[Viewpoint] In search of true progressivism

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[Viewpoint] In search of true progressivism

Life is always painful and society is full of problems. We often find people who suffer unbearable pain and whose souls and bodies become devastated. The suffering of other people touches our inner conscience and inspires compassion and solidarity from us. When you feel the sorrow of another person as your own, you begin to love that person. And those who are willing to put that love into practice devote their own lives to resolve the problems for other people.

Various systems and organizations in human society may be the tools to constantly fulfill such actions. Governments, religions, media, political parties and labor unions are working to help others. Therefore, it is natural for a person to seek help from religion, courts of law, government agencies or political parties to plea for their problems. When these organizations fail to fulfill their duties, those in need are made to suffer. Lives of the destitute are especially hard in communities with little social solidarity and established public systems.

Korean society is tainted with a high suicide rate, especially that of the youth suicide, irregular employment, small business failures, income and real estate disparity, a wage gap, the lowest fertility rate, public spending and happiness index among the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development member countries. We are in desperate need for organizations and agencies that can properly represent the voices of people in pain.

The latest state of affairs involving the political party that proclaims to represent people in need makes us contemplate the fundamental problems of human society. The most important point is the denial of democracy and violence associated with ideology and factionalism. One of the factions that used violence even toward its “allies” in order to dominate ideological and organizational party hegemony must reflect and repent seriously.

Violence within the party may be expanded widely to other groups of the society pursuing different ideas when conditions for violence are given. “Violence within an organization” can be escalated and amplified into “violence in society.” The 20th-century world history has clearly illustrated the paradox of radical violence.

Therefore, the relationship between the goal and the means is very important. A good goal must be attained through good means. Violence goes against both democracy and politics because the extremists blindly believing in a certain ideology or objective do not take compromise and procedural justification seriously when they are actually at the core of democracy and politics. As they fail to evolve from a movement to politics, they do not acknowledge different ideas and groups.

Pursuing progressive and reform-minded ideals and values through democratic means is essential to safeguard morality - the core value of the progressives. It does not matter which group takes slogans like democracy, peace, reform and progressive as their political agenda.

The point is whether they actually fulfill such values in reality. Election illegality and subsequent denial of wrongdoings are undemocratic, unprogressive and unethical. It almost reversed and denied all the democratization efforts we have made against rigged elections since Syngman Rhee.

Let’s discuss ideology. When it comes to ideology, we need to study and embrace universal values. If not, conservatism and progressivism will get entangled and reversed, just as the pro-Pyongyang case has illustrated. If you don’t condemn a hereditary power transfer, inequality, suppression of liberty, human rights infringement, nuclear development, starvation and dictatorship, what is democracy and progressivism indeed?

The recent choices made by the progressive labor groups suggest the possibility of a desirable outcome. Korea’s largest progressive labor group retracted the support for the extreme progressives because of their radical ideology, election illegality and violence. The rejection by the labor group clearly illustrates that their ideas and direction are against the interests of workers and progressive ideas.

If they adhere to expediencies and counteroffensives shamelessly, they may be able to keep a few Assembly seats. But they would ultimately fail to spread progressive values to citizens and society. In that case, the crisis will be recorded as the worst moral depravity and political failure of the progressives since the Korean War (1950-53).

For the lives of the poor, irregularly employed and unemployed, Korean society needs to be more progressive for sure. The crisis is a catastrophe. It reinforces the conservative agenda in Korean society, when it actually needs more progressive reforms. Korean society’s progressive development is not just about checking on the conservatives but more about parting from the progressive radicals and building true ideals and values to love those in need and give them hope.

Translation by the Korea JoongAng Daily staff.

* The author is a professor of political science at Yonsei University.

by Park Myung-lim

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