5: Deradicalized Anarchism and the Question of National Development, 1945–1984
Against the hope that Korean anarchists had held before the end of the Pacific War, Korea was not able to gain outright independence when Japan surrendered to the Allied Powers on August 15, 1945. The Korean peninsula was divided into north and south along the 38th parallel line and occupied respectively by the United States and the U.S.S.R. The establishment of two separate regimes in north and south in 1948 followed with their respective occupier’s sponsorship. In the south the United States called in pro-American and anticommunist Syngman Rhee (1875–1965), who led the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in August 1948, in the name of a United Nations’ resolution. The north remained in the hands of the communists, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) was established a month later, with Kim Il Sung (1912–1994) as its head. The Korean peninsula became the first and foremost warfront of the Cold War.
The subsequent Korean War (1950–1953) consolidated the anticommunist political map of South Korea much further and deeper with Rhee’s dictatorship and his suppression of communists and their progressive ideals. To make the situation worse, Bak Yeol, one of the leading anarchists who had returned to South Korea from Japan after 1945, was kidnapped to North Korea during the war, and some anarchists abroad gave up their plan to return to their own homeland. Yu Ja-myeong, for example, decided to stay in communist China because of the cloudy situation in the Korean peninsula before and after the Korean War. And some Japan-based anarchists too decided to stay in Japan after 1945, making Japan their home for activities and life possibly out of their fear for potential political suppression in two Koreas. It is not clear how Korean anarchists in North Korea, if any, responded to the political environment there when North Korea was formally set up in 1948. Many of them seemed to have defected to the south but they were also constantly bewildered by the unstable political situation in the south.
To all Korean anarchists their target of struggle before 1945 had been mainly Japanese colonialism and their immediate goal was independence, albeit their distance goal was a new Korean society bent on anarchist principles. The main target was now removed, but their two goals, immediate and distant, were still untouched, due to the division of Korea by the two powers. To them the most urgent task after 1945 was therefore the construction of an autonomous, independent new Korea without which their distant goal would slip away. The goal and direction of their post-1945 activities were to be set accordingly.
The situation they faced, however, went athwart their post-1945 plan, as they saw not only incomplete national liberation with the division of their country but the growing unfavorable political environment in the south, under which they were increasingly vulnerable to new kinds of suppression, first by the new foreign occupier and ultimately by their own pro-American, antisocialist state. The anarchists in the south now faced vexing questions: Given the division of their country and incomplete national liberation, what direction did they need to take and what method they would employ to fulfill the goals of national liberation and an anarchist society in Korea? Answers to the questions rested on other related questions: Did they have to participate in the nation-building efforts in collaboration with the foreign occupier and later the anticommunist regime in the south? If they decided to do so, was it necessary to participate also in politics and organize their own political party for the goals? If they participated in politics, what kind of programs for social transformation and national development did they have to put forward for the goals? And if they did not participate in politics, what other options were available or should be acted on for the goals? These were the questions increasingly raised by many anarchists who had rushed back to their country after Japan’s surrender from their exiled places. In the words of a post-1945 generation anarchist, Korean anarchists in the south faced some fundamental questions as to whether they still had to prioritize social revolution to build a new anarchist society or had to renew their struggle for national sovereignty, first in the south, despite the possibility of perpetuating the division of the peninsula.
Yi Jeonggyu offered his own answers and presented two new tasks that he believed unfolded before Korean anarchists in the south after 1945: driving the communists in the north out of the peninsula and uprooting the “remnant feudal forces” in the south that had been present since the Japanese colonial period. Yi’s faithful disciple Lee Mun Chang notes that Korean anarchists pursued both tasks by setting “retaking freedom” as their revolutionary goal to deal with the situation. The meaning of freedom was defined with three broad dimensions: first, political freedom from the communist dictatorship in the north; second, freedom from foreign interventions in economy; and third, social freedom from the “feudal forces” prevalent in Korean society at the time. As is clear, neither capitalism nor imperialism was considered the source that deprived Koreans of freedom. The first target of post-1945 struggle was the communists in the north, while freedom was understood mainly within the context and notion of anticommunism and equality in economy.
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.
Under Pressure: Searching for a New Anarchist Direction
In an effort to find an answer to the perplexing questions Korean anarchists faced after August 15, 1945, a conference was convened shortly by those who had remained inside the peninsula, along with some of those who had just returned from abroad. It was the conference of Korean anarchists in Northern and Southern Gyeongsang Provinces held in Busan from February 21 to 22, 1946. Its main organizers and participants were from the two provinces, although almost all Korean anarchists thus far had returned from abroad also attended it. Its main purpose was to find their answers to the above-mentioned questions to cope with the foreign occupation and division of Korea. The declaration adopted at it announced that Korea had just entered “the stage of national democratic revolution,” where the liberation of “producers” (i.e., workers and farmers) as well as the national struggle to overcome its backwardness emerged as two essential tasks of Korean anarchists. The declaration reiterated that the sources that had exploited the producers stemmed mainly from two problems, that is, national and class problems, which were in fact interrelated because class struggle had much in common with the struggle for national economic liberation. To solve the two problems, according to the declaration, it was imperative to establish a government first under which all the production means had to be managed and operated by those who were engaged in production. And to overcome economic backwardness, Korean anarchists had to set national development as their focal task. Since national struggle was still more important than class struggle in the post-1945 period, they perceived the former in the context of economic autonomy and even saw it as a precondition for genuine national liberation. Economic autonomy of the nation was a crucial issue for them to lay out an autarkic economic system in Korea, which could make the country truly independent. In short, what was discussed and decided at this meeting was to place the accomplishment of “national democratic revolution” as their new task.
A follow-up, much larger conference was soon held two months later from April 20 to 23, 1946, at Yongchu Buddhist Temple in a small town called Anui in Southern Gyeongsang Province. Titled the National Convention of Korean Anarchists (Jeon-guk anarchist daehoe) or the National Convention of Anarchist Representatives (Jeon-guk anarchist daepyoja daehoe), it was the first national convention and initiated by Yu Rim. At it, ninety-seven anarchists were registered and present, and it marked a turning point in the history of Korean anarchism in terms of its direction after 1945. Attendees included almost all of those who were affiliated with two major Korean anarchist organizations at the time, the Free Society Builders Federation (FSBF, Jayu sahoe geonseolja yeonmaeng), organized in Seoul by Yi Jeonggyu and Yi Eulgyu after Japan’s surrender, and the General Federation of Korean Anarchists (GFKA, Joseon mujeongbu juuija chong yeonmaeng), which probably was renamed from the Korean Anarcho-Communist Federation (KAF) that had been established in 1929 in Pyongyang during the colonial period. Yu Rim and Bak Seokhong had been the leaders of GFKA, and Yu had participated in the Korean Provisional Government in China as a representative of the GFKA. Yu had returned to Korea after 1945 with the GFKA as an independent anarchist organization. Many Korean anarchists who attended the convention were affiliated with both organizations simultaneously, mostly maintaining dual memberships. The convention was chaired by Yu Rim, Yi Jeonggyu, and Sin Jaemo, and lasted for three days. It was of cardinal significance in that Korean anarchists now formally began to identify themselves not just as anarchist but, just like Yu Rim called himself, as “one who favors an autonomous government” (jayul jeongbu juuija), distinguishing themselves from conventional anarchists who were usually believed to negate the state. This was an identification constituted a major breakthrough to post-1945 anarchist activities.
In fact, Korean anarchists were frequently asked after 1945 about their position regarding the idea of setting up a Korea state. Since anarchists were widely believed at the time to have rejected the state, they needed to clear up any misunderstandings or prevalent suspicion that they were opposed to and thus would overthrow the state. The first reaction came from Yu Rim who, on his return to Korea, strongly denied that he was a person with “no-government principle,” and emphasized that he rather was “an anarchist who rejects compulsory power.” He then explained further about what it meant to be an anarchist. According to him, anarchists rejected only “heteronomous governments” (sic; tayul jeongbu) but not “autonomous governments” (jayul jeongbu). His support for the “autonomous government” was, he continued to explain, a product of the shift made after World War I by many anarchists who attested to the importance of having their own “practical organization,” for which, in his case, he had participated in the Korean Provisional Government in China, which he believed was an autonomous government. After 1945 he now wanted to support a newly established Korean government, as long as it was built with the principle of autonomy. To put it differently, since anarchists were only against “monopolistic naked-power” and strove for the realization of “democracy [that guarantees] equality,” their eventual goal was to create a world where all mankind would labor and live freely under maximum democracy.
On the first day of the convention, two reports were delivered to the attendees, one on the international situation prepared by Bak Seokhong and the other on the domestic situation by Yi Jeonggyu. In his report Bak characterized the world after 1945 as the postcolonial struggles by former colonies for their respective independence. Unfortunately, however, he lamented, Korea, unlike these former colonies, had not yet achieved independence, and the efforts to establish a unified government of Korea had not been undertaken either in a democratic way, not even autonomously by the Korean people. Worse, Bak continued, Korea seemed to be going in the opposite direction against the unification of the Korean peninsula, that is, genuine national liberation. Following Bak’s report, Yi Jeonggyu presented his assessment of then-domestic situation in Korea, in which he basically agreed with Bak’s appraisal of the international situation and Korea’s place in it, stating that all the efforts to set up a government in Korea after August 15, 1945 had been done neither autonomously nor democratically, not to mention without a united action of Korean people. Both reports emphasized incomplete independence of Korea as of April 1946.
The first item on its agenda for the second day of the convention was the attitude of Korean anarchists toward the establishment of a Korean government, given the international and domestic situations the two reports analyzed. They also discussed what principles they could apply, if they favored building a central government in the south of divided Korea. These were important issues, because, just like Yu Rim, many returned anarchists to Korea from abroad after August 1945 had been continuously facing a question as to their understanding of and attitude toward the state, usually portrayed in media not as anarchists but predominantly as “believers in no-government” (mujeongbu juuija). To answer the question collectively, the anarchists at the convention adopted a resolution that stated they would strive for the establishment of an autonomous, democratic, and unified government in their liberated fatherland. The resolution further explained unequivocally that the goal they had pursued had been a complete liberation of Korea, which in turn was in need of one unified government. Koreans needed the unified government not just because they were a unitary people with their own rich cultural traditions but also because Korea couldn’t be developed economically unless it became a unified country under the unified government. Accordingly, the role of a central government that would govern unified Korea was highly evaluated as important for the goal of national development. Here, we can see again Korean anarchists’ preoccupation after 1945 with economic autonomy and development as crucial in their quest for genuine national liberation.
Korea had agricultural areas in the south, but the abundant materials and sources for its industrial development were mostly concentrated in the north. Therefore, the resolution pointed out that without unification under a central government Korea could not develop itself into an industrialized country. The unified government which Korean anarchists strove to set up, however, was not simply a centralized government. It was expected to allow local autonomy as well along with autonomy in working places, and the unity of all the autonomous entities under the unified central government would be formed on the basis of the spontaneous alliance principle. Finally, it was made clear in the resolution that Korean anarchists were not “non-governmentists” (sic) (mujeongbu juuija, i.e., believers in no-government) but “non-heteronomous-governmentists” (sic) who were “autonomous governmentists” (sic), that is, “the ones who believe and favor an autonomous government” (jayul jeongbu juuija). The newly adopted collective identification Korean anarchists enabled them to unload their anxieties and fears about anarchism being accused of a “dangerous thought,” which didn’t last long, though.
Another important point in the resolution was that they favored the unification of and a unified government of Korea. Making a new definition of their identity, Korean anarchists now took their first and important step toward a “Koreanization” of anarchism, in which it was redefined to serve at once the Korean situation after 1945, that is, prevention of the division of the Korean peninsula and the establishment of a unified government. In another resolution passed on the second day of the convention, Korean anarchists urged all revolutionary groups and individuals, who had shown some visible accomplishments during the national liberation struggle before 1945, to seek along with them for a chance to establish an interim, autonomous, unified government in South Korea first until the genuine unification of Korea with the north.
Another immanent and important issue discussed at the convention was the question as to whether anarchists needed their own political party. It was a moot question but was raised in connection with the question about the liberation of producers, which was raised already two months earlier. The discussion revolved around how the power and voice of workers and farmers as main producers could be considered and reflected in politics to promote national development in economy. Before 1945, Korean anarchists had generally been indifferent to or had developed a cold attitude toward political movement and political parties. Likewise, they had always believed that political movement or political party’s movement in a colony was meaningless, or at least bore the stigma of treason. This agenda as to an anarchist political party was brought up at the convention, due to the analysis of the domestic situation in Yi Jeonggyu’s report on the first day of the convention. The post-1945 situation made Yi conclude that the most urgent task at hand was not social revolution but rather the completion of national liberation, because of the division between north and south and even the possible trusteeship in the Korean peninsula under the UN. The future of Korean society seemed to hinge on whether anarchists could successfully undertake the task of nation-building and lay out basic foundations for a new, autonomous country at its inception, no matter how political their task could be.
Indeed, there was a growing consensus among anarchists that a revolutionary or independence movement itself was in a sense a political movement at a higher level, and thus that the establishment of a unified government was much needed in the postbellum situation in order to complete national liberation. What an anarchist needed to do then was: (1) to remove both powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, from the peninsula; (2) to eradicate all the forces against autonomy, democracy, unification, and nation-building; and finally (3) to participate actively in the foundational works for a new country. After a long deliberation, Korean anarchists made a unanimous decision to support the idea of organizing their own political party on the basis of the necessity to accomplish the above-mentioned three tasks and also to reflect the organized power of workers and farmers in politics. It was strongly advised by the attendees, however, that the proposed anarchist party “follow the basic principles the convention has adopted.” Joining the party would be up to “each individual member’s spontaneous will,” and those who decided not to participate in it “will support [the party] with their thought movement [sasang undong].”
Yi Jeonggyu was one of the attendants who had an opposing view, although it was his report that generated the sense of urgency for their political involvement. In his opinion a more important task Korean anarchists faced at the time was to lay out a foundation successfully for a coming anarchist society through the efforts to raise the ability of workers and farmers, rather than to organize their own political party to represent the power and voice of workers and farmers in politics. This was one of the reasons why Yi had already established the Federation for Rural Autonomy (FRA, Nongchon jachi yeonmaeng) and the Federation for Worker’s Autonomy (FWA, Nodongja jachi yeonmaeng) immediately after August 1945. A major difference between Yi and other anarchists like Yu Rim who favored establishing a political party of their own, seemed to rest on the issue of how to assess the potential of Korean society in terms of its readiness for a social revolution. Yi seemed to be more forward-looking and favored delaying an anarchist revolution to the near future, while Yu was more interested in pursuing an anarchist revolution aggressively without delay, even with the help of an anarchist political party. The attending anarchists at the convention voted for Yu Rim’s idea. Since they had already identified themselves as “those who favor an autonomous government,” it was quite an obvious, logical decision for them to seek for a chance to establish a government of their own or at least participate in the making of national policies and programs through their political party, which was expected to implement anarchist ideals and principles in politics.
