The U.S. government’s hysterical campaign against North Korea is likely to escalate as the Kim Jong-un regime works toward perfecting a nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile. The Trump administration is considering its military options to try to stymie the tests, including missile strikes against North Korean missile bunkers and re-arming South Korea with nuclear weapons.
U.S. has already taken harsh measures to isolate and punish the North
Koreans. The Pentagon, for example, has ordered frequent cyber and
electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile launches. The New
York Times reported in its March 4 edition that U.S. sabotage
efforts, in a program begun by the Obama administration in 2014,
appear to have caused a large number of the country’s rockets to
explode or veer off course. The failure rate of its
intermediate-range Musudan missile is 88 percent.
course, as the drums of war beat ever louder, North Koreans remember
that the U.S. even considered dropping an atomic bomb on them in the
Korean War of the early 1950s. In the article below, a version of
which appeared in Socialist Action newspaper in 2012, we look more
closely at Korea’s history.
understand the current conflict, you have to understand something
about Korea’s history. The story of the Korean people is
a long and rich one, but one of the prevailing themes of their
history has been their centuries-old struggle against foreign
domination. To many Koreans, the current stand-off is yet
another chapter in a long book of foreign meddling.
centuries, the Koreans have fought to free their country from the
rule of their more powerful neighbors, namely China and Japan. While
originally China was the main aggressor, in modern history
it was Japan that most actively sought to colonize the
first major invasion of Korea took place in 1592. However,
it wasn’t until the early 1900s that Japan was able to
definitively conquer Korea. By this time Japan had
become a rising industrial power, and in the wake of its defeat of
Tsarist Russia in the Russo-Japanese War of 1905, Japan was
given the nod by the other imperial powers to gobble up Korea as
1910, Japan had subjugated Korea, and turned it into a
colony. While a small layer of the Korean elite were groomed to
be local lackeys for the Japanese occupiers, the vast majority of
Koreans were treated like mere slaves—forced to grow food, mine
minerals, and manufacture cheap goods for the Japanese homeland.
brutal occupation was met by a number of popular rebellions that,
unfortunately, were all ultimately unsuccessful.
1925, in the wake of the inspiring Bolshevik revolution of 1917, the
Korean resistance gave birth to an embryonic communist
movement. Forced to work underground, many of its early
activists were killed by the Japanese occupiers. The brutal
repression by the authorities forced the young communist movement to
take up arms in self-defense. Small bands of revolutionaries
around the country came together to try and defend their communities,
and from time to time to strike out at police and military
Japanese response was to organize sweeping military offensives that
drove many of these revolutionaries to the far north of the country,
and over the border into the neighboring Manchuria region
hundreds of thousands of Koreans found themselves in Manchuria,
it provided no refuge, as the advancing Japanese imperialists were
hot on their heels. Using the deposed ruling family of the old
Chinese empire as their puppets, the Japanese set up a puppet state
in Manchuria that they dubbed Manchukuo. The presence of
hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers, and a government filled
with Japanese rather than Manchurian officials, made clear who really
Korean resistance to Japanese occupation continued, however, both
within the Korean peninsula and in Manchuria. Within
Manchuria Korean communists, soon found themselves not only hounded
by the Japanese, but also often by the Chinese Communists, who looked
on Koreans as possible collaborators of the Japanese, and who killed
thousands of them in various purges. Despite this, the
Stalinist-led Communist International insisted that the Korean
communists submit to the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party,
and as a result, the bands of Korean resistance fighters in Manchuria
came under Mao Zedong’s nominal control.
of the most important leaders of these Korean resistance bands was
Kim Il-Sung—the future leader of North Korea. While Kim
Il-Sung’s feats were later grossly exaggerated when he become North
Korea’s leader, it is true that he led one of the more successful
bands of revolutionaries, and engaged in a number of armed actions
with the Japanese.
the end of the 1930s, Kim Il-Sung and most Korean communist leaders
found themselves forced to take refuge in Soviet Siberia after a
series of massive Japanese military offensives against them. Here
the Korean fighters would sit out most of the rest of the Second
World War, as the Soviets were hesitant to anger the Japanese by
letting the Koreans use the USSR as a base of operations. Not
until the Soviet Union declared war on Japan in August of 1945 did
Kim Il-Sung and company get to cross the border again, and then it
was as part of the baggage train of the Soviet armies that quickly
occupied Manchuria and the northern part of the Korean peninsula in
the final few weeks of the war before Japan surrendered.
of North Korea
the war ended, the Allied powers decided to divide the Korean
peninsula between the North, which would be occupied by the Soviets,
and the South, to be occupied by the United States. No
consideration was given to the will of the Korean people, and despite
their decades of heroic resistance against the Japanese, they weren’t
even nominally consulted on the matter.
the Soviets and the U.S. quickly set about creating puppet
governments in their new protectorates. Unlike the U.S. though,
the Soviet army soon withdrew from North Korea, leaving a new regime
headed by Kim Il-Sung in place.
