The South Korean ruling class tears aside the veil of its “democracy”

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We have just received news from Korea that eight militants of the “Socialist Workers’ League of Korea” (Sanoryun) have been arrested and charged under South Korea’s infamous “National Security Law”.1 They are due to be sentenced on 27th January.

There can be no doubt that this is a political trial, and a travesty of what the ruling class likes to call its “justice”. Three facts bear witness to this:

  • First, the fact that South Korea’s own courts have twice thrown out the police charges against those arrested.2
  • Second, the fact that the militants are charged with “forming a group benefiting the enemy” (ie North Korea), despite the fact that Oh Se-Cheol and Nam Goong Won, amongst others, were signatories of the October 2006 “Internationalist Declaration from Korea against the threat of war” which denounced North Korea’s nuclear tests and declared in particular that: “the capitalist North Korean state (...) has absolutely nothing to do with the working class or communism, and is nothing but a most extreme and grotesque version of decadent capitalism's general tendency towards militaristic barbarism.3
  • Third, Oh Se-Cheol’s speech leaves no doubt that he opposes all forms of capitalism, including North Korean state capitalism.

These militants are accused of nothing other than the thought crime of being socialists. In other words, they stand accused of urging workers to defend themselves, their families, and their living conditions, and of exposing openly the real nature of capitalism. The sentences required by the prosecution are only one more example of the repression meted out by the South Korea ruling class against those who dare to stand in its way. This brutal repression has already targeted the young mothers of the “baby strollers’ brigade” who took their children to the 2008 Candlelight demonstrations and later faced legal and police harassment;4 it has targeted the Ssangyong workers who were beaten up by the riot police who invaded their occupied factory.5

Faced with the prospect of heavy jail sentences, the arrested militants have conducted themselves in court with exemplary dignity, and have used the opportunity to expose clearly the political nature of this trial. We reproduce below a translation of Oh Se-Cheol’s last speech before the tribunal.

Military tensions in the region are on the rise, following the provocative shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in November last year and the killing of civilians by the North Korean regime’s canon, answered by the despatch of an American nuclear aircraft carrier to the region to conduct joint military exercises with the South Korean armed forces. In this situation, the statement that humanity today faces a choice between socialism and barbarism rings truer than ever.

The propaganda of the US and its allies likes to portray North Korea as a “gangster state”, whose ruling clique lives in luxury thanks to the ruthless repression of its starving population. This is certainly true. But the repression meted out by the South Korean government to mothers, children, struggling workers, and now socialist militants shows clearly enough that, in the final analysis, every national bourgeoisie rules by fear and brute force.

Faced with this situation we declare our complete solidarity with the arrested militants, notwithstanding the political disagreements we may have with them. Their struggle is our struggle. We address our heartfelt sympathy and solidarity to their families and comrades. We will gladly forward on to the comrades any messages of support and solidarity that we may receive at international [at]

Oh Se-Cheol's final speech in court, December 2010

(what follows is the text of Oh Se-Cheol's speech, translated by us from the Korean)

Several theories have sought to explain the crises that have occured throughout the history of capitalism. One of these is the catastrophe theory, which holds that capitalism will collapse of its own accord at the very moment that capitalist contradictions arrive at their highest point, making way for a new millennium of paradise. This apocalyptic or extreme anarchistic position has created confusion and illusions in understanding the proletariat’s suffering from capitalist oppression and exploitation. Many people have been infected by such a non-scientific view.

Another theory is the optimistic one that the bourgeoisie always spreads. According to this theory, capitalism itself has the means to overcome its own contradictions and the real economy works well through eliminating speculation.

A more refined position than the two mentioned above, and which has come to prevail over the others, considers that capitalist crises are periodic, and that we need only wait quietly until the storm is over in order to sail on.

Such a position was appropriate for the scene of capitalism in the 19th Century: it is no longer so for capitalist crises in the 20th and 21st century. The capitalist crises in the 19th century were crises of capitalism’s phase of unlimited expansion, which Marx in the Communist Manifesto called the epidemic of overproduction. However the tendency of overproduction resulting in famine, poverty and unemployment was not because of a lack of commodities but because there were too many commodities, too much industry and too many resources. Another cause of capitalist crises is the anarchy of capitalism’s system of competition. In the 19th century, capitalist relations of production could be expanded and deepened through conquering new areas to win new wage labour and new outlets for commodities and so crises in this period were understood as the pulses of a healthy heart beat.

