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(en) Korea, history of anarchism up to the present - an email interview between dopehead zo and gabriel kuhn

Date Thu, 15 Apr 2010 11:01:11 +0300

1. Can you tell us a little about the history of anarchism in Korea? ---- Tthere is a dispute on when was the first time anarchism was introduced into korea. ---- some activist-academics argue that the first introduction of anarchism to korea dates back to 1880s. ---- but anarchist-like professors argue that in early 20th century anarchism was introduced to korea and some korean anarchist groups emerged in 1910s. ---- korea was annexed by imperialist japan and became its colony in 1910. ---- because of that, early anarchist movement or the first phase of the anarchist movement in korea and east asia put heavy emphasis on fighting imperialist japan and gaining independence. ---- the first stage lasted until the fall of imperial japan in 1945. ---- in the first stage, anarchist in korea and east asia fought various ways against the japanese tyranny.

thanks to anarchist studies, researches and hard works in late 1990s, we came to know that there were 3 differnet streams in the indepence movement in korea; nationalist, socialist and anarchist approach.
in the past, we learned that there were only TWO streams in the independence movement, nationalistic and socialistic approach.
nothing was written or mentioned about the presence of the anarchists in 1910-1945 era in the official education process or official history, so anarchist movement had been ignored and veiled for a long time.
it was not until 1990s when several academics started writing articles and published books about the first stage of the anarchist movement in korea.
in 1910-1945 era, anarchist approach was distinguished from nationalistic or socialistic independence for its emphasis on direct action by ordinary korean people in gaining independence whereas nationalists emphasized foreign relationships and getting help from big western countries like the US, and socialists prioritizing on soviet union's support in the elite-leading vanguard-party-like tactics.

making various anarchist villages in Manchuria to serve as anarchists strongholds in fighting japanese militarits was also done by korean anarchists,
making international anarchist networks of peoples across china, taiwan, korea, japan and southeastern asian countries was another ways of fighting japan's rule in the region.
gurilla fights in underground or open anarchist groups also existed in koreand japan to disribute anarchist ideas and encourage people to involve in the movement.
but this anarchist approach of independence movement became harder and harder becuase of the political situation in the late 1930s and 1940s.
as you know you had to choose either fasism (japan, italy, germany ) or us-led capitalst national state.
in colonial korean society, it became virtually impossible to stay the third way.
so around 1940s and 1950s not many anarchists survived in korea and china.
during korean war (1950-1953) every surviving anarchist in north or south korea had no option but to lay low and no space was allowed for radical anarchism.
there were just two choices; soviet union style socialism or rithgt-wing authoritarian nationalism.
the situation lasted that was unchanged until 1980s when massive people started joined pro-democracy movement in south korea.
only in 1990, we started to have and enjoy some political freedom for the first time in entire korean history.
so during 1945-1990, it was a dark age for the anarchist movement.
anarchist survivors had to stay undergound doing not much or making farming communties in rural areas in south korea.
in north korea no anarchist survived after 1948 when authoritarian socialsts took over and dictatorship is still going on there.

the third stage of the anarchist movement started early 1990s in south korea when books were published and various anarchist theories introduced again (vast amound of anarchist works were introduced in 1920 and 1930s but many of them were lost and forgotten, and even worse burnt, hidden, and intentionally destroyed by authoritarian north and south korean governments)
the third stage of korean anarchist movement is still going on in various issues and areas, such as peace movement, human rights issues, women's movement, environmental movement, labor movement...
i still got too much to say about the history of anarchism here, but i just have no time...

let's go to the second question

2. Korean workers, peasants, and students are known for very dedicated resistance. Is there an anarchist component in these struggles?