Il-Sung’s regime in many ways resembled the new Stalinist regimes
in Eastern Europe. Ostensibly they were multi-party “people’s
democracies” in which the Communist Parties were simply part of
coalition governments, but in reality the Stalinists were in firm
other parties that made up the North Korean government, such as the
Chongdois Chongu Party and the Social Democratic Party, were soon
reduced to hollow shells with little autonomy and even less
influence. They became little more than window dressings. Similarly,
within the Korean Communist Party (later renamed the Korean Workers’
Party), Kim Il-Sung quickly pushed out any potential rivals and
assumed undisputed control of the party and the government.
the growing repressiveness of the Stalinist regime in the North, the
Communist Party continued to have broad support in the U.S. puppet
state in the South. The Communist Party counted hundreds of thousands
of members and sympathizers, and despite the U.S. occupiers‘ best
efforts to ban and repress the party, it continued to grow. Already
beginning in 1945 it was organizing armed resistance in a number of
parts of the country. Some of these guerrilla battles involved
up to tens of thousands of South Korean revolutionaries taking on
U.S. occupation forces and attacking pro-Japanese landlords and other
in the North, with Stalin’s active support, Kim Il-Sung was rapidly
building up his military forces. In 1950, in a bid to re-unite
the Korean people, the North Korean army invaded the South. This
attack came on the heels of a series of skirmishes and incursions
between the North and South Korean militaries.
the same time that the North invaded, hundreds of thousands of South
Koreans rose up against the U.S. occupation. The result was the
near total collapse of the Syngman Rhee regime in Seoul, which was
forced to flee while the U.S. military itself was nearly ejected from
the peninsula. Within the span of only a few weeks, U.S. forces
had been pushed back to a tiny corner of the peninsula around the
city of Pusan.
one can criticize the tactics used by the North Koreans to re-unify
their people, the fact remains that re-unification was nearly
universally supported. The Syngman Rhee regime, comprised of
numerous Koreans who had collaborated with the Japanese occupation,
was extremely unpopular. It ruled only through U.S. military
backing. The rejection of the majority of the South Korean
people of this state of affairs was powerfully demonstrated by the
popular uprising in support of the Northern invasion, and the
large-scale defections of many South Korean soldiers to the North.
will of the Korean people, however, mattered little to the
imperialists holding court in Washington, D.C. President Truman
and his generals quickly mobilized reinforcements for the beleaguered
troops trapped in Pusan, and then launched a massive amphibious
landing behind North Korean lines, forcing the North Koreans to
U.S. military, joined by a number of other pro-imperialist armies
(British, South African, Turkish, French, Canadian, Australian,
Greek, Dutch, Thai, Belgian, New Zealander, Luxembourgian, Columbian,
Ethiopian, and Filipino) under the guise of the United Nations,
pursued the North Koreans past the former border and into the North.
by devastating carpet bombings and massive use of napalm, the United
Nations forces devastated the North. Its cities were literally
leveled—with whole neighborhoods left with no buildings
standing. Tens of thousands were killed, and hundreds of
thousands fled in terror before the advancing U.N. forces.
to completely conquer North Korea, the imperialists were dealt a
stunning blow in 1951 when an army of Chinese soldiers came to the
aid of the North Koreans, and changed the course of the war yet
again. U.S. and UN forces were pushed back down the peninsula,
back to a line near the original border—where the war would drag on
for another two years in the form of bloody trench warfare.
the end the imperialists had to cry “uncle” and agree to a
ceasefire. This represented a partial victory for the Korean
people—but the cost in lives and destruction had been astronomical
and the peninsula and its people were left divided.
the wake of the war, the U.S. poured significant resources into
rebuilding South Korea, and supported a string of brutal dictators
who vigorously repressed the labor, socialist, and student
movements. The North Koreans, in comparison, received far less
reconstruction aid from the Soviets and Chinese.
the North was able to slowly rebuild. Benefiting from having
most of the peninsula’s mineral resources, and having been the site
of most of the industries that the Japanese had built during their
occupation, the North Korean economy was able to boast significantly
higher growth and output compared to the South throughout the 1950s,
’60s, and into the 1970s.
