In the preface to ‘Communism: A Very Short Introduction’, Leslie Holmes writes:
‘The overwhelming majority of states that were Communist as recently as the late 1980s have moved on. While, formerly, five communist states remain, the two successful ones (China and Vietnam) are so largely because they have jettisoned many of the original basic tenants of communism and are in some important areas – notably the economy – already post-communist’.
First published in 2009, such a view presented in Holmes’ book is already proving to be especially discerning. Only in late 2014 did the USA and Cuba set aside their long-enduring hostility towards one another, an action which, as I’ve earlier said, I believe will mark the start of socialism’s decline in the Caribbean. Arguably, with China and Vietnam already long gone, this leaves just one state that exists according to strictly socialist principles; North Korea, or officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
Ironically, what could be perceived to be the last untarnished communist regime has formally abandoned communist philosophy, a political step on the road to capitalism which the other four countries have yet to take, with their constitution of 2009 describing their country as one ‘guided in its activities by the Juche idea and the Songun idea’. However, Juche, the school of thought based upon ideas of self-sufficiency, and Songun, the national policy of ‘military first’, contribute little in the way of altering the country’s strictly-centralised economy. From the outside, it would appear that the economic situation has persisted without interruption, leaving a country with an equally ‘communistic’ system to the other four, and even more so today, with the relaxations in policy within China or Vietnam. But is all this about to change?
A surprising event in recent news may indicate exactly that, depending on what angle you look at it; North Korea is currently experiencing a nationwide property boom, a concept we’d associate with the capitalist west. In itself, this may not provide a strong enough argument to suggest a foreshadowing of the regime’s collapse, but an article published in the South Korean newspaper ‘The Hankyoreh’ explains how this may be the case. The author references research professor Jung Eun-yi, a leading expert in the field, who ‘argues that there are signs that the housing market in North Korea is turning into a real estate market, rather like South Korea’.
As I’ve said, it’s still only a minor alteration, yet change has to begin somewhere, and it isn’t always as dramatic as the Romanian Revolution of 1989, or even the lifting of the trade embargo against Cuba by the USA. Furthermore, it shouldn’t be underestimated how provocative such a change could be; the article explains how Jung believes this style of market ‘will continue to expand for a significant period of time’, allowing it time to seriously transform the nationwide economy, paving the way for further relaxations on the road to a free market. In short, we learn that Jung thinks 2013’s establishment of the housing delegation offices proves that ‘both central planning and market forces are at work in the North Korean economy today.’, and that, in her opinion, the incorporation of the latter alongside the former into the market also provides evidence for a reformist trend developing under Kim Jong-un’s government; she informs us that ‘the regime is going beyond the military-first policy known as Songun that was instituted by Kim’s father and moving down the path toward socialist capitalism’.
The timing certainly seems right, with the DPRK standing as the last of its kind, and I believe this is exactly the kind of trigger such transition requires. Once more opportunities arise for personal financial gain, enabling the individual, rather than the state, to profit, the iron grip the government maintains over the economy will begin to loosen; like the other socialist states whose colours have somehow clung to the mast after the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, the DPRK’s regime shall eventually crumble. One question, however, remains unanswered: is the fall of Korean communism to be rejoiced or lamented?
There’s obviously no one answer, and it depends not only on your attitude towards communism on the whole, but also towards the North Korean regime. I can’t imagine many conservatives, liberals, or even socialists saddened at the prospect. A dispute could arise among the far left, however, and opinions on North Korea vary from a communist perspective.
Personally, I’d definitely support the ousting of the current leadership, which operates as an absolute monarchy, enjoys luxurious privileges unheard of by the workers it claims to represent, looks to the leader like a prophet, Kim Il-sung like a God, and all in a perverted fashion which contradicts multiple tenants of Marxism. As for the loss of a communist system in the economic sense, I feel much the same as I did for the potential loss of Cuba’s. Yet it doesn’t take an expert to realise that the North Korean system is already flawed, given the famine it produces, the corruption it’s tainted by, and the seemingly endless funding it directs towards the military at the expense of the populace. In fact, if you take all its flaws into consideration, it would even seem sensible to argue that North Korea’s economy has already strayed too far from the communist model it was built upon.
The featured image was provided by User:SKopp from Wikimedia Commons. It was licenced under the following: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en
The image depicting the current communist states was provided by Ichwan Palongengi from Wikimedia Commons, and was also licenced under the above.
The image depicting the apartments in North Korea was provided by Nicor from Wikimedia Commons, and was also licenced under the above.