U.S. Out of Korea!

American Imperialism Rattles Sabre in Korea

[First printed in Workers Vanguard #123, 3 September 1976]

AUGUST 31 On August 18, two U.S. military officers were killed by North Korean soldiers using the very axes which the Americans had dragged into the “Demlitarized Zone” in order to prune a tree that “obstructed the line of sight” of a U.S.-South Korean command post. Three days later the Pentagon mobilized a “”show of force”: B-52 bombers, F-4 Phantom jets, F-111 fighters and helicopter gunships were readied: the USS Midway steamed into Korean waters from Japan as the spearhead of a naval task force: and 300 armed soldiers of the South Korean and U.S. armies which compose the imperialist “United Nations Command” cut down the offending 40-foot poplar.

Immediately, the bourgeois yellow press began grinding out accusations of “Communist Agression.” The state department announced that North Korean leader’s Kim Il Sung’s message of “regret” was insufficient. What incredible hypocrisy! The U.S. imperialists have maintained an expeditionary force of 41,000 troops in place for 23 years since the Korean War armistice. This is a permanent act of aggression against the workers and peasants of that divided nation. American imperialism must be forced to pack up its troops, its land mines and tanks, its 1,000 nuclear missiles, its axes, command posts and spy ships and get out of Korea now!

The sabre-rattling that followed the recent clash in the DMZ mirrored the equally hypocritical outrage and massive U.S. military build-up after North Korea’s seizure of the American spy ship Pueblo in 1968. Dozens of war planes were then flown from Okinawa to South Korean bases and aircraft carriers were stationed off the Korean coast. U.S. spokesmen thundered for the release of the ship and crew, while blithely ignoring the fact that they were part of the continual imperialist surveilance, harassment of the North.

The last 23 years have registered well over 1,000 deaths, mainly Koreans, due to skirmishes in the DMZ which snakes 151 miles across the peninsula. The “Demilitarized Zone” is still officially categorized as a “combat zone” by the U.S. military. and hardly a day goes by without some kind of incident. But the issue is not who may prune a tree. The DMZ, the cease-fire line established at the end of the Korean War, is a battle line in the class war. The South Korean and American forces who patrol it are the front line of imperialist attempts to encircle the Soviet Union and China. The North Korean forces are armed defenders of the collectivized economy of a deformed workers state. Revolutionaries unconditiunaily militarily defend the deformed workers states against imperialism, regardless of who wields the first axe or launches the first missile.

President Ford may believe that his dangerous show of force in Korea can annoint him the super cold warrior in the current election campaign, and perhaps spur some electoral activity out of disgruntled anti-“detente” Reagan supporters. But it won’t work. Carter is right in line with a foreign policy no less anti-communist and no less warmongering than Ford’s. And he is reminding everyone that the cold war the Democratic Party’s baby.

The U.S. ruling class, while supporting Ford’s martial provocations, is embarrassed by its puppet regime of Pak Chung Hi (generally referred to in the Western press as General Park), one of the worst in a string of U.S.bankrolled right-wing dictatorships. Currently the Park regime is winding up a show trial of 18 leading dissidents who dared to suggest that life in South Korea is not “free” by any stretch of the imagination. The victims have been sentenced to long prison terms for violating Park’s presidential decree of 1972, which according to the New York Times (29 August) bans “all forms of dissent including criticism of the decree itself. “

The convicted victims of this latest anti-communist witchhunt include, besides professors, priests and other clergy, a 79-year-old former president of South Korea and the country’s first woman lawyer. They were all found guilty of sedition for asking the dictator to resign, A three-judge panel charged that the defendants had “slandered the Constitution” and “distorted the political situation by claiming that there was no freedom in this country.” These victims of an arbitrary. thought-control kangaroo court must be freed, along with the thousands of other victims of the Park dictatorship’s anti-communist repression! The hundreds of millions of dollars of U.S. aid to this miserable rightist dictatorship must be stopped!