Also discussed and then passed at the convention were three basic principles Korean anarchists were expected to uphold, even when participating in politics: (1) to respect and guarantee individual freedom, (2) to safeguard peace and reject all kinds of invasive forces, and (3) to give the ownership of productive means to producers. In regard to the last principle, Korean anarchists particularly suggested that the factories and mines that once had been owned by Japanese colonizers during the colonial period be returned to and then owned by workers unconditionally. The workers were deemed to deserve the ownership, for they had all paid the Japanese with their exploited labor before 1945. For the same reason, it was also suggested that Korean farmers gain their ownership of land, which had been owned by Japanese and Korean collaborators before 1945. At this point Korean anarchists could have further suggested and implemented the equal distribution of land to farmers, but they refrained from mentioning it at least for now, possibly due to the political attack from others toward them for being communists, although it would be one of the policies their party would put forward soon.
On the last day of the convention another important agenda item was placed on the discussion table: how to rearrange and reorganize the Korean anarchist camp after 1945. There had existed the KAF since 1929 in Korea as the first national organization of Korean anarchists, albeit without any actual activities under Japanese colonialism. There had been the GFKA in China which Yu Rim had represented before and after his return to Korea in 1945. The FSBF was additionally organized in Seoul in September 1945 by Yi Jeonggyu, who had stayed in Korea since he had been extradited from China to colonial Korea in December 1928 for his trial. As of April 1946, many Korean anarchists, with the exception of some leading figures, had all joined two main organizations, the FSBF and the GFKA, having dual memberships. The main issue in question at the convention, in other words, was how they could avoid any potential confusion about their membership and affiliation after 1945. It seems that rather than resolving the membership issue, Korean anarchists decided to concentrate their effort and energy in the political party they were to organize together. In sum, the first national convention set the basic direction of Korean anarchist movement after 1945, a direction that was mainly a product of the post-1945 political environment surrounding the Korean peninsula. And the direction was tested first by Yu Rim with the experimental political party, and later modified by Yi Jeonggyu with his idea of rural village-based social transformation.
Anarchists in Politics: The Independence Workers and Peasants Party (Dongnip nonong dang) and the Democratic Socialist Party (Minju sahoe dang)
Following the conclusion of the first national convention, an anarchist political party was organized in July 1946, and named the Independence Workers and Peasants Party (IWPP, Dongnip nonong dang). Yu Rim, a veteran anarchist who had been a member of the Korean Provisional Government, was appointed as chairperson (wiwonjang) of the party’s Executive Committee, which consisted of Yi Eulgyu, Yi Siu, Yang Ildong (1912–1980), Sin Jaemo, and Bang Hansang (1900–1970), in addition to Yu. The party was launched with an expectation from other anarchists that it was “to make the foundational framework [in politics and society] to build a new country from scratch.”
As mentioned, the decision to build a political party of anarchists was based on the consideration that their most urgent task was national liberation, when there was a widely shared sense of crisis that Koreans might be unable to build their own free, autonomous country and government, if Korea remained divided into north and south. The sense of crisis, along with the newly perceived task, didn’t go unheeded, as Korean anarchists willingly postponed the goal of social revolution for the sake of complete national liberation, this time not through the united armed struggle but through an anarchist political party. 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.
Evident in the anarchist party’s platform were the sustained emphasis on and prioritization of national liberation over social revolution. In it the IWPP’s goals were explained: (1) to achieve perfect autonomy and independence of the Korean people; (2) to accomplish the utmost welfare for peasants, workers, and ordinary working people; and (3) to reject any dictatorship and collaborate with genuinely democratic domestic forces on the basis of mutually beneficial and equal principles. Sharing the general concerns other anarchists had about the situation at the time, the party, in its declaration also assessed the situation in Korea as of July 1946 as serious, because Korea’s independence had not practically been achieved due to the division of it and the possible trusteeship by the United States and the Soviet Union, respectively, under a resolution of the UN. Therefore, the declaration asserted that, since the Korean people had possessed their unitary cultural tradition, they have the right to make a demand for a social system of their own to be set up in Korea. And it reiterated that for Koreans it was absolutely necessary to have such a system that could fit Korea’s national condition, guarantee internal freedom and equal happiness to all individuals, and contribute to peace and progress of the mankind after taking back its autonomous independence and internationally acknowledged sovereignty.
The IWPP certainly aimed at political independence of Korea but ultimately and unquestionably fostered a social revolution through anarchist principles, which they anticipated to take place in the end. This is quite evident also in the party’s principle policies that were decided in correspondence with the goals reiterated in the platform and declaration. Among the policies two stood of importance. First, the equalization of land through the distribution of cultivatable land to the tillers, and, second, the establishment of an autonomous body at every factory and working place, which would be deemed responsible for managing and running them accordingly. Compared to policies of other political parties of the time, these were quite radical in the sense that they were aiming at the changes in social and production relations. Because of the radical nature and direction of the policies and platform of the IWPP, a Korean anarchist later remembered that it was not so much a conventional political party as a revolutionary organization. To intersperse its policies and the news and information about it the IWPP started to publish its own biweekly newspaper from August 3, 1946. In major cities and locations the party’s branch organizations and offices were also subsequently set up.
The road ahead for the IWPP was, however, quite bumpy and even unpredictable. First, the anarchist party was crippled from its inception by some members who decided to participate in the national election in 1948, which was held just before the establishment of the government of the Republic of Korea in August of the year, against the party’s decision to boycott it because of the party’s concerns that the establishment of a separate state in the south might possibly perpetuate the division of the peninsula. In addition, the accomplishment of Korea’s liberation through the anarchist party and the subsequent plan to realize the anarchist ideals through its policies were not easy tasks. The efforts by the party proved to be a failure in the end. The reason for it can be explained from many different angles. As mentioned, many anarchists ran for the National Assembly in the 1948 election against the party’s decision to boycott it, which resulted in the internal division of and their subsequent expulsion from the party. What made the situation worse was that some of its core members took office in the Rhee’s regime against the party’s denunciation of it. The anarchist party failed to gain a seat in the National Assembly after the May 30, 1950 election.
In the case of Yu Rim, he suffered from consistent political suppression of the Rhee regime, beginning first in 1951 in the wake of the Korean War and continuing throughout the 1950s. In addition, during the course of the three-year-long Korean War, many anarchists were either kidnapped or killed by North Koreans, which, to be sure, significantly lowered the level of human resources of the party and thus affected deeply its capability as a political party, let alone as a revolutionary organization, exacerbating its already waning fate. Most importantly, the general mood in South Korea increasingly marched toward antisocialism and antiradicalism, obviously due to the experiences and memories of the brutal war with North Korean communists for three years and the Rhee regime’s subsequent political maneuvers to use the issue of anticommunism and turn the postwar situation in its favor. The war ended not only with the ruins and destruction of South Korean society but also with the rising state-led terrorism against anyone sympathetic to socialism, including anarchism.
In the 1950s, Korean anarchists painfully witnessed their society not only destroyed and drifting away from their ideal society but becoming unfavorable and even hostile to their belief. 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. And as the new decade began, the political atmosphere was worsened with the rise of a new military dictator, Park Chung Hee, which impaired further profoundly Korean anarchists’ revolutionary efforts to build an anarchist society and forced them in the end to deradicalize their anarchism further and modify their direction once again.
What Korean anarchists envisioned through the anarchist party was, according to Yi Jeonggyu’s explanation, the realization of a social organization with the spontaneous alliance principle intact. Once it was realized, the organization (i.e., society) was expected to employ the system of joint production and joint consumption, and the function of politics in it would remain occupational in nature. Korean anarchists after 1945 were, Yi further explained, in agreement that democracy must not become a disguise of false freedom and equality in the modern society where colonies were liberated and capitalism was being transformed or revised; it must correspond to the genuine anarchist values of freedom and equality. Therefore, to accomplish the ideal anarchist society filled with freedom and equality, Korean anarchists in the party decided to rely on parliamentary democracy while maintaining their principles of political spontaneous alliance and decentralization of industry in their platform. The efforts to realize their anarchist ideals through this anarchist political party under the leadership of Yu Rim, however, ended empty-handed. In retrospect, the Korean War altered the whole political map of South Korea into one that was about to turn out to be a nightmare for Korean anarchists.
Around the time when the IWPP gradually disappeared from the political stage, Yi Jeonggyu began to discuss and envisage the future of anarchist movement in South Korea in consideration of the hazy political aura of the 1950s. His discussion revolved around two main issues many Korean anarchists grappled with in the midst of Rhee’s strengthened dictatorship and anticommunist policies after the Korean War. The first issue Yi took up was the prospect for Korean anarchist movement, in a series of his writings contributed to Masan Daily (Masan Ilbo) from May to June 1957. To no one’s surprise, Yi was concerned with the question of how socialists in general had to cope with the political environment of South Korea under Rhee’s dictatorship and antisocialist policies. Given the wrongdoings of the Rhee regime and their possible social consequences, Yi predicted that the sociopolitical condition of then–South Korea might allow the emergence of a Communist Party with the possible support from workers and farmers as their response to the repressive regime. Nevertheless, he firmly believed that it would be impossible to see the rise of a Communist Party in South Korea at that time, because communism would ultimately be rejected by Koreans. If that was going to be the case, an alternative party that could receive the support from both workers and farmers in place of the Communist Party was a “social democratic party” (sahoe minju dang), Yi assumed. The social democratic party, however, would not be able to surface either as a legitimate political party in South Korea, Yi forecasted. Rather, a Communist Party, making use of the opportunity for the social democratic party to emerge, might instead arise after camouflaging itself as a “social democratic party.” Among the political parties at the time, Yi indeed thought that the Progressive Party of Jo Bong-am was a pro-communist social democratic party, which to Yi was an undesirable phenomenon in South Korea. What he seemed to imply was that the rise of a socialist party was inevitable in South Korea under Rhee’s dictatorship. Its wrongdoings and their consequences in society would condition the rise of a socialist party which, in his belief, must be neither a communist nor a social democratic party.
Yi’s next discussion was focused on the question about how anarchists could cope with then-unfavorable political climate in South Korea, and where they needed to head toward. Admitting that both the IWPP and the FSBF had all been in hibernation since the Korean War, he placed a new hope to a newly proposed political party of Korean anarchists he had just organized with others a year ago in 1956, the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP, Minju sahoe dang). According to Yi, anarchists had always maintained and advocated two principles they thought to be of essence in all aspects of human life, that is, freedom and equality. And since the anarchist notions of freedom and equality bore economic meanings, they could be combined with the principle of democracy, which he believed usually denoted political freedom and equality. The new anarchist political party, in other words, was to become one that could combine in its activity and program the economic meaning of freedom and equality anarchists had always emphasized with the general political meaning of democracy. If the combination was to take place successfully, its outcome would be what anarchists had always wished and advocated for, Yi firmly believed. Therefore, if the anarchist critique of communism could be further expanded and the interpretation and meaning of democracy could be widely shared in South Korean society at large, particularly in their respective economic implications, the DSP would emerge as a political party that could accomplish democracy completely in both political and economic senses. And if this were to happen, it in turn would mean a completion of socialism, Yi concluded. And the ideology of the party must be defined accordingly, therefore, as “democratic socialism” (minju sahoe juui), apparently different from “social democracy.”
If we consider that Yi had not been in full agreement with Yu Rim and others at the national convention of anarchists in 1946 on the issue of organizing an anarchist party, it may seem incomprehensible that Yi now was one of the driving forces and advocates of the DSP a decade later. An explanation for the change in his attitude may be found in what Edward S. Krebs explains about the Chinese anarchists’ appropriation of Communist terminology in 1925, such as “mass revolution” and “workers’ and peasants’ revolution” in order “to counter the successes of their great rival,” “which produced a change in the way in which revolution was conceived and described.” This was the case when Chinese anarchists were debating with the communists and had to cope with the situation where their movement waned with the rise of the CCP. Similarly, Yi could have shifted his view of an anarchist party after the consolidation of the dictatorial regimes in two Koreas, particularly after witnessing the stabilization of the communist regime in the north. This is particularly the case if we recall what he stated after 1945 that the communists in the north were one of two enemies still left after the demise of Japanese colonialism, and that he attempted (and would continue to do so) to organize workers and farmers into anarchist-led organizations to counter any possible penetration and influence of the communists into them. His shift was in a sense also a reaction to the possible ascendancy of the communists in 1950s South Korea, in particular given his prediction of the rise of a Communist Party in South Korea as an inevitable consequence of the state’s wrongdoings.
A question then arose: was “democratic socialism” the same as anarchism? Under the political and social environments of 1950s South Korea, Yi diagnosed, socialist movement as a “thought movement” (sasang undong) had no bright future, while a socialist party in the form of political movement still could have some favorable conditions. The examples from other countries had demonstrated that “thought movement” had usually preceded political movement, which had been the case in terms of both theory and reality. However, in South Korea, he unequivocally predicted, it would be the opposite in this regard because of the dominant antisocialist aura in society generated by the state. He therefore suggested that Korean anarchists consider anarchism in its Koreanized form and context, in particular, by thinking of its “democratic socialist” (minju sahoe juui jeok) version, which, he explained, placed its emphases on anticommunism and the political meaning of democracy combined with the anarchist notion of economic freedom and equality. This “democratic socialist” version of anarchism was supposed to be the path for anarchists to follow and realize anarchism in South Korea, Yi concluded.
