|2017/10/05 (20:14) from 22.214.171.124' of 126.96.36.199'||Article Number : 301|
|Kang Won Don (firstname.lastname@example.org)||Access : 1326 , Lines : 72|
|Candlelight Rallies and Politics of Minjung|
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Candlelight Rallies and Politics of Minjung|
Prof. Dr. Kang, Won Don (Social Ethics/Hanshin University)
In Korean society candlelight rallies have been settled as a form of protest since the early 2000s. A number of candlelight have burned every time, when serious political and social issues have arisen, just as seen in the following examples: Mi-seon and Hyo-sun Candlelight vigil in 2002, candlelight protests against the impeachment of State President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004, candlelight rallies against the import of beef suspected of mad cow disease from the USA in 2008, candlelight rallies for mourning the victims of the Se-wol ferry accident and for demanding its clarification in 2014, candlelight rallies from October 2016 to March 2017, etc. Especially the candlelight rallies in 2008 and in 2016-2017 have been estimated to open a new era of mass movement. The crowds have formed diverse and multi-layered networks based on information and communication technology, conducted huge performances called candlelight rallies, taken direct actions, revealed problems seriously threatening our society and found solutions together. In the movements they have experienced sharp contrasts between daily life of isolation, dispersal and anxiety and festivals of participation, communication and hope.
Now, did the candlelight rallies show some possibility to shape politics of minjung? It is true that candles are littered by those who are not represented by the dominant representative system, and whose interests are not protected by the dominant legal apparatus. But it seems that the realization of their demands is suspended endlessly and they are thoroughly betrayed at the moment their demands are received by the representative and the legal apparatus. What is more needed to bring about the fundamental change of our society through the power of the crowd bursting through candlelight rallies?
In order to answer this question, I analyze first the progress and characteristic dynamics of the candlelight rallies 2016-2017 for the resignation of the dictator and State President Park Geun-hye and for the liquidation of evils accumulated in her fascist regime. Second, I investigate what conditions we have to meet in order to make politics of minjung from crowd movements in shape of candlelight rallies. For such analysis and investigation I take my perspective from minjung theology that focuses on the status of minjung as subject in history and society.
II. Minjung and minjung movement from the perspective of minjung theology
Minjung theologians see into the world, review history, examine frameworks of thought and read the Bible from the viewpoint of minjung. Minjung are the focus in their doing theology.
In normal theoretical discourses minjung must be presupposed as self-evident reality, but it is not the case in minjung theology. Minjung as the focus and starting point of minjung theology are not well captured and have no conceptual stability. In order to describe or explain the reality of minjung, scholars have employed such concepts as oppression, exploitation, discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, etc. It is true that they are significant, but they tend to be stereotyped. With such concepts it is hard to properly reveal how minjung are constituted and their reality appears in a certain time and space in which forces and powers are arranged and combined. Therefore, minjung theologians firmly refuse to conceptualize minjung or to make schemes for illustrating the reality of the people. They pay attention rather to movements of minjung in which they express and develop themselves. Their movements exceed conceptual frameworks and explanation schemes. Minjung theologians start from that minjung can be best understood in their movements. Minjung cannot be sufficiently explained by the concept of oppression itself. Rather they express themselves as the subject of the movement, when they break the inside of the oppressive framework and go out of it. It is also the case in the following concepts exploitation, discrimination, exclusion, marginalization, and so on. If minjung are the subjects of movement, their subjectivity will be revealed in the process of breaking down the frameworks and schemes, the laws and institutions, and the fixing, normalizing and stabilizing power apparatus that block their movements. Their movements make conceptual understandings of minjung unstable at any time. If minjung were to be conceptually grasped, the concept of minjung could be true within the limit within which it can capture peculiar aspects of the minjung reality that appear at any one moment. If minjung theologians should pursue such a true concept of minjung, they must be diligent and productive. The instability of the concept of minjung leads minjung theologians to doing theology productively.
