Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Korean Peninsula, ROK protests and the global fightback

Just a few of my thoughts about the world around me. Have to write them down sometimes. RM
Korean union workers rally for higher wages, shorter hours improved conditions on June 24th
By Richard Mellor
Afscme Local 444, retired

While most of US mass media is directed at North Korea and the regime’s ongoing missile tests, events in the Southern part of the peninsula receive a lot less attention. There has been some jubilation after the hated Park Geun-hye was booted out two months ago in South Korea’s elections. Park, in what appears to be a tradition among politicians in the Republic of Korea, was mired in corruption. The situation was so acute, the ROK government initiated impeachment proceedings against her.

But there have already been huge protests in the two months since Moon Jae-in was elected to replace her.  Moon, a human rights lawyer ran a campaign pledging to root out corruption and was seen as somewhat of a liberal by many. But last Friday, some 400,000 workers, members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, rallied in Seoul for better working conditions, wage increases, shorter working hours and an end to the use of temporary workers.

At the same time, thousands of Koreans opposing the US missile defense system known as THAAD, surrounded the US Embassy, some with placards saying "No THAAD, No Trump".  Many Koreans are worried about the environmental impact of the installation as well as the fear that it further antagonizes North Korea making the area a target.

THAAD has also increased tensions with China as the Chinese government is concerned that having a US missile installation so close to it’s border with the ROK is a threat to its national security. As far as I understand it, Moon has put the THAAD project on hold.
Koreans at the US Embassy Oppose US Missile System

South Korea has a tradition of militant labor and worker action.  In the mid-nineties there was a massive general strike as the government passed labor reform giving the bosses’ more power and ability to lay off workers. The riot police responded with tear gas and violence as the strike began to spread. There was some minor concessions gained at the time. There were major strikes in the 1980’s and also throughout the first 15 years of this century. The next recession or global slump will see further unrest as S. Korean bosses’ attack labor rights further to make Korean workers more competitive.

I often wonder to myself what it must be like living in S or N Korea as the threat of nuclear conflict seems ever present. The US of course welcomes constant tension up to a point as it justifies the need for US weapons and US military occupations or presence throughout the world. Selling arms to Taiwan and its constant presence in the South China Sea is good for the US defense industry.

North Korea's most recent missile test has upped the anti as by most accounts this was an ICBM. The missile reached an altitude of 2500km and traveled 900km and those in the industry say that had it been fired with a lower trajectory (N Korea launched it almost vertically.) it could reach Alaska.

The consequences of a conflict between the US, South Korea and the North would be devastating not only for North Korea as the US has the ability to wipe them off the face of the earth, but for S Korea and Japan also. Seoul, South Korea’s capital with a population of 25 million is only 35 miles from the border with the North and well within reach of the many missile launchers and other more conventional weapons North Korea has along the border. Stratfor claims the North still has more than 1,000 ballistic missiles that could strike across South Korea, Tokyo is also vulnerable.

Such a conflict would also draw China in to the mix. Even if the North was not only de-nuclearized but completely defeated, China could not tolerate a united US puppet regime on its northern border. Many American workers are not aware that the Korean War was not a war between nations but a civil war in which the US intervened and that this war was never declared and never actually ended; what exists is an armistice.

It is important for us to at least gain a rudimentary understanding of the nature of the Korean War as we call it, also of the history of that peninsula particularly the Japanese occupation which from what I can gather was an extremely brutal one. Bruce Cummings in his book The KoreanWar points out that many of the modern Japanese politicians and ruling class today are relatives of the architects of the Korean occupation.
As for the US intervention in the conflict, MacArthur’s orders were, “to destroy every means of communication and every installation and factories and cities and villages. This destruction is to start at the Manchurian border and to progress south.”  The intent was to create a wasteland in the North. MacArthur’s policies were quite popular in Vietnam as well where the US intervened in another civil war supporting a government in the South that couldn’t even get elected by its own citizens.  Henry Kissinger, a mass murderer of some note, said of the illegal foray in to Cambodia that was kept from the US public initially and that killed some 600,000 people, “Everything that flies on everything that moves.” It’s easy to be tough when one doesn’t engage in the combat.