It must be noted that the concept of “democratic socialism” Yi coined and used was quite different from “social democracy” in many ways, and, in addition, the concept was not solely Yi’s. Jeong Hwaam in his memoir also introduces the same concept along with an explanation of how he came across it and how he and Yi Jeonggyu endeavored together to form the DSP in 1956, with many progressive political figures at the time, chief among them Jo Bong-am. Jeong recalls that he became aware of the term democratic socialism when he was in Hong Kong before his return to Korea after 1945. According to Jeong, it was a Chinese scholar named Ding Zhou who researched and published writings on the concept of “democratic socialism” in various newspapers and magazines in Hong Kong sometime before 1950. Finding similarities with his own understanding of anarchism as he read Ding’s writings, Jeong became readily interested in the concept and scrapped Ding’s writings to utilize them later, thinking that he might decide later to be in politics. After returned to South Korea, Jeong found out that other anarchists like Yi Jeonggyu, Choe Haecheong, and Yi Honggeun all had also studied about and endeavored to conceptualize the same term. It is not clear, though, who Ding Zhou was, and what and how he wrote about democratic socialism, because Jeong never answers these questions in his memoir. Nevertheless, what seems important to the current study is that Jeong found the affinities between his version of anarchism and Ding’s concept of democratic socialism, and, given what Jeong writes in his memoir, Yi Jeonggyu’s explanations of the concept mentioned above must have been similar to Jeong’s understanding of anarchism, which in turn was probably the theoretical base of the new anarchist party Yi and Jeong attempted to organize together in 1956.
It is necessary here to look into the party much in detail to grasp how Yi Jeonggyu wanted to concretize in reality his “Koreanized” version of anarchism, that is, “democratic socialism,” which was also Jeong Hwaam’s understanding of it. On November 15, 1956, Korean anarchists, including Jeong Hwaam and his old comrades, Yi Jeonggyu, Han Hayeon, Choe Haecheong, Oh Namgi, and Kim Seongsu, proposed together the establishment of the DSP. Jeong was appointed as chairperson of the preparatory committee to organize the party. Unfortunately, however, it was never actually established, due, it seems, mainly to financial difficulties it had in the process of the formal formation of it. The political pressure, either visible or invisible, from the Rhee regime could have possibly been another reason. Fortunately, Yi Jeonggyu left two writings on the party from which we can have a glimpse of how the participating anarchists wanted to concretize their version of anarchism through this party.
Yi’s first writing on the party was written in October 1956, a month before the party was formally proposed by the above-mentioned committee. It could have been Yi’s proposal to other anarchists to recommend setting up the preparatory committee. In this very abstract writing to explain about the party’s two organizational principles, Yi emphasized first that the term democracy in democratic socialism must be understood as the principle in social and economic life as well as in international relations, not to mention as a political principle. In democratic socialism, therefore, democracy itself was its goal and means, which, Yi asserted, was the peculiar use of the term democracy and thus distinguished the party’s use from those appropriations of the term in other conventional understandings and in other socialisms as well. Since “social life” had made humans continue to evolve, mutual dependency (i.e., mutual aid) was an important aspect for sociability (sahoe seong) of humans and was also one of the organizational principles of the party, Yi added. It is quite obvious that the party was proposed to be organized with the two principles, democracy and mutual aid.
Next, Yi discussed the DSP’s ideological line. He first reiterated mutual aid and mutual dependency as an element for human progress. Then he moved to a discussion of the pros and cons of both capitalism and socialism. In his understanding capitalism in general had done harm to the human society, such as the destruction of culture and economic inequality, rather than any meaningful contributions to it, although it no doubt had been extremely capable of maximizing human productivity. Socialism, on the other hand, he believed, had ensured economic freedom and equality to all humans, while it counterproduced “communist injustice,” such as the enslavement of the people (gungmin). 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.
With this socialist line, according to Yi, the proposed DSP, if successfully established, would be able to materialize the “spirit” and “idea” of the Korean nation-building, both of which had been developed to embrace the “socialist idea,” as well as the “democratic idea of freedom and equality.” The founding “spirit” and “idea” of the Korean nation, in other words, Yi argued, had been formulated in order to establish a “democratic welfare state” on the premise that it would utilize the socialist idea. Of course, the capitalist idea of the ownership of private property too was to be allowed for the establishment of such a democratic welfare state. Accordingly, having a “democratic socialist party” in Korea, Yi expounded, was of significance in that the “spirit” and “idea” of the Korea’s nation-building, which were reiterated in the Korean Constitution, corresponded to those of democratic socialism, not to mention that having such a party itself had been a world trend at the time. Yi then pointed out that there was a prevailing argument that South Korea as an underdeveloped country (hujin guk) must go through a capitalist stage of development and must promote its own national capital (minjok jabon) as well, which was an anachronistic understanding of the meaning of development. That is, capitalism was a suit of “clothes” that other countries now wanted to take off, while socialism had become a new suit of “clothes” that all wanted to wear, because it fit their “bodies,” as exemplified in the cases of the countries like India, Burma, Indonesia, Sweden, Norway, and so forth, Yi euphemistically explained. This new world trend, Yi believed, gave Koreans a chance to observe and reflect on the reality of the world and then to pursue a new economic and social system in Korea. Although socialist in economy, private enterprises and their various rights would be guaranteed and allowed in the new system of the new democratic welfare state. And under its new economic and social system, some key industries as well as other industries were to be either public-owned or nationalized, for they were essentially related to people’s livelihood, Yi added. With the public-ownership or nationalization a planned economic system would become possible particularly in all national, public, and private economic sectors, and, as a result of this new economic system, a perfect social welfare system too could be placed in operation in the society, Yi concluded.
In response to many doubts raised by those who were skeptical about socialism, particularly about these two systems combined in economy and social welfare, Yi enumerated some advantages of the systems he saw. First was the strengthening of provincial (i.e., local) economy. He thought that the socialist economic system would strengthen provincial autonomy in economy, which in turn would prevent the centralization of power and, as a result, preclude any dictatorship of the regime or the consolidation of its naked power. Second, in his reply to a question that socialist policies were possibly carried out only well in a “backward country” (hujin guk) with no previous industrial development, Yi simply stated that the planned economy of socialism was much more needed in the economically backward countries. Yi knew that some would also claim that the capitalist idea of free competition was of more efficiency and even could promptly work for the backward countries in order for them to overcome swiftly their economic backwardness. Answering to this follow-up question, third, he recapitulated that the establishment of the socialist economic system was much needed and also had to be secured in such backward countries. Last, knowing that democratic socialism could potentially be attacked as a communism of some sort, Yi defended democratic socialism on the grounds that it was a “practical theory” (silje iron) that had been formulated as a result of many yearlong experiences of various kinds of socialists, who had long struggled to establish an economic order that could set and guarantee economic equality along with human rights to protect freedom and political equality. To support his claim, Yi further listed in his writing and compared the similarities and differences between communism/social democracy and democratic socialism to promote the latter.
Since democracy was the goal and means of democratic socialism and thus must be respected as the primary principle of it, the “natural” completion of democracy meant to Yi the completion of socialism in reality. And this was why the term democratic socialism was chosen, Yi emphasized. 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. Yi specifically identified five goals as something that must be fulfilled by the DSP to realize democracy in South Korea, and they were: (1) provincial autonomy under a cabinet system in politics; (2) construction of a democratic welfare nation; (3) consolidation of new social ethics in society, such as cooperation, mandatory labor for all (gaeno), autonomous (jaju), and creativity (chang-ui); (4) protection and promotion of national native cultures and active absorption of foreign cultures in order to contribute to the creation of a world culture based on the harmony between Eastern and Western cultures; and (5) realization of the world-as-one-family idea (segye ilga) as a member of the United Nations and the Socialist International. As for the third point, Yi later further expressed again his own anxiety about losing the country again if such ethical values in society were to be lost among the Korean people.
In order to accomplish these five goals Yi then proposed and enumerated the party’s possible various policies, which intended to cover a wide range of problems and issues in South Korean society, from its cultural and economic to political and social aspects, including the accomplishment of the planned economy system and the allowance of workers’ rights to participate in the management. Culturally, in particular, the DSP aimed at transforming into new social ethics such bad Korean national traits as “serving the big” (sadae), “blind following” (buhwa), “idleness” (anil), and “passivity” (soguek). Besides this cultural project, one of the party’s proposed policies deserves our special attention. It was on agriculture, and undoubtedly reflected an anarchist idea regarding the combination of agriculture and industry. In the policy, the party was manifested to carry out the mechanization of agriculture and the correction of the bad effects (pyehae) of the cultured population’s concentration in cities, in order to promote the idea of combining agriculture and industry in rural villages. At the same time, the policy also set a goal to expand cultural and welfare facilities in rural villages. The rationale behind this rural-based goal lay in the fact that farmers in rural villages occupied 70 percent of the whole South Korean population at the time, and the expansion of cultural and welfare facilities in rural villages thus were regarded as necessary for the promotion of the majority’s welfare.
On the other hand, Yi was now in fervent opposition to any violent revolutionary as well as dictatorial means practiced in both the Soviet Union and North Korea, although he obviously wanted to keep certain socialist ideas that embraced the general spirit of economic democracy. Speaking highly of the declaration announced at the first Socialist International in 1951, Yi briefly summarized what was affirmed at the Congress as the goal and duty of “democratic socialism”: the critique of communism and the expanded and advanced interpretation of the meaning of democracy. Following the goal and duty defined for socialists at the Congress, Yi proclaimed that the enemy to the members of the proposed DSP in South Korea was not so much capitalism as communism. Yi thus suggested that they all subsequently denounce dictatorship and authority, therefore, and begin a new movement for democratic socialism that was “international” and “anti-orthodox” in its character.
To be sure, Yi’s proposal to Koreanize anarchism through the concept of democratic socialism was made out of consideration of the sociopolitical conditions of South Korea in the 1950s, backed by the declaration made at the first Socialist International in 1951. Internally, however, he also saw some peculiarities in the socialist movement of Korea. In regard to anarchism, Yi correctly understood that anarchism in Korea, unlike that in the developed country, had been from the onset a part of national liberation movement or, more broadly, independence movement, at least until 1945. According to his explanation, in other words, while Korean anarchists agreed with the immediate goal of Korean independence movement, that is, political liberation of Korea, they at the same time had always sought for economic liberation as well to retake the right for the economic survival of Korea. This had long been a characteristic and determinant of the direction of Korean anarchism, and the liberation of Korea in two meanings had been a shared ultimate goal of Korean anarchists who had always pursued a social revolution first over a political revolution. What mattered was how to achieve the goal.
The Korean anarchist experiments with two political parties, first with the IPWP and later with the DSP, from the late 1940s to the mid-1950s, all seemed to be unsuccessful due to many reasons, chiefly the unfavorable sociopolitical environment for the realization of anarchist ideals, particularly various political barriers which they had faced since 1945. The deradicalization of anarchism by conceptualizing it as democratic socialism was not successful either, as the party using the term socialism was, it seems, neither even formally established nor participated in an election after its proposed establishment. Korean anarchists seemed to make every effort to avoid any accusation of being communists and/or advocates of no-government or anarchy. They deradicalized the goal of anarchism by underscoring national development through an alternative developmental strategy that combined capitalist notions of development and democracy with socialist ideas of equality and freedom. When one of their close socialist comrades, Jo Bong-am, who participated in the discussion of rebuilding a new socialist party in 1956 with many anarchists, was baselessly accused of being a spy for North Korea, and then arrested, tried, and finally hanged in 1959 in the name of the National Security Law (gukka boan beop) by the Rhee regime, they seemed to simply “give up everything” “without regret” and began to concentrate on the movement to promote “cultural enlightening” and “education for the next generation,” according to Lee Mun Chang. And soon under the military dictatorship of Park Chung Hee who aggressively set anticommunism as the supreme national policy from the 1960s, there seemed no room and options left for anarchists to propagate their ideals and programs because of the groundless accusation and prevalent stigma of “being Commies.” It was no wonder that Korean anarchists either kept silent and their distance from the totalitarian politics of the Park regime in the 1960s through ’70s or further accommodated and deradicalized anarchism into a more suitable idea for social movement.
Rural Problem and Industry in National Development
Korean anarchists had long been attentive to the “rural problem” (nongchon munje) since the 1920s. Yi Jeonggyu was one of them. He was reluctant to join the first anarchist party and moved away from politics. He instead heeded his attention to rural villagers and workers not to organize them into an anarchist party but to educate them in preparation for a coming anarchist society. In fact he had already established in 1945 the FRA and the FWA, respectively. Yi’s independent move away from the IWPP to form his own anarchist organizations for social movement is also revealing in that there were internal divisions and tensions, and even possibly a rivalry, between Yi’s and other anarchists led by Yu Rim, over a concrete means to realize their anarchist ideals, as well as over how to cope with the political climate in South Korea. An examination of Yi’s activities and thoughts after 1945 particularly reveals interesting aspects of a deradicalized version of Korean anarchism and how Yi and other anarchists endeavored to build an ideal society through the revival of rural villages in post-1945 South Korea.
A month after Japan’s surrender to the Allied Powers in August 1945, Yi established the FSBF and then organized in the same year the FRA and the FWA. In a detailed explanation of the FRA’s platform and declaration, written in March 1946, Yi pointed to the main task he believed Korean anarchists were expected to do first after Korean’s independence: “to revive (gaengsaeng) our Korea as a free and pleasant country.” To fulfill the first task, Yi suggested that rural villages (nongchon), which occupied most parts of Korea, be revived first. According to him, the farmers living in rural villages represented “the whole country itself,” as they consisted of 90 percent of the Korean population. To Yi, farmers in rural villages obviously were the main, unique force to construct a new Korea. To revive rural villages, however, Yi continued, farmers should first broaden their knowledge, and their life must be reformed so as for them to raise their ability and qualifications to be part of the independent and free country.
To materialize this idea, Yi organized the FSBF immediately after Korea’s independence, with his brother, Yi Eulgyu. At its inaugural meeting on September 29, 1945 in Seoul, Yi Eulgyu announced in his opening remarks that the enemy of Korean anarchists, Japanese imperialism, had disappeared. He nevertheless admitted that the colonial conditions of dependency still lingered in Korea, because, he warned, Korea’s independence was not accomplished by Koreans themselves. The colonial conditions, he suggested, therefore, not be treated lightly in the effort to build a new country of free society in Korea. The FSBF embraced almost all Korean anarchists into it in order for them to partake in the task of building a new country with a hope for them to offer their “constructive roles.” It particularly aimed at constructing a society in which “the tillers own land and the workers own factory.” To accomplish the aim the FSBF decided to establish two more additional organizations, the FRA and the FWA, which would lay out a foundation for a coming future society they wanted to build. Briefly speaking, the former was organized with a plan to raise the farmers as the owners of the new country, and the latter with a plan to remove any potential class struggle at workplace by institutionalizing the participation of workers in the management of factory.