As seen in humanities and social sciences, there is a wide variety of discourses on minjung in minjung theology. The reason why brilliant and provocative minjung discourses appear unceasingly is that previous schemes of explanation don’t seem to be appropriate to the reality of minjung any longer. Although minjung discourses are diverse and distinct, the question is how to consistently explain the reality of minjung as a movement in a certain time and space.
From the beginning of 1990s till now many people have asked if minjung are present in Korean society or not. With such banal questions in hand they have made ideological offensive attempts to isolate minjung discourses and to negate their citizenship. People cannot see minjung, people cannot hear their shout. In any way it does not mean that there are no people. It seems to me that in our time the volume of minjung has expanded enormously and they are widely spread. To minjung belong unemployed young people, precariats, most self-employed, older people, foreign workers, sex minorities, etc. But if the reality of minjung were to be revealed, it would not be sufficient to enumerate some types of subalterns one by one or to explain the class structure of minjung sociologically. From the beginning of their theological conception minjung theologians started from that minjung have the status of subjects in history. With such a proclamation they have pointed out sharply that minjung recover their subjectivity by questioning and dismantling power arrangements in which they have been robbed of the place of masters and fallen into slavery. Such a conception is condensed in the statement that “there has been the nation, but not minjung in our history.” Minjung theologians have paid attention to the ability of minjung to see the sky by turning over the deepest bottom of the hell and concentrated on the birth of minjung who manifest their power. Their key words like ‘dialectic of han and dan’ or ‘the ability of minjung for self-transcendence’ show well that their perception of minjung is dynamic rather than static. With such ability and power minjung fight against the oppressive, exploitative, discriminative, exclusive and marginalizing structures, and overcome the structures critically. They come into being not in the periphery but in the midst of the reality. They constitute the reality in which oppression, exploitation, discrimination, exclusion and marginalization take place. Therefore they can form a new reality beyond the reality, only insofar as they destroy the reality from its inside.
How can the politics of minjung be understood on the horizon of minjung movements? In the politics of minjung the solidarity of intellectuals with minjung play very important roles. Intellectuals in solidarity with minjung should try to see into the political reality from the stance of minjung and their viewpoint. Of course, it is absurd to categorically distinguish intellectuals and minjung, but I think it is significant to distinguish between them in regard to the competence for conceptual operation. In short, intellectuals who are skilled to conceptual operation should listen to what minjung say and will in the political reality before they conceptualize. Minjung say and intellectuals listen to them. Only in such proceedings intellectuals can see into the political reality from the perspective of minjung, analyze the reality of minjung and suggest coherent conceptions to realize the desire of minjung politically. If minjung and intellectuals are combined in such a way, ‘organic intellectuals’ in the sense of Antonio Gramsci will be born. I think it is the possibility condition of minjung politics.
I would like to focus on three things in investigating the political reality from the stance of minjung. One is to observe how minjung are excluded due to the vested power structures. The other is to see how they move to dismantle the framework of vested power structure. The last one is to grasp what minjung demand in restructuring the constitutional order.
III. Beginning and development of candlelight rallies in 2016-2017
The candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 were triggered by the ‘Park Geun-hye-Choi Soon-sil Gate,’ which led to the explosion of discontent and resistance of minjung to evils accumulated in the Park Geun-hye regime. To those who observe these massive movements from afar they seemed to be non-violent peace demonstrations in which the citizens of the republic came out to regain the constitutional order distorted by the breach of state affairs. The mass on streets and squares shouted, “Is this really the state?” But the 2016-2017 candlelight rallies were not simple. They could not be fully understood, if the rallies in the name of Minjung General Uprising against the neoliberal and fascist regime under State President Park were not in sight. The rallies have taken place seven times from November 2015 to February 2017.
