Saturday, June 21, 2008

People's Committees in southern Korea 1945-47

Another little-mentioned aspect of Korea before and after division are the people's committees that quickly formed all throughout Korea upon the end of World War II and Japan's defeat, from August 15, 1945.

In understanding the general lack of awareness about people's committees in this time, we can point to the fact that these insitutions of self-rule were promptly and thoroughly suppressed by the United States military government as soon as they came to occupy the southern part of the peninsula in September.

What were people's committees? Briefly, they were local self-governing bodies which organized all aspects of political, economic, and social decision-making necessary to restore peoples' lives and basic services as the Japanese colonial government left. They kept the order and organized food harvesting and distribution, set up legal bodies, etc. They were of various political ideologies, and only excluded those people who had collaborated most closely with the Japanese.

But when the Japanese colonial administration left, they convinced US military commanders that the emergence of these political bodies was led by Communists. So the US military government also sought to eradicate these independent people's committees. Naturally the most conservative elements of Korean society, such as the landlords who had profited under Japanese colonialism, were also against the redistribution and justice-oriented designs of the people's committees.

The picture below, of this time period, shows the extent and geographic spread of these people's committees in the South, and challenges the idea that people in Korea were not ready to govern themselves.

What else do people know about people's committees?
Another link (from US Library of Congress sources, no less) on people's committees.