I've been lucky enough to have visited NK as well and unsurprisingly everything I read lined up perfectly with my own experience. Most likely tourists from all over the world are always shown the stock tour. Our guides were incredibly insistent that we see everything, too -- that means no suggestions for other activities and definitely no wandering off.
One of my most memorable take-aways was also a visit to a school that we were told was one of the best in the country. We were taken to a room where students had formed groups around several desks, all performing different tasks (one desk had microscopes, the other a pc, yet others had more contraptions, probably for demonstrating mechanical processes). As was mentioned in the story, they weren't actually doing anything, they were just sitting there looking at the machinery in front of them and trying to look like they were about to discover something huge. They must've been the best actors in the school, and probably were very proud of themselves to have been chosen to present to such a prominent audience.
Friends of mine used to work in a building that also contained the help desk for external customers. One day when a customer delegation was visiting the help desk, they were all brought in and told to sit at the empty desks and pretend to take calls.
Exactly. I "ranted" about it in response to the article.
Basically I'm not sure the author understood she realized the "stock tour" and that it was all fake and propaganda.
Even the one school people get to visit is fake: the students are actors as you're saying. They take the few genius kids they have and force them to perform the exact same music in front of nearly every delegation that gets there.
Once I realized that every single "official" trip there tells the exact same story, my girlfriend and I decided not to go.
The drones and spy cameras tell a whole different story than the communist party's propaganda of course.
It's really scary what communism did to North Korea...
This was an interesting read and very much in line with other travelers' reports. However, I do wonder about this part:
>Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange.
Is it really a good idea to go if you don't have a particular reason (such as this diplomatic trip)? I recall that most human rights groups recommended that tourists not visit Burma until recently so as not to support the regime. For someone like me who would only be going to satisfy my own curiosity, would I not simply be supporting the North Korean regime? I would be giving them money and possibly helping them in their propaganda efforts (see, look, at this American who has come to visit our great country!). I can't think of any ways in which my visit would be good or helpful.
I went to Burma for two reasons. First, the country isolated from the rest of the world can be an eye-opening experience. If you are, say, North American, and all you go is Western Europe you will never quite learn to appreciate what you have. To me the biggest surprise was how warm, cheerful and hospitable Burmese people are, in a country where poverty is rampant, infrastructure is almost non-existent and freethinking is oppressed.
And the second reason is that you can try to direct your money more to the people than government by staying and eating in small family establishments rather than pricy hotels that are almost always are controlled by the government.
You might have been able to do that in Burma. I know people who have travelled to Burma, Cuba, and other places and made similar arguments that I sympathize with. But you can't do that in North Korea: you can't go stay in small family establishments or choose where to eat. The entire trip is managed by the government and even trying to give money or talk to anyone about politics is probably risking the life of the person you talk to.
That leaves your first reason, which seems like a very self-focused reason -- I could learn the same thing from visiting other countries (or spending time reading up on the many accounts of North Korea, particularly those who have escapes).
Burma was never really clamped down like NK, heck, even Cuba isn't really clamped down. NK is probably the harshest state in the world with respect to freedom, and that alone probably makes it an interesting and unique visit. Ya, you are giving Kim Jong Un some money, but...if it would be an eye opening experience neh? If NK ever opens up, you won't have the oppurtunity every again!
I agree with your arguments about North Korea. I was specifically answering the statement about Burma. And I agree that the first reason is very self-focused, because I believe that every change to the world around you starts with a change to yourself (corny, but still true).
> And the second reason is that you can try to direct your money more to the people than government by staying and eating in small family establishments rather than pricy hotels that are almost always are controlled by the government.
When Myanmar opened up for tourism a few years ago, I was living in Thailand and considered taking a short trip. But I'm sure I read tourists were only allowed to stay in designated hotels. Am I wrong, or did those rules change?
Quite different Guatemala is chaotic and dangerous, DPRK is the exact opposite: repressive and actually very safe (as long as you know..you don't do something the gov hates). Or in D&D terms, think about the differences between Chaotic Evil and Lawful Evil.
I've been to Guatemala too :-) And it is quite different. I did not get a sense of oppression in Guatemala, but unlike Burma some places felt really unsafe (because of petty and organized crime, not national or political tensions that are present in some regions of Burma).
On the other hand, isolating an entire people in order to "let the ship sink" sooner and thereby allegedly help them (cf. half-century-old embargo on Cuba) doesn't seem morally sound either. These are tricky issues indeed.
The cost of a visa and a stay in North Korea is so low, and so few people visit each week that it wouldn't surprise me to learn that they make a loss on each visitor. It must cost them a lot to keep the hotel with 20 guests running, each visit site staffed, the 100,000 performers at the main stadium, the subway line etc. for 20-30 visitors a week. It is like a really large theme park with very few customers.
My family and I went to North Korea purely for curiosity's sake. Although we didn't like the giving-money-to-a-terrible-dictatorship aspect, the trip really changed our perceptions of the country and was by far the most interesting trip I had taken.
