ISSN : 0023-3900
Some scholars have recently discussed the supposed failure of socialism in South Korea. By failure, they tend to refer to the low parliamentary representation of social-democratic parties in today’s South Korea, as well as a high degree of working-class fragmentation. I argue here that the rhetoric of failure does not do justice to the entirety of socialist experience in post-division South Korea. It is undeniable, of course, that the degree of working-class self-representational capacity was greatly affected by both hard-core Cold War anti-communist policies and the neoliberal fragmentation of wage laborers into many divergent, sometimes even mutually antagonistic, groups. However, the noteworthy revival of autochthonous socialist politics and ideology in the 1980s, as well as socialist success in entering mainstream electoral politics in the 2000s, reveals the potential of political socialism in South Korea. Moreover, I argue that socialist/Marxist influence on South Korean intellectual paradigms and debates is significantly more pronounced than research suggests. Rather than a failure, socialism in South Korea represents a continuum of struggle. Socialism did not triumph on the Korean Peninsula in the twentieth century. However, the struggle continues, and constitutes perhaps the principally important part of Korea’s modern and contemporary history.