I always find it amusing when apologists for the Kim dynasty respond to criticisms with the question: "Have you ever been there?" As if personal experience is the only way to make any judgements.
I recall my experiences from anti-apartheid demonstrations in the 1960s and 70s. When we were picketing the South African embassy in Trafalgar Square, ineveitably there were some right wing fools who would ask us "Have you ever been there?"
Well, no, I hadn't been to South Africa, but I knew about apartheid from the written sources and from South African comrades. Likewise with the US aggression against Indo-china. You didn't need to visit Vietnam in order to condemn the US war and support the Vietnamese.
And I don't need to visit North Korea to know what goes on there is a parody of Marxism. It is not an imperialist invention that supreme power in the DPRK has passed from father to son to grandson. That is a dynasty and has nothing to do with marxism,
It is not merely the western media that says the DPRK prioritises the military. That's the official DPRK line, Songun, which translates as "Military First". By replacing the working class with the military, the DPRK has violated basic socialist principles.
Kim il-Sung may have had some legitimacy from the struggle against Japanese imperialism. But who elected his son and his grandson? Have the Korean people ever been allowed to pose alternatives to the Kim dynasty? Or is that a counter-revolutionary question?
Can a group of North Koreans form a political party? Or an independent trade Union? Or publish a newsaper? Or set up a radio station?
I think we all know what would happen to anyone who tried.
I'm in general agreement with Paul Fauvet's posting. I'm sure that If I were to visit the DPRK I would meet only people who supported their leadership, who were well fed and clothed, and who rejected the idea that dissent would have very unpleasant consequences for them. Stage managed tours prove nothing. The Nazis had a model concentration camp that they got the Red Cross to visit during the war so that they could say that reports of mass murder were untrue. (Shortly after the visit most of the prisoners who had been encountered and filmed were dead.) And like Paul, my main objections to the DPRK (although not my only ones) are based on DPRK propaganda, not on what I read in the BBC.
I've noticed that the first-hand reports of a holidaymaker, who knows little or no Korean, who is shown what he or she wants to see, and says it is all lovely, constitute a Good Source which should be taken on trust. On the other hand a native-born émigré, who has managed to get out of North Korea, and gives first-hand reports of the conditions which impelled him or her to leave, must be a Bad Source, and should on no account be given credence.
and what you say about the "Good Source" can equally be applied to the "Bad Source" because defectors will say whatever their new host wants them to say (at least until their new citizenship has been irrevocably granted). Defections in the Korean peninsula go both ways and those who go north paint a different picture of south Korean society -- a fact ignored by Messrs Cole, Fauvet and Hawthorn who only seek the truth if it is uttered by the likes of the BBC and the Voice of America. These are the august bodies that told us about the non-existent "weapons of mass destruction" in Iraq and the "mass rapes" of Col Gaddafi's soldiers in Libya to drum up support for Nato wars.
Prof Hawthorn raises the question of the DPR Korea's propaganda which he clearly intensely dislikes and disbelieves. What he should remember is that the DPRK's propaganda is 90 per cent focused on south Korea and the overseas Korean community and not the world communist movement or what we used to call world public opinion.
South Korean propaganda is part of the global anti-communist barrage of lies against socialism and anyone opposed to what the Americans used to call the "free world" and more recently the "new world order".
South Korean propaganda is also, of course, primarily aimed at the north with ludicrous stories of the premature and secret deaths of all the Kims -- much like the bourgeois speculation on Brezhnev's imminent death which went on for years during the Cold War -- and bogus "documentary" footage of alleged labour camps prepared largely for the Western audience. I recall one shown a few years ago which purported to show a firing squad in action in some sort of detention camp near the border with China. The accents of all the actors were southern and the firing squad was based on the practice used by the US army rather than the DPRK method of capital punishment which would be carried out -- like China and the former USSR -- by a policeman. But crime is virtually non-existent in north Korea (unlike the south) -- a fact attested not only by the "tourists" Francis derides but also by the international aid experts that worked in the DPRK in the late 1990s when the DPRK was recovering from a spate of natural disasters.
Prof Hawthorn, and the others who still claim to be socialists on this board, should indeed visit the DPRK to see reality for itself instead of through the eyes of bourgeois propagandists.
Well, the bourgeois media reported on who would be the next leader of the DPRK way before anything appeared from official sources. And these reports turned out to be right. So people in the capitalist world learned who the latest hereditary leader would be a long while before the people who actually lived in the country.
I note that Kim has adopted Real Prole's tactic of referring to me as "Prof" when he wants to discredit what I post. The European Society for the Study of Juche - as I have pointed out before - has such a high opinion of professors that it seems that only those with this title are allowed to act as chairpeople. Mind you, the website seems not to have been updated recently. See
Kim - you may well choose to believe everything you are told by your chosen side, but please don't assume we all operate like that. Some of us have taken the trouble to develop critical faculties, and weigh up information gleaned from a variety of sources - including official media, émigrés, reports of visitors, journalists etc. etc. We decide, on the bases of plausibility, of how far one bit of information matches another, of experience and so on, how far to give credence to one or another source. We also know how to read between the lines where necessary. The conclusions we reach may well be wrong in whole or in part, but they are emphatically not the result of parroting some line we have been spoonfed.
Philby seems to have a high opinion of North Korean propaganda. I wonder if he ever bothers to read any of it.
The following is an item from Sundays news cast of the DPRK news agency, KCNA:
DPRK Workers Vow to Wipe out Rat-like Lee Myung Bak Group
Pyongyang, April 29 (KCNA) -- Mass meetings took place at industrial establishments across the DPRK to wipe out the rat-like Lee Myung Bak group to the last man in this land and sky as it is committing the worst crimes.
A statement issued by a spokesman for the Supreme Command of the Korean People's Army was read out at the meetings to be followed by speeches.
Speakers said: Unpardonable are the rat-like group's most evil acts of hurting the dignity of the DPRK supreme leadership.
It is the unanimous resolution of the workers to throw the aged traitors more dead than alive and rat-like bastards into boilers of power stations or put them on rails to be driven over by trains.
We will bring about signal innovations in production and construction, each holding arms in one hand or a hammer in the other, and if an order is issued, we will bring sledgehammers down on the heads of rat-like hooligans of Chongwadae till they perish.
The sacred retaliatory war of justice to punish the rat-like Lee group for committing hideous provocations to the nation will go on, they declared.
At first I thought this must be a spoof. But no, it comes from the official website of the KCNA. (And, for those unfamiliar with Korean politics, Lee Myung Bak is the current President of South Korea).
Philby says this propaganda is aimed at South Korea. So how did the South Korean masses react to the news that members of their government are to be thrown into the boilers of power stations? With gales of laughter, I imagine.
Philby doesnt attempt to answer the questions that Jeremy, Francis and I have been raising. Such as how can you build socialism when the leading force in society is quite explicitly no longer the working class, but the military? This is not taken from defectors, refugees or the bourgeois media it is declared by the DPRK itself.
And does Philby believe there is such a thing as dynastic socialism? Since the days of Tom Paine the left has ridiculed the very concept of a hereditary monarchy. Yet Philby seems to have no problem with a political system where power passes from father to son to grandson.
Those who toss around the word "bourgeois" (as in "bourgeois media") might care to comment on the well-documented lives of the Kim Dynasty - not least those of the playboy sons. What sort of socialist sends his son to a private Swiss school?
Have you visited NK Kim? If so I wonder if you'd let us know when and what your impressions were. I'd be sincerely very interested. I recently met a journalist who had travelled to NK as part of the contingent allowed to visit during the failed rocket launch; his impressions were interesting but quite limited.
"On the other hand a native-born émigré...... " we should add who has taken the $100,000 reward for "defectors" from south Korea plus loads of money from the CIA not to mention advance book loyalties. Oh yes very reliable, do us a favour ....
The replies of Hawthorn , Fauvet and Cole just show them up to be totally blinkered bigots. More anti DPRK than the man on the old Clapham bus. Without having a trap set for them they managed to topple into a deep pit. No doubt one day they will be locking each other in holdalls which does seem to be a preferred leisure activity of certain services. Lol !