As in all these cases, it is young working class men and women that are sent in to these hell-holes to kill and be killed. Growing up in England in the 1960’s and living near a US base I met many young working class “Yanks” as we called them, mostly from the South and the Midwest, their knowledge of these histories and cultures limited, like mine at the time only worse.  How many of these young people died in Vietnam? In his book, Cummings describes the attitude that existed among US soldiers toward Koreans quoting Reginald Thompson a journalist who covered the conflict, “Thomson was appalled by the ubiquitous casual racism of Americans from general to soldier, and their breathtaking ignorance of Korea. Americans used the term ‘gook’ to refer to all Koreans, North and South, but especially North Koreans, ‘chink’ distinguished the Chinese.” He points out that decades after the war ended this term was still used in oral histories. Soldiers rarely if ever referred to Koreans by their names. The irony is that Koreans were not allowed to drink at the same water fountains as white people in many parts of the US due to the racist polices that existed at the time.

Given that Eisenhower was quite free in his support of using the nuclear bomb on Korea claiming it would be “cheaper than convention weaponry” says Cummings, or that the US Joint Chiefs of Staff also recommended nuclear attacks on China as well, it is not unrealistic to assume both the North Koreans and Chinese might be a little cautious having such a large nuclear armed US presence in their back yard.

Understanding this history does not excuse the North Korean regime’s behavior nor the real dangers that exist. It allows working people to understand the forces at play and how things turned out as they have. “History is written by the victor” as the saying goes, and this is as true with regards to history between nations as well as domestically. US history is written from the viewpoint of the US capitalist class, the romantic tale of hardship and effort in the struggle for civilization against savages, civilization and freedom to them meaning the freedom to exploit labor, live in a world where capital has no borders. The Korean conflict as well as the great wars before it are wars for the possession of the world’s raw materials and resources. Every player in the market game wants to be the last man standing.

The Korean crisis and for the people there having to live in a constant state of tension and fear cannot be resolved within the framework of capitalism. These conflicts are an integral part of the capitalist system a system in severe crisis. No matter what they say, the capitalist class is driven to attack living standards in the competition between nations for resources. It is the rapacious never-ending struggle for profits that drives them

It is hard, especially for workers in the US to imagine a world where workers have a real say. Where we make decisions about trade, the environment, production and all aspects of life---harder for us because we have never had a political party of our own. The existence of Stalinist totalitarianism and its eventual collapse proved, according to bourgeois historians, that communism was tried and failed. Stalinism was a great set back in the struggle for socialism and freedom. But we have global unions; we can have global institutions both economic (unions) and political (parties). Workers presently have no voice. If we did as part of a world federation of democratic socialist states, we would be relating directly to workers in other nations and profits and market share would not be the basis for our relationship. The idea that we can’t build a different way of running society based on mutual cooperation is a lie, it is based in religious belief where we are taught that human nature is inherently greedy and selfish, and capitalist ideology based on the same selfishness, and individualism. Humans are inherently collective creatures though, a glimpse at thousands of years of human history shows that, not just a few hundred of capitalist society.

That a major catastrophe of sorts will occur seems almost inevitable. They do not make all these nuclear weapons never to use them.  Then there is the environmental crisis which is perhaps the greatest threat to humanity at the moment, something capitalism cannot escape; it’s not about political will, it’s a about a system that is collapsing and a class that has become almost mad in desperation.

That the working class internationally, including here in the US will step forward is a given. As these developments in North Korea play out, there are protests in Hong Kong for democratic rights being put down by riot police. The fragile unity between various despotic US puppet regimes in the Arabian Peninsula is breaking down after we experienced another possible “Glaspie Moment” with Trump possibly giving a free hand to the arrogant new Saudi leader Mohammed Salman.

In France, we see Macron moving more decisively against the French working class in order to make them more competitive, we can expect huge struggles in the workplaces and streets of France ahead. Throughout the world there is resistance including here int he US

Leon Trotsky, the Russian revolutionary murdered by Stalin said over half a century ago that the global crisis of the working class is the crisis is one of a crisis of leadership. That was true when he said it and its true today.  I think it was Rosa Luxembourg that said the future for humanity is socialism or barbarism although I understand it originated with Engels. It doesn’t really matter. The reality today is that we are faced with socialism or the end of the life as we know it. Socialism or annihilation. If the reader has children or grandchildren that alone should obligate us to act; it's their future.

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