The Controversies on Fascism in Colonial Korea in the early 1930s


0.      The concept of ¡°Fascism¡± seems to belong to the most indefinable notions in the world of social sciences. While Mussolini¡¯s and Hitler¡¯s regimes are commonly referred to as ¡°benchmarks¡± of fascism, the problems persist in marking clear borders between those ideologies and modes of political behaviour that predated ¡°classical¡± fascism and heavily influenced it without fully merging with it, and with marking the ever vague boundaries between what may be judged as coming closest to the ¡°classic¡± Italian and German models and what should be possibly categorized as ¡°semi-fascist¡± or ¡°fascism-influenced¡± regimes and/or movements. It was commonly recognized already in the 1930s that fascism developed out of the modern European nationalist tradition, Fichtean ideas on the ¡°national struggles¡± as the primary content of history and Carlyle¡¯s ¡°hero worship¡± being the intellectual legacies on which fascists were successfully capitalising[1].  It is also quite clear that the nationalist cult of war and war sacrifice dating back to the Napoleonic wars, ¡°militarised masculinity¡± of the 19th century European middle classes reinforced by the romantic cult of adventure and the late 19th century youthful revolt against the bourgeois respectability, as well as the legacies of the ¡°volkish¡± thought with its emphasis on the ¡°Bund¡± of the males and racism furnishing the ¡°Volk¡± with a tangible enemy both within and without, all contributed in a variety of ways to the formation of the distinctive élan of the ¡°fascist revolutions¡± of the 1920-30s in Central and Southern Europe[2]. However, it is obvious as well that it will be only too teleological to regard the 19th century ¡°hero worship¡±, racism, Social Darwinism and the ¡°militarised masculinity¡± as ¡°fascism in embryo¡± – after all, Britain, the country which perhaps contributed most into the formation of assorted race-related and Social Darwinist discourses, did not develop into a fascist regime in the end. It may be safer to say that, while the late 19th century nationalised vision of the world laid a fundament of sorts for both ¡°fascists¡± and a variety of other right-wing movements and regimes of the 20th century, the maturation of ¡°real¡± fascism and its coming to power depend upon a complex combination of both domestic and international factors, among which the failures – both real and perceived - of one¡¯s country in the ¡°survival struggle¡± for acquiring colonies and resources may be considered the most decisive. Thus, despite the obvious dissimilarity of the cultural and historical background and obviously stronger role of the established bureaucracies in comparison with the fascist movements ¡°from below¡±, war-time Japan still may be classified together with Germany and Italy as a ¡°have-not¡± nation, which developed the ideologies and forms of the social mobilisation truly ¡°fascist¡± in content if not always in name[3]. However, to which degree the right-wing ideological developments in the early 1930s Korea – reduced by that point to the status of a Japanese colony and obviously in no position to independently mobilise itself for a ¡°fight for Lebensraum¡± – may be connected to the world-historical phenomenon of the 1920-30s ¡°fascist wave¡±?     

While it is obvious that the colonised or semi-colonial periphery of the capitalist world-system did not provide the needed type of environment for the formation of the regimes coming close to the ¡°classic fascist¡± model, it is equally obvious that the ideological fashions of the world-systemic core could be quickly seized upon by the peripheral elites and sub-elites seeking to further a variety of their own agendas, often not very much dissimilar to that of the ¡°classical fascists¡± (rabid anti-Communism is a case in the point)[4]. Of course, inasmuch as the agendas of the various peripheral fascist movements and regimes were formed both by the influence of the European examples and precedents and by the concrete local circumstances – Chilean fascists of the 1930s were, for instance, avowedly Catholic and anti-imperialist, in strong difference with their German and Italian mentors, but otherwise just as fond of violence, anti-individualism, anti-Marxism and ¡°corporatist state¡± ideas – they never become the exact copies of their core prototypes, but this, however, does not necessarily mean the lack of the ideological authenticity on their part. At least in the case of many Latin American fascist movements and fascism-inspired ¡°corporatist states¡± of the 1930s-1940s, the difference lied rather in socio-economic circumstances than in the tone of the aggressively militaristic, statist and emphatically anti-liberal and anti-individualistic ideology[5]. While European fascism hardly could be a realistic model to closely imitate for the nationalist anti-colonial movements in the colonies - there is little sense in attacking liberalism and democracy under the colonial regimes which usually exclude both anyway, and ¡°nation as the highest and only value¡± may ring hollow in the places political nations are still to be built – the ¡°fascist spirit¡± undoubtedly influenced the right-wing mass mobilisation movements in the most politicised colonies in the 1920s-1930s, India¡¯s Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers¡¯ Union), founded in 1925 with the stated aim ¡°to serve the nation and its people in the form of God – Mother India¡± being one good example[6].  In fact, the latter creation of Keshava Baliram Hedgewar (1889-1940), being a mass-based grassroots movement with strong emphasis upon the strictly authoritarian mode of organization and enemy picture of ¡°Muslims¡± as essentialised ¡°threat¡± against ¡°Indian identity and culture¡±, might, to a certain degree, fall into the same category as the fascist and fascist-influenced mass movements of Europe or Latin America of the 1920s-30s, the limitations put upon its activities by India¡¯s colonial situation notwithstanding.

However, the case of Korea¡¯s right-wing intelligentsia of the 1920s-1930s seems to differ cardinally even from India. While the – mostly Communist – left made by the early 1930s considerable progress in penetrating even the rural districts of the country in the form of ¡°red¡± peasant unions and associations[7], the ideological influence of the bourgeois right-wing was relatively limited: its newspapers and journals were, from 1923-24, calling Gandhi a ¡°saintly hero¡± (sǒngung) and admiring his ability to mobilise the population for a disciplined political action[8],  but they were neither able nor willing to exercise any comparable influence upon Korea¡¯s own masses. The goal of many right-wing nationalists was ¡°self-strengthening¡± (sillyǒk yangsǒng), and that made them willing to collaborate with the colonial masters rather than oppose them as much as the colonialism adapted a ¡°developmental¡± colour and was seen as an agent of ¡°civilization¡±. Thus, instead of attempting a political mobilisation of the masses in service of the anti-colonial cause, the fascism-influenced Korean right-wingers of the early 1930s were more interested in demobilising them politically – that is, in checking and counteracting the leftist grassroots movements - and in channelling the energies of the lower-ranked and/or younger intellectuals (teachers, petty civil servants, students, etc.) into the field of culture and identity, be that veneration of Korea¡¯s historical ¡°heroes¡± (Tan¡¯gun, Yi Sunsin, etc.) or mass literacy campaigns. Unlike the situation during the wartime period (1937-1945), when the absolute majority of the prominent right-wing intellectuals, not always completely willingly, had to publicly identify Korean nation as a part of the greater ¡°Yamato¡± (Japanese) ¡°race¡±, the fascism-influenced nationalism of the early 1930s still remained ¡°Korean¡±; but it was formulated in the ways abstract and de-politicised enough not to be judged ¡°dangerous¡± by the Japanese authorities. The focus of the fascism-influenced writings was on the ¡°reconstruction¡± of the individual and society, or/and on the evils of individualism and cosmopolitanism, but not on the political mobilisation of the Korean nation in any way independent of the Japanese authorities. In this aspect, the contemporaneous left-wing critics might have been right in speaking about a ¡°fascism with a colonial deformation¡± – that is, about an attempt by a hopelessly dependent and weak colonial bourgeoisie to emulate much stronger capitalist classes of the independent nation-states. As the Korean fascism of the early 1930s was definitely an intellectual tendency rather than a political or social movement, it possibly will not qualify as a ¡°fascism¡± in a narrower, classical meaning of the world. But the fascist fashion of the early 1930s is still important: seen with a benefit of hindsight, it brought to many Korean bourgeois intellectuals a stronger sympathy to the actions of the extreme nationalists and militarists of Germany, Italy, and Japan, as well as much stronger hostility to Marxism and Communism, and these attitude were important in inducing the voluntary cooperation with the wartime Japanese propaganda of the 1937-1945 period. Then, the injection of the anti-liberal and anti-individualist values Korea¡¯s educated society received in the 1930s may have influenced the post-colonial developments in the society and culture of both North and South Korea.    