Sure! All our conceptions about it being a crazy, dysfunctional country were absolutely correct. But I also had the prejudice that its citizens would be cold, humorless people hostile to us Americans.
Instead, I was greeted by warm, friendly people. Waitresses would giggle as they sang karaoke, smiling as they tried to get the tourists and their guides to dance with them. Our driver, who didn't speak a word of English, would occasionally crack a joke and cackle to himself.
Sometimes I almost forgot that I was in a Communist dictatorship for a bit, only to be quickly brought back. During a visit to Pyongyang's finest maternity hospital, my father (a doctor) had a lengthy chat about various medical techniques with the doctor that was showing us around. Seemed to be a completely normal conversation until she would add in that these machines were there due to the kindness of Their Great Leader Kim Jong Un, who visited x years ago.
Kids at amusement parks wanted pictures with us. Preteen girls giggled to themselves at my sight. Our guides had fun play-swordfighting with my dad in medieval Korean costume at a movie studio. Even the local guide who showed us the USS Spy Ship Pueblo was very friendly while describing the imperialist crimes of America. Our guides seemed genuinely pleased to share their culture with us.
Now, this might all be the result of selection bias -- most of these interactions were with tourism employees--guides, waitresses (in the special for-tourists-only restaurants we visited), and flight attendants. It's possible these men and women hated our guts and pretended for our money. As I said in a previous comment, their curiosity at our opinions of the war was rather fishy. But I think it'd be exceptionally hard to fake it that well. At least I hope it was genuine, as it made me really feel for these friendly people trapped under a terrible regime.
I agree that your contribution to the government is small, although it's not zero. I assume North Korea wouldn't be allowing Western tourists to come on these trips otherwise; they clearly see an advantage to your visit (unless they are just deluded that Western tourists will be fooled by the propaganda).
But, what are the chances that your time there will really shed any more light on North Korea? Encouraging friends to read "Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea", for example, or simply reading it or another similar book yourself and sharing your thoughts would arguably shed more light than a brief government managed trip and a blog post.
Edit: I'd love to hear why you disagree rather than just downvoting. I've wondered about making this trip myself in the past and this is where I've settled, but would be happy to hear further arguments.
I wasn't the one who downvoted you. Your trip to North Korea might give you the chance to expose violations of basic human rights. granted, those chances are slim and you probably will put your own safety at risk in doing this. we still know comparably little about North Koreans and personally I just find it important to keep some memories of this bizarre, inhumane regime alive - even if it's just as a warning to others.
The situation in Burma is that Aung San Suu Kyi, the democratically elected leader and Nobel Peace Prize recipient, who was under long-term house arrest by the military dictatorship, specifically requested that people not visit Burma for tourism.
She has now ended this opposition to tourism in Burma.
I too visited the DPRK recently. Did you go with Koryo?
The weirdest thing was that our guide was very happy to discuss "taboo" questions. She asked us about our electoral system, and after we visited the DMZ inquired as to what our media said about North Korea. Initially we were elated that we had a "receptive" tour guide, but by the end we began to suspect that it was all a ruse to put us at ease. Did your guides do this?
Thanks for posting this. I liked the part about the newspaper:
"We were given strict instructions that we couldn't fold the newspaper AT ALL - as it had photos of Kim, and that it would be an insult to fold anything containing that.."
If a visitor was so willing, is there any possible way of sneaking in any kind of communication equipment that the people there could possibly use? Perhaps a solar powered raspberry pi with wifi and satellite hookup? USB drives full of information that could be dropped off on random doorsteps when nobody was looking? Well trained carrier pigeons to relay messages to the south? Did you see any possible opening for any kind of hacktivist way of helping these people gain access to information?
Easily. Most in our groups brought some sort of newspapers into the country, they were never confiscated. Our guides would actually ask if it was on to read the newspapers, and our guides knew about what's going on outside of their country. They would know about Assange, Occupy Wall street, Obama etc.
I brought an iPad, my laptop and my iPhone - they only took my iPhone when i entered the country - or, actually, they forgot, and I gave it up later on the trip, as I didn't want to get in troubles when leaving.
I could easily have left many devices there, with information etc.. In terms of communication devices, not so sure. There's absolutely no wifi in the country, and satellite devices are large, afaik.
I was war driving with my iPad in Pyongyang, searching for wifi.. NO wifi was detected, at all. Pretty interesting.
I lend my iPad to one of the guides for a week - the guide saw Breaking Bad Season 1 and heard Beatles and U2 :-) and even brought it home at night.
also, guess why they forgot to take my iPhone when I entrered the country? Because the customs guys were busy playing Angry Birds on my iPad, and looking through my photos.. zooming in on the photos of the pretty girls that I had in my Photostream
Cheap smartphones are already flooding through the porous Chinese border, along with other blackmarket goods. South Korean soap operas are quite popular. The "military first" policy replaced "two pillars" (military and economic), because North Koreans realised how much worse their economy is. The problem is, North Koreans just don't care. They are told that they are a special, pure race. They actually believe they are better off than South Koreans, because they aren't being corrupted by foreign influences.
