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Anarchism in Korea: Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development, 1919-1984

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This book provides a history of anarchism in Korea and challenges conventional views of Korean anarchism as merely part of nationalist ideology, situating the study within a wider East Asian regional context. Dongyoun Hwang demonstrates that although the anarchist movement in Korea began as part of its struggle for independence from Japan, connections with anarchists and i This book provides a history of anarchism in Korea and challenges conventional views of Korean anarchism as merely part of nationalist ideology, situating the study within a wider East Asian regional context. Dongyoun Hwang demonstrates that although the anarchist movement in Korea began as part of its struggle for independence from Japan, connections with anarchists and ideas from China and Japan gave the movement a regional and transnational dimension that transcended its initial nationalistic scope. Following the movement after 1945, Hwang shows how anarchism in Korea was deradicalized and evolved into an idea for both social revolution and alternative national development, with emphasis on organizing and educating peasants and developing rural villages.


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This book provides a history of anarchism in Korea and challenges conventional views of Korean anarchism as merely part of nationalist ideology, situating the study within a wider East Asian regional context. Dongyoun Hwang demonstrates that although the anarchist movement in Korea began as part of its struggle for independence from Japan, connections with anarchists and i This book provides a history of anarchism in Korea and challenges conventional views of Korean anarchism as merely part of nationalist ideology, situating the study within a wider East Asian regional context. Dongyoun Hwang demonstrates that although the anarchist movement in Korea began as part of its struggle for independence from Japan, connections with anarchists and ideas from China and Japan gave the movement a regional and transnational dimension that transcended its initial nationalistic scope. Following the movement after 1945, Hwang shows how anarchism in Korea was deradicalized and evolved into an idea for both social revolution and alternative national development, with emphasis on organizing and educating peasants and developing rural villages.

34 review for Anarchism in Korea: Independence, Transnationalism, and the Question of National Development, 1919-1984

