The Failure of Socialism in South Korea, 1945–2007
Department of Politics
The University of Sheffield
Supervisors: Martin Smith
List of Abbreviations iii
Thesis Summary v
1. Review of the Traditional Explanations 10
2. The Socialist Movements from 1945 to 1950 40
3. The Cold War System and Socialism (1950s-1960s) 79
4. The Socialist Movements under the Military Dictatorship (1962–87) 125
5. The New Left in the Post-Democratic Period (1987–99) 164
6. The Democratic Labour Party (2000–7) 201
Many people including my family have given me assistance in the writing of this thesis. I am very grateful to Ju Daewhan for helping me reach a better understanding of the socialist force in Korea. However, my greatest debt is to Martin Smith and Steve Ludlam, my supervisors, who read many drafts and offered much constructive criticism. In addition, I should like to show my deep appreciation to Dave Woo and Bruce Taylor who have always edited my drafts with a warm consideration.
List of Abbreviations
ACDC: Association of Comrades for the Defence of the Constitution
ADY: Association of Democratic Youth
CCCL: Committee for Cooperation between Capitalists and Labour
CCP: Chosun Communist Party (KCP: Korea’s Communist Party)
CCEJ: Citizens’ Coalition for Economic Justice
CPKI: Committee for Preparation for Korea’s Independence
CPKB: Communist Party Korea Branch
CPR: Chosun People’s Republic
CWP: Chosun Worker’s Party (North Korea’s Communist Party)
DLP: Democratic Labour Party (2000–2011)
DP: Democratic Party
DRP: Democratic Renovation Party
FDTU: Federation of Democratic Trade Unions
FEM: Federation of Environment Protection Movement
FKTU: Federation of Korean Trade Unions
KCIA: Korea’s Central Intelligentsia Agency
KDP: Korea’s Democratic Party
KDTU: Korean Democratic Trade Unions
KPG: Korea’s Provisional Government
KSLP: Korea’s Socialist Labour Party (1991)
KSP: Korea’s Socialist Party (1940s)
LP: Liberty Party
LRCC: Left–Right Coalition Committee
NDP: New Democratic Party
NL: National Liberation
NPA: National Peasant Association
NTU: National Teacher’s Unions
PC: People’s Committee
PCPP: Projection Committee for Progressive Party (1950s)
PD: People’s Democracy
PP: Progressive Party (1960s)
PP: People’s Party (1990s)
PRP: People’s Revolutionary Party
PSOE (Partido Socialista Obrero Español): Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party
RP: Renewal Party
SCWP: South Chosun Workers’ Party (Communist Party in South Korea)
SDP: Socialist Democratic Party in Germany
SLU: Students’ Unification League
SME: Small and Medium Enterprise
SMP: Socialist Mass Party
SP: Socialist Party
SPP: Socialist People’s Party
USAMGIK: U.S. Army Military Government in Korea
USJC: U.S. and Soviet Joint Committee
USP: Unification Socialist Party
This thesis examines the relationship between structure and agency in terms of examining the reasons for the lack of success of socialism in South Korea. Chapter One explains the general characteristics of social democracy and the history of socialism in Korea. This chapter scrutinises the traditional assessment of socialism in Korea and states how the traditional explanations place undue emphasis on structural factors. In contrast, this thesis aims to demonstrate that, whilst these structural factors were important, the actions and decisions of party leaders were also a crucial factor in the way that socialism developed in Korea. The chapter will focus on the important role of socialist parties in the development of socialist movements in comparison with several other successful socialist movements from the core and periphery. Chapter Two covers the socialist movements in the liberation period (1945–50) and presents the key causes for the rise and fall of the social democrats. The social democrats, who once had a great window of opportunity, rapidly deteriorated throughout the collapse of the Left–Right Coalition Committee (LRCC). The Cold War, one of the key factors that influenced the retreat of socialism in Korea, is examined in Chapter Three. The main purpose of this chapter is to explore the deep relationship between the authoritarian state-building process and the role of anti-Communism as a state ideology. Chapter Four explores the political and socio-economic consequences of the long-term military rule (1962–1987) while also analyzing the rapid state-led economic development in relation to the revived Left. The rest of the chapters cover the failure of the revived Left in the 1980s–90s and the Democratic Labour Party in the 2000s, demonstrating that the Left adopted an unrealistic revolutionary strategy and failed to create a broad alliance to become a parliamentary majority.
In developing an analysis of a single case study, consideration has to be given to the specificity of the case. This chapter considers two methodological implications: a single case study and a comparative benchmark. In order to set out in study, it is useful to focus on four main dimensions of its approach: (1) Definitional clarity (social democracy and revisionism) and theoretical framework; (2) Single case study with limited comparison to other relevant countries as reference points; (3) Triangulation; (4) Semi-structured in-depth interviews.
