V. Karalasingham


The War in Korea


V. Karalasingham was a leader of the Trotskyists in Ceylon (Sri Lanka).
First published in Janata, 8 July 1950.
Reprinted in Socialist Review 1/2, January 1951.
Republished in The Fourth International and the Origins of the International Socialists, Pluto Press, London 1971, pp.76-8.
Transcribed by Michael Gavin.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for REDS – Die Roten.

(The writer is one of the leaders of the Trotskyists in Ceylon. First printed in the 8 July 1950 issue of Janata, organ of the Socialist Party of India, this article was quoted in Labour Action on 11 September.)

The cold war in East Asia has erupted into a shooting war in Korea. The North Korean Government have invaded territory held by the South Korean Government, leading to open armed intervention by the United States. Suddenly, in fact almost overnight, two groups of partisans claiming to stand for Korean independence and Korean unification have sprung up.

But this hypocritical concern of Moscow and Washington for the future of Korea will deceive none. If today both talk in terms of Korean independence or unification it is only to utilise the question of. Korea as a pawn in their game of power politics. So long as there was agreement between the Big Powers – the US and USSR – neither power nor their hirelings was in the least bothered about any of the high principles they today invoke in their application to Korea.

In fact, it was by agreement among themselves at Yalta that Korea was cruelly divided at the 38th parallel. It was by agreement among themselves that Korea was carved out between these two power blocs and troops stationed in the areas of this country apportioned to the US and the USSR. In short it was by agreement among themselves that the first act of aggression against Korea was perpetrated as far back as 1945.

When all this was done, there was of course no talk of taking the wishes of the people who were so vitally concerned – the Korean peoples. The sell-styled democrats of the West and self-proclaimed Socialists of the East [the Stalinists – ed.] were united in their conception that Korea was to be only a pawn.

When, however, big power relations deteriorated, Korea became a point of conflict between them and the conflict – diplomatic in the first phase and military today – is being carried on through the agency of two governments each dependent and completely subservient to one of the power blocs.

This is, however, not to deny that there is no element of civil war involved in the war. But it must be understood that this aspect of the struggle is almost totally submerged by the cold war developed into a shooting war.

What should be made clear, therefore, is that Korea which was a pawn at the table of international diplomacy in 1945 is today a pawn in the arena of actual battle.

The two governments being abject tools of the two power blocs exhibit in the most concentrated form the worst features of the two major powers.

The Rhee regime in South Korea has hardly any popular support, representing as it does a microscopic minority of capitalists, landlords and black marketeers at the top. Without popular backing, it is sustained in power by the US.

In the words of Mr Johnson, till recently New York Times correspondent in Korea, it is “totally dependent on the United States’ economic, military and political support for continued existence”. Therefore the lack of democracy in this pan of Korea is not surprising, since only a ruthless police regime can hold the people under the Rhee regime.

As for the North Korean Government, it is as totalitarian and bureaucratic as is possible on the material basis of Korean backwardness in transport and communications. Even Andrew Roth, a liberal Stalinoid, is constrained to declare: “Unlike China, where the Communists have won power overwhelmingly by their own efforts, the North Korean Communists leaned heavily on the Soviet occupying authorities. They show evidence of becoming an imposed regime particularly in their fawning propaganda.”

Like all other countries under the Russian tutelage, North Korea exists without even the fig leaf of democracy. The nakedness of its police rule is only matched by the ferocity of its repression.

The victory of either government will not usher in the changes so much desired by the Korean people – national independence and unification and nationalisation of the economy under popular democratic control.

The victory of South Korea will mean the extension of us influence to the North and the conversion of the whole of Korea into a US landing ground on the East Asian mainland. While the victory of North Korea will mean the elimination of the landlords and capitalists, it will at the same time reduce Korea to a bureaucratic pattern of Soviet Russia – i.e. without popular control of nationalised industries and socialist democracy. At the same time the immediate result of the victory of Stalinism in Korea would be the liquidation of the independent socialist movement and the disorienting of the socialist vanguard.

The war is, therefore, not going to bring the liberation of Korea – although it may lead to the country’s unification. Korea even though unified by the victory of either government will be still further removed from independence.

We can, therefore, give no support to either camp since the war will not achieve the declared aims of either side. Further, so long as the two governments are what they are, viz. puppets of the two big powers, the Korean socialists can give no support to their respective puppet governments.

We, in India, can well appreciate this position. In 1942, even though we took our stand against Japanese imperialism, we did not lend support to the British slave masters whose puppet was the then Government of India.

The fact that the UN has given its benedictions to one government does not alter one whit the position stated above, since the UN is only a façade behind which US imperialism, one of the participants in the war, operates. The UN cannot act independently of the Big Powers and specifically of the United States. Its decisions invariably conform to the foreign policy needs of the Big Powers. Not abstract principles of democracy but considerations of Big Power politics alone determine the decisions of the UN.

If we are to support the decisions of the UN, then it is tantamount to an abandonment of the position we have hitherto taken on neutrality as between the two power blocs – a position that distinguishes us from all other currents in the left movement. Our Third Force position – “Neither Western Capitalism nor Stalinist Totalitarianism” – demands that we lend no support to either camp in Korea. Instead our solidarity is with the Koreans in their struggle against both war camps and for national independence and democratic socialism.


Last updated on 15.7.2001