  1. The controversies on fascism that swept Europe and reached Japan very soon after the ¡°March on Rome¡± in October 1922 handed the power in Italy into the hand of Mussolini, were relatively late to reach colonial Korea. True, Mussolini¡¯s rise to power was duly reported – the émigré Tongnip Sinmun, published in Shanghai by Korea¡¯s nationalist and anti-Japanese ¡°Provisional Government¡±, duly reported in November 1922 on the ¡°success of Mussolini¡¯s politics of naked force, characterizing Mussolini¡¯s policies as ¡°extremist¡± and his party as ¡°extreme right-wing¡±[9].  Among the newspapers inside Korea proper, Tonga Ilbo was quick to report on the clashes between the Communist and fascist forces around whole Italy and particularly in Rome[10], and then gave a detailed report on Mussolini¡¯s overtaking of power, somewhat exaggerating the strength and influence of the fascist forces[11]. After this, however, most of Italy-related reporting in colonial Korea¡¯s newspapers was concentrated upon Mussolini¡¯s foreign policy, while the domestic socio-political situation was being rather overlooked. The reporting on the moves by the German fascists was very scarce until the very end of the 1920s[12]. It does not seem that the significance of the events in Europe, where the extreme right was rapidly capitalizing on the fears of Bolshevik-led ¡°world revolution¡±, and traditional democracy was entering a period of general retreat, was duly understood in the Korean intellectual circles until the end of the 1920s.  Especially the beginning of the 1920s was the time when the rise of the socialist (communist) and anarchist thought on the more radical flank of the socio-political spectrum was matched mostly by the heightened interest in democracy and individualism among more conservative intellectual public. Korea¡¯s national bourgeoisie and the intellectuals closely attached to it were keenly aware that they had to present Korea¡¯s image to the world where the supposedly ¡°democratic¡± and ¡°liberal¡± states of Western Europe and USA had just won a victory over the Central European empires; and they were putting sincere hopes upon the democracy proponents in Taishō Japan, some of whom, like Yoshino Sakuzō (1878-1933), were seriously proposing a sort of ¡°home rule¡± for the colonized Korean peninsula[13]. For example, one of the central Protestant activists in Korea at that time and the man, who was to play an important role in the importation of the fascist ideas to Korea afterwards, Sin Hǔngu (Cynn, Hugh Heung-wo: 1883-1959), was praising in one of his English writings of the early 1920s, aimed mostly at the Christian public in the USA, the role of Christianity in Korea in the following terms: ¡°If a man is at all sincere, he cannot be a Christian and at the same time not be democratic in spirit. (¡¦)Liberty is there when one is told to gain freedom from self and make one's righteousness exceed that of those who fulfil only the letter of the law. (¡¦) Christianity recognizes the personalism of individuals. Man is not merely a part of a mass of humanity, but he has his own peculiar personality distinct from any others, and that personality is in the final analysis solely responsible to the Supreme Being. Every person has his worth, his rights, and duties. This is a mighty germ for liberalism and democracy. This helps one to find one's own place in the world scheme of things, and it compels one to recognize and respect the personality of others.¡±[14]

Even those on the right-wing, who continued to adhere to the Social Darwinist collectivist ideals of the ¡°individual sacrifice for the sake of national/state survival¡±, largely inherited from the ¡°enlightenment¡± discourses of the 1900s-1910s, were often carefully balancing their appeals for the strengthening of the collective cohesion with the paeans to what was counted as liberalism and democracy¡¯s symbols. For example, Yi Kwangsu¡¯s (1892-1950) seminal Minjok Kaejoron (Treatise on National Regeneration, first published in Kaebyǒk, May 1922) contrasted the semi-eternal ¡°longevity¡± of the ¡°collectives¡± (nations, churches, etc.) to the brief lifespan of the ¡°individuals¡± and exhorted utmost self-sacrifice for the sake of Korean nation¡¯s ¡°reform and survival¡± – and at the same time idealized the ¡°national qualities of the Anglo-Saxes¡±, first and foremost their ¡°love of freedom¡±, and ¡°practical and enterprising spirit¡±. Yi understood ¡°Anglo-Saxon constitutionalism¡± as a fruit of gradual, non-revolutionary development, fully based upon ¡°pragmatism¡± and ideally balancing the respect towards ¡°individuals¡¯ privacy¡± with ¡°the spirit of service towards both states and various communities and voluntary groups¡±[15] – in full accordance with the commonplaces of the conservative liberalism of the day. Social Darwinism remained very much the ¡°hard core¡± of the right-wing nationalist discourse throughout the 1920s, but it was de rigueur to put it under some liberal dressing. The extreme-right discourses were not much welcome onto such a milieu – so far. It is not that Korea¡¯s right-wing nationalist ¡°moderates¡± were not alarmed by the growing popularity of communist and anarchist ideas among the educated youth and their influences upon the workers¡¯ and peasants¡¯ movements; but in colonial Korea of the 1920s, were the underground communist cells were thoroughly hunted down by the Japanese police and denied any right to the lawful public representation anyway, the local bourgeoisie was much less interested in the militant anti-Communism than its counterparts in many European countries. In fact, even among the Korean Christians directly challenged by the communist anti-religious propaganda, the dominant response was rather interest in the moderate ¡°Christian socialism¡± and ¡°social gospel¡±, as well as in the middle-of-the-road on the establishment of the basic welfare provisions for the workers and ¡°cooperation of the capital with the labour¡±, than any surge in confrontational anti-Communism[16].    


