Good Time (2017) and Uncut Gems (2019) are ciphers for the Safdie Brothers’ exploration of capitalist ideology’s acidic hold on the individual. On its breaking down of character, reducing one to rubble. On its decay of the soul.
On the 12th of June 2018, President Trump met with Kim Jong-un in Singapore to discuss the terms for new ‘peaceful relations’ between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States. This summit follows a significant heightening of tensions between the two nations and more than 50 years of US imperialism directed against the DPRK. The response of the Democrats in the US has been one of disapproval over the summit.
For example, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi commented that “in his haste to reach an agreement, President Trump elevated North Korea to the level of the United States while preserving the régime’s status quo.”[i] Indeed, much of the liberal, reactionary sphere of politics has viewed the summit as a defeat. As such, we shall here conduct a brief assessment of the historical and material conditions that the DPRK has been forced to endure in order to provide a Marxist analysis of the current events surrounding the DPRK.
A brief history of the DPRK
From 1910 until 1945 Korea was under the colonial rule of Japan. Shortly after the Soviet Union declared war on Japan (8th of August 1945), three months after victory in Europe, Soviet armed forces moved quickly into the Korean Peninsula, honouring the Tehran and Yalta conferences’ promise of assistance to their allies in the Pacific war. As a result, the US became deeply fearful of a communist Korea and proposed a line that would divide the Peninsula into two zones; one occupied by US forces in the south, which included the capital Seoul and sixteen million citizens in residence, and the Soviet zone in the North, which would include Pyongyang and nine million Koreans. This line, known as the 38th Parallel, was accepted by the Soviet Union.
When the Soviet and US imperialist forces arrived in Korea, they found that a revolutionary uprising had taken place and that a unified government had been established in their absence; the People’s Republic of Korea (PRK). The PRK had grown out of the Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence (CPKI), which was set up by Korean leaders to establish the transition to independence, the CPKI announced on August 28, 1945 that it would function as a temporary national government of Korea and, on the 12th of September, CPKI activists had met in Seoul, officially establishing the PRK. At this stage, the PRK was a network of people’s committees from all over the Korean peninsula which presented a program of radical social change. However, the US military government was quick to denounce these networks as communist, and outlawed the PRK on December 12th 1945; meanwhile in the north, the Soviet authorities co-opted the committees into the structure of the emerging Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
In December 1945 the US and the Soviet Union agreed to a proposal for trusteeship over the region for five years, with the suggestion of independence for Korea after these five years had expired. Following this, in early 1946 a number of socialist policies were introduced in North Korea on land redistribution, industrial nationalisation, labour law reform, and gender equality by the Interim People’s Committees, which were run predominantly by communists who reconstituted under the leadership of Kim-Il-Sung.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was then established in the north on September the 6th 1948 and on the 15th of August the US ended its military administration in the south, having both created the Republic of Korea (ROK) and installed a puppet dictator as their first Prime Minister, Syngman Rhee. On December 12th, the United Nations declared the Republic of Korea (in the South) to be the “only lawful government in Korea.”[ii]
After Soviet forces withdrew from the DPRK, and following a series of brutal repressive actions in the south which killed approximately 100,000 people; war erupted between the Korean People’s Army and the Republic of Korea on the 25th of June 1950 when the ROK (under orders from US imperialist) attacked and invaded the DPRK[iii]. The US, having recently faced the prospects of both an opposing nuclear-armed Soviet Union in September 1949 and the newly formed People’s Republic of China, sought rapid rearmament in Western Germany and Japan, in order to hold onto its strategic advantage over the Soviet Union. To US imperialism, the Korean peninsula was a cornerstone that could be used as a staging-ground for further strikes into East Asia, if it could be captured and held, a united communist Korea, however, was inadmissible in the eyes of the imperialists.
The US readied the 7th Fleet to give aid to the Republic of Korea, and the British Labour government under Clement Attlee also offered naval assistance to their US allies and sent two battalions to Korea. Twelve thousand British soldiers helped to comprise a force of 16 armies, all of which were under the control of the US.
In less than two months, the DPRK had liberated over 90% of the Korean peninsula and population, forcing US occupation forces to the far south. During their retreat, the US and their allies brutally executed over 350,000 people, even utilising methods such as crucifixion. At home in Britain, many news sources were censored in order to encourage prolonged involvement in the war.
In September of 1950, the imperialist bloc launched a massive counter attack. Schools, hospitals and whole towns were obliterated by US bombers as the Labour Party agreed the decision to cross the 38th Parallel , which British forces crossed before the UN resolution was passed, reaching the Chinese border by mid-November.
In a further counter-attack, the DPRK and the allied Chinese People’s Volunteer forces pushed the imperialist bloc back to the 38th parallel, forcing the US to actively consider and threaten the use of nuclear war on the peninsular for the first time, almost 60 years ago. In the end, it was only the fear of Soviet retaliation that stalled the use of nuclear weaponry.
