[Editorial] It’s Time To Create a Candlelight National Assembly

The Quarterly Changbi 187, Spring 2020

 
 

Although the 20th National Assembly has been subject to all kinds of criticism and name-calling—such as “vegetable assembly” and “animal assembly”—it actually achieved unprecedented results in reform legislation. Above all, by passing the motion of impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, it responded to the demands of the Candlelight Revolution. It also offered an expanded systematic foundation, which can better reflect various people’s wills through the amendment of the Public Official Election Act, which focuses on the introduction of a proportional representation system and the lowering of the voting age. Further, in passing two long-titled pieces of legislation—the Law for the Establishment of the Senior Civil Servant Corruption Investigation Agency, as well as the Amendment Bill for the Redesigning of the Investigative Authority Between the Prosecutors and the Police (the Criminal Procedure Law and the National Police Agency Law)—it enhanced the level of reform and democratic control of the authorities. While we may not see the effects of these measures immediately, all of them are the fruits of the assembly’s representation of the expectations of a sovereign citizenry, in response to its historic mission.

Nevertheless, people’s evaluation of the current national assembly is unenthusiastic—probably because, in general, the assembly’s representation of the people’s will has been more of a stumbling block than an orderly march. This was particularly true of the reactionary opposition party, which has been on the alert for an opportunity to reverse the course of history—despite the stern judgment people dealt them through the unprecedented impeachment of the president. In addition, the ruling party was also responsible, to a considerable extent, for not taking full advantage of the golden opportunity that the Candlelight Revolution brought them. There were so many crises when the ruling party made the citizens of the Candlelight Revolution anxious. But most of all was the current government’s incompetence in its role as supervisor of the prosecution. We acknowledge that it might have been inevitable for the government to depend on the prosecution to clean up deeply rooted evils in its early stages. But, as demonstrated in their sitting idly by during the change in personnel last year, led by the Public Prosecutor General, the current government ended up reducing its own ability to control the prosecution, neglecting to oversee the customary practice of the prosecution, which is one of the most important reforms. This neglect was a self-defeating act by the government and ruling party, in which they turned the prosecution into an even more openly political actor, carried away by the immediate partisan benefit of limiting the political space of the reactionary opposition party. Were it not for the enduring Candlelight Revolution, which has remained constant, we could not be sure what result would be unfolding today.

Despite the achievement of the major reform bills, by the so-called 4+1 coalition, our political parties’ understanding of the Candlelight Revolution is lacking. This is clear from the repetition of the old-fashioned political-engineering framework of “the judgment on the ruling party vs. the opposition party” ahead of the April general election—a framework that is advantageous only to the anti-Candlelight forces. What’s at stake is neither the victory nor the judgment of the ruling party, but how to build “Candlelight governance.” The ruling party might be “fortunate” because of the reactionary opposition party’s reckless politics, in which they make a political issue of even the coronavirus epidemic, which is a national crisis. However, if the ruling party is content with the “judgment against the opposition party” approach in the general election, an approach that takes advantage of the opposition’s recklessness, it would not only lose this “good fortune,” but also might lose the Candlelight Revolution’s dynamic power—regardless of the election’s outcome. On one hand, if the ruling party achieves a landslide and acts at will, the intensified reaction from the opposition party might delay reform, as well as threaten prospects for the next presidential election. On the other hand, if the opposition party unexpectedly gains, our politics might be in danger of increased loss and confusion, due to their attempts at reversals of the reform.

In any case, under the amended election laws, it would be difficult for a single party to secure a majority. Even if the ruling party wins a unilateral victory, it would not have the power to reform the 1987 constitutional system—an already much overdue reform. The experience of the 4+1 coalition is a precious asset in our politics. The key is to explore the potential in coalition politics, in which various values and lines cohabit under the spirit of the Candlelight Revolution, while also limiting, as much as possible, the political space of reactionary forces that deny the revolution. In order to strengthen the foundation for overcoming the division system, by dispersing power currently concentrated in the president, and by easing extreme ideological conflicts and economic and other inequalities through the amendment of the constitution, we should not exclude even the conservative forces in our efforts. It is due to the failure of the building of governance appropriate for the Candlelight Revolution period that the 20th national assembly could not avoid chaos and that our politics had to go out into the streets and public squares. Thanks to the Candlelight Revolution, the administration did change, and justice reform has now emerged as the task of our times. Therefore, it is now time for us to create a Candlelight Revolution national assembly, and to help in the solving of incomplete reform tasks, as well as to offer the revolution its institutional fruits through constitutional reform.

The Candlelight Revolution was a legal revolution—unprecedented in world history. Although many revolutions have gone through a time of disillusionment and reaction, while maintaining a state of emergency in everyday life, the Candlelight Revolution could control counter-revolutionary forces at an appropriate level, thanks to its character as a constitutional revolution, a reflection of its wisdom. As a result, however, it had to endure hardship in which it had to tolerate the legislative branch, which had been elected before the revolution. But we don’t have endless time. Already, skepticism about the revolution is rearing its head. This is why the 21st general election cannot remain simply one of the regular general elections we have every four years.

 

At this point, we need to remember that the great transformation demanded by the Candlelight Revolution is not a simple power shift, but includes much more fundamental needs, which require us to transition to another kind of world. Among these needs, understanding the global problems of climate change and ecological crisis has become a task we can no longer postpone. The disasters in the world, which at first glance do not appear connected—particulate matter pollution, contaminated Fukushima water, plastics waste, the coronavirus, fires in the Amazon region, and the fires in Australia—are also political problems and deeply involved in the dynamics of a capitalist system. We prepared the feature in this issue from this perspective and offer it under the title “Expansion of Ecological Politics and System Transformation.”