The ‘Park Geun-hye-Choi Soon-sil Gate,’which proved an incentive to candlelight rallies in 2016-2017, began to be revealed, when corruption and illegality affairs at the college entrance test in Ewha Women’s University were exposed in the spring 2016. In early July Chosun Ilbo, the ultra-conservative newspapers in Korea, took the lead to disclose doubts and suspicions of corruption regarding the Mir Foundation and K-Sports Foundation initiated by Choi Soon-sil and supported financially by some Korean conglomerates. On October 24 JTBC released data of Tablet PC owned by Choi Soon-sil, revealing that she had interfered in the performance of the presidential duties many times. Those who were shocked by the breach of state affairs and the constitutional disorder became angry increasingly, as Park Geun-hye announced next day her first statement, which was torn by excuses and lies. In such a situation, it was the Struggle Headquarters for Minjung General Uprising (hereinafter the ‘Struggle Headquarters’) that held the first candlelight rally against the breach of state affairs in the Park Geun-hye regime. The ‘Struggle Headquarters’ announced that the first country-wide campaign with the slogan “Let’s come together! Let's get angry! Resign, Park Geun-hye!” should be held on October 29. The ‘Struggle Headquarters’ secured a demonstration zone at Gwang-hwa-mun Square and declared that candles should be lit every day until Minjung General Rally should be held on November 12. On November 2, more than one thousand civic and social groups issued a common declaration that on November 5, together with the send off ceremony of Paik Nam-ki , the second nationwide campaign with the slogan “Let’s come together! Let's get angry! Resign, Park Geun-hye!” should be held, and that all the people should participate in the Minjung General Rally on November 12. On November 9, the Emergency Citizen Action for the Park Geun-hye Administration's Resignation (hereinafter ‘Resignation Action’) was organized by more than 1,500 civic and social NGOs including the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ and Solidarity Congress of Civic and Social Organizations, etc. The ‘Resignation Action’ has led candlelight rallies nineteen times till the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment of Park Geun-hye and terminated her presidency.
The candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 have gone through three major phases. The first is the phase in which President Park was asked to resign. The phase lasted from the first on October 29 to the second candlelight rally on November 5. In the second phase the claim to compulsory retirement was dominant. Angry people wanted to unseat Park Geun-hye who won’t resign. The retirement phase lasted very shortly from the third on November 12 to the fourth candlelight rally on November 19. The third phase began with the fifth candlelight rally on November 26, in which the presidential impeachment was chanted, and ended a week before the impeachment verdict.
Under tremendous pressures of the candlelight rallies the National Assembly passed “the act on the appointment of special prosecutor for investigating suspicious cases of the breach of state affairs by civilian Choi Soon-sil et al. in the Park Geun-hye government” (hierinafter “Special Prosecutor Act”) on November 17. The National Assembly accepted the impeachment proposal overwhelmingly by 234 votes (78% of the total vote) on December 9. At the same time the office of the President was suspended, the impeachment proceedings began to be held at the Constitutional Court, and President Park was expelled from her office, as mentioned above.
IV. Dynamics of Candlelight Rallies in 2016-2017
Regarding the size and duration of the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017, there is no other example in Korea as well as in the world history. More than one million people gathered already at the 3rd candlelight rally on November 12. More than 1.9 millions of people came together at the 6th candlelight rally on December 3, when the impeachment proposal was about to be launched. Until December 31, more than 10 millions of people participated in candlelight rallies, and hundreds of thousands of people gathered each time when a rally was held. Who are the people gathered at these huge rallies, and what is the dynamics moving the rallies?
