Korean Anarchists Under Martial Law (2) - Publications

Information for this article was gathered on two separate trips South Korea by collective members Ozeki Hiroshi and Nat Tyler, to in 1973 and 1975 respectively.

We were able to bring back with us copies of the publications mentioned (apart from the translations that is), and are looking for ways to have them translated into English. Most of what we know about them was learned from conversations at the National Culture Research Institute in Seoul. At least, they show that, despite horrendous repression, the idea is not dead in South Korea; on the contrary, it shows signs of a new revival among young people, as we tried to show in part 1 of this article.

In South Korea today, the anarchist idea is sustained by twelve, freely- or not-so-freely available publications:

  1. Anarchism - the Idea: A History of the Ideology & Activities of the Free Men (a translation of George Woodcock's Anarchism, pt 1 only, by Ha Kee-rak; published by Hyung Sul Press).
  2. Anarchism - the Movement (a translation of pt 2 of Woodcock's book, by Choi Kap-ryong; same publisher).
  3. Modern Science & Anarchism / Anarchism & Morality (a translation of Kropotkin, by Lee Eul-kyu; issued by the Committee to Publish the Posthumous Manuscripts of Lee Eul-kyu, 1973).
  4. 1917 - The Lesson of the Russian Revolution (a translation of Voline's La Revolution Inconnue, by Ha Kee-rak; published by Sei Eun Press, Nov. 1973)
  5. Biography of Kim Jong-jin (written by Lee Eul-kyu, published by Han Heung Press, 1963).
  6. The Constitution, Programme & Policies of the Democratic Unification Party.
  7. The Free Individualists' League, July 17 - Sept. 17, 1973.
  8. The Collected Writings of Lee Jung-kyu (published by Sam Hwa Press, 1974; 500 copies, privatelydistributed).
  9. Correspondence.
  10. The Memoirs of a Nationalist Militant's Widow - History of the Struggle in West Chientao (written by Lee Eun-seung, published by Chong Eun Press, Jan. 1975).
  11. The History of the Anti-Japanese Independence movement in Korea (written by Lee Gang-hyon, published Chong Eun Press, 1974).
  12. Passion for Liberation (written by Lee Bom-sok, published by Chong Eun Press, 1972).

Struggling to exist despite Park Chung-hee's fascist dictatorship, the anarchist movement in South Korea naturally has to put up with severe restrictions and almost total obstructionism. Before we go any further, people reading this should understand that the activities described here are taking place under conditions where even the right to hold discussion meetings, let alone publish their materials, are denied the Korean anarchists.

Still, in early 1973 anarchists living in the capital, Seoul, managed to put together the Jajyuin Yuenmaeng(Free Men's Federation - FMF) [see pt 1]. With this group as the nucleus, publishing activities gradually got under way. The first two items on the list represent a two-volume translation of George Woodcock's Anarchism. The subtitle. History of the Ideology & Activities of the Free Men, was a tactical measure adopted after long consideration as a necessary sacrifice to get the book past the censors. 500 copies of pt1, The Idea, were printed and distributed by a regular commercial press which normally handles university textbooks.

Pt 2, however, The Movement, was not so easily disguised. Thought control, obviously, is an essential part of the South Korean government's martial law set-up, and the publishers naturally hung back even after completing the printing. Only when FMF members finally decided to buy up and distribute all the printed copies themselves did this second part see the light of day. Since that experience, all actual anarchist publications in South Korea have been produced at the movement's own expense and distributed privately.

Modern Science & Anarchism / Anarchism & Morality is a translation of Kropotkin's Modern Science & Anarchism, together with selections from his Ethics. The translator, Lee Eul-kyu, was widely known as 'Korea's Kropotkin' until his death a few years ago. During his exile days in China, he fought in the front line of the Korean independence and anarchist movements. With this career behind him, the influence of his ideas and personality has become strong not only among young Korean anarchists, but even on a national scale.

The Voline translation is an interesting illustration of the curious political relationship between the anarchists and the government in South Korea founded on the mutual opposition to communism which we mentioned in pt 1. Because it comes down against the Bolsheviks in their conduct of the revolutions and condemns their suppression of freedom of speech and organization in order to consolidate their Power, the book was able to find an outlet through a Commercial publisher. Hence it can be bought in any of the student bookshops of Seoul. Even the word 'revolution' is no longer anathema in the contorted jargon of South Korean politics, and is thus used to describe the officers' coup d'etat which in 1961 overthrew the elected government and put Park Chung-hee in power.

