South Korea/State-driven capitalist development

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Joined: 26-02-11
Dec 5 2011 20:22
South Korea/State-driven capitalist development


I drop in here to ask these vague questions from time to time: does anyone here know any good material on economic development in South Korea during the last thirty years? Material which attends to details of investment strategy AND workers' struggle especially appreciated.

All best.

RedEd's picture
Joined: 27-11-10
Dec 6 2011 06:08

I don't know if it's the kind of thing you are looking for, but Loren Goldner has written a fair bit about South Korean class struggles over the last few years from a communist perspective. His site is here:

jura's picture
Joined: 25-07-08
Dec 6 2011 07:41

There's actually quite a lot of academic literature on economic development in Korea. Of course, it deals less with workers struggles than with capitalist strategy, but you may still find it interesting. I once wrote an article on the history of Hyundai and here's some of the literature I used (most of the books contain more general chapters on Korea):

Hyun, Jae Hoon (2003). Korean Automotive Foreign Direct Investment in Europe: The Effects of Economic Integration on Motivations and Patterns of FDI and Industrial Location. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jeong, Seung-Il (2004). Crisis and Restructuring in East Asia: The Case of the Korean Chaebol and the Automotive Industry. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Kwon, Seung-Ho – O'Donnell, Michael (2001). The Chaebol and Labour in Korea: The development of management strategy in Hyundai. London: Routledge.

Lansbury, Russel D. – Suh, Chung-Sok – Kwon, Seung-Ho (2007). The Global Korean Motor Industry: The Hyundai Motor Company's Global Strategy. London: Routledge.

Lee, Young-Sook (2003). Lean Production Systems, Labor Unions, and Greenfield Locations of the New Korean Auto Assembly Plants and Their Suppliers. Economic Geography, 79(3): 321–339. (This can be found on JSTOR and should be accessible through a university library)

All of the books are available on (you have to register to be able to download books). I hope this helps.

Hieronymous's picture
Joined: 27-07-07
Dec 6 2011 08:44

The best book on South Korean class struggle I ever read was Korean Workers: The Culture and Politics of Class Formations (2001) by Hagen Koo, an Hawaii-based academic who's written prolifically about social issues in Korea.

Jura, do you remember that documentary I showed you all in 2008 about the near-general strike sparked by Hyundai production workers, from the Great Worker Struggle of 1987 (with 3,479 strikes, but most of them in the summer) through the agitation of 1990, mostly centered on the factory complex in Ulsan -- before spreading to other Hyundai production throughout the country? Well, my account of that period of class struggle was largely shaped by the above book. I recommend it highly.

I was fortunate to have lived in Seoul during the 1996-1997 nationwide general strike and Koo's chapter, "The Working Class at the Crossroads," is the most accurate depiction of that spontaneous mass strike I have ever read. Although it only goes up to 2001, it's an excellent book.

Other books are (both a little outdated, but still incredibly relevant):

The Rush to Development: Economic Change and Political Struggle in South Korea (1993) by Martin Hart-Landsberg, which is a very good overview of the South Korean Industrial Revolution and class struggle from a lefty perspective.

South Korea: Dissent within the Economic Miracle (1991) by George Ogle. This is an excellent history by a foreign "insider," since Ogle was co-director of the Urban Industrial Mission from 1960 to 1971. During that period, working class militants -- who were often hak chul, college students dropping out to organize -- were able to use this Protestant pro-labor umbrella group as a cover to do clandestine organizing in factories. In 1973 Ogle became a professor of Industrial Relations at Seoul National University, until he was deported for his pro-worker activities. This book was where I first read about the 1946 Railroad Strike -- that spread into a national general strike -- and the1980 Kwangju Uprising, both of which he gives some of the most sympathetic coverage I've ever read.

Although other, newer books delve deeply into Kwangju, like two by Lee Jai-Eui: Kwangju Diary: Beyond Death, Beyond the Darkness of the Age (1999) and The Kwangju Uprising: Eyewitness Accounts of Korea's Tiananmen (co-written with Henry Scott-Stokes), the definitive history has yet to be written. George Katsiaficas' work is devoid of a radical class analysis and treats Korean nationalism as something innocuous and not worthy of critique.

Joseph Kay's picture
Joseph Kay
Joined: 14-03-06
Dec 6 2011 13:55

Someone said I should read Kevin Gray's 'Korean workers and neoliberal globalisation' a while back, which is meant to be good (if academic). I haven't read it yet though!

One of the main academic texts that's pro-State-led development is Ha-joon Chang's 'Kicking away the ladder'. Nothing communist about it but it draws on South Korea quite heavily as an example of 'successful'* capitalist development iirc.

* From capital's pov, obviously.

Hieronymous's picture
Joined: 27-07-07
Dec 6 2011 17:53

Another very dated, but also incredibly insightful book despite its ideological slant (kind of Baran-Sweezy Monthly Review politics) is Alice Amsden's Asia's Next Giant: South Korea and Late Industrialization (1989). It has an excellent account of Park Chung Hee's forced march of militarized industrialization, especially his 5-year plans started soon after the military coup in 1962, his drive for heavy industry, and his Yushin Constitutional reform of 1972 (using the same Chinese character as Meiji, meaning "renewal," in Japanese: 明治).

If you want a detailed study of the first phase of South Korea's Industrial Revolution, this is one of the most accessible books.

gram negative's picture
gram negative
Joined: 24-11-09
Dec 6 2011 18:30

While I have only browsed it, this book may be worth looking into: Capitalist Development in Korea: Labour, Capital and the Myth of the Developmental State. I have a digital copy; if you are interested, pm me.

Joined: 26-02-11
Dec 6 2011 18:51

Thanks to all.