Academic journal article North Korean Review

Stalinism, Post-Stalinism, and Neo-Capitalism: To Be or Not to Be?

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Stalinism, Post-Stalinism, and Neo-Capitalism: To Be or Not to Be?

Article excerpt


According to North Korea historian Andrei Lankov, North Korea is no longer a Stalinist state, the old Stalinist society is dead, a "neo-capitalist" revolution is under-way, and the country is proceeding to a market-oriented system. This thesis is advanced in Lankov's Asia Times Online articles, such as "Cracks in North Korean 'Stalinism'" (2004), "Welcome to Capitalism, North Korean Comrades" (2004), and "North Korea: Market Forces Have Female Faces" (2005), which were republished as a report in Asia Policy titled "The Natural Death of North Korean Stalinism" (2006). Lankov's most recent book, North of the DMZ (2007), makes similar arguments, as it is a revised compilation of his newspaper columns for the Asia Times Online and Korea Times. The problems concerning Lankov's theory of post-Stalinism begin with his definition of Stalinism. He employs the following criteria: (1) a brutal and repressive regime, (2) a centrally planned economy, (3) a Leninist party, and (4) a system of political thought control.1 Here the modification or exclusion of a few of these criteria is sufficient to disqualify North Korea as being a Stalinist state. Lankov explains that North Korea was the "closest possible approximation of an ideal Stalinist state" and "in many regards it was far more Stalinist than Josef Stalin's Russia itself"-until the economic crisis of 1991 to 1995 and the subsequent famine in 1996 to 1999, which resulted from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of economic subsidies.2

The changes in the North Korean economy, Lankov says, "have transformed the country completely and, perhaps, irreversibly."3 Therefore, "one has to stretch the definitions in describing the North Korea of 2004 as 'Stalinist,'" for even though it continues to be ruled by a repressive and brutal regime, the "peculiarities of Stalinism are now disappearing."4 Specifically, the second, third, and fourth criteria that Lankov identifies are the ones that are apparently withering away. While brutality and repressiveness are essential ingredients in Lankov's conception of North Korean Stalinism, decisive for him are the nationalized-centralized economic structure of the state, the type of party that rules the state, and state monopoly of information. When one studies Lankov's use of the phrase "Stalinism," a number of other terms are found in synonym with it. These are "communism," "central economy," "socialism," and "state-managed economy." Lankov equates Stalinism with socialism, of which there are many different schools. His aforesaid reference to a Leninist party also suggests that he sees the contributions of Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924) to classical Marxism -the theory of imperialism and the theory of the revolutionary party-as leading to Stalinism. Similar views can be found in the works of well-known anticommunist scholars such as Robert Conquest, Leszek Kolakowski, Martin Malia, Richard Pipes, and Dimitri Volkogonov. Thus, one should not assume that this is an original line of argument or that Lankov is its innovator.

Stalinism and "Socialism in One Country"

Lankov summarizes his views on Stalinism on the North Korea Zone Web site in a December 13, 2006, anonymous exchange with the author, who wrote in response to Lankov's online article "Stalinist Politics vs. Market Place Capitalism." The correspondence provides two conflicting theories of Stalinism. In the first case, the reader defines Stalinism as a nationalist program of "socialism in one country"-not necessarily a totalitarian state regime-whose political and economic policies defend the nation-state system, thus making Stalinism, in the final analysis, related to capitalism, which upholds the world division of national states as well:

(1) Stalinism must be seen for what it is, namely, a nationalist pseudo-socialist political program based on the theory of "socialism in one country" and not exclusively as a case of a repressive-totalitarian regime. …

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