Just what is the DPRK? February 19, 2014Posted by WorldbyStorm in International Politics.
It’s a question that comes to mind reading about the United Nations report on North Korea. None of this will be news for those of us who follow these matters, this is, after all, a state that itself admits to kidnapping Japanese citizens (and mostly civilians at that – not that that should or does make a difference) from the coasts of Japan.
There’s much to consider – and much that some should think long and hard about, from the songbun system which seems arguably to be a perverse combination of collective and individual punishment, the use of food as a system of mass societal control, a network of prison camps, and a broad range of acts that the ICC argues ‘meets the threshold needed for proof of crimes against humanity in international law’. Where this goes next is a most interesting question. Probably nowhere given the local balance of forces and the blunt reality that the PRC will sustain the DPRK for its own geo-political reasons as long as it suits them. But on the other hand it offers a yardstick by which to measure future developments or lack of same.
This isn’t a leftwing state, the dynastic element alone is such that it precludes it from being so – and indeed the most recent events in relation to its governance where a non-blood relative was purged most publicly underlines that dynastic element even more forcefully. But if not left-wing then what is it precisely?
Interesting analysis too here:
The report concludes that many of the crimes against humanity stem directly from state policies in a country which, since it was formed from the division of Korea, has been run on a highly individual variant of Stalinist-based self-reliance and centralised dynastic rule. The inquiry found “an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, with citizens brought into an all-encompassing system of indoctrination from childhood.
But I wonder is that missing the point to position it within that framework because – as with the point about dynastic rule – it seems to sit somewhere else entirely where the outward trappings of Stalinism – more a reenactment than a facade – are bolted onto a much older socio-political dynamic, none of which is intended in any sense to excuse or wave away those trappings – they were clearly used to pernicious and appalling effect. But there’s almost a sense that that was opportunistic, that they provided a methodology at a certain historic moment to acquire and retain power but that their function subsequently was subsidiary. Subsidiary to what?
The state appears to contain competing elite power centres, the Army and so forth, but state legitimation is embodied in a single ruling family and all is subordinate below that level. How much or how little agency that family has is – to some extent – beside the point, though all indications are that it has more than sufficient. That is the system, that is how it is run. That is for who it is run. There is even in the attitude towards the state founder an overt element of ‘the king is dead, long live the king’. Look again at the concept of songbun, an explicit approach that pits the majority of the population as being either ‘neutral’ or ‘hostile’ to those in charge. The state itself comes into implicit conflict with those it purports to represent. That is the logic at work there.
Where concepts such as solidarity or socialism fit into this is quite some question.