  1. The onset of the Great Depression in autumn, 1929, had a shock impact on the whole yen zone economy, Korea included. While the impact upon the industrial economy was somewhat limited in comparison with the events in Europe and USA, the agriculture was hit hardest: gross domestic product in the agricultural sector in Japan proper declined 12 percent in 1928-1933. In Korea, the main rice supplier to Japan, the rice prices dropped by almost 60% during September 1929 – January 1931, to recover fully only by 1935[17]. This blow to Korea¡¯s rural economy led to an explosive growth in peasants¡¯ resistance – the number of the participants in the tenancy disputes almost tripled between 1928 and 1930, from 4863 to 13012 persons – and led to the direct legal intervention of the colonial state into the rural land tenure relationship, the first ¡°Tenancy Regulation Law¡± being promulgated by the Government-General as early as in December 1932[18]. Activist and interventionist, rather than liberal and democratic state, was now high on the agenda in Korea.  For the Japanese industrial and financial sectors, direct imperial expansion into China was one of the solutions to the perils of worldwide crisis – a solution, which was also in accordance with the general trend towards the establishment of the closed regional economical blocks. During the five years after the puppet ¡°Manzhouguo¡° state was established in north-eastern China in February 1932, the Japanese investment there totalled 1,2 billion yen – a figure close to the 1,75 billion yen invested into the region by the Japanese capitalists during the 25 years period before the aggression[19].  The aggression against China profited the business community on the Korean peninsula as well: the exports from Korea to Manchuria increased ten times during 1929-1939. The Japanese entrepreneurs, who dominated in the majority of capital and technology-intensive sectors in Korea, profited most, but some of the native industrialists, for example, brothers Kim Sŏngsu and Kim Yŏnsu, the majority shareholders both in the Tonga Ilbo, and Kyŏngsŏng Pangjik textile company, were able to supply their production in large quantities into the occupied parts of China as well[20]. In the 1930s, Korea was rapidly industrializing, and this industrialization was to a large degree driven by the war-generated demand: the share of the war-related industrial goods in the overall Korean production jumped from 9% in 1930 to 31% in 1940[21].  While the open favouritism towards Japan¡¯s own metropolitan big capital shown by the colonial state¡¯s developmentalist policies in Korea in the 1930s, posed a problem for Korea¡¯s industrialists, the activist militarized state bent on outward expansion was also beneficial for them as well. In addition to providing further opportunities for the industrial expansion, trade inside the yen zone, and investment, the militarist state was also seen as the provider of stability – bulwark against the discontent from beneath and against the ¡°Soviet communist threat¡± outside. As the pace of the Soviet industrialization and militarization was well covered in the Korean press[22], the perceptions of the ¡°Soviet threat¡± in the 1930s differed sufficiently from the more relaxed attitude of the 1920s. As a result of all these interrelated developments, ¡°fascism¡± started to be viewed with much deeper interest by the right-wing intellectuals in Korea from 1929 onward, and this interest was in many cases largely favourable. 

One of the first among Korea¡¯s conservative Protestant leaders to turn his attention towards the events in Italy and to interpret them in a sympathetic light was Yun Ch¡¯iho (1865-1945) – one of the first Koreans to receive regular American university education and to accept the Social Darwinist ¡°might is right¡± thesis in a peculiar combination with the Christian beliefs[23]. On having read Mussolini¡¯s My Autobiography[24] in the beginning of 1929, Yun Ch¡¯ho wrote in the diary he kept in English (February 11, 1929): ¡°What an ability, what an integrity, what a common sense, what an energy that man must have! Not only Italy but China, Russia, India and Korea desperately need Mussolini to deliver them from the abominations of sentimental internationalism, bestial Bolshevism, sickening Socialism. But a Mussolini is possible only among a war-like race, hence he is an impossible article in Korea. By the way his autobiography reads like an enlarged Nehemiah with modern background and modern problems.¡±[25] Yun¡¯s fascination with Mussolini was seemingly gradually cooling down, as he was learning more about more oppressive sides of Italian strongman¡¯s internal policies, but, true to his Social Darwinist beliefs, Yun was ready to defend Mussolini¡¯s external aggressions as late as in summer 1935: ¡°Italy is determined to Koreanize or Manchurianize Ethiopia. Mussolini is sending troops, airplanes etc. to Eritria to be ready to bounce upon the black kingdom to make it a protectorate. That race or nation which refuses or fails to adapt itself to the changing conditions of the world so as to make itself strong enough to defend its rights - as Japan has done - that race or nation simply invites to be Koreanized or Manchurianized. Why blame Italy? If she doesn't annex Ethiopia some other Power will do it.¡± (July 9, 1935)[26]. Approving attitude towards the Japanese invasion of Manchuria easily translated into an approval to the invasion of Ethiopia based upon Yun¡¯s long-term favourite, the ¡°survival of the fittest¡± thesis as applied to the human societies.

While both ¡°Hitler¡± and ¡°Mussolini¡± were synonyms for ¡°dictator¡± in Yun¡¯s diary – and the dictatorship was understood as somewhat unpleasant, but at the same time inescapable phenomenon in the societal life – the attitude taken by Yun towards Hitler was markedly much more critical, as Hitler¡¯s incomparably more ambitious plans of military conquest were judged by Yun to be too reckless and dangerous for the whole non-communist world in the face of the ¡°communist threat¡±.  Already the first mention of Hitler in Yun¡¯s diary (May 16, 1933) was in strongly disapproving tone:

¡°Papers report that in Berlin, truck-loads of un-German books were burnt at the great public squares. The famous Einstein has been deprived of his citizenship and his property confiscated because he happens to be a Jew. Incredible! Nearly 23 centuries ago the great Emperor of a unified China -òÚã·üÕ (sic V.T.) - burned libraries of Confucian classics and butchered Confucian scholars, hoping thereby he could perpetuate his dynasty to 10 thousand generations. His dynasty came to an end soon after his death. After annexation of Korea by Japan, the new masters of Korea cut car loads of anti-Japanese or patriotic books and pamphlets into bits to throw them all over the muddy streets of Seoul. That didn't and hasn't and will never make Koreans love Japan any better. Nor will Hitler and his crowd succeed in eradicating un-German thought in the Jewish heart or in the German heart either, by burning all the books in Germany. On the meanness of human nature¡±[27] It looks as if German fascists¡¯ pronounced anti-intellectualism was frightening enough for Yun Ch¡¯iho as an accomplished, self-conscious intellectual. The Fascist treatment of the Jews, in its turn, reminded Yun about Koreans¡¯ own fate. The fate of the stateless Jews was often compared to the Koreans¡¯ own state of the colonial captivity by many colonial Christian intellectuals, Yun himself included[28]. However, Yun¡¯s deeply-felt aversion towards Hitler – ¡°modern times¡¯ emperor Qin Shi Huang¡±, ¡°hungry wolf¡±, ¡°mad dog¡± and ¡°man-slaughterer¡± – notwithstanding, his hostility towards what he routinely calls ¡°beastly Russia¡± or ¡°beastly Bolshevism¡± seems to have been much deeper and stronger. While Yun compares Hitler¡¯s and Stalin¡¯s ¡°state terrorism¡± and ¡°totalitarian statehood¡±, it is Stalin¡¯s Russia he wishes to see vanquished first and foremost: ¡°When one thinks or rather knows what Russia has been doing in the last 50 years, he can't help wishing some great power might give the bloody Bolshevists a sound and crushing beating. As long as Russia goes unpunished there will be no peace in the East¡± (May 4, 1938)[29] It is quite obvious here that Yun¡¯s class hostility towards ¡°barbarian Bolshevism¡± – that is, what may be defined as ¡°anti-Communism¡± in the classical sense of the word – overlaps here with older resentments towards what Yun perceived as Russia¡¯s aggressive bullying of Korean monarchy between 1896-1904. While Hitler-Stalin¡¯s August 23, 1939 ¡°Non-aggression Pact¡± alerted Yun to the ¡°increased Russian threat towards Japan¡± (August 26, 1939)[30], the news on Hitler¡¯s aggression against USSR again led him to think that the Soviet, and not German victory is the real danger for Japan and Korea: ¡°Everybody is startled by the news that Hitler began invading Russia this morning. Another treaty - the Russo-German Mutual Non-aggression Agreement - torn to scraps. Thus the biggest and cruelest Robber-Barons of the 20th Century have flown at each other's throat. The world may be better off if both of them do each other up for good. I have no love for either of them except the fear that the defeat of Hitler may affect Japan adversely. That makes me wish he would succeed in giving a crushing blow to Bolshevism, the greatest curse humanity has seen¡± (June 22, 1941)[31].  While in the first Yun apparently believed that the German blitzkrieg was to succeed and considered any resistance to Hitler futile[32], the German defeat in Stalingrad frightened him with a perspective of a future ¡°Stalin¡¯s attack¡± against Japan: ¡°What most concerns us Koreans is what will Stalin do toward Japan. It is probable that America and England are urging Russia to attack Japan. On the other hand Hitler and Mussolini must be urging Japan yields to the demands of her allies. Korea will be the first and the greatest suffer¡± (February 9, 1943)[33].  Since ¡°Bolshevik Russia¡± topped Yun¡¯s personal hierarchy of world¡¯s political ¡°demons¡±, he was waiting then for Hitler¡¯s defeat in anguish, rightfully enough predicting for himself that a victory over Germany would be followed by a Soviet march upon Imperial Japan, and then the fortunes of Korea¡¯s dominant class he himself belonged to were bound to decline. Korea¡¯s foremost senior Protestant intellectual of the 1930s and early 1940s, Yun seems to have sincerely abhorred what he termed for himself ¡°Hitler¡¯s totalitarian rule¡± and ¡°war-for-the-war-sake policy¡± – but those ¡°anti-totalitarian¡± sentiments were essentially stifled by almost paranoid anti-communism, Yun¡¯s most visceral political feeling. Even after the Allied landing in Calabria and Italy¡¯s official surrender, Yun revealed in his diary (September 10, 1943) his continuing admiration of Mussolini, ¡°great and good man who saved Italy from Bolshevism¡± while marking disapproval with Italian fascism¡¯s ¡°excessive¡± aspirations to the conquests abroad[34]. ¡°Salvation from Bolshevism¡± was seemingly a good enough legitimation for a fascist state of the Italian type in Yun¡¯s eyes.  

