Apr 30, 2018
Are the relations between the U.S. and North Korea moving toward a thaw?
Things have sped up since the Olympic Games, when the North and South Korean delegations marched together. A historic summit just took place between Kim Jong-un and the South Korean President Moon Jae-in on April 27th, when the two pledged to work toward officially ending the Korean war and de-nuclearizing the Korean peninsula. And, a meeting between the U.S. and North Korean leaders, Trump and Kim Jong-un, is being arranged for the end of May.
It is clear that the North Korean regime, while it did want to demonstrate its ability to produce nuclear weapons, was mainly concerned with getting the United States to negotiate. This is because, contrary to what the Western media keeps repeating, North Korea’s isolation was imposed on it by U.S. imperialism.
At the end of World War Two, in order to prepare for Japan’s surrender, the United States had a plan to divide the Korean Peninsula into two zones of influence, one south of the 38th parallel under its own authority, the other to the north under the authority of the Soviet Union. But the social explosion that followed the military collapse of Japan in August 1945 upset these schemes. People’s Committees formed all across the country and founded a People’s Republic of Korea on September 6th, 1945. The Korean Communist Party, which came out of the war as the most powerful party in Korea, put all its weight behind curbing the goals of social revolution and channeling the movement into entirely nationalist aims. Despite this, when the U.S. army arrived, it refused to negotiate with these committees. Leaning on politicians linked to the wealthy classes who had often collaborated with the Japanese colonial power, it put in place a dictatorial regime under its firm control.
And so, the big majority of those who had been driven out of the South took refuge in the North. In its zone of occupation, the Soviet army established a government made up of the Korean Communist Party and different nationalist currents who fused to found the Workers’ Party of North Korea. The leader of this party was Kim Il-sung, the grandfather of the current North Korean dictator. The regime was authoritarian and did not tolerate any opposition, but it carried out a radical land reform that made it popular in both the North and the South, where, on the contrary, the new rulers monopolized the land for themselves.
Armed with this popularity, the regime of the North tried to reunify the country in 1950 by launching a military offensive. This was the start of the Korean War. For three years, the country was ravaged several times by the offensives and counter-offensives of the armies of the North, backed by China, and those of the South, supported by the United States. The Korean population came out of this war deeply damaged and remains divided in two, on opposite sides of the 38th parallel.
After this, the North was subjected to one of the longest embargoes in history, which would limit its economic links only to China and to the regimes of Eastern Europe, until these collapsed. In the South, the military dictators who came after used anti-communism and the imagined threat of the North to silence all opposition and to terrorize a new working class that was becoming more and more powerful as the country rapidly industrialized. This industrialization, in the framework of a strict state control, took place as the result of U.S. and later Japanese orders and investment, especially during the war in Vietnam. It gave rise to exceptionally large industrial conglomerates, the chaebols, the most well-known of these today being Samsung, Hyundai, and LG.
Today, Trump seems to want to soften his policy. This would not be the first time that U.S. imperialism has played this card. About 20 years ago, a center-left South Korean government began what it called the Sunshine Policy, which led to several international summits. North Korea received some crumbs of foreign aid, and timid economic relations between North and South Korea started to develop. But after a few years of this, the U.S. government decided to put an end to it, when George W. Bush placed North Korea on his “Axis of Evil” list.
What will come of the current opening? It is impossible to predict. The political choices of U.S. imperialism are motivated by its geopolitical interests. And behind this power struggle between the United States and North Korea is the U.S. desire to be the main player in this region of the world. U.S. imperialism is not only confronting China, a commercial competitor that it wants to dominate, but also its allies like Japan, upon whom it imposes its policies. Taking advantage of the opening that Kim Jong-un appears ready to make is part of this strategy.
Obviously the political unpredictability of someone like Donald Trump adds to the uncertainty. Right now he wants to look like a brilliant deal-maker, and is taking credit for Kim Jong-un’s willingness to meet. But tomorrow, he may very well decide that 63 years is not too long to wait for an end to the Korean war!