This is the article which I have contributed for INDIGO Vol. 2(Summer 2010, pp. 85~91) published by Indigo Sowon. -Amelano Joe(Joe Jung-Hwan)


Joe Jung-Hwan



The Urbane Life of Today

Men of power, entrepreneurs, and candidates lay out the promises of happiness every day. They are all conditional promises, where they say that they will make happiness flood in if the people support the development of four great rivers, buy their products, or vote for them. Those promises fill our TV screens, mailboxes and the streets.

But how many times have these promises been repeated? If those promises had been actually kept, even just for once, our lives would have been brimming with happiness. Is our reality, however, actually quite different now? The darkness of this world is becoming more and more intense and the moans of pain louder, although a great number of selected men of power and entrepreneurs have displayed their great influence with great conviction.

Owners of corner stores, having been forced to the brink by large discount stores, are now scrapping around for new jobs. Laid-off workers are committing suicide at the end of strikes and surviving workers are pressed by higher workloads. University students are struggling to build up titles and end up with huge debts, leading them to the temptation of crime. Women are exposed to a variety of dangerous jobs to earn money for cosmetics and plastic surgery, and children are locked in their homes due to the risk of abduction, traffic accidents and sexual violence. Every day for senior citizens who have nowhere to go and who find no meaning in life is filled with pain and weariness, and the wandering eyes of middle-aged housewives becoming somber. Farmers plowing the land are getting exhausted, and immigrant workers are pursued and live in fear every day. The brilliant lights of the neon signs in the evening create a frightening contrast with the crouched bodies of the homeless lying on the pavement without a blanket under those signs. Exhaust gas billowed from factories, houses and cars makes our breathing difficult and waste is thrown into the alleys, fields and into the sea. Trees are being cut from the forest to turn green to gray, and the contamination of water foreshadows an impending war on water. The eco-system is struggling with this heavy burden as if it is deriding the promise of happiness, while society is filled with hostility, and the density of unhappiness in life is deepening.



History of the City under Martial Law

The promise of happiness that repeatedly turned out to be a lie was the other side of the expectation of happiness. The promise of politicians that the development is only hope is nothing more than living off the public’s expectations that development will save their lives which has fallen to misery. During the 18 years of Park Jung-hee administration, which converted the import substitution strategy of the Lee Seung-man administration into an export-oriented strategy, a development spree swept South Korea. South Korea became the production base for manufacturing light industry goods such as clothes and shoes in the international network of division of labor. Expressway connecting the southern and northern regions of Korea has been built, and people from villages flocked to cities to look for a job. The low crop price policy accelerated the devastation of farming villages while the cities extremely expanded. As a result, the difference between the capital area and non-capital areas, and between eastern and western regions of South Korea, became more pronounced. The era also saw an intensification of class hostilities between capital and labor, and the relative suffering of poverty grew further. When people began to realize that development was being achieved while their own lives fell deeper and deeper into despair, rather than fulfilling the hope of happiness, the resistance of the city (Gwangju Uprising in Gyunggi-Do, student demonstrations, Jeon Tae-il burnt himself to death, etc.) erupted. The Park Jung-hee administration responded to the resistance with martial law and by the Yushin—the October Revitalizing Reform.

The city under martial law was a space of organized fear. The city and the citizens were forced to give absolute subjugation to the government. Students had to recite and chant the Charter of National Education. People had to stand at attention even when they were walking along the street, and listen to the Pledge of Allegiance to the state-flag when the flag descended at 5 o’clock in the evening. Freedom of assembly and demonstration were restricted, meaning meetings among many people were strictly prohibited. Freedom of speech and publication was also restricted and words of resistance had to be kept deep inside the heart. The course of anti-communist urban development under the pretext of the Cold War and the confrontation between South Korea and North Korea organized people into a single nation and created competition for employment, for college entrance examinations, and produced the such struggles of existence as the physiology of the people.


Experience of a Emancipated City

However, urban development accompanies the formation of a community that has different characteristics to those of a farming village. The farming village forms a community established on regionalism and blood ties through many years of settlement in the region. This forms productive cooperative communities through the exchange of labor and farmers’ cooperative groups, but the divided lands and dispersed farming hamper their advancement. On the other hand, the city, which is established based on industrial complexes, forms a production community as a direct production cooperative body, and the consumption process is also arranged around this production community. This process elevates leadership of the production community over the city and increases potential self-governing capacity.

