Statement by All Together on the South Korean presidential elections
Less than 10 days remain till the 18th presidential election. At the moment, numerous predictions show Park Geun-hye is leading by a minor margin. Nevertheless, no one dares to predict the definite result. What is definite is that regardless who becomes elected, that person will try to pass on the burden of the economic crisis to the working class and marginalized people. This is because the South Korean economy is falling deeper into a crisis amid the world economic crisis.
Of course, the mainstream presidential candidates are promising ‘economic democracy’ and ‘welfare’ and trying their best to conceal their real intentions in fear that their votes might drop. This also shows no one would be in a position to confidently and easily bring on the attacks. Nevertheless, the new government will, without a doubt, begin its attacks shortly after coming to power. This will shift the frontline of struggle from the ballot box to the workplaces and streets, the real place where victory is decided.
Therefore, the real issue is how not to loose our confidence and to build resistance in the upcoming struggle. This is the tactic for the upcoming presidential election. In other words, we should approach it with a question of what is more effective in order to prepare for the struggle from below.
Firstly, it is clear that Park Geun-hye must be stopped in the upcoming presidential elections. Park Geun-hye is the successor of Park Chung-hee the dictator who stained South Korea’s contemporary history with blood. She is a hardline rightwinger who would vehemently oppose even a minor democratic reform saying it goes against the ‘identity of the state.’ She is the real representative of the rich 1 percent that control this nation’s wealth and power. Currently, Chun Doo-hwan, Lee Hoi-chang, Kim Jong-pil, Lee Myung-bak and other old and corrupt rightwing politicians and greedy big capitalists are united behind Park Geun-hye. They are united as one in a ‘grand coalition of the conservatives.’
If Park Geun-hye wins in the upcoming presidential elections, this 1 percent group and reactionary rightwing would scream with great joy. Lee Kun-hee of Samsung, Chung Mong-koo of Hyundai, corrupt prosecutors, and owners of conservative newspapers will sleep easier and gain confidence to begin their attacks again.
The majority of the working class and marginalized people feel desperate to stop such a thing from happening when they think of the upcoming presidential election. They will walk into the ballot box wishing to alleviate their pains and suffering even a bit. They will think of the pains the striking workers and activists up in the towers and in the streets like Hyundai and Ssangyong autoworkers and Jeju Island peace activists are feeling.
Regrettably, such a mood will not be expressed through strong support for progressive candidates. These progressive candidates are hidden from the view by the mainstream bi-partisanship and the division and crisis of the progressive parties. This is why it is likely that anger against the passing of the burden of crisis, against dismissals, irregular employment, the Jeju Island naval base, nuclear power plants, etc. would be expressed through the voting for Moon Jae-in of the Democratic United Party (DUP), whether we like it or not. Such a mood is found not only among the broad masses but also among organized labor.
As of November 22, the total number of trade unions that announced support for Moon Jae-in is 1,364 and the total number of trade unionists is 456,000 (Maeil Labor News, Nov. 23, 2012). Among them, the absolute majority belongs to the Federation of Korean Trade Unions but there are also KCTU trade unionists. Especially, the Moon Jae-in camp has been building its ties with KCTU’s organized workers through present and past officials of KCTU. At a time when KCTU failed to announce its position on the upcoming presidential election due to the division and crisis of the progressive parties, such efforts by the DUP were effective.
Currently, there is a clear line of division between the supporters of Park Geun-hye and the people who hate or fear her. Such political polarization is manifested or simplified through the confrontation between Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in, along with the class tension, however, distorted and refracted.
Without the clear and best choice, the majority of the working class is willing to vote for the lesser evil (Moon Jae-in) and not the worst evil (Park Geun-hye). Of course, the workers who experienced the 10 years of betrayal by the DUP government would know more about Moon Jae-in being the lesser evil. But they think they have no other choice.
If Moon Jae-in wins against Park Geun-hye, people will not scream in joy. Nevertheless, they would feel some satisfaction that they have prevented the worst and feel a little more confident to fight. This is why All Together, Workers’ Solidarity, which has been defending the struggles of the working class and marginalized people, had no choice but to take a position of critical support for Moon Jae-in.
If there is anyone who concludes from this that All Together is supporting the DUP then that person is either confused about tactic, programme, and principle or intentionally distorting the facts. All Together do not think there is a fundamental difference between Moon Jae-in (DUP) and Park Geun-hye (Saenuri Party). In fact All Together has been pointing repeatedly to the fact that the two are not that different at all. The DUP is the very party that introduced redundancy dismissals and increased irregular employment during its ten years in office. It is the DUP that paved the highway for the Korea-US Free Trade Agreement and the construction of a naval base in Jeju Island.
