North Korean Famine in Context

Some asshole commenter, who is now banned, writes, in reference to the Communism Starves the People Bullshit post:

Go move to North Korea and see if you starve, moron.

There is little starvation in North Korea these days. Even at its very worst in the 1990’s, it was only as bad as India is year in and year out. Yet you never hear about starvation in India, do you? Only in North Korea. Further, 600,000 died, not 2 million or however many they are throwing about. I’ve done research on the famine, and I’m having a hard time figuring out how the North Korean government could have avoided it at the time. If someone can show me how the North Korean government could have avoided the famine of the 1990’s, please do so in the comments.

Rations are rather tight these days, especially in the countryside, but not many people are actually starving. However, it’s not uncommon for rural workers to tire easily due to not getting enough food.

North Korea is embargoed by the entire world. They can only trade with a few other countries. The US threatens to attack any country that trades with them, and we’ve had them under strict embargo since Day One. Furthermore, we are still officially at war with them, and we are constantly threatening to attack them, especially with nuclear weapons. This forces them to spend 35% of GNP on weaponry.

North Korean GNP is back up to around 15-20 billion/year. That’s the level they were at in the 1970’s and 1980’s, but now their population is greater.

Lack of arable land means that it’s dubious if North Korea can ever feed itself, but many states on Earth can’t feed themselves and must rely on food imports, so there is nothing new there. North Korea is probably limited by the fact that it’s ability to import food is constrained.

The Stalinist pure Communism has been dead in North Korea for 10-15 years now. Much of your average North Korean’s income now comes from the private sector, especially small farmers and other types of markets. These have sort of a swap meet/farmer’s market feel about them, and they are now quite common.

These is also a serious problem with power or electricity in North Korea. That’s one of the reasons they have been trying to develop nuclear power. I don’t blame them.

11 Comments

Filed under Asia, NE Asia, North Korea, Politics, Regional, US Politics

11 responses to “North Korean Famine in Context

  1. Great stuff. I’ve read some of Bruce Cummings stuff on N. Korea, and though it’s not fresh in my mind I got the impression that he felt that facts were still hard to come by but it’s likely that the famine story is hugely exaggerated. So even 600.000 may be too high – that is a huge death toll for a very small country, all the same. Where did you get that figure? I’m always interested in finding dependable info about N. Korea. I find the evident glee some Western pundits, and even Trotskyists, express at this example of the failure of socialism/communism/Stalinism blah blah a tad sickening, and extremely racist too. If there WAS a sizeable death-toll from famine it’s hard to avoid apportioning the biggest part of the blame to the USA.

    • The 600,000 figure comes from Bruce Cummings.

      Juche means total self-reliance. That’s the political philosophy of North Korea. It was forced on them by the Americans.

      We continued to embargo them during the famine, even while gleefully writing it up in the US press. With all the Midwest grain we stockpile, shouldn’t we have been sending them food to eat?

  2. niqnaq

    Tell us then, are there limitations on the assistance that China (i.e., the PRC) can give them? If so, what sort of limitations? Personally, I would tend to think of the DPRK as a PRC proxy in foreign affairs, for instance, in providing deniable military assistance to various non-aligned countries.

    • No, China has long been an ally of North Korea and is one of her few trading partners. I don’t think NK is a proxy for China. China regards them as a headache and a nuisance. Mostly they want to prevent a collapse of NK which would result in mass refugee flood pouring over the border. NK is actually quite interested in “socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

  3. kei&yuri

    Also DPRK is limited in what it ca do that PRC is actually interested in. In the best capitalist tradition PRC doesn’t want controversy, upset markets, people leery of traveling around there. DPRK can do more harm than good in those senses. Its reconciliatory moves with Japan, awkward as those were, were almost certainly from Chinese pressure; the six party negotiations are always said to be waiting on help from Beijing.

    • Yeah, the current PRC regime is rather disgusting. I doubt if Mao would have let those 600,000 North Koreans starve to death. In fact, I’m sure he would not have. The alliance was much stronger under Mao than it is today. The PRC often acts like they are embarrassed by NK, like the way that the popular high school quarterback is embarrassed by his nerdy younger brother.

  4. Hacienda

    This post is almost embarassingly Plutonian.

    How in the world can you even sniff being on the side of Kim Jung Il?

    I’ve got horror stories about NK, from real Koreans in both South and North. I also know the side of the Korean soul that would allow nightmares like Kim Jung Il to flourish. He’s a cancer as was his father and his sons who are about to step in and take his patrician-totalitarian seat. NK is not about communism or Stalinism. It’s a uniquely Korean dictatorial corruption. The horrors stories about NK are true. And the low ball 600,000 dead is not a trivial number either compared to the size of the country.

  5. Hello Robert,

    I might be wrong but I think NK have trade relations with more than 50 countries, maybe close to 100 countries. I don’t have references ready at hand, though.

  6. kei&yuri

    Well, you know what we might compare this to is secret illegal trading with Iran in the 80s, which came to involve nearly every industrialized nation (including Israel).

  7. Hi, I find your blog is very informative! By the way, I’m attending a conference on this subject (High School Model United Nations), and I was wondering if you would be so kind to help by referring me to some of the sites that you came across… thanks! : )

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