[Viewpoint] Looking for real liberalism

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[Viewpoint] Looking for real liberalism

The fact-finding committee of the Unified Progressive Party is scheduled to make an announcement about its investigation into the party’s primary rigging scandal. So far, it has been confirmed that the primary to elect proportional representative candidates was marred with corruption and poor management.

The party deserves to be criticized for ignoring proper democratic procedure. But we have to make a distinction when we make the criticism because not all the progressives belong to the same group. And they also have different political parties.

The recent primary scandal revealed that the UPP has two factions - the National Liberation faction and the People’s Democracy faction. The NL faction controlled the party until the scandal erupted, and the PD faction has controlled the party and pushed for reform after the incident. The two factions’ strife is deeply rooted. They may look alike from the outside, but they are extremely different.

The NL faction started the problem. It was in control of the party at the time of the primary rigging, and it still denies wrongdoing even after their deeds were laid bare. Representatives Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon, who were elected in the rigged primary, are refusing to step down. Their actions are based on the NL-style way of thinking.

Just like their name says, the faction sees “national liberation” as the ultimate goal. Although Korea was liberated from Japanese imperialism in 1945, they believe it is still under the thumb of American imperialism. Therefore, they see the country’s legitimacy in North Korea, which is opposed to the U.S. It is natural for them to ignore the national anthem and the national flag. In other words, they are extreme nationalists with anachronistic beliefs.

Not all members of the NL faction unconditionally follow the North with a belief in its “self-reliance” philosophy. But the core members of the NL are believers in the North’s ideology to reject all foreign influence from the Korean Peninsula. Representative Lee, a former member of the Revolutionary Party for People and Democracy, is the classic example.

Of course, they have never openly identified themselves as believers of the self-reliance ideology. That would be suicide because the National Security Law is still in place. But the investigation into the Revolutionary Party for People and Democracy and testimony from the informed people about the case revealed their true identities. The believers of the self-reliance ideology are hard-line nationalists among the NL faction members.

The biggest problem is that they deny the democratic process of our society just like they deny South Korea’s legitimacy. What they did to rig the primary was similar to what they used to do during their student activist days.

In 2001, the NL faction made the so-called “Pledge of Mount Gunja,” declaring their determination to join the political system. As they said in the pledge, they see a political party as an organizational weapon in a political fight. For them, a political party is nothing more than a tool to achieve their goal of national liberation. They are the players who do not respect the ground rules and are nothing more than outcasts.

On the other hand, the PD faction accepted the ground rules. Before the collapse of the socialist countries, they used to be more militant than the NL members. They dreamed of Lenin’s Bolshevik Revolution that created the Soviet Union. They studied the philosophies of Marx, Mao Zedong and Stalin.

But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, they suffered a serious crisis and they were reborn. Of course, there are diversified members inside the PD faction. But most of PD members have at least escaped from their Communist illusion.

Instead, the PD faction embraces the social democracy of Europe. They respect the democratic progress in society and seek to gradually change society. That is why they have grown to criticize the North’s third-generation power succession, nuclear arms development and human rights violations. The PD faction can coexist in South Korean society.

When Jo Bong-am was executed under the National Security Law in 1959, our society was deprived of progressive politics. As society becomes more diversified and the wealth gap grows wider, progressive politics need to take a larger role. Expectations are high for the PD faction - not the NL faction - to fulfill its role as the true progressives.

*The author is a senior editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
By Oh Byung-sang
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