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The Origins of the Korean Communist Movement (I)

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 March 2011


The Korean Communists face a troublesome problem in recording their hiswtory. The first years of the Korean Communist movement are now regarded as a gigantic skeleton in the closet. Official party publications brush over them in a few paragraphs. Individual Communist leaders are almost all identified as petty bourgeois intellectuals, sectarians, deviationists, or factional wreckers. The Communist movement itself is recorded as a “failure” and a “disgrace” by contemporary Kim Il-sŏngists. When praise is meted out, it generally goes to the broader nationalist movement, and the only truly “good guys” turn out to be “the people.” Only when the omniscient Kim arrives on the scene in 1931, do Korean Communist historians begin to panegyrize their past.

Copyright © The Association for Asian Studies, Inc. 1960

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1 For two examples of the brief, unfavorable attention given the early Korean Communist movement by Communist publications, see Democratic People's Republic of Korea (in English) (Pyongyang, 1958), pp. 57 ff.; and Yi Na-Yong, Chosen minzoku kaiho toso shi [A History of the Korean People's Struggle for Emancipation], Japanese translation of the Korean 1958 original (Pyongyang) by the Institute for the Study of Korean Problems (Tokyo, i960), passim.

2 Shōwa jūshichinen chū ni okeru shakai undō no jōkyo [The Situation with Respect to Social Movements in 1942], published by the Security Dīvision of the Japanese Home Ministry (Tokyo, 1943), pp. 971–972.

3 Kido Katsumi, Zai Ro ryō hainichi Chōsenjin torishimari ni kansuru shiken [Private Views Concerning the Handling of Anti-Japanese Koreans in Russia], manuscript dated October 3, 1918, written by an interpreter with the Korean Government-General (original in Hoover Library). No pagination.

4 Thought Section, Prosecutor's Bureau, High Court, Chōsen shisō undō chōsa shiryō [Research Materials on the Korean Thought Movement], No. 2, March 1933, Seoul, “Ro Un-kyō jimmon chōsasho” [“Interrogation of Yǒ Un hyŏng”] (hereafter cited as Yŏ Interrogation), p. 35. This is an extremely valuable source for early Korean Communist history.

5 For an excellent account of developments in 1918 in English, see Morley, James W., The Japanese Thrust into Siberia, 1918 (New York, 1957).Google Scholar

6 Bureau of Legal Affairs, Korean Government-General, Chosen dokuritsu shisō undō no hensen [Changes in the Korean Independence Thought Movement] (Seoul, 1931), p. 43. See also The Situation with Respect to Social Movements in 1942, op. cit., p. 23. There is general agreement that a party was organized in Siberia in 1918. However, accounts vary as to the name and place of origin. For slightly different versions, see Thought Section, Prosecutor's Bureau, Keijō District Court, Chōsen Kyōsantō jiken [Korean Communist Party Incident] (Seoul, no date), p. 9; Ch'oe Ch'ang-ik, “The Korean Proletarian Movement,” in Chōsen minzoku kaihō tōsō shi [A History of the Korean People's Struggle for Emancipation], Japanese translation of the Korean 1949 original edition, Pyongyang (Kyoto, 1952), p. 257; and Kim Tu-jŏng, “A Short History of the Korean Communist Party” in Hankyō sōsho [Anti-Communist Series], No. 8 (Tokyo, October 30, 1939), pp. 101–123.

7 “The Development of the Communist Movement in Manchuria and Recent Conditions” in Shisō ihō [Ideological Series], No. 14 (March 1938), p. 7 ff.

8 Chŏkki [Red Flag], April 7, 1920, published by the Irkutsk Communist Party, Korean Section and translated in Kōtō Keisatsu [Higher Police] (hereafter cited as Komacr;kei), Document Number (hereafter cited as DN) 5283, 2–16–1921, Archives of the Japanese Army, Navy, and Other Agencies microfilmed for the Library of Congress (hereafter cited as JA), Reel 123, Frames (hereafter cited as F) 37308–37314.

9 Changes in the Korean Independence Thought Movement, op. cit., p. 44.

10 “The Development of the Communist Movement in Manchuria and Recent Conditions,” op. cit., p. 10.

11 “Report Concerning the Korean Uprising Incident,” No. 22, Japanese Korean Army Headquarters, 6–14–1919, JA, Reel 122, F 35646–655.

12 Red Flag, April 7, 1920, op cit.

13 Bureau of Police Affairs, Korean Government-General, “Relations between Recalcitrant Koreans and the Russian Extremists,” 6–8–1921, jA, Reel 122, F 36366.

