North Korea has carried out an underground nuclear test, attracting the attention of the world media and infuriating the imperialists, in particular George W Bush. What is behind this move? But more importantly, what is happening to the North Korean regime and economy? This article attempts to give some answers.
(Article originally published the 10th of october 2006)
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula are rapidly rising. Looking for bargaining leverage in its dealings with the West and Japan, North Korea announced plans earlier this year to test nuclear weapons. Then, on October 7, a handful of North Korean troops crossed into South Korea, resulting in warning shots fired by the South Koreans. The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) dividing the two Koreas is one of the most heavily militarized borders on the planet. Technically, the two sides are still at war, as only a cease-fire, not a peace treaty was agreed to in 1953 after the Korean War. Despite its population of just 23 million, North Korea currently has the world's 5th largest army, with some 1.2 million troops. The South Korean military is not quite as large, but it is arguably better equipped, and it has the support of thousands of U.S. troops.
Now North Korea has raised the stakes further by carrying out nuclear tests in an underground bunker, causing a tremor of 4.2 on the Richter scale. Australia's Seismology Research Center estimated it at about one kiloton, the equivalent of 1,000 tons of TNT. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov said it ranged between 5 and 15 kilotons. The bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima in 1945 was 12.5 kilotons.
World stock markets have been shaken and the price of oil has reversed its recent gradual fall. China received advance notice of the test, and proceeded to inform the U.S., Japan, and South Korea. The United States immediately threatened sanctions to further cripple North Korea's already fragile economy, although how effective these would be without full Chinese cooperation is difficult to judge. North Korea depends mainly on China for trade.
In George Bush's now infamous 2002 State of the Union address, he singled out Iraq, Iran, and North Korea as part of an "Axis of Evil". Since then, Iraq has been invaded and occupied, and Iran is threatened almost daily, although the possibility of a U.S. ground invasion is extremely unlikely at the moment, given the mess they are in in Iraq. But the Bush Administration treads far more gingerly when it comes to North Korea, and it's easy to see why.
The main reason given for lumping these regimes together was their alleged possession of, or efforts to acquire, nuclear weapons. Iraq was invaded on this flimsy pretext, and no such weapons were found. Iran as yet has no nuclear weapons, but is playing a cat and mouse game with the U.S. and the EU, presumably in an effort to acquire them. The reason for this is clear: Iraq was invaded precisely because the U.S. knew it didn't have these weapons, and was therefore an easy target. The Iranian regime naturally feels that the best way to prevent an invasion is to develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.
But in the case of North Korea, many in the Bush Administration had for some time believed it already had nuclear capability, as well as long-range missiles that can reach Japan and possibly even the West Coast of the United States. Now the suspicions of nuclear capability have been confirmed. This explains the far more cautious attitude Washington exhibits when dealing with the regime of Kim Jong-Il.
The hypocrisy of U.S. imperialism knows no limits. It is the only country to have used nuclear weapons during a war, obliterating two Japanese cities and killing over 200,000 civilians. It has enough nuclear weapons to annihilate the entire planet many times over. And yet it sees itself as the world's enforcer, deciding who can and cannot possess these terrible weapons.
To accept the idea that the United States has the right to decide who can and cannot have nuclear weapons would mean accepting that the world is safe in the hands of the U.S. capitalists, which is very far from the truth. U.S. opposition to North Korea developing a nuclear capability is not based on any "humanitarian" concerns about the fate of ordinary working people around the world. Israel has developed nuclear capability - and some of its generals have even contemplated using it! - but there was no threat of sanctions or invasion. India and Pakistan both have nuclear missiles and all they got was a diplomatic slap on the wrist. Iraq did not have nuclear weapons and it got invaded, with at least 100,000 people being killed over the recent period, as many people as a medium sized nuclear missile would kill.