Give them 5 years to think about it, and might change their minds.
> North Koreans just don't care... They actually believe they are better off than South Koreans,
i'm dubious that's what they _actually_ believe in their hearts. They might have to say so on the outside, because saying otherwise is dangerous (you never know who is listening, or who might dob you in).
This lecture http://www.booktv.org/Watch/11315/The+Cleanest+Race+How+Nort... (by the author of The Cleanest Race) suggests otherwise. His evidence may be flawed though. He bases his argument on the number of North Koreans who return. They might be spies, have families held hostage, are unable to adjust, face discrimination from South Koreans, or simply have thought that life would be as glamorous as a South Korean soap opera. Perhaps a few North Korean operatives are posing as defectors, tracking down real defectors, and making threats - I doubt the average defector would want to go the the authorities. Plus, I bet many defectors had an above-average life in North Korea, as they had the resources to escape. If they were promised a promotion at home, they might think it's better than cleaning toilets in South Korea (facing possible violence from North Korean operatives). I'm just guessing, but so is everyone else.
As for what the average North Korean actually thinks, it's hardly relevant. They act like they believe the fascist propaganda.
Yes, very disorienting. I zig-zagged my way down the page, unsure of where to focus next. Kind of like the Facebook timeline, but without the little ticks to indicate where each section fit in the order.
It sure is an interesting concept. I didn't really want to know all about North Korea. And somehow, thanks to the layout, I think that I got the general idea in a better way than I would have if it has been one big column.
It feels with an approximation algorithm that enables parallel processing to an usually linear task. It saves some time to get the general idea.
The page reminds me of when my wife and I watched Solaris (2002) without realizing our DVD player was on shuffle. We both enjoyed the nonlinear narrative for a good 45m before we realized what was wrong.
Fixing the problem seemed to make the movie worse for us.
I was actually surprised to see Sophie write up her experiences in NK. I'm sure that, being part of diplomatic, friendship mission she had to pick a choose her words and stories, as her write up will be associated with the mission and members to some extent.
I have never been to NK, perhaps one day I will have the opportunity. I'm sure such a trip would challenge a lot of my priors about what is normal and not normal and help me to understand more about myself and my own cultural attitudes. For me that is the ultimate point of travel.
As an example, I am an American, but I have not lived in the United States for a long time. And each time I go back I find my own country both intensely familiar / strange and both comfortable / uncomfortable at the same time. I remember a couple years ago going back in Dec 2008. Obama had just been elected president and it was the oddest feeling, as I walked about the Chicago airport waiting for my delayed plane to Boston, to see Obama's face on T-shirts, to see Obama's face on Time (or was it Newsweek?), to see Obama's wife on the cover of the ladies magazines. I suppose all the Obama sign-age didn't seem at all strange to the natives but then again I suppose, pictures of the Great Leader don't seem out of place to the natives in NK either.
I could tell you more stories about the strangeness of seeing flags everywhere months after 9-11 or the horror of the rhetoric that is casually accepted by the audiences during national conventions. But what I am trying to get at is that political and nationalistic symbols exist in every country and the trick is not to do the easy work and point out its baseness or ridicule it when we see it some place else. The trick is is to see what Jung would call our own "shadow"; do the hard work; see where we have let our own institutions manipulate our thoughts and feelings. When we can do that then one has had a successful trip.
It's a strange question, almost science fiction, "What's it like to be in a country that is entirely brainwashed?" It's also a philosophical and ethical question, "Are we morally required to intervene"?
The most interesting piece of the article was noting that computer science students have access to our internet, beyond their closed off version. That means A TON. Their minds won't be closed forever. The idealist says, "They won't be closed forever" and there is a realization there. I think it could take longer than people think - their poverty will be a large cause. What will hurt more is the well educated opening their minds.
It was a very well written article. And the Eric Schmidt political cartoon was great on many levels.
(And yes, every website should be readable on Chrome. It's no longer a one-off browser)
It's from 2002, so things were quite different back then, but the dialogue the traveler gets into with his guide is very interesting!
The next room contained more gifts from the South, including a Hyundai Grandeur donated by the former chairman of Hyundai (whose family is originally from the North). Mr. Huk asked me if I had ever seen one of these cars during my time in the South. When I said, "sure, my neighbor has one just like it," he gave me another one of his 'you have to be lying' looks. How could such a great gift, a gift implying so much respect, belong to some normal person like my neighbor? This was obviously a car reserved for the elite, capitalist oppressors, not some common car for the masses. When I told him I wished the chairman had given away a lot more so there'd be less traffic in the South he got fed up with my obvious lies, gave me a disgusted look and moved on to talk to someone else.