The FSBF was the first nationwide anarchist organization in Korea that began its activity publicly and openly, with the manifested two goals its members would strive to achieve. First was to take a constructive part in building an independent Korea, and, second, to put forward a proactive and concrete plan to help construct a new country. As is clear, the FSBF placed the nation-building first over social revolution as its goal and was a future-oriented anarchist organization with a forward-looking vision. Its members believed a successful nation-building after 1945 would eventually promise and guarantee their pursuit and activities for an anarchist society in Korea. Yi Jeonggyu was to deliver a similar analysis at the forthcoming national convention of Korean anarchists in 1946, in which he saw the place of social revolution secondary to the task of building a new Korea and pointed to a necessity for anarchists to participate in the national construction in order to envision their own social revolution in the near future, if not immediately. In a sense, the establishment of the FSBF was, as stated in its declaration, a sign of “unmasking” anarchists as nation-builders and “resurfacing” them from the underground they had been hiding in during the Japanese colonial rule, under which they had not been allowed to speak out openly about their own cause and doctrine as nationalists as well as anarchists.
The FSBF passed at its inaugural meeting its concrete goals as follows: (1) to reject dictatorial politics and strive to build a Korea of perfect freedom, (2) to reject the collective economic system and strive to realize the principle of decentralized local autonomy (jibang bunsan juui) in economy, and (3) to strive for an embodiment of the ideal that sees “all mankind as one family” on the basis of mutual aid. In short, a new Korea the FSBF would build was one that was transnational in its ideal and had a system of local self-governments in its practice with the principles of spontaneous alliance among them to form their central government, and of individual freedom among its constituencies. Three major principles for the construction of such a new Korea would be “autonomy” (jaju), “democracy” (minju), and “unity” (tong-il). And the role of anarchists in realizing the new Korea was to collaborate with “revolutionary leftist nationalists,” in order to fight their two enemies, the “native, feudal capitalist elements,” which had been in collaboration with Japanese imperialism before 1945, and the “pseudo, reactionary dictatorship-worshipers” (i.e., communists).
The FSBF’s anticommunism was not novel, given the antipathy anarchists had long held against the communists since the 1920s, but the meaning and implication of the “native, feudal capitalist elements” as their enemy were quite vague. By circumscribing the definition of “native, feudal capitalist elements” within those who had exploited their compatriots economically in service of Japanese imperialism, the FSBF’s members moved away from the universal social problems under capitalism itself. Yi Jeonggyu even saw the “feudal forces” as a more serious problem than capitalism itself. In his thinking the universal values such as freedom, equality, and mutual aid had all been undermined not only by Japan’s colonization but also by the Korean society’s internal, native forces. Therefore, when Japanese colonialism had already been overthrown, the construction of a new society with the values in Korea after 1945 seemed to hinge only on whether or not Korean anarchists were able to eradicate the remaining “native, feudal capitalist elements” and the “pseudo, reactionary dictatorship-worshipers,” together.
Korean anarchists in the FSBF like Yi Jeonggyu didn’t necessarily oppose or want to overthrow capitalism itself after 1945, as long as it had no ties with Japanese colonialism, although they never stopped criticizing it. They were either deaf to the voices from the ongoing struggles against colonialism and capitalism in post-1945 years in the other parts of the world or more concerned with nationalist aspiration for a new Korean state and its economic development. While the communists in the north would remain their arch enemy, the identity of the second enemy continued to be unclear and even vague. The vagueness, as I will demonstrate, allowed Yi and his fellow anarchists to be relatively silent about the dictatorial regimes and their policies from 1948. They were even willing to treat “nationalists with genuine national conscience” as their “friendly force” (ugun), in addition to “revolutionary leftist nationalists,” in the effort for national construction, no matter how undemocratic or silent they were about dictatorships. Avoiding the fundamental question as to inevitable social divisions in capitalist society, the FSBF under Yi’s leadership defined its goal as the establishment of an equal and free society in Korea where tillers own the land and workers own the factory after removing the vague “native, feudal capitalist elements” and the communists. Of course, it rejected any compulsory power in the society that could create an environment of domination by a class over other classes and by a people over other peoples. It also denounced any invasive war and the possession of armed forces more than enough for self-defense. The point here is that capitalism was not explicitly included on the list of their new enemies, when anarchists had always been attentive to and even cautious of a possibility to create a condition of domination and inequality under capitalism. This seeming passivity toward the question of capitalism, it seems, had much to do with Yi’s idea of national development.
The FRA, one of the FSBF’s two sister organizations, as Yi Jeonggyu explains, was founded particularly in response to the threat of communism. After August 1945 Yi feared that the communist propaganda of “tillers owning land” could undermine the healthy development of a new Korea, if farmers listened to and favored that idea. To avoid that possibility in the situation posterior to the year 1945, Yi actually rushed to organize the FRA. The idea behind the FRA about organizing and educating farmers had long been sustained, proposed, and even openly experimented by Korean anarchists, including Yi, as this study demonstrates. In the declaration of the FRA, the place of farmers and rural villages in the course of constructing a new Korea was now reconsidered more important than ever before. Rural farming villages in Korea had been the object in the past of the “feudal” extortion of heavy taxes as well as the Japanese exploitation during the colonial period. But the farmers in rural villages had been the preservers and maintainers of Korea’s distinctive culture as well as tradition of “good morals and manners.” Their life, however, had long been no better than that of animals, because of which it had been of no use to speak to them about Confucius, Mencius, Buddha, or the God, the FRA’s declaration pointed out. To make things worse, the declaration further explained, modern achievements and technologies introduced by the West and Japan since the late nineteenth century, such as railroads, telegrams, and telephones, had only made their life “more painful and more starved.” On the top of that, there was a prevailing “rural problem” that small-income farmers had only been able to make their living after borrowing a loan at high interest rate. The declaration thus indicated that this “rural problem” had become a serious and fundamental problem and immediately turned into a social problem of Korea after 1945. Since “farmers are the owners of Korea” and the revival of rural farming villages would depend on whether the life of small-income farmers could be revived, the regeneration of Korea as a new country would be determined by whether farmers and rural areas were eventually able to regain together their vitality. The first step toward the revival of farmers must be taken to ensure their economic independence, for which they must be given opportunities to make extra income. If offered some extra works, in other words, farmers could make some extra income which in turn would assist them to be independent economically. The extra works not only offered them an opportunity to earn extra income to make them independent economically but could also promote the idea of “natural cooperation” among them, which, as a result, could absorb surplus labor in rural areas and allow them to work together. The core of the rural problem rested on the economic hardships of small-income farmers, which could be solved by offering extra works to them for extra income.
The idea of providing farmers with extra works for extra income in rural villages as a means to solve the “rural problem” was to be further elaborated on later in the 1960s and ’70s in “the Movement to Receive [Orders] and Produce [Goods]” (Susan undong) launched by Yi’s other organization, the Institute for the Study of National Culture (ISNC, Gungmin munhwa yeon-guso). I will discuss about it below. Suffice it to say here that Korean anarchists, in particular Yi Jeonggyu and his close associates, seemed to believe that the key for their ideal anarchist society in Korea lay in rural villages and accordingly their regeneration through economic independence. Indeed Yi was deeply interested in removing poverty in rural villages, but was indifferent to the unequal social relations in rural villages. In short, empowering rural farmers in economic senses as the main constructors of a new Korea was the main task assigned to anarchists. When the task was complete, rural villages could be a part of “the civilized world” (munmyeong segye) and eventually could develop into “the abode world of perfect bliss” (geungnak segye), where “good morals are realized and rural villages are in mutual cooperation and help,” Yi predicted.
Yi’s emphasis on farmers and rural villages had much to do with his idea of nation-building. To him independence didn’t mean national liberation in the socialist sense but denoted Korea’s self-reliance and self-identity that could ensure that Korea become “the most civilized and wealthiest country.” And self-reliance would be achieved by developing rural villages and improving farmers’ livelihood, which in turn would allow Korea to be identified as “the most civilized country.” Since farmers had preserved the “beautiful, pure and affectionate Korean customs,” they were “the only ones to endeavor to construct a Korea,” Yi believed. If there would come to exist a utopia-like world in Korea, where people could find a comfortable living from generation to generation, farmers would be able to make a living as humans. Of course, there was another reason for him to underscore rural villages: to combat the communists whose attempts might mobilize and organize farmers. To Yi, therefore, to organize farmers into the FRA of which he was the leader was an extended endeavor on his part, to accomplish the “Nation-Building Movement” (Geon-guk undong).
Despite his huge emphasis on the revival of rural villages and an economically improved life of farmers as crucial to construct a new Korea, Yi Jeonggyu fundamentally believed that the development of rural villages must be accompanied inevitably by industrial development. Ostensibly, Korea had gained political independence when the Japanese surrendered in 1945, but Yi believed that political independence might leave Korea remaining “extremely unhealthy and superficial,” and without economic autonomy. To be autonomous in the economy as well as politically, therefore, Yi continued, Korea could not afford to rely only on agriculture for economic development, given the precedents and lessons from the developed countries. It was indeed unthinkable and even nonsensical for him to foster national economic development only with agriculture, because of the fact that, he claimed, during the thirty-six-year Japanese colonial rule, Korean agriculture had not been able to make any technological progress that could be utilized for national development after 1945. In order to plan on developing agriculture, it was indispensable, in his thinking, to have industrial development as well, at least for technological progress in agriculture. In other words, Yi assumed that industrial development was a decisive condition for economic independence of Korea, given the historical experiences of the developed countries and the colonial situation Korea had been placed in. In short, to Yi, the best developmental strategy for Korea was the combination of industrial and agricultural developments through the revival of rural villages. And, in the end, this would bring a genuine national liberation to Koreans in both political and economic senses.
Yi admitted, however, that his proposed developmental strategy would not be workable at once, since “Our country has no industrial capital and technology,” not even the experiences of industrial management. Therefore, Yi continued, it was necessary for Korea first to examine carefully the traces of the developed countries in the past in order to identify the reasons for their “success” as well as any “side-effects” and “irregularities” in their developmental strategy. After examining and taking the lessons from those developed countries, Korea would be able to plan on its own path to “the nation-building through industry” (san-eop ipguk), Yi forecasted. If the experiences of the developed countries were taken into consideration, in other words, Yi thought that Koreans in the end would be able to preclude the influence of communism and any irregularities in economic management that might have prevented increased efficiencies and technological advance in production. Furthermore, he believed that taking lessons from the cases of the advanced countries would additionally help Koreans be better prepared for the problems that had already occurred in those countries, such as the gap between the rich and the poor, the concentration of wealth, and the labor-management disputes, all of which had been typical and conspicuous in social unrest and industrial monopoly under modern capitalism.
What Yi suggested as a preemptive solution to the problems of industrialization was one that challenged the notion of development in terms of capitalist developmentalism and reflected anarchist concerns as to national autonomy and social justice in economy and national situations in the course of development. Specifically, Yi was certain that Korea, while developing its industry, had to endeavor to realize the co-ownership of factory by the state and individuals (i.e., workers). And this was of importance if workers were to have a perception that factory owners were not the target of their struggle but rather the ones with whom they needed to share a common fate. In other words, workers would endeavor to possess the status of and qualifications to be the co-owners of factory so that their representatives could participate in the management of factory along with its other owners, ultimately sharing the factory’s profits. Yi expected that the FWA would also be able to become a spontaneous anarchist organization that could do away various contradictions in the capitalist society and correct the problematic collectivist nature of communist society.
For the realization of an anarchist society with national development, there were important conditions on the part of workers, Yi stated. First was to organize workers’ unions, not according to occupations but according to industries. Second, workers must possess the qualifications and status to be able to serve as the co-owners of factory. Third, workers, representing their respective union, must be given the right to participate in the planning and management of their factory, whether owned by individuals or the state. Fourth, workers must receive dividends in every quarter from the factory. In addition, workers were not just workers but also the “nationals” (gungmin) of Korea, a democratic country that entitled them to enjoy the right and opportunity for their free and equal individual development. They must be able to see themselves as a pillar to build a new country for which they would have a sense of mission. And they would also take responsibility for the promotion of economic autonomy of Korea and work with courage and motivation at the forefront of its industry, Yi contended. In short, if the FWA’s slogan of “the land to farmers, factories to workers!” was finally realized, “although it will be viewed as a capitalist country, the newly-born Korea will in fact become a country where in farming villages there are no tenant farmers or agricultural workers, at urban factories no wage-workers are employed, and [finally in society] no confrontations and struggles,” Yi predicted. Simply speaking, Korea would become a uniquely alternative capitalist society where an alternative modernity on the basis of its national conditions was accomplished through his proposed alternative developmental strategy.
Notable here were growing signs of Yi’s move toward a deradicalization of Korean anarchism. In the declaration of the first post-1945 anarchist organization, the FSBF, there was no mention of capitalism itself as a source of social problems or as a target of anarchist struggle to build an ideal society in Korea. As mentioned before, the declaration only accounted for the successful removal of their former enemy, Japanese imperialism, after 1945 and the emergence of two new enemies, communism and any remnant feudal forces in the post-1945 society that had collaborated with Japanese capitalists since 1910. Here Yi limited the capitalists to both Japanese and their Korean counterparts who had exploited Korean workers and farmers and still were believed to be at work after 1945, labeling them “remnant feudal forces.” By doing so Yi seemed to distinguish the “feudal forces” from those whose role and responsibility as “national capitalist” were of essence for the alternative national development he envisioned. This kind of recognition came to take shape rapidly as part of the framework of Korean anarchism after 1945, due to the priority given by Yi and his followers to political unity and national autonomy of Korea. This means many Korean anarchists gradually lost their revolutionary bent, at least in terms of their emphasis placed on national liberation over social transformation. In fact, it may have been necessary and even inevitable when Korean anarchists after 1945 were all basically concerned with how to gain and maintain complete independence without any political and economic interruption or exploitation from the developed countries. Their focus, in other words, was not on how to remove the social ills under capitalism and develop Korean into a new ideal society but rather on how to develop Korea as an autonomous country with minimum social problems that had been prevalent in the capitalist countries and at the same time without communist intrusion.
In this respect, the Korean War from 1950 to 1953 was, in hindsight, a turning point in the direction of Korean anarchism after 1945. The post–Korean War years witnessed a political environment much more hostile to anarchists with the Rhee regime’s anti-communist stance along with the height of the Cold War, all of which culminated in the baseless trial and execution of Jo Bong-am, leader of the Progressive Party. Personal survival once again became an issue for Korean anarchists who would conclude that it was “unthinkable,” in the words of Lee Mun Chang, to speak something against the Rhee regime and its successors under their “dreadful control” and suppression of their political foes with willfully fabricated evidence and stories to arrest and torture them and any socialism-inspired intellectuals and politicians. What Korean anarchists could do was to “hold their breath” before the brutal, merciless regimes.