Definitional Clarity and Theoretical Framework
The main question of this thesis is why Korean socialism didn’t develop in a social democrat direction. In this sense social democracy is a heuristic. It is important to note that, from a comparative perspective, social democracy has developed both in the context of the Western European political economy and as a response to democratisation in Latin America. We are therefore presented with an interesting historical question: What constrained social democrat development in Korea when it appears to have flourished within its comparative benchmarks? In this vein, we also argue that the characteristics of a social-democratic route are not self-evident. We agree with interpretation of Sandbrook et al. that the term “social democracy” has meant different things to different people.1 Christopher Clapham excludes from the definition of socialism any regimes managed by the social democrat parties of Western Europe, such as the Partie Socialiste in France or the Labour Party in the United Kingdom.2 This is too narrow an interpretation of socialism.
Padgett and Paterson define the key principles of social democracy as “a hybrid political tradition composed of socialism and liberalism and social democracy is inspired by socialists and ideals, but is heavily conditioned by its political environment and incorporating liberal values. The social democrat project may be defined as the attempt to reconcile socialism with liberal politics and capitalist society.”3 Haywood defines social democracy as “a moderate or reformist brand of socialism that favours a balance between the market and the state, rather than the abolition of capitalism.”4
There are some necessary pre-conditions for the birth of social democracy, such as capitalism (or industrialisation) and democratisation. In this same vein of thought, it could be said that the development of class structure and a certain relative size of the working class are also necessary for the birth of social democracy.5 But such preconditions have a particular pattern of capitalist transformation. The process of state formation, reconfiguration of class structure and civil society does not automatically account for the development of social democracy.6 In lieu of these realities, the success or failure of socialism is not merely a reflection of social structural change. Thus, we emphasise that the rise or fall of socialism is often linked with the socialist parties’ leadership and its ideology.
Kitschelt states that leaders of socialist parties are becoming a more important factor than external variables such as social, economic and institutional settings.7 The following two notions support Kitschelt’s claim: first, depending upon socialist parties’ strategic appeals, the party may or may not take advantage of such changes and bring together new electoral coalitions.8 Moreover, the legacy of an incumbent social democrat government’s involvement and policies influence the success or failure of future party fortunes.9 Second, in the Third World, where material conditions for the emergence of social democracy such as capitalism and democratisation are relatively weak, organised actors and the political parties are more critical factors during the process of state building and the configuration of class relations.10
This case study helps us to understand what is special to Korea; at the same time, it has a comparative element that demonstrates how Korea fits into previous analyses of the development of social democracy. Case-based research typically encounters the problem of working with too few cases and too many variables. We sought to reduce this problem by stretching the possibilities for comparative benchmarks that shed light on the Korean case in a comparative context. Essentially, this is a single, historical and in-depth case study.
This research focuses on “the development of socialism in Korea” and the case study will be conducted through “assumption-testing” methods (see the three assumptions in the Introduction). In some instances, this purpose may overlap with others, such as testing theories and explaining cases of importance.11 Case study allows a depth of understanding of specific topics. The expectation is that a case study can serve the main purpose of identifying antecedent conditions.
Some may argue that a case study provides the least opportunity to control the effect of additional variables. However, if case conditions are uniform, third- variable influence can be discounted as a cause observed within case covariance between values on independent and dependent variables.12 Moreover, we can control the effects of omitted variables by selecting whether to study those cases with extreme (high or low) values of the studied variables. Still others may argue that a single case is a poor laboratory for identifying a theory’s antecedent background conditions. According to S. Van Evera, this weakness can be repaired through additional smaller case studies. The identity and importance of antecedent conditions emerges more clearly form large studies.13
In order to surmount the limitations of the case study (possibly sacrificing generalisation), this thesis will use a comparative benchmark analysis method. Regarding the nature of comparative analysis, Lijphart states that “the comparative method can be understood best if it is compared and contrasted with the two other fundamental strategies of research… which consist of two elements: (1) the establishment of general empirical relationships among two or more variables, while (2) all other variables are controlled, that is, held constant.”14
Although this research studies a single case, the history of socialism in Korea in the post-Korean War era, based on our assumption that party is an independent actor and a key determining factor (for success or failure), the socialist tendency in Korea is constantly compared to the socialist parties in both the main and the periphery. This comparison will focus on the following points: (1) how the socialist parties in Western Europe and Latin America overcame structural variables; (2) how socialist parties established their own social democrat road to power (class alliance and class mobilisation politics).
This thesis relies heavily on document analysis in response to the primary research question: Why has socialism in Korea failed and how can Korean socialists modernise their movement? Above all, primary documents, such as party platform and tenets from the DLP, will be examined to identify the chasm between its radical socialist programs and the reality of the political climate, the socio-economic conditions and constituents’ consciousness. In addition, throughout the primary document analysis, we will demonstrate the DLP leaders’ (mainly nationalistic socialists’) poor ability to produce sound theories or policies.
