A tension between South Korea and North Korea has been existing since the ceasefire of the Korean War. This tension, which often takes a form of militaristic aggression, has heavily influenced the socio-economic system of South Korea and has become the basis of creating its anti-communist cultural structure.
We do not have to look so far back to see how the tension is abused by South Korea to propagate anti-communist sentiment amongst the public to legitimize its capitalist system. The land mine incident that happened on August 4th in the Demilitarized Zone betrays the willingness of South Korea to abuse the contested military and political situation for the legitimization of its ruling party and capitalist system.
Two South Korean soldiers who were patrolling in the Demilitarization Zone stepped on a landmine and lost their legs . The current regime, Park’s right wing ruling party, and the media made a hyperbole of the incident, that it must be the work of North Korean soldiers, though the evidence which suggested that it was the North’s doing was scanty at best. Although North Korea denied their involvement with the land mine incident and suggested a joint investigation with the South, the South did not accept the offer.
The South instead set up propaganda broadcasting stations at the front line, which violates the Joint Agreement made during President Roh’s regime . The North warned the South that if they did not remove the propaganda broadcasting plants then they would retaliate. The North fired a few shells near the broadcasting zone a week after the warning .
The South retaliated. The tension between South Korea and North Korea seemed to be at its critical point as the Korean Worker’s Party ordered every solider at the front line to heavily arm for the preparation of war and warned the South that there would be a heavy retaliation if they did not remove the propaganda broadcasting installations within 48 hrs .
Taking advantage of the North’s threats, the US and the Park regime showed off their military capability. Four jets from the South Korea military and four more jets from the US Air Force stationed in South Korea patrolled around the DMZ area as a protest against the North’s threats of retaliation .
Under this hostile military situation, North Korea located 76mm towed artillery at the front and most of their submarines went undetected, positioned to a strategic location for the possible break out of a war.
Fortunately, the South and the North agreed to have a meeting before the situation develops into a war, which would have cost thousands of innocent civilian’s life and bolstered the reason for the US military’s stay in South Korea.
High officials both from the South and the North had a talk for 46 hrs at the Joint Security Area of Panmoonjum. The South demanded the North to concede that the land mine incident was the work of the North and to make a proper apology for it. The North demanded the South to remove propaganda broadcasting plants at once from the front. The North, at the end of the meeting, said they are ‘sorry’ for the landmine incident. Yet, they did not admit that they planted the land mines.
After the meeting the right wing media such as TV Chosun and Channel A immediately began to praise the charismatic leadership of President Park. A regular who’s who of PhD’s on North Korea showed up on the news as panelists and commented that the South gained so much more than the North from the meeting.
The response to this crisis, which was a second wind for the regime, will allow us a glimpse of the class forces at work in the South at the moment.
After the landmine conundrum, the approval rating of President Park soared from 34% to 50% , to the rate before the SaeWol Ferry tragedy. Soaring support rate for the president who averted a disastrous situation like war is normal. However, once we analyze the specific support group of the president and the general public sentiment, we can contour the class nature of the masses and the system of which the masses are part.
A survey conducted to specify the support group of President Park showed that the majority of the support group was blue-collar workers .
Another survey conducted by the Korean Broadcasting System showed that 87% of South Koreans are willing to join the army if a war breaks out with the North .
Under such grim reality, young South Korean soldiers who are in the military willingly postponed their discharge date to fight against the North. The CEO of SK group announced that he will hire those brave soldiers when they are discharged.
What all those surveys suggest is the proliferation of reactionary sentiment among public and unorganized working class in light of the economic situation that is constantly under the pressure of the falling rate of profit and has to counter such tendency by reducing variable capital index.
South Korea is an export based economy with a significant amount of investments coming from foreign nations such as the U.S., Japan, and China. South Korea cannot avert the falling rate of profit by colonizing other countries. It may do so by exporting its capital to the Third World countries. Yet, even then, the products that South Korean factories create in Third World countries do not flow back to South Korea. They are sold to the USA. South Korea simultaneously acts as a middleman and a manufacturer in the world market.
Under this economic reality, which does not guarantee the inflow of cheap products and the benefit of establishing monopoly price on specific commodities South Korea produces in Third World countries, South Korean corporations have to cut down their variable capital index to counteract the falling rate of profit.
The Park regime has been calling for the reformation of the labor-market, mainly through the means of establishing the Wage-Peak system. The Wage-Peak system, according to the mouthpieces of the ruling class, is supposed to solve the unemployment problem among youth by reducing the wages of old workers. By reducing the variable capital index of old generation, corporations can supposedly create more jobs for the youth.
However, it has been shown that the corporations that implemented the Wage-Peak system did not hire new young regular workers, but increased its portion of hiring part-time precarious workers and easily fired old workers at their whim without having to go through a law suit.
The mouth pieces of the ruling class, attempting to turn workers against each other, say that the younger and older workers must come to an agreement to solve the unemployment problem. By doing so, they deceive the working class that the enemy is within and falsely frame the class nature of the capitalist system as something originating from the conflict between ‘young’ and ‘old’, not from the total labor and the total capital.
Under this reality, what can the youth do? Under the economic reality where the unemployment rate is soaring, under the political reality where the right wing regime seems rational on solving the unemployment problem for the youth, and under the social reality where the youth is depicted as a Five-Give-Up generation (give up on relationships, marriage, house, having kids, and friends, for they have no money), what can the youth do? They can either literally die trying (which most young people do and end up committing suicide, for there is a reason why South Korea is called a suicide nation) or affirm the political logic of the rational ideological apparatus of their beloved South Korea and be the brave guardian of liberal democracy.
The emergence of il-bae, young South Korea right wingers, and the affirmation of nationalism in the threat of the North are the ways of the frustrated youth affirming their lives under the war-like everyday reality of capitalist system.
The youth are running towards something greater than their precarious existence. It does not matter whether they work $5/hr and get paid $880 for a month, it does not matter whether they are born poor, it does not matter what kind of University they graduated from, for being the great patriot of South Korea is the right, rational way of existence. How do the youth know that it is the right path? Because the CEO of a successful corporation, the possessor of the pure rationality of a capitalist system, affirms their existence. Let us remind ourselves that the CEO of SK group announced he will hire the brave soldiers who postponed their discharge date under the threat of the North. They are being served crumbs off the end of a bayonet.
The survey and the general public sentiment presented above paint a very grim future for South Korea. It seems that the masses are leaning towards the right wing spectrum of politics. Even the youth, which is supposed to be progressive and demand the impossible, demands the possibility of becoming the ardent patriots of their nation. If there is a golden time that we can use to prevent the mass outbreak of fascism and minimize the poison that will spread in the very near future, now is the time. It is quite possible that a storm is not only brewing, but is poised to break, which is why we must work toward a strong anti-fascist front in South Korea. Now.