The whole business might seem an ironic joke on imperialism’s pretensions of representing a “free world,” but behind it lie the executions and savage tortures bv the vicious South Korean police and army, propping up a regime which causes immense misery for the workers and peasants (dreadfully low wages, widespread prostitution, etc.). But it is difficult to discover all that is going on in South Korea, because “any South Korean faces seven years imprisonment for criticizing his government to a foreigner” (New York Times, 23 August).

Bourgeois support for Ford’s military mobilization in Korea was given with a warning against another land war in Asia, as the U.S. continues to lick its wounds sustained over imperialism’s loss of Vietnam. The American public is in no mood for another Korean War. Despite Ronald Reagan and other crazed anti-communist ideologues, the opinion of the majority of the world   bourgeoisie was best summed up by the cover of the influential British conservative magazine, the Economist (28 August), which reproduced a 1950’s vintage war-mongering racist Marvel comic book cover above the title, “Oh no, not Korea again.”

Korean War and Cold War

The Korean War, which left two million dead (four-fifths of them civilians) was essentially the attempt of U.S. imperialism to “roll back” the sphere of influence of the USSR, then closely allied with China. It was also a civil war in which the U.S. and its puppet tyrants in Seoul sought to crush the struggle of the Korean masses, North and South, to reunify their country and rip it from the rapacious grasp of the capitalist; landlord clique around dictator Syngman Rhee.

Having “lost China,” U.S. rulers were itching not only to “contain” the Soviet Union but to “liberate” the former realm of Chiang Kai-shek for capitalist exploitation. This was surely the intention behind the massive U.S. invasion across the 38th parallel in the summer of 1950 following initial military successes of large-scale North Korean troop movements into the South. The 38th parallel had heen established as the dividing line between Russian and American forces at Potsdam in 1945 as the Japanese were disarmed in Korea. Korea was not at first considered by American military planners to be a “crucial” area to hold on the Asian mainland, but it became so with the Chinese revolution and during the course of the Korean War.

The U.S. invasion was only the most spectacular event during the summer of 1950 as Truman and Secretary of State Dean Acheson mounted the virulently anti-Soviet foreign policy offensive they had sought. During the same period the U.S. committed itself to defense of Taiwan and French Indochina, tripled its military budget and, most importantly, sent four divisions to Europe under NATO command. They began to rearm Germany and set their sights on securing the Asian “rim” with a linchpin of American bases in a strong capitalist Japan. The U.S. policy of encirclement had taken hold and would remain until American imperialism could no longer enforce its hegemony in the Asian theater more than 20 years later.

It is in this context that Truman gave General MacArthur the order to cross the 38th parallel (an action subsequently rubber-stamped by the United Nations). MacArthur promised that the Chinese would not enter the war even though Peking had publicly warned it would not share the waters of the Yalu (where there were strategic Chinese hydroelectric facilities) with the Americans. The U.S. military was surprised by the massive Chinese retaliation and could no longer hope for anything more than a stalemate. MacArthur’s axiom that in war there is no substitute for victory gained him little in the fight with Truman, since the bourgeoisie well understood that a no-win policy was the most that could be achieved, and even to get that they would have to strike a bargain with the Stalinists.

The U.S. got its ceasefire in place in Korea, and the stalemate was hailed in Moscow as an action that would “not only stop the massacres now going on in Korea, but would also greatly relieve world tension and open the door for further peace moves” (Daily World, 3 April 1953). Yet 23 years later, the U.S. army remains in place, propping up the regime of Rhee’s successor which is stained with the blood of thousands of opponents of capitalist exploitation and military terror in South Korea.

Cold War and the Left

The Stalinists, however, are still singing the praises of “peaceful coexistence,” angling for a deal with the imperialists at the expense of the Korean masses. The Daily World (26 August) reports a statement by the Canadian Communist Party warning only of the “danger of war in Korea,” and saying not a word about the stake which the international proletariat would have in the outcome of such a war. Furthermore, “The statement called for the reunification of that country to be worked out by the people and the governments involved” (our emphasis). Thus the Stalinists couple their call for U.S. withdrawal, to be effected “through the United Nations,” with backhanded recognition of the Park dictatorship.

