Editor’s note: For the 70th anniversary of the official beginning of the Korean War, Liberation School interviewed the People’s Democracy Party, a revolutionary workers’ party in South Korea, to get their perspective on the war and the prospects for peace. The voices of the South Korean left are excluded from mainstream and even many progressive media outlets, and it’s crucial that the U.S. peace movement hear first-hand the ideas and activities of organizers on the Korean peninsula.
The PDP was formed in November 2016, although its founders were active in previous political parties and struggles. They are fighting for national independence, which they view as a prerequisite for building a people’s democratic regime and achieving reunification. Their program calls for a “re-appropriation welfare policy,” which is distinct from a “taxation welfare policy” pushed by social democrats. They are organizing to re-appropriate “the corrupted property of forces against people,” including the Chaebols (large family-controlled capitalist enterprises), foreign capital, and all foreign military basis. They would use this wealth to “resolve the issue of unemployment and precarious workers, realize in practice the policy of free and common education, medical service, and inhabitation, and write off debts for farmers and families.” The “PDP has presented the strict and scientific program for resolving the problems in Corea as specifying the withdrawal of all foreign military personnel and for federated reunification.”
Although the country’s name has been translated into English as both “Korea” and “Corea,” the former became more common under Japanese colonialism.The interview was conducted by Liberation School editor Derek Ford in November 2019.
The background and context of the war
Liberation School: The official beginning of the Corean War is June 25, 1950, but we can’t understand the war by starting the story there. From your perspective, where in time should we begin?
PDP: Objectively, there were 2,617 attacks from the South to the North during the year of 1949 under pro-U.S. and far-right Rhee Seung-man regime. Therefore, it cannot be viewed that the war broke out exactly on June 25th, 1950. The U.S. military government forcefully dissolved the people’s committees that were formed as independent South Corean people’s organizations and exhaustively massacred and oppressed the national liberation movement forces and patriotic and democratic forces after the U.S. army came into South Corea in September 1945 as an occupation force.
All the people except the minimum of pro-U.S. and far-right forces held the “Joint Meeting of Representatives of Political Parties and Social Organizations in the North and South of Korea” in April 1948, in Pyongyang, and decided to immediately withdraw the U.S. military and to establish a unified government by the Corean nation’s power and initiative.
However, the single government of the South was established by the U.S. and the intervention of the UN, which was under the domination of the U.S. Then, North Corea had to establish their own government. The condition for an outbreak of the Corean War had developed.
Liberation School: How do you characterize the Corean War? What were the fundamental issues, and what defined the different sides or forces?
PDP: The first feature of the Corean war is that it was a battle between the Corean nation and U.S. imperialism. The U.S. imperialists waged war together with a total of 16 countries.
Another feature is that it was the first war that U.S. imperialism fought against a small country and lost.
The U.S. became the head of imperialist forces right after World War II, after which Corea was the first country it invaded. The U.S. did not seize the entire Corean peninsula, which means the U.S. completely lost the war.
Liberation School: When the Corean War began, what did the workers and peasants in the South think about it, and what did they do?
PDP: As the Corean war is a war between the Corean nation and the U.S. imperialists, almost all workers and peasants in the South rejected the U.S. military. Moreover, the North Corean military resolutely implemented various democratic reforms, for example the land reform of “confiscate without compensation and distribute land free to the peasants” which North Corea had resolved after national liberation. According to North Corea’s data, about 400,00 peoples in the South voluntarily enlisted in the North Corean military when the Corean war started.
Liberation School: How did the three years of active warfare transform the peninsula?
PDP: As a result of the Corean War, about 2.5 million peoples each died from the North and the South, so about 5 million people died in total. The No Gun Ri incident is a representative massacre in the South, where the U.S. 1st Cavalry Division and 7th Cavalry Regiment Corps drove more than 700 residents and refugees out of the village and killed them in the riverside. In the Sinchon Massacre, a representative civilian massacre in the North, about 35,000 peoples including young children were killed in a cruel way by the U.S. military. A few years after the war, a military coup took place in the South under the control of the US.
On the contrary, in North Corea, the workers, peasants, and armed forces around President Kim Il Sung and the Party were firmly united, so it was possible to establish socialist production relations in 3 years between 1956-1958, and complete socialist industrialization in 14 years between 1956-1969.
Liberation School: Why did the war only end in an armistice, instead of a peace treaty?
PDP: Article 4 of the Armistice Agreement states: “In order to insure the peaceful settlement of the Korean question, the military Commanders of both sides hereby recommend to the governments of the countries concerned on both sides that, within three months after the Armistice Agreement is signed and becomes effective, a political conference of a higher level of both sides be held by representatives appointed respectively to settle through negotiation the questions of the withdrawal of all foreign forces from Korea, the peaceful settlement of the Korean question.”
This shows that the Armistice Agreement in 1953 was a step-wise procedure to reach a peace treaty.
However, the U.S. and South Corea signed a Mutual Defense Treaty and kept the U.S. troops stationed in South Corea. In doing so, the U.S. violated the Armistice Agreement. The Geneva political conference was finally destroyed because of the intervention of the U.S. The reason why the U.S. did not want to sign a peace treaty can be seen in the case of Vietnam. After the Paris Peace Accord in 1973 ended the war there, the U.S. forces had withdraw within two months, and Vietnam became unified one year later.