From a general historical point of view, developing nuclear weapons is an absolute waste of human and material resources. But as long as society is dominated by privileged national ruling classes - in the case of North Korea, a privileged Stalinist bureaucracy - these will arm to the teeth to defend their privileges, both against their competitors and against the working class.
Therefore the only way to guarantee a nuclear free world is to struggle for the overthrow of these ruling classes. Only when the world is under the control of the workers of all countries can we envisage redirecting those huge resources, which presently are wasted on arms, and spend them on our real needs, such as healthcare, education, housing and so on.
Despite the renewed focus on North Korea, there is little information as to what is really going on inside the country. What is happening with the economy? What is going on within the regime? Which direction is it headed?
To begin with, we have to state quite clearly that North Korea has never been a genuine socialist society as Marxists would envisage it. Ever since coming into being in the late 1940s it has been a Stalinist regime, what we would describe as a deformed workers' state, in this case a terribly deformed one, the means of production being state-owned, but control of these firmly in the hands of a privileged bureaucracy.
The Korean Peninsula has a long history of invasions and resistance against foreign occupation. Over the centuries, Korea was occupied or attacked by one invader after another: the Mongols, the Chinese, the Japanese, and in the 19th Century, the Europeans, hoping to pry open the "Hermit Kingdom", as they had done with China and Japan. After the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Korea was occupied by Japan, which formally annexed it in 1910. The Japanese began industrializing the country, especially with the building of railroads, but also looted its natural resources and brutally exploited its people, ruling with an iron fist.
The Independence Movement actively opposed the Japanese occupation, reaching a high point on March 1, 1919, when thousands of demonstrators were killed and tens of thousands of others were maimed and imprisoned. In the years that followed, tens of thousands of Korean Communists joined the Chinese Peoples' Liberation Army to fight the Japanese in China and Korea, with Kim Il-Sung emerging as one of the most prominent leaders. As their empire collapsed, the Japanese were finally expelled, and Kim's forces arrived triumphantly at the important Korean port city of Wonsan, backed by a Soviet army.
In the aftermath of Japan's defeat in the Second World War, the Korean Peninsula was divided in two at the 38th Parallel, with the Soviet Union controlling the North, and the United States controlling the South. This division was opposed almost unanimously by the Korean people, but in the post-war period, the Great Powers were unconcerned with the wishes of the small countries of the world, cynically using them as pawns in their global chess game. Not surprisingly, the two sides were unable to agree on a plan for joint trusteeship and a united Korea, and two separate countries were eventually formed as the Cold War began in earnest.
In August 1945, the Soviet army had established the "Soviet Civil Authority" to govern the North until a local regime friendly to the USSR could be installed. In 1946, Kim Il-Sung became the leader of the North Korean Provisional People's Committee, the precursor to the formal establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK - North Korea), which was founded in 1948.
Kim Il-Sung focused his efforts on reunifying the peninsula on the basis of a revolutionary movement in the South. This plan came to an end with the failure of an insurrection in October 1948. In the aftermath of this defeated uprising, the U.S.-backed South Korean government of Syngman Rhee was able to stabilise the situation, and by 1949, the U.S. had withdrawn most of its forces. With the South relatively unprotected, Kim moved to reunify the peninsula by force. Well-armed with Soviet weapons and politically backed by the USSR, Kim's army of veterans from the struggle against the Japanese invaded the South in June of 1950, easily defeating their inexperienced rivals and capturing the Southern capital of Seoul. The United States, under the fig leaf of the United Nations, sent in thousands of troops and counter-attacked, driving Kim's forces back and capturing the Northern capital at Pyongyang.