Against the State-Led Modernization: “The Nation Thrives only if Rural Villages Thrive”
One of the main reasons why Korean anarchists turned their eyes more closely to rural villages from the 1960s and 1970s can be found in the undertakings of rapid modernization of South Korean rural villages driven by the developmental dictatorship of Park Chung Hee, often symbolized by his “New Village Movement” (Saemaeul undong). Contrary to what was propagated by his military regime, Korean anarchists believed that the state-led rural movement in fact had seriously undermined the very foundation of Korean rural villages and, as a result, pushed the rural population to migrate to cities. To deal with the situation, some Korean anarchists launched various “non-compromising” and “nonresistant” movements of their own against the state-driven modernization for rural villages, which included a movement for autonomous, self-defensive rural villages and a cooperative movement that aimed at organizing urban consumers.
Most of these anarchist-led movements were undertaken and/or guided by the Institute for the Study of National Culture (ISNC, Gungmin munhwa yeon-guso) Yi Jeonggyu had established in the spring of 1947. Strictly speaking, the Institute was not an anarchist organization per se, because its members included not only anarchists but some conservative nationalists in their political orientation. Participants in and members of the Institute, who had joined the ISNC since 1947, included, among anarchists, Yi himself, some of the second-generation Korean anarchists, and the third-generation Korean anarchists who had just graduated from college in the 1960s, with growing interest in anarchism. In addition, there were some “pure nationalists” (as opposed to “communist nationalists”) participated as members in the ISNC, albeit the majority in its membership and activities were anarchists who welcomed “pure revolutionary leftist nationalists” in joining them as their “friendly forces” (ugun). In many respects the ISNC was Yi Jeonggyu’s own venue to embark on his own cultural and economic projects to build a new anarchist society in South Korea. The Institute was an example of how seriously Korean anarchists, in this case represented by Yi Jeonggyu and his associates, took Korean traditions, national culture, and farming villages after 1945 in realizing their anarchist vision in South Korea, as well as in thinking of national development. This is evident in the mission of the Institute, which stated its goal as uncovering the “national essence” (bonjil) of Korea and the “capability” (yeongnyang) of Koreans by way of conducting researches on Korean culture.
After its establishment in 1947, the ISNC, however, had not been active, but in the years after the end of the Korean War in 1953, it became a little active again with the shift of its main focus to the recovery of the destroyed national economy of South Korea after the war, with an aim to help stabilize people’s devastated livelihood in the postwar situation. In the postwar years both economic recovery and stabilization were deemed to be the keys to solve all the cultural and social problems prevalent after the war in then–South Korea. Therefore, the ISNC increasingly shifted its focus to research and works that could make contributions to the much-needed immediate economic reconstruction of South Korea from the ashes of the war, for which it particularly paid attention to farmers and thus initiated a movement in the ensuing years to support them in dire situation, as I examine below. Simply speaking, the two main issues the ISNC was manifested to tackle in its postwar activities were rural culture (i.e., “national essence”) and how it could be promoted and developed (i.e., rural culture’s “capability”). To put it differently, the ISNC’s ultimate task was to achieve South Korea’s viability as an independent, autonomous country, by identifying “broadly-defined overall cultural capability of Koreans” and utilizing their own unique rural culture.
To fulfill the task, the ISNC was involved in various activities and projects that reflected its name, Institute for the Study of National Culture. Due to its unequivocal emphasis on the nation (minjok) and/or nationals (gungmin) in its quest for an ideal anarchist society in Korea, which no doubt sounds quite contradictory if we consider the universal messages and goals of anarchism and the transnational character of Korean anarchism I have argued for, the ISNC’s name itself often brought to mind images that seemed unlikely for an anarchist institute. The choice of the Institute’s name, the Study of National Culture, was probably based on a certain awareness among anarchists that Korea’s national liberation was not accomplished yet, which invited a new prioritization of complete national liberation over social revolution in a universal sense, as their continuous task even after 1945, as Lee Mun Chang explains. What I think important was their willingness to respond proactively to the national environment in the process of realizing their ultimate anarchist ideals. Another possible reason for adopting and using such a name was to avoid any misunderstanding and/or political accusations as to the identity and underlying ideology of the ISNC and its activities.
The main subject of the ISNC’s research activities was “the promotion of the Korean nation’s subjectivity (jucheseong) and the establishment of an autonomous and cooperative [cultural] structure for the people’s life,” while its two major goals that served as its principles to build a new society were, first, the completion of autonomy and independence of Korea, through which Korea’s unification could be finally realized, and, second, the realization of a “free community” (jayu gongdongche) in society through spontaneous cooperation among its members. The institute’s immanent role then was to place “foundational layers” (gicheung) in society to build a free society of which the masses were the subject (juche). And the foundation for such a new society would only be laid out by an autonomous, self-regulating communitarian life of the masses. To put it differently, in the words of Lee Mun Chang, the immediate task the nation faced was the realization of national liberation, not only in the sense of political independence but in the sense of having a “free society” composed of “communities of autonomous cooperation through direct democracy” by the people who were “the real owners of the land.”
What Yi Jeonggyu found most bothersome in the late 1960s and early 1970s when South Korea was in its early phase of modernization, was the loss of the subjectivity among his fellow Koreans. To him, South Koreans at that time seemed to have become oblivious of who they were and what they had lost and forgotten from the past. Criticizing the path South Korea had taken thus far for modernization and how Koreans had lost themselves during the modernization process, Yi rewrote the ISNC’s mission statement around that time, which further underlined the importance of “seeking ourselves” through the investigation and research of “our culture,” which he identified with “the living culture of general, common people” (ilban seo-min cheung ui saenghwal munhwa). This “living culture” had to be developed and promoted in order for Koreans to have a clear understanding of their raison d’être, so that they could inherit the cultural traditions from their ancestors and finally could also receive and digest foreign cultures with which they could form and develop a new “culture of mine,” both individually and nationally. Making such a new Korean culture out of the symbiosis of traditional Korean rural culture and foreign cultures became the ISNC’s new mission by the early 1970s. And the newly made culture was supposed to be antielitist and antiurban in its character.
What was taken into account in the propagation for the new synthetic culture was a Korean traditional social practice of production and consumption. Determinant in the formation of the new culture, in other words, was social relations in Korean society that had been shaped from the prevailing culture of production and consumption in society. Hence, what the ISNC suggested was the control of consumption with reference to production in terms of the latter’s efficiency and artistic aspect. Underlying importance was placed on the control in society of consumption so that a culture of ethical production and consumption could be urgently formulated along with the formation of an autonomous and cooperative lifestyle among Koreans, in order to consolidate “our tradition of people’s culture.” This synthetic culture was to empower Koreans “to embody a spontaneous, cooperative free community and a free society, both of which would strive for complete, autonomous and independent unification of the nation.” And the “commoners” (baekseong) who were “the owners of the land” would enable the realization of “a direct democratic, autonomous and cooperative community.” In order to achieve such a free society of the commoners, as Lee Mun Chang explains, the ISNC endeavored to lay out “a basic layer of the free society” of which the masses (minjung) were the main body. The anarchists in the ISNC expected to found such a society on the basis of an autonomous and self-regulating communal life and understood their immediate task in the national liberation movement of gaining complete and autonomous independence of Korea.
What we can see here is the emphasis Yi Jeonggyu and his fellow anarchists like Lee placed on the importance of a cultural transformation of individuals in the process of building an anarchist society in Korea, in this case, farmers themselves who were viewed as the preservers of native culture and genuine “owners” of Korea. Means to be used for the transformation were tradition (or national culture) and education, as Yi Jeonggyu underlined the importance of tradition in search for a new culture and national development and the role of education in the creation of such new individuals for a new society. And Yi explained that traditions, good or bad, could all be constructively succeeded, if they were able to be turned into something positive; the tradition of struggle, resistance, and overthrow from the past could be rendered into more constructive, cooperative elements in society. Such Korean traditions as understanding, yielding, cooperation, forbearance, mutual aid, and so on could be inherited for the constructive succession of tradition in the modern society. It is notable here that Yi’s suggested means for a new society was tradition, but his goal was not the restoration of a traditional society but the construction of a modern society that could combine certain positive aspects of both traditional and modern societies.
Yi also set the goal of education not as its revival of traditions but as its availability and utility for humanity. More specifically, education was to serve the construction of a democratic society in Korea, which could in turn contribute to the construction of common welfare for the whole mankind: the ultimate goal of higher education in Korea was to breed “individuals who can devote themselves to the welfare of mankind” (hongik ingan). These individuals, after successfully finishing their higher education, would possess a consciousness as a “free person” (jayu in) and, at the same time, as a responsible member not only of the Korean society but of the whole human society. And as a faithful citizen of the world as well as of Korea, these individuals would promote native Korean culture and would play a role simultaneously as a bridge for the cultural exchanges between the East and the West. By doing so they would begin to improve the quality of Korean life in both material and emotional aspects, and consequently scheme to integrate all the nations of the world into “one world,” both materially and emotionally. Two principles, freedom and equality, were to be upheld in the course of constructing “one world” where common welfare would be realized for the all mankind.
For all the above tasks and goals, the main target of the ISNC’s activities was rural farming villages, which subsequently gave rise to the focal question as to how to balance development between rural and urban areas, as mentioned above. Korean anarchists in the late 1960s and early 1970s widely shared the anxieties and concerns about the unbalanced development led by the state. As of the early 1970s, they even deeply believed that there had been a crisis in Korean society. Yi Jeonggyu, then-director of the ISNC, expressed the concerns and anxieties in his keynote speech delivered on November 17, 1971, at a seminar for rural leaders, held at and by YMCA in Seoul. In the speech, titled “Issues in Making Rural Villages Autonomous,” Yi made it clear that he had perceived a serious crisis in politics and economy in South Korea at the time. He in fact called for special attention to the “rural problem” which, according to him, fundamentally stemmed from the gap in development in then–South Korea between rural and urban areas. Modernization through industrialization had been pushed hard by then–South Korean military regime and, as a result, factories had been built and cities had been expanded for economic development under the state’s policy with the influx of rural population into cities as workers. All these phenomena, Yi analyzed, had entailed and impaired the impoverished conditions of the rural population in farming villages. What made him more concerned and caused him to lament were the obvious polarizations, first, into differences in wealth between rural villages and cities and, second, subsequent cultural differences that were described as “civilization” versus “barbarism.” Development in cities should have never been pursued at the expense of rural villages, but the impoverishment in rural villages unfortunately had been prevalent, an outcome of which was the ostensible modernization achieved in the cities of South Korea, Yi noted. A healthy society, however, he believed, could only exist with a balanced development between cities and rural villages. In short, South Korean rural villages as of the early 1970s were, in Yi’s view, so “empty” and the reason for that lay in modernization and urbanization pushed by the state. This was deemed a national crisis, and to overcome it, Yi believed, Koreans needed to understand an important fact, that “the nation thrives only if the rural villages thrive.” The future of the nation would be determined decisively by the prosperity in rural villages, and Yi wanted all Koreans to grasp it, if they were to overcome the national crisis of the 1970s.
In his criticism of the impoverishment of South Korean rural villages, however, Yi didn’t raise any questions regarding the responsibility and accountability of the then–South Korean military government. Neither did he criticize the government and its policies directly. Rather, Yi posited that in South Korea some economic issues surely could be prioritized and of importance as well to avoid any economic setbacks, but, without internal political stability and national unity, the country in the end would be unable to deal with the rural problem and cope with the ever-changing international situation. His emphasis on political stability and national unity may explain, in part, why Yi was silent about the military dictatorship that usually brought political unity within, albeit under coercion and thus usually fragile. Yi nevertheless believed there would be no stability whatsoever, both internally and externally, without “making rural villages autonomous” (nongchon jajuhwa), especially in economy. Neither were “democratic autonomous forces” able to grow in South Korea. Hence, Yi proposed that the leaders of the rural movement use the slogan that read “The nation thrives only if rural villages thrive.”
While criticizing the state’s urban-based policies, Yi often maintained harsh attitudes toward rural farmers themselves for not possessing a sense of responsibility as “the owners of the land.” More important than the state were, according to him, rural leaders who needed to realize “the rural problem” and understand farmers, whose willingness to live a better life was crucial. In particular, rural villagers should have trained themselves to be democratic citizens, but they had rather been passive in attitude and often relied on the authorities for the training. Farmers themselves, as well as rural leaders, thus were just as responsible for the “rural problem” as the political leaders and government were, Yi contended. Farmers might have made insufficient efforts, but now they had to be determined and make efforts to have “mental readiness” with a strong will to live well and endure “today’s hardships,” Yi noted.
The training of farmers and, as a result, their increased knowledge wouldn’t solve the rural problem. Their self-criticism was also much needed for them to become “democratic citizens.” And their self-criticism could begin with the effort to overcome a tendency among them to rely on the government officials in solving the rural problem. If there were “weaknesses” and “loopholes” in rural villages, these had to be corrected autonomously and made up for by farmers themselves, Yi insisted. As the state-led modernization had proceeded, rural villages would increasingly face various challenges they had to deal with. The first challenge was to place “modern functions in the rural structure,” which Yi believed could ensure the seamless workings of democratic, autonomous functions of the modern in rural areas. The second one was the spread of “the urban consumption trend” that could cause various difficulties in the rural life. The third challenge was “urbanization” that accompanied “civilizational pollution” in rural villages, which must be avoided at all costs in order to prevent the same side-effects as seen in the city from happening in rural villages. And the final challenge was related to “the question as to how to guide the youth” in rural villages, who could have been swayed by modernization in the city but nevertheless needed to be raised as a backbone of rural construction.
