President Trump is again verbally escalating the tension and war threats with North Korea over the latter’s right to develop nuclear weapons. Kim Jong-un is responding, and the media seem to enjoy the overinflated spiral of militaristic and racist rhetoric. For U.S. and North Korean workers, however, and for workers and peoples all over the world, a nuclear conflict is no joke, for it is always working people who gets slaughtered and in the case of a nuclear war, humanity as a whole could be destroyed.
By Florence Oppen – Workers’ Voice, US.
Yet to truly understand what is going on, it is not enough to blame equally both sides, as liberal elites and news anchors are suggesting, because both sides are not equal: the U.S. is an imperialist power and the North Korean is a poor and isolated semi-colonial country. Further, there is a still painful memory of horrible war crimes committed against North Korea piled on top of a history of colonial oppression and subjugation of the Korean people. Unfortunately, most U.S. workers do not know about that history because their own government and corporate media are complicities of that violence.
For us socialists, however, it is key to educate ourselves on others people’s history and political experiences, and refuse to continue the amnesia of imperialist violence and the media intoxication forced unto us. Workers and oppressed communities in the U.S. ought to propose an alternative way forward towards a de-escalation of this conflict and world peace, one different from the one traditionally offered by Democrats and Republicans. Any real attempt to peace, however, needs to start by acknowledging the past crimes of our own government and demanding the dismantling of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and demilitarization of our own society.
Trump Escalates Against North Korea to Escape Political Crisis
In his last arrogant provocations, Trump began calling North Korea’s president “Little Rocket Man,” undermining his own Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and mocking him publicly for “wasting his time” negotiating with Kim-Jong Un. In recent tweets, he wrote that “being nice has not worked in the last 25 years” with North Korea and defends the use of military force instead of diplomacy and economic sanctions.
This latest episode of heat started early in August and in response to some nuclear tests carried by the North Korean authorities. Trump then threatened that the Kim Jong-un regime will face “fire and fury like never seen” if the tests and arms race did not stop. Later in September repeated his threat to “totally destroy North Korea,” and begin to refer to Kim Jong-un as “Rocket Man” or “Little Rocket Man”. In response, Mr. Kim called trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard” and threatened him to “definitely rame “him with “fire.”
Many Americans and people around the world are becoming increasingly concerned with these threats of war and aggression, and rightly so. However, there is an unacceptable consensus beneath most of the corporate media, the establishment parties and the U.S. Congress framing of this conflict, a consensus that is being fed to the American peoples: that Kim Jong-Un is simply an “irrational” and “crazy” leader, and that he must be stopped by any means necessary from further developing nuclear weapons and eliminating all of its current nuclear arsenal. As socialist in the U.S. and around the world, we think this is a biased and unilateral view of what is happening, one that is extremely dangerous for working people across the world.
We think it is racist to simply portray the North Korean hatred of the United States as “irrational” for it completely ignores the crimes committed by the U.S. against the North Korean people and the social and historical basis of Kim Jong-un reactionary and defensive nationalism. Furthermore, we need to strongly contest the nationalist and arrogant vision that the United States government should play a vigilante role in the world. The self-proclaimed mission of being “the leader of the free world” has proven to be a mere cover, after the Viet-Nam defeat, to continue wars and aggressions abroad. Given the number of wars, war crimes, financed coup détat and tortured carried by the U.S. government, we strongly disagree with the U.S. government having any moral or political legitimacy to carry that mythological function to save civilization and defend peace.
It is symptomatic that the Trump administration is using once again war-mongering to artificially rebuild a social base and support it has lost because of its failure to implement its program of reforms. At the time when working people are becoming either increasingly furious with a government that is attacking, or increasingly disillusioned with a government which promised to “make it right for them”, war and racism against North Koreans seem to be the perfect escape valve. When he is not attacking Muslims, he is terrorizing and deporting immigrant communities or waving the “North Korean nuclear threat” flag, which looks very much like the Saddam Hussein “weapons of mass destruction” lies that prompted the war against Iraq.
