File spoon-archives/marxism-international.archive/marxism-international_1997/97-01-29.113, message 26

Date: Mon, 27 Jan 1997 16:48:19 -0500 (EST)
Subject: M-I: Korean "Stalinism" Reconsidered

Stalinism,  according to Barkley,  far from being deceased,  is in his view:

>very alive, if not well, in the DPRK [North Korea] both 
>ideologically and in fact on the ground.  Indeed, one 
>argument for Stalinism would be that the DPRK is the one 
>socialist nation not to have made any significant movement 
>in the direction of either markets or capitalism.  Even 
>Cuba has done so lately.  

Again,  we are plagued with the old logistical problems of definition.
"Stalinism" is -- what? -- resistance to economic "reform"?     An
implacable reluctance to part company with State-owned enterprises?     One
party rule? Is "Stalinism" dead and decently interred,  a mere skeleton in
the national cupboards of socialist societies?    Or a creature that has
gone into hibernation only to re-emerge when the conditions are right?    

It is no answer,  *pace* Barkely Rosser,  to point to socialist societies
that have survived from earlier and more spartan forms of socialism.    The
survival of kingship in Great Britain does not prove that the British system
of government is a monarchy;  and institutions Barkley would almost
certainly call "democratic" survive in many countries today -- some survived
even in Hitler's Germany -- which have little or no claim to be called
democracies.    Similarly,  "Stalinist" institutions persist in modern-day
Poland,  Hungary,  and the Czech Republic, among others;  yet,  who would
seriously refer to these States as "Stalinist" in any meaningful political
sense of the word?      

In the case of the DPRK (North Korea),  resistance to capitalist "reform" is
motivated primarily by resistance to both US imperialism and its mightily
armed surrogate to the South.    After all,  the US invasion in 1950 was
quite as traumatic and devastating as the first year of Hitler's invasion of
the Soviet Union.    Subsequent US activities in Southern Asia,  including
in Vietnam and the Philippines,  has only confirmed the worst prognoses of
hardliners in the North's military establishment who,  even today,  remain
the main stumbling block in Pyongyang to Barkley's precious "economic
reform" (cf. "Long Korean winter shows signs of thaw" in *Financial Times*,
January 3, 1997).    This,  together with the North's ambiguous relations
with both Japan and China,  has been the chief source for its attitudes
toward outside investment capital.    

Korean economic policy since the late 1970s has see-sawed between
(relatively) younger technocrats and an older,  more ideologically
conservative cabal of senior military officers who view the political
results of "reform" in eastern Europe with a mixture of awe and
mortification.    In the early 1980s,  Korea actually *led* China in the
number of letters of intent signed with foreign firms (mostly Japanese and
Swedish) for the creation of joint State/private enterprises.    Bitter
opposition within the leadership of the North Korean Army led Kim Ill Sung
to come down on the side of the hardliners.     Providentially,  a period of
record harvests (1982-86) acted to further eclipse moves toward opening the
economy,  and it wasn't until the early 1990s that the move for economic
reform was re-started,  a trajectory that has now gained substantial
momentum  (see "Signs of the market make a provisional appearance in
Pyongyang",  *Business Asia*,  January  9,  1997).     

It is time,  Barkley,  that you abandoned the old "Stalinist" canard as an
explanatory tool for socialist economic behavior.    

Or,  at least *try* to fashion some alternative explanation.

Louis Godena       


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