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Commentary :: Globalization & Capitalism

On North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam

A Letter and Response on North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam with Steven Argue representing the Workers Democracy International.
From Jim:

Thanks for the invite, I agree with what the others have said. In regards to supporting deformed workers states such as North Korea, Vietnam etc. are you advocating supporting the struggle of the workers within these states to overthrow their government and replace it with a 'true' socialist government or simply defending them from attack from imperialist nations and supporting the struggles of the workers to create change from within? (Which I agree with)

Anyway, excellent group and a lot of members already I see.

Comradely regards, Jim.

Dear Jim,

We call for the defense of the deformed workers states from both imperialist attacks and internal counter-revolution, while also calling for Political Revolution to oust the undemocratic bureaucracies in power in order to implement workers democracy and defend the socialist economies from market reforms. Such political revolutions as we advocate could only come from within.

Vietnam, Cuba, and Korea have suffered the worst kind of dictatorship and repression at U.S. hands. The Cuban revolution had to overcome the murderous U.S. backed Batista regime. The Vietnamese revolution had to overcome successive U.S. installed puppet governments in the south as well as a U.S. war of aggression that murdered about three million of the Vietnamese people. Likewise the Korean people had to endure a similar but even more murderous war of aggression killing between 3 million and 5 million Koreans in just a few short years.

In addition, the U.S. war of aggression in Korea succeeded in imposing a very repressive capitalist dictatorship in the south that only recently has put on a bourgeois democratic façade as a result of pressures faced from a militant trade union movement. As recently as 1980 U.S. forces orchestrated the bloody Kwangju massacre where an insurrectionary revolt of the working class was put down by the U.S. backed South Korean dictatorship with tanks and the lives of 2,000 people. Most Americans never knew it happened, but had this been China we’d still be hearing about it.

Many gains have been made as a result of the Vietnamese, Cuban, and North Korean revolutions. Despite these countries being economically backward before their revolutions, despite massive imperialist destruction compounding economic problems, and despite economic blockades by imperialism.

This does not mean that these revolutions do not have deep and profound problems of their own making. But revolutionaries who have valid criticisms should be very careful as to be clear that we oppose all imperialist intervention. This is especially true of revolutionaries living inside of imperialist countries. The role of imperialist intervention in the world is always murderous and backwards, whether it be led by Bush, Blair, Schroeder, Chirac, Putin, or Koizumi.

Many people want to compare the situation in Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea to that of the rich imperialist countries such as that of the United States and Germany to claim that socialism does not work. This is not a fair comparison since the wealth of the imperialist countries has come from a system of imperialist exploitation that keeps people starving around the world in the capitalist third world while the U.S. takes their cheap resources and labor. Those countries that do not tow the imperialist line potentially face the wrath of imperialisms military might.

Cuba, Vietnam, and North Korea do not live outside of that same world economy that keeps the third world poor. Their revolutions helped free them from imperialist exploitation during the time of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union not only bought Cuban sugar, for instance, but paid Cuba a price for it far above the meager price set by imperialism on the world capitalist market. This assistance by the Soviet Union helped Cuba’s socialist economy meet the needs of the people in terms of jobs, food, healthcare, education, and culture.

Of these three countries, the Cuban revolution has weathered the storm of the destruction of the Soviet Union the best. This is due to a number of factors combined, but the primary one is that Cuba has tampered a lot less with market mechanisms and foreign capitalist exploitation of resources and workers.

Creativity along socialist lines has been a big part of Cuba’s solution. Lacking pesticides Cuba turned to methods of organic farming. Loosing oil from Mexico as NAFTA and Vicente Fox have turned that country more and more into a direct colony, Cuba has turned to Venezuela where Cuba sends doctors to help Venezuela’s poor in exchange for oil. Limited capitalist investment in Cuba, while being a potential problem, is currently balanced by a system that continues to make healthcare, education, and food the priority.

North Korea has not been doing as well as Cuba.

Despite being implemented by a dictatorial regime, the collectivized planned economy of North Korea has benefited the people. The socialist planning in North Korea built up a modern industrial base that out-performed the south up until the mid 1970s. In addition the inability of U.S. imperialism to conquer the North Korean revolution also strengthened the hand of workers movements throughout Asia and the world.

Today the economies of both North and South Korea are in bad shape.

During the cold war the U.S. and Japan aided the South Korean economy in order keep it afloat and to try to prevent conditions that may have led to the revolutionary reunification of Korea. That has now changed. The Asian financial crisis of 1997 hit the South Korean economy hard, but when the South Korean capitalist class turned to the U.S. and Japan asking for a bailout they were denied. With the Soviet Union gone priorities have shifted and the U.S. and Japan no longer want to prop up the South Korean capitalists because they also see them as economic competitors.