North Korea’s History of Colonialism and Occupation
North Korea is a country of 25 million people which was formed as such in 1948 after the partition of Korea, where the north was occupied by Stalinist armies of the Soviet Union and the south by U.S. armies. Before WWII, Korea had endured a long colonial occupation and domination by Japan between 1910 and 1945. After the 1910 annexation, Japan imposed a form of settler colonialism, with the sending of 170,000 Japanese to the Korean peninsula and expropriated Korean farmers of their land through an imposed land reform. By the mid-1930 half of the land within the hands of Japanese landowners, transforming Koreans into tenant farmers with high colonial taxes. It is calculated that during WWII Japan forced 1.2 million Koreans into forced labor in mines and factories to support the war efforts. Under Japanese rule, tens of thousands of women recruited by force the “comfort women” to be sex slaves of Japanese soldiers.
After WWII, the Soviet Union and the U.S. created two puppet governments in a divided Korean peninsula. Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current president, became the first President of North Korea (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) in 1948 with the support of the Soviet Union. He was one of the leaders of the resistance forces against the Japanese colonial rule. In the 1930s, Kim Il-sung and his militias had sought refuge in Siberia where they only found partial support by the Soviet Union. But when in 1945 the USSR engaged formally in the war with Japan it began to give more open support to the elements of the Korean anti-colonial resistance and after the liberation of the Korean Peninsula supported Kim Il-sung´s rule.
In South Korea, the U.S. backed the Syngman Rhee regime, an openly anti-communist and right-wing nationalist dictatorship, which moved to kill and jail its political opposition. Syngman Rhee was a Princeton graduate who was groomed by the U.S. and his regime, comprised of many of the elites who collaborated with the Japanese occupation, targeted in particular left, anti-colonial and working class opposition forces. By 1950, 30,000 alleged “communists” were put in jail by the Rhee governments, and 300,000 suspected sympathizers of communism sent to “re-education” camps.
U.S. War Crimes Against the Korean People During the Korean War
In 1950 began the Korean War, when North Korea invaded South Korea (Republic of Korea) with the project of reuniting the Korean people kept separate by the Cold War opposition between the U.S. and the USSR. The U.S. organized a coalition of other imperialist forces (U.K., South Africa, France, Belgium, Philippines among others) to support and expand further north the rule of the South Korean government. The North received in addition to the USSR the backing of China and was more militarily ready for war. The Korean War lasted 3 years and ended up with almost identical borders with the still existing buffer called the “demilitarized zone” (DMZ) along the border. The death toll, however, of around 3 million people, around 20% of the total population, was devastating.
The Korean War was waged on the U.S. side as an “anti-communist” crusade and what happened before and during the Korean War is crucial to understand why there is a spread anti-American sentiment among the people of North Korea. The war crimes from Korean War against the Korean population will and should not be forgotten as easily as they have been censured in the U.S. by our own government and media. During that war, the U.S. military “dropped on the Korean peninsula more bombs — 635,000 tons — and napalm — 32,557 tons — than during the entire Pacific campaign against the Japanese during World War II”. The indiscriminate U.S. carpet-bombing of North Korea destroyed more cities in that country than in Japan or Germany during WWII.
The brutal destruction of the country’s infrastructure, cities, and land, on top of the killing and injuries of millions of civilians, was not enough. General Douglas MacArthur was contemplating using nuclear bombs to win the war in 10 days and surround the country with a radioactive belt: “I would have dropped between 30 and 50 atomic bombs on his air bases and other depots strung across the neck of Manchuria from just across the Yalu River from Antung (northwestern tip of Korea) to the neighborhood of Hunchun (just north of the northeastern tip of Korea near the border of the U.S.S.R.)…. “It was my plan as our amphibious forces moved south to spread behind us—from the Sea of Japan to the Yellow Sea—a belt of radioactive cobalt. It could have been spread from wagons, carts, trucks, and planes. It is not an expensive material. It has an active life of between 60 and 120 years. …For at least 60 years there could have been no land invasion of Korea from the north. The enemy could not have marched across that radiated belt.” Fortunately enough his plans did not go through, but the fact that he contemplated that genocidal “solution” is not easy to forget for the Korean people.
The fact that the North Korean regime left the nonproliferation of nuclear weapons treaty in 2003 and began a plan to develop its own nuclear arsenal to defend itself from the United States is only understandable given this history. It also responds however to the growing internal contradictions of the Kim Jong-un dictatorship.
Kim Jong-un and the Nature of the North Korean Regime
The North Korean regime, which calls itself “Communist” is today a brutal capitalist dictatorship in a very poor country with a very reactionary and nationalist government. It must be clear that the Korean people deserve a truly democratic government that serves their needs and U.S. workers should do everything in assisting their Korean brothers and sisters in that task. Yet this would have nothing to do with backing the Trump government’s military agressions and economic sanctions against the regime.