Yun¡¯s diary is a private record; while it allows us an uncommon opportunity to observe the changes in the internal world of one of the most prominent Korean intellectuals of the first half of the 20th century, it certainly did not exert any influence on the contemporaries, although Yun¡¯s public anti-communist posture and tendency to view what he believed were ¡°milder¡± forms of the capitalist totalitarianism as a ¡°lesser evil¡± compared to ¡°Bolshevism¡± undoubtedly did become a reference point for his own – conservative Protestant – milieu. However, much more cardinal influence on the attitudes of the educated society was being exerted by the newspapers, especially by Tonga Ilbo – which expanded its size to 10 pages format by September 1933, printed 31.666 copies daily by 1936[35] and was indeed a profitable capitalist enterprise, with net profits totalling 6962 yen for the financial year 1933 and 5087 yen for the financial year 1934[36]. Tonga Ilbo¡¯s editorials may be considered a good reflection of what Korea¡¯s fledgling capitalist class, as represented by Tonga Ilbo¡¯s shareholders, wished to make into society¡¯s hegemonic ideology in Gramscian terms. A cursory analysis of the content of these editorials for the early 1930s shows that in Korea, as elsewhere, the Depression shook to its very grounds the belief in the possibility of crisis-free, stable development of capitalism. The 1920s liberal faith was now in shambles – the very paragon of the ¡°free-loving Anglo-Saxon spirit¡± and ¡°personalism of the individuals¡± eulogised earlier by Yi Kwangsu and Sin Hǔngu respectively, the USA, were now exactly in the epicentre of the worldwide economical and social storm. A December 17, 1930 editorial in Tonga Ilbo – judged to be too radical and prohibited from being printed by the Japanese sensors – asked, for example, why the economy of a World War victor, USA, was being as badly damaged by the crisis as the economy of the vanquished, reparations-ridden Germany, questioned the long-term sustainability of the relatively robust economical performance in France, and emphasized that the only industrial country which had the number of the unemployed reduced and not increased, was the USSR, with its planned economy[37].

Tonga Ilbo, edited by Song Chinu (1890-1945) – a relatively liberal and thoroughly business-minded graduate of Meiji University, who even showed some sympathetic interest towards the socialist trends in the 1920s[38] – was not going, of course, to accept the decline and fall of the liberal capitalism as terminal and irreversible. After having seen Adolf Hitler becoming Germany¡¯s Chancellor and Reichstag being put on fire, Tonga Ilbo entitled its March 29, 1933 editorial ¡°Dictatorship and Emergency¡± (¡°Tokchae wa pisangsi¡±) and asserted there that, although the worldwide decline of parliamentarism was caused by its own ¡°corruption and inherent contradictions¡±, the contradictions are also immanent to the dictatorial rule as well – it might continue for some time, driven by the economical dislocations caused by the Depression, but it was not going to last forever[39].  Tonga Ilbo was even shocked enough by Hitler¡¯s officially proclaimed anti-Semitism to publish an editorial (September 3, 1933) strongly sympathetic to the Jewish cause, entitled ¡°Plight of the Jews¡± (¡°Yut¡¯aein ǔi piae¡±), which, while ascribing the ¡°pitiful situation¡± of the persecuted Jewish people to the absence of a Jewish state, wisely cautioned also that British-sponsored mass migration of the European Jews into Palestine might in the end provoke bitter hostility on the part of the Arab population and lead to ¡°tragic enmity¡± between two ¡°weaker peoples¡±, Jews and Arabs[40]. 