The wave of resistance that swept South Korea in the late 1970’s is not unrelated with this. The export-oriented strategy revealed its limits due to the global crisis in the mid-70’s and the out-of-the-crisis strategy represented as the establishment of the independent economy through heavy chemical industry development also failed. The Park Jung-hee administration used a few regions such as Masan, Changwon, Sabuk and Gohan as lab rats to test the neo-liberalist strategy. The resistance of workers and citizens against this foreshadowed the collapse of the Park Jung-hee administration. The death of President Park Jung-hee on October 26, 1979 began to shake the city under martial law and tear away at the curtain of fear. The desire for liberation began to stir and the voices of freedom were vented. The expression of the ‘Spring’ of 1980 expresses this process metaphorically.

However, it was expressed inside the conflict with the flow to maintain ‘winter’, as the new military authorities of Jeon Doo-hwan wished to continue the experiment of neo-liberalism and developmentalist dictatorship of the Park Jung-hee administration through the expansion of martial law. The place this conflict was expressed most intensely was Gwangju in Jeonla-Do. The residents of Gwangju resisted against the plans of the new military authorities by calling for the withdrawal of martial law and the overthrow of the dictatorship. The resistance of the students, workers, retailers, poor people, and even housewives of Gwangju, enraged over armed suppression, turned into an armed struggle, and Gwangju, a city under martial law, instantly became a emancipated city after martial law troops were driven out. While the dominant order collapsed and the government was not properly functioning, crime vanished and people displayed unprecedented cooperative capacities. Taxi drivers sounded their horns to express resistance, housewives prepared rice-balls, and men and women alike set up a barricade. Voices that had not been heard rang clearly at the indignation rally in front of the provincial government building, and ideas that had been suppressed flooded out of people’s minds. The solidarity of resistance and the cooperation for new life drove Gwangju.

@Although the emancipated Gwangju did not last long, Gwangju realized the great world of the commune and the potential of absolute community and inspired movements that would follow. The people and citizens of Korea liberated all metropolises of Korea through the struggles between June and September of 1987. This ended the April 13 Announcement of Constitution Protection and the military authority had to accept the constitutional revision for a direct election system and step aside to make way for a different constitutional order.


Globalization and the Inno-City

Ironically, the new order was materialized through the neo-liberalist conservative coalition of the constitution protection faction and the constitution revision faction that were actually hostile to each other. The merger of three parties in 1990 and the neo-liberalism directed from top to bottom by Kim Young-sam’s conservative coalition were a scheme for reshuffling sovereignty to absorb the resistance of the people, who had continued from the struggle of May 1980 to the struggle of June 1987, reusing it as the dynamic force of the capital. It appeared as the incorporation of Korea into an organic chain of the global capital market and production market. The globalization strategy expressed as ‘the world is wide and there are many things to do’ focused on providing maximum liberty to the movement of domestic and foreign funds, liberalizing lay-offs by making labor markets more flexible and privatizing national capital. The Kim Dae-jung administration, which came to power through the 2nd conservative coalition, fully accelerated neo-liberalism by using democratization as the dynamic force of liberalization. The Roh Moo-hyun administration intensified this to the selfish desires of the masses, full of contradictions. The Lee Myung-bak administration aims at binding the masses with neo-liberalism by impeding the deviation of the masses from the neo-liberalism that emerged during the conclusion of the Korea-U.S. FTA and even openly mobilizing governmental authority. The methods are found in the elimination of the elements of democratization from liberalization, the strong binding to financialization, the use of currency as the tool of governance and order, and the recycling of the tools used in the extremely conservative politics of the past (i.e. anti-communism and anti-North Korea).

Roh Moo-hyun’s idea of the inno-city was designed based on balanced regional development, giving it egalitarian tendencies. The Lee Myung-bak administration substituted this with the giant megalopolis development plan, centering on the capital area. It aims to reconnect the four river areas that led to the canal to the capital area to be permanently redeveloped, and the plan includes the merging of the northern region of the Korean peninsula and the satellite orbit of universe as the part of this megalopolis. In this plan, implemented through the idea of the inno-city, innovation refers to the permanent innovation of social hostility by concentrating the capital and making developments permanent.

The candle uprising that took place in the metropolis, Seoul, in 2008 stood against this capitalist utilitarian government. At first glance it appeared to be a revival of the past Threefold MIN Principle – nation(MINJOK), democracy(MINJU), and the people(MINJUNG). However, it is very different from the past in terms of format, organization, and methods if we take a closer look. The candle uprising reflects that the cognitization and non-materialization of capitalism have made quite a bit of progress in Korea under the neo-liberalist drive that lasted decades. The candle uprising started from the Internet and was organized through cellular phones, spreading through both modern communication means and live broadcasts. Streets became materialized places where the collective intelligence of multitude previously communicated in non-material spaces.