1. Among the crowd gathered in the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017, there were, of course, people who were organized by the ‘Struggle Headquarters,’ various NGOs and social groups, but they only took a small part of the crowd. In this point the candlelight crowd in 2016-2017 did not differ significantly from the candlestick crowd in 2008. Just as the candlelight crowd in 2008 gathered on a huge scale in a short time due to the rumors of and fright at suspected mad cow disease of the beef imported from the USA and expressed their anger at the government’s abandonment of the quarantine sovereignty, so the candlelight crowd in October and November 2016 fell into panic and got angry at the ‘Park Geun-hye-Choi Soon-sil Gate' and rumors surrounding it. They began to gather in the vicinity of Gwang-hwa-mun Square secured by the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ and set up a huge candlelight rally. There were naturally some civic centers that designed candlelight rally as performance, but in reality the centers were not capable of mobilizing and leading the mass rally. Rather, it is more appropriate to say that the crowd gathered spontaneously. They were beyond age and gender, they had different identities, they had diverse jobs, and they belonged to different classes. They gatherd to the crowd who performed the candlelight rally and began to shout: “Resign, Park Geun-hye!” At the first glance, the spontaneity of crowd seemed to be dominant in the candlelight rally.
2. However, the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 could not be explained sufficiently, if it were to be said simply that the crowd gathered voluntarily with anger at ‘Park Geun-hye-Choi Soon-sil Gate.’ It is true that the monopoly of state affair lit the fuse to the rally. But it must be noted that many people, who have suffered a total breakdown of life in the neoliberal system, cried out the liquidation of evils accumulated in the Park Geun-hye regime. Its most striking feature was the fascist rule in which President Park placed herself at the position beyond party politics and legislative powers and made them impotent. As a consequence, the United Progressive Party was dismissed in December 2014, history textbooks were standardized by the state in 2015, the Anti-Terrorism Act was enacted in March 2016, the full placement of THAAD was quickly determined in July 2016, and so forth. A number of malevolent forms of evils could be accumulated in the fascist regime because the Blue House (the presidential office), the ruling party, NIS (National Intelligence Service), politicized prosecution, conglomerates, media, the judiciary, military and police authorities, and government officials formed cartels of invested powers. Corruption cartels of political and economic powers were exposed partly in the case of fund raising for the Mir Foundation and the K-Sports Foundation, as mentioned above. The state apparatuses such as the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism etc. have lost the publicity and supported special interests of certain power groups. As shown in the Se-wol ferry incident, there was no state apparatus guaranteeing the life and safety of citizen, no person responsible for innocent victims. The inventory of evils is endless. In order to present some more examples, prosecutors have fallen into slavery to predatory financial regime and to conglomerate system; conservative pressures and medias played a role as speakers of the vested powers; workers and labors were systematically exploited, oppressed and fell into the trap of poverty, etc.
The lives of the people who had already been devastated in the neoliberal system since the end of 1990s became more miserable during the Park Geun-hye regime. Although Korean economy has entered a low-growth phase since the global financial crisis in 2009, the neoliberal framework of economic policy has been firmly maintained, increasing capital savings and reducing labor wages. Consequently, household debts doubled in 10 years, exceeding 1,300 trillion won (ca. 1.1 trillion Dollar); ‘good jobs’ decline rapidly; the dismissal of regular workers became easier, and the number of precariat, unemployed and underemployed increases enormously; young generations give up courtship, marriage and childbirth; it becomes a new life style to eat and to drink alone; the polarization of society goes on, and the ascent of status is no more possible, etc. All things mentioned above indicate that individuals isolated and dispersed in the neoliberal system live in extreme anxiety and instability.
Workers and labors began to grasp accumulated evils in the Park Geun-hye regime and catastrophic developments in the neoliberal system, and to express clearly the change of status quo. In the first Minjung General Uprising in November 2015, the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ led by Korean Confederation of Trade Union (KCTU) presented 12 proposals regarding social, economic and political reform and, moreover, geo-political and foreign affairs. In the 6th Minjung General Uprising in November 2016, the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ added the 13th demand to retire the state president Park Geun-hye.
Therefore, those who gathered in the candle rallies in 2016-2017 were seemingly a crowd of people who got angry at the breach of state affairs. But it were minjung, so I think, who had the will to resist against the accumulated evils and the breakdown of livelihood in the neoliberal system coupled with the fascist regime. In the candlelight rallies minjung expressed the will to dismantle the fascist regime by expelling Park Geun-hye and called for more democratic, more equitable and fairer society beyond the neoliberal system in which exploitation, suppression, exclusion and discrimination have been normalized. That is the reason why flags were fluttering in the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017.