"Without having a trap set for them they managed to topple into a deep pit. "
I wonder if theirs is as deep as yours. The SK standard subsidy to NK defectors is set at 28,000,000 won or a bit less than 25,000 USD. It was proposed recently to be reduced to 10,000,000 won -- less than 9,000 USD.
That's not a great deal for someone who is leaving paradise is it?
and the rest which you have conveniently omitted. DPRK defectors aren't just given money (at one time paid in gold) they're rewarded with apartments,a monthly allowance, a guaranteed job or university placement if appropriate. If they are from the DPRK military they are allowed to keep their rank if they agree to serve in the puppet south Korean army. I understand that if they have embezzled money they are allowed to keep most of it for themselves and I also understand that the south Korean police provide them with bodyguards. I wonder why...
I did not omit these things. The reason is that, while they appear in the wikipedia (which anyone -- children, drunks, the easily amused -- can edit) they do not appear in actual articles written by those with knowledge of SK. See, for instance, Bitter taste of paradise: North Korean refugees in South Korea by Andrei Lankov in Journal of East Asian Studies.
The lavish support that you allege is long gone, aside from very high-ranking defectors. As for the ability of NK soldiers to serve at equivalent rank in the SK army -- so what of it, isn't this reasonable?
Kim, you seem to think that anyone not based in NK is obviously a liar and thus cannot be trusted. This makes debate with you, of course, impossible. As an aside, I'll note that Lankov studied first at Leningrad University then Kim Il Sung University.
Since you did not respond to my query re your visiting NK (but did to others) I will assume that you have never gone. This places you at a disadvantage to say, Andrei Lankov, who lived and studied there.
not defectors, bur official sources condemn the kim dynasty
May 1 2012, 6:33 AM
Philby and Friend of the DPRK are obsessed with North Korean defectors but I have never cited such a defector in my life. The long quote I gave in my previous post came from the official news agency of the Kim Regime, KCNA (Korean Central News Agency). Heres another one:
More Rallies Take Place to Vow to Wipe Out Rat-like Lee Group
Pyongyang, April 27 (KCNA) -- Servicepersons and people in North Hwanghae and North Hamgyong provinces of the DPRK met on Friday to vow to wipe out the rat-like Lee Myung Bak group, the sworn enemy, in this land and sky
The speakers condemned the group of rat-like traitors for hurting the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK again, not content with committing the thrice-cursed high treason during the period of mourning the great loss to the nation, and vowed to wipe out them to the last man so that they may not find any shelter on the earth.
Intolerable are crimes rat-like Lee committed by setting in motion aged reactionaries, gangster-like students and ultra-right conservative media persons to hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK, they stressed, and went on:
As it is a waste to use a bullet for killing rat-like Lee, it is better to leave him hung on the gallows for ten days, nay a hundred days, till he perishes, dried up.
We will clearly show the group of traitors what terrible strikes the army of Mt. Paektu makes when it gets angry.
The revolutionary armed forces of the DPRK will wipe out to the last man the rat-like Lee group going reckless, not fearful of Heaven, by merciless physical strikes and thus achieve the historic cause of the national reunification.
You cant seriously support this stuff, can you, Comrade Philby? Are you not somewhat alarmed by the idea that Korean unification can be achieved by merciless physical strikes? Fortunately the Kim dynasty does not have the power to carry out these demented, bloodthirsty threats.
I dont need to cite defectors, when every day the KCNA produces thousands of words that expose the North Korean regime as a comic opera tyranny, with a personality cult that makes Stalin look modest.
I also note that Philby and Friend of the DPRK steadfastly refuse to answer the questions that critics such as Jeremy, Francis and myself have repeatedly posed. So here they are again. Do you believe that supreme leadership in a socialist country should be transferred from father to son to grandson? And can a system that quite openly replaces the working class with the military possibly be described as socialist at all?
and certainly it is relevant to see where the likes of Lankov are coming from when they pontificate on the DPR Korea.
