The Death of Kim Jong-Il and the Future of North Korea (2012)

The Death of Kim Jong-Il and the Future of North Korea

Rodolfo Kaleb. Originally published in Portuguese, in February 2012. One or more excerpts were left out of the present version.

[Photo: EPA]

North Korea, one of the last countries in the world with a bureaucratically planned economy, has a new “Supreme Leader” to substitute Kim Jong-Il, who passed away at the end of 2011: the bureaucrat’s own son, Kim Jong-Un. This is the second transition in the leadership of the North Korean state bureaucracy that rests upon Kim’s family. The Kims and the whole layer of privileged state bureaucrats that they represent have one of the most tightly controlling regimes of the world. At the same time, the hatred of the bourgeois media against North Korea is not due to that. Capitalists – from New York to Paris, from London to Tokyo – have never refrained from giving support to many tyrannical governments, as long as they were subservient to them. Their intrinsic hate against North Korea, and their strong support to the South Korean capitalists, is explained by the class structure of that country.

State, economy and bureaucracy

No native or foreign bourgeoisie controls North Korea. The North Korean state is responsible for maintaining, in a deformed and weak way, a collectivized economy, with strong barriers against the accumulation of capital in the form of private capitalist property. The bourgeoisie was, as a whole, expropriated economically and politically, ceasing to exist as a class in North Korea in the late 1940s,  though the pressure of the bourgeoisie from the rest of the world, especially the imperialists, still affects the country. This has even led the dominant bureaucracy, which is the chain of transmission of these pressures inside the North Korean state, to adopt measures that open its economy to capitalism, put at risk its non-capitalist nature.

North Korea historically was organized on lines similar to other centrally planned economies. Property rights belonged largely to the state, resources were allocated through plans and not through markets, and prices and money were not the central features of the economy. Up until 1998, the state constitution recognized two general economic categories: state-owned enterprises and worker cooperatives (see The Constitutional Framework, ch. 4). From the late 1940s to the late 1980s, North Korea had one of the most complete socialist [sic] economies in the world.

The KWP [Korea Workers Party] is the supreme power in North Korea, and it has full control over the government and state organs. The constitutional revisions of September 1998 retained the stipulations that the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea shall conduct all activities under the leadership of the Workers’ Party.” No decision can be made without the approval of the party, and the party retains full control over economic enterprises, factories, and the cooperative farms.

North Korea: A Country Study. Research Division, Library of Congress, 2009.

As in the other remaining deformed workers’ states – Cuba, China, and Vietnam – North Korea’s bureaucracy carried on certain openings to capitalism accumulation (albeit on a much smaller scale than the in other three) and a massive disruption of the planned economy. Such measures are the result of the increased economic isolation of these countries after the destruction of the USSR, as well of a capitulation of the bureaucracy to imperialist pressures. These counter-reforms facilitate the restorationist work of the capitalists, as they create more inequalities and antagonisms in North Korean society.

Private property exists in North Korea as a marginal form of property, within limits set and controlled by the ureaucracy, but the country’s economy is still generally state-owned, although increasingly distorted by bureaucratic mismanagement and penetration from the private market. However, these changes have not, by themselves, redefined the character of state power. There has not yet been any significant destruction or even a shock in the North Korean state. Unless we can speak of an “imperceptible” counterrevolution and the state is being transformed “bit by bit” into a bourgeois state (an idea that Trotsky correctly named “reformism in reverse”) these economic reforms have not yet changed the class character of the dominant power in North Korea. Only the destruction of the present state apparatus and its replacement by another built by the bourgeoisie could be identified as the victory of a social counterrevolution.

Therefore, Trotskyists have the task of defending North Korea against any threat of capitalist restoration. The expropriation of the capitalist class in North Korea produced made many social gains – great advances in the fields of women’s rights, food, housing, health and education. Per capita income in North Korea was higher than that of South Korea until the mid-1970s (according to the Country Studie survey). At the same time, the North Korean bureaucracy has a privileged condition and the economic disruption it causes leads to economic disasters, such as the great famine resulting from the agricultural collapse that affected the country in the early 1990s. Bureaucracy is a permanent organ of inequality, obtaining licit and illicit benefits, building a quality of life disproportionately higher than that of the working population.