14 Keigo, Hoshino, Zai Man Senjin ni tsuite [Concerning the Koreans in Manchuria], No. 1 (April 1928), p. 5 (Manuscript in the Hoover Library.)Google Scholar

15 Most sources state that Voitinsky arrived in China in the spring of 1920. (North, Robert C., Moscow and Chinese Communists (Stanford, 1953), p. 54Google Scholar; Brandt, Conrad, Stalin's Failure in China [Cambridge, 1958], P. 20Google Scholar; Wilbur, C. Martin and How, Julie [eds.], Documents on Communism, Nationalism and Soviet Advisors in China—1918–1927 [New York, 1956], p. 79.)Google Scholar Schwartz gives the date June 1920 (Schwartz, Benjamin, Chinese Communism and the Rise of Mao [Cambridge, 1958 edition], p. 32.)Google Scholar

One Chinese intellectual who participated in the socialist movement of this period has written that Voitinsky and Yang arrived in Shanghai in May 1920. See Liang Ping-hsien (using the pen-name Hai-yü Ku-k'e), “Chieh-fang pieh-lu” (“Records of the Emancipation”), Chih-yu jen [The Freeman], Hong Kong (Nos. 73–86, Nov. 14-Dec. 29, 1951, 14 installments), No. 76, p. 4. According to Liang, the Chinese had already had contact with a Russian Bolshevik named “Puluwei,” who lived in Tientsin and had earlier formed a loosely-knit group of anarchists, socialists, and others into a Socialist Alliance led by Ch'en Tu-hsiu in Peking.

Who was “Puluwei”? Chang Hsi-man, another participant in the events of this period, has written that “Peliehwei,” a self-styled specialist in Chinese classics who had come to China to learn the vernacular language, had managed to get himself appointed Cultural Representative of the Third International in Tientsin, and was providing secret entry papers to those Chinese going to Russia around 1921. Chang claimed that “Peliehwei” was corrupt and pocketed funds intended for others. When this issue was raised, he was ordered back to Russia, but he refused to return and ultimately took American citizenship. See Hsi-man, Chang, Li-shih hui-i [Historical Reflections] (Shanghai, 1949), p. 5.Google ScholarChow, Tse-tsung in his The May Fourth Movement (Cambridge, 1960)CrossRefGoogle Scholar has written that Sergei A. Polevoy was Professor of the Russian language at Peking University, and that he got Voitinsky in touch with the Chinese radicals whom he had earlier contacted (p. 244). We do not know how these various accounts should be fitted together.

In any case, when Voitinsky arrived in Shanghai, Ch'en was already living in the French Concession there. Ch'en immediately called a meeting at his home to have Alliance members and others meet Voitinsky; Liang mentions only one Korean name among chose present, namely, the nationalist Kim Ku. According to Liang, Voitinsky gave 2000 yuan to aid in the establishment of a printing plant which could be used by all socialist parties and groups, and a few days later, the Yu Hsin Printing Plant was in operation.

16 Bureau of Police Affairs, Korean Government-General, “Relations between Russian Extremists and Recalcitrant Koreans,” Archives of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs microfilmed for the Library of Congress (hereafter cited as MFA/MF), July 1920, Reel Sp. 44, Special Studies No. 134, pp. 11–13

17 ibid., p. 12.

18 ibid., p. 12.

19 Ibid., p. 16.

20 Asia Bureau, Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Chōsen dokuritsu undō mondai [Problems of the Korean Independence Movement], “Historical Reference Materials,” No. 24, MFA/MF, Reel Sp. 4, p. 148.

21 See Yō Interrogations, op. cit., p. 41. If Liang is correct, there may have been a direct relation between Voitinsky's arrival and the organization of this party. It seems probable, in any case, that his early assistance to the Communist press was designed to aid Korean as well as Chinese comrades.

22 Pak Dinshun, “The Revolutionary East and the Immediate Problems of the Communist International,” (Petrograd Pravda, July 27, 1920) in The 2nd Congress of the Communist International as Reported and Interpreted by the Official Newspapers of Soviet Russia (Washington, Govt Printing Office, 1920), p. 135. We have no way of knowing, of course, what kind of assistance Pak may have had in preparing this speech.

23 Ibid., p. 133.

24 Kōkei, DN 41, 493, 1–10–1921, JA, Reel 123, F 36987.

25 Kim Ku, Kim Ku chasōjōn, Paek Pŏm ilji [The Autobiography of Kim Ku, Memoirs of Paek. Pŏm] (Seoul, 1947), pp. 281–283.