Unable to tolerate the presence of U.S. forces right on its frontier, and manoeuvring for regional influence against its rivals in Moscow, the Chinese under Mao Zedong intervened massively, pouring hundreds of thousands of troops across the border in October 1950, eventually recapturing Pyongyang and Seoul in January 1951. This was perhaps the most ignominious route of U.S. military forces in history, with the virtual wiping out of a 3,000 man unit from the US 7th Infantry Division at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
Two months later, the U.S.-led UN forces regained control of Seoul, and after a period of stalemate, a cease-fire was declared on July 27, 1953. The "Armistice Line", near the original dividing line of the 38th Parallel, was separated by a Demilitarized Zone, a "no man's land" across which hundreds of thousands of troops from both sides have stared each other down for decades, as the two countries are still officially at war.
After the war, Kim Il-Sung's power in the North was virtually absolute, bolstered by the support of the massive and influential military. He ruled until his death in 1994, at which time his son Kim Jong-Il succeeded him as General-Secretary of the KWP and Chairman of the National Defence Commission, becoming the de facto head of state.
Deformed Workers' State
Since its founding, the political model for North Korea was the Stalinist USSR. Power was centralised in the so-called Korean Workers Party (KWP), with Kim Il-Sung as General Secretary. A planned economy, also modelled on the USSR was introduced. Before and during World War II, the bulk of the country's assets had been owned by the Japanese or their Korean collaborators. When these were nationalised by Kim's regime in 1946, 70 percent of industry fell into state hands. By 1949, 90 percent of industry had been nationalised. The power of the landlords was broken through the mass distribution of the land to the peasants in 1946, and virtually all agricultural production had been collectivized and merged into increasingly large productive units by the late 1950s.
Due to mass investment in heavy industry, including agricultural machinery, the economy expanded rapidly in the 1950s. Despite the devastation of the Korean War, and in spite of the inefficiency and waste of the bureaucracy, standards of living increased dramatically in the North through the 1960s. But consumer goods were always in short supply, and the population was subjected to the most extreme "discipline" and pressure from above to increase productivity. By the 1970s, the stranglehold of the bureaucracy, the lack of democratic participation in the planning of the economy and the impossibility of building "socialism in one country" led to a long, steady decline of the system, which continues to this day. In its effort to maintain power, the regime's increasingly erratic twists and turns have dragged North Korea into total isolation from the rest of the world and meant terrible suffering for its people. Gross mismanagement and a series of natural disasters led to a famine in the 1990s, with deaths estimated as high as 3.5 million.
The expropriation of capitalism in North Korea was undoubtedly a historically progressive step. But from the beginning, the nationalised, planned economy was controlled from above by a totalitarian bureaucracy. Although there was some participation by the Korean masses in the social revolution that overturned private property in the years after WWII, there was never democratic workers' control and management through workers' councils (soviets), as existed in the early USSR under Lenin and Trotsky. Just as in most of Eastern Europe after the war, this expropriation was carried out bureaucratically from above, on the basis of the economic, military, and political power and interests of the Soviet Union. It was not the result of the active and democratic participation by the Korean masses in a proletarian revolution from below, and as a result, although Soviet control was not nearly as direct as in countries like Bulgaria or Czechoslovakia, it was from the beginning a deformed workers' state.
These totalitarian and bureaucratic beginnings set the tone for the entire subsequent and increasingly bizarre development of the regime. Far from the intransigent proletarian internationalism of the Bolsheviks, the North Korean Stalinist leaders have based themselves on the most narrow and reactionary nationalism and isolationism. They have taken the discredited theory of "socialism in one country" to extreme lengths, summarized in their concept of Juche (self-reliance), which according to Kim Jong-Il, forms part of "Kimilsungism". According to the DPRK state website, "The Leaders [Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il] are the sun of the nation and mankind". The country even has its own Juche calendar where "Year One" is the year in which Kim Il-Sung was born, 1912. This is an extreme example of the so-called "cult of the personality". Not even Stalin went this far.
But the nationalist particularism of the North Korean regime goes even further than this. Even the word "Marxism-Leninism" (which most of the Stalinist regimes at least paid lip service to in the past) was replaced with Juche in all Communist Party publications and even the North Korean Constitution in the 1970s. Access to the classic writings of Marx, Engels, and Lenin is severely restricted. From the above, it is clear just how far this regime is from genuine "Marxism-Leninism" which is internationalist to the core.
