like the PRI would turn over power to the social-democratic “left,” the PRD, at the country-wide, national level. Eventually, they handed power to the National Action Party (PAN), a neoliberal party to their right. In any case, La Jornada and liberal media were happy to juxtapose the “good guerrilla” of the Zapatistas to the “bad guerrilla” of the EPR and others. Sometimes the EPR were falsely called “the Mexican Shining Path” in an effort to malign them in the media. As it happens, the EPR had little to do with hard Maoism or the Communist Party of Peru. The EPR was a more traditional, nominally Marxist, guerrilla organization. The liberal media, through its speculations, seemed to be advocating a reconciliation and negotiated settlement between the Zapatistas and the Mexican state upon a PRD takeover at the country-wide level, which never happened. The Zapatistas presented themselves as cultured, literary, worldly, kind and gentle poets. They presented themselves as people the establishment could do business with, not as sectarian ideologues. However, their politics were localism combine with appeals to be saved by the liberal establishment. We should have no illusions that their path is a dead end.

I worked the entrance to the second CNI. The CNI was an organization allied with the Zapatistas, a coalition in which they played a leading role. I volunteered as a security guard at the CNI at the National School of Anthropology and History (ENAH) in DF. When the FAC-MLN-OCSS approached the CNI, it seemed they were given the cold shoulder at the time. I know because I had been to the FAC-MLN-OCSS congress in defense of indigenous communities as a representative, part of a delegation, of the ENAH-CNI coordinadora. In addition, those of us wearing the purple security badges were instructed to not allow the Maoists or anarchists into the ENAH compound, not to allow them to agitate inside. Yet we were instructed to allow representatives from traditional parties like the PRI and PRD. At that time, the Zapatistas, although taking up arms and having deep connections to their own communities, seemed like liberal sectarians that was more interested in building alliances with the social-democratic establishment than with other militant peasant and worker organizations.

The Zapatistas were not offering a new vision of socialism. Rather, they were offering social-democratic reform, albeit in a ski-masked. pipe-smoking poetic form. At the time, one of the EPR commanders rebuked the poetry-writing subcomandante of the Zapatistas for what he perceived as their lack of seriousness. Alluding to Clausewitz, the EPR stated, “poetry is not war by other means.” Shortly following this, there were defections back and forth between the two organizations. I have not followed the twists and turns of the Zapatistas in the many years since then. Time flies. However, nothing I have seen in the media to make me reevaluate my assessment. The Zapatistas, for a time, became the darlings of the college and hipster activists in North America and Europe. All stripes of First World activists projected their politics onto the Zapatistas. To the anarchists, they were the living example proving anarchism can work. For  the Chicanos, they were a proud example of la Raza. For the less-rigid Maoists, the Zapatistas had so mastered the mass line, they were real Maoists even if they didn’t recognize it themselves. No doubt, there were even Trotskyists who saw the second coming of the man who organized the Red Army in the pipe-smoking masked man. Marcos himself joked about how people projected their aspirations onto their movement. I wonder if that is not what is happening with the M-KA interviewees. The Leading Light had not emerged in the 1990s. The “far left” was a bleak place indeed. It was a landscape of dogma and liberalism. In such a circumstance, the Zapatistas gave many people hope. Many people, who should have known better, did not examine the movement closely. Many people let their fantasies get the better of them. It is important to look beneath surfaces when examining movements. This is not to say the Zapatistas are not part of the United Front. They are part of the broad United Front. However, they are not offering a new “vision of socialism” nor “anti-imperialism 2.0.”

The level of the science

I discovered an archive of the KAK and the M-KA’s works online.* Although this trend hit upon many correct ideas about imperialism, the class structure, and practice for First World revolutionaries, the documents in the archive were relatively primitive when compared to the Leading Light. Although the M-KA was probably one of the most advanced groups to have emerged from the First World, they never advanced science in the all-round way that Leading Light has. Their lack of all-round scientific development was one the reasons they were not so much a communist vanguard. They seem more like a disciplined, independent support network for others who were leading struggles. The M-KA never merged with its Third World allies to become part of a global organization. Instead, they gave money at those who had a broad similarity with their vision. The PFLP fit the bill, even though the PFLP did not share their Third Worldist political economy necessarily. By contrast, Leading Light thinks the problem the world faces is much deeper. It is not just First World anti-imperialists who must ask “what is to be done?” So too must Third World forces. The worldwide revolutionary movement is at an impasse. The last great waves of revolution are defeated. What remains are dying fragments of the past. More money will not be the deciding factor reversing this trend. More than a vague leftist vision is needed to initiate the next great wave of revolution. What is needed is to adapt and update the science of revolution to today’s conditions. Just as Marx advanced the ideas he inherited, just as Lenin advanced Marx, just as Mao advanced Lenin, revolutionaries today must advance even further. The story of the KAK and the M-KA only highlight just how important our Leading Light work is. It shows how unprecedented and groundbreaking Leading Light Communism is. What we have is precious. We are writing a new chapter is the history of the world. We invite those individuals from the KAK and the M-KA and their circles to join us. We invite those inspired by their heroism to join us. Let your next chapter be our next chapter. You took a first step in the right direction. Now, take another. Pick up the sword again; pick up all-powerful Leading Light Communism. We have a world to win, together.

Kuhn, Gabriel. Turning Money Into Rebellion (Kersplebedeb, 2014)

* An archive of writings this trend can be found here: http://snylterstaten.dk/