The evolution of the North Korean regime, monopolized by the Kim dynasty, is similar to the degeneration of the bureaucratic Soviet Union and the restoration of capitalism, but at a faster pace. The only and major difference is that contrary to Russia, the regime was not the product of a genuinely popular and workers revolution, nor it’s endured some years of true soviet democracy. It was since the beginning a top-down regime.
The anti-worker nature of the so-called socialist regime was visible on the priorities given to the planned economy. Even though, as our comrades pointed out “between 1953 and 1963, the country’s GDP grew 15% a year, with the building of an industrial complex focused on the production of armaments”, improvements in the production of consumer goods and food were not esteemed a priority. The North Korean regime also developed a singular political culture based on the “Juche” theory of autarky, independence and self-reliance. What began initially as a Korean “version” of Marxism-Leninism was quickly turned by Kim Il-sung into a principle that “superseded” Marxism and became the ideology of superiority the Il-sung dictatorial regime.
Given that the main economic partners for development of North Korea were China and USSR, the restoration of capitalism in both countries at the end of the 1970s and 1980s respectively led to the de-facto restoration of for-profit production in the former one. As the IWL comrades point out, in the 1990s the country faced a huge economic crisis and famine, and “Kim Il-sung opened the economy to foreign investment, with the formation of joint ventures of private/state-owned enterprises, created free zones under the control of large multinationals, and even sold islands to Chinese businessmen for tourism investment.” When Kim Jong-il, son of Kim Il-sung, takes over the de-regulation of the economy, in particular of food prices continues, which only worsened conditions for workers.
North Korea today is a capitalist dictatorship with a chronic economic crisis. As the PSTU comrades point out “the very members of the ruling party are becoming big capitalists under the protection of the state. Meanwhile, workers receive US$ 30 a month on average, while the cost of living doubles that. The capitalist economy is so large that about 40% of the population of the country is involved in some type of private business, as bosses or as employees. Only in the retail market, there are 1.1 million workers.”
Like in China the growing social contradictions between the very rich and the rapidly impoverished working masses is sparking conflicts. Yet in the case of North Korea this huge transformation is happening in a very poor country, whose total GDP is $28 billion (less than the GDP of the poorest state in the United States, Vermont with $31 billion), and whose annual GDP per capita is $1,600, compared s $8,100 in China and $57,600 in the United States.
In this context it is very understandable that the only way out for Kim Jong-un who assumed power in 2012 and has increased the privatization of services and industries, to prevent a mass uprising in his country and keep his power is to set the program of “nuclear development” as a way to appeal to North Korean nationalism. After all Trump and many other American leaders have done the same appealing to American patriotism and the “war on terrorism” to regain popular support.
The Debate Around Nuclear Weapons: the Real Danger, Uneven Forces, and Unfair Rules
The core of the current conflict between the United States and North Korea right now, however, is about nuclear weapons and who has the right to have them. Yet it would be impossible to begin any serious discussion on the use of nuclear weapons and their danger to humanity without calling out the crimes committed by the only state in history that has ever used the weapon against civilian population twice: the United States. President Truman, a Democrat, ordered the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945 and of Nagasaki three days later. Both bombs had an estimated death toll of 200,000 people in Japan.
Of course, we all know that it happened in the context of WWII, and the argument made to justify such an atrocity is that it was a “necessary collateral damage” to defeat the government of Japan. But this is not an uncontested truth, it is rather a retrospective justification of barbarisms. Actually, many evidences and voices inside the U.S. military have argued the opposite. The 1946 United States Strategic Bombing Survey, which reviewed all evidence from the U.S. military, concluded that the two nuclear bombs concluded that “even without the atomic bombing attacks, air supremacy over Japan could have exerted sufficient pressure to bring about unconditional surrender and obviate the need for invasion; and that “certainly prior to 31 December 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.”