But living conditions in North Korea, even if it was not for the terrible deformations imposed by the bureaucracy, could hardly surpass that of many central capitalist countries. Despite the Marxist-like rhetoric of the country’s rulers, there can be no socialism in such a small and backward nation while the rest of the world remains capitalist. Debating the Soviet Union characterization as “socialist” (where economic development was much larger than in North Korea), Leon Trotsky concluded:

By the lowest stage of communism Marx meant, at any rate, a society which from the very beginning stands higher in its economic development than the most advanced capitalism. Theoretically such a conception is flawless, for taken on a world scale communism, even in its first incipient stage, means a higher level of development than that of bourgeois society. (…) It would be truer, therefore, to name the present Soviet regime in all its contradictions, not a socialist regime, but a preparatory regime transitional from capitalism to socialism.

— Leon Trotsky, The Revolution Betrayed, 1936.

Socialism, even in its probably troubled post-revolutionary beginning, will far outweigh the more advanced capitalist nation. Bit in order to achieve this goal, it will be necessary to defeat the world bourgeoisie, through the action of the working class in both the dependent and central countries. Isolated, North Korea remains a country under mighty pressures, and therefore, prisoner of the imperialist pressures, although indirectly. The country has denied capitalism, but has not yet overcome it, which is an essential part of socialist development.

Trotskyists seek to make the wheel of history turn forwards. The future of North Korea must surpass its capitalist past, not return to it. Only socialism will fulfill the full productive forces and global prosperity that capitalist technological development allows, but which are irrationally retained by crises and mass unemployment, by the impoverishment of the working class, by the national division between countries, local and global competition among oligopolistic imperialisms and by the wars generated by this system. But to expand the revolution worldwide, workers in North Korea must first of all get rid of the bureaucratic parasites that run their own country.

World War II and the Chon Pyong

The Korean peninsula was, between 1905 and the end of World War II, a region dominated by Japanese imperialism. It was mainly an agrarian nation, but with a young proletariat concentrated in the big cities. The Stalinist Communist Party gained influence among the masses by organizing the armed struggle against the Japanese occupation during the war. The defeat of Japan in the war and the subsequent destruction of the Japanese colonial empire removed the main obstacle to the success of a revolution in the country. Nesrly the entirety of the fragile Korean bourgeoisie had supported the Japanese occupation, and the masses nourished immense hatred against it.

Japan began its withdrawal from Korea in face of its defeats in the Pacific. The Stalinist USSR declared war on Japan only in the last months of World War II, on August 8, 1945, and occupied the Korean peninsula with its armies, beginning in the north. Despite initially planning to move freely through the territory, US pressures made Stalin accept that the Soviet army did not exceed the 38th parallel, which would guarantee the North American capitalists the domination of Seoul – which has since become the region’s main industrial city. The United States only occupied Korea a month later, after an amphibious invasion on September 9, and kept their armies in the south.

Since the departure of Japanese troops, the class struggle in Korea had entered a pre-revolutionary situation. The influence of the Communist Party grew enormously, and mass popular committees emerged spontaneously. Several workers’ committees also performed factory occupations in both northern and southern parts of the country. It was from such actions that the Chon Pyong (National Workers’ Council) was organized as a form of proletarian control of industries and neighborhoods.

The US occupation in South Korea received the  well-deserved hatred of the working population. The US Army maintained the same police legislation of the Japanese occupation to deal with the explosive class-struggle situation. Representatives of the imperialist bourgeoisie also collaborated with the native capitalists and set up a puppet government of the Korean Democratic Party (PDC) led by Synghman Rhee, who was in a position of extreme instability and would not have kept power without the presence of the US troops.

The Pyong Chon was led mainly by the Stalinists, but was also influenced by groups of social-democratic orientation. In the southern part of Korea, the dual-power instrument of the Korean workers was soon made illegal by Rhee’s bourgeois government. Resistance against the arrests of Stalinist leaders in early 1946 unleashed a struggle of millions that was severely repressed and defeated by the US occupation force. The impact of this direct armed conflict had severe effects on the future course of Korea. Faced with extreme imperialist pressure, the Soviet occupying army expropriated the national and foreign bourgeoisie in the north. This measure was carried on by the Stalinists because they depended on it to survive, given the low tolerance of the imperialist occupation and the social turbulence going on in the country.

The new “special apparatus of armed men” (the state) in the north represented the interests of the Stalinist military leaders, who looked upon the USSR as their model. The military sectors of the Stalinist bureaucracy, which dominated this state from the beginning, had no characteristics of a social class. They were forced to reproduce in North Korea the same social base established in the Soviet Union by the revolutionary workers after 1917 – it is, monopoly of foreign trade and state dominance of domestic trade, general state ownership of industries and other means of production, economic planning and the establishment of barriers to private capital accumulation. All these characteristics, however, were deformed by the domination of the bureaucratic caste, which in North Korea has been in control since the formation of the state.

The leader of this newly formed ruling caste was Kim Il-Sung, who led a Korean military detachment under the orders of the Soviet army, and was hand-picked by Stalin for this post. The north’s popular committees were incorporated into the state structure and lost their independence, but temporarily maintained their existence. Thus came the separation, marked by the 38th parallel, between the “Republic of Korea” to the South and the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” to the North.

The Korean War

The class struggle in Korea continued in fiery degrees after the withdrawal of the two occupation armies in 1949, as result of diplomatic agreements. Throughout the period before the departure of the USSR and the United States’ military forces, a real low-impact war occurred between the bourgeois government of South Korea and pro-North urban guerrillas. It was by no means a surprise when border disputes between the two states began to emerge. Both sides had war plans for each other. On July 3, 1950, a conflict broke out between the two states as consequence a border dispute. South Korea’s army melted as Northern troops advanced – mass defections, owing to the widespread popular support to the North, soon made Kim’s troops dominate almost the entire peninsula, isolating South Korean troops in the extreme south.

During the three months in which the peninsula was kept under control of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, several foreign companies were expropriated. The US bourgeoisie reacted, backed by the other imperialist powers. On September 15, 1950, the newly founded United Nations organization intervened in the conflict. The UN was the front for an army made up of units of more than 16 capitalist nations, including the United States, Britain and Canada. In a few weeks, this counterrevolutionary colossus expelled the northern forces above the 38th parallel and reached the border of Korea with China, on the Yalu River. Counterrevolutionary terror is always much more violent than any popular uprising. It is estimated that the UN army committed more than 100,000 executions only in its initial assault on Korean territory. It should be well marked in the minds of the workers how this organization, that today proclaims itself as the champion of “world peace”, inaugurated its curriculum.

The North’s reaction came with the support of the army of the People’s Republic of China, the armed force of the deformed workers’ state that had established itself in this gigantic nation in 1949. Mao Zedong and the Beijing bureaucrats reacted in face of the imminent imperialist threat to China’s sovereignty, and two hundred thousand Korean and Chinese soldiers made the UN troops retreat back to the 38th parallel in July 1951. An “armed peace” was then established, where none of the troops could advance against the other’s territory. Negotiations began in the same year to establish an armistice, but it happened only two years later, on July 27, 1953. At that time, UN aerial bombings had devastated all of Korea and reduced the country to rubble.

The armistice has long divided the country, a situation that continues to this day. In the south, a bourgeois dictatorial government was established, a regime which was maintained until the end of the 1980s. In North Korea, with the destruction of the experiences of the proletarian committees, the domination of the Stalinist bureaucracy was strengthened. Kim Il-Sung built a nationalist and personalist cult, calling himself the country’s “Great Perpetual Leader”. Such actions were accompanied by a massive purge of any political dissidents and paved the way for the autonomous rule of bureaucracy.

During the Korean War, any Trotskyist party should have given unconditional military support to the north. The victory of the north, in those circumstances, would have represented the extent of a social revolution (though a deformed one) throughout the peninsula and this would have brought strategic advantages to the Korean workers in a struggle for socialism. The victory of the South Korean capitalists allied with world imperialism, on the other hand, would represent the complete military crushing of the politically organized workers. But while militarily defending the north, Trotskyists would not fail to denounce the antidemocratic and nationalist interests of the bureaucracy in order to prepare the workers’ conscience for their overthrow by a political revolution. The essential political position of the Trotskyists would be the strategic defense of the Chon Pyong, the Korean soviets, against both capitalist armies and possible assaults of the Stalinist bureaucrats, who fear to this day the free political expression of the workers.