In the 20th century such an ascending phase of capitalism came to an end with the turning point of World War I. From this point onwards, capitalist relations of commodity production and of wage labour had been expanded throughout the world. In 1919 the Communist International named capitalism in that period as the period of “war or revolution”. On the one hand, the capitalist tendency of overproduction pushed towards imperialist war with the aim of grabbing and controlling the world market. On the other hand, unlike the 19th century, it made the world economy dependent on the semi-permanent crisis of instability and destruction.

Such a contradiction resulted in two historical events, the First World War and the world depression of 1929 at the cost of 20 million lives and an unemployment rate of 20% – 30%, which again paved the way for the so called “socialist countries” with state capitalism through nationalisation of the economy on one side and liberal countries with a combination of private bourgeoisie and state bureaucracy on the other side.

After the Second World War world capitalism, including the so called “socialist countries”, experienced an extraordinary prosperity resulting from 25 years of reconstruction and increasing debts. This led government bureaucracy, trade union leaders, economists, and so called “Marxists” to declare loudly that capitalism had overcome its economic crisis definitively. But the crisis has continuously worsened as the following examples show: the devaluation of the Pound Sterling in 1967, the Dollar crisis in 1971, the oil shock in 1973, the economic recession of 1974-75, inflation crisis in 1979, credit crisis in 1982, crisis of Wall Street in 1987, economic recession in 1989, destabilisation of European currencies in 1992-93, crisis of the “tigers” and “dragons” in Asia in 1997, the crisis of the American “new economy” in 2001, the sub-prime crisis in 2007, the financial crisis of Lehman Brothers etc and the financial crisis of 2009-2010.

Is such a series of crises a ‘cyclical’, a ‘periodic’ crisis? Not at all! It is the result of the incurable illness of capitalism, the scarcity of markets with the ability to pay, the falling rate of profit. At the time of the big world depression in 1929 the worst situation did not occur because of an immense intervention of the states. But recent cases of financial crisis, economic crisis show that the capitalist system cannot survive any more with the help of such instant measures as the bail-out money from states or state debts. Capitalism is now facing an impasse as a result of the impossibility of the expansion of productive forces. However capitalism is in a struggle to the death against this impasse. That is, it depends endlessly on state credit and finds outlets for over-production through creating fictitious markets.

For 40 years world capitalism has been escaping catastrophe through immense credits. Credit for capitalism is the same as drugs for a drug-addict. In the end those credits will return as a burden demanding the blood and sweat of workers throughout the world. They will also result in workers’ poverty throughout the world, in imperialist wars, and in ecological disasters.

Is capitalism in decline? Yes. It is heading not for sudden ruin but for a new stage in the downfall of a system, the final stage in the history of capitalism which is drawing to its end. We must seriously recall the 100 year old slogan “war or revolution?” and once again prepare the historical understanding of the alternative “barbarism or socialism” and the practice of scientific socialism. This means that socialists must work together and unite, they must stand firmly on the basis of revolutionary Marxism. Our aim is to overcome capitalism based on money, commodity, market, wage labour and exchange value, and to build a society of liberated labour in a community of free individuals.

Marxist analyses have confirmed that the general crisis of the capitalist mode of production has already reached its critical point because of the falling rate of profit and the saturation of markets in the process of production and realisation of surplus value. We now find ourselves facing the alternative between capitalism, meaning barbarism, and socialism, communism meaning civilisation.

First, the capitalist system is becoming one which cannot even feed the slaves of wage labour. Every day around the world one hundred thousand people are starving and every 5 seconds one child under 5 years old starves to death. 842 million people are suffering from permanent undernourishment and one third of the 6 billion world population is struggling every day for its survival because of rising food prices.

Second, the present capitalist system cannot maintain the illusion of economic prosperity.

The economic miracles of India and China have proved illusions. During the first half year of 2008 in China 20 million workers lost their jobs and 67,000 companies went bankrupt.

Third, an ecological disaster is expected. On the point of global warming, the average temperature of the earth increased 0.6% since 1896. In the 20th century the northern hemisphere experienced the most serious warming for the last 1000 years. The areas covered with snow shrank by 10% since the end of the 1960s and the layer of ice at the North Pole has shrunk by 40%. The average sea level rose by 10-20% during the 20th century. Such a rise means 10 times an increase higher than that of last 3000 years. The exploitation of the earth during the last 90 years appeared in the form of reckless deforestation, soil erosion, pollution (air, water), usage of chemical and radioactive materials, destruction of animals and plants, explosive appearance of epidemics. The ecological disaster can be seen in an integrated and global form. So it is impossible to foresee exactly how seriously this problem will develop in the future.

How then has the history of class struggle against capitalist suppression and exploitation developed?