If Moon Jae-in gets elected this time, he will know that only the people’s hatred and fear of Park Geun-hye is to be credited for his victory since he is not considered a better choice but a lesser evil. Nevertheless, he will betray the very people who saved him and begin the attacks shortly after. This is because the DUP is a political force based on a part of the ruling class (although it is a minority and does not control the economic power).
All Together has been in opposition to the DUP during its 10 years in office and in front of the struggles against DUP’s pro-market economic policies and it will continue to do so in the future. Even at this moment, we never hesitate to sharply criticize Moon Jae-in and the DUP and expose their contradictions.
We argue that the progressive forces should never ever go beyond critical support and provide unconditional support or participate in the future DUP government. Under the condition of the crisis of capitalism, a progressive force that participates in the DUP government or becomes its ‘left wing’ will only find itself pushed to a corner where it has no choice to attack the working class.
Our position on progressive politics is to build a political force independent from the DUP and struggles against the foreseeable attacks on workers by the Democratic government.
The reason why we decided on a tactical compromise by giving critical support to Moon Jae-in in spite of this position is to build solidarity and connect with millions of working people who wish the electoral defeat of Park Geun-hye.
The electoral tactic of the socialists comes from a different understanding than that of the reformists who aim to change society with reforms from above through the government and parliament. The important question should be which is more effective to build struggles based on the socialist principle that capitalism should be overthrown by working class struggles from below. This is why we are standing with the workers who think Park Geun-hye should be defeated at all costs. We are voting for solidarity and connecting with the people who think Moon Jae-in is the lesser evil and want to build resistance together with them.
Solidarity and Connection
Of course, there are comrades who say they cannot give their votes to open pro-capitalists like Moon Jae-in and the DUP and will vote for a progressive candidate. We fully understand their wanting not to vote for the DUP who betrayed workers. Left candidates who have experiences in the labor movement like Lee Jung-hee, Kim So-yeon, and Kim Soon-ja have also put forth radical positions and genuine working class agendas which distinguish them from Moon Jae-in.
Nevertheless, even if Lee Jung-hee of the Unified Progressive Party completes the election race, it is very unlikely that they will gain any significant vote. Especially, one must consider the fact that their conditions are very different from that of Kwon Young-ghil who ran for presidency with the organized support of KCTU in 1997 (300,000 votes), 2002 (960,000 votes) and 2007 (720,000 votes).
Of course, a few serious and militant workers are supporting these candidates. However, considering the prediction that the number of organized workers who will vote for Moon Jae-in would surpass 1 million, socialists should consider not merely a few vanguards of the working class but instead the broad masses of the working class.
Lenin, the leader of the Russian Revolution, argued “that policy should not be determined only by the desires and views, by the degree of class-consciousness and the militancy of one group or party alone” (Left-Wing Communism: an Infantile Disorder). We must “soberly follow the actual state of the class-consciousness and preparedness of the entire class and of all the working people.”
In such a situation, it would be unwise to ignore the mood of the working people, even the majority of organized workers, who feel that Park Geun-hye must be stopped.
It is not that workers who vote for independent candidates are more progressive than the workers who vote for Moon Jae-in. A large number of advanced workers who were organized through struggles are about to vote for Moon Jae-in. We must not argue to these workers that there is no difference between Park Geun-hye and Moon Jae-in. The mass of workers would not see a person who calls the May 16 coup d’etat that crushed the April Revolution a ‘revolution to save the country’ and praises Park Chung-hee’s dictatorship and a person who criticizes both as one and the same.
To these workers, simply propagandizing the basic opposition to capitalism and the need for a socialist alternative is not enough. Lenin argued that a “revolution is impossible without change in the views of the majority of the working class, a change brought about by the political experience of the masses, never by propaganda alone.”
This is a compromise but unavoidable compromise. It is a compromise to connect with the working people who think Park Geun-hye must be stopped and to build a left force and organization among them. To the electoralists, voting may be the most important thing, but for revolutionaries voting is a little less important and only a tactic. Therefore, such a compromise is possible.
Unlike the electoralists, the most important thing for the genuine leftists is not the parliament or votes but struggles and the unity of workers in struggles. Therefore, it is important to build a network of solidarity and resistance against the future attacks no matter who is elected in the upcoming presidential election.
In conclusion, we appeal to all workers to unite together to prepare for the attacks of the new government regardless of who voted for whom. The fate and future of the working class and marginalized people will eventually be decided by the struggles taking place in the streets, workplaces, and university campuses.
Steering Committee of All Together, December 10, 2012