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lori

    A fascinating read that is absolutely necessary if one wishes to get out of the euro-centric political bubble. As a sidenote, because the romanization of names was done in a newer standard (year 2000+), it was slightly more difficult to read up on the anarchists mentioned in this book, since most other sources are dated before 2000; e.g. Bak Yeol (new) vs Pak Yol (old). The author's main goal is to trace Korean anarchism from it's begining when up to the late 1970s. Because by the end of the time A fascinating read that is absolutely necessary if one wishes to get out of the euro-centric political bubble. As a sidenote, because the romanization of names was done in a newer standard (year 2000+), it was slightly more difficult to read up on the anarchists mentioned in this book, since most other sources are dated before 2000; e.g. Bak Yeol (new) vs Pak Yol (old). The author's main goal is to trace Korean anarchism from it's begining when up to the late 1970s. Because by the end of the timeline the movement has transformed so much that it's innapropriate to call it "anarchism" of any kind, the author does a great service to us all precisely because we can clearly see this devolution (depending on your own moral views) of radical, revolutionary principles to reformism that is barely distinguishable from neo-liberal nationalism which plays lip-service to internationalism. The reader can expect a wonderful depiction of the early movements, the deep interdependence between the Korean, Japanese, Chinese anarchist movements. Bustling centers of anarchist education in Tokyo, Shanghai and Pyongyang (this last statement conflates a very interesting period of 5 years, post WWI—it is treated with the proper nuance in the book), with their private universities, and pamphletering inspired mostly by the works of Peter Kropotkin [1]. The Japanese invasion of China, and tighter colonial control over Korea in the 1930, combined with rising "communist" activity in the area were a dark-hour for the Korean anarchist movement, and it had great bearing on the public tone they took. They started on a path of individual self-liberation rather than collective ("national") liberation because it was deemed less-harmfull by the occupying powers. Now, I speculate (and it is a shame that the author does not engage in speculation), that this shift towards individualism made it easy in the post-1945 movement to immediately capitulate to capitalism, and even create political parties (not even the first one) accept roles in the dictatorial government (also happened during WWI, but not quite so bad), and overall renounce anarchism in favor of a reformist "democratic socialism". [2]-[7] But by far the most interesting thing to glean from this history is the willingness of the Korean anarchist movement to not dogmatically accept the theories as they were developed in Europe, but rather to shape them to their local circumstances (e.g. tight colonial rule). That this mostly failed and lead to the above reformism is a great failure, but the practice itself is very valuable. The great challenge of any anarchist movement is to understand the local conditions within which it opperates and change accordingly while still retain its identity of libertarian socialism. One such positive adaptatuib by the Korean anarchist movement was a repudiation of rigid marxist (and anarcho-syndicalist) notions of the proletariat: Yi was an anarchist literary figure and has been known for his role in the debate between anarchist and Bolshevik literary figures in the 1920s, but most importantly for his own concept of “destitute and humble [bincheon] class,” in place of the proletarian class. He coined the term destitute and humble class after his reflections on the Korean situation. Simply speaking, he wanted to avoid using the term proletariat (musan gyegeup, literally propertyless class), since he thought that the proletarian class meant for him only the wage workers who sold their labor without actual production means. The concept of the proletarian class, however, he believed, could not include and embrace many Koreans who had been deprived of all production means whatsoever for their survival, and, therefore, they were the ones to be liberated from domination and oppression. His concept of “destitute and humble class” meant to be a much broader term, to include the majority in Korea who, in his thinking, were not wage workers necessarily at the time. In his literary understanding, Yi also emphasized “the national reality” (minjokjeok hyeonsil), “the present” (hyeonjae), and “place-based-ness” (hyeonjang). [1] p. 95 What we can see here are the influence of Japanese translations/ works of socialism and the popularity of anarchism, and the works of Peter Kropotkin were the ones most translated in Korea (and East Asia too). Shin Chaeho, while in China, wrote his “A Miscellaneous Writing of a Man of Nonsense and Emptiness on the Occasion of a New Year” article in celebration of the arrival of a new year and sent it to East Asia Daily (Dong-a Ilbo) in Korea, which carried it on its January 2, 1925 issue. In the article Shin suggested that Korean youth in colonial Korea “become baptized by Kropotkin’s ‘An Appeal to the Young,’” which he insisted was “the right prescription for a disease” then-Korean youth suffered from. Shin’s suggestion must have been well received, effective, and worked well among Korean youth in colonial Korea. [2] p. 159-160 To realize freedom in terms of these three meanings, as I examine below, Korean anarchists decided to establish new organizations, including a political party of their own. But they met various obstacles in realizing the goal of “retaking freedom” in the south, chief among them the undemocratic dictatorial state. Not only for their survival from the suppression of the state but for the success and accomplishment of their goals, they gradually accommodated themselves to the new political climate under the dictatorships of Syngman Rhee and Park Chung Hee, both of whom placed anticommunism as the nation’s founding principle. In short, Korean anarchists knew they were placed in the unease and unfavorable situation and, as a result, as I argue below, even reconceptualized anarchism to deal with the new political environment under the Cold War in the peninsula. In this sense I think it may be unfair to describe Korean anarchism after 1945 as “an aberration from original anarchism,” or to say that it was wedded and reduced to nationalism, due to its support for the nation-building or silence to the dictatorship. What seemed to happen was that Korean anarchists approached and understood the postwar situation dialectically and found their answers to the post-1945 questions, emphasizing the nationalistic and anticommunist aspects of Korean anarchism. Most importantly, in doing so, they redefined themselves and gradually deradicalized their version of anarchism to envision a new society that was placed in the future. The status of anarchism was accordingly shifted from a revolutionary principle to a social movement idea. This does not mean at all that they abandoned anarchism. It rather simply explains a dialectical understanding of the relationship after 1945 between nationalism and anarchism and their subsequent application of the latter to the situation they had to cope with under the political climate they unpleasantly situated in. [3] p. 167 Peter Zarrow notes that after the 1911 Revolution of China, Chinese anarchists like Li Shizeng, Wu Zhihui, and Cai Yuanpei might have “feared that as political revolution [i.e., the 1911 Revolution] had failed to remake China, so anarchism, which must begin as political revolution, was fated never to arrive.” Neither did they want to risk another revolution and another failure, so that these Chinese anarchists “chose to pursue revolution by redefining it.” It is possible that Korean anarchists too thought similarly in the face of a new challenging situation after 1945, and defined the goal and ideals of anarchists much broadly so as to organize their own political party and pursue their anarchist goal through parliamentary politics. [4] p. 169 A new decade finally arrived but only with the tragic news of the death of Yu Rim on April 1, 1961, and his passing, it turned out, signaled the end of various new anarchist undertakings under his leadership after 1945, particularly the experimental, but unsuccessful, anarchist political party. Under the storming tide of anticommunist purges in the 1960s, anarchists reconsidered their means and ways to achieve their ultimate goal of an anarchist society, this time without their own political party and the unflinching leader, Yu. [5] p. 172 And the ideology of the party must be defined accordingly, therefore, as “democratic socialism” (minju sahoe juui), apparently different from “social democracy.” [6] p. 175 The mission of democratic socialism, therefore, Yi emphasized, was to place and add the socialist, rather than capitalist, economic ideas to the general meaning of democracy. Of course, democracy here meant to him democratic practices both in economy and politics. [7] p. 176-177 Yi’s understanding of the meaning of democracy at the time seemed to be shaped basically from its definition made at the first Congress of the Socialist International held at Frankfurt from June 30 to July 3, 1951, not to mention his adoption of the term democratic socialism. To him, the word “democratic” in democratic socialism denoted the realization of a socialist society through parliamentary politics of the West, which, he believed, would employ democratic means and method for political democracy. To be sure, democracy was understood by Yi, again, in two senses, both political and economic, and his understanding of democracy was formulated by a symbiosis of its meanings in both socialist economic and capitalist political democracy.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Adrian

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