"Ordinary North Koreans live in a near-total information bubble, without any true frame of reference. "
I always wondered if the North Koreans interviewed really have no idea what is going on or just acting that way out of fear. I highly recommend watching the Vice guide to North Korea to understand what I am talking about.
It is equally confounding on the desktop. But ultimately, I think it was a bad template choice by the author rather than any particular bug in Google Sites. (Two-column with pictures just doesn't work.)
I have a hard time with the light-hearted tone of reports such as this. In one sense the NK propaganda really is comically weird. But in another sense, if you've read 1984 it's all too grimly familiar.
It is comically frightening. It's so fake that you cannot help laugh about it (just look at this thread: fake center call rooms with people pretending to be talking while visitors noticed their headsets aren't even plugged in. Definitely comically frightening).
But I also hate the way too rosy tone of the "report". She not reporting on NK. She's reporting on what propaganda wanted her to see.
I try to refrain from making emotional political statements on this site but I cannot resist.
> Go to North Korea if you can. It is very, very strange.
This is essentially advocating a visit to a huge concentration camp which is still in operation. The abuses that go on in this country are beyond belief. This whole article brings about a feeling of sickness in me.
It seems like a nice read, but the weird layout distracted me and prevented me from going past the first 3 or 4 paragraphs: I got lost in a mix of two vs one column paragraphs. I tried different browsers with no luck.
In any case, I have planned to go to North Korea at some point :)
There's a great documentary on Dresnok called "Crossing The Line." His Twitter account is one of the weirdest internet artifacts I've discovered: he only posts every 2-3 months, and the first account he followed was a Kim Jong-il parody.
The documentary "A State of Mind" is terrifically disturbing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_State_of_Mind). Follow two participants in North Korea's Mass Games as they prepare to put on a show for the Dear Leader. Filled with "only in NK moments."
An interesting one is The Red Chapel http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Red_Chapel where two Korean-born Danish-adopted guys travel to North Korea. Because they are of Korean-ethnicity but don't speak Korean or know much about Korea, they get interesting responses from their handlers. One of them is also in a wheelchair and since North Korea allegedly kills all handicapped infants, it leads to some very tense situations.
In the 'other media' category I can highly recommend 'Pyongyang: A Journey In North Korea' by Guy Delisle which is a graphic novel detailing his few months working in North Korea for a more serious look and into the lives of those who actually live/have lived in North Korea is 'Nothing to Envy' by Barbara Demick which is a detailed, if not somewhat harrowing insight.
A few years ago I came across this highly disturbing testimony from a former prisoner. There are no pictures, and no jokes. It gives a glimpse at the dark side of North Korea, and of humanity. It is fucked up and will upset you, so consider yourself warned.
Thanks for the warning; I chose only to read the last few paragraphs, but even that provided enough to extrapolate. While we twiddle about in Silicon Valley building SoLoMo apps, this depraved grinding of humanity continues.
What mostly strikes me about this post is how condescending she is about the people there. It's not only about the regime, but here post is basically belittling for the people there.
A gew gems of the post:
"How that squares with official NK agitprop that Americans are super-evil imperialist bastards is beyond me. "
Like every Korean over there wants to eat Americans for breakfast, sigh. Yes, their official pollicy is very anti-American, but has it every stroke her mind that they are also people? And that they can make the distinction between "the American people" and their government. Just as much as I hope that she can make a difference between a person and their leaders.
"When we asked how old Un had turned (29? 30?), we were told that "Koreans keep track of age differently" than we do. Alright, then."
This one kinda says everything about the author.
"No, silly North Koreans, you're under international bank sanctions."
All in all, whatever she writes down is an accurate observation, but I would have wanted the tone to be much different. No I mostly read this as a rant from someone who believes is superior to them. I would have liked it more if it was written from a more neutral point of view. But hey, it's the internet, ranting is what has to be done :-)
For what it is worth, I've been there a bit over a year ago and what she has seen (besides the official visits) is more or less the same as I have seen. So yes it is all fake of course. But I would definitely visit it again to see other parts of the country.
Every time I read about North Korea, part of me keeps wondering:
How many international treaties would I break if I were to sneak in some surveillance tech in there? Just a small robot that looks like mouse and shoots photos, or a small UAV deployed on the South Korean side of the border? Just to get out to the world some photos of how real NK looks like. I wonder what kind of consequences would such an attempt have and why no one seemed to have tried so far.
If you tried flying a UAV in to North Korea I would expect the US and South Korean forces stationed on the border to be very upset. I wouldn't be surprised if they shot your drone down as a precaution.
Me and a couple of friends want to go to north korea to jump off some buildings with parachutes, any possibility of this ever happening? We've been in contact with the local travelling guide, and while they did not toss the idea out of the window, it seemed as if it was a pretty stupid idea from their point of view. Can anyone here help with any hookups? We're pretty experienced FWIW...
