Via Workers World News Service
Korea's heroic story: Fighting for independence since 1910
By Judi Cheng, Workers World, 29 January 1998
[Adapted from a talk given at a Workers World Party forum in New York on Jan. 9.]
Fifty years after the defeat of the Japanese colonizers on Aug. 15, 1945, the Korean people are still fighting for independence.
Today, the peninsula is occupied by 37,000 U.S. troops. U.S. forces have occupied south Korea for nearly 50 years.
And Korean workers face losing their jobs as foreign imperialist banks wipe out south Korea's limited sovereignty.
The history of Korea contains many pages of heroic resistance by its people as they fought for economic and social independence.
DIFFERENT RESISTANCE STRATEGIES
Japan was emboldened to occupy Korea in 1910, following the 1905 Taft-Katsura agreement. That U.S.-Japanese pact supported Japan's ambitions in Korea in return for Japan recognizing U.S. colonial hegemony in the Philippines.
From the beginning Korean patriots resisted the Japanese occupation.
Through the occupation years, resistance strategies ranged from nonviolence--pursued in the early years by Korea's elite and property-owning class who appealed to the West--to the armed resistance pursued by the class-conscious leadership headed by Kim Il Sung.
The small Korean capitalist class began to develop an alliance with the Japanese in the 1920s. But communist organizers remained strong pro-independence fighters and gained influence among the people.
During the 1920s, labor struggles occurred in every major Korean city. By the 1930s, especially after armed resistance began from bases in Manchuria in Japanese-occupied China, the developing labor movement grew more political.
In the 1930s, unions raised slogans not only about their particular strike but also calling for the release of political prisoners, the right to participate in revolutionary organizations, and the Japanese army's immediate withdrawal from Korea and Manchuria.
Throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, the Japanese occupiers stepped up repression. In 1943 Japanese was declared the official language. Emperor worship was required.
Historian Bruce Cummings, who notes that Japanese authorities set up compulsory anti-communist social organizations, called this "a measure of the degree to which socialism had become attractive."
COMMUNISTS LEAD ANTI-JAPANESE LIBERATION
U.S. officials feared this popular sentiment as the Korean People's Army--under the leadership of the Korean Workers' Party and with the backing of the Soviet Red Army--began driving out the Japanese at the end of World War II. With all Korea about to be liberated, the U.S. military unilaterally proposed dividing Korea at the 38th parallel, placing two-thirds of the country's population and the capital city under U.S. control.
The Korean people, however, had their own plans.
On liberation day--Aug.15, 1945--Korean patriots formed the Committee for the Preparation of Korean Independence in Seoul. In a few days, the CPKI had provincial-level branches in all 13 provinces. By the end of August, 145 CPKI branches functioned throughout the country.
The CPKI punished Japanese collaborators and organized factory production and food distribution. These committees, for the most part led by communists and other leftists, became instruments of popular power.
The CPKI held a national congress in Seoul attended by 1,000 delegates from the north and south., and established the Korean People's Republic on Sept. 6, 1945. That was just two days before Gen. Douglas MacArthur would land with the new U.S. occupation force.
The CPKI congress called for nationalizing all Japanese and pro-Japanese Korean-owned lands and properties, and giving them without charge to those who worked them.
National meetings of workers, farmers, students and women voted to affiliate with the KPR. Only the big landowners and Japanese collaborators were opposed.
According to historian Martin Hart-Landsberg: "The mood of the country [in 1945] was such that in the period immediately following liberation no one dared to openly challenge those who spoke for land reform, workers' rights or people's democracy. Without outside intervention, it would have been only a matter of months before the KPR and its sponsoring organizations succeeded in creating a functioning, popular national government."
Outside intervention, however, took place once again.
U.S. occupation forces launched a campaign of terror and intimidation directed against the People's Committees and anyone who supported their program. The U.S. military worked with former Japanese collaborators, Japanese police and wealthy landlords to regain control below the 38th parallel.
By the time the Korean War broke out in 1950, U.S. and south Korean forces had killed over 100,000 Koreans in the south.
KOREAN WAR RESTORES OPPRESSORS
On the eve of the Korean War, the Chicago Sun described the situation in south Korea as a "full-scale revolution, which must have involved hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people. In Taegu alone a third of the 150,000 inhabitants took part in the uprising. ... The railroad workers went on strike, followed by the phone and metal, textile and electric workers. As each strike was suppressed by the police, another took its place. Students went to the streets to demonstrate."
The newspaper admitted that if an election had taken place throughout Korea, the Communist leader Kim Il Sung, who had led the anti-Japanese struggle, would have been elected president.
But the Pentagon and Wall Street had just "lost" China to a communist-led revolution. They were determined to draw the line in Korea--whatever it cost the Korean people.
From 1950 to 1953, more bombs were dropped on the northern part of Korea than in all of Europe during World War II. Gen. O'Donnel of the U.S. Air Force said, "Our mission is to reduce the towns of north Korea to ashes and destroy them totally."
Wilfred Burchett, an Australian journalist covering the war in the north, reported that not one building over two stories tall was left standing.
The Korean war came to a conclusion with an armistice agreement in 1953--after the U.S. forces were pushed below the 38th parallel by north Korean fighters and hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops, who had volunteered to fight in Korea after U.S. forces threatened to attack People's China.
The war ended. But U.S. troops remained.
The Korean nation, with its rich 5,000-year history, remains cruelly divided. The United States has installed one military dictatorship after another.
The United States and Japan pumped huge amounts of capital into south Korea, hoping to build it up against socialist north Korea. They developed south Korea's economy--but at the same time, they carried out extreme repression against any expression of popular discontent.
The worst example of this was the south Korean military's massacre of almost 2,000 people during the May 1980 Kwangju uprising. The United States has ultimate control over the south Korean military.
It is our job inside the United States to strengthen solidarity between the workers and young people of this country and the struggling people of Korea, who are again thrust into the very front ranks of the worldwide struggle for justice.
(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. For subscription info send message to: email@example.com. Web: http://workers.org)