NOTES ON THE DEMOCRATIC PEOPLE’S REPUBLIC OF KOREA
AN EVER INCREASING COLLECTION OF NOTES, LINKS, SOURCES AND OBSERVATIONS
COLLECTIVIZED + COMPILED BY @BLKSKNLENINCCCP
TABLE OF CONTENTS
THE KOREAN WAR: AN INTRODUCTION
DID THE NORTH START THE KOREAN WAR?
REPORT: U.S. DROPPED PLAGUE-INFECTED FLEAS IN NORTH KOREA IN MARCH 1952: REVIEWING THE LONG-SUPPRESSED REPORT
IMPERIALISM + THE IDEOLOGICAL INFLUENCE OF THE TRUMAN DOCTRINE
UNDERSTANDING THE NUCLEAR WEAPONS PROGRAM
POST-WAR RECONSTRUCTION FOR THE KOREAN PENINSULA
GLOBAL ISOLATION VS THE DPRK
UNDERSTANDING JUCHE: A BRIEF SUMMARY
ELECTIONS IN THE DPRK: THE MYTH OF THE KIM “DYNASTY” AND THE REALITY OF THE KOREAN DEMOCRATIC PROCESS
UNDERSTANDING GLOBAL ORIENTALISM
ON DEFECTORS: WHAT IS TO BE DONE?
THE KOREAN ECONOMY & MYTHS OF COLLAPSE
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES
THE KOREAN WAR: AN INTRODUCTION
recommended source: the ethics of bombing civilians after world war ii: the persistence of norms against targeting civilians in the korean
First, a pop quiz. Do you know the name of the last government that had sovereignty over the entire Korean Peninsula? You get one clue: it isn’t the Empire of Japan.The answer to that question will come later. For now, let’s take a look at the situation in Korea under Japanese occupation, officially the period from 1910 to 1945 — though Japan had meddled in Korean affairs long before annexation. Few Westerners are aware of Korea’s history of popular resistance. After 1910, Japan sent in a massive settler population, claiming Korean lands and putting most of the population to work as tenant farmers. The results were predictable — abject poverty and starvation.
Japanese share of arable land on the peninsula grew, as did the misery of tenant farmers. Soon, anti-colonial resistance sprouted up, with the first (unsuccessful) nationwide independence movement in 1919.
The failure of the March 1st movement led to a split in nationalist sentiment, between moderates and radicals. You can probably guess where the moderates’ sympathies lied.
Radicals, on the other hand, were inspired by the recent revolution in Russia, and began seeking out Marxist and Leninist texts for study and discussion. Many did so in exile.
But thinking wasn’t enough, and the nascent, somewhat elitist communist movement in Korea was snuffed out quickly by Japanese authorities.
This setback became opportunity. Korean communists were, some historians claim, put on the right path by the Soviet-led Communist International, whose December Theses criticized the movement for its lack of connection to the workers and peasants.
It’s a mildly racist assumption. Korean theorists had come to the same conclusions well before the Theses were promulgated, though the Soviets certainly helped speed things along.
These developments were happening deep within a crucible. After the largely nonviolent 1919 independence actions, exiled activists led desperate peasants and workers in armed struggle.
Repressions were harsh, and as communists and leftists were the most disciplined and steadfast opponents to colonial rule, Japanese reprisals began taking on an anti-communist character — but the Korean people began to identify communism with resistance itself.
Armed clashes, mostly at the border, were only one aspect of organized resistance to Japanese occupation. A little-remembered peasant union movement took hold, radicalizing rural populations through mutual aid and education.
(Side note: After reading about red peasant unions in Korea, who studied Marxism-Leninism under the yoke of fascists and brutal landlords, I don’t want to hear any more bullshit about how workers don’t want to read.) Japanese occupiers didn’t care for that, and reacted accordingly. They raided night schools and arrested leaders and union members, and red unions protested in return.
The unions’ grievances broadened into a wide-ranging program of radical action.
These myriad forms of resistance laid the groundwork for what would come after Japanese defeat in World War II. But, you might wonder — where is the US in all this?
