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Korea today: Heading for reunification?
IN THE rush to stem the tide of revolution which swept the Korean peninsula once the Japanese surrendered in mid-August 1945, 'an imaginary line' was agreed by the US and the USSR which severed the living body of Korea for over 50 years.
Last week's meeting in Pyongyang, capital of North Korea, between the two heads of state presiding over totally different and antagonistic social systems was unprecedented.
Half a million people lined the route. In the South, a carnival of rejoicing on the streets continued throughout the talks. Millions of Koreans believed their long-cherished hopes of reunification would now soon be realised.
North of the demilitarised zone, there has developed an extraordinarily deformed 'workers' state' that the world's press call the last redoubt of Stalinism. This state-owned planned economy initially grew faster than that run by Washington-installed dictators in the South.
Now, North Korea not only does not figure in the world's top 500 economic entities, but is suffering from the collapse of support from both the USSR and China. As many as two million people could have died from starvation in the late 1990s.
The South, under US patronage and heavy state control, began its climb towards the top ten industrialised nations in the 1960s and made it to eleventh position. But the crash and crisis of 1997 gave its vastly over-indebted and over-extended economy a nasty jolt.
So-called recovery has left a swathe of unemployed and the majority of Koreans with a reduced level of income. The problems of the giant chaebol conglomerates are by no means over and in recent weeks new industrial and social struggles have broken out.
MANY ATTEMPTS have been made to get talks going that could lead to an easing of relations but have broken down.
Kim Dae-jung has adopted a 'sunshine policy' towards the North. Whereas his predecessor seemed to ignore their plight hoping for a collapse into the arms of the capitalist South.
Now, with the big chaebol conglomerates and the state itself still heavily indebted the South's capitalist government does not relish the idea of carrying the whole burden. Recent estimates for 'rebuilding' the North take the cost to over $1,000 billion.
Aid will undoubtedly come from elsewhere, but the prospects for rapid development and 'equalisation' are dim. The average per capita income of the 23 million people in the North is $57 while in the South it is $8,600.
Undoubtedly, cheap labour can mean big profits, but there have to be markets for the goods. The production of steel, cars, ships etc. in the North comes up against the problem of glutted markets internationally. There have been some inroads organised by the heads of the biggest chaebol but they and foreign capitalist investors are treading warily; not least because of the possibility of a violent response to Jong-il's moves from within the million-strong military.
He and the ruling clique are no doubt preparing to become fully-fledged capitalist 'entrepreneurs'. Little is known, however, of the outlook of workers and young people in the North but a struggle for the establishment of basic democratic rights must be on the agenda.
Marxist socialists are for land, industry and finance to remain state property but for the state itself and the plan to be under the control of elected committees like those thrown up in 1945.
Only through an appeal for workers to struggle in the South and elsewhere in the region for democratic socialist alternatives to capitalism, can the economy of the peninsula really develop.
Marxists would respect the wishes of each population through a democratic vote on the right to develop separately or together - in some kind of federation or otherwise. The main task is to unify a struggle for genuine socialism and a unification based on the wishes of the long-suffering people rather than the politicians and ruling elites.
In The Socialist 23 June 2000: