Anarchist Yondae (Solidarity) is an organised coalition of revolutionary anarchists in South Korea. In recent months, they have organised study groups, translated key anarchist readings in Korean, and digitally archived Korean anarchist material. Their members have gone to a great deal of effort trying to teach the lessons that Korean anarchism has to offer, some of which you will read in this interview. Read on for a detailed, entertaining, and informative interview with Anarchist Yondae, who you can also find on their site.
What part do you hope to play in the global anarchist movement?
We know that the global anarchist movement is essential, but we have never ‘hoped’ to play a certain part of it. We believe that solidarity, in terms of the global anarchist movement, should not be a simple statement of solidarity with the anarchists of the world. But it is also not possible for us anarchists to lead or be led by other anarchist groups, for we are not some kind of ‘International Communist Party.’ That's why we decided to focus on what we are able to do right now, right here, demanding maximum, conquering freedom in life, organizing someone nearby, while keeping sight on international movements. And we believe that our part in the global anarchist movement will be achieved naturally in that process.
As Kropotkin stated in his The Conquest of Bread, ‘In the world of production everything holds together nowadays.’ Modern capitalist society is a network of capital where a button pushed today may affect the people’s food supply on the other side of the world tomorrow. And South Korea is a big piece of that international capitalist mechanism, of that network. So, we believe that building a society where the popular masses can be themselves will naturally contribute to the global libertarian movement.
Honestly speaking, South Korea enriches itself by exploiting Vietnamese factory line workers, Nepalese construction workers, Chinese housekeeping workers, Cambodian garment workers, and so on. South Korean companies, for instance Samsung or LG, build their plants overseas and exploit workers of that region. South Korea is apparently an ‘empire’ in terms of global economic imperialism. Therefore, as anarchists of Korean region, we have to pull down the ‘Korean Empire’ and participate in struggles in order to do so. We will fight with immigrant workers. We will fight against Korean companies which exploit overseas workers when they start their own struggles. For lives dependent on exploitation of other people’s labour can never be independent.
How do you run your organization, and who makes the decisions?
We run our organization based on the principles of our Platform. The Platform was established on every member’s agreement. It is required to accept the Platform to be a new member of our organization. However, we do not consider the Platform as an absolute dogma. If any member demands any change in the Platform, the organization is obliged to discuss the change, and may change it if everyone agrees.
We make organizational decisions under principles of deliberative democracy and unanimity. So, nobody makes decisions for Anybody, but Everybody makes decisions for Everybody. Let us take a deeper look into those two principles.
Deliberative democracy stands for us taking deliberate conversation before making any decision. Deliberate conversation means that it is not sufficient when we just ask for a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the decision. It is necessary to explain and to have enough talk about that decision. And the principle of unanimity, surely, stands for the principle of collective agreement and collective responsibility in executing the decision.
And luckily, or unluckily, as we are a new organization of small size, those principles can be operated within the organization. As the size of our organization and the chance of contacting the masses grows larger, we are wondering how big the organization can get while keeping those principles operating. And we believe that it will be a meaningful experiment while preparing for organizing a new form of society that will come soon.
However, we do not wish to give up the principles, even if the size of the organization grows larger and ends up being unable to keep those principles operating. We believe that that will mean the size of our organization is ‘too’ large. So, if we are to face that (happy) situation, we decided we will divide Anarchist Solidarity into smaller sections, so deliberative democracy and unanimity can operate both in the sections, and between the sections. We are getting ready for it.
Historically, Korean anarchists have worked with anarchists from other countries in the region, such as in the Eastern Anarchist Federation which featured members from China, Vietnam, and Japan, or The Black Friends Society which included Japanese anarchists. Are there similar international links today, and if not, how could such links strengthen the movement?
