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Critical Voices: People’s Korea? June 5, 2020

Posted by guestposter in Uncategorized.
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Colm B offers an alternative to Socialist View’s “Understanding Peoples’ Korea”. As he writes, ‘in the interests of an alternative view, here is a readable antidote from Jacobin magazine’.

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1. Joe - June 5, 2020

I read both articles. There’s fifteen minutes of my life I’ll never get back.
How does North Korea take up so much time in certain left circles? It’s a totally bonkers bad joke.
Forget about it.

Decent public housing for all here and now – that’s the kind of stuff the left should be spending its time on.

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alanmyler - June 5, 2020

Yep. The Jacobin one in particular I thought was very poor.

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Joe - June 5, 2020

🙂 🙂 🙂 He would say that wouldn’t he? 🙂 🙂 🙂

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2. NFB - June 5, 2020

Reminds me a film from the DIFF a few years ago, the Propaganda Game, about perceptions of North Korea. Good documentary, that was critical of the facade the DPRK government likes to erect for foreign visitors while also criticising western media’s penchant for reporting ridiculous rumours about the country as cold, hard fact. More nuanced approach than others (like The Interview thats mentioned in the link above, a woeful piece of claptrap).

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3. Colm B - June 5, 2020

OK hows this for nuance – prison camps that hold thousands at a minimum. Country run by a monarchy that masquerades as communism. Elite eat and drink in luxury while ordinary people eke out bare existence (or in some periods starve). Complete absence of any criticism or any right to criticize any aspect of rulers policies.
Which of those are incorrect? Which requires nuance?

How about nuance on Saudi Arabia or Nazi Germany? Why for NK.

Joe the reason NK is argued about is because it is such a vile crackpot regime: if people who call themselves socialists make excuses or plain argue in favour of such a horrific system, then how can anyone take them seriously on any issue relating to human welfare?. I know thats not your view of NK but how can anyone take a socialist who argues for decent public housing here and now but defends or excuses indecent mass incarceration here and now seriously?

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NFB - June 5, 2020

I believe you are misunderstanding me. The documentary’s approach was nuanced in my opinion because it could be both critical of the North Korean regime for all the reasons you have stated, and still think that media sensationalism on certain ridiculous stories was also worthy of critique. Ridiculous stories in question being things like “the 2010 World Cup team were sent to the mines” or “North Koreans think Dear Leader got five consecutive holes in one” or that this, that or the other people was killed, only for them to turn up alive later, stories often reported on the basis of rumour, distortions and outright hoaxes.

That doesn’t mean that The Propaganda Game, or me, are equating the two as being one or the same. Specifically in the case of the documentarian in question he worried such things could be seen as an effort to create a groundswell for military conflict.

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2020

Yes, it’s very possible to feel the NK regime is not one one has to support in the slightest and also not feel one has to take any of the propaganda emanating from it or some of the more superheated claims from others are correct. The latter is not as problematic as the former by a long shot but it’s not unproblematic either and there’s a certain aspect of insolubilty to the issue as long as the PRC continues on its path in respect to regional geopolitics.

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4. Joe - June 5, 2020

“Joe the reason NK is argued about is because it is such a vile crackpot regime: if people who call themselves socialists make excuses or plain argue in favour of such a horrific system, then how can anyone take them seriously on any issue relating to human welfare?. …. but how can anyone take a socialist who argues for decent public housing here and now but defends or excuses indecent mass incarceration here and now seriously?”

I don’t disagree with any of that. It is my view of NK. It’s why I stopped giving a few bob to the WP a while back now.

My question… and this thread is wasting more of all our valuable time… was how did it happen that people on the left end up spending time debating this crackpot killer regime and system?
Better to ignore it. Which is what I’ll be doing from here on in.

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2020

I get that too Joe. The problem is that there’s a weird sense of affiliation amongst some on the left – people who on other matters we like and work with etc. It’s difficult because having the argument doesn’t per se move things forward but these aren’t entirely minor things so I think a lot of people bite their tongues because there are no good alternatives – and clearly no one here feels any great identification with it.

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NFB - June 5, 2020

I remember back in my college years, when I was much less left than I consider myself today, the praise certain strands of the left had for the DPRK was something that oggled my mind and proved easy fodder for mockery. I haven’t looked into it for a long time, but I assume the Worker’s Party still tips the hat to Pyongyang a bit?

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2020

Generally through their international affiliates and particularly through the International Meeting of Communist and Workers’ Parties. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Meeting_of_Communist_and_Workers%27_Parties

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5. roddy - June 5, 2020

If people want to be taken seriously ,they have to admit that Joe Stalin was a “wrong un”.A poster on here once said he would have preferred to live under Stalins hellish regime than the Ireland of that time.Now Devs Ireland was not a place to celebrate but to compare it unfavourably to that of a maniac responsible for the murder of millions of his own people is stretching it a bit.Hilariously the poster in question opined that under Stalin he wouldn’t have been forced to learn Irish in school.!