26 Ibid., pp. 282–283.

27 The Problem of the Korean Independence Movement, op. cit., p. 148.

28 Ibid., pp. 148–149.

29 Yi's activities and movements at this time are not completely clear. According to the Japanese Foreign Office source just cited, at one point, Yi went to Weihaiwei, intending to go north and join with the Bolsheviks, but on this occasion was persuaded to return to his post in Shanghai. However, the attacks upon Kim Rip, Yi's associate, became strong. Kim resigned and went to Siberia, where he met Pak and Han returning from Moscow with the funds. This source states that Kim and Pak visited Yurin in Peking, then came to Shanghai, and with Kim Tu-bong as leader, organized a Taehan Ch'ŏngnyŏn Kongsandang, “Korean Communist Youth Party” as one of their first activities. Meanwhile, Yi had returned to Shanghai from a sojourn in Canton, where he had joined forces with Ch'en Tu-hsiu. Ibid., p. 149.

We know from Liang that Voitinsky and a group of Chinese radicals had visited Ch'en Ch'iung-ming, the reform-minded military leader, in Fukien Province in the late spring or summer of 1920. Russian economic and technical assistance had been pledged to Ch'en by Voitinsky. Later, Ch'en moved into Kwangtung Province, and for a time, supported Sun Yat-sen who returned to Canton. In this period (late 1920 or early 1921), Ch'en Tu-hsiu came south, and after a discussion with Ch'en Ch'iung-ming, agreed to direct an educational program for the region under Ch'eu's control. See Liang, op. cit., Nos. 80–84. Thus, Yi may well have joined Ch'en Tu-hsiu in Canton for a brief time, as the Japanese Foreign Office reported. But see Footnote 39.

30 Kim Ku, op. cit., p. 283.

31 Yō Interrogation, op. cit., p. 48. See also Changes in the Korean Independence Thought Movement, op. cit., p. 45.

32 Yŏ Interrogation, op. cit., p. 50.

33 kōkei DN 18636, 6–7–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36331.

34 kōkei DN 23552, 7–20–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36501–2.

35 Song Sang-do, Kiro Sup'il [Stray Notes on Horseback], Korean Historical Materials Series, No. 2, edited by the National History Editorial Committee (Seoul, 1955), p. 246. According to Song, a library to propagandize communism was set up, and some books were sent to Yi Shi-hyōn in Korea.

36 Kōkei; DN 28562, 10–27–1921, JA, Reel 123, F 36837–8. The Kim faction also seems to have had a “funds incident.” Ch'oe Ch'ang-sik, who first served as treasurer, resigned on October 3, 1921, over an issue of fund disbursement, and was replaced by Yŏ Un-hyŏng.

37 Problems of the Korean Independence Movement, op. cit., p. 150. According to this source, when a Soviet delegation came to China to investigate the conditions of Communist Parties in the Far East, Kim Man-gyŏm and Ch'oe Ch'ang-sik arranged to meet a Soviet agent at an early point in Ssu-chou and there elaborate upon the faults of Kim and Yi. Shortly thereafter, three of the Pak Chin-sun group were reportedly arrested in Russia.

38 Kŏkei DN 18936, 6–10–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36337–8.

39 See Thought Section, Prosecutor's Office, Research Materials on the Korean Thought Movement, No. I, op. cit., pp. 18–19. This report states that Yi went to Siberia immediately after his resignation from the Provisional Government in January 1921, and stayed in Siberia for a short period. It does not mention the Weihaiwei or Canton trips.

40 Kōkei DN 24562, 8–6–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36545.

41 Japanese translations of the following four pamphlets are available: Selling Water, JA, Reel 122, F 36397–408; Direction for our Proletariat Class, JA, Reel 122, F 36533–4; The Communist Manifesto, JA, Reel 122, F 36647–92; Political Principles of the Russian Communist Party, JA, Reel 123, F 36783–819. For lists of other publications circulated by the Hanjok Communist Party and other Korean Communist groups, see JA, Reel 122, F 36508 and F 36729–30.

42 See Kōkei DN 28072, 10–5–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36729–30. These same figures are given in a speech made by Yi Tong-yŏl, May 11, 1920 in Chientao. See Bureau of Police Affairs, Korean Government- General, Rokoku Kagckiha to Kanto futei Senjindan to no kankei [Relations Between the Russian Extremists and the Korean Recalcitrant Groups in Chientao], MFA/MF, Reel Sp. 44, Special Studies No. 134, July 1920, p. 10.