The Stalinists have consistently sought to play the role of “peacemakers” in Korea, beginning in June 1951 when Russian spokesman Jacob Malik proposed the general outlines of the eventual armistice: a ceasefire with both sides withdrawing to either side of the 38th parallel, allowing the U.S. troops to remain indefinitely. The Daily Worker (25 June 1951) gave Stalin’s game away with the frank admission that, “This was exactly what Secretary of State Acheson, during his recent Senate testimony. indicated to be the condition of the U. S. for a ceasefire agreement.”

In that period, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), then a revolutionary Trotskyist party, sharply differentiated itself from the implicit pacifism of the Communist Party (CP). which parroted the Kremlin fine of calling for Korea to revert to the status quo ante. Its answer to Malik’s ceasefire proposal was a blistering retort demanding that the U.S., in the words of the headline. “Get Out of Asia! That Would Be a Real Ceasefire” (Militant, 30 .J une 1951).

In a series entitled. “Korean War: Its Class Origin and Nature: A Marxist Analysis.” SWPer Art Preis took the Stalinists to task:

“You will search the Worker review in vain for the words ‘civil war.’ Yet this phrase is a touchstone of a real Marxist analysis of the Korean War. The decisive questions regarding the nature of the Korean War are: What classes are involved? What is the social basis is of the struggle? What are the real aims of the contestants? What class interests do they serve?”

“Why are the lips of the Stalinists sealed as to the true character of the internal struggle in Korea that led to civil war’? The answer can he found in the foreign policy of the Kremlin. Stalin demands ‘peaceable co-existence with capitalism.’ In practice, this means he seeks deals with world imperialism that will stave off the threat of war on the Soviet Union. In return for such deals, he offers his services in betraying proletarian revolutions and colonial uprisings that threaten world capitalism ……”

Militant, 21 July 1952

During the Korean War the SWP also distinguished itself from all manner of “anti-Stalinist” social chauvinism. Patriotic support for “our boys” in Korea became the touchstone of cold war loyalty and an acid test for the left. Previous sources of left and liberal opposition to Truman’s policy of global anti-Communist “containment” evaporated in the flag-waving atmosphere. Norman Thomas and the Socialist Party embraced the war effort in the name of democratic socialism. The liberal Americans for Democratic Action which had been on record opposing the witchhunting HUAC backed off from that stand. With the start of the Korean War it joined the front line of anti-communist cold warriors at home and imperialist militarists abroad.

Under this pressure the Shachtmanite Independent Socialist League accelerated its motion toward State Department socialism with its analysis of Russia as an imperialist power. The “Third Camp” headline of its paper, Labor Action (3 July 1950) read. “The OnIy War Aim on Both Sides in Korea: Which Imperialist Power Will Control Asia.” Declaring the “purely imperialist character of the conflict,” the ISL refused to defend the proletarian property forms of North Korea against the imperialist onslaught. It even held out the possibility that “if the government of South Korea were an independent one … its resistance to the Northern invasion would be a defense of the sovereignty of Korea from an imperialist assault by Russia” (Labor Action, 10 .Iuly 1950).

It was left to the SWP to point to the class character of the Korean War. ln an open letter to the U.S. president and Congress. SWP leader James Cannon labelled the “UN police action” a “brutal imperialist invasion.” He added:

“This is more than a fight for unification and national liberation. It is a civil war. On the one side are the Korean workers, peasants and student youth. On the other are the Korean landlords, usurers, capitalists and their police and political agents …

While upholding a revolutionary position, the SWP analysis tended to overemphasize the purely indigenous, Korean-centered nature of the war. U.S. imperialism sought to conquer North Korea as the most exposed and vulnerable part of the Soviet bloc. Today, the SWP has long since degenerated into reformism and no longer sees a need to take sides in the class war, seeing only a “danger to world peace” in heightened tensions between North Korea and the U.S.·South Korean forces. In the Militant (3 September), the SWP warns that Ford’s “dangerous aggression … could trigger suicidal nuclear war.” Not one word to suggest a policy of military defense of North Korea, which is described merely as “a small country,” presumably little different than South Korea. This is not the revolutionary SWP of the Korean War years that braved McCarthyite witch hunting and stated clearly in which class camp it stood: it is, rather, the SWP of the anti-Vietnam War movement when it consistently refused to call for military victory to the NLF.