3. The candlelight crowd in 2016-2017 was informed of the monopoly of state affairs and of candlelight rallies through mass media and internet newspapers. Total programming channels operated by conservative media groups like Chosun, Donga, Jungang, Maeil Economy, etc. took initiatives to transfer detailed information and even rumors about the 'Park Geun-hye-Choi Soon-sil Gate' without any filtering and to provoke the anger of the mass. They delivered even live broadcast of rallies. Why did the conservative media considered as one axis of the ruling bloc attack its core? And what effect did they have on the development of candlelight rallies in 2016-2017?
The frontal attack of the conservative media against Park Geun-hye means that cracks occurred inside the ruling block, and that the struggle for reallocation of power began. During her seizure of power she had claimed a transcendental position in the ruling bloc and put forward a demand for absoluteness. The ruling party under the hegemony of the fraction ‘truly loyal to the state president’ fell into disturbance and had no capacity to hold the presidency in check. Under her rule of an absolute monarchical art, interests and powers of some ruling bloc's fractions, namely media groups and conglomerates, got damaged. Such a situation was unacceptable for the fractions which have pretended to be in the same rank as the state president and to have the authority to use the president office as a tool. The game rules of conciliation and compromise seemed to be broken in view of President’s unexpected and unconvincing decisions such as the appointment of monstrous persons to high ranked positions, the closure of Industrial Complex in Gaesung, Korean-Japanese governmental agreement on sex slaves in the wartime, the THAAD placement, the structure adjustment policy in shipbuilding industry and shipping industry and so on. Even though the power center in Korean society had passed over to the conglomerates, President Park started from that she could control them arbitrarily. In the past the state president had followed the custom to make conservative media the best partner for maintaining and strengthening hegemony, but she was reckless enough to oppress and attack conservative media immediately when they seemed to stand in some trivial affairs against opinions of power groups in the Blue House. As similar things were repeated continuously, the castration of Park Geun-hye began to be regarded as a prerequisite to guarantee interests and power of ruling bloc’s fractions. In this regard, it is significant that the ‘Choi Soon-sil Gate’ began to be exposed by TV Chosun and that the data of the tablet PC in ownership of Choi Soon-sil were totally released by JTBC.
In this way the monopoly of state affairs by Park Geun-hye and Choi Soon-sil was exposed to the whole country. Angry crowd lit candles and gathered in the square. The protest and resistance of the crowd to Park Geun-hye was a double-edged sword for the vested interests. If she could be castrated by the power of the crowd, it would be an opportunity to reallocate powers under conditions favorable to the vested interests. But They were worry that the power of the crowd could threaten their existence. Already in the second candlelight rally the number of the crowd far exceeded the control of the public power, and the ruling bloc was devoted to managing the crowd. The crowd grew to one million at the third candlelight rally on November 12, and their slogan was changed from Park Geun-hye's voluntary resignation to her compulsory retirement. Confronting such developments, the ruling bloc began to use elaborate hegemony strategy. Their hegemonic strategy was devised in two directions.
One strategy was to confine the resistance of the crowd in the framework of constitutional order. On November 12, one day after the protest of one million people, Kim Moo-sung, the former president of the ruling party, said that the president should go on the path of impeachment in the name of the nation, and pressured opposition parties to issue solutions in the framework of the Constitution. He clearly understood that the political factions privileged in the constitutional regime of 1987 could maintain power and reallocate it, only if the resistance of the crowd were to be located in the constitutional order.