43 Problems of the Korean Independence Movement, op. cit., p. 150.

44 An Ch'ang-ho Interrogation, Thought Section, Prosecutor's Office, Research Materials on the Korean Thought Movement, No. 2, op. cit., p. 142.

45 Changes in the Korean Independence Thought Movement, op. cit., p. 45.

46 For the reference to Yi Pong-su, see Kōkei DN 21272, 7–7–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36459. For the funds to Chang, see Thought Section, Prosecutor's Office, Korean Communist Party Incident, op. cit., p. 10.

47 Yŏ says, “Of course, the Chinese Communist Party assisted by Yi Tong-hwi soon dissolved. It was a separate one from that organized by Ch'en Tu-hsiu.” Yŏ Interrogation, op. cit., p. 56.

48 Liang, op. cit., No. 79, p. 4.

49 Higher Police Section, Police Dept., Heian Nandō (P'yōngan Namdo), Zai-Tōkyō Chōsenjin genkyŏ [The Present Condition of the Koreans in Tokyo], Mimeographed, no pagination (Hoover Library).

50 Sakae, Ösugi, Nihon dasshutsu ki [Memoirs of Escape from Japan] (Tokyo, 1923), pp. 2232.Google Scholar

51 The first issue of Rūdō Undū had been published on October 6, 1919, but the newspaper had ceased publication on June r, 1920. Publication was begun again on January 29, 1921, with two Communists, Kondō Eizō and Takatsu Seidō added to the anarchist staff.

52 Eizō, Kondō, Comintern no misshi, Secret Messenger of the Comintern (Tokyo, 1949), pp. 94 ff.Google Scholar

53 Ibid., pp. 128–129.

54 Ibid., p. 129. Yŏ Un-hyōng, unquestionably one of the most brilliant and educated of the Korean Communists, agreed with Kondō. When asked about Yi and Kim Man-gyŏm, he asserted that neither of them knew the essentials of Communism or Marxian theory. Yi is the kind of man, said Yŏ, who would not understand what is meant by Communism. Yŏ Interrogation, op. cit., p. 41.

For another account of Yi's views which places stronger emphasis upon his communism, but appears to make him a “deviationist” from the two-stage revolutionary theory, see Kim Ku, op. cit., pp. 280–281. According to Kim, one day while he was still Premier, Yi asked Kim to take a walk and talk with him. They discussed the Communist movement, with Yi requesting Kim's assistance. Yi said that revolution was necessarily a bloody business. At present, the Korean movement merely aimed at bourgeois revolution, and thus, if it succeeded, a second Communist revolution would be required. The Korean people would be forced to undergo bloodshed twice, a most undesirable thing, and hence Kim should join in promoting a Communist revolution now.

Kim reported that he then asked Yi whether a Communist revolution could be carried out without taking orders from the Third International. Yi shook his head and said, “No.” Kim stated that he then admonished Yi for violating the Constitution of the Provisional Government by being subject to the control of others, and asserted that he was no longer willing to receive guidance from Yi as Premier.

55 Kondō, op. cit., pp. 132–133.

56 Bureau of Police Affairs, Korean Government-General, Taishō jūnen gogatsū chū Kantō chihō jōkyō no gaiyō [Summary of Conditions in the Chientao Area in May 1921], June 1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36418–437 (36436).

57 Kōkei DN 29238, 12–5–1921, JA, Reel 123, F 36938 ff. See also Ch'ae Kun-sik, Mujang tongnip undong pisa [Secret History of the Armed Independence Movement] (Seoul, 1947 ?), pp. 100–102.

58 The proclamation of the Korean Revolutionary Military Congress, dated Sept. 30, 1921, is available in full on JA, Reel 123, F 36965–67.

59 A statement issued by eleven Korean military groups in Manchuria in Sept. 1921 regarding the “Free City Incident” is available in JA, Reel 123, F 36959–64.

60 Hoshino, op. cit., pp. 5–7.

61 “Yu-che Kuan-ch'a,” Observations of a Traveler in 1921, Hsin Ro hui hsiang-lu [Recollections of the New Russia], no publication place or date (possibly published in 1924), original in Hoover Library, pp. 11–13.

62 Ibid., p. 13.

63 Kōkei DN 26824, 9–7–1921, JA, Reel 122, F 36617.

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