Leninism versus Juche

The contradictions of the deformed social revolution in North Korea were responsible for the problematic features of the North Korean state that emerged – equivalent to those analyzed by Leon Trotsky for the Soviet Union under Stalin. Many of these characteristics are also product of the Stalinist politics of “socialism in one country”. The prospect of “socialism in one country,” which the Stalinists hardly formulated clearly, is the essence of great defeats for the world proletariat. It corresponds perfectly, however, to the main interests of the bureaucracy of deformed workers’ states.

The idea that a backward nation, due to supposed “national specificities”, can reach socialism on its own; the full disposition to coexist with the imperialist bourgeoisie and capitulate to its “democratic”, “left” or “progressive” sectors; blatant support for bourgeois parties and bosses in backward countries at the expense of the independence of the working class; the idea that socialism is compatible with the maintenance of a powerful police apparatus; the personalist cult of the leaders and a phraseology of Marxist appearance – that is the policy of Stalinism.

The “national doctrine” established in North Korea by Kim Il-Sung after the end of the Korean War (and which inspired his descendants) is certainly a version of “socialism in one country.” The “Juche,” which means self-sufficiency, is the official “ideology” of the North Korean state and claims that this small and poor nation is fully equipped to attain socialism without any interference from the proletariat of other countries. According to Kim Il-Sung:

We have always held fast to the principle of settling all problems of revolution and construction independently, in keeping with the actual conditions of our country and in reliance mainly on our own strength. We have creatively applied the universal principles of Marxism-Leninism and experiences of other countries to suit our country’s historical conditions and national peculiarities, and have solved our problems on our own responsibility under all circumstances, opposing the spirit of reliance on others and displaying the spirit of self-reliance. The word Juche widely known to the world is a term expressing such a creative and independent principle and position adhered to by our Party in conducting revolutionary struggle and constructive work.

Answers to the Questions Raised by the Iraqi Journalists’ Delegation, 1971. Our emphasis.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/1971/x01/x01.htm

Despite all the flourishes about “self-confidence” and “creative application” that the North Korean Stalinists supposedly advocate, the center of their politics is leaving aside the need for assistance from workers from other countries, which they consider an irrelevant factor for the development of their “socialism”. But a backward nation cannot reach socialism without the workers of other countries realizing their own revolutions. Socialism can only triumph when victorious worldwide. For this reason, the perspective of Lenin and the Bolshevik / Communist Party until 1923 was diametrically different. While doing everything in their power to defend the Soviet Union from an economic and military point of view, the Leninists set as their first task to support the proletariat of other countries in breaking the isolation of their own. Let us let Lenin speak for himself:

We know that help from you will probably not come soon, comrade American workers, for the revolution is developing in different countries in different forms and at different tempos (and it cannot be otherwise). We know that although the European proletarian revolution has been maturing very rapidly lately, it may, after all, not flare up within the next few weeks. We are banking on the inevitability of the world revolution, but this does not mean that we are such fools as to bank on the revolution inevitably coming on a definite and early date. We have seen two great revolutions in our country, 1905 and 1917, and we know revolutions are not made to order, or by agreement. We know that circumstances brought our Russian detachment of the socialist proletariat to the fore not because of our merits, but because of the exceptional backwardness of Russia, and that before the world revolution breaks out a number of separate revolutions may be defeated.

In spite of this, we are firmly convinced that we are invincible, because the spirit of mankind will not be broken by the imperialist slaughter. Mankind will vanquish it. And the first country to break the convict chains of the imperialist war was our country. We sustained enormously heavy casualties in the struggle to break these chains, but we broke them. We are free from imperialist dependence, we have raised the banner of struggle for the complete overthrow of imperialism for the whole world to see.

We are now, as it were, in a besieged fortress, waiting for the other detachments of the world socialist revolution to come to our relief. These detachments exist, they are more numerous than ours, they are maturing, growing, gaining more strength the longer the brutalities of imperialism continue. (…)  Slowly but surely the workers are adopting communist, Bolshevik tactics and are marching towards the proletarian revolution, which alone is capable of saving dying culture and dying mankind.