To be honest, it doesn't appear to be Photoshopped - at least to my eye. Snow is tough to photograph in general (all that bright, reflecting light!) - this just looks like a camera exposing for the foreground and blowing out the rest.
Jesus. Each time when I read accounts of North Korean travels, I almost feel ache in my stomach picturing the eerie atmosphere, and then a sense of relief and appreciation of my immensely comfortable life in comparison.
On the other hand, "ignorance is bliss" as they say. And without any reference framework in sight, they may actually be happy...
Visiting North Korea as a tourist is immoral. North Korea is one of the most brutal, repressive regimes in the history of the world. Inhumane conditions abound for the average North Korean and supporting such a vile regime is disgusting. Tourists who go there ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Which country do you live in? Many countries prop up brutal dictatorships for their own advantage. The United States, picking just the easiest example of many, has a long history of supporting oppressive regimes, so presumably every US taxpayer ought to be similarly ashamed. Do you benefit from anything like that?
Don't forget that it's all fake. I'm not sure the author understands how carefully planned her trip was.
What she shows is not North Korea. What she shows is what the propaganda from the communist party leaders wants foreigners to see. The truth is way less rosy (which, yes, makes it really very scary).
The hotel is fake. The trafic is fake. The shops are fake. She did realize that they do create products that don't have a market but it's worse than that: they create fake malls (well, actually one fake mall, which every single visitor shall see if he wants to see a mall) just to make believe visitors that they have malls.
The entire trip is under supervision and every "delegation" that goes there get to see the exact same things, give or take one or two things.
For example the tramway picture: it's in basically every single movie show from foreign "journalist" who got to get there. I say "journalist" because they're not allowed to do anything on their own: they're constantly accompanied by members from the party.
Poverty is hidden in basically every street where, of course, you're not allowed to go.
I speak several languages so I can watch TV from different countries: it's always the same. At one point me and my girlfriend considered going, so we started watching as much movies as we could about North Korea and we started to realize that all the (totally non-connected) delegations were always doing the exact same visits. After three of them we knew what we were going to see in the fourth one.
What about the truth? Well independent reporters have reported famine and people eating roots during cold winters.
It's really frightening to realize what communism does to people from both a liberty point of view and a poverty point of view.
I'm honestly not sure the author understood what happened to her.
Years ago, just after the fall of the USSR, the Museum of Flight in Seattle acquired a MiG-21 aircraft on the cheap from the Czech Republic . They had it shipped to the US in pieces, and then flew over a crew of engineers and techs to put it back together. They had a few extra days in the US at the end of the process, so the US crew and the Czech crew agreed that it'd be fun to go fishing.
They stopped by a grocery store on the way out. When the Czech guys saw there weren't any lines and food was plentiful, they got upset. They thought they were being shown propaganda. The group ended up cancelling the fishing trip and spending the whole day just driving all over town and stopping at all sorts of grocery stores, big and small, to prove that they were seeing the real experience of real Americans instead of an elaborate deception.
Hmm, interesting. I read a nearly identical story about Viktor Belenko, a Soviet test pilot who defected to the US with a MiG 25 by way of Japan in the 70s.
Basically while on some sort of mission he booked it across the Sea of Japan, landed unannounced at a Japanese airport, and jumped out of his plane asking that he in his plane be handed over to the Americans. (The Soviets were pretty pissed about this, so the plane was later returned to the Soviet Union... disassembled... in dozens of different crates).
Apparently during part of the process of integrating him into American society his handlers brought him to a grocery store, and he initially became concerned that he was being lied to. IIRC he also requested that he be allowed to spend some time working at a modern American farm.
The luxury of an abundance of food seems to be a common theme.
Do you have a citation for the story, are you sure it really were Czechs? It seems a bit over the top. The Czech Republic is right next to Germany, so even before the fall of the wall, they had the ability to watch Western TV, and also generally were far from as secluded as Russia or even North Korea. And of course in the nineties, they instantly had free press and all, given the Czech Republic was always a very westward-leaning country (Prague Spring and all).
Yes, it was the Czechs; the specific company was Aero Vodochody . I don't know if the technicians who did the reassembly were typical, or outliers.
I don't know if the full story has been published anywhere. I read it in a binder labelled "MiG acquisition" which was on a shelf in the museum's docent lounge, and I've also heard it from several staff members and volunteers. (Sadly, Jim Blue is no longer with us and therefore cannot confirm directly .)
I got the idea that the author does understand quite well. From the very first paragraphs:
#1 Caveat: It's impossible to know how much we can extrapolate from what we saw in Pyongyang to what the DPRK is really like. Our trip was a mixture of highly staged encounters, tightly-orchestrated viewings and what seemed like genuine human moments. We had zero interactions with non-state-approved North Koreans and were never far from our two minders (2, so one can mind the other).
