As the people of North and South Korea continue the work of building peace and unity on the Korean Peninsula–a peace that must honor the valiant efforts of the North Korean people to advance the principles of socialism and democracy in the twenty-first century–it is worth returning to the origins of the present conflict, which will take us back more than sixty years ago to the American invasion of Korea during the Korean War. One of the reasons why North Korea continues to remain a threat to imperialism is because of the history of its founding as a socialist republic.
During the Second World War, the Soviet Union led the Manchurian Strategic Offensive Operation, which was aimed at containing the Empire of Japan. The Soviet army’s liberation of Manchuria and Inner Mongolia as well as northern Korea placed the former two regions back in the control of the Chinese. The Democratic Republic Of North Korea (DPRK) was established with the support of the Soviet Union, while the Republic of Korea to the south became an American base. For this reason, Han Sul Ya, the Chairman of the Korean National Peace Committee and the representative to the 1953 World Peace Council in Vienna, thanked the world communist movement in his remarks, noting that
The American invaders for more than three years made every effort to subjugate the freedom-loving people of Korea. With this end in view, they used an enormous quantity of war material and manpower against our little country…The victory of the Korean people, gained after a three-year struggle for the freedom and independence of their country, for Peace and civilization throughout the world was obtained thanks to the great support given by the peoples of the Soviet Union, the People’s Republic Of China, the People’s democracies, and millions of defenders of peace throughout the world.
W.E.B Du Bois, who fought for the freedom the darker races from white rule, organized a vehement opposition to the Korean War through his roles in the World Peace Council, the Council on African Affairs, and the American labor movement. He recognized the need for a genuine peace rather than a conditional armistice privileging American interests in the region. Indeed, these are the terms upon which peace in Korea ought not to be established today.
The origins of Korean civilization, Du Bois reminds us, stretches back more than five thousand years and like all civilizations, is subject to historical laws particular to its development. Prior to the American invasion, Korea was ruled by imperial Japan, which was defeated by Allied forces during the Second World War. Du Bois reminds us that the problems faced by the Korean people at the end of the war were part of the same greater problem plaguing oppressed nations throughout the world: the problem of the color line and the striving of the darker races to establish their own government, determine their wages and conditions of work, elect political leaders of their own choosing and rebuild civilization in the realm of art, language, science, and industry at long last. This striving was a problem, however, for the rising American giant, for
[e]ver since the First World War, the United States has been eager to rule Asia and Africa as Britain once ruled.
In defiance of the U.S-aligned regime in South Korea, the North Korean leadership embraced a fundamental transformation in matters of government and production. The political ideology of juche emphasized the importance of self-reliance and the rapid industrialization of the nation against the encroachment of the United States, which perpetually seeks to render this rather well-developed country with a rich and complicated history as an isolated “rogue” state led by a backward dictator. It is vital that we insist upon the significance of North Korea’s achievements. It has managed to do what Cuba accomplished under Fidel, what Lumumba was struggling for in Congo, and what India pursued under Nehru: independence and the pursuit of the socialist path of development.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, lasting for three years. The destruction inflicted by the American army tore into the soul of the nation: factories and workshops were razed to the ground, infrastructure was ripped out, a third of the population slaughtered, and scores of towns, farms, and hamlets obliterated by American troops, all in the name of staunching the rising red tide of Communism. Du Bois made it clear that aggressor in the Korean War was the United States alone, not the Soviet Union or China as the Western propagandists and war-baiters made it appear. He also expressed his disappointment in the interventions of the United Nations in the Korean War:
It was a civil dispute for which the United States and especially South Korea were primarily responsible and which could’ve been settled with the minimum of hostilities if the United Nations had exhibited the restraint and wisdom in Korea that it had exercised in Palestine.
Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, North Korea remained defiant amongst the nations of the world in its pursuit of the peace agenda and today, it continues to honor its original demand for self-determination, peace, and socialism in a world beleaguered by a rapidly doomed neocolonial agenda. In spite of the Gorbachev administration’s betrayal of the world anti-imperialist movement, North Koreans continued to oppose the American colonization of the Korean Peninsula. Their heroic commitment to secure their freedom must thus be recognized and commended by the international community.
In an essay called “As the Crow Flies,” wherein he discusses the Korean War, Du Bois argued that
The difficulty with war is that during its continuance, not only are laws silent but thinking is stopped, or at any rate there is a strong tendency to discourage discussion.
The state of war, he says here, retards the proliferation of reasonable thought altogether. We need look to no other place and time than our own in order to come to terms with the truth of this statement, as the war-mongerers and profiteers push sanctions upon the North Korean people in efforts to delegitimize a regime organized around the principles of socialism rather than imperialism. The enemy, according to the white liberal, is Russia, China, and North Korea–not the monopolists who squander the wealth created by the masses of humanity. The vast majority of Americans are fed lies about the world and how it came to be the way it is. Defenses of imperialism clamoring for the status of truth proliferate in the media. However, we can no longer stand to ignore the origins of the present crisis, wherein American imperialism seeks with all its failing might to preside over Asia and Africa in the wake of European retreat. to do so would be to deliberately obscure the true nature of the Korean struggle for a genuine peace. I will end by invoking the anti-war declaration issued by the Council on African Affairs in 1950 in opposition to the Korean War, which reminded me that as members of the darker races, we must be very deliberate in setting forth a concrete program for peace, one that does not entail the clause of whiteness:
We want peace in Korea, but we do not want the sort of peace the United States seems to impose on black and yellow peoples and we solemnly protest to the world against this latest attempt to enslave the dark people of the world
Telegram from Premier of North Korea to Shirley Graham Bois, September 2, 1963