Sadly, there are NO such links left today. Above all, the revolutionary anarchist movement in the Korean peninsula disappeared after the 1930s (or 70s, if we can count its last breath of life). Moreover, we see that the anarchist movements in 3 (4) East Asian countries (China, Japan, two Koreas) have been mostly the same after WW2. In S. Korea, anarchism colluded with nationalism and was diverted into anti-communism. And self-called ‘anarchists’ in Korea are still obsessed with the tradition of the ‘National Liberation Movement’ in anarchism. In Japan, social movements as a whole have disappeared after the failure of Zenkyōtō (All-Campus Joint Struggle Committees). In China and N. Korea, pseudo-socialist dictators have done their magic, and there go anarchist movements.
But we firmly believe that we need to re-establish those links. Above all, won’t it be wonderful to have comrades to fight with in the place where we can reach out by flying an hour for a ticket price of 80,000KRW (50GBP)? Won’t it be great to have comrades who we can meet and talk with and announce joint resolutions?
When this pandemic is over, and when this unintentional national isolation is over, we would happily meet the comrades in East Asia, and talk over the agenda of what to do in order to reorganize that link of solidarity.
Jeong Hwaam (alternately: Jang-Whan) was radicalized in part by the plight of Chinese female workers. How does the intersection of gender and class oppression relate to the modern struggle in Korea?
First off, we do not see it as ‘the intersection of gender and class oppression,’ but rather as ‘the multiple intersections of oppressions based on class, race, gender, sexual orientation, nationality, age group, etc.’ We believe that liberation of popular masses cannot be achieved unless we abolish this multiple intersection of hierarchies. This thesis will be the premise of our answer below.
To answer your question, we will first skim through the terrain of the Korean working-class movement, and then tell you about a struggle in 2021, which Anarchist Solidarity supported with all our ability.
After the local economic crisis of 1997, Korean workers had to face extreme flexibilization of labour. We call flexible labour ‘non-regular employment.’ And we, Anarchist Solidarity, see that the harmful effect of ‘non-regular employment’ is concentrated around specific genders, specific races, specific age groups, specific nationalities, etc. We see that this multiple intersection of oppression is inevitable in terms of maintaining hierarchy.
On January 1, 2021, LG, one of the leading companies of Korea and one of the frontrunners of international capitalism, fired 80 cleaning workers who cleaned their head office building for 10 years. Those workers were not paid proper minimum wage, worked overtime, and were bullied by managers. So, they formed a union and demanded better workplace conditions. And LG answered their demands by firing all of them ‘legally.’ The union and the 20 workers who decided to hold on to the union engaged in a stubborn struggle, occupying the building’s lobby and the main gate. The struggle went on until April 30th, and on the historic day of International May Day, all of the 20 workers got their jobs back, with much better conditions. Anarchist Solidarity focused on the fact that most of those workers are female, uneducated, and old.
It is true that workplaces with the worst conditions — the toughest, least stable, and mostly considered crude jobs — belong to old and uneducated female workers. Under this circumstance, neither being obsessed only with the ‘working class movement’ (as Marxists usually do) or giving up the ‘working class movement’ (in reaction to the Marxists) cannot achieve any kind of liberation as a whole. Anarchist Solidarity is sharpening our revolutionary blade, while fighting against the multiple intersections of hierarchy with the voluntary organization of the working class.
Members of your group have worked to translate ‘classical’ anarchist texts, such as those of Kropotkin or Malatesta, into Korean. What parts of that tradition do you see as usual to Korean anarchism, and which would you like to move beyond?
We never decided to translate ‘classical’ anarchist texts per se, but as we look backward at what we have been translating, we definitely focused on ‘classics.’ There were mainly two reasons that led us in that direction.
First of all, we have to re-establish ‘anarchist traditions’ which disappeared in the Korean region. As we answered previously, there has been no such thing as revolutionary anarchist movement in this region since the 1970s. (If there is any underground organization of revolutionary anarchists based in Korean region seeing this article, please contact us. We have been waiting for you for 15 years.) Therefore, we could not become acquainted with any anarchist references, whether classical’ or ‘modern.’ We have seen so many comrades unsure whether they are anarchists or not, being unable to find anything that can help them ensure that they are anarchists, and finally compromising themselves and becoming social-democratic politicians or Marxist-Leninist ideologues. One of our members had no other choice than being a partisan of a social-democratic political party or liberal ‘youth’ political party. He says that it was pure luck that Anarchist Solidarity was founded, or he would be nothing but one of the partisans.
Considering these circumstances, it will not be difficult to presume how much we appreciated the recent translated publication of The Conquest of Bread. It was pure joy to understand that ‘I might have been an anarchist all along!’ Therefore, we are focusing on translating ‘classical’ anarchist texts in order to enable others to feel the same. We are doing it to ‘transplant’ or ‘re-establish’ the ‘tradition,’ ‘history,’ or ‘foundation,’ of anarchism.
These texts were also needed to resolve misunderstandings and distrust which Korean radical fronts hold against anarchism. After the anarchist movement blew itself up being a second column of nationalists, there came the era of ‘pseudo-anarchism.’ We have been an open anarchist organization for just a year. But we had to confront several ‘self-described anarchists.’ They went by labels such as:
'Anarcho-BitCoinist' — who said that since BitCoin is non-state currency, all anarchists should buy DogeCoin or whatever.
'Anarcho-Racist' — who claimed that black people have bigger testicles than other races, they ‘are genetically more violent than any other races, so police murdering Mr. George Floyd was totally reasonable. Truly, this was not from a neo-Nazi, but from an ‘anarchist.’
'Anarcho-Draftist' (believing the abolition of the military implies many side effects, so anarchists should support army recruitment. If you deny this, you are a hierarchy-supporting-authoritarian-anarcho-fundamentalist.
These ‘self-described anarchists’ justify themselves saying, ‘Anarchism is a state of no dogmas. So we can also be anarchists, too.’ That is why we needed to show people that it may not be any dogma, but there are some basic principles accumulated through history.
The second reason why we primarily translated ‘classical’ texts is that we believe ‘modern’ anarchist texts should not be translated, but be produced by us, following our own viewpoints. We believe that ‘classic’ is a ‘tradition’ and ‘modern’ a tactic of struggle. And we think that as we are to engage in struggle in the area of the Korean peninsula, the tactical method should reflect the context of the region.
For example, let us look at the problem of housing. Korea was a nation-state which traditionally (by the term ‘traditionally,’ we are talking about in the last 500 years or so) considers ‘the state responsible for their people’s welfare.’ This makes a lot of things different. It is actually being politically considered for the state to own housing and rent it to homeless people. Under these circumstances, can squatting be a meaningful tactic? How about a rent strike? Therefore, we are producing texts which reinterpret the ‘classics’ under our socioeconomic circumstances and the historic context of Korea.
What could people learn from Korean anarchism, both in the past and today? What are the most important theories? Do concepts like juche, in their original conception of an 'autonomous, self-regulating communitarian life,' still have a place?
In Korea, there is a term ‘반면교사.’ It means that somebody who fails can be a teacher to you, for he/she teaches you what not to do. We consider THAT the Korean anarchist tradition.
As we said before, the anarchist movement in Korea developed with the sentiment of ‘national liberation’ under the context of the Japanese Empire colonizing Korea, and it blew itself up after national liberation. If you watch the history of Korean anarchism thoroughly, you can see a movement of 100-year history being dramatically ruined in 15 years. It was not a gradual decrease, but dramatic destruction of the movement. What we see people should learn from Korean anarchism is how easy anarchism can destroy itself when colluding with the horrendous mutants of totalitarianism, such as statism or nationalism. Old anarchists of Korea took part in creating the ‘provisional GOVERNMENT of Korea.’ They cooperated with the Nationalist Party of China, or the Communist Party of China. After the liberation of the Korean nation, anarchists created a political party to help right-wing authoritarian governments in the name of anti-Bolshevism. While doing so, they failed to keep the link with the working masses. Colluding with totalitarianism to attain power for now, or for convenience, will definitely kill anarchism. You can learn this through Korea.
However, we believe people can learn a lot from the social movement of Korea. Because we believe that while the ‘anarchist movement’ in Korea is destroyed, the social movement as a whole is more ‘anarchist’ than anywhere else. There is a confederation of trade unions with 1.1 million members who are not directed by any political parties or any vanguard groups. Workers recognize that self-controlled struggle is inevitable to achieve their own demands, and therefore, they fight their bosses. When they realize solidarity between toiling masses under similar conditions, they organize general strikes of 100K and prepare it for more than a year. They build communal relationships within the union with co-workers who worked for the same company for more than a decade but never knew each other. There are some ‘Revolutionary Socialists,’ Reformists, or Left-wing Nationalists who try to direct the force of workers politically, but most of the working masses do not care for it.
Seeing that even though Korean Anarchism is destroyed, the Anarchist mass is more vivid than ever. We believe that people can learn that anarchism does not exist in some enlightened brains, or in some kind of revolutionary books, but in the vivid life and action of the masses.
You asked us if ‘concepts like juche still have a place.’ It was confusing. We are native Koreans of a few decades. But we have never used the term ‘juche’ in any other meaning than ‘jucheism’ of the pseudo-socialist dictatorship of North Korea. The concept of ‘juche’ is polluted. It does not mean ‘autonomous, self-regulating communitarian life’ anymore. But the idea of ‘autonomous, self-regulating communitarian life’ lives on in the masses.
During the movement for Korean independence from Japan, anarchists had to face the challenges raised by a growing nationalist sentiment both inside and outside of the movement. Today, there are many outstanding questions about reunification of the Korean peninsula. How do you face up to the challenge of nationalism in a modern context?
First of all, did they really face the challenges of nationalist sentiment? As far as we know, every anarchist of the time, every single one of them, from anarcho-syndicalists to anarcho-nihilists, colluded with nationalism.
It is impossible to speak of nationalism in today’s Korea without speaking of the problem of reunification. We believe that the most important premise as well as the only method of reunification is for the people of North Korea to form their own struggle against the fascist regime of North Korea, and for the people of South Korea to do so against the capitalist regime of South Korea. If not, any kind of speech on reunification, whether it is led by the South Korean government (as right-wing nationalists claim) or by the North Korean government (as left-wing nationalists claim), will inevitably bring about a horrific future. But claims of ‘reunification from below’ is nothing but a minority report.
The influence of nationalist forces is so deep-rooted in this region. Whether it is ‘leftist’ or ‘rightist,’ whether ‘progressive’ or ‘conservative,’ it is a difficult task to remain free from the nationalist influences. It may not be possible to sweep away those influences at the moment. But we are trying not to be quiet about nationalism. We are going to keep speaking out against the nationalist sentiment. We are going to practice struggles against the nationalist-imperialist state of Korea, which is developing into an economic empire of the Asia-Pacific region. We are going to criticize the despotic warlord regime called the ‘Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea,’ even though they are something like ‘He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named’ amongst the Korean social movement.
We hope that speaking out of anti-nationalism from our (rather new in Korean society) viewpoint will be meaningful even if we may not remove the deep root of nationalism.
More generally, what specific struggles do you face in Korea and how do you challenge them?
Maybe a surprising fact: We are not being oppressed in any way for being anarchists right now. It is true that some of our members are under surveillance by the government, being fined heavily, or imprisoned. But it is done not because they are anarchists, but because they are members of a combative trade union. They got arrested while participating in mass demonstrations and resisted hard when the police violently confiscated the office of the confederation of trade unions. We truly hope to be oppressed by the state, by capital, or by the regime, as the regime does not oppress anyone who is not a threat to the regime. The fact that we are not being oppressed ironically shows how little revolutionary anarchists threaten the regime.
Therefore, the sorest struggle we have to challenge is the indifference toward anarchism, and more sadly, the fact that anarchism has been nothing but a laughingstock for a long time. As we said earlier, there was an era of pseudo-anarchists — ‘Anarcho-BitCoinists,’ ‘Anarcho-Racists,’ ‘Anarcho-Draftists’ — who proclaimed themselves ‘Anarchists.’ Naturally, nobody considers anarchism to be a serious method of social transformation.