For the historical review, the sources support this thesis, covering the period from 1945 to 2007. Therefore, it was just a matter of selecting the appropriate texts to allow for a short incursion into the historical background that enabled the appearance and development of socialist parties in Korea. The analysis of printed sources dealing with Korea’s development at the turn and during the first few decades of this century provided the main insights into this area.
Empirical data provided mainly by primary sources (archives, letters, internal reports) was made available especially for this research, including the collection of archival materials housed in the libraries of the national congress, universities and the party’s headquarters. Amongst the most important were the party’s congressional resolutions and various unofficial records, letters and internal reports. Moreover, for the comparisons, tertiary sources such as journal articles, government and research institutions reports and archive data will also be considered and analysed to understand the relationship between empirical findings and their theoretical frameworks.
This thesis will apply methodological triangulation in order to secure validity of this research. The triangulation will be accomplished by using different sources; documents of different types and interviews, which are not necessary bound by either qualitative or quantitative methods. Methodological triangulation means the use of at least two methods, usually qualitative and quantitative, to tackle the same research issue. Methodological triangulation falls into two subdivisions, simultaneous and sequential.15 Simultaneous triangulation is the use of the qualitative and quantitative methods at the same time. In this case, there is limited interaction between the two data sets during data collection, but the findings complement one another at the end of the study. Sequential triangulation is used if the results of one method are essential for planning the next method. The qualitative method is completed before the quantitative method is implemented or vice versa. For example, when this research deals with the correlation between the negative responses of the voters and the unrealistic aspect of the DLP’s strategies, we first use a quantitative analysis of past election results. The aim of the analyses will be the following: (1) to examine the gap between the backing constituents for the DLP, such as the gap that existed between the working class and the DLP’s general politics and electoral tactics; (2) to observe the correlation between an ideological poverty and the failed practices of the DLP; (3) to identify the changed politics and socio-economic conditions as they-related to the practice of socialist party. For the second and third goal, quantitative analysis, including an elite interview will be helpful.
Semi-structured in-depth Interviews
With respect to the third assumption, ‘semi-structured in-depth interviews’ will be conducted. Some theorists criticise interviewing as having weaknesses such as bias, poor recall and inaccurate articulation.16 However, these criticisms may reflect only a positivist point of view. On the contrary, face-to-face contact can encourage the development of interpersonal relationships between the researcher and the interviewees that allow for deeper involvement and observation on the part of the researcher than a questionnaire in a quantitative survey. Furthermore, a high degree of trust and confidence between the two can prevent interviews from simply ‘chatting around the edges’ of the structured questions.17 In this research, the face-to-face in-depth interviews with the main figures of the socialist party, the DLP and the trade union movements allowed for the development of a relationship between the researcher and interviewees and accordingly made the interviewees feel that they could speak more honestly and truthfully.
Our major interviewees fall under two groups: (1) two former socialist party leaders; (2) five current congressmen from the DLP.
The elite interviews with the first group explore the relationship between structural variables; the military rule and the repression and the responses of the socialist party. Before the presidential election in 2007, an affiliate institution of the DLP, the Institute of Progressive Politics and Hangil Research & Consulting took an empirical survey of the DLP’s leadership and electoral strategy among the DLP’s fervent supporters. The interview questions for the second group focused on the DLP leaders and the DLP congressmen’s leadership:
The party supporters responded as follows for what they believe are the key reasons for the crisis that the DLP was facing: the limitations of a small party (53.3%), shortcomings of leadership and their capability (13.8%), lack of policy production (13.3%), lack of progressive party identity (11.0%), sectarianism (6.7%). What do you think of this outcome?
The party supporters suggested that the following be done to further develop the DLP: sincerely represent the interests of the workers, the peasants and the low-income brackets (52.2%), enhance their ability to produce realistic policies (48.5%), nurture popular politicians (38.2%), create coalitions with the middle class (22.6%), overcome sectarianism and reform the party (16.3%), develop a progressive ideology and progressive policies (15.0%). What do you think of the responses from the party supporters and which point do you think will be the priority for the re-establishment of the DLP?
Socialist parties have been a major political force in many democratised and industrialised countries. Despite the existence of a socialist party and what would seem to be the right conditions for development, the Korean socialist force failed to become a major force in politics. The aim of this thesis is to examine and explain the failed development of an electorally popular socialism in Korea between 1945 and 2007.
