Jacob Heilbrunn

North Korea's U-Turn

Like Cuba, North Korea has hung on grimly, a communist outpost when the faith is no longer upheld by the center, Russia and China, where capitalism, in one form or another, has eroded the old rituals, replacing them with a new fealty to wealth and prosperity, which Marxism-Leninism never could quite deliver, despite the protestations of the former leadership that it would "bury" the corrupt West, sunk in indolence and apathy. But Pyongyang is always adaptable. Its latest move is to reinstate tepid market-style economics.

The New York Times observes 

A former North Korean prime minister who was banished three years ago for pushing market-oriented reforms too far has returned to the center of economic policy, leading to speculation that the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-il, might give such proposals a second chance.

The former prime minister, Pak Pong-ju, 71, resurfaced at a state function in the capital, Pyongyang, on Saturday, carrying the title of first deputy director of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea, according to the North’s state-run Central Broadcasting Station.

Pak, it seems, had to do manual labor on a farm. How come, by the way, we can't do that with failed American economic leaders like Alan Greenspan? It might do him a spot of good to work on a farm for a few months as penance for his bungled stewardship of the economy.

Speaking of farms, North Korea's move to recall Pak back to the center can't come too quickly. If one thing can bring down North Korea, it may be lousy weather. Massive flooding from the Yalu river is wreaking havoc in the province of Liaoning, leaving thousands homeless. But North Korea has, well, weathered environmental catastrophes before. But how many body blows can the regime absorb? So far, Seoul is hanging tough. It refuses to send any further food aid to the North.

Forget the missiles and the nuclear bomb(s?) that North Korea has stockpiled. Karl Marx said that force is the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one. But in this instance, the Marxian lesson is that the real threat communist states face is economic.