The following statement by the International Bolshevik Tendency was originally published in December 2010.
On 23 November  artillery from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK—aka North Korea) fired 130 shells on Yeonpyeong, a small island in disputed waters close to the North Korean coast that is the site of a South Korean military base. The bombardment killed four people on the base—two South Korean marines and two construction workers. Ominous threats and the outpouring of feigned indignation about “unprovoked” attacks on civilians emanating from the South Korean government and its backers in the imperialist “international community” were predictable enough. Yet some of the Western media acknowledged that the shelling had been preceded by a warning to the South Korean military to suspend its “live fire” exercise in territorial waters claimed by the DPRK:
“For a start, Yeonpyeong is not exactly a ‘South Korean island’, but a military base used by South Korean forces. It is located about seven miles away from the North’s ground territory, on a disputed ‘northern limit line’ unilaterally drawn by US-led UN forces after the Korean war. As the South has admitted, the North’s warning, and then attack, was preceded by their artillery drills in the maritime area around the island. In other words, the provocation was provoked.”
—www.guardian.co.uk, 30 November 2010
The hysterical and bellicose reaction to North Korea’s response is part of an ongoing pattern of imperialist attempts to bully and isolate Pyongyang and to exert pressure on its Chinese patron. We are not particularly interested in who fired first—for Marxists, the essential issue is the necessity to defend the social gains represented by the overturn of capitalist property in North Korea (and China) against any attempt, whether foreign or domestic, to undermine or overthrow them. We militarily defend North Korea against imperialism despite the anti-working class character of the bureaucratized Stalinist caste headed by Kim Jong-il. To open the road to genuinely socialist development in North Korea and China, it is necessary to carry out a proletarian political revolution to oust the ruling bureaucracies whose repeated attempts to conciliate imperialism threaten the collectivized property system over which they preside.
The recent exchange of fire involving the Yeonpyeong military base occurred at the outset of the Hoguk—an annual provocation in which, under the rubric of “safeguarding the nation,” some 70,000 South Korean troops, supported by the U.S. military, rehearse a coordinated attack on North Korea. This exercise is one of a series of military expressions of the enmity of the capitalist world for the DPRK—a sentiment which has not abated since the Korean War, when Chinese military intervention prevented a U.S.-led imperialist coalition under the flag of the United Nations from restoring capitalism throughout the Korean peninsula. For 60 years North Korea has been under continuous military and economic pressure from world imperialism.
The unconditional defense of North Korea against capitalist restoration—a development which would represent an important milestone in the drive for social counterrevolution in China—requires revolutionaries to demand the complete and immediate removal of all U.S. troops and military bases from Korea. It also includes the defense of the DRPK’s right to develop an effective nuclear deterrent to the very real danger of imperialist attack. On 28 November, in an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” Republican Senator John McCain ominously expressed the sentiment of a significant section of the American bourgeoisie when he stated that “it’s time we talked about regime change” in North Korea.
Despite the rhetorical militancy of the Pyongyang bureaucracy, it has long promoted dangerous illusions in the possibility of a “peaceful” reunification of Korea. Such talk is intended to appeal to nationalist elements in South Korea who resent the continuing American military presence in their country. Many South Korean leftists are attracted to such nationalist sentiments, but the goal of finding common ground with an anti-American “patriotic” wing of the capitalist class can only retard the development of class consciousness.
The economic situation in the DPRK is increasingly desperate, as the tightening imperialist embargo has blocked many critical inputs for industry, and crop failures have resulted in widespread malnutrition. The counterrevolution in the Soviet Union led by Boris Yeltsin in 1991 deprived North Korea of its principle source of aid and most powerful strategic ally. Today the DPRK’s survival depends on support from the treacherous Chinese bureaucracy, which has voted for U.S.-proposed sanctions in the UN Security Council on several occasions in recent years.
The defense of the North Korean deformed workers’ state is an issue of vital importance to the entire international workers’ movement. For as Leon Trotsky, the great Russian revolutionary, observed: “It is the duty of revolutionists to defend every conquest of the working class even though it may be distorted by the pressure of hostile forces. Those who cannot defend old positions will never conquer new ones” (In Defense of Marxism).
What is necessary in Korea is the creation of an internationalist workers’ party committed to the revolutionary reunification of the entire Korean peninsula. This requires a struggle to carry out a social revolution in the South to uproot capitalist property and a political revolution in the North to shatter the grip of the Kim dynasty and the brittle caste it heads. Only by establishing working-class rule throughout Korea, in the framework of a Socialist Federation of East Asia (including China and Japan), can the people of the region be freed from the threat of hunger, poverty and war.