The legacy of the war
Liberation School: How has the war shaped politics, economics, and society in the South?
PDP: South Corea is a complete colony occupied by the U.S. military, is politically oppressed by the U.S., and is economically subordinate to imperialist countries, including the U.S. After the military coup of 1961, the rule of fascist military dictatorship continued for 30 years, and since then a pro-US neo-liberal regime has operated in the country. It is severely exploiting the workers, farmers, and all the people.
South Corea does not have the freedom of party association or the rudimentary freedom of ideas and expression due to a fascist law known as the National Security Law. In the South Corean economy, all links in the reproduction process, such as production and distribution, are subordinate to the imperialist countries, including the U.S. and Japan. Also, all sectors of heavy industry, light industry, and agriculture are one-sidedly hypertrophic, or the mutualities among them are fragmented.
Liberation School: How about the peace movement?
PDP: The peace movement in Corea is inseparable from the national independence movement and reunification movement. The U.S. troops are the source of war. They commit war exercises against North Corea and experiment on biochemical weapons of mass destruction. They are the main culprit that prevents peace and security in the Corean peninsula and Northeast Asia. Therefore, we focus on the struggle to withdraw U.S. troops. The movement for national independence is therefore also the anti-war or peace movement and the movement for reunification.
Liberation School: What is the PDP currently focusing on?
PDP: The PDP is focusing on the struggles for the realization of national independence and people’s democracy at present. Concretely, the PDP carries out a peaceful protest 24 hours a day in front of the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. base with the slogan “U.S. troops Out of South Corea.” We also hold demonstrations for the withdrawal of the U.S. Forces of Korea (USFK) every week. The priority tasks for people’s democracy are the abolition of the National Security Law and dissolution of the United Future Party (UFP), a pro-US far-right force. We also protest the UFP everyday.
The South Corean Office of the World Federation Trade Unions (SCO WFTU) holds demonstrations for the liberation of the working class and for social revolution every week. SCO WFTU is the only union in South Corea who joined the WFTU. The majority of the PDP members also joined it. The PDP publishes our monthly party organ, “Locomotive of Uprising,” and we educate our members and advance the people’s struggles with the organ.
The PDP has held the Corean International Forum (CIF) and carried out debates on progressive and scientific policies every year. Since last year, it has held the May Day International Festival (MIF) for workers and the people. This year, the MIF programs were reduced because of the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented condition, but the PDP surely overcame hardships. It finished very well, wisely, and fruitfully.
The path to peace
Liberation School: What are the prospects for peace right now? What would need to happen for peace to break out on the peninsula?
PDP: The peace of the Corean Peninsula is possible only after the withdrawal of the U.S. troops. The U.S. troops are occupation forces in South Corea and invading army to North Corea. So their withdrawal is the most desperate and preferred struggle task for the whole Corean nation to solve. The present war crisis escalating to a high level proves that peace in the Corean peninsula cannot be realized unless the U.S. troops are withdrawn from South Corea.
As long as the U.S. troops are stationed in South Corea and war exercises are conducted against North Corea, the prospect for peace is bound to be dark. We are convinced from our historical experience that if we develop the struggles for the withdrawal of the U.S. troops into a popular uprising of the South Corean people, and if the whole Corean nation can struggle together in great unity, we can withdraw the U.S. troops from South Corea.
Liberation School: What are the main tasks of the peace movement?
PDP: True peace is possible only without imperialism; the head of imperialism is the U.S. We have an opinion that a true peace movement should be an anti-imperialist movement and an anti-U.S. movement. We believe that the progressive and peace-loving forces of the world can and must conduct an anti-imperialist, anti-war struggle, to halt all wars in the world by U.S. troops and to withdraw all U.S. troops stationed overseas. The key is the formation of an anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. united front and anti-imperialist, anti-U.S. joint action.
Liberation School: How can people in the U.S. support efforts for peace in Korea?
PDP: We significantly remember the historical fact that the righteous anti-Vietnam War struggle of the people in the U.S. had a significant influence on ending of the Vietnam War and the withdrawal of U.S. troops there. The fights for the withdrawal of foreign troops and building an anti-imperialist, anti-war peace movement in the U.S. are very important international solidarity. The fight will greatly contribute to bring the peace of Corea forward.
Liberation School: Finally, is there anything else you want the people of the U.S. to know?
PDP: Most of the distorted information of Corea from the outside is falsified. It is important for Americans to have a fair and scientific perception on Corea.
South Corea has achieved social progress through the bloody struggles of the people, but it is still occupied by the U.S. militarily, politically, and economically.
It is the same for the perception on North Corea. The perception that North Corea is a “human rights violation state” and “warfare state” was manipulated as part of the U.S.’s maneuver against North Corea. In reality, North Corea has never invaded other countries.
The Corean nation has a history of more than 5,000 years and has never invaded other countries during that period. We will surely withdraw the U.S. troops out of South Corea in the near future, realize national independence, achieve people’s democracy, and accomplish the independent peaceful reunification of the country. The PDP will fulfill its noble internationalist cause and will always do its best to unite the workers and the people of all countries.