Korea was also careful to remain neutral in the political rift that
developed between the Chinese and Russian Stalinists during the
Sino-Soviet split that began in the late 1950s.
was during this time (1955) that Kim Il-Sung and his cohorts first
put forth their famous “Juche” theory. Juche preached
self-reliance and independence at all costs. It made a virtue out of
autarky. While initially it was described as a Korean addition to
Marxist thought, by 1972 Kim Il-Sung had replaced all references to
Marxism-Leninism in North Korea’s constitution with Juche, and it
was soon described as having “superseded” Marxism-Leninism.
still referring to themselves as socialists, the North Korean
Stalinists rejected Marxism and Leninism as European notions. In
essence, Juche became the ideological framework for a particularly
nationalistic, and even xenophobic, form of Stalinism.
what it called itself, though, North Korea remained a deformed
workers’ state. Capitalism had been expropriated, but the
workers had been denied democratic control of the society by a
self-serving, parasitic bureaucracy surrounding Kim Il-Sung.
the 1980s it had become clear that South Korea had economically
surpassed North Korea. By brutally repressing labor and
students, often at gunpoint, the South Korean ruling class had
succeeded in turning their country into an up and coming economic
power—one of the so called “Asian Tigers.” South Korean
capitalists, taking advantage of cheap labor, generous U.S. aid, and
Japanese investment, were able to become major producers in the field
of steel, ship-building, automobiles, and electronics, among other
North Korean industry was unable to advance beyond a 1960s level of
technology. Internationally isolated, things went from bad to
worse when the Soviet Union collapsed at the end of 1991. Cut
off from the subsidized oil that the Soviets had provided, energy
poor North Korea went into a serious crisis. Many factories were
idled for lack of energy, and electricity blackouts became common.
was similarly affected by a decrease in the amount of fertilizer and
other chemical inputs that North Korea’s failing industries were
able to provide. But these problems would be dwarfed by the
natural disasters that were to follow.
1995, a devastating series of floods destroyed thousands of acres of
cropland and knocked out roads, dams, and railroad tracks. There
was a drop of 50% to 75% in the nation’s harvest, and matters were
made worse by an ensuing drought. Food, which had already become
scarce in the early 1990s as a result of the economic crisis, now
became almost impossible to obtain. By 1996 the country was in
the grip of famine, and it’s estimated that between 1996 and 1999
anywhere from 200,000 to 3 million people died.
response of the international community was slow and woefully
inadequate. The U.S. likes to brag that when news of the famine
hit, only China stepped forward and offered more aid than it did. But
given that the total amount of aid given in 1995 amounted to only $8
million, less then the cost of half a dozen cruise missiles, the U.S.
should be ashamed. Despite their claims to the contrary, the
slow and checkered reaction of the imperialists to this devastating
human catastrophe was clearly a case of using food as a weapon.
& missile stand-off
Il-Sung, who had ruled North Korea since its founding, died in 1994
at the beginning of the crisis. He was succeeded by his son, Kim
Jong-Il, who continued his father’s absurd cult of personality,
which reached such extremes that it would have made even Joseph
Stalin or Mao Zedong blush.
Jong-Il inherited a state in near total economic ruin. The
state-run economy had broken down to such a point that the state no
longer even bothered to try to nationally distribute food, requiring
instead that each local area become completely self-sufficient in
food production or starve.
Jong-Il’s response to this crisis was to rely almost exclusively on
the military. He put forth a new ideology called Songun. Songun,
which is meant to supersede the old Juche philosophy, is based on the
notion that the military, not the working class, is the revolutionary
foundation of the state, and that all resources necessary should go
was during this time that North Korea began to accelerate its nuclear
program. Having begun in the 1980s with a small Soviet research
reactor, the North Koreans went on to build their own primitive
reactor in Yongbyon in an attempt to reduce their need to import
was also during this time that the North Korean regime dramatically
ramped up its arms sales. North Korea had built up a significant
arms industry way back in the aftermath of the Korean War. While
much of their output was of obsolete Soviet and Chinese designs, much
of it reverse engineered with little support from either, they came
to produce a wide range of military equipment—from small arms all
the way up to tanks and even submarines. They also succeeded in
reverse engineering old Soviet Scud missiles, from which they went on
to produce a whole family of single and multi-stage missiles.