Some of those ‘anarchists’ in Korea believe that they are under the oppression and surveillance by the state. Nothing but paranoia, we say. The state of the Republic of Korea is busy oppressing and watching more threatening groups, such as Marxists-Leninists or Left-wing Nationalists.
Therefore, we are challenging this struggle against ‘indifference’ by participating in as many mass actions as possible. When doing that, we bring the biggest size of our flag that we can handle, with 'Anarchist Solidarity' written in the biggest font size possible. It is not because we are show-offs. In Korea, mass demonstrations of 10K-100K people are held several times a year. It has been 10 years since we have participated in those demonstrations individually, but we have never seen any kind of ‘black flag’ there. That's why we carry the big flag. We are trying to let people know that ‘Anarchists can seriously claim social transformation. Anarchists can be with the popular masses.’
What tactics do you use when trying to reach out to the public?
Members of the Anarchist Solidarity are ‘materialists’ who ‘support the direct struggle in the area of industry and economy,’ while seeking to form a ‘voluntary federation of workers.’ So, we naturally make use of the tactics of class struggle. We speak of the working masses we meet in our daily life.
There are some members who are university students. They visit the cleaning workers and security workers (as most of them are ‘non-regular’ jobs) and talk about the possible union they can organize for themselves.
One of us works for an international trading company. He visits other countries (will not specify which country, for security reasons) with his business visa, and hands out some leaflets we made for free unions.
One of us is an active member and an organizer of a union, who always gives his best to organize the unorganized workers and to stand with their struggles.
At the same time, we are putting out some theoretical works in order to make better soil for the anarchist movement to come.
We translate some anarchist texts, for we do not want Anarchism to be ‘elitist’ or ‘scholarly’ current which demands being multilingual to be an anarchist, as there are no texts in the Korean language.
We produce our own texts, for we wish to announce that it is possible to interpret the socioeconomic conditions of Korea from an anarchist viewpoint.
We publish books on those texts. It is not only because we wish to distribute anarchist texts. But rather we want to use our ‘legal obligation’ of 'presenting specimen copies of any printed books to the national library' as our means of propagation.
We hold our own study group. Doing that, we seek to form gatherings of anarchists where we only existed as atomized individuals before.
We group those individual actions under the name of Anarchist Solidarity. And through grouping, we find it possible to expand them. This is our ‘tactic.’
If you had any advice for people wanting to create a movement like your own, what would that be?
There will be two pieces of advice. First off, please do not stay in the internet world and instead act in the real world. We know that the internet can be an important means of action. It is easy to group people into masses online, and these popular groups can influence the real world, for sure. But the essence of it is the influence is expanded to the 'real world.' If those online groups do not try to influence the ‘real world,’ their voice cannot be anything but text. Text can be written, be get ‘Likes,’, but cannot be anything else. The influence of the texts can only be achieved by actualizing the text in the real world.
If you are to transform any world, the transformative action should be taken in the targeted world. And we do not want to transform the internet, but rather the real world, outside of the internet, where we live, where the masses live with the others, working, sweating, communicating, and being oppressed by authorities. We have to be with the masses, analysing the reality, fighting against the oppressive authorities. Social revolution will never made of millions of tweets of #SocialRevolution.
The other advice is: please decide what you would like to do with the organization before you create an organization. An organization is a means of reaching the goal. It should not, and cannot, be the goal itself. Let us speak of us as an example. It took six months of conversations of what to do before the first two members to decide to create an organization. As more members joined the project, it took three more months to determine what kind of anarchist movement we wish to build and we can build. It took six more months of working on our Platform. And we reached the public after we agreed on the principles. We believe that this period of discussing and thinking allows us to stand strong when the struggles of popular movements hit us.
So, please do not create an organization, gather people to the organization, and ask the people what to do. Please call the people on what to do and ask them how to do it, then build the organization. People are not idiots. They will easily dump those organizations without objectives. And it will make anarchism a laughingstock again.
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