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New International, March 1947


A. Kimbay

Korea Under Occupation


From The New International, Vol. XIII No. 3, March 1947, pp. 93–95.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Ever since Japan’s annexation of Korea in 1910, the Korean people have been struggling for national liberation. Convinced that the recent war offered a means of achieving their freedom, Korean nationalist organizations, both in this country and in China, urged full support of the “anti-Japanese” war being conducted by the Allied powers.

Their efforts have been crowned with success. The staunch Korean nationalists who spent many long years fighting side by side with the Manchurian partisans against the Japanese troops; the “radical” students who were delighted with Russia’s declaration of war... “a guarantee of Korea’s freedom” (!!); Korean-Americans looking forward to the

re-establishment of a free Korea; all of them thrilled to the fulfillment of their fondest hopes – the smashing of Japan’s war machine.

But what are the results? What has happened to that free and independent Korea about which so much has been said? Why are the troops of America and Russia still firmly settled on Korean soil more than seventeen months after the Japanese surrender? Is it possible that the victor nations fought this war for somewhat more practical ends than the ones indicated in their propaganda releases? How long do the armies of occupation intend to remain on the soil of this “liberated” colony?

An evaluation of Russian and American designs upon Korea must take into account the strategic importance of Korea against the background of present-day political realities. Korea has a common border with Russia, the boundary of which is distressingly close to the key Russian port of Vladivostok. Fusan, in South Korea, is less than a hundred miles from the Japanese mainland. The eventual conflict, for which Russian and American imperialisms are today preparing, will find Korea in a position of geographical importance. This in itself would tend to focus the attention of the great powers upon Korea, but it is only one of the attractions of this important peninsula.

Korea has an area of some eight-five thousand square miles, and a population in excess of twenty-five million persons. The population density thus approximates that of New York State (including New York City) and this in a preponderantly agricultural country.

Unlike most of China, the Korean terrain is mountainous, making maximum agricultural productivity difficult and uncertain. Nevertheless, this country has been a chief source of Japan’s rice supply for many years. To accomplish this modern miracle, the Japanese encouraged and supported the backward, semi-feudal landlord - tenant relationships which existed there. Under this system the landlord collected from the tenant, in kind, an enormous share of the rice, cotton or millet in payment of rent. This left the tenant with just enough grain to eke out a minimum existence ... and forced him to borrow sufficient seed each spring to plant his next crop. As can be imagined, interest rates were exorbitant, as were rentals and taxes.

But if the peasant had little or no rice to eat – the landlord now had a greater amount to sell... and the Japanese industrialists were only too eager to buy all available rice for resale in Japan ... at the usual rate of profit. Not only did this policy help to keep alive the nationalism of Korea’s peasants, but it placed the Korean bourgeoisie in a position of increasing dependence upon Japanese guns ... a situation which was exploited to the utmost degree.

Northern Korea is endowed with a goodly share of natural resources. During the early 1930’s, Japan saw the inevitability of a long war and undertook the industrialization of this area as a means of building up and supplying her vast war machine. Although the known coal reserves were in themselves inadequate to build up a self-sufficient industry, these shortages were mitigated by the use of Korea’s vast water-power supply, quickly harnessed to run the many modern factories which were built. New hydro-electric plants located along the streams and rivers of Northern Korea have turned this area into a beehive of mining and industry. From this area Japan was able to obtain iron ore, aluminum, magnesium and lithium, as well as a variety of manufactured goods.

The Russian Zone

The Southern and agricultural portion of Korea is now under American occupation, while the Northern industrial area, bordering on the Soviet Union, plays host to the armies of Stalin. Reports received from the Southern portion of Korea indicate no betterment in the conditions of the tenant farmers under American occupation. Not even the most elementary peasant reforms have been put into effect, and Korean landlords still operate as before ... not with Japanese, but through American and Chinese intermediaries. A surprisingly large amount of Korean rice, badly needed at home, continues to find its way to the black markets of Japan’s large cities and China’s coastal area, while Korea’s poorer peasants must still resort to millet as their staple diet... the cost of rice being beyond the reach of their pocket-books.