She also compared the experience to the Truman Show and interpreted even relatively innocuous things like a computer lab full of rather robotic "students" as an "e-Potemkin village". I'm not sure she could have sounded much more sceptical about what she was shown without punctuating every sentence with political asides, and frankly her account had more credibility because she didn't do that.
| It's really frightening to realize what communism
Communism is such a loaded term that it's pretty meaningless at this point. China is also 'communist,' but people aren't eating roots to survive the winters. North Korea is a dictatorship under the guise of communism/socialism.
No, it's communist. It's just called Juche. Note that nothing about how things are actually done in NK changed when they changed their constitution. Note also that constitutions are essentially meaningless in a dictatorship, since they provide few, if any, real constraints on the dictator. Which, after all, is why we call them dictators.
Looks like the fall of most of the communist states has gotten the regime a bit nervous. Can't have any of the little people thinking they might like to end their Socialist Paradise.
It isn't anything Marx would call communist. North Korea guarantees protection of private property in its constitution and it is a member of the world intellectual property organization.
A communist society shouldn't have an antithesis between mental and physical labor or intellectual private property. It should be a society where everyone is free to work and collaborate on whatever creative projects they want to.
There has never been anything close to a communist economy. Communism means there are such advanced productive forces and automation technology that there is no antithesis between mental and physical labor:
In a higher phase of communist society, after the enslaving subordination of the individual to the division of labor, and therewith also the antithesis between mental and physical labor, has vanished; after labor has become not only a means of life but life's prime want; after the productive forces have also increased with the all-around development of the individual, and all the springs of co-operative wealth flow more abundantly -- only then then can the narrow horizon of bourgeois right be crossed in its entirety and society inscribe on its banners: From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs! - comrade Karl Marx
BR Myers makes a good case in The Cleanest Race that North Korea is closer to a racist-fascist state along the lines of (pre-)WWII-era Japan. In brief, the internal propaganda sets the leaders as the mother (yes, they use "mother", not "father") of the North Korea people, who are so pure/innocent a race that they need protection from their naiveté.
China has had a free market system since the early 80s. They still have a few state owned companies and a tighter grip on some industries but it is nothing near communism. As a matter of fact, the rate of entrepreneurship in China exceeds that of the US .
Agreed - China has a Communist government, but with a mostly Capitalist economy. Deng Xiaoping's 1992 catchphrase - "To get rich is glorious" (致富光荣) - unleashed a wave of personal entrepreneurship that continues belie any socialist tendencies. That said, the state's grip on industry, and barriers to entry for business, are still high.
No, communism (& socialism) actually means something (planned economy, state owns everything). It's just some right wing politicians (esp. in the USA) who have overused the term to mean free health care and not being mean to the gays that have ruined the term.
I do indeed live in Spain. To check I wasn't lying I just looked out of my window and sure enough, there's someone rooting through the rubbish bin looking for food. For "one of the biggest food producers in the world" a lot of people sure are hungry.
I realize that communists don't like the fact that Cuba ain't exactly a place where freedom rules king, the fact that North Korea is an utter failure, the fact that the soviet did sent opponents to communism die in Siberia (when it wasn't downright murdering) and the fact that Che Guevara was an homophobic and racist schizophrenic slaughterer...
Communism, no matter its form, only leads to slavery and poverty.
And it's only since we can write that China is "communist" between quotes that they're starting to escape poverty. And people in small villages in China are still not exactly living on very high standards so...
| the fact that Che Guevara was an homophobic and racist
| schizophrenic slaughterer...
You're making an assumption that: 1) I am a supporter of Communism and 2) I'm a supporter of Che Guevara. I'm not really seeing where you're getting this idea from.
You're also seemingly making an argument that communism is bad because Che Guevara is bad.
| Communism, no matter its form, only leads to slavery
| and poverty.
Care to expand on this for us with some analysis? References to articles / papers by others would be acceptable too.
| And people in small villages in China are still not
| exactly living on very high standards so
- Did these villages have a high standard of living prior to Mao's revolution? If not, do you view the failure of communism as a failure to raise their standards above the previously low levels? If so, then what do you feel are the causes (related to communism) for their drop in standards?
- India is full of examples of abject poverty. Do you view India as a failure too?
I hear this all the time, but in virtually all situations its irrelevant to the discussion at hand.
Historically, communist countries have had terrible standards of living; this is extremely well documented; some (actually, just china as far as I know) have stepped away from an entirely government controlled economy to a government directed economy, and that seems to be working out for them pretty well.
Being a democracy doesn't mean you'll have a great economy and a high standard of living. There are plenty of examples of that not working as well.
...but we've got a few more examples of that working out, than we do of communist regimes working out, historically. You think perhaps there might be a bit of causation there?
Certainly, and importantly, this is totally irrelevant to India.
> Certainly, and importantly, this is totally irrelevant to India.
India is a huge (by population) with a similar start point to china also a huge (by population) country, they have some similarities in their culture, but a large defining difference is their way of government, and there reactions to "The West". It isn't totally irrelevant, and meaningful comparisons can be made, but they must be considered.