You yourself said only a few days ago that:
"Some of us have taken the trouble to develop critical faculties, and weigh up information gleaned from a variety of sources - including official media, émigrés, reports of visitors, journalists etc. etc. We decide, on the bases of plausibility, of how far one bit of information matches another, of experience and so on, how far to give credence to one or another source. We also know how to read between the lines where necessary. The conclusions we reach may well be wrong in whole or in part, but they are emphatically not the result of parroting some line we have been spoonfed."
The fact that Lankov is a hired hand of the south Korean regime with a known track-record of anti-communism is clearly relevant when considering what credibility, if any, can be given to anything he says about north Korea.
Prof Hawthorn and Paul Fauvet on the other hand dogmatically refuse to acknowledge any reports about the DPRK which do not fit their essentially anti-communist mind-set. Favourable eyewitness accounts of life in the DPRK are dismissed out-of-hand while the ravings of professional anti-communists is taken as gospel so it is well-nigh impossible to find a point of departure (as we used to say) to begin to discuss Korean-style socialism with them which goes beyond the academic point scoring which we are all familiar with.
If Messrs Hawthorn, Fauvet, Cole and Harsanyi want to seriously deepen the discussion they need, in my opinion, to define what they mean by "socialism", whether they believe socialism can be established in one state and whether they accept the concept of people's democracy as defined by Dimitrov and put into practice in all the post-war socialist countries (apart from the Soviet Union which was uniquely a "Soviet" state).
As an aside to Janos -- Yes I have visited the DPRK on a number of occasions over the past twenty years.
OK Kim - I won't trust his predictions. That's no great problem - I don't trust anybody's predictions anyway, not even my own. Mind you, the North could hardly have proclaimed the launch a success, given that its failure occurred in full view of everybody watching...
I reply to Philby's questions - will he reply to mine?
May 1 2012, 8:31 PM
Philby hasnt so far answered any of my questions, but I shall do him the courtesy of answering his.
Do I believe it is possible to build socialism in one state? Yes most certainly I do, and I have been personally involved, as a journalist, in just such an attempt in what was then the Peoples Republic of Mozambique. We failed the Mozambican transition to socialism was drowned in blood, as the apartheid regime, implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) backed by western powers, ravaged the front line states. In the dark days of southern Africa in the 1980s, I think I was a little nearer the sharp end of imperialism than the comrades who wax lyrical about the Kim dynasty after a guided tour of the DPRK.
Do I accept Dimitrovs definition of Peoples Democracy? First, my thanks to Philby for encouraging me to re-read some of Dimitrov. Secondly, despite all my reservations about one party states, I dont seriously object to Dimitrovs definition but I cant see that it has anything to do with the DPRK.
For example, in his report to the Fifth congress of the Bulgarian Communist Party, in December 1948, Dimitrov wrote The Peoples Democracy represents the power of the working people of the overwhelming majority of the people, under the leadership of the working class. Yes leadership of the working class, not of the military.
A few paragraphs later, Dimitrov wrote Embodying the rule of the working people under the leadership of the working class, the Peoples Democracy, in the existing historical situation, as is already proved by experience, can and must successfully perform the functions of the dictatorship of the proletariat for the liquidation of the capitalist elements and the organisation of a socialist economy. It can crush the resistance of the overthrown capitalists and landowners, crush their attempts to restore the rule of capital, and organise the building of industry on the basis of public ownership and planned economy. The regime of the Peoples Democracy will succeed in overcoming the vacillations of the urban petty-bourgeoisie and middle-class peasantry, in neutralising the capitalist elements in the villages and in rallying all the working people around the working class for the onward march toward Socialism.
Fine and nothing to do with the DPRK! At no point does Dimitrov suggest that the military, even if it considers itself a peoples army, can substitute for the working class.
I also note that Dimitrov did not found a dynasty, and the next leader of Bulgaria was not his son.
"Lankov is a hired hand of the south Korean regime with a known track-record of anti-communism is clearly relevant when considering what credibility, if any, can be given to anything he says about north Korea."
Since you define as "anti-communism" any criticism of NK and then dismiss any statement from an "anti-communist" as lacking credibility you will thus never consider any negative information about NK. As for Lankov being "a hired hand of the south Korean regime", he is a university professor at a well known South Korean university. Do you consider university professors to be "hired hands" of governments in all cases or just Lankov's?