Biography Of Kim Jong-jin is the story of one of the outstanding figures of the little-known pre-war Korean anarchist movement: the organizer of the anarchist partisans in north Manchuria, Kim Jong Jin. The author, Lee Eul-kyu, fought alongside Kim, and has put this book together from his experiences and memories. The circumstances of Kim's career bear an amazing resemblance to the Russian Makhnovschina of 1918-21: Kim as Nestor Makhno; Lee Eul-kyu as his Voline; and north Manchuria as the Ukraine. The contrast, too was merely one of degree. Whereas Makhno was suppressed by Bolshevik arms and forced into exile in Paris, where he later died in a sanatoriums Kim Jong-jin was surreptitiously murdered by a communist agent on July 11, 1931.

Of all the books which have reached us from South Korea, this one is easily the most important. Not only the Koreans living in Japan, but also young Japanese anarchists, as well as comrades elsewhere, should all read this book if they have a chance. We are trying to translate it, to make that possible. For, more than anything else, Kim's story gives living proof that, in the Korean independence movement hitherto shown as monopolized by communists and pure nationalists, there were also anarchists who fought sincerely in the front line of that movement, and who sacrificed their lives as anarchists to the struggle for national dignity.

Apart from the FMF, whose members are mainly concerned with maintaining the anarchist 'idea' the remaining activities can be broadly divided into two separate movements. These are, first, the group which has set up the Democratic Unification Party (DUP) in order to carry on legal Political activities; and second, the trend which has become known as the 'Autonomous Village Movement.'

The three major figures in the DUP are the party head, Yang Il- his chief advisor, Chong Hwa-am; and the chairman of the Policy Advisory Committee, Ha Kee-rak. Yang helped set up the Eastern Worker's Alliance (Tõkõ Rõdõ Dõmei), a union for Korean casual labourers in Japan, in Tokyo in 1926; he also co-edited the Black Newspaper (Kokushoku Shimbun), the organ of Korean anarchists in Japan before the war. Chong is often called the "father" of the Korean anarchist / independence movement; he was active in Korea, China and Manchuria before the war. Ha also has a career as a fighter behind him. In short, strange as it may sound, the DUP is the only south Korean opposition party which was organized by anarchists!

The Constitution, Programme & Policies of the DUP and the Free individualists' League piece present the political policies of the DUP, together with accounts of press interviews with its leaders. Since the regular press is forbidden to publish such things, it would be impossible to learn anything of the party's activities without these items. Most important of all, they explain the special nature of the anarchist movement in South Korea - why, after 'Liberation' in 1945, a section of the movement took the risky decision to soil its hands with politics [see pt 1]. The circumstances suggest a certain resemblance with the situation of the Spanish anarchists late in the Civil War.

The second main trend, the Autonomous Village Movement, operates from its newly-established centre, the National Culture Research Institute in central Seoul. This is headed by Lee Eul-kyu's younger brother, Jung-kyu. It originally evolved out of the Narodnik-type activities to which many intellectuals - mainly teachers and students - resorted after Park Chung-hee's military coup in 1961, and has now come to lead that movement. Its Narodnik ideology was inevitable, given the strong Kropotkinist leanings of the two Lee brothers. Lee Jung-kyu, thanks to his former position as head of the famous Confucianist 'Equality-Creating Hall' University, also wields considerable influence among educational circles in South Korea. Out of this, through admiration of Lee's ideas and personality, many young people are beginning to turn to anarchism.

Most of Lee's experiences and ideas are contained in his Collected Writings, 500 copies of which were privately printed and distributed by the FMF. This is another vital book for anarchists to read, and parts of it are now being translated into both Japanese and English. As well as a detailed chronology of Lee Jung-kyu's long life (he's now 80), the book contains his experiences in the anti-Japanese struggle in Korea, China and Manchuria; the history of the political and educational activities of the anarchists in Korea since Liberation; and the background to the National Culture Research Institute / Autonomous Village Movement. Although his late elder brother, Eul-kyu, actually acquired the nickname of the 'Korean Kropotkin', Lee Jung-kyu surely deserves that title today for the respect in which he is held by young and old alike.

Correspondence is the organ of the Autonomous Village Movement's main organization department, the National Conference of Village Activists. It contains reports on activities, discussions of the direction of the village movement, and so on. The conference chairman, Park Seung-han, is a young anarchist and a former high school geography teacher who resigned to live in the countryside. He now combines teaching with his work in the Conference.

Incidentally, Yasaka collective, near Hiroshima, Japan, is now planning to set up a kind of 'student exchange scheme' with the Korean movement, to give young anarchists from both countries a chance to change places. The first step will be, we hope, a summer camp in Korea this July. When you think about it, there are many points at which the Japanese and Korean situations coincide: turning the villages into communes; building an autonomous, self-defensible society; creating an awareness of actual conditions; even the aims and methods of each movement. We expect to learn a lot in the way of concrete strategies, methods and tactics. We hope it will be possible to put such an exchange scheme into practice despite the obvious difficulties.