— Vladimir Lenin, Letter To American Workers, 1918.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1918/aug/20.htm

Obviously, North Korea is also a “besieged fortress”, although quite deformed, which true Leninists should seek to rescue, not only defending it militarily against the capitalists, but mainly fighting for the success of the world revolution. The policy of the Stalinists of the Kim family ignores this second and more important task, which makes it (like the other variants of Stalinism) a nationalist ideology. The real concern of the Stalinists is the maintenance of their own privileged condition:

Peace is the common aspiration of humanity, and only when peace is ensured can the people create an independent new life. The wrong idea and policy of trampling upon the independence of other countries and other nations and of dominating others are the cause of the current threat to peace. In order to safeguard peace, all countries and nations must maintain independence, oppose power politics, and develop a powerful joint international struggle to prevent aggression and war.

— Kim Il-Sung, For a free and peaceful new world. Speech at the opening ceremony of the 85th Inter-parliamentary Conference, April 29, 1991.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/1991/04/29.htm

Stalinists want the support of the international proletariat only insofar as it fights for the stability and peace of their country against the imperialist bourgeoisie. But long-term peace with the imperialist bourgeoisie is a terrible illusion: capitalists cannot rest until they have completely regained control of the country. The “defense of nations and of peace” plus the denial of the task of supporting the international proletariat against “its” states and “their” bourgeoisies (that is, of helping to promote class conflicts within the capitalist countries in favor of the proletariat), is a nationalist accommodation of Marxism in favor of the interests of the Stalinist bureaucratic caste, of coexisting with world capitalism – and is only a recipe for defeat. As it is written in the document of the Second Congress of the Communist International, led by Lenin and Trotsky:

Petty-bourgeois nationalism proclaims as internationalism the mere recognition of the equality of nations, and nothing more. Quite apart from the fact that this recognition is purely verbal, petty-bourgeois nationalism preserves national self-interest intact, whereas proletarian internationalism demands, first, that the interests of the proletarian struggle in any one country should be subordinated to the interests of that struggle on a world-wide scale, and, second, that a nation which is achieving victory over the bourgeoisie should be able and willing to make the greatest national sacrifices for the overthrow of international capital.

Thus, in countries that are already fully capitalist and have workers’ parties that really act as the vanguard of the proletariat, the struggle against opportunist and petty-bourgeois pacifist distortions of the concept and policy of internationalism is a primary and cardinal task.

— Vladimir Lenin, Draft Theses on National and Colonial Questions, 1920.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1920/jun/05.htm

Another difference between Leninism and the politics of the North Korean Stalinists lies in the role that nationalism can play for the working class. Kim Il-Sung made the cult of Korean nationality a cornerstone of his doctrine:

Thus, patriotism and internationalism are inseparable. He who does not love his own country cannot be loyal to internationalism, and he who is unfaithful to internationalism cannot be faithful to his own country and people. A true patriot is precisely an internationalist and vice versa.

— Kim Il-Sung, On eliminating dogmatism and formalism and establishing Juche
in ideological work.
Speech to Party Propagandists and Agitators, December 28, 1955.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/kim-il-sung/1955/12/28.htm

For Lenin and the Bolsheviks, nationalism was a pernicious plague that at least (in the case of the backward countries) disrupted the struggle for national liberation and kept the workers tied to “their” bourgeoisie and at most (in the case of the advanced countries) justified the imperialist killings and domination. In 1913, he wrote:

Marxism cannot be reconciled with nationalism, be it even of the “most just”, “purest”, most refined and civilised brand. In place of all forms of nationalism Marxism advances internationalism, the amalgamation of all nations in the higher unity, a unity that is growing before our eyes with every mile of railway line that is built, with every international trust, and every workers’ association that is formed (an association that is international in its economic activities as well as in its ideas and aims).

— Vladimir Lenin, Critical Remarks on the National Question, Chapter 4, 1913.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/lenin/works/1913/crnq/

In addition to the cult of the North Korean homeland, Kim Il-Sung and his heirs also established a cult of their own personalities. In this regard, the North Korean Stalinists are the champions: their narcissism reaches such high levels that the calendar established in the country has as Year One the year of Kim Il-Sung’s birth, 1912. In this respect, there is no room for argument. The Juche, like the other variants of Stalinism, has nothing to do with Leninism.

Trotskyism and Pabloism

The Stalinist deformation of Marxism was fought against by the International Left Opposition (precursor of the Fourth International), founded by Leon Trotsky. He showed how Stalin’s policy had served as the best facade for a caste of bureaucrats who took advantage of the fragility of the Russian proletariat in order to rise to power and defend their own interests as opposed to the working class.

