My article in ISJ 109 on the origins of North Korea has become the subject of some interesting debate and one or two attacks, first here at Lenin’s Tomb and then subesequently at Louis Proyect’s blog, Unrepentant Marxist. I’m glad this is getting some attention, not (mainly) for egotistical reasons, but because I think that this is an important subject that needs to be discussed by the left outside of Korea as well as within. The main point of contention seems to be whether it is meaningful or correct to describe the Soviet Union as imperialist, particularly in its relations with North Korea. This is a big topic. I would like to say that I think Kim Ha-yong makes a better case for this proposition in her book than I had time to reflect adequately in my article. I might come back to this question in a separate post at some stage.
On a more minor point, Louis accuses me of supporting the statement that “Rhee was a Machiavellian politician who made progress on the political/democratic front and laid some of the foundations for South Korea’s later economic growth” which appeared in this post from a few days ago. I do not agree with that statement at all, as I pointed out in the comments box at his blog, it would be perverse to say that Rhee helped democracy in any way when he put to death even a moderate oppositionist like Cho Pong-am.
Louis also quotes Martin Hart-Landsberg approvingly on the North Korean economy. I don’t really disagree with much that he says, but it seems quite un-analytical. Here is a response I wrote in the comments boxes at Lenin’s Tomb:
Louis Proyect, in his post about Lenin’s post about my article about Kim Ha-yong’s book (is that clear?), quotes some stuff from Martin Hart-Landsberg about the North Korean economy. It brings up some interesting points. I think he is quoting it to make the point about how much aid the North Koreans received from the Soviets in the 1950s. This is fair enough, but I don’t see any major difference here to the way in which the US (and later Japan) poured money into South Korea to build it up. Both superpowers had strategic interests in the region and backed their own buffer states on the peninsula. Of course, by the mid-late 1950s the North Korean ruling class had other ideas and began its game of playing off the Soviets and China against one another.
It is certainly true too that the North was economically in advance of the South until the late 70s on a number of indicators. So state capitalism, up until that point, was very successful at industrialising the country, although obviously at great cost to the workers.
Interestingly, some South Korean socialists argue that the South in the 1950s-70s was also an example of a state capitalist country. I want to do some more reading on this and hopefully translate some stuff to post at my blog. In the meantime there are a couple of short articles I translated last year on the North Korean economy in the 1950s accessible here.