Korean Anarchists Pursuing Third Way
eastern asia |
anarchist movement |
Thursday February 01, 2007 19:00 by Seo Dong-shin - Korea Times
South Korea’s school textbooks have presented prominent independence fighter Shin Chae-ho (1880-1936), a proclaimed anarchist, to be a hero. Since 2000, others such as Yu Rim (1894-1961), Park Ryol (1902-1972) and Yu Cha-myong (1891-1985) have been designated independence activists of the month by the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs
It was only two years ago that prominent socialist and communist independence fighters like Yo Un-hyung (1886-1947) received posthumous state decorations here. As South Korea has been in an ideological war against the North since the division of the country, it took time before leftist efforts aimed at liberating the nation from the 1910-45 Japanese colonial rule became officially recognized in the South.
One is tempted to think that it would have taken more time for anarchist activists to get recognition, as on the ideological spectrum anarchism is usually considered more radical than socialism or communism, which at least had respect for the party. Anarchists fight against any form of compulsory, authoritarian government.
But South Korea’s school textbooks have presented prominent independence fighter Shin Chae-ho (1880-1936), a proclaimed anarchist, to be a hero. Since 2000, others such as Yu Rim (1894-1961), Park Ryol (1902-1972) and Yu Cha-myong (1891-1985) have been designated independence activists of the month by the Ministry of Patriots and Veteran Affairs. Those recognitions were barely noticed, in contrast to the heated debates that ensued when the socialist and communist independence activists were restored to honor.
Reading Kim Seung-kuk’s book ``Korean Anarchist: Warrior of Freedom and Liberation,’’ which was published this week, one may understand why.
Kim is a sociology professor at Pusan National University who served as president of the Korea Sociological Association. The Seoul National University graduate, who earned his doctorate degree in the United States, is also an anarchist and the leader of the Korea Anarchist Studies Society. He believes that the pioneering paths Korean anarchists walked as a minority will guide people today, who are suffering under a government system that works like a huge machine.
Aanarchists, who formed a third faction during Korean independence movements against Japanese colonial rule, did not leave political heirs, unlike right-or left-wingers who still spar ideologically. The word ``anarchism’’ has largely been forgotten. It does not seem as dangerous as it did decades ago, when there were threats of terrorist attacks.
Korean anarchist independence fighters were essentially nationalists. John Crump, a late British socialist, once described them as ``something of a shock’’ and ``atypical’’ in his paper titled ``Anarchism and Nationalism in East Asia.’’
But Kim argues that anarchism and nationalism were compatible, especially in the case of Korea, the sole place to develop anarchist ideas while suffering under colonial forces. Specific historical conditions need to be considered, he writes. ``If Proudhon, Bakunin, or Kropotkin saw their lands fall under colonialism, they too would have chosen anarchism as a weapon to liberate their people,’’ Kim writes, referring to the founding fathers of anarchism.
It is in Shin, the first of the five leading anarchists in modern Korean history presented in Kim’s six-chaptered book, that Kim observes how anarchism sprang from concern for the fettered country, as a third way against the rightist or leftist ideologies. Kim rebuffs previous historians who interpreted that Shin was not a true anarchist but rather someone who adopted anarchism as a means to nationalism. He argues that Shin, a journalist, historian and activist, would have sought for a free and equal society based on anarchism after national liberation.
Yu Cha-myong, meanwhile, was a dual figure. He was the brain behind Uiyoldan, or Practice Justice Bravely Society, a radical terrorist group formed in 1919 aiming at assassinating high-ranking Japanese officials and destroying institutions. But he was also an expert in agricultural studies, and he taught students at a Chinese university until he died in 1985.
Park Ryol was a nihilistic activist based in Japan. He is well-known for his alleged plan to assassinate the Japanese emperor as well as for his love for a Japanese woman, Fumiko Kaneko. But he remained largely unknown in the South because he died in the North in 1974.
Yu Rim’s career was what pure anarchists could call compromising, revisionist and degenerative, as he became an elected politician after the Korean War. But, Kim argues, Yu was a pioneer, whose death in 1961 ended the anarchists’ experiments in actual politics in failure.
Ha Ki-rak (1912-1997), a philosophy professor at Kyungpook National University and Keimyung University, was the last of the first-generation anarchists and godfather of the next-generation anarchists in South Korea. Aside from writing and translating, he also tried to maintain links with international anarchist society.
The book ``Korean Anarchists’’ consists primarily of academic papers that discuss the five anarchists’ ideas. This may come across as dry and require prior background knowledge. Kim also seems to romanticize his heroes at times.
Overall, however, the book is an attempt to refresh the memory of an almost forgotten ideology, and its meaning for the present and future. Against the rightist and leftist arguments still dominating the South Korean political arena, it is interesting to imagine that anarchism may offer an alternative.
Kim argues that anarchism can now empower a new social movement. The air of romance that hangs above the past’s revolutionary activists may be an extra plus.
By Seo Dong-shin