For Revolutionary Marxism, Not “Kim” Sung-ism”

North Korea’s more powerful Stalinist allies are concerned above all with their own diplomatic maneuvers with the imperialists. Moscow, which cautiously doled out military aid while maintaining a strict policy of non-intervention during the 1950-53 Korean War, is anxious to prevent Japan from developing closer ties with Peking. Hence it is eager to prevent new sphere for Japanese investment and political influence.

Maintenance of close military economic ties with Japan, the key to U.S. policy in Asia, is the reason behind the continuing massive American presence in Korea. Japan regards the peninsula both as a vital link in its hopes of rebuilding an “East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere” and as a major part of its own defense perimeter. Despite growing inter-imperialist rivalry between the U.S. and Japan the Nixon and Ford administrations have taken steps to keep up an alliance based on U.S. military supremacy. In a speech last year to the Japan Society in New York, Henry Kissinger underscored the place of Korea in U.S. foreign policy:

“Specifically, we are resolved to maintain the peace and security of the Korean peninsula, for this is of crucial importance to Japan and to all of Asia.”

New York Times, 19 June 1975

Maoist China, for its part, is most interested in furthering its own “detente” with the U.S. and therefore also wary of upsetting the diplomatic apple cart by any precipitous move in Korea. A recent report of the British Institute for the Study of Conflict noted:

“But Peking also seems to be exerting a restraining influence over Kim. When the North Korean leader hurried to Peking in April, 1975, as Hanoi’s forces overran South Vietnam, Chinese reactions were decidedly ambiguous. During this visit, Vice-Premier Teng Hsiao Ping stated that China supported North Korea’s demand that the US withdraw its forces from Korea, but attached no time limit to such withdrawal.”

Times [London]. 13 August 1976

Both Moscow and Peking call for the “peaceful reunification” of Korea, a self serving attempt to hide the fundamental conflict between the proletarian property forms in the North and capitalist rule in the south. Trotskyists call instead for revolutionary reunification of Korea, through social revolution in the South and political revolution to overthrow the parasitic Stalinist bureaucracy in the North.

Standing on the terrain of nationalism, as do all Stalinist regimes, the regime of Kim II Sung has consistently played off China against Russia, extracting large credits from both in the process. On the basis of pre-1945 Japanese industrialization and considerable mineral resources, North Korea has created one of the more advanced industrial economies of Asia. Extolled as the principle of “juche” (self-reliance), this has allowed Kim a certain autonomy from China and the USSR and permitted a more aggressive stance on the question of reunification, including periodic support to guerrilla campaigns in the South (as during 1965-70).

Marxists stand in solidarity with the North in any military conflict with South Korea or its imperialist backers, but give no political support to the bureaucratic Stalinist regime headed by Kim.

Kim has, built up a personality cult to rival that of Stalin or Mao. A massive 65-foot statue of him dominates the Pyongyang skyline. Every institution of importance is named after him: a museum in his birthplace is annually visited by 1.2 million people, ten percent of the entire popUlation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The official philosophy is not even denominated “Marxism-Leninism” but rather “Kim II Sung-ism.”

The North Korean state is not based on mass organs of workers democracy but on bureaucratic fiat which excludes the masses from decision-making at all levels. The misnamed Korean Workers Party itself is organized at the top levels around Kim’s family in a highly nepotist system. To ensure his supremacy, the “iron-willed leader” repeatedly purged the party during the 1950’s, summarily executing his opponents.

The interests of the Korean working people lie in opening the door to truly socialist development by toppling the bureaucracy in the North and extending the collectivized economy to the South through the establishment of democratic soviet rule throughout Korea.

  • For revolutionary reunification through social revolution in the South and political revolution in the North!
  • Defend the North Korean deformed workers state in any military confrontation with U.S. imperialism and its South Korean puppets!
  • For a Trotskyist party in Korea!