News from Northern Korea occasionally filters in through the double wall of silence surrounding the two occupied areas. A “conducted tour” through the Russian zone recently convinced Ed Pauley, American representative, that the factories of Northern Korea had not been stripped, but were still operating at full speed, as were Korea’s mines. Although information reaching correspondents in the Southern zone indicates that other factories (in areas through which Pauley had not been conducted) had received somewhat different treatment, it is nevertheless true that a large percentage of Korea’s factories and mines continue full-scale operations, unhampered by the removal of their basic component parts to the Soviet Union.

The reason for this preferred treatment, however, is not due to the “progressive” role played by Korea’s nationalists in support of the war. Nor is it due to the kindness and consideration with which the Russian bureaucracy treats a long-oppressed colonial ally. No! Once again purely material considerations are involved; for the key to Russia’s action lies in the fact that the untouched factories operate by means of water power.

To tear down a plant and export the machinery is easily done. Unfortunately for the Stalinists, however, no method has as yet been devised for the transfer of rivers and dams, tunnels used for turning the course of rivers, and tide waters ... It is cheaper and better to run these plants at their present locations, and this is exactly what the Russians are doing.

The light metals mined in this area are of importance to Russia’s aircraft industry. The coal, iron ore and manufactured goods are shipped to Russia as quickly as they can be produced, and this state of affairs will continue just so long as Russia maintains her army of occupation in Korea. The seventeen months’ occupation will become seventy if it is decided by the Russians.

Stalin’s apologists ... of all shades ... continue to deny the imperialist nature of Russian policies. The stripping of German and Japanese factories is a justifiable part of Russia’s war spoils and reparation demands; Manchuria and Poland somehow fall into this same category. In Korea, however, the nakedness of Russia’s tactics makes it considerably more difficult to wrap them in the sanctimonious garments of Stalinist apologia.

Every element of imperialism seems here to be present and in its proper place; the control of factories and other capital-goods equipment by the foreign power, the use of these factories to exploit native labor, the export of the realized surplus produce to the mother country, the military and political control of the colony ... all for the alleged purpose of helping to free Korea from Japanese domination!

Before Korea can become truly free and independent, it is necessary that networking class recognize the imperialist character of both the occupying powers. Korea cannot afford to yield her sovereignty either to the American or Russian armies of occupation. What, then, can she do?

Trotsky has already traced for us the role which will by played by a native colonial bourgeoisie in this era of imperialism. One of the verifications of the correctness of his thesis can be found in Korean history itself.

Historical Background

In 1894, the Korean bourgeoisie were unable to obtain, from their own monarch, a series of much-needed reforms which would have enabled them to offer some sort of competition to the overwhelmingly superior productive capabilities of the Western world. They turned to Japan for aid, and Japan’s ruling class willingly obliged. Unfortunately, however, they had some interesting plans of their own. The end of the Sino-Japanese war of 1894–95 thus found Korea strongly under the influence of Japan.

The Korean bourgeoisie now attempted to play the policy of the lesser of two evils, and turned to Russia for support. Japan’s 1905 victory ended any speculation as to the benevolence of Czarist Russia’s would-be policy toward Korea ... and the war’s end placed Korea firmly in Japanese hands. Formal annexation took place in 1910.

Under conditions now existing in Korea, only mass action on the part of Korea’s working class can free her from the yoke of imperialist domination. For the Korean bourgeoisie to harness this proletarian colossus to their own frail chariot, however, is a dangerous task ... to be avoided lest the workers take the bit of power into their teeth and use it to their own advantage. Here, then, is why the Korean ruling class limits its activities to a playing-off of Russian versus American interests. If another tragic era of imperialist domination is to be avoided, the Korean revolutionists must prepare to arouse and organize the militancy of the masses. The Korean proletariat must carry on the struggle for Korean freedom independently of the Korean bourgeoisie. They must prepare, not for the limited aims of their ruling classes – today impossible of realization – but for the rule of the workers at the head of the peasant masses, a rule which combines social with national emancipation.

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