Wednesday, 9 February 2011

The descent of the hermit state


There can be no more peculiar place in the world than Communist North Korea. One wonders what it is about Marxism that produces such a theatre of the absurd? But pause for a moment and think about it: Marxism, wherever it spread, was never more than the ideology of high holidays, setting its baleful economic effects to one side. North Korea is not the product of ideology; it’s the product of history – its own.

It’s certainly been isolated by ideology in modern times, though more by political developments elsewhere within the old communist bloc. At the end of the Korean War – actually it never ended – the North, fearful of future American reprisals, was highly dependent on the Chinese and the Soviets for its security in a nuclear age.

Kim Il-Sung, the first leader (he is still leader, dead or not) of the North, was a devotee of Stalin. So when Khrushchev cut the ground from under the idol political distancing began. China was left as the only friend. But then came the chaos of Mao’s Cultural Revolution, which Kim saw in no better light than Khrushchev’s liberalisation. Now the regime's isolation was close to absolute. The collapse of communism across the world more or less completed the process. Even China is now a capitalist country with a red gloss.

North Korea retreated, retreated into itself, retreated into its own history. That history was one of isolation and the most absolute forms of monarchy. For five hundred years, right up to the Japanese occupation in 1910, the country had been ruled by the same royal house. Foreigners were forbidden to enter and subjects forbidden to leave. Even part of the coastline was cleared to ensure that people did not come into contact with outsiders.

Add to that the Confucian tradition of filial piety and ancestor worship then something of the bizarre cultural politics of the North becomes more understandable. It’s because of this that Kim Il-Sung, who died in 1994, is still officially the head of state. So, we have a state that, having embraced Marxism, or its own version of Marxism, has barely escaped the feudalism that has marked its past, feudalism in every way more absolute than anything ever known in Western Europe, more terrible for the ordinary people, who get as thin as their overlords get fat.

North Korea is a fearful, unstable and uncertain state, one that cannot break from the ever decreasing circles into which it descends. History is not fooled; history is never fooled.

15 comments:

  1. Nowhere more peculiar? What about Islington?

    ReplyDelete
  2. BHH, I don't think you would enjoy the company. :-))

    ReplyDelete
  3. Too bad there aren't any modern day Vikings to shake things up... Maybe the Japanese would be interested in some additional labor for their declining land! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Islington could count sometimes I suppose.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Jeremy, I rather think they have had enough of Korea and Koreans.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Rehan, it's all the fault of the New Labour Mafia. :-))

    ReplyDelete
  7. communism is an ugly way of government, no liberty, non property and no money, but i will be lawyer of the devil and say some good things come from the socialism, the ideology, no the praxis in general cases, all countries of the world have -and should have- some socialism ideas in the system, free school, free university, 8 hours of work, free hospital, insurance, social security, help from the state when you lost your job and more, all thanks to socialism, a form that want that all the people receive the same amount of money (a fair distribution) and have the same good life, an utopia and this does not work like you can see in Cuba for example, a bad way of live in all sense, that is why democracy, capitalism, foreign investment paying fair taxes and doing social labour for the good of the comunity, open market, globalization, human rights, etc is 100% better but in a world without a little socialism is not compassionate and complete government. A kiss. Mario.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Oh, Mario, the theory may be good; the practice is invariably terrible.

    ReplyDelete
  9. After Korea became a colony of Japan, a large number of Japanese were sent to settle on the peninsula in order to administrate it and set up factories and businesses, exploit resources, etc. Following Japan's defeat in WW2 and the liberation of Korea, many of these Japanese and their Korean-born families returned to Japan, where they were met with suspicion and prejudice. It did not matter that children of these families had been born of 'pure' Japanese parents, they were segregated and special schools set up to educate them apart from 'untainted' Japanese. Some of those born of Japanese descent who chose to remain in Korea after WW2, sent their children to Japan to be educated in these special schools, and, as a result, North Korea has had a limited cultural exchange with Japan throughout the period of its greatest isolation. The Orient is a very strange place . . .

    ReplyDelete
  10. Calvin, did you know that the Koreans sent agents to Japan to 'liberate' people i.e. kidnap them, bringing them to the socialist paradise? Yes, the Orient is a strange place.

    ReplyDelete
  11. No, I had not heard that. But totalitarian states treat people as property very much as 'free-enterprise' slave economies do, so it is not much of a surprise.

    ReplyDelete