But with the beginning of the Japanese aggression in north-eastern China and general retreat of the liberalism in the metropolitan Japanese politics, Tonga Ilbo as well began a gradual revision of its erstwhile editorial line. From 1931 onward, many of its editorials on more or less abstract subjects started to closely resemble a sort of Confucianized Social Darwinism – a moralistic interpretation of the ¡°might is right¡± doctrine, which sees ¡°ethical strength¡± as an element of ¡°might¡± – that was popular in the ¡°enlightenment¡± press and journals in the 1900s-1910s. February 1, 1932 editorial, ¡°Source of strength¡± (¡°Yǒk ǔi him¡±), stated, for example, that, together with various kinds of ¡°practical strength¡±, such as physical strength or military might, the ¡°moral strength¡± (todǒngnyǒk – loyalty to a group, truthfulness to one¡¯s principles, etc.) is an important component of the general ¡°vital force¡± (saengmyǒngnyǒk) that supposedly sustains both individuals and nations[41]. While September 3, 1932 editorial, ¡°Egoism and Social Consciousness¡± (¡°Igijuǔi wa sahoe ǔisik¡±), castigated Koreans for supposedly resembling Chinese and Jews in being too egoistic and uninterested in the common well-being, the September 8, 1932 editorial, ¡°Struggle for survival and nation¡± (¡°Saengjon kyǒngjaeng kwa minjok¡±), bluntly asserted that Kropotkin¡¯s ideas on the mutual aid as the driving force beyond evolution were completely wrong, that the Social Darwinist rule of the ¡°survival of the fittest¡± remains ¡°the scientific truth¡±, and that every Korean should contribute to the cause of ¡°national survival¡± by, for example, strengthening his or her muscles or getting rich ¡°in the name of the nation¡±[42].  By the end of 1932, crudely Social Darwinist and racist content of some editorials started to closely resemble the topics developed by the extreme right-wingers in contemporaneous Europe. While December 26, 1932 editorial, pompously entitled ¡°Life and the Guiding Principle¡± (¡°Saenghwal kwa chido wǒlli¡±), contrasted ¡°civilized European and Asian peoples¡± and the ¡°uncivilized others¡± and assured the readers that the difference between the former and the latter, ¡°partly conditioned by the hereditary discrepancy in abilities, partly by the variations in the levels of those races¡¯ culture¡±, lied in the degree ¡°the whole life of the nation¡± was controlled by a uniform set of ¡°guiding principles¡±, the next, December 27, editorial, ¡°The Guiding Principles of the Korean Nation¡± (¡°Chosǒn Minjok ǔi chido wǒlli¡±), proposed that the Koreans return to the ¡°ancient hwarang spirit of the sacrifice in the name of the state, resembling Japan¡¯s bushido¡±, eschew their familial attachments and wholeheartedly put themselves in the service of the ¡°big I¡± – that is, the nation[43]. While Tonga Ilbo¡¯s editorializing on the international topics retained still a degree of the 1920s liberal leanings, its exhortations towards ¡°Korean people¡± were gradually returning to the 1900-1910s Social Darwinist formulae and then going even further, towards increased emphasis upon ¡°racial differences¡± and the cult of ¡°total and complete self-sacrifice in nation¡¯s name¡±.  And finally, in March 29, 1934 editorial tellingly entitled ¡°What Comes after Liberalism¡± (¡°Chayujuǔi ǔi twi e ol cha¡±), US president Roosevelt was simultaneously called ¡°dictatorial¡± and ¡°not enough dictatorial to subdue the Depression¡± and liberalism in both economy and political life was effectively pronounced dead for good[44].  After this, Tonga Ilbo editorials occasionally showed sympathy with Ethiopia¡¯s desperate attempts to put resistance against Italian invasion (May 4, 1936) and with the persecuted Jews of Europe¡¯s fascist dictatorships (September 4, 1938)[45], but the advent of ¡°post-liberal¡± political and social institutions and doctrines was more or less accepted as fait accompli, and at many cases cheered. After Japan began a full-scale invasion of China on July 7, 1937, Tonga Ilbo, threatened with heavy sanctions for any insubordination, began soon calling Japanese army ¡°our army¡± (agun) and from late July practically turned into a propagandist tool of the Japanese administrative and military machine[46].  

While Yun Ch¡¯iho was deeply appalled by Hitler¡¯s anti-intellectualism and ultimately questioned the sanity of his militaristic ambitions, and the editorial writers of Tonga Ilbo in the 1930s were still showing some sympathy to the plight of Jews or Ethiopians, some right-wing ideologues of the colonial Korea went much further in identifying themselves with the extreme right trends of contemporaneous Europe. The most famous name on the list of colonial Korea¡¯s self-styled ¡°fascist theoreticians¡± is unquestionably that of Yi Kwangsu – who entered Tonga Ilbo as an irregular staff member in May 1923, served there as managing editor between April 1925 and October 1927 and then again between December 1929 and August 1933 (he then was headhunted to Chosǒn Ilbo, to become a vice-director there)[47].  In fact, many of Tonga Ilbo editorials of the early 1930s mentioned above – such as ¡°Life and the Guiding Principle¡± or ¡°The Guiding Principles of the Korean Nation¡± – vividly show the imprint of Yi Kwangsu¡¯s benchmark Social Darwinist nationalism and his cult of ancient Korea¡¯s ¡°war-like and manly spirit¡±. It is not fully implausible that some of these pieces were penned by Yi Kwangsu himself. However, in his lengthier treatises published in the journals of opinion, as well as in some literary works of the 1920s and early 1930s, Yi Kwangsu articulated his views on the importance of ¡°leadership¡±, ¡°virtues of obedience¡±, ¡°dangers of communism¡± and so on much clearer and often in more extreme form that it was possible in brief, unsigned editorials of a newspaper which pretended to be the ideological representative of the whole educated Korea and thus expected some measure of balance of its editorial scribes. Even in the beginning of the 1920s, when he still was seemingly considering the ¡°Anglo-Saxon¡± liberal democracies to be the ideals of ¡°civilized statehood¡±, the basics of his worldview remained solidly Social Darwinist, and were continuously strengthened by the effects of further study of the foreign Social Darwinist ideologues. Among Yi¡¯s particular favourites in the early 1920s was Gustave Le Bon (1841-1931): the first part of the 4th chapter of his 1895 classic, La psychologie des foules, was translated by Yi, obviously from the 1915 Japanese translation[48], as Yi never learned French and, having studied for several years in Tokyo, mastered Japanese incomparably better than English. The tone of Yi¡¯s writings in the early 1920s indicates also his familiarity with another book by Le Bon available in a Japanese translation by that time, namely La revolution francaise et la psychologie des revolutions[49].  Le Bon, an elitist Social Darwinist, a staunch believer in the ¡°racial minds¡± and different ¡°racial qualities¡± of different peoples and a life-long opponent of any social or political movements from below, ascribed much of the ¡°violence¡± of French Revolution to what he considered the ¡°savage¡±, ¡°uncivilized¡± nature of the ¡°crowd¡±, namely its ¡°gullibility¡± and its tendency to be ¡°manipulated by power-hungry demagogues¡±[50]. Pretty much as Le Bon himself, Yi Kwangsu applied this ¡°crowd manipulation¡± theory, first and foremost, to the socialist movement. While in his writings of the early 1920s Yi Kwangsu – in common with a good number of ¡°moderate¡± nationalist right-wingers – mostly scolded the left-wingers for ¡°incitement to reckless violence¡±[51], by the beginning of the 1930s his anti-communism acquired a distinct nationalistic flavour. In an article on the basic tasks of the ¡°national movement¡± written in the wake of the Japanese aggression in Manchuria, Yi begins with pouring scorn upon the ¡°Marxists¡± – those ¡°people of slavish ideas¡± who ¡°avoid using the very word ¡®nation¡¯ and worship Soviet Russia just as [Korean Neo-Confucians] before them called Ming China their fatherland¡±. Yi asserted that he was prepared, in principle, to tolerate the ¡°people of ideas¡± just as he tolerated various universalistic religions (Buddhism, Christianity) once they are ¡°Koreanized¡± enough, but on one condition, namely that they acknowledge the primacy of nation – which Yi termed ¡°the eternal entity¡±. Otherwise, they were becoming ¡°sinners to their nation¡±. In addition to this broadside against ¡°Marxist flunkeys of the Soviet state¡±, Yi also proposed a positive programme which obviously was meant to diminish the ¡°communist influence¡± upon the Korean masses – mainly the literacy campaigns, the ¡°enlightenment movement¡± by the ¡°national intelligentsia¡± centered upon ¡°educating the people¡± into ¡°loving the whole of Korean nation more than oneself¡± and ¡°sacrifice oneself for the community¡±, and organization of various (financial, consumer, etc.) cooperatives[52].  This part was largely built upon the experiences of the YMCA-sponsored ¡°rural reconstruction movement¡±, launched in 1925 and focused, besides the educational projects, especially on spreading the small-scale mutual credit societies and consumer cooperatives among the poorer peasant with no recourse to mainstream banking and credit system. Interestingly enough, the undisputed leader of this movement, Sin Hǔngu, still outwardly a liberal by the beginning of Japan¡¯s aggression in Manchuria, was to become one of Korea¡¯s ¡°Christian fascist¡± organizers in the mid-1930s[53].   