Another strategy was to keep the resistance of the crowd bound to the framework of non-violent and orderly demonstration. Mass media quoted foreign press and praised that the crowd of more than one million people gathered in a candlelight rally without violence, and that such a massive demonstration was unprecedented in the world history. Non-violent and orderly demonstration is a kind of obsession for the people who have been trained and brainwashed by ideological state apparatuses in the divided anti-communist state. It would be proper to say that the crowd felt themselves frightened as to what would happen when the massive crowd resorted to violence. The ‘Resignation Action,’ which played a role as program designer for candlelight rallies, made desperate efforts to confine the resistance of the crowd in the framework of law and order. As the public power kept the crowd in certain areas and zones without attacking them, a kind of liberation zone atmosphere was generated there, and spectacular performance of the candlelight rally proceeded. The ruling bloc knew well that the crowd, who temporarily felt free from the reality of isolation, dispersion, and anxiety, enjoyed a festival of cooperation, solidarity and communication, shouted slogans in one voice, and felt a sense of emancipation, tended to avoid violence. That is why the court ordered police authorities to open the area adjacent to the Blue House and allowed the candlelight crowd to demonstrate there. Therefore the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 can be considered as well-managed performance.
The phase of stalemate, in which Park Geun-hye refused obstinately to resign and the candlelight crowd was unable to force her out of power, finished at the end of November when the crowd demanded to impeach the president. Almost two millions of candlelight crowd gathered and shouted Park Geun-hye's impeachment. The National Assembly quickly accepted their demands and passed the impeachment proposal on December 9. In order to draw a scene plastically, the candlelight crowd was captured in the huge net laid by the ruling bloc. Now they have lost the opportunity to remove by their power the existing regime full of evils and corruptions. They have been arranged to the position to press the Constitutional Court to carry out the impeachment proceeding.
Although the candlelight crowd issued two demands to impeach the president and to liquidate accumulated evils, the National Assembly accepted only the impeachment demand and left the liquidation demand untouched. Of course, it must be noted here that on the basis of the “Special Prosecutor Act” the special prosecutor team investigated the beach of state affairs, exposed a section of ugly and corrupt relationship between political and economic power groups and held Lee Jae Yong, officially vice chairman, but really the head of the Samsung Conglomerate Group, in custody. However, through such juridical proceedings, cozy relations between politics and business cannot be overcome, insofar as the conglomerate system exists as the herb of powers. It remains as one of important tasks of minjung to liquidate accumulated evils and to change radically Korean society in which the conglomerate system has still hegemonic positions.
On March 10, the Constitutional Court upheld the impeachment in a unanimous 8–0 decision. As a result, the presidential by-election was held and Moon Jae-in was elected president on May 9. The by-election was basically a game in which the powers were reallocated among power fractions which have privileged positions in the framework of the constitutional regime of 1987. Because Moon Jae-in is social-liberal oriented, he is expected to pave the road to more democratic and social-friendly order. However, minjung have already experienced the democratic governments under President Kim Dae-jung and Roh Mu-hyon. The two presidents had been esteemed to be social-liberal. But their governments were rooted in the framework of the 1987 regime. They could not stem the neoliberal wave that was heightened since the economic and financial trusteeship of IMF 1997. What is the worse, they initiated to settle the neoliberal system firmly in Korean society. They were impotent to solve problems from the neoliberal system in which minjung have been oppressed, exploited, excluded and discriminated. In order to change the neoliberal system, the power of minjung must be strengthened, and they must have the opportunity to participate in political decision making processes. To this regard, the constitutional order, in which the participation and initiatives of minjung have been systematically ignored, must be reformed.
4. In investigating candlelight rallies in 2016-2017, the leadership of the ‘Resignation Action’ was outstanding. In contrast to the candlelight rallies 2008, in which the so-called network crowd gathered and dispersed without pivot, the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 were planned and designed by the ‘Resignation Action’. The ‘Resignation Action’ was a consortium of civic and social NGOs that had learned from the experiences of 2008 that the candlelight crowd scattered without any booty.