Anarchist Solutions: The Movement to Receive and Produce (Susan undong) and the Council of the National Leaders for Rural Movement (Jeon-guk nongchon jidoja hyeopuihoe)
As mentioned earlier, Yi Jeonggyu believed that the solution to the rural problem exclusively hinged on how to revive the life of low-income rural farmers who were able to make their living only after gaining a loan of high interest. Attempts had been made to resolve the dire situation of the low-income rural farmers, such as expansion of cultivatable lands, commercialization of farming lands, and collectivization of farming villages. However, all seemed to have failed to take care of the “rural problem.” The keys to solve it, in fact, Yi hinted, were elsewhere, and they would be made available if two questions were answered. The first question was whether farmers in general could be offered additional sources of income, and the second one was whether surplus labor the farmers might be able to offer could be used and incorporated into the “natural cooperative works” in rural villages. The point, in other words, was whether farmers, especially low-income farmers, could be offered opportunities to make some extra earnings with which they could make their living better. The opportunities could be made available, Yi claimed, by gearing up “the natural cooperation” among farmers and absorbing any surplus labor forces in rural farming villages into it. With this basic idea the ISNC launched “the Movement to Receive [Orders] and Produce [Goods]” (Susan undong), which intended to provide rural villagers on the basis of the spirits of self-reliance and cooperation with some extra work during the time when they couldn’t till the land, to start their own small-scale domestic industry to improve their living standards and eradicate poverty by their own effort with additionally earned income.
Here again, the “rural problem” was perceived as basically economic in its nature, rather than as a product of complex social and political problems associated with the conventional vertical, exploitive socioeconomic relations that had existed in rural villages, for example, between tenant farmers and landowners or farmers and the state. Neither were they seen as a product of class divisions in capitalist society or of modernization. Anyway, the movement, without any analysis of the origins of the rural problem, simply viewed poverty and starvation as two main sources of the “chronic rural problem” in South Korean society, which had only resulted from the lack of or insufficient income farmers could make. Simply speaking, the movement was intended to give as many jobs as possible to farmers (and fishermen in fishing villages) through promoting a small-scale domestic industry in every rural village, which did not require any huge capital investment from the state and any specialized skills on the part of farmers. The basic underlying principle of the movement was that “those who work shall gain income and the profit shall belong to all” (noja yugeup iik gwijeon). And this principle, according to Lee Mun Chang, was framed after Kropotkin’s idea of “fields, factories and workshops.” In short, if an appropriate domestic home industry could offer some additional jobs and works to low-income farmers, it was expected to solve the “rural problem” from the bottom up and, as a result, to promote and develop an “appropriate home industry” in all rural villages. The idea was first materialized and experimented in a small town called Jin-geon in Gyeonggi Province, a province surrounding the capital city, Seoul. The first successful home industry factory was open there in 1965, where farmers were trained gradually as labor-intensive skilled workers and then were provided with some extra jobs during the slack season (particularly winter), mainly to boost their income. The factory was called “the Jin-geon Center for Receipt and Production,” where sweaters, children’s wear, handcraft articles, and other such products were made by farmers and shipped out for sale.
A close look at the movement reveals that it was also launched with a vision of alternative national development and social stabilization in Korean society. In the words of the initial drafter of it, Dr. Son Useong, the movement was expected from its inception to “serve as a means to shorten the national itinerary for economic autonomy as well as to improve practically the overall livelihood of Koreans.” Hence, its two ultimate goals were to distribute national income equally to all Koreans in order to improve their livelihood and subsequently to help national economy continue to grow at a high rate. To achieve successfully the goal of national economic growth, low-income families in rural villages were particularly urged to voluntarily participate in and join the movement. That way, the movement could aim at utilizing the unemployed human resources to promote labor-intensive local/regional small-scale industries, such as domestic home industry and at the same time to develop rapidly national productivity and supplying-power for export. With the increased income of Koreans, particularly rural villagers, the movement was expected to contribute to the growth of national economy and the founding of social stabilization. In short, while having the long-term goal to contribute to national economy and social stability, the movement tackled immediately the issue of dispelling poverty or at least alleviating the level of it in farming and fishing villages by providing villagers with extra jobs available from the domestic home industry.
Besides the economic and social aspects, the movement was also expected to entail broad cultural impacts in South Korea, which eventually would nurture and grow the national culture of “mutual support” (sangho jiji) and “mutual cooperation” (sangho hyeopdong) in life through the actual practice of forming a cooperative body voluntarily inside the domestic home industry factories in farming and fishing villages. The Movement to Receive and Produce would even be able to correct the dominant social ethos like mutual distrust that was a trait of the contemporary capitalist society. The cultural aspect was apparent in the program introduced at the Jin-geon Center, which envisioned through training the youth in the area a new future when everyone would grow to become central and independent figures for the restoration of their native place, as well as for the “purification” of local society. Besides the youth in the area, another important object of the movement in this regard was college students who came down annually to rural villages during their summer vacations to give a hand to the farmers. These college students from cities were expected to go through a training that could help them study about the masses in rural villages and develop practical attitudes and understanding that were deemed required for future national leaders.
Yi Jeonggyu’s own assessment of the movement also attested to this cultural intention. To Yi, the movement no doubt was a venue for both farming and fishing villagers to participate voluntarily in the “nation-building through industry” project by helping the nation to consolidate its autonomous economy. What seemed to be of greater importance was that by doing so they would go through a phase of “life training,” in which the villagers would come to realize how much more beneficial a life with mutual cooperation and mutual aid could be to them. Their realization then would become of significance as an acquired habit for their life and ultimately as an immeasurable benefit for the future of the nation. And there was an additional cultural benefit; the final products of the domestic home industry in rural villages would all be branded with Korean national characters and “spirits,” enhancing the prestige of Korean national culture. In short, unlike those produced by mass production of the machine industry, the goods from the domestic home industry under the Movement to Receive and Produce would bring in far more important, various cultural outcomes to individual Koreans and their nation, Yi concluded.
With all the anticipated visible, meaningful outcomes from the movement, the ISNC under Yi’s directorship planned on soliciting support for its cause from a wide range of social and political stratum in South Korea. In doing so it strongly disclosed its nationalist intention in the movement. For example, it held an invitational gathering on July 2, 1968, where Yi reiterated to the participants the various meanings of the movement clearly. As he made it clear, the movement had no intention to seek passively to promote extra earnings for farming families or attempt to decentralize the manufacturing industry; its ultimate plan rather was to pave the way to “modernization in rural farming villages” for the sake of “the nation’s one-hundred-year grand plan.” His call for support seemed successful at least for the time being, since many centers in the name of the movement were built in various locations to function as a main venue for farming villagers in their respective rural location to manufacture their home-crafted products for export. They were also slated to serve as a “vanguard organization for the modernization of rural villages” and as an “autonomous [jayul jeok] and communal [gongdong sahoe jeok] cooperative body” in rural villages.
To sum up, the Movement to Receive and Produce clearly took aim at assisting the idea and project of the “nation-building with industry,” while offering extra jobs readily to rural villagers for their economic need. In this sense, the ideal behind the movement could be labeled as “modernist anarchism” that saw industrial development as inevitable and even indispensable for national liberation in economy. Seen from a different angle, however, it disclosed the elements of “antimodernist anarchism.” The ultimate direction of the movement was toward the revival of rural population and their life against the state-led and urban-based modernization. Also, its main agenda was its search for alternative development, and its principles were undoubtedly mutual aid and mutual cooperation, an explicit sign of anarchist ideals, particularly of Kropotkin. These principles were used as a response to the competition-based ones of the modern society and the state-driven modernization project that placed its emphasis on cities.
Likewise, the society the movement intended to build in the end was surprisingly similar to the one the prewar Japanese “pure anarchists” strove to construct. John Crump notes in his study of Hatta Shūzō and Japanese pure anarchism that Japanese pure anarchists before 1945 envisioned building “a decentralized society of largely self-supporting communes engaged in both agriculture and small-scale industry.” Yi Jeonggyu’s emphases on rural villages and on farmers as the owners of the country, it seems, also shared much in common with the Japanese pure anarchists like Hatta, who saw and understood “the sheer size of the agricultural population” that “account[s] for a majority of the [whole] population and occup[ies] a vast area of land” in Japan. Korean anarchists like Yi in his emphasis on the importance of farmers and farming rural villages had openly criticized since 1945 that they had suffered from the “double exploitations” by cities and “feudal forces,” and their Japanese counterparts in the 1930s seemed to have already echoed in advance this later observation by their Korean comrades. There is no evidence that shows any direct links and ties between the Movement to Receive and Produce and the prewar Japanese anarchist ideas. But it is safe to say that there were some conspicuous transnational linkages between Japanese prewar anarchism and postwar Korean anarchism in thinking of an alternative development trajectory based on rural villages against the urban-based development of the modern society.
The Movement to Receive and Produce seemed to be successful for a while, as it bore its fruit not only with the completion of the Jin-geon Center but also with the construction of the Institute for Skill Training to Receive and Produce at the town of Geumgok (Geumgok susan gisul hullyeonwon) at which rural youth and women were trained as skilled workers and produced sweaters as well for export. It is unclear, though, when and how the movement ended, since there is no explanation about its fate even in the volume published by the ISNC for its own history. It is nevertheless possible to say that the strengthened dictatorship of Park Chung Hee and his state-led modernization drive in the 1970s could have prevented the movement from further developing and growing. The abrupt and unknown end of the movement, however, didn’t stop Yi Jeonggyu and his fellow anarchists at the ISNC from experimenting other undertakings to organize and train rural farming villagers during the decade.
An undertaking was launched by the ISNC in the early 1970s to form an organization of rural village leaders and college students. Yi Jeonggyu was at the center of it, who initiated a meeting on November 10, 1971 of representatives of some college student groups as well as some “rural movement” (nongchon undong) leaders from various rural villages. All attendants agreed to accept the basic idea underlining the slogan it adopted as the guiding principle for the revival of rural villages, “The nation thrives only if rural villages thrive.” As a follow-up decision, the next meeting was accordingly scheduled to discuss the possibility of organizing the Council of the National Leaders for Rural Movement (Jeon-guk nongchon jidoja hyeopuihoe). And subsequently the mission of the Council was penned at a preliminary meeting held later to organize the Council: to revive the cooperative “potential energy” (jeo-ryeok) rural villages naturally possessed and to promote the autonomous functions of communal life in rural villages, so that a balanced development between urban and rural areas and a stable foundation for people’s social structure could be accomplished in South Korea. Also decided at this preliminary meeting was that the Council would consist of those who had worried about economic collapse and cultural degeneration in rural villages. The point of departure for this Council was, just like the Movement to Receive and Produce, the revival of rural villages as a precondition for national development.
Yi Jeonggyu continued to play a special role in the establishment of the Council as its main sponsor, because he disagreed profoundly with the state-led modernization and urbanization that had been processed and was unhappy with the negative consequences they had entailed in rural villages, which he believed had an important but undesirable effect on the plan for national economic development. His disagreement, however, again was not necessarily lifted to a critique of then–South Korean military regime and its overall modernization policies or developmental strategy. On the contrary, Yi wanted to make the Council as a practical backbone or an assisting body for the success of the New Village Movement, although many rural leaders in the Council, including him, were deeply concerned with the top-down structure of the state-led movement that was managed and dominated by the governmental administration, as well as with certain social and cultural negative consequences it had left in South Korean society.
The formal formation of the Council was initially scheduled in December 1972, a year after its first meeting, but had to be postponed because of Park Chung Hee’s bloodless coup in October 1972 to introduce a new constitution that allowed his lifetime presidency, for which the martial law was proclaimed in October 1972 and all the political and other activities were prohibited. Next year the Council was finally organized at its inaugural general assembly held from March 25 to 26 at Ehwa Women’s University in Seoul. Bak Seung-han, who had been affiliated with the ISNC and was one of the second-generation anarchists, was appointed as Chair of the Council. It was allowed to be held and organized under the martial law. At the inaugural meeting the Council openly identified itself as an organization of farmers and also announced that the “symptoms of capitalism” had appeared in South Korea as a consequence of modernization. Visible among the symptoms the Council identified were the growing passive speculation and commercialized production in rural villages, a higher rent for tenancy, the increased number of absentee landowners, and finally an emergence of possible two new classes in society like “agricultural workers” (nong-eop nodongja) and “enterprise owners” (gieop-ga). And Bak pointed out that these symptoms had caused many subsequent problems: absorption of rural economy into urban economy, stagnation in rural villages, migration of farmers to cities, and, as a result of all these, rapidly growing population in cities. The state-led New Village Movement, however, could not take care of these symptoms, Bak contended. In his view the state-led movement had been concentrating mainly on “material increase in income” of rural villagers, rather than promoting autonomy, self-support (jarip), and cooperation in rural villages. This concern as to the material-based modernization was shared with Yi Jeonggyu, who gave an address at the meeting to congratulate the launching of the Council, when he pointed out that the “rural problem” was to be taken care of by farmers themselves and not by those who had nothing to do with them or rural life.
The Council seemed to be involved in many social movements in rural villages, such as the rural autonomy movement, the consumers’ cooperation society movement, and so forth. The Council, however, seemed to be unable to develop those movements further and rather would remain passive, eventually being dissolved in the early 1980s under the Chun Doo Hwan military regime. The emphases placed on agriculture and farmers/rural villages by the ISNC from 1946 had evidently survived until the 1970s. This time, its main activities were led by some of the second-generation anarchists who had diverse backgrounds but had no prior experiences in the pre-1945 national struggles. The Council obviously pointed to the emergence of capitalist ills in South Korea as a result of the state-led modernization but still didn’t attack capitalism itself, yet worried only about the negative consequences of it.
A Forgotten Path: The Federation Anarchist Korea (Han-guk jaju in yeonmaeng)
Around the time when the discussion of the formation of the Council of the National Leaders for Rural Movement was on its way, a group of Korean anarchists, numbered about one hundred, gathered at Jin-gwan Buddhist Temple in Seoul on June 22, 1972, to embark on a new nationwide anarchist organization, possibly with an aim to revive their movement collectively. Established at the meeting was the Federation Anarchist Korea (FAK, Han-guk jaju in yeonmaeng). Unlike its original English translation, its Korean name literally means “the Korean Federation of Autonomous Persons.” The organization’s name in Korean didn’t include the word anarchism, probably to avoid any unnecessary impression about it as a violent or an antigovernmental socialist organization under Park’s military regime and its anticommunist policies. Of course, the term autonomous person (jaju in) had long been adopted after 1945 to describe the identity of Korean anarchists not as those who negated the state but as those who favored an autonomous government and upheld the principle of spontaneous will of individuals, not to mention freedom and equality. Participants in the FAK included veteran and senior anarchists such as Yi Jeonggyu, Yi Eulgyu, Jeong Hwaam, and Choe Gapryong, in terms of their careers and experiences from the colonial period. Choe was appointed as executive secretary of the FAK, along with four other secretaries. The FAK was initially organized with hope to succeed the IWPP that had been forced to be resolved in May 1962 in the wake of the military coup led by General Park Chung Hee. If the ISNC had been Yi Jeonggyu’s individual “think-tank” for the realization of his version of anarchism, the FAK was basically formed as a renewed national organization of Korean anarchists, with an expectation to succeed and inherit mainly the anarchist ideals of the IWPP, particularly its leader, Yu Rim, who died in April 1, 1961, chief among his ideals being anarchist participation in politics through the formation of a political party and the importance of mass movement and education.
