Eye witness to socialism: report from Korea

Free medical care, free housing, full employment, free education and safety for your children. These things are desired by all working people – and they are being achieved for people in north Korea in spite of US aggression and economic sanctions.

Despite the further stepping up of sanctions at the time of writing, the achievements listed above, unattainable for ordinary people in even the richest imperialist nations, were clear to the CPGB-ML’s delegation during its recent visit to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

Our party’s delegation was privileged to spend a week in the DPRK at the invitation of the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) in the early part of September this year. In a short time we were able to have very valuable discussions with our hosts (as reported in the last issue of Proletarian), and we were also able to visit many places in Pyongyang and outside it that gave us a huge amount of information about the country’s cultural, educational and historical development since the US-led aggression against the north was defeated in 1953.

From the very outset, we were impressed by the beauty of north Korea and the fact that this beauty is allowed to flourish because Korea is a socialist country. Indeed, part of that beauty comes from the obvious unity and determination of a people in the process of building socialism.

Driving into Pyongyang from the airport, we were immediately struck by the clean air, lack of billboards exhorting one to purchase the latest variation of Coca-Cola or washing powder, and a countryside tended and cared for, from roadside flowers to irrigated rice fields, by a population actively participating in the construction of a new society. In short, the difference in the quality of life for ordinary people between imperialist Britain and socialist Korea was immediately apparent.

Education and culture for all

Before the founding of the DPRK in 1948, Pyongyang had only three secondary schools, a few primary schools and no university – the vast majority of its population were illiterate. So one of the first tasks of the DPRK in 1949 was to set about implementing a system of universal free education. Although the outbreak of the Korean War caused by US aggression one year later temporarily suspended the achievement of this goal, by August 1956 free primary school education was effected and by April 1959 free education was also implemented in the secondary sector, including university education.

The priority given to education, and the scale of resources still put into that endeavour, were in clear evidence during our visit. The Grand People’s Study House and the recently-opened Kimchaek University of Technology are two examples of the extent that this society is developing access to a wide range of educational facilities for all it citizens. The majestic Study House, with a dramatic oriental roof (hip-saddle style), houses 30m books (we saw examples of scientific works, as well as literature from Shakespeare to Soviet novels, along with the works of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il) and can seat 12,000 students in its 600 rooms and lecture theatres. In order to extend its services as widely as possible, it also lends books and provides lectures on site, on tape and on the national TV network, as well as providing students from across the country with study-while-working courses accessible through factories and in rural areas.

Kimchaek University specialises in computer technology, both in its courses and in its provision of e-library facilities, being accessible to students remotely connected to its network. Kim Sung Il (Chief of Libraries) emphasised the importance of reading original documents (we saw a student reading Darwin in English in one of the computer rooms) and of the need to be self-reliant in developing their own computer systems – for example, they have developed a Korean version of the open-source operating system Linux. These facilities certainly demonstrated how higher education is developing in order to keep Korean society advancing with scientific and computer technology.

Great importance is given to culture and education for the young people of Korea. Centres for after-school activities have always been important in socialist countries, and Korea is no exception. The Mangyongdae Children’s Palace, which can accommodate 5,000 children in hundreds of art, sports, science and computer activities, was so vast that it was only possible for us to see a few of the classes – calligraphy, embroidery, ballet, musical instrument lessons from piano and accordion to kayagum (traditional stringed instrument), Taekwon-do and swimming, were just a few of the regular classes in place.

The climax of this visit was a performance by the children in a fully-equipped theatre with exhilarating and high-quality performances by children of all ages and clearly enjoyed by the packed audience. As Harpal Brar, leader of our delegation, said to a radio journalist in an interview after seeing the display: “Only socialist society can show such a concern for the ability of our children. The performance showed children as the ‘pearls’ of our society and the future depends on them.”

We travelled from Pyongyang to visit the International Friendship Exhibition set in the beautiful scenery of the Mount Myohyang region in the north of the country.