I could just say “doing nothing,” but that would only be half-true. They did nothing when it came to Korean independence. When it came to Japanese occupation, they were all for it!
And it’s not like people didn’t know what was going on in Korea. Plenty commentated on the US’ inaction.
Korean independence fighters obviously weren’t getting any help from the US. And the Korean Communist Party wasn’t even in the Comintern anymore. The situation was difficult. Fighting continued. Groups of communist and leftist insurgents distinguished themselves on the field, including a young leader you might recognize.
Japan brought China into the war, and Korean fighters joined the Communist Party of China in struggle with the invaders. This eventually included the Soviet Union. Suddenly, the battle for a free Korea had gone international.
Though the Korean communists were far away from their homeland, their position offered several advantages which would come in handy after the war.
Kim himself impressed foreign commanders, both Chinese and Soviet. This no doubt aided him in his rise to leadership.
I’m skipping World War II now. Sorry. Skip forward and the Red Army enters Korea. The Soviets have accepted the American proposal to divide the peninsula at the 38th parallel. More on that later. In the weeks between the Soviet landing in mid-August and the American arrival in early September, something incredible happens. This is maybe the most overlooked moment in modern Korean history. Immediately after Japanese surrender, Koreans get to work on their own system of government. At last, a people who have suffered endlessly under imperialism can build a country of their own, and they do so. Establishing what soon came to be known as “people’s committees,” Koreans begin developing a unified system — completely spontaneously.
Despite the name, the people’s committees weren’t strictly communist organs. A wide variety of groups participated during this period.
The nature of the proposed system did, however, have greater appeal for Korean communists. Through their organizational experience and credibility following the anti-Japanese struggle, they began to mold and shape the committees to favor radical changes.
This disparate structure eventually coalesced into a de facto government for the whole peninsula, and the answer to that pop quiz I asked at the top of this: the People’s Republic of Korea. (Thanks for reading, by the way!)
Reactions from the Red Army and US Army say a lot. So what did the US do? They saw the names “People’s Republic” and “people’s committees” and lost their damn minds.
Rather than recognize this homegrown governmental structure, General John Reed Hodge was determined to stamp his country’s will on what he saw as a dangerous experiment.
Hodge felt no need to sugarcoat his intentions. The mission was to “break down” what was seen as a “Communist government.”
This sums it up nicely.
What, then, did the Soviets do? If you said “the exact opposite,” great work - because you’re correct. The Red Army recognized the people’s committees, the CPKI and the People’s Republic.
It’s true the Soviets had reason to maintain these structures besides altruism. But the history of the Korean communist movement, and the actual relations between countries, belie the idea the north was simply a puppet state.
Oh, and the notion of the DPRK as Soviet satellite was first pushed by the US State Department. Big surprise.
Koreans in the north were rarely amenable to Soviet designs, even after the establishment of the DPRK.
OK, and we’re back in the period most people know. The Soviets have established a government in the north, the US has one in the south. They are already very different. This person writing in the 1940s lays it out and adds some Orientalism to it. Thanks, probably dead lady!
With such ideological divergence, negotiations for the future of Korea already look strained. Nonetheless, the Allies meet in Moscow in December 1945. Everyone wants something different, and the US and Soviet Union both want the peninsula.
However! Each party’s approach is different. The US wants a four-power trusteeship of itself, the USSR, Britain and China. This would conveniently give Western interests a 3-to-1 vote. (Recall that the PRC wasn’t founded until 1949.) The Soviets wanted the Koreans themselves to determine their future. Consequently, this desire is reflected in the administration of their zone, with the maintenance of the people’s committees and a leading role in the discussion.
And again, this wasn’t because of warm feelings and pure, kind hearts. The Soviets wanted a friendly government in their occupation zone — but the Koreans still crafted a system of their own.
Consider, in contrast, the attitude of the US. After a long silence during the Japan occupation, liberal hero Franklin Roosevelt suddenly discovered he cared about Korea in 1943, as the outcome of the war became inevitable.
At the Cairo Conference, the US was responsible for draft statements which prevaricated on the issue of Korean independence. Roosevelt himself made the key change from independ