Renouncing Capitalism for a Class-Based Worldview [Understanding the Pro-North Faction – I Was a Follower of Juche – #2]
February 18, 2013
Perhaps the best way to understand why a significant minority of South Koreans historically and even today support or are sympathetic to the North Korean regime is to hear first-hand the stories of former pro-Juche (주사파) college student activists. Below is the second installment of our monthly NK Vision column, “Understanding the Pro-North Faction – I was a Follower of Juche” (종북주의 해부하기 – 나는 주사파였다) by Lee Kwang Baek, the head of Radio Free Chosun. As in the case of Mr. Lee, many of the founders of NKnet previously had supported North Korea and its Juche ideology. This column appeared on pages 48-49 in the October 2011 issue of NK Vision magazine. Thank you to NKnet intern Jenni Jung for the translation.
But you do not create a socialist revolutionary or a pro-North revolutionary solely through instilling the ideas of an anti-dictatorship democracy. You need to completely change a person’s worldview to achieve that.
With curious and restless eyes, four or five freshmen wandered into the student council room. They had seen the fliers for council membership.
“The student council represents students and promotes, understands and fulfills their wishes. This year, three committees are looking for new members: the planning committee, the administrative committee, and the outreach committee.”
Thus spoke the administrative director. With a youngish, dark face like that of a middle school student, he wore rounded horn-rimmed glasses. Two or three of the freshmen asked what each committee did, and he gave a short response. As one student raised her hand to announce which committee she wanted to join, the door flew open without warning.
A senior (선배) with his hands plunged in his pockets swaggered in and plopped down on the sofa across from the freshmen. He fired away without hesitation.
“The people own the world. Hey, what did you come to college for?”
“Did you come to get employed at a decent place?”
The ambushed freshmen did not even have a chance to respond.
“So whatcha gonna do with that job? Eat well and live well?”
The freshmen were flustered. Some stared at their feet, and others stared at the face of the administrative director. Meanwhile, the intruder kept ranting.
“Hey you, who made the things you eat and wear and use? That shirt, who made it? Huh? Who made the books you all carry around? This desk, that door, the chalkboard, bag, shoes, and this department building, the breakfast you all eat every morning. Who made it all?”
It seemed as though he was scolding someone or giving a lecture. In a way, it was like a disillusioned cynic vomiting incoherent ideas into the air.
“You don’t know? It’s the laborers, the farmers. It’s the people.”
An uncomfortable silence filled the room. The administrative director tried to hold him back.
“Hey, that’s enough now.”
“Wait a minute…. As I was saying, the people ought to own the world. But in Korea, how do laborers and farmers live? They don’t even get what they work for. They’re held in contempt and looked down upon… Is this a world we can stand for? It’s a backwards world that we need to set straight.”
Fury at an Unfair World
After the rude senior’s vitriolic diatribe he left, and the executive council members informed us that this ranting guy had entered university with the best of grades. The word “people” (민중), the same word that the intelligent, know-it-all senior extolled, would not leave my head. I continued meeting with these seniors after joining the student council as an outreach committee member.
I read books like Biography of Chun Tae-il (전태일 평전), In Search of Roots: Excluded Lives (소외된 삶의 뿌리를 찾아서), The Laborer’s Philosophy (노동자의 철학), The History of Economics (경제사학습), and The History of the People (민중의 역사). These kinds of books started with the same word for “people” that the rude, top-scoring senior had talked about and ended with the word “liberation” (해방). They were about people who worked hard but were still stuck in poverty. They were looked down upon. Others stepped on them to climb up and gain money and power. It was unfair, and when I encountered this world through my books, I felt depressed and indignant. But there were also people who did not lose hope despite these circumstances. There were those who would sacrifice themselves, burn themselves alive for the sake of righting this backward world. When I met these people, I was grateful and proud.
When I returned to my cold room late at night after school, I sometimes thought of my parents who had lived their whole lives as poor farmers. My father who worked diligently. His sun-glazed face could not escape poverty. I thought of my mother who told me to always live righteously. Though she crawled pitifully in the fields under the sun, her face was always pressed with uncertainty and worries.
Reading Ideology and Stepping onto the Road of Revolution
I remember a day when my mother sent me my tuition that she had worked so hard for. That day I was reminded of a field trip I had taken during elementary school. My mother gave me 1000 won and told me to bring back 500 won in change, but I spent all the money instead. My mother cried for a long time that day. It was probably because she was angry at her poverty. Though I was a child, I felt sad and hurt like my heart had been cut. I was sad for my mother. On the day of my field trip, I learned that 500 won could sometimes be tears, and sometimes be sad anger.
My senior’s confident attitude and tirades, social science books depicting the unjust reality with plausible reasoning, and my own poverty-stricken upbringing all merged together and rapidly changed the way I viewed the world.
“The working people are the owners of the world. Through labor, they produce all that we need in life. They are not living as owners, but rather as slaves. Though they work hard, they are treated with contempt and remain poor, as the ones with power and money take away what they have produced through their labor. The powerful and rich oppress the rights of the people, and exploit their labor. This is the essence of capitalism. The people have had their rights taken away in a capitalist society, and we should return their powers and respect them as owners of society. But the exploiters will not allow this process to happen. Thus a struggle is necessary. We need to enlighten the people and incite a struggle and shatter this society soiled with poverty and injustice. We need to rebuild the world with working people in their rightful place as owners. This is a revolution, and we need to take this road.”
We read this passage, debated the revolution, visited labor strikes, helped farmers sow seeds and harvest peppers, and adopted this worldview. It was an exact replica of the Marxist class-based worldview.
Adjusting One’s Worldview and Becoming a Liberator of Labor
The May in Gwangju (오월 광주) movement that the seniors had introduced to us implanted in our freshmen hearts a passionate hatred for the military dictatorship. We felt that any youth who truly loved his or her country would choose to struggle along the path of anti-dictatorship democratization. But you do not create a socialist revolutionary or a pro-North revolutionary solely through instilling the ideas of an anti-dictatorship democracy. You need to completely change a person’s worldview to achieve that. You need to make the youth believe that a socialist system is superior to a capitalist one and that the common people own the world, not the wealthy and the powerful. Finally, you need to make them believe in a history that claims humanity is merely passing through the present capitalist system in order reach the final goal of a socialist system.
When viewing the world, it is of utmost importance which viewpoint you adopt. We learned to see the world completely through the eyes of the people. In other words, from the perspective of class struggle. We called this stage of the education process the “viewpoint adjustment stage” (시각교정단계). In our early 20s when our worldview was just forming, many youths including myself rejected the capitalist worldview and supplanted it with a class struggle model (계급주의적 세계관) instead. We became the liberators of labor, and the soldiers of a people-led democracy.
Read the next column in this series:
3 – “Overthrow the U.S. Imperialists and Liberate our Colonized Nation!”
Read the first column in this series:
1 – Learning about Gwangju at Freshmen Orientation