The ‘Resignation Action,’ which has designed candlelight rallies four months from October 29, 2016, set it as its strategic task to judge the beach of state affairs and to remove evils accumulated in the neoliberal system coupled with the fascist regime. The organization demonstrated its ability to operate each phase tactically. Even if the candlelight rallies were massive movements in which a lot of people participated voluntarily, they shouted with one voice the slogans which the ‘Resignation Action’ designed. This shows that the crowd recognized and respected the leadership of the ‘Resignation Action.’ The candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 did not have the shape of offline gatherings of network crowd as shown in the candlelight rallies in 2008. In those rallies a number of unorganized people gathered, followed concerted action plans of the ‘Resignation Action’ and made spectacular performances in great scale.
However, the ‘Resignation Action’ could not exercise a consistent leadership. Social and civic NGOs, which constituted the ‘Resignation Action,’ fiercely competed for the leadership to settle strategic goals and tactical phase operations. In the early phase in which the candlelight vigils began to be spread and widened, the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ and social organizations, which formed the axis of the ‘Resignation Action,’ maintained the hegemony. The KCTU accepted the request of the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ and called for the general strike on November 30, 2016, with the slogans: “Resign, Park Geun-hye! Remove accumulated evils!” But the general strike failed. In the struggle only 230,000 workers participated county-wide, and the number of workers who gathered in Gwang-hwa-mun Square was around 60,000. After the strike failed, the hegemony of social groups and organizations weakened. In the 6th candlelight rally on December 3, a crowd of 1.9 million people cried out for Park Geun-hye's impeachment, which means that the hegemony of the ‘Resignation Action’ has been passed on to civic groups. After the Constitutional Court began the impeachment procedure, minjung factions of the ‘Resignation Action’ sought once more to set the agendas regarding the liquidation of accumulated evils in the front and attempted to design the 8th candlelight rally on December 17. In response to the demands of minjung factions the leadership of the ‘Resignation Action’ organized a panel discussion on December 22 to issue a list of urgent liquidation tasks. At the end of the discussion, the following six agendas were settled in the list: clarifying the Se-wol ferry incident, appointing special prosecutor for the case of the farmer Paik Nam-ki killed by the police, stopping the standardization of history textbooks, revising the Broadcasting Laws, stopping the retrogressive revision of the Labor Law, stopping the placement of THAAD. Compared to the agenda list that the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ issued on November 12, 2016, the 6 agenda list was extremely poor. The list didn’t reflect the fact that the social polarization and the problem of irregular workers became all the worse in the neoliberal system coupled with Park's fascist dictatorship. Even though it mattered, the proposal to stop the retrogressive revision of the Labor Law was only relevant to those who had ‘good’ jobs. It is evident that the hegemony of civic groups was firmly established in the ‘Resignation Action,’ because the minjung issues were not properly addressed in the list. Even the six-fold agendas could draw attraction no more, after the candlelight crowd was caught in the fishnet of impeachment process.
Occasionally some people raise a question: Could the ‘Resignation Action' abandon the guideline of non-violent and orderly demonstration and move on to the direct action to pull down Park Gyeong-hye from the presidential office? Such a question may be meaningless, insofar as the phase passed. But the responsible answer to the question could be given, only if there were a movement leadership that could present a coherent and consistent conception for the transformation of Korean society and lead the crowd.
The candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 show that such movement leadership has not yet been established in Korean society. The agendas, which the ‘Struggle Headquarters’ presented in the first Minjung General Uprising in November 2015, were listed one by one in a planar manner, but there was no diagram of the tasks and no coherent conception for priority and interrelationship of the tasks. If so, the hegemony of minjung factions could not be exercised to civic factions, and it would be difficult to lead huge crowds consistently from the viewpoint of minjung.
V. Some Evaluation of the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 from the Perspective of Minjung Theology
From the standpoint of minjung theology the years 2016-2017 don’t have merely a chronological distance from the year 2008. 2016-2017, which reflected the experience of 2008, were also the historical time and space in which a dramatic transition occurred in the history of Korean minjung movement. The capacity of minjung to change the existing system has been strengthened, and the presence of ‘organic intellectuals,’ who could see into the history and the world in the eyes of minjung, has been more manifest. However, the candlelight rallies in 2016-2017 have not yet met the possibility conditions of politics of minjung.
