[Viewpoint] Our left is faced with contradictionsFrance is a country where the left is traditionally influential. That’s perhaps appropriate for the country that first gave us the terms “left” and “right” to denote political affiliations.
The term socialism was also shaped by the French philosopher Pierre Leroux, later labeled by Friedrich Engels as a utopian socialist. In his essay entitled “Individualism and Socialism” published in 1834, Leroux defined socialism as “the doctrine which would not give up any of the principles of Liberty, Equality, Fraternity” of the French Revolution of 1789.
Today, amid the fall of socialist nations and the rise of liberalism, the French left has kept its life as an alternative force because its practitioners never forgot that revolutionary spirit. They remember that within the basic spirit of democracy is a humanity transcending religions, traditions and nationalities. It is a foundation upholding an ideology, whether it is capitalism with a high value on liberty or socialism with an equal value on equity.
The French left, therefore, did not hesitate to condemn North Korea.
The leftist French political parties and intellectuals have more critical points of view toward the North than those of the right wing. It was Francois Mitterrand, a head of the Socialist Party, who gave up the principle of reciprocity toward the North in 1986. Since 1992, the French Socialist Party has stopped inviting the North’s Workers’ Party to its convention.
Liberation, a French daily newspaper founded by Jean-Paul Sartre, has led criticism of the North. The leftist newspaper often runs investigative reports about the true reality of the workers’ heaven by infiltrating the reclusive country.
The situation is no different in other European countries, as well as the United States. The administration of Democratic President Barack Obama is showing an even colder attitude toward the North than his Republican predecessor - and not because the North fired missiles on U.S. Independence Day to try to ruin the festivities.
The world’s left is cold toward the North because it thinks the North is an embarrassment to the left.
They turned their backs on the North when Kim Jong-il became the center of the party and the hero of the republic and, eventually, the Dear Leader of the country. Even behind the Iron Curtain of the Soviet Union and the Bamboo Curtain of China, no father-to-son handover of a regime ever transpired. While the people starve, party officials enjoy French wine and Norwegian lobster. A communist monarchy where people are publicly executed without trial is unacceptable to the left.
North Korea is also a pain to watch for the South’s leftists. To them, the North is the original sin and an obstacle. Although they share origins, the North has limited the ability of leftists in the South to grow normally. Amid the anti-dictatorship democratization movement, the leftists of the South were divided, fighting each other over whether they should follow the North’s ideology or not.
The concept of “blood is thicker than water” intervened, and the leftists soon became uncomfortable whenever the North was mentioned.
After the first father-to-son regime handover, a second such transition of power is about to take place. The country is repeating nuclear tests to protect the regime’s security, while firing missiles purchased with money meant for the people’s food. Spending for such provocations will shorten North Korean life spans by a decade in comparison to those of South Koreans. And currently, a South Korean civilian has been detained in the North for more than 100 days without any proper explanation.
And yet, leftists in the South are afraid to open their mouths against the North, because of the “blood is thicker than water” axiom. And because of their contradicting attitude, their criticism toward the South’s right-wing figures and capitalists remains unconvincing. If they want to be angry, they must address the failed North Korean regime first. It’s a country with a high literacy rate and hardworking people, but with a yearly gross domestic product per capita of barely $1,000.
Unless it gets over the North Korea dilemma, the South’s left has no future. When the unpopular rightist administration decided to empower “middle-of-the-roaders,” the left suffered a body blow. If this condition continues, leftists in the South will face the same humiliating message once proclaimed by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. She told the Labour Party that the fraying flag of the left still flew in the dying wind of the ideology of the 1960s.
These were my thoughts yesterday morning, on the 15th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s death.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Lee Hoon-beom