[VIEWPOINT]Ideologies and developmentLeftist philosophy and nationalism are usually on opposite sides. The fathers of leftist philosophy, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels and Vladimir Ilich Lenin, were all internationalists. While rejecting the capitalist system of the imperialist powers, Marxism criticized narrow-minded nationalism. Marxists called for the “workers of the world” to unite. In other words, workers shouldn’t be fooled by the nationalistic slogans of the imperialistic powers into selling out their own class.
The Comintern, or Communist International, was a movement that exemplified this belief. Witnessing the imperialistic powers armed with nationalism aim their guns at one another and commit massacres and destruction, the leftist leaders of the world were convinced that their internationalism was the only way that could save this world. The leftist political parties in the West today still cooperate closely with one another across national borders, partly due to their ideological background and historical experiences.
In contrast, the leftists of Korea strongly emphasize nationalism. This is because of our modern history. The Japanese imperialism that seized our national sovereignty came in the form of a right-wing capitalist system. Under a system where the imperial military sunk roots deeply into politics and exploited its neighbors through capitalism, fighting against the Japanese meant fighting for the left wing. Moreover, the accumulation of “national capital” by the Korean bourgeois class and capitalists meant certain compromises with the Japanese authorities, and capitalism was soon regarded as collaboration with the Japanese. Also, it is true that communists and socialists showed more determination in fighting the Japanese to the end than capitalists and the bourgeois class. In the end, through the Japanese colonial experience, many people came to accept rightist nationalism and capitalistic nationalism as an oxymoron. True nationalism had to be leftist.
This was the reason so many patriots, intellectuals and students became immersed in leftist ideas after the liberation. The way they saw it, the North Korean system was the “legitimate” one based on leftist nationalist ideas. Kim Il Sung could engage in a “national liberation war,” while building a “workers’ paradise,” because the leftist philosophy and nationalism were not considered to be in conflict with each other.
However, the leftist nationalists failed in South Korea. The right wing, riding on the back of the United States, established the Republic of Korea. They soon set to constructing a capitalist system. The leftist nationalists saw this as the most reactionary and anti-Korean system ever. Seeing this system unable to crawl out of a slough of dictatorship and coups d’etat, poverty and underdevelopment, the leftist nationalists believed that only they could save the Korean people.
As capitalism began to develop in South Korea, they grew more confident. To them, the development of capitalism meant the exploitation of the people. Moreover, they believed that this system was hiding behind the back of the American imperialists’ army and getting in the way of the reunification of the people. So the leftist nationalists clung more to their beliefs. In some ways, it was only “natural” that a radical faction called “jusapa,” which follows North Korean juche philosophy and claims to bring liberation of both the labor and the people, was born. This philosophy that wanted to overthrow capitalism and expel American imperialism was the logical conclusion of leftist nationalism.
But South Korea capitalism achieved success after success. It gradually created a large middle class and constructed a “well-to-do society.” When this newly formed middle class became part of the democratization movement, the authoritarian regime that had looked so invincible was toppled. On the other hand, North Korea became a failed state by failing to construct a workers’ paradise and liberate the people.
It would seem that the time has come for leftist nationalists in the South to abandon their ideology. Leftist nationalism was temporarily appropriate for our unhappy past, but the ideology that ultimately saved South Korea was the bourgeois ideology of liberal democracy and capitalism. And this “rightist reactionary” ideology is the true nationalist ideology that will bring national prosperity and reunification.
* The writer is a professor of international relations at Yonsei University. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Ham Jae-bong