The REDSTAR2000 Papers

Listen to the worm of doubt, for it speaks truth. - Leftist Discussion

North Korea's "Great Leader" -- Oriental Despot? May 9, 2003 by RedStar2000

These are some miscellaneous posts concerning North Korea's "Great Leader" and the way that Marxists look at this kind of phenomenon.



The adulation [of the Great Leader] will reach its peak on February 16th, the semi-religious celebration of Mr. Kim's birth. Every year, the state-controlled media report miraculous phenomena: concentric rainbows circling the sun, the birth of a new star, and unseasonably warm temperatures at Mount Paektu, said to be the Great Leader's birthplace (although western historians say he was actually born in Russia). One year, an albino sea anemone was said to have trapped itself in fishing nets so that it could come ashore to celebrate...When the day comes, the Workers Party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, reports the appearance of glorious rainbow clouds in the Mount Paektu range...North Korean television hails the discovery of a rare albino raccoon, which it says signifies momentous times ahead for the country and its leader. ---from Mother Jones magazine.

Ok, is this accurate?

If so, what is going on here?
First posted at Che-Lives on April 24, 2003


I do not see anything wrong with spreading the message of the greatness of the leaders of a socialist state.


I agree, and I think that is the correct opinion to have.

That's because neither of you are Marxists -- you are simply pro-communist, that's all.

Nothing wrong with that, per se; better you should be pro-communist than anti-communist.

But because you are not Marxists, the glorification of a "great leader" in a "socialist" country fails to strike you as contradictory to the idea of socialism itself.

The idea of a "great leader" is characteristic of class society. In a genuinely egalitarian social order, there is no room for anyone who is "above" criticism.

I will grant you that it is often difficult to tease out the difference between respect and worship.

One difference is: are comrades willing to publicly argue with "the most respected comrade"? Note that from 1917 to 1921, people argued publicly with Lenin...even though he enjoyed enormous public prestige. It was not thought necessary to display his portrait on enormous buildings, much less celebrate his birthday with unusual natural phenomena. (!)

Another sign is the presence of more than one "respected comrade". It is unheard of that any polity should produce only a single person capable of political thought; an egalitarian social order would be expected to produce a large and growing number of people who take an active and public role in its political life. Politics reduced to the thought of one person is despotism.

The idea that the leader commands and the masses obey is, at best, a thoroughly bourgeois conception of "socialism".

I understand, of course, that you two guys are operating from a position constrained by the experiences of 20th century communism. The models put forward by Stalin and Mao make it extraordinarily difficult for you both to even conceive of post-capitalist society without great leaders.

Yet if you really try to look at this from a Marxist point of view, it will be immediately obvious that there is no place for the degradation of worship in socialist/communist society...neither of "gods" nor of mortals.

A social order with a "great leader" is still very far from socialism no matter how many red flags they fly and no matter what slogans are on the banners. The habit of human servility may be difficult to break, but it will not end without a struggle.
First posted at Che-Lives on April 25, 2003

Marxism is not simply a matter of defending some particular thought or political entity.

Noam Chomsky, for example, is a committed and indeed bitter opponent of U.S. imperialism...without even the faintest understanding of why it exists.

There have been, from time to time, even ordinary bourgeois liberals who have defended the USSR or China or Cuba, etc. without having any idea of what those places really represented or even what they were really like.

I'm not questioning the "good faith" of either of you; I'm questioning your understanding of Marxism.

Briefly, you seem to think that if the "label" says "socialist", then that's what's in the package...and that is simply not true.

There is today a political group that calls itself the "Communist Party of China" it really "communist"? In what sense, besides the name?

Of course, no one but an idiot would deny that revolutions and post-revolutionary societies are inhabited by real people...marked with all the habits and traumas of the old class society. People are not perfect and neither are their creations.

But ask rather: what do their words and their deeds show that they are trying to do?

Especially the deeds...if you can find them out.

Consider your own words:


What is needed is strong leaders which the people of a socialist state can follow the example of, who they can strive to rise to the level of.