The exhibition houses over 200,000 gifts to Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il by heads of states and governments, head of organisations and prominent individuals from around the world. These gifts have not been privately appropriated but are on display for all to see and enjoy. Coach loads of visitors were thus able to benefit from seeing items from the culture and traditions of other countries, as well as seeing the extent of the links that exist between north Korea and the rest of the world. Like us, visitors also no doubt enjoyed the magnificent scenery and picnicked by the river.

We saw examples of how, under socialism, the DPRK has restored and cherishes its own cultural heritage. This heritage had been desecrated by Japanese imperialism and occupation and by the aggression of US imperialism and its allies, but has since been restored to show the long cultural heritage of the Korean people. For example, at Pohygon, 14 of the 11th century Buddhist temples which were destroyed during the Korean war have now been skilfully restored, and the Tomb of King Dongmyong (the founder of Koguryo 277 BC-AD 668), where ancient artefacts and cave paintings were plundered and looted by the Japanese invaders, has also been rebuilt.

Historical developments

It is important to emphasise how the strength of Korea results from the correct leadership of the Korean people by the WPK, headed formerly by Comrade Kim Il Sung and now by Comrade Kim Jong Il. Wherever we went, the importance of revolutionary leadership and also the need to ensure that the next generation are aware of its significance was explained by our guides. That this small country has been victorious against two imperialist offensives – first against Japanese imperialism and then, only two years later, against the US-led aggression of 1950-53 – is eloquent testimony to the fact that the DPRK has stood by the principles of anti-imperialism, independence and socialism.

The heroes who bravely fought for the liberation of their country from the Japanese are remembered in the Revolutionary Martyrs Cemetery on Mount Taesong, where their statues look out over Pyongyang. Not only do people come to pay respects to famous heroes like Ma Dong Hui (who, in the face of torture, bit off his own tongue to prevent any betrayal of his people), but they are a constant reminder of the gigantic struggle waged by the Korean people under the leadership of General Kim Il Sung and the need to continue the revolution as embodied in the title of the revolutionary music being played, ‘Do not cry – revolution is alive’. It was great to note that the anti-imperialist culture in the schools echoed this remembrance – youngsters in the Children’s Palace, for instance, were using copies of these statues for their still life drawing classes.

For British communists, the Museum of the Victory of the Fatherland Liberation War (the Korean War of 1950-53) was of special interest because of the direct involvement of ‘our’ government in sending over 10,000 troops in support of US imperialism’s genocidal war of aggression against the Korean people, which cost 3 million Korean lives (when the population was only 20 million) – and this by the Attlee government much heralded by the so-called left as ‘progressive’.

The well laid-out and very informative museum provided graphic evidence of the horrific carnage wrought by the invading US-led aggression, during which the invading generals boasted that they had bombed Pyongyang back into the Stone Age so that it would not be able to rise again in 100 years. (In fact, it was rebuilt in just 10 years!)

Ryo Ak Hui, an impressive female army officer, explained how the young DPRK (then two years old) under the guidance of Kim Il Sung and the WPK, fought the imperialist forces to a standstill and forced them to sign an armistice agreement on 27 July 1953. Documents, photographs and actual armaments showed the detail of their victory – the Korean torpedo boats that sank the US warship Baltimore, the Yak and MIG planes provided by the Soviet Union, the tenacity of all fighting for the independence of the DPRK, including the hundreds of thousands of Chinese volunteers, and so on.

Walking through the grand historic Victory Gate of the Fatherland Liberation War Monument, we were overwhelmed by the greatness of the achievements of the DPRK and of what becomes possible when there is firm anti-imperialist leadership, even when you are faced with what can seem like insurmountable obstacles.

We also visited the US spy ship Pueblo, captured in 1968, an example of continuing military aggression throughout recent decades [during August this year, US aircraft have committed more than 180 cases of aerial espionage against the north Korea, according to the Korean Central News Agency], demonstrating that the DPRK was correct to arm itself with all available weaponry, including nuclear weapons, in order to prevent further military attack by imperialism.

This was further emphasised during our visit to Panmunjom on the demarcation line dividing the Korean peninsula, where the heavy fortifications and the belligerent stance of the US troops graphically demonstrated US imperialism’s continuing aggressive confrontation with the Korean people. The strengthening of the DPRK’s defences under the wise leadership of Kim Jong Il and the Songun ‘army first’ policy is the only way that imperialism can in turn be confronted. Imperialism respects power, not reason, and the Songun policy confronts imperialism with the power and the might of the Korean people.