crude by modern standards, North Korean missiles were cheap, and
available to any regime willing to pay for them. As a result,
during the 1990s the North Koreans became one of the world’s
leading exporters of short and medium range ballistic missiles, with
many of them going to countries on the U.S. bad side, like Iran and
combination of North Korea’s developing a nuclear industry,
together with ballistic missiles, sent Washington into a
tizzy. Nothing infuriates imperialists more than when
third-world countries dare to arm themselves with weapons that might
actually be able to deter imperialist bullying. Despite the fact
that the U.S. has for decades openly kept nuclear weapons in South
Korea, and on naval vessels in the region, the U.S. hypocritically
denounced the North Koreans for their nuclear program.
North Koreans insisted that they had the right to defend themselves,
and indicated that what they were after was a non-aggression pact
from the U.S., a nuclear-free Korean peninsula, and energy aid.
our part, Socialist Action agrees that North Korea has the right to
develop nuclear energy, and nuclear weapons for that matter, as much
as we find both things distasteful. Given the threat that the
U.S. poses, North Korea has the right to defend itself, and to create
a deterrent to possible aggression.
a series of United Nations resolutions and attempts to further
isolate North Korea economically and diplomatically, in 1994 the
Clinton administration finally agreed to sit down with the North
Koreans and work out a compromise. Frustrated by its inability
to stop the North Korean regime, the U.S. imperialists offered them a
deal. In exchange for shutting down their nuclear reactor, and
agreeing to allow inspectors in, the U.S. would provide a certain
amount of petroleum and assistance in providing alternative nuclear
technology that could be used for generating electricity, though not
deal held for several years until the U.S. broke it. The U.S. began
to reduce the amount of oil delivered to North Korea, and under the
Bush administration the spigot was cut off completely. The North
Koreans then restarted work on their reactor and in 2006 tested a
has followed since then has basically been a broken record, in which
the U.S. screams and hollers, and the North Koreans holler back. Very
little new is ever said or proposed. Since 2009 the North
Koreans have tested another bomb and test fired a number of missiles,
and the U.S. has responded with more efforts to tighten the noose
around North Korea’s neck.
U.S. campaign against North Korea
recent escalation [in 2012] has resulted in the U.S. and UN saying
that they will begin boarding and searching North Korean ships
suspected of transporting arms for export, which the UN sanctions now
prohibit. The North Koreans have stated that any boardings of
its ships will be taken as a declaration of war.
back home, American workers are being fed a steady diet of anti-North
Korean horror stories. While careful to never mention the U.S.
violations of its agreements with North Korea, or the presence of
U.S. nukes in the region, a steady torrent of stories about North
Korea’s threats and deceptions bombards us. A considerable degree
of fear is being drummed up about North Korean missiles, and a
possible nuclear attack, reminiscent of the war mongering carried
about against Iraq in 2001, and against Iran today.
is no denying the fact that North Korea is indeed a brutal Stalinist
dictatorship, which represses its own people and puts the interest of
the ruling bureaucracy and its armed forces above all
else. Nevertheless, it is not the job of the United States to
police the Korean peninsula.
world’s major manufacturer, distributor, and user of weapons of
mass destruction—of the nuclear, chemical and biological
varieties—has no standing in our view to make demands on any
nation. It has no right to dictate the internal policy of any
country. Only the Korean people themselves have the right to
determine their country’s policies, and to overthrow their
government—both North and South. It is the Korean people alone
who can create a just solution to the problems they face, on both
sides of the DMZ.
bully tactics of U.S. imperialism are not meant to improve the lot of
the Korean people, or to protect them from nuclear war. Rather,
its policies are geared towards increasing its own power and position
in East Asia to the detriment of the working people of the region.
we do not lend any political support to the North Korean regime,
Socialist Action unconditionally defends North Korea against any and
all U.S. aggression. We reject the notion that imperialism has any
role to play whatsoever in the region. We call on all antiwar
activists to join us in opposing all U.S. and UN military, economic,
and diplomatic moves against North Korea. Hands Off North
Korea! Self-determination for the Korean People!
>> The article above was written by Adam Ritscher, and is reprinted from Socialist Action.