> Historically, communist countries have had terrible standards of living; this is extremely well documented
You mean "Historically (Except China)"... That's like excluding the US when talking about Democracy.
> ...but we've got a few more examples of that working out, than we do of communist regimes working out
Actually I think you'll find the poorest nations are mostly democratic (of some form). 
> That's like excluding the US when talking about Democracy.
Speaking of which, western countries, with very few exceptions, aren't democracies. They are representative governments. Well, that's if what I call "democracy" is what the Athenians had in mind a few millennia back. Remember, the custom there was for citizens to vote for their rules, not their rulers. Some people did take charge sometimes, but they had to be picked by random trial, not elections.
Come to think of it, Alan Kay did not have Java in mind when he coined the term "OO". And Karl Marx certainly did not have USSR nor North Korea in mind. And so on.
You're all agreeing on the facts here, which are: every government that have thus far claimed to be "communist" where mostly dictatorships where only the establishment had any wealth to speak of. And this outcome is undoubtedly very different from the ideals of those who used the term before that.
The only contentious point here is the definition of the word "communism". Does it apply to the ideal, or to the outcome? Well, who cares?
…someone is trying to push arguments behind our back by using a definition over the other. The actually important question is not a matter of definition, but a matter of prediction: what chance do we have to properly implement communism-the-ideal, while avoiding communism-the-outcome?
Choosing a definition for "communism" does not help us on this one. It only shows our respective opinions.
> India is full of examples of abject poverty. Do you view India as a failure too?
India's poverty exists because of the massive corruption & inefficiency in various levels of the government. For eg: Tons of grains rot in government storages. Not many in the public service are held accountable.
The Government theoretically allots for those below the Poverty line, but they never get the aid they're supposed to get.
India is far from a failure. Because Information/Education is not limited nor restricted.
restricted or not, as long as there are still 1.5 million kids < 5 years of age dying every year, its still a failure. Sure, things may be getting better, but you have to acknowledge the present for what it is.
> Communism, no matter its form, only leads to slavery and poverty.
Capitalism has created dangerous situations for workers worse then slavery! Countless people (including children) have died of work related injuries in capitalist societies throughout history.
When a slave dies well working, the master is disappointed that he just lost a valuable piece of property. On the other hand, a capitalist boss doesn't give a fuck if one of his workers dies, he can just pay someone else to do the job for the same price.
In 1833, the city of Lancashire reported deaths of a total of 401 workers under the age of 11 and 2,292 child laborer’s between the ages of 11 and 16. Factories were hot, crowded, and distracting with no safety regulations or protective equipment and child workers would frequently get caught and die in machines. The capitalist bosses didn't give a fuck that children were dying in their machines, children are replaceable.
This was the reality in the 19th century, before there were any safety laws whatsoever, and when Marx was analyzing these things. There wasn't any sort of socialism in North Korea, Cuba, or China when Marx was alive so they cannot be used to criticize his original ideas.
Yes, I do. Should we start with the first revolutionary socialist, Babeuf, who was executed by the guillotine or should we go all the way back to the primitive communist tribes that existed before states and classes that were massacred and enslaved by invading armies?
From what you say, you obviously have no idea what communism is. Not USSR, nor Northern Korea, nor China, etc.. they were never communist countries, not even a "form" of communism. Communism, in its origin form, means no government, gift-economy, direct democracy(as opposed to representative) and workers controlling the means of production.
"A communist society would have no governments, countries, or class divisions." 
> Communism, no matter its form, only leads to slavery and poverty.
i don't think you can blame the problems faced by those countries to communism. The idea of communism is a good one, but the execution is always poor - reason being that at some point, someone is going to be able to grab power, and the whole system filled with corruption and/or systemic mismanagement (again, due to some form of corruption). Plus, communism sounds like a better name than tyranny, and so the tyrants call themselves communists.
"real" communism, one which is say, managed my an AI, with no one small group of humans in power, is probably going to be fair and equal. I'd like to see if that could work.
> "real" communism, one which is say, managed my an AI, with no one small group of humans in power, is probably going to be fair and equal.
Any rational agent, whether biological or artificial, A) possesses a set of preferences, and B) seeks to maximize its preferences. If an AI obtains its set of preferences for maximization from a group of privileged programmers or creators, then a small group of humans is still in power in your scenario. If the AI is responsible for deriving its own set of random preferences, then it is effectively operating as another individual in society with no deterministic guarantees on behavior, and to grant it governing authority is equivalent to unchecked dictatorship.
> "real" communism, one which is say, managed my an AI, with
> no one small group of humans in power, is probably going to
> be fair and equal. I'd like to see if that could work.
The problem with communism is the idea that there is a set of objectively ideal decisions that can be made to the greater good of everyone, be it by some AI or a committee.
It's not only impossible to find these ideal policies, they don't exist. Policy is always a compromise between different competing goals, progress is made in small steps and adjustments.
