Ted Grant

Revolution Begins in South Korea

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 2 no. 4 (May 1960)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

138 students and workers were killed and from 1,000 to 2,000 injured when the police fired on a demonstration, on April 19th, against the rigged elections of last month which maintained the Syngman Rhee clique in power. Demonstrations had broken out against the corrupt dictatorship in all the main towns of South Korea, including Seoul, Inchon and Taegu. Troops fired on demonstrators in these and other towns. As always with reactionary governments in a panic, the Rhee dictatorship tried to stem the tide of revolt by using force. Just as the Verwoerd government did in South Africa. And of course in the charged and bitter atmosphere due to 10 years of repression, graft, and corruption, with the mounting tide of revolt it had the opposite effect.

Each day the opposition mounted. Despite martial law the workers, students, and even high schoolboys, redoubled their demonstrations, and with revolutionary instinct marched right up to the soldiers with fixed bayonets, appealing to them to come over to the people. Each day the demonstrations mounted in fury culminating on April 26th with practically the bulk of the workers and students in the capital Seoul demonstrating for the overthrow of the corrupt regime. 500,000 marched in the streets of Seoul dragging a statue of Syngman Rhee with a rope round its neck, demanding his resignation. 30 were killed in clashes with troops. But these martyrs did not die in vain, Syngman Rhee had to announce his resignation, as the victorious masses roamed through the streets of Seoul. His helicopter is at the ready “in case the masses get out of hand.”

Revolution begins

This marks the beginning of revolution in South Korea. The hand-picked National Assembly, puppets and tools of the Syngman Rhee clique has hurriedly passed a resolution declaring the rigged elections of last month, which saw the re-election of Syngman Rhee and his tools, null and void.

In an endeavour to maintain his rule Syngman Rhee had secured the resignation of the vice-President and the Cabinet, but tried to maintain his own position. The masses recognised that this would mean no real change. Hence they had redoubled their efforts. Syngman Rhee, despite his bloodstained crimes, has always had the backing of the American government. They were quite prepared to overlook the dictatorial police-state, corrupt and rotten, like that of Chiang Kai-Shek so long as he remained an ally of the “free world”, i.e. American capitalism.

US tries to save Rhee

Now they have seen the stark writing on the wall! If some reforms are not introduced, their whole basis will be swept away. And not only in Korea but in the whole of Asia. Hence their demand to the President “.take immediate and adequate actions to meet justifiable grievances. This is no time for temporising.”

They can feel the hot breath of revolution, of the hurricane of change which threatens not only the Syngman Rhee clique, but the basis of landlordism-capitalism and of American imperialism in a chain reaction throughout the area.

Right to the last minute the American ambassador has tried to save the personal rule of Syngman Rhee as an element of stability in the situation. His shameful record has made not the slightest difference to these self-styled defenders of the democratic way of life. The Times of April 27th admits this. Reporting the American ambassador's statement on the previous day, “I am convinced the authorities are earnestly working towards redress of the people's justifiable grievances. I therefore trust the people will show respect for law and authority.”, it comments: “In this remark, some observers thought they detected the United States authorities' desire to preserve President Rhee at least in the role of a useful figurehead and a guarantee of internal stability.”

Mass live in hunger

The peasants live in hunger, the workers and students face mass unemployment. With or without Syngman Rhee the regime in Korea is not viable. Without American backing it would have collapsed long ago.

At the same time despite the undoubted economic achievements of the North Korean regime, its brutal dictatorship too has no mass appeal in the South. That is one of the reasons why the unbearable conditions in the South have not provoked revolt before. The masses have not seen an attractive alternative.

Whatever is done in South Korea now will not solve the problem or prevent new outbursts of discontent. The only way out would be the elimination of landlordism and capitalism. No more than the Chiang Kai-Shek regime could do this, can the Rhee regime cleanse itself of corruption and bureaucratic high-handedness.

In time the Korean masses will come to understand that the unity of the country and economic progress, with decent standards of living and freedom from bureaucratic arbitrariness, can only be obtained by the taking of power through a workers' socialist democracy. This would mean the elimination of capitalism-landlordism in the South and the extension of workers' control to state ownership in the North.