The class struggle has existed constantly but has not been successful. The 1st International failed because of the power of capitalism in its ascending period. The 2nd International failed because of nationalism and its abandoning of its revolutionary character. And the 3rd International failed because of the Stalinist counterrevolution. Especially the counterrevolutionary currents since 1930 misled the workers about the nature of state capitalism which they called ‘socialism’. In the end, they played a supporting role for the world capitalist system, suppressed and exploited the world proletariat through disguising the confrontation between two blocs.

Further, according to the bourgeois campaign the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the Stalinist system was an “evident victory of liberalist capitalism”, “the end of class struggle” and even the end of the working class itself. Such a campaign led the working class into serious retreat on the level of its consciousness and militancy.

During 1990s the working class didn´t give up completely but it had no weight and ability commensurate to those of trade unions as struggle organisations in a previous period. But the struggles in France and Austria against the attacks on pensions provided a turning point for the working class since 1989 to start its struggle again. The workers’ struggle increased most in the central countries: the struggle at Boeing and the transportation strike in New York in the USA in 2005; Daimler and Opel struggles in 2004, medical doctors’ struggle in the spring of 2006, Telekom struggle in 2007 in Germany; London airport struggle in August, 2005 in GB and Anti-CPE struggle in France 2006. Among the peripheral countries, there were the construction workers’ struggle in the spring of 2006 in Dubai, the textile workers’ struggle in spring of 2006 in Bangladesh, the textile workers’ struggle in spring of 2007 in Egypt.

Between 2006 and 2008 the struggle of the world working class has been expanding to the whole world, to Egypt, Dubai, Algeria, Venezuela, Peru, Turkey, Greece, Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Russia, Italy, Britain, Germany, France, the USA, and China. As the recent struggle in France against pension reforms showed, the working class struggle is anticipated to become more and more extensively offensive.

As the above showed, the final tendency of decadence of world capitalism and the crisis which has burdened the working class have inevitably provoked struggles of workers throughout the world, unlike those we have experienced before.

We stand now before the alternative, to live in barbarism not as human beings but like animals or to live happily in freedom, in equality and with human dignity.

The depth and the scope of the contradictions of Korean capitalism are more serious than those of so-called advanced countries. The pain of Korean workers seems to be far bigger than those of the workers in European countries with their achievements of previous struggles of the working class. This is a question of the human life of the class, which cannot be measured by the empty pretence of the Korean government playing host for the G20 summit meeting, or the display of quantitative economic indexes.

Capital is international by its nature. Different national capitals have always been in competition and conflict but they have collaborated together in order to maintain the capitalist system, to hide its crises and attack workers as human beings. Workers struggle not against capitalists but against the capitalist system which moves only for the increase of its profits and unlimited competition.

Historically Marxists have always struggled together with the working class, the master of history, by revealing the nature of the historical laws of human society and that of the laws of social systems, presenting the orientation towards the world of real human life, and criticizing the obstacles of inhuman systems and laws.

For that reason they constructed organisations like parties and participated in practical struggles. At least since the 2nd World War such practical activities of Marxists have never experienced any judicial constriction. Rather their thought and practice have been highly valued as contributions to the progress of human society. Such masterpieces of Marx as Capital or the Communist Manifesto have been read as widely as the Bible.

This SWLK case is a historical one which shows to the whole world the barbarous nature of Korean society through its suppression of thought, and would be as a stain in the history of socialist trials in the world. In the future there will be more open and mass socialist movements, Marxist movements will be widely and powerfully developed in the world and in Korea. The judicial apparatus will handle cases of organised violence but cannot suppress socialist movements, Marxist movements. Because they will continue forever as long as humanity and workers exist.

Socialist movements and their practice cannot be the object of judicial punishment. Rather they must be an example for respect and confidence. Here are my closing words:

  • Abolish the national security law which suppresses the freedom of thoughts, of science and of expression!
  • Stop the repression of capital and power against workers’ struggles to be the subject of history, of production and of power!
  • Workers of the whole world, unite in order to abolish capitalism and construct a community of free individuals!

1 Oh Se-Cheol, Yang Hyo-sik, Yang Jun-seok, and Choi Young-ik face seven years in prison, while Nam Goong Won, Park Jun-Seon, Jeong Won-Hyung, and Oh Min-Gyu are facing five years. At its most extreme, the National Security Law provides for the death penalty against the accused.

4 See Hankyoreh.

6 We also draw our readers' attention to the protest initiative launched by Loren Goldner. While we share Loren’s scepticism about the effectiveness of “write-in” mail campaigns, we agree with him that “an international spotlight on this case just might have an effect on the final sentencing of these exemplary militants”. Letters of protest should be sent to Judge Hyung Doo Kim at this address: swlk [at] (messages must be received by 17th January for them to be forwarded on to Judge Kim).





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