Offspring of Empire: The Koch'Ang Kims and the Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism, 1876-1945

By Carter J. Eckert | Go to book overview

PART III
CLASS AND SOCIETY

Between 1919 and 1945 the Korean bourgeoisie developed a dense and wide-ranging web of ties with the colonial state and Japanese private capital that greatly helped to propel Korean capitalist growth. The bourgeoisie's relationship with Korean society, however, was far more problematic. The new Korean bourgeois newspapers and magazines of the 1920s and 1930s, including Kim Sŏngsu Tonga ilbo, portrayed businessmen like the Koch'ang Kims and their associates as part of a new "core class" in modern Korea, 1 and such self- perception was not without foundation. Korea was experiencing the beginning of an historic shift from an agrarian to an industrial economy, and the Korean bourgeoisie was certainly in the forefront of such change. Nevertheless, even as Korean capitalists prospered in an economic sense with the expansion of the colonial industrial structure, their political position within Korean society grew increasingly tenuous.

As Gramsci and others have suggested, 2 the stability and longevity of capitalist societies have depended to no small degree on the ability of the bourgeoisie in each case to transcend its own narrow economic perspective and a reliance on force and to achieve a position of leadership or "hegemony" based on broad popular consent. This has required an ability or willingness on the part of the class itself -- or failing that, the state (often acting against the short-term interests and over the protests of the bourgeoisie) to grant a variety of economic and political concessions to other classes, and especially to the working class. By giving the workers a definite material stake in capitalist society, concessions such as universal suffrage and the right to organize and strike for better wages and working conditions have served to diminish the natural class antagonism between capital and labor and thereby to reduce the bourgeoisie's need for intimidation and force as a means of maintaining its privileged economic position.

Historically, moreover, the establishment of bourgeois hegemony

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