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Waking up from Marxism
Publication Date : 25-09-2013
The recent arrest of a South Korean lawmaker and his aides for sedition stirred the whole nation. Some people were appalled at the fact that North Korean sympathisers who deny the legitimacy of South Korea had infiltrated the National Assembly. Others were stunned that the lawmaker, using his privileges as a member of the National Assembly, could have accessed and passed to North Korea all sorts of highly classified information, jeopardising our national security. If the allegations are true, we have had enemies within all along. We just did not realise it until now.
Like other pro-North Korea leftists, the lawmaker is also an ardent anti-American demagogue. Bafflingly, however, newspapers report that he sent his son to the United States to study. He is not alone in such paradoxical behaviour. Most anti-American leftists in South Korea have sent their children to the States to study. One may wonder: “Did they send their children to infiltrate the enemy’s heart and find its weaknesses? Or did they unabashedly betray their beliefs and succumb to the reality that the United States has one of the world’s best education systems? Why, despite their beliefs, do they avoid sending their children to a communist country instead?
The Lee incident reminds us of the tragic fact that the Korean Peninsula is torn into two polarising political ideologies: communism and capitalism. What is baffling is the fact that so many people in South Korea still believe in an obsolete ideology called Marxism, at a time when former communist countries are shedding their old ideology and embracing capitalism. One explanation is that the youth engaged in anti-government activities against the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s developed an admiration for North Korea. Ruthlessly suppressed by the state, they harboured a hate for South Korea and admired North Korea which was more affluent than the South until the late 1970s.
In his award-winning novel, “The Square”, Choi In-hoon, creates a character named Lee Myong-jun, who is disillusioned by both North and South Korea. Just before the Korean War, Lee crosses the border to the North, expecting to see a better society. What he finds, however, is nothing but a land of hate and revenge, instead of love and forgiveness. He finds that North Korea is a land of shackles and yokes, not of freedom and individuality. And it is a country in which the dictatorship mercilessly crushes the people with iron boots and bayonets. Essentially, it is a kingdom in which the czar has chosen Das Kapital instead of the Bible.
In “The Square”, Choi points out that from the beginning, communism imitated Christianity of the Middle Ages, claiming to be an ideology that could save human beings from misery and annihilation. According to Choi, the parallels between the two is striking: for example, the idea of the primitive commune vs. the Garden of Eden; the private property system vs. transgression; the history of a feudal, capitalist society vs. the history of the Old Testament; Karl Marx vs. Jesus Christ; the sacrament of confession vs. self-denunciation; the cross vs. the sickle and hammer; Stalin vs. the Pope; the Kremlin vs. the Vatican; and a communist paradise vs. heaven. Choi also insightfully points out that there has been no Martin Luther for communism. Therefore, no reformation has swept through communism despite its many widespread problems. And unlike Christianity, communism turned out to be a failed god. Anyone who criticised or objected to communism was brutally executed through a summary trial, just like many who opposed the Vatican were burnt at the stake during the Inquisition.
In his celebrated novel, Choi writes that unlike the North, South Korea is like an open square where people can enjoy sheer freedom and individuality. The square is by no means a paradise, and yet it provides a collegiate place for gatherings, discussions, and demonstrations in a democratic, capitalist society. Of course, Choi can see the potential danger of the square in South Korea as well: political conspiracies, social corruption and the unbridled chaos of the masses. Nevertheless, the open square is much better than the closed system of North Korea in which forced uniformity is pervasive, and overbearing political leaders manipulate, intimidate and exploit the people. Marxism was a product of the 19th century after all.
Nevertheless, there are people in our society who naively believe that Marxism can solve the chronic problem of economic inequality that plagues our society. Perhaps a Marxist perspective may still be valid in literary criticism. However, it is widely known that Marxism, as well as communism, was pronounced dead when the Cold War ended. Only in Korea the specter of Marx is still hovering, secretly brainwashing people. But this is the 21st century! Moreover, as long as the North Korean regime is in power, intoxication by Marxism or Communism is naive and dangerous. We should wake up to reality now.
Kim Seong-kon is a professor of English at Seoul National University and president of the Literature Translation Institute of Korea. ― Ed.