The postwar social transformations (not only in North Korea, but also in Eastern Europe, China, North Vietnam and Cuba) led to disorientation and the emergence of revisionism in the columns of Trotskyism. The Fourth International had been extremely weakened by the assassination of many of its most experienced cadres during the world conflict. The new leaders of the Fourth International – Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank, among others – impressed by the new events, argued that the Trotskyites should become an instrument of pressure on the Stalinist parties and bureaucracies that had created the deformed workers states because they would supposedly be able to lead the world to socialism by the new objective circumstances. This is meant abandoning a working class perspective, as well as Trotskyism’s irreconcilable opposition to Stalinism.

This was only the first revisionist operation of a methodology based on uncritically supporting various types of non-revolutionary leaderships (whether reformers, bureaucrats, petty-bourgeois or even bourgeois) who enjoyed a certain degree of popularity. This was the case of Stalinism immediately after World War II.

To support their perspective, the Pabloites (as these revisionists were called by their adversaries) needed to abstract the fact that the Stalinists, in much more potentially revolutionary situations, did everything to restore bourgeois power. Moreover, there were substantial differences between these new deformed workers states and the objectives of the Trotskyists.

The Stalinists never led the working class to power in a proletarian revolution. Where they expropriated the bourgeoisie, they were either in command of the armies of the bureaucratic workers state (the Soviet Union) or peasant-based guerrilla armies, imposing a progressive but deeply deformed social transformation on the backward countries. These characteristics led these new social formations to the same perspective of “peaceful coexistence” with the capitalist powers and the denial of the internationalist principles of Marxism, as well as the establishment of an apparatus hostile to the working class. The Pabloites erased the crucial distinction of Trotskyism between a workers state and a deformed or degenerated workers state. That is why the true Bolshevik-Leninists stood firm in the uncompromising struggle against all variants of Stalinism.

Why North Korea is a deformed workers state?

Although we declare that the working class of the Korean peninsula has been strangled by the UN counterrevolution and Stalinism, that it was not a protagonist in the construction of the present state of North Korea, and that today it is oppressed by the bureaucracy, we believe that despite all this, the country is a deformed workers state. Why does a state that controls and oppress the working class merit a title of “proletarian”?

This is not a new theoretical question. This question ignores the forms that the dominion of the proletarian class can assume in backward and isolated countries under capitalist pressure. Such a question was raised in 1937 in the dispute within the US Socialist Workers Party regarding the nature and tasks for the USSR in the approaching world war. Leon Trotsky responded in the following way to the question of the possibility of a “ruling and at the same time oppressed class”:

How can our political conscience not resent the fact,” say the ultra-leftists, “that they want to force us to believe that in the USSR, under Stalin’s rule, the proletariat is the ‘ruling class’ …?!” This assertion phrased in such an abstract manner can actually arouse our “resentment.” But the truth is that abstract categories, necessary in the process of analysis, are completely unfit for synthesis, which demands the utmost concreteness. The proletariat of the USSR is the ruling class in a backward country where there is still a lack of the most vital necessities of life. The proletariat of the USSR rules in a land consisting of only one-twelfth part of humanity; imperialism rules over the remaining eleven-twelfths. The rule of the proletariat, already maimed by the backwardness and poverty of the country, is doubly and triply deformed under the pressure of world imperialism. The organ of the rule of the proletariat – the state – becomes an organ for pressure from imperialism (diplomacy, army, foreign trade, ideas, and customs). The struggle for domination, considered on a historical scale, is not between the proletariat and the bureaucracy, but between the proletariat and the world bourgeoisie. The bureaucracy is only the transmitting mechanism in this struggle. The struggle is not concluded. (…) For the bourgeoisie – fascist as well as democratic – isolated counter-revolutionary exploits of Stalin do not suffice; it needs a complete counter-revolution in the relations of property and the opening of the Russian market. So long as this is not the case, the bourgeoisie considers the Soviet state hostile to it. And it is right.

— Leon Trotsky, Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?, November 1937.

https://www.marxists.org/archive/trotsky/1937/11/wstate.htm

Despite all the rottenness of the bureaucracy dominated by the Kim family in North Korea, and all its crimes against socialism and the working class, the country is still based on proletarian social forms. This mode of production was established in an exceptional situation in response to the pressure of imperialism on the one hand and the Korean and world working class on the other. But, due to the backwardness of the country and the control of Kim Il-Sung’s bureaucratic caste from the outset, the working class could not efficiently and democratically exercise the proletarian forms of the economy or fight for world revolution through the state dominated by the “self-sufficient” bureaucracy.

The bureaucracy’s main interest is to parasite the resources of the nationalized economy. But the proletarian economic base cannot be an infinite bag of blood. The bureaucracy is at odds with the social base on which it resides and will, at all moments, further deform the state and the social achievements, smearing the name of socialism for the working class of the whole world. By doing that, it will bring about sectors within the bureaucracy itself and within North Korean society in general directly interested and committed with the destruction of the collectivized economy.

Since they do not represent a new class, the bureaucrats who established themselves after the occupation of the Soviet army had to repeat the same social formation created by the workers (and degenerated by the bureaucracy) that existed in the USSR. Despite such deformations, many tasks of the workers’ revolution have already been achieved. Upon arriving in power, the workers in North Korea will not need, on the day after their victory, to expropriate the bourgeoisie and face the resistance of an exploitative class rooted in production.

North Korean workers, though oppressed by the bureaucracy, are the main class in the country’s economy: the bureaucracy, the mere administrator, has no ownership of industries, land, ports, and other means of production. It cannot transfer those rights by inheritance, for example. Only the most impressionistic would consider that the seemingly dynastic succession of the North Korean bureaucracy may represent some sort of family inheritance. The Kim family is maintained by a delicate balance of power among the various sectors of the bureaucracy.

We call the North Korean state a deformed workers state because the coherence and survival of the forms of property under which it resides belongs entirely to the working class. We believe that, beyond the rule of the bourgeoisie, the working class is the only one capable of establishing its own power in the long run. The Stalinist bureaucrats, who share responsibility for the strangling of the Korean revolution, were able to expropriate the bourgeoisie in a backward country, through military and bureaucratic methods (in one out of a hundred opportunities they betrayed). But they are totally incapable of developing the permanent revolution, of using it as a way to carry on a world revolution. They are limited to their “self-sufficiency” under imperialist pressure, isolation and material poverty. This situation cannot last forever and every year new breaches are created that facilitate the goal of restorationists. Only the paths of the October revolution – the only victorious proletarian revolution to date – can serve as an example to the purpose of the workers in Korea. “The fight is not over.”

For the revolutionary reunification of the Koreas!

Revolutionaries around the world must fight to end the aberration created by the Korean War – a country divided in two. But the capitalist reunification of Korea, as the imperialists praise for, can only mean counterrevolution. Workers in South and North Korea must seek to fraternize and fight for a social revolution in the South to overthrow capitalism and for a political revolution in the North to maintain the essential economic base and overthrow the bureaucracy that usurps it, establishing proletarian democracy in the whole peninsula. Trotskyists must fight for the country’s revolutionary reunification, which could, through its example, raise the working class worldwide.

It is the task of the workers in South Korea, the North and in all other countries to defend the North Korean state against any attempt, internally or externally, to re-establish capitalism. In order to do that, it may be necessary to enter temporary military blocs with sectors of the North Korean bureaucracy, which by their own parasitical interests, want to defend the collectivized social bases. This Trotskyist task also includes defending North Korea’s right to possess nuclear weapons as a means of defending itself from imperialist pressures.

But the methods of the workers cannot be the police methods of the bureaucracy. The supreme way to defend (and extend) social achievements is to have no confidence in Kim’s bureaucracy, nor in his ability to consistently defend workers and their social and democratic interests. The bureaucracy is an unstable caste that creates the conditions for its own end, facilitating the work of the imperialists. Workers can only react against this by preparing their revolution. The Trotskyists in Korea must openly declare themselves as the party of proletarian democracy. Their goal should be to build a revolutionary workers’ party in the North and the South as part of a Fourth International to be rebuilt. This is the best way to be prepared for the Korean working class, when the opportunity arises, to resume its revolutionary history after nearly 60 years of the end of the war that divided its country.

FURTHER READING:

Kim’s North Korea: “Socialism in One Family”, a short piece published by the then-revolutionary Spartacist League’s youth paper, Young Spartacus, on the first power transition of North Korea’s bureaucracy, from Kim Il-Sung to his son, Kim Jong-Il.

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