Compare this also to the behaviour of the Bolsheviks after they came to power in 1917. The Bolsheviks did the exact opposite of the North Korean Stalinists: they changed the Russian calendar to comply with that of the more generally accepted Western version, in order to better connect with the struggles of the world proletariat.
A creeping counterrevolution
The North Korean masses are suffering terrible conditions. They suffer under an unparalleled totalitarian regime and a despotic bureaucratic leadership, in addition to all the miseries inflicted on them by hypocritical imperialism. The North Korean economy hit a brick wall long ago, as the bureaucracy is utterly incapable of developing the productive forces within the narrow limits of its borders and the totalitarian system. But right next door we have booming China, where the opening up of the country to capitalism has resulted in unprecedented levels of economic development and growth. The fate of tiny North Korea has always been largely tied to that of its giant neighbour. As we said, North Korea depends heavily on China for supplies of material, food and so on. China has the leverage to put pressure on the North Korean regime and pushing it in the direction it wishes. This economic leverage is far more powerful than any atomic bomb.
Under these circumstances, in spite of the surface rhetoric, opening up to a more "free" market economy seems attractive to many bureaucrats in North Korea. But is the answer to the suffering of the North Korean people a return to capitalism? Most definitely not! Let's not forget that alongside the economic development in China we have a working class facing miserable conditions similar to 19th century Britain. There is a huge polarisation taking place, with extreme wealth at one end of the spectrum and terrible poverty at the other.
Marxists can in no way support a return to capitalism. We defend the fundamental gain of the North Korean revolution, the state-owned planned economy, in spite of the bureaucratic deformations. We are opposed to the military and diplomatic encroachments of imperialism. U.S. imperialism, through its local puppet, the South Korean regime, would love to get its hands on North Korea, thus gaining another foothold from which to squeeze China in the region. It would not do this to improve the conditions of life of the North Korean masses.
But the problem we are faced with in North Korea is that it is the very bureaucracy of the Kim Jong-Il regime that is endangering what remains of the planned economy. It would be foolish to believe that the gains of the revolution are safe in the hands of these bureaucrats. Let us not forget that the Russian and Chinese Stalinists (albeit following different paths) were prepared to abandon decades of "socialist" rhetoric and throw themselves into the rush towards capitalism. The North Korean is fundamentally the same.
The reason for this, in the case of Russia, was that their own bureaucratic regime had reached an absolute impasse. They could no longer develop the productive forces. Wanting to maintain their material privileges, they saw capitalism as an alternative. This was especially the case in the late 1980s when capitalism in the West was going through a major boom. In China, the bureaucracy could see its own future demise in the crisis facing the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Thus, they decided to actively guide the process towards capitalism rather than face a sudden collapse as in the Soviet Union. The North Korean bureaucracy seems to have already decided to pursue the path taken by their Chinese counterparts. These bureaucrats cannot be counted on to defend the gains of the planned economy in any serious way.
A new "Asian Tiger"?
It is clear that a significant layer of the North Korean regime hopes to emulate the example of China. A definite shift in the bureaucracy's attitude seems to have taken place in mid 2002, and since then, they have made many concessions to capitalism.
For example, in September of that year, the North Korean government announced the establishment of an "international financial zone" in Sinuiju, an area that borders China. This free market zone, known as the "Korean Hong Kong", was to operate autonomously with its own legal and economic system. It was even slated to issue its own passports and name its own police chief. As The Economist (10/12/2002) said at the time: "The idea of a capitalist zone in Sinuiju appeared to be even bolder than China's decision in 1980 to establish what it called ‘special economic zones', in which capitalist-style policies were introduced."