North Korea’s economy is even more desperate than that of the South. While facing an economic blockade from U.S. and Japanese imperialism, North Korea lost its biggest trading partner with the capitalist counter-revolution that took place in the Soviet Union in 1991. In 1992 China betrayed the North Korean working class by cutting off shipments of cheap oil as a concession to South Korea in order to gain trade and diplomatic relations. The lack of fuel oil has disrupted the production of electricity. As a result much of the North Korean economy has collapsed including steel production because of the lack of electricity. Since that time China has negotiated other oil deals with North Korea. In 1995 North Korea began to be hit extremely hard by a series of natural disasters that have caused extreme famine. About 11 million people, out of a population of 22 million, are malnourished.

The Chinese Communist Party’s betrayal of the North Korean working class in exchange for trade with South Korea flows directly from their adherence to Stalin’s Theory of Socialism in One Country. This was a theory in which Stalin broke from the earlier policy of revolutionary internationalism held by the leadership of Lenin and Trotsky in order for Stalin to gain trade relations with the capitalist countries. This policy of betrayal of the workers for trade with capitalist countries, a policy also adopted by Mao and Fidel Castro, was the thinking behind many betrayals. These ranged from the Chinese attempted invasion of Communist Vietnam to Castro’s support for the capitalist Mexican government when it gunned down leftist students in 1968, to Stalin’s betrayals of the Spanish, German, Greek, and Chinese revolutions as well as his misdirection of the U.S. Communist Party, getting them to support the capitalist Democrat Party as the supposed “lesser of two evils? rather than supporting the building of an independent party of the working class.

While some may consider such policies pragmatic in a world dominated by the capitalist market, the short-term gains of these betrayals, and others, destroyed potential trade with new revolutionary nations.

It says much about the superiority of the socialist economic model that the poor and isolated Soviet Union was able to build up a strong economy that met the people’s needs. This was true despite the Soviet economy being twice destroyed, first by the invasion of the U.S. and many other imperialist countries directly after the 1917 revolution, and secondly with the Nazi invasion of World War Two. More impressive is that an industrial economy was built without the economic imperialism that created the wealth of the advanced capitalist nations of the U.S., Western Europe, and Japan. Many forget that the wealth and obscene consumption of the world’s resources that the U.S. likes to parade and pretend was ordained by god has arisen largely from the super exploitation and miserable poverty imperialism has inflicted on the people of Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and elsewhere in the so-called third world. While the advanced capitalist countries do not meet the needs of the people, the full failure of capitalism can be seen in the “third world’ colonies run by the IMF and World Bank, controlled by the U.S. military and by the armed forces of the smaller local capitalist classes.

Likewise the current situation in the former Soviet Union is a lesson in the negative. Since Yeltsin’s capitalist counter-revolution in 1991 all indicators of a decent standard of living have dropped. These indicators include life expectancy, infant mortality, income, and literacy.

In the face of the current economic crisis the North Korean leadership has, however, made important mistakes by introducing market reforms that have negated some of the advantages of the socialist economy. Despite facing famine, food rationing has been eliminated. Such food rationing prevented famine from occurring in Cuba in their worst days of economic crisis in the mid 1990s following the fall of the Soviet Union. In addition profiteering off of speculation has been legalized in North Korea with a 550 percent rise in the price of rice. Housing rents and utility charges have also been introduced.

The North Korean government is also promoting two Chinese style free trade zones where foreign capitalists are free to invest and exploit workers. While some may argue that these free trade zones are a necessary act of desperation on the part of the North Korean government, they are also a major step towards the destruction of the socialist economy. Cuba, facing a similar situation as North Korea with the destruction of the Soviet Union, has been able to gain foreign investment for projects that have helped the Cuban economy, but they have done it with strict controls on workers exploitation coupled with the controlling ownership of the projects remaining in Cuban hands.

Ultimately an essential ingredient needed for Cuba and North Korea to break out of their economic isolation is the world socialist revolution. Possibilities that would have a major impact include a socialist revolution in a more advanced capitalist country and/or a political revolution in China that preserves the Chinese socialist system built out of the 1949 revolution. Today preserving socialism in China includes extending it into the free trade zones with the nationalization of foreign capitalists and bringing back socialist agricultural policies destroyed by the privatization of agriculture carried out by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s, a policy that has devastated most of the peasantry and only enriched a few. In addition a national health care plan would have to be implemented to respond to the fact that the earlier socialist health care system was tied to work units such as factories, schools, and people's communes and has disintegrated with China’s market reforms. To carry out these revolutionary socialist changes will mean breaking the power of the brutal Chinese Communist Party and instituting real workers democracy and trade union rights combined with instituting an internationalist policy of world socialist revolution.

As with North Korea, Cuba, and Vietnam the program for political revolution in China to bring about real workers democracy and better policies for the promotion of international socialism also includes the defense of these revolutions in the face of imperialist attack and their defense against internal capitalist counter-revolution.