On the 12th of July 1953 an armistice was signed after a war in Korea that had cost the US more lives than the entire of the Second World War and after one bomb had been dropped on the Pyongyang for every square meter and for every citizen. During this stage of the conflict 1.2 million DPRK citizens lost their lives. The US had resorted to atrocious methods of war which included the use of napalm on children, the crucifixion of citizens and threatening nuclear war, and yet despite these brutal methods, the war had come to a stalemate. This stalemate was kept in a delicate balance only by the threat of nuclear war and the possibility of Soviet retaliation.
Despite the fact that in this armistice it was agreed that:
[the] governments of the countries concerned on both sides that, within three (3) months after the Armistice Agreement is signed and becomes effective, a political conference of a higher level of both sides be held by representatives appointed respectively to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, etc[iv]
Korean War Armistice Agreement
The US has refused to sign a peace treaty, and has refused to remove their forces from the peninsula since the armistice, despite many calls for a peace treaty to be signed from the DPRK. As such, since this time, the DPRK relied heavily upon the economic support of China and the Soviet Union and the protective nuclear deterrent provided by their allies to prevent another devastating war.
Since the cold war
After being fought into stalemate by the Korean peoples army and their allies (and with the option of direct military action no longer preferable for the imperialists) though the threat of renewed military action never disappeared, the imperialist states switched to tactics of economic and political warfare.
The DPRK has been subject to a number of sanctions from the UN, the US, EU and a number of other states including Japan and the ROK. These sanctions are presented as being put into place to hinder the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons but they are also used, as they are in other states that the imperialists see as threats including Venezuela and Cuba, to hinder economic development in the hope that economic collapse or counter-revolution can be brought about within the DPRK.
These sanctions have placed bans and restrictions on key areas of the DPRK’s economy including imports exports and the ability of the citizens of the DPRK to work abroad in other states. It is unquestionably a testament to the DPRK and the Korean people that they have been able to survive and construct socialism under these conditions. Any state or business that does try to conduct trade with the DPRK is routinely pressured by the United States that if they make purchases, sales or transactions with the DPRK, they too will be sanctioned.
Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, the DPRK has been increasingly in need of a new nuclear deterrent, or else risk another war with the imperialist bloc. This need has been exasperated since US President George Bush declared the DPRK one of the Axis of Evil in a 2002 speech, following which the US engaged in war efforts with another member of his fictitious axis, Iraq.
In order to prevent a similar invasion waged against themselves as have been seen in countries such as Iraq, the DRPK were forced to develop their nuclear deterrent, causing an increase in the economic struggles that they had faced since the collapse of the Soviet Union as they spent increasing amounts on their self-defence.
This is the climate in which Trump began beating his breasts and baying for ‘fire and fury.’ Yet the capitalist wildcard seems to recently have seen the disadvantages of a war with the DPRK, which would undoubtedly be more costly than the last war for both sides. As such, and with the hope of scoring political points, Trump has instead has agreed to the long awaited summit on a peace agreement with the DPRK.
Amongst socialists in the core imperialist states, there is much criticism of the DPRK over their distinctive Juche idea of national self sufficiency, their military first philosophy (songun), and the virulent support they have for their leaders. It is beyond the scope of this article to go deeply into the ideas associated with the Juche, songun philosophy, how socialist construction has been carried out within the DPRK, or how production has been organised in the DPRK. However, as Marxists if we are to look at these policies and the DPRK’s actions, even with just a very surface-level understanding of the policies themselves, we must not consider them in isolation but must instead analyse them within the material conditions in which they currently exist and from which they have arisen.
We must see that throughout a history of constant threat of invasion from imperialists, in which allies have come and gone, that that national unity and national self-sufficiency must be understood as a logical requirement for the preservation of socialism in the DPRK. It is understandable, as such, to see that unity exemplified in the leaders and military of the DPRK first, as this is the philosophy that has brought the DPRK through a hellish period of war and imperialist aggression.
Furthermore, for an oppressed nation such as the DPRK to have been able to develop a nuclear deterrent can only be a victory against imperialism. Whilst the Democrats pursue liberal, bourgeois rivalries in the form of criticism of the summit in an effort to score points, regardless of the effect that demonising the DPRK could have upon millions of people; we must instead support the peace settlement as a victory for the DPRK, and as a result, for the global working class’ resistance to imperialism. This is not a victory for Trump, though he may seek to profit from the recent developments and current diplomatic situation, it is a victory for the people of Korea and, above all, the DPRK.
Red Fightback, as socialists and internationalists, recognise and support the right of the people of Korea to self determinate, as such we call for the complete removal of US armed forces from the peninsula, for an end to all economic sanctions and Imperialism interference in Korea and we demand a peace treaty for the people of Korea. We stand with the people of the DPRK, who have long stood against western imperialism, rather than on the side of the snide, chauvinist, remarks of many on both sides of the political spectrum, and by extension, the US.
[ii] Buzo, Adrian (2002). The Making of Modern Korea. London: Routledge. p. 6