Paik Young-Gyung analyzes from a political and socio-economic perspective why differences are difficult to be overcome among proposals about how to respond to the current climate crisis, although it is one affecting all of human civilization. The current climate crisis is not entirely the crisis of “climate,” in that we humans created it, and, even so, we are not equally responsible for it. Also, it requires a serious discursive struggle, because its solution is like an equation with multiple variables, including a transformation of the social structure, policy changes, and everyday practices. While evaluating various discourses about climate crisis, which include discussions about Anthropocene and Capitalocene, Paik addresses examples of indigenous people’s struggles against settler colonialism from the perspective of an ecological transformation.

Kim Sang-Hyun discusses in detail various issues around the Green New Deal, which has been emerging as a solution to the climate crisis, focusing on the US. There are, in fact, many variations of the Green New Deal, although all are based on the New Deal adopted by US President F. D. Roosevelt in the 1930s to deal with the Great Depression. While discourse around green growth, which remains on the level of capitalist economic development, is predominant, a more radical Green New Deal approach, which aims to change the exploitative capitalist economic system, the root cause of climate inequality, is standing against it. The author’s perspective emphasizes systemic change rather than simple climate change, as well as people’s lives and global ecology rather than profit, and is supported by abundant examples and cogent logical demonstrations.

The article by Kim Ki-heung deals with the question of plastics, which have become such a serious problem that their waste now exists in even the natural strata of the earth. His incisive description of the history and process of the spread of plastics, related to the capitalist desire for infinite growth, is fascinating. He raises the need for an active post-growth approach to this dire problem, in order for us to be weaned from the widespread addiction to plastics, and to solve the problem of overproduction and overconsumption of this artificial material, which now occupies the entire earth.

Ra Hee Duk illuminates poems by Baek Mu-san, Heo Su-Gyeong, and Kim Hyesoon from the perspective of the Capitalocene, a concept that understands this period of capitalist civilization as a kind of geological era. Despite many differences, these three poets’ worlds have similarly explored civilizational-level contradictions in life, labor, war, and violence, through the language of the body, which sensitively captures the dystopia of the Capitalocene. This article, which discusses how their poems have resisted those contradictions in different ways, from their respective viewpoints, and through a close reading of them, is an example of how the poetic imagination and ecological crisis are not unrelated.

Ahead of the upcoming general election in April, our “Dialogue” evaluates the 20th National Assembly and examines the key tasks for Korean politics. While candidly examining the achievements and failures of the 20th Assembly, which has the dishonor of the lowest ratio of bills handled, while also achieving the historic passing of reform bills through the so-called 4+1 coalition, Lee Nam Ju, Lee Chul-hee, and Chae Yi Bai explore the possibility of collaborative governance, which still will be important after the general election.

This issue introduces an article by Aaron Benanav, who proposes a future of post-scarcity, as he questions the current “commonsense” notion that continuous technological advance destroys jobs. According to him, the thesis that connects technological innovation to automation, automation to mass unemployment, and mass unemployment to a universal basic income is nothing more than a form of idealism that ignores the power and influence of capitalism. His proposal is for a post-scarcity struggle that rejects the ideas of a continuing decline of labor demands, the spread of underemployment, and the intensified economic inequality as a result. It suggests a great deal to Koreans, who are facing the so-called 4th Industrial Revolution.

This issue also offers abundant creative writing. Lee Kiho finishes his year-long installment of the novel Simon Gray. And we would like to thank him for his valuable and extensive contribution. A novella by Eun Heekyung, short stories by Pak Sa-rang, Lee Jangwook, and Lim Solah, and brilliant poems by 12 poets will introduce our readers to their engaging personalities. As for “Literary Criticism,” new critic Yi Cheol-ju discusses the poetic worlds of Shin Yong-mok and Kim Joong-il, known for their unique forms of lyricism.

The “Focus on Author” features Hwang InChan and his recently published poetry collection Repetition for Love. Literary critic Oh Youn-kyung contributed an exciting interview with the poet. Critics Yang Kyung Eon and Yang Yun-eui moderated “Literary Focus,” engaging in thoughtful discussions with the guest poet Yi Geun Hwa about noteworthy books of poems and fiction in the past season.

Kim Jung-mi’s essay contributes a vivid report about the issue of inequality in our society through her firsthand experience at the gongbubang private after-school programs in Manseok-dong, Incheon, and Ganghwado. Indeed, inherited educational privilege and the housing that has become the object of speculation are current signposts of contemporary Korean life. Commemorating the 40th anniversary of the May 18th Uprising this year, “On the Scene” offers an article by No Eyoungi that considers its meaning again and urges that its truth be investigated and revealed. What this article does is still highly important, as the forces slandering and distorting the event’s truth and significance are still alive, even 40 years later. In addition, 10 perceptive and astute book reviews offer exciting reading. We thank all the writers of them.

Every spring, we announce the winners of the Daesan Literary Awards for College Students and feature their works. We look forward to our readers’ interest in and support of for them. Also, a change has occurred in our editorial membership. Professor Yoo Jae-keon, who served as an editorial board member for a long time, has become an editorial advisor. We thank him for his hard work and look forward to his continuing advice.

 

As is well known by now, last year’s Palm d’Or winner at the Cannes Film Festival, Parasite, also won four major awards at the Oscars in Los Angeles. While this it is a splendid achievement, accomplished at the center of the world’s film industry, it might not be an occasion for unadulterated celebration. The film deals with the problem of inequality in Korea—and in Korean—yet it clearly resonates with viewers around the world. Obviously, the problem of inequality is currently omnipresent and growing. What’s important, though, is how to remedy it. The task of breaking away from the world as we have known it requires a long and complex process, and has become a problem which we cannot afford to ignore.