The failure of socialism in Korea should be understood as being a product both of structural factor (such as the Cold War and military rule) and agency factor (such as the leadership and strategies of socialist groups). The first of these created a hostile environment for socialism, while the second resulted in the development of strategies and positions that could not create a broad basis of support. The Cold War and military rule provided the Korean ruling class (represented by the authoritarian regime) with a straightforward justification for its repression of socialism. The repression by the Left during this era not only weakened socialism but caused its leaders to lean towards revolutionary campaigns, meaning that when democratisation and the end of military dictatorship represented opportunities to develop a new evolutionary strategy, they were unable to capitalise on those changes. Considering the post-democratic context in which socialism developed, the socialist leadership failed to progress beyond a revolutionary socialism and build a more pragmatic social democracy that could build a broader alliance within Korean society.
The Cold War System
The Cold War had two significant consequences for Korean politics: the development of a strong state with a very weak civil society,18which included a conservative cartel in a party system that largely excluded representatives of the lower and working classes; and discontinuity within Korean socialism. As Koo states, the origins of the strong state are historical and geopolitical: “a long tradition of a centralised state structure, the colonial legacy of a strong state apparatus, the affect of the Korean War and national division and the intense Cold War environment in which the Korean Peninsula found itself are all key elements in the development of a strong state.”19
In particular, the Korean War significantly prevented the formation of modern state as a consequence of right-wing superiority.20 Whereas the Korean state had a weak local base of support before the war, the war gave the state an ideological basis for building its legitimacy. After the Korean War, anti-Communism was articulated and experienced in everyday life and it became the chief motive for the ideological legitimisation of the Korean state.21 The war was important in consolidating an anti-Communist state and it achieved several things for the Rhee regime: it eliminated leftist elements and sources of peasant rebellion; it bolstered Rhee’s political authority and provided political tools to control opposition groups; it led to a firmer U.S commitment to the security of Korea as a bulwark against Communism; and it established anti-Communism as the state ideology.22
Accordingly, the Cold War provided an external threat that could legitimise repression of all forms of leftist politics. As Kim K.W. states, after the Korean War there was a complete absence of revolutionary ideology among Koreans even in non-Marxist terms due mainly to the confrontation with Communist North Korea.23 The socialist tendency was completely destroyed by the Korean War and was quiescent for more than three decades until it revived on the eve of democratisation in the 1980s.
Another key structural factor which challenged the socialist movement was the repression carried out by the military regime. As with other military dictatorships in the Third World, the Korean military regime employed a campaign of anti-Communism to justify repression of socialists. This fundamental structural aspect constantly impeded the development of socialism. State-led economic development strategies justified a powerful military dictatorship which was supported and maintained by policies involving the suppression of the most basic political, civil and labour rights.24 As for the party system, there was only a conservative cartel sustained by the elites to mobilise anti-Communism and artificial regional cleavage. The Korean party system in the pre-democracy era adopted a mobilisation of force which provided huge benefits to the elites rather than the masses.25
There were several similarities between Latin American and Korean politics during the state-building process. First, the state maintained tight control over the economy and society. While states possessed an enormous amount of coercive and allocated authority, civil societies were weakened both in Korea and Latin America. Second, the party system barely connected with socioeconomic structure and class-based cleavage. As Kenneth Roberts makes clear, in Latin America class cleavages have eroded the political arena due to highly disruptive patterns of socio-economic transformation.26 In Korea, non-class-based cleavages, such as regional cleavage strongly influenced the party system until democracy took hold. Yet, the Korean socialist party was tied up with the working class movements. Moreover, the electoral system used a simple-majority single-ballot system which favoured the two major incumbent conservative parties (a long-time conservative cartel) and the scheme always worked as a significant barrier for the socialist party’s electoral success.
However, conditions unfavourable to the development of socialism under the military dictatorship cannot alone explain why Korean leftists failed to capture the public’s attention during and after the wave of democratisation. There is a pattern in the history of socialism that leftist parties performed poorly in the early years of democratisation. Yet the Korean Left’s campaign failures were salient. A closer examination of two historical incidents — democratisation and rapid economic development — is needed to understand the failure of Korean socialism to capitalise on favourable conditions. On the one hand, liberals and centrists demonstrated initiative during the democratisation movements, although the leftists’ activities27, particularly student activities, were the driving force. As mentioned earlier, the leftists’ radical platforms, such as anti-capitalism and anti-Americanism did not accord with the sentiment of the public and the centrists took advantage of this. On the other hand, unlike many military dictators in the Third World who often failed in economic modernisation, the Korean military dictators demonstrated insightful leadership in economic development. However, as Martin Lansberg (2005) states, rapid state-led economic development exposed serious socio-economic problems — social inequalities and Chaebol (Korean conglomerates) centred or favoured economic structure with very weak small and medium-size entrepreneurs.28 Regardless of these negative aspects, it can be said that the military dictatorship’s economic modernisation seemed successful. The success of the economic development in which the military juntas seized their initiatives on economic issues resulted in the Korean constituents having a strong bias that the right-wingers are better than the left-wingers on economic issues. At this extremely opportune moment the Korean leftists failed to show what alternative should be taken.