I've read the article, and I'm appalled that this is the best you can do to defend the Kim dynasty.
Perhaps the most dishonest part of the article is the claim that, in the Korean War, Kim il-Sung "repulsed and ultimately defeated the so-called invincible United States".
Not a word about the crucial role played by the Chinese armed forces! Without Chinese solidariy, and the blood of large numbers of Chinese soldiers, the DPRK would have died in 1950.
The historical record is clear - the US and its South Korean allies were defeated in the north of the peninsula by the Chinese intervention. Writing this out of history is a bit like writing the Red Army out of the liberation of eastern Europe from Nazi occupation.
He who pays the piper calls the tune and Andrei Lankov is one of the many Russian academics in the social sciences who chased the crock of gold after the fall of the USSR. But while he undoubtedly sings from the south Korea crib sheet in his articles in the south Korean media and the Asia Times (which I believe is owned by a Thai businessman) he is more circumspect when talking about his former motherland.
His article in Asia Times compares the human rights record of the USSR favourably against the West and what he claims exists in north Korea pointing out that there was less than a thousand political prisoners in the Soviet Union during the Brezhnev era, that Soviet citizens could travel freely across the USSR, western literature was accessible (albeit limited) and that the rationing that was claimed to operate in the Soviet Union was largely a myth of Western propaganda.
Thanks for the link, Guy - an interesting piece, which clearly shows that Lankov is not just playing someone's tune. His account of 1980s Soviet life seems pretty accurate to me. And considering the situation in post-Soviet higher education, I wouldn't blame anyone who left for a better-paid (even a paid!) job abroad.
But I am endlessly amused by the notion that states directly or indirectly employ professors merely to spout propaganda. What on earth would be the point of that? Hack journalists will do that much more cheaply and effectively. The point of employing academics in social sciences and history is to get insights and analysis, even if those insights and analyses are politically unwelcome.
Academics can, and are used, to provide an academic gloss to what otherwise would be seen as state or corporate propaganda. I remember Prof Hans Eysenck whose views on "moral re-armament". "IQ" tests and smoking was promoted in Britain by right-wing circles (like Sir Keith Joseph) to justify Tory and corporate policies. I could also recall the historians whose narrative on the Soviet Union had little to do with genuine scholarship and much more to do with Cold War propaganda.I'm not suggesting that the majority of academics have prostituted themselves for 30 pieces of silver but nevertheless it does go on.
All I know about Lankov is what is available on the web in the English language and his articles in the south Korean mass media clearly fall into the latter category (sweeping statements about life in north Korea, refusal to use any information from the DPRK that contradicts his "analysis" and a one-sided perspective based on pre-concieved notions). I can't comment on his academic works that appear to be confined to the Russian and Korean language and he clearly has scholarly access to Russian institutions and libraries as the article previously cited plainly demonstrates. He draws on this on more detailed and sourced articles on the Soviet role during the post-war division of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of the DPRK.
Talking of which can you tell us what the Russian Juche site says about Lankov (flagged up earlier on this thread as my Russian is a bit hazy these days! This is the link for easy reference:
Actually, the webpage says nothing at all about Lankov, other than suggesting that he may be a "puppet of puppets". If only North Korea's apologists - any of them - were able to provide intelligent refutations of the criticisms of that state, rather than just abuse the critics, it might be possible to take them a bit more seriously.
Of course, academics will have different opinions, and politicians and editors will publicise the work of their favourites. And yes, some of them (generally the least scholarly) will go in for hack journalism, which tends to earn them both good money the contempt of their peers. The point is, though, that the mere fact that an academic is employed by a university funded by a certain state - even a fairly repressive one like South Korea - does not generally mean that the academic is expected or obliged to parrot the foreign policy line of that state. In other words, what Lankov or anyone else says has to be judged on its merits, rather than automatically dismissed as necessarily propaganda. Unless you are looking above all for a pretext for not engaging with what they say, in which case the most effective way is to stick your fingers in both ears, screw your eyes up, and shout "La, la, la, la! I'm not listening!" repeatedly.