RES: a trip to North Korea

Charles Brown CharlesB at
Tue Apr 25 13:21:11 PDT 2000

>>> Doug Henwood <dhenwood at> 04/24/00 02:25PM >>>
Charles Brown wrote:

> But you , Doug, don't have much ability to influence North Korean
>policy either, or the policy of 4-5 billion people's governments
>anymore than you can change or control the U.S. government.

I thought a fundamental principle of socialism was solidarity with the oppressed around the world. It's interesting that you & Carrol think that we should limit our critiques to our own country, which doesn't have much to do with international solidarity, does it?


CB: When have I said we should limit our critique to our own country ? That is our main job, yes, but I have not advocated silence about other countries.

The point here is you threw at Yoshie that trying to get the U.S. to withdraw its military from South Korea and pay reparations was not within our ability to influence. That sounds like a proposal from Yoshie for solidarity with North Korea that you are putting off because it is not likely to be successful. But at the same time you criticize North Korea, when you are not likely to be successful in influencing N. Korea. In other words, your comeback to Yoshie is inconsistent.


>So, why pronouncements about how N. Korea should change it bizarre,
>exotic , "oriental", "otherdrenched" personality cult, etc. anymore
>than pronouncements about the U.S. pulling out troops and giving
>reparations ?

We've been through this already. Giant pictures of the leader all over the place are a pretty creepy thing, regardless of the location of the pix or the ethnicity of the leader.


CB: We've been through this already ? When ?

Actually, I like the idea of a public pictures of progressive leaders by critical thinking populations like Cuba. No giant pictures of leaders are not at all automatically "creepy" or " bizarre" . Wrong.

My request was that you give me an example of a "cult of the personality" that is not bizarre. Your use of "bizarre" implies that N. Korea's promotion of its leaders is somehow automatically bad or more "bizarre" than in other countries. If Kim Il Sung is a good leader, definitely put his picture up.

Martin Luther King's picture is up all over the Black community. I do not at all agree with your basic generalization. Respect for leaders is not inherently creepy. There are lots of good leaders in the world.


I'd love to see that tea service that Sukarno gave to Kim Il Sung, wouldn't you? And that plastic heron from Billy Graham!


CB: Armand Hammer probably gave Lenin a token too. So what ? I am glad Lenin's is on display in Red Square. He was a great leader.


>Zizek's comparison of the N. Korean conception of Kim Il Sung as
>leader and European courtly love is gross Eurocentrism, ridiculous
>universalizing of European history and consciousness,

Hmm, so they have nothing in common? Nothing like a dehumanizing veneration of the adored object?


CB: Kim Il Sung was a subject , not an object. It doesn't dehumanize him to adore him for actual great accomplishments.

Zizek's comparison still sounds superficial to me.

I admire Fidel. My admiration is based on critically thinking about the struggle for liberation and socialism, and the facts of what Castro has done for that struggle. If one thinks critically about a leader and concludes that she has accomplished much, it would be illogical not to admire her. My admiration of Castro's accomplishments does not in the least indicate that my thinking is one iota less critical than that of Zizek's and yours, or that my admiration is akin to courtly love.

Your implication that adoring or admiring a leader who accomplishes great things for the masses is inherently connected with lack of critical thinking or romantic dillusion is false.


> and this from an intellectual trend which is so quick to deny
>universals and essences.

Zizek is not part of the hated "postmodernist" trend, if that's what you're saying.


CB: I don't hate postmodernists. They are left-liberals with whom we engage critically to extract their rational kernel. They reflect recent (post) modern historical developments.

The analysis that Kim Il Sung's followers are engaged in something akin to courtly love does sound post-modernist. If not , what is it ? That type of analysis is not exactly new, one way or the other. Mark Jones has mentioned Situationism. No offense to Zizek, but the excerpts of his work I have read posted here do not strike me as particularly inciteful or wise such that I would start studying him rather than writing myself.


Just saw the man this morning at Verso's office; he thanked me for forwarding him all the comments from his critics here, and said wait til you see his book on "totalitarianism," due out in January. Very pro-Lenin, or so he claims.


CB: Well, it's to his credit that he calls himself pro-Lenin, but then you say in a later post that Leninists here would probably not consider him Leninist. What am I supposed to make of that ? It sounds like you are suggesting he is playing some kind of game. I don't mind playing the game a little here, I don't hate him, but it is difficult to take him fully seriously, at least based on what I have heard from and about him so far.

Anyway, I'll give him a second look.


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