What was the theoretical background of Yi Kwangsu¡¯s passionate anti-communism? Having become a committed Social Darwinist of a ¡°statist¡± (state-nationalist) sort, a believer in morals being ¡°obligations forced by the strong upon the weak¡± and sameness of the ¡°destiny of the state¡± and the ¡°destiny of the individuals belonging to it¡± – once state is either weak or gone, the individuals are doomed in the international Darwinian jungles – already in the early 1910s[54], Yi was influenced by An Ch¡¯angho¡¯s (1878-1938) beliefs in ¡°gradual development of the national strength¡± and ¡°moral regeneration of the Koreans¡± while working for the Shanghai Provisional Government in 1919-1921, and counted himself among An¡¯s disciples until the very end of his life, organizing, among other things, his and An¡¯s fellow north-eastern nationalist intellectuals into ¡°Moral Cultivation Society¡± (Suyang tonguhoe, launched on January 7, 1926 in Yi¡¯s Seoul house), which functioned as a domestic branch of An¡¯s mainly USA-based Hǔngsadan (¡°Young Korea Academy¡±)[55].  Positioning himself as a loyal propagandist and populariser of An¡¯s national vision, Yi showed the keenest interest in its ethical side and defined An¡¯s ethics as that of full, totally self-sacrificial and non-selfish devotion to the nation. In an open letter to An he exhorted Koreans to eschew personal enmities and ¡°passionately love¡± each other, love their jobs and completely commit themselves to their chosen field of work, and also love the Korean nation as a whole and put the self-sacrificial service to the nation above ¡°egoistic individualism¡±[56].  As ¡°love to the nation, love to the nationals¡± became Yi¡¯s motto, the ¡°materialists¡± were derisively referred to as those who ¡°view the issue of stomach as the whole content of the issue of the human life¡±[57] and the class struggle interpreted as an egoistic assertion of the group interests over the national interests, that is, as essentially a continuation of the ¡°egoistic individualism¡±[58].  

On the opposite side of what he recognized only as despicably mundane demands for better living conditions, he found an ¡°ideal¡± world of love, ¡°beauty¡±, ¡°fascination¡± and ¡°deep excitement¡± (kamdong) – the values, authentic literature, in his opinion, had to cling to[59]. And the most exciting sight, the highest expression of ¡°love¡± and ethical beauty was for him an obedient, hard-working cow, who ¡°takes its heavy yoke for the sake of the humans and tills the fields for them, just as a lofty patriot or a man of religion sacrificing themselves for the sake of the humanity (¡¦.), and after being slaughtered, gives its flesh and blood to its loved ones, on the highest level of sanctity¡±[60] In the very end, ¡°love¡± and the ¡°lofty ideals¡± inside the overall nationalist framework translate themselves into a consistent animosity towards any attempts to articulate the demands on any level either below or above the sacrosanct national (personal, class, or universal), and into a cult of ¡°ultimate sacrifice¡± – highly aestheticised ideal of life and death for the sake of nation, which by the beginning of the 1930s was for Yi more or less equivalent with the ¡°Korean bloodline¡± (chosǒn hyǒlt¡¯ong) and the membership in the Korean language community, as well as with the subjective ¡°loyalty to the Korean people¡±[61].  By emphasizing An Ch¡¯angho¡¯s ideas on ¡°unity and sacrifice¡± and further aestheticising and romanticising the ¡°love-induced sacrifice for the sake of nation¡±, Yi could achieve two objectives simultaneously. First, the appeal to the ¡°national¡± could legitimise the market-driven activities by Yi – he himself confessed that one of the reasons he continued writing for so long, was the need to earn his leaving[62] - and his employers and sponsors in Koreaa¡¯s biggest commercial newspapers, as business was elevated in An¡¯s and Yi¡¯s ideological schemes from simple profit-making into a vehicle for ¡°cultivating the national strength¡± and ¡°realising the mutual love between the nationals¡±. In this respect, Yi¡¯s musings on ¡°love and sacrifice¡± may be considered a seed of nascent Korean capitalism¡¯s hegemonic ideology. Second, Social Darwinist belief in the ruthless law of the ¡°survival of the fitness¡± could acquire a sort of ¡°human face¡± once the ¡°competition for survival¡± was to happen between the states and nations, not between private individuals, who, on the contrary, had to develop now high ethical qualities, such as ¡°sacrificial spirit¡±, in order to ensure not simply their personal survival, but the ¡°life and glory¡± of their national communities. In this way, Yi¡¯s ethics and aesthetics of ¡°love and sacrifice¡± were essentially an attempt to build up a capitalist modernity project without capitalist market ethics – in fact, a one in which profit motive would be reliably veiled by the pathos of the semi-religious nationalist rhetoric. Such an attempt was structurally similar to the projects of the contemporaneous European extreme right, and closely paralleled – being also partly influenced by – the visions of the ¡°national community¡± of the Japanese right-wing of the 1920s and early 1930s.