when progressive people's movement restarted back in 1970s in south korea, it was predominatly organized by marxists and pro-north korean socialists.
and basically it was still the case until late 1990s.
majority of the people's movement was influenced by marxism, leninism and pro-north socialists.
it's begiing to chage from early 21st centuray when people got sick of authoritarian elements in the progressive socail movement and anarchism became popular among people.
large portion of the so-called organized sector of the people's movement is still under different kinds of marxism, but more and more people are leaning towards non-authoritarian, anti-authoritarian, or automomous ways.
although not many people identify themselves with anarchism or anarchists, and yet i notice surprisingly that many people show and favor anarchist tendencies in social movement.
the majority of the dedicated resistance movement do not want to lable themselved with one ideology, but one thing for sure is that misunderstandings and misconception of anarchism become smaller.
in my eyes, many dedicated korean activists are anarchists, but because of some reason they don't openly associate thier action with one specific ideology or political tendency.

3. The division of Korea is still a big political topic internationally. What are anarchist positions on the issue?

It is not a big issue in anarchist movemeent in korea.
reunification is a huge issue in general and maybe it's on the top agenda for ordinary politicians.
but as you see, anarchists are not interested in becoming a one, big, strong nation process.
we don't want to be a part of the political process.
when you talk about reunification, capitalists get busy calculating and their profit and making sure they make more money by exploiting poor north korean people, and nationalists repeatedly say it is a humane thing for this devided two countires becoming one nation.
well. screw all that. we anarchists think differently.
we are busy making our own autonomous, self-sufficient communities all over the country, constantly creating anarchist spaces, resistance strongholds, movement bases by squating like i mentioned earlier in Duriban squat building in seoul right now and in 2009 Yongsan Massacre area, at the same time fighiting the state violence, police brutality, capitlists oppression and all kinds of discrimination..
we will keep making these autonomous communities, spaces and expanding them so that people will need no more state apparatus.

4. How are relations to anarchists from Japan, China, and Southeast Asia?

we have maintained close relations with japanese anarchists.
each year dosens of anarchists visit each other.
for example, in 2008 about 10 korean anarchists and activists visited japan to join various anti-G8 actions there and in March this year, more than 10 japanese anarchists visited korea to talk, establish and strengthen solidarity for later this year's anti-G20 demostration.
we constantly communicate one another via internet and conduct solidarity actions together such as the yongsan masscre issue in throughout the entire year of 2009, and Nike Japan trying to convert the public miyashita park in Shinjuku area of Tokyo into their private, commercial park issue this year.
as far as we know, since there are not many anarchists in chinese main land, not many relations going on between korean and china, except a few western anarchists in china who come to korea and get in touch.
in taiwan and hongkong, i know sevral anarchists and we do things together..

5. What are the most important areas of activities for anarchists in Korea today? Are there different currents within the anarchist movement?

I don't know if there ONE single most important area in anarchists in korea today.
there are many areas and issues that individual anarchists are interested in.
one area is making urban autonomous communities organizing efforts in seoul and other major cities, and also going back to rural areas to establish self-suuficient villages.
in peace movement, anarchist presence is strong.
in human rights movement, many dedicated activists show strong anti-statest, ant-authoritarian tendencies.
and in minorities movement and anti-discrimination movement, anarchism is a major element.
a new, different current in anarchism emerged from cultural movement from late 1990s.
music scene (punk rock and etc) embraced DIY culture and it became politicized.
cultural activists were inherenetly anti-authoritarian from the begining and so it was natural for them to show anarchists tendencies in many genres.
but still they don't want to label themsleves as anarchists, which does not matter at all.
what they actually do matters, not their lables.

6. What is your future vision for anarchism in Korea - and beyond?

for anarchists in korean society, we see tons of works to be done.
korea is a very male-dominated society.
overcoming patriarchy is a big issue.
the state also does not allow its citizens to actually excercize political freedom when it comes to criticizing government and large companies (Samsung, Hyundai, etc), when necessary, it even takes fascist-like drastic, violent measures to oppress civil society. so we have a long way ahead to go to actually completly change korean society.
we have to fight every minute of our time in each area and in each issue to curb, break and smash capitalist state system.
in doing so, we learn every day that the simple anarchist principles really help.
we live our future today by making anarchist communes real in our everyday struggle.
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