Although the community of human dignity emerged during the struggle in 1980, it was not mediated by the historical production community. The cries of the people of Gwangju—‘We are not a mob of rioters!’—repeat the humanistic cry of Jeon Tae-il, ‘We are not machines!’ in a different way. During the struggle in 1987, the community of production emerged to join the political domain, but they mostly had a basis represented as large factories. The focus of this struggle manifested through the financial demands of workers around labor unions and wages. The struggle of 2008 is similar to the struggle of 1980, in the point that it demanded the dignity of life. But it is similar to the struggle of 1987, in the point that it was led by the community of production and living. However, the community of production, which emerged politically in 2008, was an information-based, cognitive, and non-material community based on the metropolis, rather than the factory which was based on material activities . In this context, the struggle of 2008 is a new type of struggle originating from circumstances where financial, natural and social lives overlap with communal production.

In this struggle, the conflict between the central intelligence powers, which placed combat police and SWAT teams at the head, and the constituent power, organized by collective multitude intelligence sources, appeared radically in some ways, and was quite humorous. The constituent power mocked the ‘Myungbak Fortress’, singing the song of ‘Article 1 of the Constitution’ which defined that ‘All power of Korea come from the people’. The ‘walk of the city’ through Internet surfing and shopping at department stores were used as weapons in the political struggle. Unlike guns in 1980 and Molotov cocktails in 1987, words (language) circulated through various information mechanisms, becoming the tools for accessing the multitude. ‘Our words are our weapons’ (Marcos) became real instead of a mere slogan. The advent of the community of reason and emotion, which does not have or denies the command, cannot be understood without considering the cognitive evolution of production under neo-liberalism and the production community of non-materialistic communication. The candle uprising in 2008 was a situation of conjuncture where various struggles risen up against neo-liberalist capitalism, such as the experience of the Zapatista Uprising in 1994, the experience of the Counter-Globalization Struggle which began in Seattle in 1999, the experience of the Piqueteros Struggle in Argentina, the experience of international anti-war demonstrations in 2003, the struggle against a radioactive waste disposal facility in Buan in 2005, and the experience of the feminist movement, which has continued over a period of time… all of these struggles gathered in the metropolis.


The Candle Uprising in the Metropolis and the Financial Crisis

Can we say the candle uprising of 2008 led to the financial crisis of 2008? Yes, we can. This does not mean that the candle uprising that took place in Korea became the direct cause of the financial crisis. The financial capital is the capitalization of the physical, spiritual and emotional communication of the multitude on the global scale. The financial crisis of 2008 is the eruption of the contradiction between the non-material community of production, and the privatization and capitalization of its outcome. This contradiction has been rising not in farming villages or factories but in the metropolis, which has incorporated farming villages and factories. The candle uprising directed its anger at the accumulation and concentration of this contradiction. The accusation is that the Lee Myung-bak administration is the ‘Insensible Government without Communication’, and that a government that does not communicate with its people is not government at all.

Today's metropolis is not an isolated island but an organic instrument of production on the spaceship called earth. Resistance movements are similar to each other and they are connected. The candle uprising in 2008 is not separated from the Banlieues Struggle of France in 2005 or the anti-CPE (the ‘First Hire Contract’, making it possible to dismiss workers under the age of 26 within two years of employment without specific explanation) Struggle of 2006, and it is also related with the anti-water privatization struggle that swept Latin America. It is also not unrelated with the strike struggle of Greek workers who rose up against a government attempting to blame the multitude for the economic crisis of 2008. Also, it is connected with American citizens who defeated the Republican Party in the presidential elections in opposition to the Bush administration’s unilateralism. The struggles may rise within a region or within a single country, but they deal with global issues. In this context, the candle uprising acted as the cause of the financial crisis.


The Prospects for a Common City

The point is clear – will we make the earth either as the common city of the multitude underpinned by the communication of distinctive characteristics, or as the financial ecumenopolis offering up the production community of the multitude as the sacrifice for capital accumulation. However, this argument does not end with an ideological issue. The common city of the multitude is constituent. It is the movement of life, the torch of intelligence, and the pool of emotion. However, its autonomous development will become possible only when the production communities of the multitude depart from the capital and the power or the so-called the dominance of commanding sovereignty. This is impossible without using behaviors that crack capital relationships that tie down our social lives, in other words, a contagious network of ‘NO’. This is impossible without converting the life that is the stage of production into the stage of struggle. This requires effort to develop a biopolitical system that activates the singular productivities of the multitude while liberating them from the fetters of existing sovereign bodies, converting them into the power of a political body of autonomous communication. This effort will clearly accompany a number of trials and errors. However, recent history shows that this effort has already begun and also that it is represented in simultaneous or chained events on the global stage. This situation makes us sense the need to see history symptomatically and stimulates our desire to participate in this event of world history. This is a practical feeling and a stimulation which is qualitatively different from the promise of hope with which politicians and entrepreneurs lure the public.