[KS] assessing historical meanings - Mr. Yoon

vladimir.tikhonov at ikos.uio.no vladimir.tikhonov at ikos.uio.no
Thu Sep 9 16:31:20 EDT 2010

Dear Frank (and all others),

sorry - it looks as if I did not manage to make it clear what I meant by
"misunderstanding". I did not intend to state that Yun's act was of no
consequence. It certainly was - for Kim Ku group's relations with its
senior partners from Guomindang (and some more sinister organizations,
like the unfamous Blue Shirts Society), for Kim Ku's authority among the
China-based Korean nationalist and (partly) anarchist militants, for the
general "encouragement" of the nationalist spirit among the middle-class
public inside Korea etc. There is no doubt that all this is important for
history. What I am afraid, however, is that we will allow the people who
planned Yun's act, and then politically and propagandistically used it -
mostly middle-class nationalist public - speak for the "(Korean) people"
as a whole. Yes, there were certainly Koreans for whom Yun was (and is) a
hero - and there were (and there are) Koreans who saw it as rather a
distraction from the serious struggle for both social and national
liberation. The difference between the two groups is that the first one,
in the end, effectively silenced the second - at least, until the late
1980s. After 1945, the semi-cultic attitude toward Yun was promoted and
encouraged both by the nationalists who grouped around Kim Ku, by
Chokch'Ong ideologues (semi-fascist followers of Yi POmsOk), and also by
Tong'a Ilbo and Korean Democratic Party, who needed some national heroes
for public consumption, since they themselves, given the amount of sake
they regularly drank at Sotokofu parties, simply did not fir into this
role. So venerable Tonga came very soon editorializing on the
world-historical and universal ethical significance of Yun's "righteous
exploit" (April 30, 1946) - just as a general witchhunt against the
Southern Communists, all their past efforts in the underground resistance
notwithstanding, was being prepared.

Just to summarise - I do not doubt the historical significance of Yun's
action, but I am very afraid of oversizing it - and falling into the trap
of the right-wing nationalist/official South Korean propaganda. After all,
Kim Ilsung's Poch'Onbo raid also had some historical significance (was
reported by Tonga Ilbo and served to "lift up the spirits", so to say) -
which doesn't mean that you have to take seriously the North Korean
descriptions of it as an epic battle. And I certainly do not identify
myself fully with Pak HOnyOng and his opinions (conditioned as they were
by the circumstances of time and place - Moscow, 1932, was not a
particularly good place for free and independent thinkers), but I have no
doubt that he authentically attempted to articulate the interests of
Korea's downtrodden as best as he could.



> Dear Vladimir:
> Interesting read -- thanks!
> Okay, but where is the misunderstanding? Can you
> try to nail it down further, if you have the time?
> The response was only about (a) the Pak Hônyông
> text--as you summarized it, and (b) your own
> historical evaluation of that text
> ("well-measured" and "there is little to add to
> [Pak's] analysis"). It was not a response about
> Pak's wider activities or the Communists'
> maneuvering and tactics in Korea. To clarify
> further from my end, I wanted to point out that
> anti-colonial activities of people that are
> counted into the nationalist (or radical
> nationalist) camp were also of great importance,
> had also influences, even though many of their
> acts had more symbolic importance than say the
> organization of labor strikes within Korea, short
> and long term influences. In your posting you
> quoted (or summarized) Pak Hônyông's text without
> distancing yourself from it, basically
> subscribing to its logic of >>only activities
> that involve the colonial masses and that aim at
> enhancing their life conditions are worth
> historic attention<< (or something in that line
> of thought). I would like to question that this
> (unrevised-old-style-Leftist) approach can be
> sustained. It could not even sustained in the
> 1930s--could it?
>>>  And Pak Hônyông, the person who could legitimately claim to
>>>  represent their interests (...)
> Well, again, that's one of the points, yes? Could
> he claim "legitimately" to represent anyone
> outside the Korean Communist Party? Was he
> elected by the workers (or even workers and
> peasants)?
>>>  only in 1930-35  1,795 people were arrested in Korea in connection
>>>  with the revolutionary workers' movement (...)
> Everything is relative, especially statistics.
> For example, at the lengthy Minneapolis
> Teamsters' Strike ('Local 574') in 1934 alone,
> under Trotskyist leadership, 30 to 40,000 people
> marched for workers' rights (about half of them
> were workers). I didn't look it up, but likely
> there were more arrests done at that one strike
> than during the entire colonial period in Korea,
> as far as union  related arrests go -- and this
> was in just one American city. And in
> Berlin/Germany the same would be true for many
> early 1930s strikes and demonstrations, not to
> talk about the many almost clubbed to death by
> Weimar police. Statistics always only make sense
> in a wider context. What is the context here? The
> industrialization of Korea really only gathered
> speed in the late 1930s. In the 1920s the
> proletariat was small (you mention that there
> were no solidarity strikes until the late 1920s
> -- well, also because there were not that many
> workers). Then again, it might be useful to
> compare those strikes to strikes in Japan, where
> of course the labor movement and the leftist
> movement was far more active and organized than
> it ever was in Korea. If I now take the fact into
> account that Korea was during most of the
> colonial period NOT a fully industrialized
> country with an overwhelmingly large proletariat
> (what was the percentage of industrial workers by
> 1945?), but rather a still rural society with
> still traditional feudal structures, etc., then
> maybe those nationalist "right-wing" acts of the
> Kim Ku type were after all not that meaningless
> for Koreans--at the minimum creating "heroes" to
> look up to.
> Best,
> Frank
> --
> --------------------------------------
> Frank Hoffmann
> http://koreaweb.ws

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