[Outlook]Progressives lose their way

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[Outlook]Progressives lose their way

With President Roh Moo-hyun’s approval rating plummeting, leftists are examining their misdeeds and seeking a variety of alternatives. Just as some ruling party members have seceded from the party to distance themselves from the unpopular president, progressives are coming out as if their progressivism is different from President Roh’s.
How serious is the crisis of progressive reform forces and their incompetence? I believe that there is another reason behind what’s happening, that progressive forces are either not aware of or want to ignore.
First, they are done with their duties in history. The politicians who used to be activists as college students were the driving force that led to the democratization of the past 20 years.
They have repeatedly gathered and parted ways within the conceptual frame of democracy, nationalism and the people. Being widely known as progressive reform forces, they led the democratic movement and finally assumed power.
That Kim Young-sam assumed power is regarded as an achievement of democracy. The administration carried out investigations into former military despots and sent Chun Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo to jail, fulfilling the task of democratization to some extent, which rallied itself around resisting dictatorship.
The Kim Dae-jung administration contributed to the realization of the same national dream by successfully having a summit meeting with North Korea.
However, the Roh administration arose as a troubleshooter for the populace and made the privileged class into enemies in a bid to realize an egalitarian economy. But probably because it was “flexible progressivism,” as the president called it, the administration has not succeeded or been consistent with its own policies. It has only been labeled a betrayer of progressivism, an unbearable insult.
After some successes and a few failures, progressive forces have finished their historical duties. But under the old-fashioned paradigm they call themselves progressives so it is hard for people to understand them.
As Doctor Lee Hong-koo pointed out, in Korea these days, progressives occupy conservative ideology while conservatives take progressive ideology, creating a crisis for progressivism.
Nationalism was an ideology for conservative rightists. But if people who prioritize reunification of the two Koreas champion nationalism and say we should help North Korea, they are viewed as progressives. On the other hand, people who call for transparency are labeled conservative. However, when people have a vision to build a better society by escaping the established system and inducing social changes, that is progressivism and reform in their truest senses.
It has been 30 years since egalitarianism-oriented education started. Those who say our education system is not competitive on the global stage and we should reform it, must be progressives. Progressives should work to build more private high schools with independent finances and to enhance competitive education in order to curb the number of students who go abroad to study. However, progressives cling to the egalitarianism-oriented education system, while conservatives say we should change the system.
Unlimited competition has already started on the global stage and many countries have formed economic blocs. Because our economy is heavily dependent on trade, a free trade accord with Washington is unavoidable.
Conservatives and progressives must work together to build coalitions, but so-called progressives call those who support them betrayers of Korean nationals. Without untangling the progressive and conservative ideologies, both progressives and conservatives will face an identity crisis and chaos.
Even though progressive reform forces are repenting for their incompetence and an absence of alternatives, they cannot solve problems in this complicated world with logic about democracy, nationalism and populism. Repenting is not enough; they must change their stances. They cannot escape from their problems because they apply ideologies and convictions when answering the question, “Is progressivism indispensable?”
Let me tell you a story. In the 1920s in China, there was fierce intellectual debate between socialists and democratic forces. A person who represented democratic forces lamented that socialists did not study how to manufacture cars for a developed transportation system but they clung to the issue of high wages for people who pulled rickshaws. The democrat said, “Let’s study more problems and debate fewer ideologies.” Without overcoming this task, there is no progressivism in the genuine sense in our society.

*The writer is a senior editorial advisor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Kwon Nyong-bin

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