Yi¡¯s eugenic musings on the necessity to ¡°improve the secondary qualities of the Korean people¡±, as well as his particular combination of elitarian top-down view of ¡°enlightenment¡± and statist nationalistic disdain for the individual or class rights and interests sparked manifold controversies from the early 1920s, the left being, naturally enough, in the vanguard of Yi¡¯s critics. For one example, well-known younger poet with strong communist – in the mid-1920s, even somewhat ultra-leftist - leanings, Pak Yǒnghǔi (1901-?), who was one of the KAPF (Korea Artista Proleta Federatio- Korean Federation of the Proletarian Artists) founding members in 1925, accused Yi in 1926 of formulating ¡°Korean-ness¡± (chosǒnjǒgin kǒt) in a prejudiced way – overemphasizing the ¡°effeminate¡±, defeatist qualities of the Korean past and purposefully overlooking the class struggles of Korea¡¯s present. Yi¡¯s emphasis upon ¡°tragic beauty of Korea¡±, ¡°Korean sadness¡± and his interest in the fin de siècle motives, declared Pak, is nothing more than just a reflection of the decadent bourgeois desires[63]. While Pak¡¯s application of the class theory to the literary criticism seems to be too simplistic in many ways, his comments on highly subjective and artificial nature of what Yi constructed as ¡°Korean-ness¡± are undoubtedly worth of being taken seriously, even by the contemporary researchers.  Undaunted by criticism and definitely being aware about the general turn to the right in the post-Depression Japanese and world politics, Yi published in July 1931 a brief, but very meaningful piece on the question of ¡°leadership¡± – a short semi-academic treatise in form, and a heavily ideological proposal to reshape colonial Korea¡¯s right-wing politics in content. Viewing the whole historical process as a story of essentially collective life and struggle, Yi contended that every meaningful organization – be it a political party or church, for example – should have a leader who would serve as ¡°embodiment¡± of the given organisation¡¯s ¡°basic doctrines¡±, and who would earn the unchallenged loyalty of the members by the ¡°highest moral qualities¡± – ¡°bravery¡± and ¡°ability to calmly accept death¡± being among the most cardinal ¡°virtues of the leader¡±. The rank-and-file members, in turn, should repay the leader¡¯s self-sacrificial leadership by ¡°obeying the leader, helping the leader and loving the leader¡±, their ¡°joyful obedience¡± (yǒlbok) being regarded as the major feature of the healthy collective life. The position of the leader in an organization corresponded, according to Yi, to the position of the ¡°leading group¡± in relation to the whole of nation. While, together with the dictatorial parties – Fascists in Italy and the Communist Party in the USSR – America¡¯s Republicans and Democrats were also on Yi¡¯s list of ¡°leading groups¡± of the world, he also proposed that in case  a nation had two or more ¡°leading groups¡±, the strongest among them was to be charged with the task of ¡°national leadership¡±. Quite customarily for Yi, Koreans were mercilessly accused of inability to select right leaders and follow them, and all-Korean confederation of left- and right-wing groups, Sin¡¯ganhoe, which just had disbanded itself in May 1931, was reprimanded for its presumed lack of authoritative leader and consistent theory[64]. It is well-known that, unlike some of his colleagues from the ¡°Moral Cultivation Society¡± (Suyang tonguhoe) – notably, ambitious Columbia University PhD Cho Pyǒngok (1894-1960), who was to become one of the most prominent oppositional politicians in South Korea in the 1950s and a candidate for South Korean presidency in 1960 – Yi Kwangsu and other members of Tonga Ilbo¡¯s ¡°inner circle¡± did not participate in Sin¡¯ganhoe activities and viewed rather negatively the cooperation with the left even inside a ¡°pan-Korean organization for national self-expression¡± framework[65], so the criticism of Sin¡¯ganhoe is hardly surprising. It looks as if Yi either viewed his own organization, the ¡°Moral Cultivation Society¡± (Suyang tonguhoe), as a prototype of the future ¡°leading group¡± of the Korean nation and was thinking of An Ch¡¯angho and himself, as An¡¯s best-known domestic disciple, as candidates for the ¡°national leadership¡±, or was exhorting Korea¡¯s nationalist right to build a sort of unified pan-national organization on Sin¡¯ganhoe¡¯s ruins.

Yi¡¯s ¡°leaderism¡± provoked immediate critical response on the left: in two months, Korea¡¯s veteran communist theoretician Kim Myǒngsik (1891-1943), Yi¡¯s fellow Waseda alumnus (Kim entered Waseda in 1915, Yi – in 1916), launched a broadside against Yi. Having drawn a strict distinction between ¡°leadership¡± (chido) as authority which is voluntarily followed by the members of the same class sharing the same interests as their leader, and ¡°rule¡± (chibae) being violently imposed by one class upon another, he maintained that to speak of ¡°national leadership¡± is a self-contradiction – since ¡°nation¡± consists of the ruling classes and those ruled by them, the submission of the latter to the former never can be fully voluntarily, but always requires the element of coercion. In Kim¡¯s opinion, Yi¡¯s phrases on ¡°national leadership¡± simply veiled the intention of Korea¡¯s ruling groups – ¡°the minority of large landowners, bureaucrats, men of free professions, (¡¦.) and urban bourgeoisie¡± – to forcibly impose their will upon the majority of the dominated. Defining the nationalists who chose to participate in Sin¡¯ganhoe as Korea¡¯s ¡°Jacobins¡±, Kim called Yi a ¡°Girondist¡±, and reminded him, that, on the bourgeois part of the political spectrum, those to the right of the Jacobins may also be classified, under certain circumstances, as ¡°white reactionaries¡±. On a personal level, Yi was charged with trying to become both ¡°Shakespeare¡± and ¡°Caesar¡± – that is, to combine literary work with a particularly dictatorial sort of politics[66].  On having been confronted with a public retort by Yi, Kim penned a new piece, in which Yi was unambiguously tied to the rising worldwide tide of the fascist movements. In this new criticism of Yi, Kim defined the times he was living through – the early 1930s – as the epoch of ¡°new absolutism¡±, when the crisis-ridden capitalism is being propped by fascist dictatorships, when traditional bourgeois democracy is disintegrating and when once progressive nationalist movements, like China¡¯s Guomindang or India¡¯s Gandhism, are either degrading into dictatorships or losing any influence. That is why Yi was increasingly focusing upon ¡°strength¡±; but his understanding of ¡°strength¡± was completely ahistorical, since the strength progressive forces draw from the fact they follow the laws of historical evolution, is qualitatively different from the rude force employed by their reactionary opponents. Kim viewed Gabriele D¡¯Annunzio (1863-1938) as a model of a fascistic literatus Yi followed, but added also that fighter pilot and daredevil D¡¯Annunzio, Yi was nothing but just a literary man worshipping ¡°strength¡± while sitting at his writing desk – and that reflected the pathetic nature of ¡°fascist¡± movement in a small, colonized state like Korea. Confronting Yi¡¯s ¡°hero-worship¡± with Plekhanov¡¯s orthodox Marxist views on the role of the individuals in history as conditioned by the interrelationships of the societal forces, Kim was also debunking the Yi Sunsin myth Yi was helping to re-create and sustain, explaining the victories of the famed admiral as a product of the contemporary levels of technology[67].  All in all, Kim defined Yi Kwangsu as a ¡°provincial fascist¡± of sorts – modelling himself upon the fascistic leaders of the reactionary last-days bourgeoisie of the capitalist metropolies and dreaming of translating his literary influence into a political capital, so that to serve the aims of the colonial ruling class to which he himself, as a richer man of ¡°free profession¡±, belonged.  

While after 1939 Yi Kwangsu undoubtedly became a propagandist for Japan¡¯s war machine and much of war propaganda he produced followed the stereotypes developed by the propagandists of the European Axis powers – for example, his article ¡°European War¡± (¡°Ōshū no dōran¡±) published in Japanese in Seoul¡¯s government-produced daily Keijō Nippō on September 10, 1939, proclaimed the ¡°irredentist¡± ambitions of Italy fully legitimate, denounced Czechoslovakia and Poland as ¡°puppet states made up by their Anglo-French masters¡± and rejoiced in Germany¡¯s ¡°triumphs¡±[68] – the question to which degree his worldview of the early 1930s may be classified as ¡°fascist¡± is a complicated one.  Indisputably, Yi used to show an interest in European fascism, and this interest became much keener than before when Hitler was appointed Germany¡¯s Chancellor in January 1933. As early as in June 1933, the intellectual journal Tonggwang run by Yi¡¯s close friend and fellow An Ch¡¯angho disciple, Chu Yohan (1900-1979) – which also served as main outlet for Yi¡¯s own writings – published, as the first in its series of popular books on the current issues (Tonggwang Ch¡¯ongsŏ), a volume on fascism and related issues, which also included a translated fragment from Hitler¡¯s Mein Kampf. The 23 pages-long translation was done by Chŏn Wŏnbae (1903-1984), then a young teacher of the Protestant Yŏnhǔi College (today¡¯s Yonsei University), who then rose to become South Korea¡¯s foremost authority on the classic German philosophy. In several writings, he used to offer praises to Mussolini and the Italian fascists[69]: in one particularly explicit piece, with telling title ¡°Return to the State of the Beast, Youth, Unite to Fight Epoch¡¯s Evil!¡±, he openly admonishes his readers ¡°to learn from the Italian fascist youth, strong and sincere¡±, and then ¡°to unite for serving Korea and sacrificing for Korea¡¯s sake¡± instead of following the ¡°licentious¡± trends of modern days¡¯ eroticized mass culture[70].