This project has so far come to nothing after the Chinese government arrested Yang Bing, a Hong Kong capitalist and formerly the second richest man in China, who was to be the first governor of the new free market zone. Arrested for corruption and tax violations, the real reason is more likely that rival Chinese capitalists worried that Yang and the North Koreans would out compete them with even cheaper virtual slave labour. The stalling of this project may also be a reflection of the inevitable contradictions within the North Korean bureaucracy, divided over whether, or more likely, how best to open up the country to capitalism. Despite the slowdown on this front, there is ample evidence that North Korea has already headed well down the path of China.
The old state economic structure is being dismantled bit by bit, slowly stripping away the only real gains of the social revolution, the planned economy. In July 2002, the rationing and distribution system that provided free electricity and food for workers was ended. At the same time, government-controlled prices were liberalised, private enterprise was given more independence, and farmers were encouraged to pursue profits. The reason given by one government official was that this was intended to make workers "show enthusiasm for work".
This is clearly an effort to wean North Korean workers off the state and onto the market economy. We have seen this before. Workers must now increase their productivity if they want a decent wage. These are measures that workers in the West are accustomed to. Productivity deals are not strange to them. But it also involves grinding the working class into the ground.
The North Korean state has also focused some of its investment in capitalist enterprises outside its borders, partnering with companies in China, Russia, Thailand, and Japan (although pressure from the U.S. has severely curtailed economic ties with Japan). From restaurant chains to luxury hotels, computer software and internet providers to generic medicines, the North Korean state has set up shop in several countries, in an effort to generate revenues for its cash-starved economy. But this money sent back from abroad, even if controlled by the state, can play a powerful role in accelerating the development of North Korea's nascent capitalists.
Within North Korea itself, elements of capitalism are sprouting slowly but surely. Not in special economic zones, but within the North Korean economy itself. The crises of famine in the 1990s led to the rise of personal gardens, as a way staving off starvation. But in the last few years, thousands of microfarms have emerged, tiny bastions of capitalism, producing for the private market and for personal, not collective gain. In late 2002 the country's first-ever government sanctioned market was opened. Prices there are haggled over and determined by the market, not the state, and a thriving black market has emerged on this fertile ground. According to vendors, competition is growing, and the market has been greatly expanded since it was first opened.
Not surprisingly, thousands of Chinese businessmen have lined up to get a piece of the "last virgin territory for capitalism". From a vast underground market (located beneath Kim Il-Sung square), to the massive Pyongyang 100 department store, investment is accelerating. Constructions sites are popping up everywhere, and there are far more cars on the streets and tractors in the fields than at any time in recent memory.
Asia Times (August 8, 2006) reports on the jump in foreign investment from Chinese capitalists:
"China's non-financial direct investment in North Korea was about US$14.9 million in 2005 and $14.1 million in 2004, jumping from $ 1.1 million in 2003, according to statistics from the Chinese Commerce Ministry. Bilateral trade reached almost $1.4 billion in 2004, and further jumped to about $1.6 billion in 2005, while the first five months of 2006 hit $61 million."
"'I think products from China take up about 70% of Pyongyang's market, local products take another 20%, and the other 10% is shared by others such as Japan and Russia,' said Xu Wenji, a professor at Jilin University's Northeast Asia Research Institute who paid a 20-day visit to Pyongyang in March."
The convoluted reasoning of the North Korean bureaucracy reminds one of the language used by their Chinese counterparts. According to So Chol, a spokesman for the North Korean Foreign Ministry, "We are still building our socialist system, but we have taken measures to expand the open market. They are only the first steps and we shouldn't expect too much yet, but they are already showing positive results."
But as in China, the gradual dismantling of the state economy and the movement towards capitalism has resulted in tremendous social contradictions. The risks of a social explosion are clear. As reported in The Guardian (December 3, 2003), Hazel Smith of the United Nations University in Tokyo explains: "The extremes of poverty and wealth are growing as market relations increasingly define the economy. Now there is no socialist economy, but also no rule of law for the market. That is the basis of corruption."