Although the FMF, as we said, originally decided to finance and distribute all future anarchist publications itself, of course this severely limited the amount of material they could put out. The last three titles represent one way of getting around this problem. As we explained in part 1, the history of the Korean anarchist movement is tightly intertwined with that of the (noncommunist) struggle for national independence. So it's very simple to portray someone as a hero of the anti-Japanese resistance (anti-Japanese sentiment is still felt by practically every Korean) without mentioning that he was at the same time an anarchist. On the other hand, for those prepared to read between the lines, as well as for those who already have some personal experience of the movement, the message comes through quite clearly. If this seems an unsatisfactory situation, you have to remember the reality of political repression in South Korea today - particularly the almost infinite applicability of the fascist government's anti-communism legislation.

Items 10 and 11 are ideal examples. Lee Eun-seung's Memoirs contain her reminiscences of the anarchist / independence struggle in Manchuria, China and Korea up to 1945. The book makes no theoretical or ideological pretensions - it hardly could in current conditions; instead it contains a wealth of information about the pre-war movement that cannot be found elsewhere. Lee herself (she's now 86) was in the thick of the struggle with her husband. The publishers, a straight commercial outfit putting out cheap editions much like Penguins, attached the title to the book to distract attention from its contents. Whether this was out of dedication to the movement, or whether they simply smelt a scoop, is not clear. At any rate, the book is selling like hot cakes, and in March 1975 won a major literary award carrying a prize of 500, 000 won - Y500. Lee Eun-seung's husband, Lee He-yong, was a hero and martyr of the Korean struggle and one of the first Korean anarchists. When he was arrested by the Japanese secret police in 1932, to avoid betraying his friends under torture, he bit out his own tongue and died a few hours later. The book describes this incident and many others in a moving description of the conditions under which comrades struggled at that time.

Lee Gang-hyon's History is similar. Lee himself is a veteran of the Korean and Chinese anarchist movements, and one of the few prominent anarchists in Manchuria to escaped being bumped off by the CP in its bloodstained campaign for control over the Korean nationalist movement. He still lives in Seoul, is a member of the FMF, and is at present writing a book of memoirs. The History, also published as a cheap paperback, is a detailed history of the Korean Independence Movement beginning from the March 1st 1919 Incident [see 'Chronology' in LI 1]. Lee taught in primary schools in Manchuria for twelve years before going to Shanghai, where he was later arrested for an assassination attempt on the Japanese ambassador. His book is more than just a history though; it tells the confused and little-known background of the Korean anarchist movement in China and Manchuria at first hand, and is a very important book which deserves translation.

The last book is a bit different. The author, Lee Bom-sok, is a pure nationalist, and his book contains his memories of the movement from the point of view of a nationalist, rather than that of an anarchist. Although for that reason it's probably the least important of these books for understanding the anarchist movement, the distinction between the anarchist and nationalist movements was often very blurred, and Lee, a former military leader, was around for many of the important events affecting both. For example, he was co-commander with Kim Joa-jin of the Korean Independence Army when it was enticed to take refuge in Siberia in the early 1920's. Both turned anti-communist as a result of this experience, and Kim later became known as an anarchist until his murder by a communist agent in 1930. One other effort deserves mention. The workers at the National Culture Research Institute are planning a History of the South Korean Agrarian Movement. Volume one should be published by the end of 1975. It will be based upon information provided by local groups in touch with the Institute, student activists, and contemporary newspapers. Lee Mun-chang, who will be one of the principle editors and who writes regularly for Correspondence, told us that he hopes the book will reflect the Korean people's own ideas on how to organize and improve rural life, and also show the direction in which they want the countryside to develop, as opposed to that in which it is being pushed by the government's unpopular 'New Village' campaign.

Finally, other South Korean comrades, notably Yang Hee-sop, have set up the 'Freedom Library' (Jayu Munko). Their aim is to gather the scattered materials on the Korean movement in order to compile a history of Korean anarchism. They also want to set up correspondence with comrades abroad. Anarchists everywhere should do all we can to enable the 'Freedom Library' to become a CIRA-Korea; by offering encouragement from outside, we can help it escape from the jaws of the tiger, giving South Korean anarchists the opportunity to take part in the international anarchist movement. Yang Hee-sop himself has told us of his desire to receive news of developments elsewhere in the world, and is waiting for letters from us all.