Or these words...


The people of any revolutionary socialist experiment need a guiding light...

A late-17th century Massachusetts Puritan would not recognize some of your language...but would instantly recognize and approve of your sentiments.

Like you guys, they really had no understanding of class struggle in those days but thought that human salvation came from inspired leadership.

But they lived a century before Marx; you guys don't have their excuse.

Most embarrassing for your position is the fact that in spite of the "great leaders" of 20th century communism, the capitalists have kicked our butts! In spite of Stalin, Russia returned to capitalism. In spite of Mao, China returned to capitalism.

And, as was mentioned in another thread, North Korea is "making noises" in that direction.

So, are we supposed to worship (or whatever you want to label it) the "great leader" even when he doesn't deliver the goods? Are we supposed to eat red flags and heat our apartments with manifestos?

The worst thing about this approach to "building socialism" is the utterly demoralizing effect it has on the working class. The class itself first becomes passive and apathetic, then cynical and sullen, and ultimately corrupt and counter-revolutionary.

Who can blame them? They've been told their "great leaders" will take care of things...and when their "great leaders" fail them, why shouldn't they have their revenge? When the time comes to tear down the statues and the pictures, it will not so much be rage at tyranny in the abstract that will motivate the will be bitter disappointment that the "great leader" who they obeyed for so long, had promised so much and delivered so little.

Call it "ultra-left" if you wish; I think it is basic Marxism. Socialism is egalitarian and participatory or it's not worth bothering about.
First posted at Che-Lives on April 26, 2003


It is my opinion and the theory of Juche that the leader's role is that of the head of a single body...

The parallel with Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan is quite amazing! This pre-Marxist political thinker (1651) coined the phrase "the body politic" with the king as its head and the other members of society as its limbs.


The dictatorship of the proletariat...has three classes...state, proletariat, bourgeoisie...

That's both muddled and oversimplified. The muddle is calling the state a "class" when, in Marxist terms, it is simply an apparatus, a machine, for the suppression of one class by another. Oversimplified because in all of the first generation of socialist countries, the peasantry was the majority class...and naturally struggled for its own class interests, beginning with individual private property in land.

I do not "blame" Stalin or Mao for the restoration of capitalism in those countries; the material conditions were overwhelmingly against them. My point is that the theory that such leaders are necessary cannot withstand critical examination. We cannot re-run history in their absence and see how things would have worked out--history is not an experimental science. But we can draw legitimate conclusions from historical experience and it is our obligation to do so.

If the working class is not prepared to govern the post-revolutionary society, then "great leaders" will make no difference at all in the long run.

I have no problem with your rejection of the accuracy of the Mother Jones article...we live in the era of the media falsehood and it is always better to be sceptical until something can be confirmed...and then be sceptical a little bit longer.

And in what I think the most important issue of our era, we are, after all, in agreement: the need to defend any country against U.S. imperialism -- the main enemy of the whole world.
First posted at Che-Lives on April 26, 2003

And a final note...

It would certainly be more convenient if social systems came in neat packages with laboratory purity. But they don't; and North Korea may be one of the most peculiar societies in history.

Its ideology is really Confucianist idealism wrapped in Marxist terminology. Its social system (relations of production) can only be termed a very late form of oriental despotism. Its means of production are approaching capitalist levels...which means it is a system under an almost intolerable strain; its hyper-militarization in the face of the threat from U.S. imperialism is probably the only thing holding it together.

In isolation, this system would explode! It may do so anyway. Considering the possibility that it may possess nuclear weapons, I would suggest that living anywhere within several thousand miles of the Korean peninsula is probably not a real good idea.

There is some indication that the "Great Leader" would like to "ease" his country into capitalism (through the kind of "special economic zones" that China used). I have absolutely no idea if that is even possible...history suggests it is not.

Nevertheless, I think some future historians are going to find North Korea one of the most fascinating studies ever...a country with at least the trappings of modernity and a social order that any king of Babylon would have recognized and felt at home in instantly.

May 8, 2003
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