Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Noteworthy 'Progress' in Korean Leftist Politics . . .

Oxymoronic 'United Progressive' Party Brawl

As the above photo suggests, the United Progressive Party (UPP) may be a party, but it's hardly united or progressive, though -- as journalist Lee Hoo-Jee reports -- this so-called "Progressive party [is] on [the] verge of collapse" (Korea Herald, May 13, 2012), so there's at least some movement. Let's look a bit more closely at what's taking place -- and be aware that the reporter is using "mainstream" where "majority" would be more appropriate:
The UPP's mainstream party members clashed violently with the non-mainstream members at the central committee meeting convened to discuss the replacement of the current leadership with an interim emergency committee.

The mainstream members, also known as the "National Liberation" group, have refused to accept the party's internal investigation that ruled there were widespread irregularities during the voting of candidates for the party's proportional parliamentary seats. One of the winners of the proportional seat on the UPP ticket is Lee Seok-gi, who is considered one of the key NL factionists.

"They have now shown the public clearly that they will attempt to protect their status at all cost," said Yoon Pyung-joong, a politics professor at Hanshin University.

"It is a great shame as it was indeed an epochal development in Korean politics when the UPP came out the third largest parliamentary bloc (in the general elections), enabling aligned moves by various progressive forces in the future, which also reflected the spirit of the times."

That analysis comes from my old friend Professor Yoon Pyung-joong, whom I got to know during my three years at Hanshin University and who was one of the Leftist protesters against the rightwing dictatorship in Korea during the 1970s and 1980s but who has moved to the center over the past 15 years or so. His point is that the National Liberation faction of the UPP has thrown away the far Left's opportunity for political participation by demonstrating that it will turn to violence even against fellow Leftists to force its way. At issue is a vote-rigging scandal among Leftists that has already caused great dissatisfaction in Korea. I'm guessing that the NL's violent response to the findings of the UPP's own investigation implies that the NL itself is culpable for a lot of the vote-rigging.

Indeed, if reporter Kim Hee-jin is correct -- "UPP's internal meltdown was a long time coming" (Korea JoongAng Daily, May 14, 2012) -- the NL is hardly a democratic faction, but rather a group willing to play dirty for political power:
[B]ehind the vote-rigging debate is a significant ideological gap between the UPP members.

They were mostly former socialist student activists during the democratization movement in the 1970s and 1980s, but split into two groups: the so-called National Liberalization (NL) group, which followed North Korea's juche (self-reliance) ideology, and the Marxist-Leninist group called the People's Democracy (PD).

The party's largest faction is made up of former members of the Gyeonggi Dongbu Alliance, a regional chapter of NL members based in eastern Gyeonggi. Lawmaker-elect Lee Seok-gi is reportedly the leader of the alliance.

Although the two groups fought against the dictatorial administrations in the 1970s and 1980s and have some common policies such as advocating for minorities and labor activists, the PD members still haven't agreed on the largest faction's fringe, far-left socialism and reunification ideology that would have Pyongyang absorb the South.

The three co-chairmen of the UPP are also divided: co-chairwoman Lee Jung-hee is with the NL and Rhyu and Sim the PD.

"The NL members are biased toward pro-North ideology and it doesn't fit with today's democracy," said Shin Yul, a politics professor at Myongji University. "But the PD group is relatively rational, following European socialism, and they are critical of North Korean economics and politics."

Gyeonggi Governor Kim Moon-soo told reporters on May 5 that he is aware of the political ideology of the so-called NL members.

"I spent a year with the NL members in prison, so I know them very well through conversation," Kim said. "They think those who don't follow the [North Korean] leader are traitors. They also think they could do whatever the 'dear leader' said and not feel guilty."

The upshot is that whereas the People's Democracy group is a Marxist-Leninist faction that has evolved into something of a reformist party in a development that perhaps reflects (albeit more rapidly) the history of the European Social Democrats, the National Liberalization (NL) group is a hardcore Leftist faction that has failed to develop, toes the North Korean line, and makes no commitment to liberal democracy, but is instead fuly prepared to use violence to protect its political advantage gained in the recent elections, an advantage that looks to me to have been gained through vote-rigging by the NL itself, given its rejection of the UPP's own investigation. If the NL is willing to attack and brutally beat fellow Leftists, imagine how they'd treat their ideological opponents on the right!

Click on all three articles to read more -- that includes the link below the photograph -- and if anyone knows more about this NL group, let us know whether the initials stand for "National Liberation" or "National Liberalization."

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