The Post-War Korean Anarchist Movement (1)

First of a two part article published in the Japanese journal Libero International. Part 2 was published in issue no. 4.

Formation of the League of Free Social Constructors

In the Cairo Conference statement of December 1943, the heads of state of the U.S., Britain and China announced unequivocally: "We take note of the conditions of slavery endured by the people of Korea, and reassure them that, in due course, their freedom and independence will be restored to them." Moreover, at the July 1945 Potsdam Conference on the post-war order, this principle was confirmed. The Soviet Union, in its August 1945 declaration of war against Japan, also expressed its adherence.

With the Japanese emperor's surrender statement of August 15, 1945, the curtain finally fell on the Korean people's 36-year tragedy. For these 30 million people, the death of the Japanese empire and the end of over a generation of brutal colonial exploitation all added up to a sudden, electrifying emotional experience. In every corner of Korea, the moment surrender was announced the people rose as one to set about the building of a new nation. Not just the cities, but even the remotest of villages, saw the spontaneous creation of "Preparatory Committees for Building a New Korea". Simultaneously, "like bamboo shoots after the spring rain," peasant unions, labor unions, cooperative associations and so on appeared. Through these activities the 36-year grudge of a people deprived of a country was finally being settled.

In Korea, the expression "post-war" does not exist. North or south, the appropriate term is "post-Libe ration", because for the people of Korea liberation from Japanese rule was the overriding event. Liberation, however, had not brought freedom to Korea. In place of the defeated Japanese army now stood two new armies one American, one Russian, which occupied both north and south Korea and proclaimed military governments in their respective zones of control. If military government was not to become a fact, the people of Korea needed to construct their own representative organs through which to negotiate with their occupiers.

The home town of Ha Ree Rak (see LI-l) is Anwi, a medium-sized country town in central south Korea. Anwi has for years enjoyed a reputation for turning out well-known anarchists. Here too, after liberation, there appeared a "Preparatory Committee for Building a New Korea," centered on local anarchists. Comrades Lee Siu Ryung and Ha Kee Rak were elected chairman and vice-chairman. Ha, at the same time, was also chairman of the Free Peasant Union Committee of Anwi. For its first task, the union began providing food and living quarters and finding jobs for the comrades beginning to trickle back from exile in Japan and China.

The communists, meanwhile, with the help of the Russian army then occupying the north, were moving fast. All over Korea, the Preparatory Committees were speedily re-organized as "People's Committees," which gradually came to absorb all unions. Needless to say, the communists strewed vast sums of money about to expand their organization in this way.

In October 1945, a National Congress of Peasant Union Delegates was called in Seoul. According to Ha Kee Rak, who took part, almost all the bodies represented had already been transformed into red unions, and the Congress was to all appearances a communist party one. Ha himself did not stay long, and the following day he resigned his delegateship.

By this time most of the exiled anarchists had one by one returned to Korea, and it was decided that the anarchists, too, should create a unified organization for rebuilding their country. This was to be the "League of Free Social Constructors." Two precious months had been lost to the communists, a delay that was to inflict a fatal handicap on the Korean anarchists for years to come.

At that time, of course, traffic was open between north and south, and when the call went out to set up the League, anarchists from every corner of the Korean peninsula gathered in Seoul to take part. More than 60 comrades turned up, including the brothers Lee Eul Kyu and Lee Chung Kyu, Kim Hyan Un, Han Ha Yun, 0 Nam Ki, Pak Ryung Hong and Bang Han Sang. All were fighters with long experience. Ha Kee Rak, too, after the disaster of the Peasant Union Co.. gress, eagerly took part in this new anarchist organization aimed at building a new Korea. Lee Chung Kyu has described the atmosphere at the time as follows:

"By early August 1945, Japanese imperialism's imminent defeat was obvious, and the tide of liberation was rising daily. Every comer of Korean society was affected. Among the scattered ranks of the anarchists there was an almost telepathic sensation that "this was it!" So they began busily contacting each other and preparing for the day of decision. When August 15 finally dawned, many more comrades were released from prison, and huddled meetings were convened to debate the future. In all, 67 comrades, some from remote parts of the country, some fresh out of gaol, gathered in Seoul.

"Within the Preparatory Committees, the reactionaries attempted to form a united front with the communists in order to seize total power at one fell swoop. To oppose them, the right wing, typically, flooded the committees with candidates from diverse parties and factions. Among the anarchists, however, some comrades, associated with the just-released Kim Ji Gang (now dead), and Cha Ik Hyun, proposed: 'The first step in the building of a new Korea is to take our revenge on the Japanese!' Consequently, at the beginning of September, the Japanese police official, Saiga Ichirõ, and the Secret Service agent, Harayoshi Tsubouchi, and others, were sentenced to death and successfully assassinated.

"In a period dominated by groups blinded by their lust for total -political power, direct action like this heroic revenge killing of the lackeys of Japanese imperialism represented a shout for joy. Yet we anarchists, who had always advocated a social revolution, had also to take charge of the constructive activities necessary for building the new Korea. Everyone agreed that we had to declare our principles, and produce a positive, constructive plan for a new Korea. And so, after numerous meetings, the following declaration and program were drafted and published at the end of September.

"In the meantime, however, comrades Chul Ri Bang and Lee Yu San were murdered in the continuing struggle with the communists. In December came the further bad news of the UN Trusteeship proposed by the Moscow. Conference of Foreign Ministers. The next day, December 30, was raised the first flag proclaiming the struggle to the death to resist the trusteeship decision."

Against this background, the first post-Liberation organization of Korean anarchists was formed.