In 2014 I published a book making a Marxist criticism of the DPRK’s “Songun Policy.” In it, I detailed how aspects of it deviated from Marxism. I think I was fair, and made rational arguments. The DPRK is not above criticism. Marxism is ingrained with the ability to criticize and reform line if necessary. It most certainly was not an attack on the DPRK or its leadership. I’ve been a long time supporter of the country, and have worked a great deal to debunk lies made about the country. I’ve taken hostility from anti-DPRK people – both for and against communism. No one can doubt my support for the country in its struggle against imperialism.
One pro-DPRK individual has taken exception to my criticism. Dermot Hudson, who has served as a long time supporter of the DPRK; longer than even myself. As I recall, he’s a member of the Korean Friendship Association, and has contributed numerous times in defending the DPRK. He has written a book, “In Defense of Songun,” in reply to my criticism. His argument against my position – as far as I can tell – isn’t much of one all. He has come out in denunciation of my work and myself personally. Here, I would like to respond to what he has to say.
I’d like to note that I’m unwilling to spend the money to purchase his 82 page book; nor am I interested in reading all of it. However, I have gone through the 12 page preview and seen enough to convince me that there’s not much in the way of refutation. Because of this, I’ll be limiting my criticism to the first 12 pages which I think is enough to illustrate my point.
One of the points I made was that the creation of the Songun Policy was a response to the Arduous March. It was a very difficult time in the DPRK when the Soviet Union was dissolved and they lost about 70% of their foreign trade. The move to create a policy was completely rational, and was the right move to make at the time. I don’t disagree with them having done it. Hudson’s reaction to my statement was to call it “nonsense.”
The problem here is that there is a qualitative difference between manifestation and what Hudson claims. While there was obviously a military anti-imperialist policy during the Japanese occupation, it was certainly different after the revolution when facing off against US imperialism – once becoming a fully independent nation. Clearly, a campaign to drive the occupiers out of the country is different than having control of the actual government and carrying out a military policy. One has resources the other could only dream of. The latter is domination over the country, its economy, and professional military forces. The former is a subversion of these while not in a position of power. These are qualitatively different.
The official DPRK website states that, “Songun politics is rooted in the military-priority ideology that embodies the Juche idea.” (Italics mine) This does not mean that it has always existed as Hudson asserts. Leninism has its roots in Marxism. Does that mean Leninism has existed since Marx? No, it doesn’t.
Hudson explicitly states that, “The idea of Songun revolution is an idea of giving importance and precedence to military affairs in implementing the masses cause of independence, the socialist cause, and pushing ahead with the overall revolution and construction with the revolutionary army as the core force.” How does this definition differ from revolution? It doesn’t, they’re the same thing according to Hudson own description. If we take him at his word, there is no difference between communist revolution and Songun. Thus we ask, how is the Songun Policy substantially anything than another name for revolution?
In the real world application of the Songun Policy, Hudson claims that it is not about building a military government. Yet, his argument against this contradicts what actually took place. Not only that, but his description of what constitutes the operation of military government matches what he claims it is not.
I would point out that this is indeed what happened. Kim Jong-ll placed many military officials in charge of civilian institutions with the specific goal of keeping the military first in policy. This is a matter of record, fact; and is not denied by the DPRK itself. If it is not about placing military officials in government power – then Hudson is claiming that the DPRK has never used the Songun Policy. Which is it?
Hudson, in the same paragraph, calls me a reactionary and an opportunist. I’d like to know what his argument for this is. His only case of that is my disagreeing with him. I’d also like to point out that I’ve always defended the DPRK, yet remained critical of them. I’ve not given mindless support to them. Because of this, I am accused of being reactionary by both sides. I’m accused by some pro-DPRK people of being anti-DPRK. While at the same time, I’m accused of being a zealot for supporting the DPRK. This is not an opportunistic stance. In fact, this is quite the opposite. I’m not supported by both sides, I’m denounced by both sides. While attempting to protect Songun from “slander,” he himself has committed slander.
He continues with his questionable definition of military government:
What Hudson describes here is equally applicable to the DPRK government during the time of Songun. The difference is that the government is used to fight for capitalist-imperialism instead of opposing it. This is of no substantial difference outside of intent. This is tantamount to saying that a gun is not a gun because it is in the hands of the good guy, not the bad guy. Lenin created the dictatorship of the proletariat – class dictatorship of the proletariat over the capitalist class. Capitalism is a bourgeois dictatorship – a class dictatorship of the capitalists over the proletariat. By Hudson’s logic, the DotP is not a class dictatorship at all. The difference between a military government and Songun Policy – in the definition of “military government,” – is meaningless. This is equivalent to saying that defensive violence, isn’t violence at all.
In both cases, the military really is in command. In both cases, the needs of the military are placed first. Why is it important to point this out? Because it shows the hollowness of his argument. By doing this, he asserts that I’m calling the DPRK pro-imperialist by calling them a military government. I’ve done no such thing. I’ve acknowledged that the DPRK had a military government. I do not view this as totally negative as Hudson makes it appear. I support the military being first to a degree. This degree should be scaled back in the face of the development of nuclear weaponry. In this case more resources can be shifted back towards the quality of life for the DPRK people.
This is what I advocated for in my book. As a matter of record, this is what the DPRK ended up doing. There has been a dramatic increase in the living standards of the average DPRK citizen since 2013. Only recently with the renewed imperialist aggression has the DPRK shifted back to a more militaristic stance. This is done out of necessity. I absolutely agree with their decision to do so.
What we have here is a common problem for the pro-DPRK community. They take all criticisms and treat them as enemy artillery shells aimed at the heart of the DPRK’s independence. The DPRK is not above criticism. He should learn to be able to critically look at the DPRK. This does not mean we should stop supporting them in their struggle against imperialism. It is reactionary to assume perfection on the part of fellow comrades. Such an idea only leads to revisionism, because it hinders critical discussion and dissection of ideas.
It is necessary to defend the DPRK. It is necessary to be critical of them.