Freedom in Korea

Not only has Pyongyang been rebuilt from the ashes left by three years of bombing raids during the Korean War, during which one bomb was dropped for every north Korean citizen, but the way the rebuilding has been done is a magnificent tribute to the energy and enthusiasm of a people prepared to work for the good of their society because it serves them well.

As well as constructing cultural facilities, memorials and beautiful streets, they have built block upon block of residential accommodation. Our guide said that now every Korean family is provided free of charge with a residence – initially, it was only outside Pyongyang that accommodation was free, whereas in the city, rents were kept low. Now, however, free accommodation has been extended to the capital as well. This freedom is never mentioned when criticisms are made of Korea, yet it is well understood by working people in Britain that homelessness and sub-standard housing is one of the major causes of stress and poor quality of life.

Another example of a freedom that would be much envied by families in the UK was seen when travelling on the underground one day. Two cheerful little girls, about 5 or 6 years old, with red scarves and school bags, were on their way home chatting and laughing – and they were on their own! They were absolutely and perfectly safe. A society in which two little girls can move around freely and safely is a society that all parents ardently desire.

The Kumsusan Memorial Palace was an awe-inspiring and fitting resting place for Kim Il Sung; the Juche Tower symbolising the lessons and experiences drawn from the Korean revolution, and the Memorial to the Founding of the Workers’ Party of Korea demonstrating the unity of the people around the party, with the hammer, sickle and writing brush representing the workers, peasants and intellectuals, all served to remind visitors that the WPK is a constant leader and guide to the people of the DPRK. The murals on the WPK memorial showed the unity of the people in the Down With Imperialism Union, emphasised the great desire for the reunification of all of Korea and showed its support for liberation movements all over the world. The building of this memorial, like all the construction work undertaken, included building gardens and flats for the benefit of the whole population. Interestingly, this project was completed with help from Cuba and Brazil.

Korea is not isolated

We are constantly subjected to imperialist propaganda claiming north Korea is isolated or ‘isolationist’. During the week of our visit, not only did we see evidence of a wide variety of support for Korea from across the world throughout recent decades, but just a couple of examples of friendship were being enjoyed while we were there. First, the DPRK women’s football team had just returned (7 September) from winning the under 20s women’s world championship in Moscow, defeating Germany, France, Brazil and China in the process, and with FIFA having selected six of the Korean women as master players. Second, the 10th Pyongyang International Film Festival was taking place at the People’s Palace of Culture, with films and representatives from 30 countries around the world, including China, Cuba and Vietnam as well as from Europe, together with a film fair held at the Ryanggak International Hotel from 14 September.

The campaign to reject foreign interference and accelerate independent reunification continues throughout the Korean peninsula, with many examples of solidarity actions taking place. While we were there, the reports of the march in south Korea for a ‘Beautiful Seoul without US troops’ were prominently discussed. These demonstrations had united those who were opposed to the US presence and also those concerned with the detrimental effects on the soil and the underground water near the US military bases in south Korea. The effect of six decades of US military occupation of south Korea is clear proof that the Korean peninsula can only be truly beautiful when there are no US troops in the south – and a determined struggle to see that goal fulfilled is apparent across the peninsula.

In conclusion, we were privileged to have seen the Korean people determinedly forging ahead with the task of constructing their society unintimidated by the blockades and sanctions imposed by imperialism. On the one hand, there is the might of US imperialism and other imperialist countries; on the other hand, Korea is a small country under sanctions. But the DPRK is vibrant, and represents the future of progressive humanity. Dialectically it is imperialism that is moribund and decaying, while it is the DPRK which is gaining in strength.

Long live the unity of the Korean people! Down with Imperialism!

> CPGB-ML delegation to the DPRK – October 2006

> Channel 4 Dispatches: the case against North Korea does not stand up – December 2005

> Victory of Fatherland Liberation War Celebrated – Lalkar September 2006