The Guardian continues:
"But there are still limits on capitalist activity. Farmers said they had more money, but no freedom to spend it. Academics at the Kimchek Technology University said they had been told to link their research into mobile phones, encryption software and computing with private enterprises, but so far they had been unable to find business opportunities."
The extent to which the state sector has been dismantled and market relations have been introduced in North Korea is not entirely clear, but it is obvious that the pace is accelerating. One cannot state clearly how far the process has gone. It seems to be lagging behind the process in China, but the direction seems quite clear. It will be the giant neighbour who will determine the direction of the process in North Korea.
However, the North Korean bureaucracy surely understands the risks involved in this march towards capitalism, which in China took place over decades, and not without significant convulsions, such as the mass 1989 protests in Tiananmen Square. But the bankruptcy of their narrow, nationalist bureaucratic totalitarianism has left them few options.
It remains to be seen whether or not they can control the pace of the development of capitalism within the country. If it goes too far too fast, it could be accompanied by tremendous social unrest and a sudden collapse of the economy and state, as experienced by the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. Due to the extreme isolation and severe indoctrination of its population, the risks of a violent social explosion as the bureaucracy's "communist" mask comes off is perhaps greater than in any Stalinist state in history. Kim Jong-Il does not want to end up like Romania's Nikolai Ceaucescu did - ignominiously tried and executed by his own officers.
The behaviour of China on this question is important. It has been North Korea's main ally for many years, serving as the intermediary between the West and Kim Jong-Il's regime. The recent North Korean nuclear tests put it in an awkward position, as it will now be pressured by "world public opinion" (i.e. the U.S.) to impose sanctions, which would harm its commercial and political interests in the region. The Bush Administration is in fact demanding sanctions, but these would only be effective if China imposed them.
And China is not going to provoke the collapse of the North Korean regime. This would have a destabilising effect on the whole region and the fall-out would also have an effect on China itself. The Chinese leadership has another strategy in mind. It will use its economic muscle to gently push the North Korean regime down the same road that it has taken in China. After all, the experience of the old Chinese bureaucracy has been to move carefully, gradually, towards capitalism, trying all the time to avoid social dislocation. It will be advising its North Korean friends to do the same.
Obviously, these bureaucrats are not genuinely concerned with the well being of the masses. What they are concerned with are their own perks and privileges. The North Korean bureaucracy is at a very advanced stage of degeneration. For decades they lived totally separated from the working masses they claimed to represent. But at least they defended the planned economy. Now they are clearly abandoning this. Capitalism is very tempting, and there are more than enough Chinese capitalists willing to give them a hand. North Korea is a small country and it cannot go it alone for much longer.
With its fate so closely tied to that of China, the North Korean bureaucracy may have already decided to go fully over to capitalism in an attempt to preserve its own privileges. This would be an immense step backwards for the North Korean workers. The main problem the North Korean bureaucracy is facing is that it cannot hope to play the same role as in China. China is a powerful state, with huge economic resources and has emerged as a major power on a world scale. The future of a capitalist North Korea would be determined firstly by China, but also by Japan, and the USA.
On this basis it would be a logical that inner conflict would erupt within the bureaucracy. In fact some of the more bizarre aspects of the regime, and its desire to have one of the strongest armies in the world, and now nuclear capability, would indicate that the bureaucracy is first and foremost interested in its own survival as a privileged layer. As it cannot guarantee this purely through economic means, it is determined to do so by military means. But in the long run this is no solution. Economic factors will ultimately dominate.
In order to find a genuine solution to the problems of the North Korean masses, another road is necessary. The only true way to defend the gains of the nationalised, planned economy is to introduce genuine workers' democracy based on workers' control and management and to adopt a working class, internationalist policy on all questions.
