Northern Korea removes portraits, statues of Marx and Lenin
Northern Korea reportedly removes portraits, statues of Marx and Lenin
Huge portraits and statues of Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin used to gaze out over Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, northern Korea. It is being reported that the communist leaders have been removed from the important ceremonial space. Notably, the square is one of the most photographed spaces in northern Korea, a place for state gatherings, a tourist site, and space for displays of military might. Early this year, a giant Kim Jong-il statue was added beside the famous Kim Il-Sung one, father of the current leader next to grandfather who founded the dynasty. The removal of the communist leaders Marx and Lenin sends a message about the nature of the northern Korean regime.
The northern Korean one was never much of a communist-led regime even when it aligned with the socialist (and also revisionist) blocs. Even though Stalin had a hand in shaping certain northern Korean policies, the regime was ideologically very far removed from its Soviet and Chinese allies. Although the regime projected socialism to its external allies when it felt that it needed to, its leadership had little interest in Marxism. Neither was the regime mainly led by the theories of Juche, long-winded writings attributed to Kim Il-sung that were used to pad the Great Leader’s resume. Since the 80s, the regime has phased out Marxist window dressing from official documents, gradually replacing it with Juche curtains. Since Marxist-Leninist allies, or even revisionist ones pretending to be Marxist-Leninist, are few and far between nowadays, it makes less and less sense for northern Korea to continue to praise two founders of modern communism. It is not surprising that the portraits have been taken down, it is surprising they remained up so long. The Marxist pretense does the regime little good.
There is speculation that changes are afoot. Some say there is a turn by Kim Jong-un away from his father Kim Jong-il’s military-first policies. His father Kim Jong-il’s policies had privileged the military over other sectors of society. They resulted in austerity for the general public. Some speculate that his son, the current leader, Kim Jong-un’s policies may move toward policies that put the economy first, give less privilege to the military, and move away from austerity. Recently, it is reported that the young leader has developed a style that is a bit different than his departed father. Some have speculated that he is emulating his grandfather, Kim Il-Sung, the dynasty’s founder. Others have pointed out that his wife has recently been photographed in designer labels. For a regime that puts so much emphasis on public image, it is hard to imagine that being photographed in Christian Dior would be accidental. Whether it means the regime is sending a signal about opening up or a toning down its anti-Western rhetoric something entirely different? Who knows? The regime has long experimented with special, free-market economic zones. These special economic zones are like similar neoliberal experiments elsewhere. They allow foreign investors to exploit northern Korea’s labor and resources without having to bother with as much labor and environmental regulations. Northern Korea has also long gained from black-market trade with China’s capitalist economy. And, the regime has long received foreign aid, including large amounts of US aid.
In many countries that retain a monarchy, the monarchy has little or severely limited powers — the monarch may perform symbolic functions, fulfill various technical roles and duties relating to the state. By contrast, the northern Korean monarch is not simply a figurehead, but has real political power. The Kim family too has real political power. Monarchy is a system where political power is tied to bloodline, usually inherited by a son as in northern Korea. While the imperialist media often refers to the northern Korean regime as “the last Stalinist country,” “socialist,” or “communist,” the reality is very different. Socialism and communism are about eliminating all oppression. Communist is about eliminating distinctions and hierarchies that lead to one group having power over another. Communism is about equality.
The northern Korean system is one where power passes from father to son, where the son, literally, inherits political power. It is a system where bloodline determines who is and who is not the leader. In northern Korea, Kim Il-sung passed power to his son Kim Jong-il who passed power to his son Kim Jong-un who currently is the top leader. Similar criticisms can be made of how power has passed in revisionist Cuba from Fidel Castro to his brother Raúl. Such a criticism can also be made of Mao’s wife Jiang Qing’s desire to inherit power from Mao. Although, in these latter cases, there is more justification than there is for the northern Korean monarchy. In Jiang Qing’s case, for example, she was a political figure in her own right and her political line was certainly better than the capitalist ones that surrounded her. The lines that opposed her ended up fully restoring capitalism in China. However, on a side note, even if she had inherited Mao’s power, it is highly unlikely she would have been able to avoid capitalist counter-revolution. Once Vice Chairman and Defense Minister Lin Biao was killed in 1971, the communists lost control of the people’s army. And the mass movements had ended by 1969. And, without the army under communist control, there was not going to be another Cultural Revolution. By the 1970s, especially after Lin Biao’s, and later Mao’s, deaths, there was little hope of stopping the capitalist counter-revolution. In any case, the Castro and Jiang Qing cases certainly do not represent anything close to the institutionalized monarchy that exists in northern Korea. Monarchies and familial-based political systems are ultimately incompatible with the egalitarian spirit of socialism and communism. Leadership should be determined by the correct political line, ability to implement and advance it, track record, willingness to sacrifice, courage, caring, other revolutionary virtues, etc., not by bloodline. Instead of looking to bloodlines to save humanity, communists look to the masses armed with, led by the most advanced revolutionary science, Leading Light Communism.
The masses will rally to Leading Lights. The masses will choose pure water over dirty water when given the opportunity. Real, true communist leaders should be recognized as the heroes they are. To be a communist, a Leading Light, means willing to give your life for humanity. It means carrying our shared future on your shoulders. Leading Lights live and die for the revolution. Leading Lights should be upheld, recognized as great examples to follow. Leaders are are part of pulling history forward. It is so important to not fall into petty-bourgeois, anarchist, First Worldist ways of thinking that reject leadership as a matter of principle. Such thinking betrays the revolution to the enemy. However, the approach to leadership in northern Korea errs in the other direction. While leaders can play very important roles historically, the focus on individuals to the exclusion or near exclusion of everything else is contrary to historical materialism. To understand history as merely a series of battles by good guys and bad guys, even if communist leaders versus capitalist leaders, is a version of the Great Man Theory of History. The gigantic personality cult around the Kim dynasty is completely contrary to the communist understanding that the masses make history, or as the Maoists used to say, “the masses are the real heroes.” The northern Korean approach to leadership is religious. On occasion, one can see this in the magical attributes that are given to the dynasty by state media. Not only is it completely contrary to a scientific understanding of the world, but such narratives reduce the masses to the role of children. By contrast, communists seek to elevate everyone to become leaders. Real Leading Lights advance others to become Leading Lights. The northern Korean cult does not.
Even though the regime in northern Korea is not socialist nor communist-led, it must be defended against attacks from the imperialists. Its right to defend itself should be upheld by all revolutionaries. The imperialists are arch-hypocrites in their dealings with northern Korea. The imperialists, especially the United States, have waged more wars against the people of the world than anyone else. They have more weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, than anyone else. The United States is the only country to have used nuclear weapons on people. Two times, the United States wiped out whole cities filled with civilians. Yet the United States set themselves up as global policeman. They bully the northern Korean regime. When it defends itself, the imperialists claim it is a “rouge state,” part of an “axis of evil,” “terrorist,” etc. The main enemy in the world is imperialism — do not forget! It is imperative for communists to defend northern Korea against the imperialists. At the same time, it is necessary for communists to be very clear and honest with the proletariat. It is absolutely necessary to point out Leading Lights from fakes of various kinds. If we are to ever rebuild the international communist movement, then we can’t be afraid to call out revisionism. In other words, critical support should be extended to all those resisting imperialism. In other words, communists should support all those fighting imperialism, while at the same time, communists should contend for leadership. Leading Light advances the policy: “Uphold the broad united front! Hold the Red Flag high!”
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