[Viewpoint]Leftists must change to survive‘Learning is like rowing upstream; if you don’t advance, you fall back.” The men of old encouraged constant and diligent learning. If you want to row upstream, you have to move at least as fast as the river’s current. The same goes for our lives and our businesses. Politics is no exception. Many say President Roh Moo-hyun was the No. 1 contributor to Lee Myung-bak’s presidential victory. Citizens were so tired of President Roh that they decided early on to vote against the ruling party. Some analysts say the outcome of the election shows that history’s pendulum has moved from left to right.
While there are reasons for that point of view, it does not tell the whole picture. President Roh might actually be a leftist neo-liberalist, as he himself has professed. It is rather awkward to call his administration leftist when it sent troops to Iraq in support of the United States and pushed for a free trade agreement with the United States.
Moreover, the Grand National Party and the conservatives were on the verge of collapse during the 2002 presidential election and the 2004 general election, when they tried to impeach Roh. The crises were short-lived.
Did the citizens change their ideology from progressive to conservative in such a short period of time? Did that change really translate into the biggest presidential win in history, with a 5.22-million vote margin?
An election is a judgment on the past and a hope for the future at the same time. In that sense, Chung Dong-young started with a disadvantage. He went through so much trouble to shake off the influence of President Roh and create the United New Democratic Party, but the voters did not approve of his endeavor. However, he could have saved himself from a crushing defeat if he had kept in mind what contributed to the ruling party’s victory five years ago, if only he had not forgotten the message of the people. The message was none other than change.
The left and the progressives failed to change, and now they are finding themselves on the verge of collapse. They had only one election strategy: to select one candidate to represent all of the progressives. All of their tactics involved negative attacks. While the citizens cast their eyes toward the future, the progressives clung to the past. People had already grown used to the single-candidate strategy. Kim Dae-jung and Kim Jong-pil formed a coalition in 1997 and Roh Moo-hyun and Chung Mong-joon joined forces in 2002.
The citizens had expected for the last couple of years that different factions of the progressives would pursue their own goals for a while, then eventually try to unite. They did not learn anything from the leadership of Kim Dae-jung, Paik Nak-chung and Ham Se-woong. They had nothing refreshing to offer, lacked political imagination and were not willing to sacrifice themselves. Naturally, the citizens were not moved.
The Democratic Labor Party suffered a dismal defeat for the same reason. Their line and strategy have not changed a bit in the past five years. They still cling to the image that they represent the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions and believe that being on the left means being pro-North Korea. They were complacent about their small achievement of being the third-largest party in the National Assembly. The United New Democratic Party and the Democratic Labor Party should learn a lesson from the fact that rookie politician Moon Kook-hyun earned more than 5 percent of the votes by advocating a “people-oriented economy.” At least, Moon spoke of a paradigm for the future in his election campaign.
President-elect Lee Myung-bak is a rightist in the sense that he emphasizes a market economy and free competition. Nevertheless, he is not the kind of conservative we have seen in the past. He has proposed “a third way” to citizens, embracing the notion of advancement with pragmatism. Korea’s political structure has been locked in the mode of “conservatives versus progressives” and “supporters of democratization versus opponents of democratization” since 1987. Lee changed that structure into a confrontation between the politics of ideology and the politics of utility. The people agreed.
The leftists and the progressives are facing a life-or-death crisis. They are in jeopardy, but not because they are not worthy. They brought the crisis on themselves by refusing to change. From the moment they became intoxicated with power and abandoned self-renewal and self-reflection, the progressives stopped being progressive. They are nothing but a group with vested rights wearing the progressive mask.
The leftists’ survival depends on whether they can find a third way before the next general election and presidential election. If their only change is to reshuffle without any of the pro-Roh figures and the neo-liberal faction, that will show that they still do not understand the magnitude of the crisis. Unless they find a new way through intense contemplation and struggle, they will end up in an incurable condition.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Kim Du-woo