At the inaugural meeting the FAK’s goal was defined “to strive for the concrete realization of the Federation’s platform and the construction of an anarchist ideal world in order for all mankind to have a peaceful and autonomous life.” To realize the goal the FAK also passed its platform on its inauguration day, which demonstrated its transnational ideals as well as many anarchist principles it had inherited from the pre-1945 anarchist movement. The platform first described the FAK’s members as “autonomous persons” who strove to construct a spontaneous society as an outcome of their unity formed with spontaneity. Second, it defined equality as something “uninterruptable” and then rejected any political appropriation of it as a concept that might divide humans into the ruler and the ruled. The FAK seemed to be concerned more with equal social relations. Third, it denied that any kind of action that could end up taking away someone else’s works without one’s own labor. Fourth, “the principle of economic life” was adopted in the platform to ensure an anarchist principle that everyone would work according to ability and consume according to needs. Fifth, the FAK envisaged that a society that would be realized after applying the above-mentioned principles must be open to a possibility to have various patterns of life according to various regional and occupational peculiarities. Obviously, the FAK made sure of local differences and diversities in the practice of anarchist principles in building a new society. Last, the FAK would respect and value the traditional culture each nation had historically inherited and strive for world peace under which various cultures of the nations could remain in harmony.
After the inaugural meeting in 1972, however, the FAK became inactive and even in hibernation for a long time. Four months after the FAK’s inauguration, the Yushin Constitution was announced by Park Chung Hee, which enabled him to be lifetime president of South Korea and possibly prevented the FAK from beginning its various planned projects and activities. The brutal suppression of any communism-inspired or antigovernmental organizations throughout the 1970s continued in the 1980s under a new military dictatorship, which must have also hindered the FAK from rejuvenating its activities. The FAK was able to awake from its long winter hibernation and hold its convention again on August 21, 1987, fifteen years after its inauguration, in the wake of the 1987 June Democratization Movement that swept the country, at the auditorium of Keimyung University in Daegu, with attendance of fifty anarchists. On the second day of the renewed convention, their venue was moved to the auditorium of Anui High School in the town of Anui to continue their convention. Called “the holly place [seongji] of anarchism,” Anui had hosted the first national convention of Korean anarchists in 1946, and was the hometown of many second-generation anarchists, where schools were established after 1945 by some of them to realize their educational ideals. The FAK has been inactive again since 1987 for unknown reasons.
Post-1945 Korean Anarchism
The activities and ideas of Korean anarchists after 1945 shifted from accomplishing a social revolution through anticapitalism and anticolonialism to educating/organizing farmers and workers in order for them to be qualified and prepared to be the leading forces in the construction of a new Korean nation-state, as well as to accomplishing a rural area-based national development by combining industry and agriculture for the nation-building with industry. They even organized political parties of their own, but ended up realizing the wall standing between them and politics. The shift finally was accompanied by a sign of deradicalization of anarchism. As Lee Mun Chang notes, Korean anarchists after 1945 gave up their goal of revolution and have mainly focused on “extremely ordinary” works such as “educating the next generation” and advocating “cultural enlightenment.” Unlike pre-1945 Korean anarchism, which had the transnational linkages with regional anarchism in search of a social revolution that was both national and transnational in its goal and scope, post-1945 Korean anarchism can be characterized with its nationalist concerns and deradicalized practice in terms of the decreased concerns with the social, in favor of the national goal of an alternative development on the basis of national unity and political stability.
The shift was not a sudden one but was a continuation of the emphasis placed on the national problem since the national front was proposed and formed by Korean anarchists in 1930s China, as I demonstrated in chapter 4. The shift may indicate Korean anarchists’ retreat from their radical advocacy of the 1920s and ’30s, when the task of “constructing an anarchist communist society” in Korea was propagated and deeply shared among them and with other anarchists. But it occurred in the process of a Koreanization of anarchism after 1945, to meet the concrete conditions in South Korea under which Korean anarchists pursued economic development with emphasis on rural villages and national culture in an attempt to realize their anarchist ideals in South Korea. This is quite obvious if we consider that after 1945 they didn’t want to or at least were reluctant to mention or take up the questions of imperialism, colonialism, or capitalism critically and seriously, making them targets in their postwar struggle and movement for the completion of national liberation. In fact, rather than struggles against capitalists or imperialists, cooperation and responsibilities of farmers and workers in the course of “constructing a new Korea” with national capitalists were usually more preferred and even underscored by Korean anarchists. The reason they refrained from mentioning capitalism as their target of struggle was probably due to their primary goal to achieve national development through industrialization, an idea that can be called a kind of “modernist anarchism,” in the sense that it saw industrialization as indispensable and even essential for the realization of anarchist ideals in terms of economic autonomy. They also gradually began to shift their attention away from workers who were now no less under control of the state-backed union than independent workers’ unions.
To Korean anarchists national development became the most important task when Korea’s independence didn’t seem to be complete. To them national development was the only way to make Korea an autonomous modern nation-state and ensure its economic independence in the world of capitalism, and it couldn’t be done without reconstructing rural villages, increasing farmer’s living standards, and rediscovering national culture. Awakening and encouraging farmers and workers in order to make them self-reliant were therefore regarded as the first step toward the goal of national liberation and development, which could be achieved through a development strategy that stressed national voices. To many Korean anarchists Korea’s economic independence was an important element that would in turn guarantee its political independence in the international arena under capitalism.
But economic independence couldn’t be pursued simply by following the already known developmental trajectory of the advanced countries. It needed to avoid the mistakes the developed countries had committed and further required the reconstruction of rural villages, especially through an increase in farmer’s living standards and rediscovering national culture that could make up for the shortcomings of the urban-focused modernization of the advanced countries. National development with combination of industry and agriculture would ensure Korea would avoid all the problems of the capitalist industrialization. In a word, a “balanced development of industry and agriculture” was the best developmental strategy for South Korea, as Yi Jeonggyu believed.
When the state-led modernization seemed to be going in a wrong direction, destroying rural villages and thus impoverishing rural population in the 1960s and 1970s under the “developmental dictatorship” of Park Chung Hee, Yi Jeonggyu and his associates attempted to remind Koreans of the importance of preserving and learning from Korea’s own past, including native culture and tradition, mostly of rural villages. They envisioned a society in post-1945 Korea, which can be described as a “genuinely ideal society” built through the revival of rural villages that could be realized by the “Free Community Movement” (jayu gongdongche undong), a movement that aimed at constructing “spontaneous free communities” in society and strove for “the completion of autonomous independence and unification of the [Korean] nation[minjok].” Awakening, encouraging, and educating farmers and workers in order to have them possess the senses of the “owners of the land” and of self-reliance were regarded as an important step toward genuine autonomy and development in both political and economic senses.
In the years before and after the Korean War, the political and military tensions from the Cold War were at their peak and clouded the Korean peninsula. What followed was the strengthening of dictatorship in both Koreas, which reached its peak in the 1950s through ’70s and, as a result, impaired the already worsening political situation of divided Korea. As Yi Jeonggyu stated after the Korean War, there seemed for him no other way after the war but to ask for foreign aid, because of all the material and spiritual losses caused by the “Communist Bandits’ Rebellion.” Proposing a new life movement to overcome the losses in the postwar years, Yi thus suggested that Koreans think more about their place than themselves and also more about the whole country than their own place. In other words, the nation’s survival and stability had increasingly become much more important to Yi after the Korean War, because, he thought, there was no way to save the devastated Korean nation if there was no unity of all Koreans. The emphasis here was placed on the national reconstruction with unity and stability. Much needed for the nation were cooperation among individuals without internal conflicts and their cultural transformation to form new habits, values, and attitudes, as well as their anticommunism.
Korean anarchists seemed to fear that their anarchist ideals would be fated to fail under the situation where anarchism was considered “without any good reason” “a cousin of communism.” “Sandwiched” between two different political systems in two Koreas, both hostile to their belief, they could do nothing but “hold their breath” for survival to avoid possible arrest and potential torture, albeit the condition in general has gotten better in South Korea since the 1990s. As Yi Jeonggyu states, due to the political climate after 1945, Korean anarchists decided “to cooperate with those who were on the side of freedom and democracy in order to suppress the Communist rebels,” and to make every effort to foster Korea’s complete independence. Accordingly, many anarchists complied with the political aura of South Korea under the Cold War and dictatorship. In short, they practiced and deradicalized anarchism after reflecting the sociopolitical conditions of post-1945 South Korea.
The passing of Yi Jeonggyu in December 1984 drew the end of a long era in the history of anarchism in Korea, which began in foreign soils in the early 1920s for the cause of national liberation and social revolution, and thus marked the end of a revolutionary anarchist movement that aimed at radical social transformation for a new society with anarchist principles that had been deeply shared with many other anarchists in the region. In terms of political democracy and national development, it is possible, though, for Yi and his associates to think that there have been some measurable successes in South Korea, given the political changes toward democracy since 1987 and the economic prosperity since the 1990s, although these were hardly the outcome of their activities.
This study calls into question the conventional use and notion of “Korean anarchism,” if it is understood, first, within the context of the geographical and historical boundaries of Korea and, second, as an ideological principle that has been practiced in unity and with uniformity among all Korean anarchists. As I have demonstrated in this study, anarchism in Korea can best be understood, above all, as a product of the interactions, both direct and indirect, between Korean anarchists and their Chinese and Japanese counterparts, among others, in such cities as Beijing, Shanghai, Quanzhou, Tokyo, and Osaka. Their interactions were quite intense and substantial and entailed mutual influence and inspiration among themselves, which in many cases led to their common discourse/language and joint activities, either organizational or publication, for the universal goal of anarchism as well as their respective national goal. What is important here is the transnational character and regional elements embedded in Korean anarchism as a result of such interactions that accompanied a movement of Korean anarchists and their ideas from one to other locations in the region, followed by a production of various place-based practices. The spatial movement and, as a result, transnationality in Korean anarchism can’t be understood and confined within the physical and historical contexts of Korea that we conventionally know, and, therefore, I argue, must not be underestimated in the study of “Korean anarchism.”
Scholars have always constructed the history of Korean anarchism within the national context that it served the goal of independence against Japanese colonialism. The nationalist line of interpretation is misleading, however, because of the transnational and regional linkages in Korean anarchism this study demonstrates, which culminated in the idea of social revolution that was widely shared with other anarchists from its origins in the 1920s and in its subsequent development in the later decades. Although most Korean anarchists readily saw the question of independence as their immediate goal, their ultimate goal was social revolution bent on anarchist principles. They usually remained in conflict with nationalists and against their movement, which they thought would aim only at political independence of Korea without solving social problems prevalent in capitalist society. They believed that there would be no genuine national liberation without social revolution. Anarchism’s transnational messages such as freedom and equality on the basis of mutual aid and spontaneous alliance were to be crucial in the Korean acceptance and subsequent practice of it.
Simply speaking, the study of Korean anarchism must consider its origins in foreign soils, that is, China and Japan. And I think the emphasis needs to be given to the fact that East Asian anarchists, including Korean, were closely connected to one another through their readings of various anarchist texts, their common discourse and concerns shared with one another, the understanding of and the solution to the national and world problems, and, in many cases, their joint actions and organizations to deal with the problems they faced and identified. The process of their sharing often forged common radical culture and language among themselves and formulated their shared vision and joint actions. And I argue that we need to consider this process of interactions and sharing in our understanding of Korean anarchism that was a product of much broader transnational discourse and activities of regional anarchists. This is what nationalist historiography has missed.
This study demonstrates the existence of some kind of transnational radical networks of discourse and practice that connected regional anarchists and radicals. And the transnationalism in Korean anarchism was a product of the networks in which such locations as Tokyo and Shanghai served as their nodes. To put it differently, Korean anarchists before 1945 were constantly on the move within the “ecumene” where the intense and sustained interactions among East Asian anarchists occurred in those metropolitan cities of Eastern Asia. And as a result, Korean anarchism emerged as a part of regional anarchism, more broadly regional radicalism, and the history of Korean anarchism, therefore, needs to be understood and constructed within the history of regional anarchism and vice versa. Although Korean anarchists developed their own different versions of anarchism from those of their regional counterparts who nevertheless shared much in common in terms of their solutions to the problems of their contemporary society and world.
The transnational and regional character of Korean anarchism I argue for, however, doesn’t necessarily deny or even minimize the role of nationalism in its history and development. This book, rather, suggests a dialectical and nuanced understanding of the relationship between nationalism and anarchism and underlines the process that Korean anarchists read anarchism with their understanding of immediate national goal and, conversely, articulated that goal with their understanding of anarchism in particular settings. The transnational character underscores the close relationship (and often tensions) between national consciousness as a motive to fight foreign colonialism and anarchism as a longing to resist national boundaries and pursue universal goals. A Eurocentric understanding of anarchism as an idea that rejects any form of government misses this kind of tension or ambiguity in the relationship in colonies and semicolonies. Anarchism in Korea had its both nationalist and transnational dimensions, which were not necessarily viewed as contradictory by Korean anarchists. This was the vagueness that explains why they fought for national liberation and joined the Provisional Government, despite their poignant criticism of various nationalist movements before 1945. They were even doubtful many times of such terms as “the state,” “fatherland,” and “patriotism,” and usually found and identified themselves as part of the “oppressed peoples” of the world under capitalism. They had to grapple with the tension and maintain the ambiguous attitude between the ideals of freedom and equality and the national goal. To them, anarchism appeared as a promise not only for freedom and equality in a new society but for national survival and autonomy, both politically and economically. The ambiguous relationship and tension between nationalism and anarchism were to be crucial in Korean anarchism. And unlike many South Korean scholars, I have moved away throughout this study from separating anarchism from nationalism.
Next is the question about the understanding of “Korean anarchism” as a principle practiced in unity among all Korean anarchists. Throughout this study, I have used the term Korean anarchism, but refrained from describing it as a principle Korean anarchists have practiced with uniformity, no matter where they were and no matter when they did. In fact, as I have demonstrated, there were many different practices of anarchism among themselves, according to their location and environment. Anarchism was generally accepted by Koreans with reference to their common national aspiration but, in applying it to their activities and programs, they considered local conditions and demands, as well as the national and transnational goals. This exactly was the main reason for the diverse directions and methods they have taken in experimenting and implementing anarchist ideals and principles at different locations and times.