There is no great ideology from which perfect decisions can be deducted, there is no perfect system. The assumption of a perfect system leads to the idea of sacrifices on the way to it, which leads to a lot of suffering.
The ability to incorporate different preferences and different means of achieving them is the major advantage of open societies.
>Communism, no matter its form, only leads to slavery and poverty.
This statement is at best unprovable and at worst meaningless. Communism is a theoretical form of economic/social organization (like capitalism) and has never been purely implemented (like capitalism). The aim of communism is to create a completely classless society in which private ownership is not a thing, i.e. the concept of slavery wouldn't make sense, impossible by definition. Unless you have a society without stratification, you do not have a communist society.
You should revise your statement to something like "some societies partially implemented elements of a communist philosophy and ended up impoverished, with some members of said society ending up enslaved".
> Communism, no matter its form, only leads to slavery and poverty.
I think you are confusing communism with capitalism... The nations that at any point had slavery, were capitalist. Capitalism itself can only exist in "surplus value" scenario, meaning someone/thing is being exploited.
abject poverty, only exists because abject wealth exists. Abject wealth is a result of capitalism.
Well, they certainly weren't communist, in any case. By definition slavery cannot exist in an actual communist society, since such societies are completely classless and the only form of ownership is common.
“They made sure to show us the American-style fast food restaurant, though their timing appeared to be off: the place was shuttered when we arrived. Workers scrambled to put on aprons and turn on the lights.”
“it's like The Truman Show, at country scale.”
“Inside, we were shown through study rooms like the one above, maybe 60 people diligently at desks. Were they bussed in for our benefit? Were any of them actually reading?”
“In a fantastic bit of timing, as we exited the train, the station's power cut out. The commuters around us immediately pulled out flashlights, which they presumably carry all the time.”
“The Kim Il Sung University e-Library, or as I like to call it, the e-Potemkin Village [...] No one was actually doing anything.”
“Did our handlers honestly think we bought it? Did they even care? Photo op and tour completed, maybe they dismantled the whole set and went home.”
So, it seems pretty evident that she had her skeptic hat on throughout the trip.
Even with all the brainwashing, they somehow feel the nationalism to fight through the "bad times" and find time to feel happy with smaller things in life.
I've always felt happiness is differential. To a North Korean kid, happiness from a sumptuous meal is equivalent to getting an iPad in the US? The Kims are enforcing the "Ignorance is bliss" ideology by censorship. Is that morally correct, I'm not sure but it's something we can ponder about.
There is a documentary on YouTube where Shane Smith (of Vice mag) visits North Korea. He is put up in a fake hotel, given fake ceremonial dinners, fakely entertained in fake karaoke places, and so on. Seems like the same situation as the author of this article, the difference being Smith is explicitly not under any illusions of authenticity.
Whenever one of these "inside NK" articles show up, I am more impressed by the arrogance and the ignorance of the commenters than I am by the stories.
"OMG they're brainwashed, do we morally have an obligation to intervene" says one smug commenter.
Well, my friend, look at Times Square. What is it? It's a fucking AD clusterfuck. Companies, ads, fake artificial and as plastic as it gets. And yet, no ads on NK's streets... That is so refreshing to me.
What is so inviting about capitalism? Go to Reddit and read the first page: booze, artificial and superficial crap and social problems all over the place. People have iphones and fancy cars but they're socially sick, alone... It may be terrible in NK, but who are you to be criticizing them? Just because you have iphones and an Audi in your garage, what we're seeing today is an ever more lonely society whose only escapes are booze, pot and superficial pleasures like buying something and showing a photo of it online.
These comments here...the top one says "it's all fake". WOW good thing it's not as real as silicon tits or mcdonalds sandwich photos! Those are real! And your TV ads, and your promissed dream, those are all real too! Nevermind that you bailed out banks who robbed you and you are now getting sued by those banks! THAT is reality folks, poor North Koreans who live under a terrible fake regime that fools all of them!
How about those North Korean jails eh? Horrible gulags! Nevermind that the world's largest carcerary population is in the United States of America. And the death penalty? It must be terrible to live under a regime that straps people to machines that kill them in barbaric ways? Oh my God, NK is the evil empire!
How about those children faking studies?? That's awful! It's better to live in a country where children don't even fake it! Crack, pot and god awful music prevail in our schools, our children are grabbing machine guns to kill each other and you find it funny to mock those poor North Koreans!
I feel sick to my stomach to see where our society is and how stupid and ignorant and brainwashed YOU are to accept the immoral, indecent and corrupt state YOU live under and then go on to criticize other countries whose people are just as honest and decent as you. Their regime is failed and so is ours - you are no better than them, never forget that. You have an iphone, they don't, that is all you're better at.
You are right, the Western World is not the rosy place it seems to be.
However, please do not ever forget that if you wrote your comment as a resident of NK, publicly criticizing the Order like that, you, your kids and _their_ descendants would be in a goulag ... forever.
I enjoyed very much reading your comment. Thank you.