Fleet Admiral William D. Leahy, the Chief of Staff to President Truman, confessed five years later that “the use of [the atomic bombs] at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons … The lethal possibilities of atomic warfare in the future are frightening. My own feeling was that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” Even Republican President Eisenhower argued in his memoirs that “Japan was already defeated and that dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
All of this history that has been covered up and even erased is important to consider who is today the greatest nuclear threat to humanity, and whose government has a past of irrational use of violence against innocent civilians. It is clear that the U.S. government has no moral or political authority to play the gendarme role in the U.S. and claim the right to regulate the use of nuclear violence and authorize who could use it or not. Before it wants to speak to the world about nuclear weapon use, it has to be held accountable for its past crimes by the working people all over the world, including the Japanese and American people directly involved in these atrocities.
The second key thing that needs to be discussed is the state of nuclear weapons possession today and the nature of the rules set to regulate them. Since 1945 and despite all its claims to “peace”, the U.S. frenetically continued the arms race and today is incomparably armed with nuclear weapons. According to Time magazine who relies on the Pentagon´s data, “As of July 8, the United States has 6,800 warheads, according to data from Hans Kristensen and Robert Norris at the Federation of American scientists. 2,800 of them are retired, 4,000 are stockpiled, and 1,800 are deployed. The total number of U.S. warheads is second only to Russia, which currently has 7,000 of them.” On the other hand, as of July of 2017, North Korea might have a maximum of 20 warheads, other sources point to the fact that it could develop up to 100 maximum by 2020. These facts alone should be enough to argue that the North Korean people should be allowed to have their own nuclear program for self-defense as long as the United States does not dismantle theirs.
Yet there is a third argument that needs to be explained and debunked which is the supposed commitment to the U.S. to “non-proliferation” and de-escalation. One of the arguments used by the U.S. government (Obama did it before Trump) to bully North Korea and Iran regarding their own sovereign military plans is that the U.S. is enrolled in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) signed in 1968 – a treaty that allows the US to still have more than 6,000 warheads! – and that North Korea unilaterally left the NPT in 2003. This view implies that there would be some a possible setting for negotiation with fair rules on nuclear weapons. But this is not the truth. The countries that got them want to keep their monopoly and want to prevent others from having them just to assert their arbitrary military power. There is not moral or political fairness in the NPT, the role of the NPT is to function as an alliance of those powerful countries who have nuclear arsenals to prevent their political enemies from having them. The proof is that 3 of the major nuclear weapon owners (Israel, India, and Pakistan, with 80, 130 and 140 nuclear warheads each) have never even bothered in joining the NPT. The United States has never demonized these three countries as it has done with Iran and North Korea, even less threatened them militarily, because they are military and economic allies in two regions – especially Israel who received $3.8 billion in public “taxpayer” money last year alone.
Against Imperialist Aggression and for a Worker-Led Disarmament Plan of the U.S.
Given the previous context and history, it is very clear for us that we need to begin our understanding of the U.S. and North Korean government conflict by asserting that there is an unfair and dangerous monopoly of nuclear weapons today led by the U.S. and this needs to be ended. This monopoly is not only a threat to the North Korean and Iranian people, but is a danger to all humanity. We must first demand the immediate disarmament of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, and that process needs to the supervised and led by workers. Our end goal is the total abolition of nuclear weapons and this must start for historical, political and economic reasons in the U.S.
Second, we must assert the right of self-defense of other countries from imperialist aggression, a right which includes having equal weapons. We are no fans of North Korea and Iran developing a nuclear arsenal, but we are more worried about the U.S., France, Israel, the U.K. and many other countries that have one. We do not see how we could tell other less powerful and semi-colonial countries to stop developing their weapons when imperialist countries who have committed numerous wars, occupations and used these weapons are free to have them. To build a real trust process for peace among peoples we must start by disarming the powerful.
Third, we believe that the only social and political force that can lead this key process is the organized working class, allied with the oppressed communities and nationalities. We do not think the capitalist government who obey to corporate interests would lead us to peace. This is why we believe that it is only through the development of workers councils and independent power and through the establishment of a socialist government with a democratic workers control of production (all production including military production) that will be able to successfully eliminate all nuclear weapons.
Hands Off North Korea! No Economic Sanctions, No Military Aggression!
The U.S. Government Needs to Destroy its Own Nuclear Arsenal!
For Workers Democratic Control of All Existing Nuclear Weapons!
 William Boyer, Rural Development in South Korea: A Sociopolitical Analysis, (1991), p. 30.
 “United States Strategic Bombing Survey; Summary Report”. United States Government Printing Office. 1946. p. 26. Retrieved 28 July 2006.