To be sure, place was important in the practice of anarchism among Korean anarchists in two major locations, China and Japan. Korean anarchist organizations in Japan were products of study-abroad students, mostly “poor work-study students,” in search of higher education, while their counterparts in China were organized by exiled Koreans there, working for independence. The Japan-based Korean anarchists were, in general, more interested in the social aspects, due to their intense interactions with Japanese “pure anarchists,” and had more chances to publish their own journals and newspapers, albeit they were short-lived and/or under strict censorship. And their activities were often part of the latter’s movement. Given the wide range and depth of the interactions between Korean and Japanese anarchists, it is safe to say that Korean anarchists in Japan were equipped more with theoretical understanding of anarchism and their movements were guided more by its social revolutionary principles. Important to their understanding of it were the works of Ōsugi Sakae, as much as those of Kropotkin.
Even among Korean anarchists in Japan, there were visible signs of different practices of anarchism, according to location. While Tokyo as a concentration place of regional radicals nurtured various anarchist movements and became a node of regional anarchist networks, Osaka appeared as a location where Korean anarchists had to deal with the prevailing labor issues among Korean workers there with a local-based application of anarchism. The Osaka-based Korean anarchists obviously were more mindful of the labor and “life-related” issues in the industrializing city, such as the improvement of working conditions at factory, and usually refrained from using the word black, the color that was associated with anarchism. As Go Sunheum’s case demonstrates, the activities of Korean anarchists in Osaka had something to do with supporting the livelihood of them and their compatriots, who were often from the same province, most notably Jeju Island, utilizing a kind of “place-based networks” in the Korean community there. Also, they seemed to have less conflicts and tensions with both nationalists and other socialists and, for their movement, made use of national consciousness as much as social consciousness among Koreans there. On the contrary, Korean anarchists in Tokyo, receiving consistent and strong support and sponsorship from their Japanese comrades, continued to propagate anarchism and put the word black in the name of their organizations and publications, as if they were not afraid of the Japanese police surveillance, even during the 1930s, as exemplified in the publication of Black Newspaper. As a result, the Tokyo-based Korean anarchist movement was overall in close relationship with Japanese anarchist movement. Targeting liberation, both national and social, the Korean anarchist movement in the two cities, nonetheless, was basically a social revolutionary movement, rather than just a political or mass movement for national liberation.
Korean anarchists in colonial Korea were more attentive to the social problems of their colonized compatriots under the direct colonial condition, deprioritizing the political question of independence, which would only bring in further suppression and subsequent hardships on them and their families. They even utilized in their activities a new term the destitute and humble class Yi Hyang coined in consideration of the colonial situation of Korea, rather than property-less class or proletariat, and focused on the “livelihood struggle” in industrializing northern Korea. They had to directly face and deal with the colonial rule and responded accordingly to it with consideration of the demands and necessities of their compatriots in different locations. Accommodations followed. Evidence indicates that the rise and development of anarchist movement in colonial Korea was largely a product of and even dependent on those who had returned from Japan to the peninsula throughout the 1920s. But there certainly was an independent and unique practice of anarchism in colonial Korea, as exemplified in the invention of the term. And many Korean anarchists in colonial Korea also maintained their contacts with those in China as well, including those in Manchuria. There were some visible internal divisions as well among those in colonial Korea over the focus of activities.
Similarly, Korean anarchists in Manchuria too adopted a place-based approach and were more concerned with the livelihood of Korean migrants there. Their priority was given to the issue of economic survival of the migrants in the treacherously harsh land, which denoted no strong attachment to the question of national liberation in their movement, at least temporarily. And moreover, anarchists in Manchuria seemed to be in line with those within colonial Korea in terms of avoiding words like independence or black in their activities, at least for their own survival, as well as the pressing issues they had to deal with.
The national front idea proposed by Korean anarchists when Japan invaded China in the 1930s was a reflection of their situation in wartime China, where they confronted the question of both individual and national survival. Enjoying relative freedom of activity with the support of Chinese anarchists and the National Government of China, they were willing to be flexible in their attitude toward nationalists and even communists, and accordingly prioritized the national goal over their anarchist goal, which marked a turning point in the Korean anarchist movement in China. The national front idea and the subsequent proposal for armed struggle against Japan in league with the Chinese were, to be sure, a logical outcome under the wartime situation in China, but also a reflection of the long-held idea to make alliance with the Chinese for their shared transnational goal. Korean anarchists in 1930s Japan, unlike their counterparts in China of the same decade, were not able to involve in any kind of armed struggle for independence, but rather had to go underground or were forced to remain silent with their Japanese comrades until 1945, unless they gave up their anarchist faith and converted to worship the Japanese emperor. An exception was Black Newspaper, which carried its own resilient struggle against Japanese imperialism by delivering to its readers the issues related to colonial Korea and the information and news about Korean anarchists in the region, with no sign of fear of suppression by Japanese police.
Among the China-based Korean anarchists, there was a seeming consensus that their efforts to build an anarchist society in Korea would be meaningless if Korea did not even exist. This was the main rationale for them in proposing the national front idea and shifting their emphasis to national unity and independence. In fact, they might not have even thought that it was a shift in their movement, if we consider the role of national aspiration in their acceptance of anarchism. Japan’s invasion of China since 1931 had them rethink their priority gradually, and formulate their plan for both national and transnational goals. Their national front idea was backed by those who had moved to China during the “combat period” from colonial Korea, Japan, and Manchuria to avoid the Japanese police arrest and harsh torture. The relative freedom available in China enticed many Korean anarchists to migrate to China from the late 1920s throughout the 1930s.
It is possible that the China-based Korean anarchists might have been influenced by the GMD anarchists like Li Shizeng and Wu Zhihui, in their anarchist thinking and activities, especially with regard to the national front idea. This might also explain the reason why the post-1945 anarchist movement in South Korea under the leadership of Yu Rim and then Yi Jeonggyu, both of whom had maintained their relationship with the Chinese counterparts in China, moved toward the question of national liberation and national development. Under their leadership, Korean anarchists since 1945 didn’t seem to be interested in answering the question of radical transformation of Korean society, and endeavored to experiment their anarchist ideals through anarchist political parties and social movements. Anarchism in Korea after 1945 was deradicalized under their leadership. Anarchists even defined themselves as “autonomous persons” and “believers in an autonomous government,” not as social revolutionaries. By mid-1950s they used a new name for anarchism, “democratic socialism.” The new definition and name were coined by former China-based anarchists, most notably Yi Jeonggyu and Yu Rim. The latter, who had already attempted to implement “Koreanized [han-guk jeok] anarchism” by participating in the Provisional Government of Korea in China, emphasized the goal of establishing an autonomous Korean state, and hoped to realize the anarchist ideals of freedom and equality through an anarchist party as well as an autonomous government with mobilized workers and peasants. He tested their realization with the IWPP. This “Yu Rim Line” defended unflinchingly the ideals against the undemocratic, dictatorial state. As Yu’s undertaking with the IWPP was foiled under the Rhee regime’s suppression, many anarchists under the leadership of Yi Jeonggyu and his associates increasingly turned their eyes to the question of national development through reviving rural villages. They began various social movements for modest social and cultural changes. This “Yi Jeonggyu Line,” which seemed to assign the major role of solving social problems under capitalism to the state, didn’t receive the dictatorial regime’s suppression and, it seems, was well received from many Korean anarchists in the 1960s and ’70s, when they were forced to “give up” their radical ideals unwillingly. What happened after 1945 in the anarchist camp symbolizes the retreat from its original plan to build an anarchist communist society with freedom and equality guaranteed in society, which was no doubt stated in the declaration of the KAF in 1928 and in the platform of the LKYSC in the 1930s.
Yi Jeonggyu’s national development strategy was deemed more suitable in the postbellum situation of Korea, which stressed training and educating farmers in rural villages after accommodating the political climate of South Korea. If Yu Rim was more focused on the realization of freedom and equality in society against the Rhee’s dictatorship through anarchist participation in politics, Yi seemed to understand it within the national context in which national survival in unity through national development and economic autonomy was underscored more than the social. To Yi, of course, the economic backwardness of South Korea hindered it from developing into an autonomous country without economically driven social problems. With his deradicalized anarchism, anarchists might have been able to assist the realization of national autonomy in politics and economy but certainly had to witness the idea of freedom and equality slipping away and placed in the far distant future. However we evaluate the two different lines, they at least vindicate that Korean anarchists after 1945 were not in unity either and rather had diverse visions for and approaches to the realization of an anarchist society in Korea.
After 1945, anarchism as a social revolutionary idea and vision for a radical and fundamental transformation of society lost its vitality and acceptability in South Korea, whether by force or voluntarily. When the state-led modernization through industrialization in the 1960s and ’70s turned out to be disastrous to rural villages, Korean anarchists like Yi Jeonggyu, rather than leading a challenge to the state, passively reminded Koreans of the importance of protecting rural villages and learning from Korea’s own past, culture, and traditions in the course of “constructing a new Korea.” And they emphasized cooperation and responsibility of farmers and workers in national development, while decoupling anarchism with any radical struggle against capitalism of which social problems in then–South Korea were evidently a product. What followed was their pursuit of an alternative national development with the slogan of “the nation thrives only if rural villages thrive” to avoid the shortcomings of capitalist industrialization, which were conspicuous in the advanced countries. And they launched the Movement to Receive and Produce to solve the rural problem and lay out a foundation for Korea’s economic autonomy in the world of capitalism. It was perceived by many anarchists as essential to achieve the goal of Korea’s genuine national liberation. In doing so, Korean anarchists believed that they had to fight the communists in the north and the “feudal forces” that had survived in the south from the colonial period, to realize genuine national liberation in the sense of both political and economic autonomy. Overthrowing capitalism was not considered by them, therefore. In short, they set their post-1945 goal as “nation-building through industry,” with special emphasis on rural villages and their role in the cultural changes in the future.
An examination of the Korean anarchist movement since the 1920s reveals that social revolution was its common answer to the problems in colonies like Korea and in post-1945 Korean society, which was no doubt shared with their Asian counterparts. The anarchist ideas of freedom and equality were most attractive to them. Mutual aid was, not surprisingly, a widely accepted principle for both the progress of mankind and a social revolution in Korea, not to mention for Korea’s independence, possibly due to the affinity of it to such an existing idea practiced in Korean rural villages as mutual cooperation. Their shared idea and vision of social revolution were to help Korean anarchists transcend their national boundaries and share the transnational concerns and solutions in their struggle for independence and liberation of Korea after 1945. The shift made after 1945 to the idea of national development didn’t necessarily entail the loss of their transnational longing for a cosmopolitan world but was indicative of their search for an alternative development with the anarchist principles intact. In any case, Korean anarchists always seemed to be unwilling to be in unity and conformity in their thinking and practice of anarchism, possibly due to their deep faith in such anarchist principles as spontaneity and individual freedom, no matter where they were.
Many Korean anarchists must have been delighted with the recent economic development of South Korea, since it has been at least a sign of accomplishment of the goal of national development they have endeavored. And yet, they must have realized that it has been achieved only at the expense of political freedom and economic equality. To many Koreans anarchism still means and represents an idea of freedom. And it has provided others with “an anarchist sensibility” that underlines its egalitarianism in their fight against the neoliberal globalization. Now, the task to realize the two ideals has been handed over to the new generation of Korean anarchists who, facing the deepening and widening inequality between haves and have nots and witnessing the violations of individual rights and freedom, have to arm themselves with a new practice of anarchism, in alliance with the like-minded others.
This task is quite evidently recognized by some Korean anarchists who are keen to the importance of the emerging issues of social alienation and inequality under globalization. They plan on dealing with them as South Korea becomes a “multicentered society” (da jungsim sahoe) and make sure of creating an environment where the participation of “various social elements” (i.e., the masses) in politics is guaranteed. They are particularly attentive to the fate of the self-employed and the alienated labor forces, such as irregular and part-time workers in South Korea, including non-Korean migrant workers, under the regime of globalization. Some of these anarchists are weighing in on the revival of an anarchists party, this time based on and in collaboration with the newly defined masses and the civil societies working for them. On the other hand, some other anarchists seems to think that their main task lies in bringing the pre-1945 activities of Korean anarchists back to the memory of Koreans and honoring them properly, before any other new anarchist projects for the future can be planned and launched. Their concern and target seems to be the trend in Korean politics toward conservatism. These anarchists focus on mobilizing and educating Korean youths for the changes projected in the future. As is clear, there are still slight divisions and disagreements among Korean anarchists over the question of what to do in this new century to inherit and concretize their previous generation’s endeavors.
Despite such differences, Korean anarchists need to revive the ideals from the earlier years and regroup themselves to resist together the current state’s disastrous policies under neoliberalism, which have destroyed rural villages once again and taken away the two long-cherished anarchist ideals, freedom and equality. Their initial goal of independence has been slipped away, and the chance to achieve genuine national liberation with political and economic autonomy has thus become slimmer under the neoliberal globalization. In this situation, the precious ideals and vision for an ideal society that Korean anarchists used to uphold before 1945 have been washed out and their nationalistic experiences and sacrifices for independence are only highlighted and honored by the current state. It may be a time for Korean anarchists today to look for a new kind of struggle and solidarity with their domestic, regional, and global comrades and come up with a new place-based approach to overcome the forces, both national and global, that have deepened the pains and sorrows of the weak, and finally to get closer to the realization of their cherished ideals and vision. At least, it seems that, just like before, they all still share the same fate and issues with their comrades in the region and the world.
The following abbreviations are used for notes. All other abbreviations are indicated in the notes.
Chōsen minzoku undōshi kenky [Studies on the History of Korean National Movement]
Choaxian minzu zhanxian [The Korean National Front]
Chaoxian yiyongdui [The Korean Volunteers Unit]
Han-guk minjok undongsa yeon-gu [Studies on the History of Korean National Movement]
Huainianji [Collection of Cherishing Memories]
Hanguo qingnian [Korean Youth]
Heuksaek sinmun [Black Newspaper]
Jiy rengō shimbun [Spontaneous Alliance Newspaper]
Namhwa tongsin [South China Correspondence]
Quanzhou liming xueyuan xinxi [News on Quanzhou Liming College]
Yeoksa wa hyeonsil [History and Reality]