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WorldbyStorm - June 5, 2020

I can’t disagree. The oddest thing about much of this is that it was imprecisely but actually dealt with by “actually existing socialist” states in the period from Stalin’s death onwards – contradictory surely, at times dipping back towards outright Stalinism, or a sort of faux Stalinism (particularly under Brezhnev), and with much of the same problems in situ in relation to the structural aspects albeit with modifications that largely prevented a recurrence. Moreover in the PC’s in Europe this was thrashed out and moved on from – again imperfectly but Eurocommunism for all its flaws did at least attempt to grapple with this history and to distance itself from it. Stalinist modes and structures might still have existed but ‘Stalin’ as a period was not regarded all that fondly.

To see the move back towards it on the part of Communist and workers parties internationally is baffling. But then I think there’s emotional reasons given the collapse of ‘socialist’ states and a wish to stand by seeming truths, allied to that with the hugely diminished numbers of those overall describing themselves as Marxist in the present era and for quite some time now there’s a further emotional need for purity of some kind and also it’s used as a rhetorical and sometimes other point of differentiation with alternative Marxist currents that haven’t done too badly.

But again, it’s baffling having been through this once in the 1980s and been strongly of a belief that the Marxist and/or further left could move well beyond Stalin to see it re-emerge.

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alanmyler - June 5, 2020

I’d agree with all of that. As a member of one of the parties that are nominally “Stalinist”, in as much as they’re part of the tradition that evolved out of that, I think there is that sort of emotional connection of sorts that’s probably enhanced out of a sense of it being something that the more dominant Trotskyist parties have chosen to beat us over the head with, so as a reaction it’s embraced. But really I don’t think there are too many, though there are some and I wouldn’t deny that, who would be gung ho in an unironic sense. Personally I’d see myself as a sort of Krushchevite post-Stalinist and Eurocommunist, but even with that I do have difficulty condemning the DPRK in the way that the Jacobin post does. I’ve never been, I’d love to visit, I’m sure I’d hate to have to live there, and yet if you gave me the choice between having to see out my days in say the DPRK or some Latin American narco-state, or as POC in Trump’s USA, I’d seriously want to make a fact finding mission to Pyongyang before committing but my inclination would be that the quality of life there would on balance probably be better than the other choices on offer. Of course Cuba would be preferable again. And the red triangle of Italy better again. But it’s all relative isn’t it.

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Colm B - June 5, 2020

Alan, that’s a fine response. Don’t agree with it all but you rarely find members of any of left party who will just speak their minds even if it dissents significantly form their party’s official line (and that included the Trotskyist/neo-Trotskyist parties).
As for visiting NK, I’m always tempted to wheel out the “but Ive been there” but it was two weeks many moons ago. Wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy but let’s agree on the red triangle even if it no longer really exists. One of my fondest memories is sitting at a long table in a field in Fiesole, above Florence, at a mini-Fete de l’Unita, drinking cheap red wine, eating good Italian food, as the sun went down over Florence. Ah now that was what I call euro- communism!

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alanmyler - June 6, 2020

The red triangle may have gone into decline but I prefer to think of it as a part of the alternation of power that was part and parcel of the Italian Way To Socialism. Your memories of the festa del unita should wonderful. I’ve never experienced it, but maybe someday in the future. I follow a few PCI sections from Tuscany etc on FB, they’re obviously not what they once were, being all but irrelevant politically now, but who knows, it’s impossible to predict the future, and all those contradictions of capitalism haven’t been resolved yet, so that tradition that has insights into that had a distinct advantage as the material conditions worsen. Optimism of the will.

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6. Colm B - June 5, 2020

Yes, the WP and the CPI support the regime, with the CPI, perhaps surprisingly always adding rather weak provisos. In the WP’s case that means active relations with the regime.

I think these “foreign affairs” issues are more profound than people sometimes warrant because they are indicative of the overall approach of socialists. I know this is not a position held by any of the present company but let’s say, for arguments sake, that none of us gave a fiddlers what happens to workers in other countries or at least refused to have a view because our views wouldn’t make a difference (though I don’t remember many socialists arguing for that in relation to Apartheid South Africa). There would still be a strong argument for seeing a socialist’s position on these issues as significant.

So if you consistently support, or excuse, past and present authoritarian regimes that engage in mass incarceration or worse mass murder then what does that say about your overall concept of socialism. If you believe that its ok to torture and murder thousands of ordinary people then what can we expect from you in your political activity here? How can you be trusted in any interactions? I would pose it like this: if you said you were a socialist but supported or excused Trumps gov or lets say Nazi Germany we would not come within a asses roar of you in terms of cooperation.

In terms of socialists who support NK, Assad, Stalin, Mao etc. etc. the best way to I can put it is that my understanding of socialism is so diametrically opposed to their understanding of the word that we believe in something completely different, we just both happen to call it socialism. Doesn’t matter what we call it, its the content that matters and the content of their socialism and mine are a million miles apart.

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