1. Politics of minjung require a political pivot of minjung movement. The Gramsci’s famous word ‘organic intellectual’ could be a metaphor for such a centripetal body of minjung movement. If it is the core task of minjung politics to liberate minjung from fetters, minjung politics must have the centripetal body to lead movements of minjung consistently. Organic intellectuals play a role as leaders in organizing movements of those who naturally create ‘them’ distinct from ‘us’ by constructing ‘us.’ They are devoted to naming those who suffer in conflicts and struggles in the real world as minjung, to distinguishing clearly their desires from ideological deceptions and to realizing them politically. Minjung are not monolith, but the integrity of different and differentiated components. Minjung are not excrement left outside of the operating regime. Sometimes minjung seem to be the shadow under power apparatuses that exclude and discriminate them. But they are capable of struggling against the regime in its very inside in which power apparatuses operate. Nothing exists outside of the inside, and it must be kept in mind that a new reality is about to be created through contradictions and struggles inside of the reality. In order to realize progressive interests of minjung, ‘organic intellectuals’ are committed to grasping clearly the arrangement of contradictions and conflicts in the reality and to explaining consistently how a new reality can be created.
2. From the perspective of minjung politics the Constitutional regime of 1987 must be dismantled, because minjung movements and politics are separated in it. It must be changed into a constitutional order in which minjung politics can be institutionalized. New constitutional order is expected to be based on real democracy, in which the rights of minjung are guaranteed, especially their right to participate in decision making processes. Such a constitutional order can be achieved only through consistent movements to pursue the political will of minjung.
On the way to a new constitutional order it is crucial to effectively crush collusions of political parties that have privileged positions in the Constitutional regime of 1987. It dares not to be forgotten that the Constitution 1987 was framed through compromises and collusions among vested political parties, and that they had the strong will to exclude minjung systematically and to monopolize the achievements of democratization movements in the 1980s. As a consequence, minjung movements and institutional politics have been separated, and that has brought about the instability of the constitutional order.
Therefore, it is a prerequisite to secure minjung the opportunity to participate in the process of constitutional amendment. It is a task of minjung politics to strengthen the power of minjung, so that they realize their rights and interests as much as possible. Such minjung politics need and create 'organic intellectuals' at the same time.
In this article, I analyzed the subjects and the dynamics of candlelight rallies of 2016-2017 from the perspective of minjung theology. I named the candlelight crowd as minjung in the traditional manner. It is because they were oppressed, exploited, excluded and discriminated in the neoliberal system in Korean society that is deeply incorporated into the global economy.
During the candlelight rallies of 2016-2017, the ‘Resignation Action,’ composed of civic and social NGOs, showed some capacity to lead the candle crowd asking for the expulsion of President Park Geun-hye responsible for the breach of state affairs and asking for the liquidation of accumulated evils in the fascist regime. This is the achievement and progress made by the civic and social NGOs in the candlelight rallies of 2016-2017. The ‘Resignation Action’ was composed of various factions. Minjung factions and civic factions fought for the hegemonic position to set up strategic goals and to give guidelines for tactical phase operations. In the later phase of the candlelight rallies the civic hegemony was dominant.
Confronted with the candlelight rallies, the ruling bloc used the hegemonic strategy to keep the candlelight crowd captured in the framework of parliamentary politics and jurisdiction. The strategy of the ruling bloc must be neutralized, and the neoliberal system combined with the fascist regime had to be dismantled by the power of the crowd. To do this, there had to be a leadership with the capacity to lead mass movements consistently. But such leadership has not yet been fully established.
Minjung have desires to change Korean society radically and to embody more justice, more democracy and more human rights. They are moving to realize their desires. Minjung theologians of our time are regarded as ‘organic intellectuals’ and charged to articulate the desires of minjung and to back up theologically minjung politics with a consistent conception to realize the desires.