You are here

What kind of economy does North Korea have?

In order to determine that we need to take the textbook criteria for various economic systems, and look at whether North Korea meets any of those.

COMMUNISM
Marxist Definition - “communism is a stateless classless moneyless society.”

The state was defined by sociologist Max Webber as being “a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.”

What’s meant by class? The existence of a class structure implies an inequality of privilege. A privileged class might be:
a. People who own stuff that they don’t actually occupy or use, but which other people need to access in order to survive. This landlord/capitalist class then offer wage labour as a means of accessing the money to pay for access to all this stuff.
b. People who claim an aristocratic bloodline that has somehow ordained their right to rule over others.
c. People who are members of a political hierarchy that controls the state.

Classless therefore implies the total absence of all those things and therefore an equality of privilege.
Since North Korea is a nation state controlled by a dynastic political class, and which has a currency known as the North Korean Won (PKW)… it is not communist according to the Marxist definition of communism.
Having said that, Marx & Engels were quite young, both in their 20s when they wrote the Communist Manifesto. This is a slim book, and some might argue that Marx & Engels didn’t really know much a about communism when they wrote it. Communism is broadly analogous to how indigenous populations functioned, and also to how hippy communes operate today. Marx & Engels didn’t make any notable attempt to study communism, they just used that label to describe the thing they were advocating. Whilst strongly associated with communism, the bulk of Marx & Engels later work concerned their critique of capitalism.

Most other communists disagree with the Marxist conceptualisation of communism. For one thing, what is there to prevent some people within a stateless classless society from using money?
Anarcho-communist definition of communism - “a subset of people within a stateless classless society who have opted to eschew the use of money.”

Does North Korea fit that definition? No, because as already stated, North Korea has a state, a dynastic political class and a currency.

North Korea is therefore neither marxist-communist nor anarcho-communist.

SOCIALISM
Socialism is defined by socialists as the social ownership and control over the means of production (means of survival). Meaning that the land, the natural resources, and the machinery are democratically controlled by everyone. Socialism presents in three forms:

1. stateless socialism - North Korea is clearly not this, since North Korea is a state.

2. democratic socialism- (not to be confused with social democracy which is a form of liberalism). In democratic socialism the state owns the bulk of the means of production, with a moderate degree of private capitalist enterprise coexisting alongside that. It also allows scope for the public to vote capitalism back in. In spite of presenting itself as a “democratic republic”, there are not free elections in North Korea, and therefore no prospect of the population changing the economic system via the ballot box. North Korea is clearly not an example of democratic socialism.

3. state socialism - meaning where the state is predicated entirely on socialism and cannot be voted back to capitalism. This is where the workers form labour unions, and there’s no limitation on how many of those can exist. The labour unions then elect delegates who form a political class and organise themselves into a government. While this is sometimes referred to as a “one party state” in reality there aren’t any parties, and the whole apparatus is democratically controlled from the bottom up. This socialist government would then centralise absolute control over the means of production. Does this describe North Korea? No, since the government is a hierarchal political dynasty, and not comprised of recallable union delegates.

CAPITALISM
While most people would laugh off any suggestion that North Korea could be capitalist, that’s only because capitalism is most commonly associated with the democratic form of capitalism that prevails among Western democracies. The basic definition of capitalism is - “the private ownership and control over the means of production.” That can either manifest as:
stateless capitalism
democratic capitalism
state capitalism

North Korea is certainly not an example of stateless or democratic capitalism.

State capitalism is where a top down ruling political class or dynasty control the means of production and decide what to do with the money. It’s irrelevant whether they pocket this money and lavish it upon themselves, or whether they treat their nation as one gigantic Lego kit and go building tower blocks all over it. The point is that this is not an example of the means of production being under social control from the bottom up.

Look at the structure of any totalitarian regime and in all likelihood it’ll perfectly fit the state capitalism template. These regimes are to all intents comprised of closet capitalists deluding the population (and perhaps even themselves) that they are implementing socialism or even communism.

Commenting on this Blog entry will be automatically closed on February 20, 2022.