Adding to North Korea’s economic problems has been their understandable fear of a U.S. attack. George Bush’s statements about North Korea being part of the “axis of evil? and the Bush administration’s bold statements discussing the possibilities of war with North Korea have, as has the presence of 37,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, forced President Kim Jong Il to continue to put a large amount of North Korea’s resources into the military. Blame for this rests on the shoulders of U.S. imperialism, not with Kim Jung Il.

Another potential U.S. war on the Korean peninsula is a war that must be stopped. It should be the right of the Korean people to decide their own government without U.S. intervention, as it should be the right of the people of Afghanistan and Iraq to decide their own future as well.

While many who have participated in the anti-war movement in the streets looked towards electing Democrats as the solution to the latest rash of imperialist wars, the Democrats have an even harder line on North Korea than Bush, while having a position of continuing the current wars. In fact Clinton’s former Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, counter-posed an attack on North Korea to the planned U.S. attack on Iraq stating, “The threats from North Korea and from international terrorism are more imminent?. This get tough on North Korea line was Kerry’s as well.

So when advocating Political Revolution we must be clear in opposing imperialist military intervention. But another important element is opposing internal counter-revolution.

The type of movement we do not support is the type where a pro-capitalist bureaucrat such as Yeltsin carried out a counter-revolutionary coup.

Poland also had pro-capitalist counter-revolution assisted by the CIA and the Pope. Solidarnosc was a rightwing union that Ronald Reagan, after breaking the air traffic controllers strike and dragging their leaders away in chains, dubbed Solidarnosc the only union he ever loved. Backed by imperialism Solidarnosc struggled on a program for the restoration of capitalism and won. As a result Poland now suffers from around 50% unemployment and abortion has been made illegal.

Fitting into this same category are the rightwing Cuban terrorists and writers funded by the United States government that were recently prosecuted by the Cuban government. Up against the strength and resources of the United States government the Cuban people cannot allow U.S. backed terrorists to carry out hijackings without strong punishment, nor can they allow foreign agents to operate freely inside their country on the payroll of the CIA. Likewise the Cuba has the right to infiltrate rightwing terrorist organizations in Miami in order to prevent their attacks. We demand of the U.S. government: Free the Cuban five!

The Workers Democracy International does, however, support struggles for democratic socialism in the deformed workers states, such as the movement that was crushed by the 1956 Soviet invasion of Hungary. The Soviet troops were sent in to crush an unfolding political revolution against the Stalinist bureaucracy. Institutions of worker’s democracy (workers councils) were springing up from below, and the Stalinist bureaucracy in Moscow felt threatened by what an example of socialist workers democracy may mean in terms of inspiration and workers unrest in their own country. We view those Soviet actions as a crime against the Hungarian people and a crime against democratic socialism.

Likewise we oppose the Chinese Communist Party in their brutal suppression of the Tiananmen Square uprising. We support worker and students rights as well as recognizing that these protests were not anti-socialist in their demands.

The Chinese Communist Party has been destroying the tremendous gains of the 1949 Chinese Revolution through capitalist restoration. This capitalist restoration is taking place under an extremely repressive regime. As a result the Chinese have lost basic rights such as guaranteed healthcare, jobs, and food. In addition, the Chinese Communist Party has joined imperialism in the repression of other third world people by sending troops for the occupation of Haiti, an occupation that was begun with a coup d’etat carried out by U.S. troops in 2004. It is the position of the Workers Democracy International that it will be necessary to overthrow the Chinese Communist Party in order to save and deepen what is left of the socialist revolution, and in order to institute workers democracy in China.

Likewise any movement that emerges in North Korea, Vietnam, or Cuba that is anti-imperialist and calls for the preservation of socialism while demanding real workers democracy and democratic rights for those not funded by imperialism will have the support of the Workers Democracy International.

This has been a rather long response, but I hope it clarifies what we mean by the concept of “Political Revolution?. We defend the deformed workers states from imperialist attacks and internal counter-revolution while calling for Political Revolution to oust undemocratic bureaucracies to implement workers democracy and defend the socialist economy.

The Workers Democracy International demands: U.S. hands off of Cuba! U.S. Troops Out of Guantanamo! End The Economic Blockade! Free the Cuban Five! U.S. Troops Out Of Korea, U.S. Hands Off North Korea! U.S. Hands Off Of Vietnam! For War Reparations To North Korea and Vietnam! U.S., British, South Korean and other foreign Troops Out Of Iraq and Afghanistan! U.S., French, Chinese, Brazilian, and Argentinean Troops Out of Haiti! Resist imperialism in the streets, in the barracks, in the factories, and on the docks! End imperialism through democratic socialist revolution across the planet!

Sincerely, Steven Argue

For the Workers Democracy International

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