A genuine Communist regime would base itself on the following four points outlined by Lenin as the basis for workers' democracy: Direct election and right to recall at any time of all functionaries; No functionary to received a wage higher than that of a skilled worker; No standing army but the armed people; The tasks of state administration to be performed by everyone in turn. It is clear that none of these conditions exist in North Korea today. And these were Lenin's conditions, not for socialism or communism, but for the period immediately following the overthrow of capitalism, the "dictatorship of the proletariat" (i.e. workers' democracy).
The reunification of Korea would be supported by millions of Koreans, many of whom were separated from their relatives and homes by the arbitrary division. But for Marxists, it is not a matter of indifference on what economic basis reunification takes place.
North Korea may be faced at some point in the future with a scenario similar to that of Germany in 1989, when the more powerful capitalist West Germany absorbed East Germany. South Korea, with the backing of U.S. imperialism could be used in this manner. If the North were absorbed in this manner into a unified Korea dominated by forces friendly to the United States, China's ambitions to control a capitalist North Korea would be far more difficult. China is therefore heavily exerting its own economic and diplomatic pressures. We must be clear: either way, this would mean the victory of the capitalist counter-revolution.
Thus, under current conditions, the Korean Peninsula can be reunified in only one of two ways: 1) The victory of the capitalist counterrevolution and the annexation of the North by the South on the German model; 2) A proletarian revolution developing more or less simultaneously in both countries.
However, here we have to introduce a word of caution. The situation, although it has some parallels with Germany in 1989, also has some important differences. The power behind the old East German regime was the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy was in severe crisis and was in no position to bolster its satellites in Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union was about to collapse too, with the break up that took place in 1991.
North Korea has a powerful neighbour in China, whose economy is still developing at a very fast pace. Far from being weakened, China is being strengthened. South Korea is a U.S. sphere of influence and China would not want North Korea to be absorbed by the South. Therefore even on a capitalist basis, there is no sure guarantee that capitalism on both sides of the border would necessarily mean immediate unification.
In any case for unification to take place on a socialist basis the North would have to undergo political revolution, leaving the planned economy intact (while reasserting state control over those elements of capitalist property relations that the current regime has allowed to develop), but removing the totalitarian bureaucracy and replacing its rule with democratic workers' control along the lines of the soviets in Russia in 1917.
In the South it would require a social revolution, expropriating the Hyundai and Samsung exploiters and putting the economy under democratic workers' control and management. The working class of South Korea has repeatedly shown its willingness to struggle over the years. In the last 20 years we have even seen movements of an almost insurrectionary character on the part of the South Korean working class. The South Korean regime has always responded brutally, a clear example to the workers of both Koreas that in reality, capitalism has nothing to do with "freedom and democracy".
Freed from the fetters of capitalist exploitation in the South, and totalitarian bureaucratic ineptitude in the North, the technological and natural resources of the Korean Peninsula would blossom in the hands of the Korean working class. On the basis of a unified, democratically planned economy, the privations suffered by the people of North Korea would be rapidly reversed, and the standard of living for all Koreans would rise across the board.
The revolutionary struggle for a genuine socialist regime in the two Koreas would also have a huge international impact, particularly on the workers of China. In fact, without the aid of the Chinese workers, any revolution in Korea would face enormous difficulties. It would come under enormous pressure from the Chinese capitalists, from the Japanese bourgeoisie, and from U.S. imperialism in particular, each seeking to gain the maximum advantage.
What has failed in North Korea, once again, is the totally false Stalinist theory of "socialism in one country", and in particular the attempt to establish an autarchic regime, isolated from the rest of the world, removing itself from the world division of labour. If China could not maintain such a regime, how can little North Korea hope to do so?
As revolutionary Marxists we have to point to another perspective. The choice need not be between an oppressive Stalinist regime on the one hand, and rampant capitalism on the other. The only road forward is that of revolutionary proletarian internationalism, of genuine workers' democracy both north and south of the border.