However, most of Yi Kwangsu¡¯s appeals to ¡°unity¡±, ¡°sacrifice¡±, ¡°heroism¡± and ¡°life of service and worship¡± from the first half of the 1930s use the paradigm of references which may be termed ¡°nativist¡±, with references to ¡°Korea¡¯s old beautiful morals¡±, Buddhism, even Christianity – which became the religion of a sizable part of Korea¡¯s educated class by that point - rather than the examples taken from Hitler¡¯s and Mussolini¡¯s theory and practice. For example, Yi attempted to present Korea¡¯s age-old village order, with its supposed emphasis upon ¡°respectfulness towards the seniors, filial piety, mutual help, feeling of duty and loyalty towards the community¡± as an ideal prototype of a benign social order he termed ¡°totalitarian¡± (literally ¡°whole-ism¡±: chǒnch¡¯ejuǔi), and contrast all these presumed ¡°virtues of old Korea¡± to the ¡°Anglo-American egoism, individualism and hedonism (hyangnakchuǔi) of the modern days¡±. Interestingly enough, Yi praised his own employer, Tonga Ilbo¡¯s major stakeholder Kim Sǒngsu, as the ¡°paragon of old Korea¡¯s virtue¡±, claiming that the latter¡¯s entrepreneurial activities had ¡°the service to the country¡± as their main aim[71]. In this way, the rhetoric of ¡°patriotism¡± and ¡°service¡± definitely was employed, among other things, for legitimising the entrepreneurship of Korea¡¯s modernising elite. But, instead of praising contemporaneous Italy or Germany¡¯s fascist party as examples of ¡°totalitarian¡± societies of ¡°duty¡± and ¡°service¡±, Yi preferred, in many of his writing from the early 1930s, to speak either in generally moralistic or in religious tones. In line with old ¡°hero-worshipping¡± rhetoric loved by Korea¡¯s early modernisers from the 1900s, Yi was describing the ¡°unusual people of the emergency times¡± as ¡°heroes¡± who freed themselves from the attachment to their physical lives, to their families and to any sort of material wealth[72], was appealing to Korea¡¯s youth to understand the ephemerous nature of the individual life and transcend it by rejecting all individual desires for the sake of the nation or loftier principles[73],  and was even enlisting Christ, Gandhi and Tolstoy – clearly not the best loved personages among the Italian or German fascists! – as the examples of the ¡°selfless devotion¡± and ¡°life of service to the others¡±[74]. Until the late 1930s, Yi was much more willing to elaborate on the importance of Tan¡¯gun, the mythical progenitor of the Koreans whom Yi considered ¡°the founding father of the Korean statehood¡±[75], than to speak openly and in details on his attachment to Hitler¡¯s or Mussolini¡¯s ideals. What are the reasons for such a self-restrained attitude in relations to the European far right, with the basic values of which – the emphasis on the all-encompassing ¡°totality¡±, on the ¡°self-sacrificial heroic¡± mode of behaviour, on ¡°leadership¡± and ¡°obedience¡± - Yi demonstrated a clear and unambiguous proximity? The reasons seem to be manifold and complicated. First, given the lingering attachment of many educated younger Koreans, who formed Yi¡¯s readership, to either leftist or liberal ideals and their general nationalist mood, the appeals to ¡°our older values¡±, Tan¡¯gun and Yi Sunsin might have been a better hegemonic strategy than outright references to the foreign right-wing extremist ideas, regardless the interest Yi personally had in them. Second, the grand militarist designs of Hitler or Mussolini obviously did not fit the situation of Korea¡¯s colonial bourgeoisie, alienated from the political power and anxious to go along well with its Japanese masters. And third – last but not least – Yi¡¯s mentor An Ch¡¯angho remained a proponent of a democratic model of national statehood, and Yi was in no position to deviate significantly from An¡¯s design, especially given Yi¡¯s ambition to position himself as An¡¯s ¡°best disciple¡±. An¡¯s vision of the future Korean state – termed taegongchuǔi, or the ¡°great unity-ism¡± – was a sort of ¡°national unity-based democracy¡±, which required its citizens to put the common good above their private interests, but did not mean a ¡°totalitarian¡± way of totally sacrificing the personal, and, moreover, envisioned empowerment of the workers and peasants and a place for organized workers¡¯ movement[76].  This vision may be termed ¡°right-wing nationalist¡±, as it prioritised the demands of nation-state building over the private or class interests, and An Ch¡¯angho¡¯s ideology of ¡°cultivating the national strength¡± was indisputably Social Darwinist in its inspirations, but An – unlike Yi – never crossed the line between more or less moderate right-wing nationalism and ¡°genuine¡± totalitarian ideology. Until An¡¯s death in 1938, Yi was putting certain restrains upon his rhetoric, but after 1938-1939, his writing became undistinguishable from the mainstream war propaganda of the Japanese nationalist intellectuals.


  1. Is it possible to speak on the development and popularization of the fascist ideology in early 1930s Korea? If we define ¡°fascism¡± in a narrower way, reducing it mainly to the ideas and practices of the European far right of the 1920-40s, often (but not always) anti-Semitic, bent on external territorial aggrandisement and  desirous for a explicitly anti-liberal state, that is something hardly applicable to Korea¡¯s intellectual history of the early 1930s. Even while deeply respecting Mussolini, such Korean intellectuals as Yun Ch¡¯iho could despise Hitler and sympathise with the Jewish plight; indeed, the sympathy towards the Jews were expressed by a major newspaper of Korea¡¯s nascent bourgeoisie. In early 1930s¡¯ colonial Korea, liberalism remained a noble, if somewhat unachievable dream for many mainstream right-wing nationalist intellectuals, such major figures as An Ch¡¯angho included, with certain reservations; and expansionism or anti-Semitism were simply not on the agenda. However, the ¡°fascistic mood¡± in a broader sense was already in the air, as the colonial bourgeoisie, sceptical of the further usefulness of its erstwhile liberalism, and aspiring to legitimise its cooperation with the Japanese aggression in North-eastern China and curb the popularity of communist and other left-wing ideas, was turning back to the old Social Darwinism of the 1900-1910s it never fully discarded. Yi Kwangsu, together with our scribes of the Tonga Ilbo circle, were competing for the ideological hegemony with Korea¡¯s left-wingers by propagating what the left viewed as ¡°fascistic¡± – ¡°self-sacrifice¡±, ¡°all-encompassing love of the nation¡±, ¡°worshipping attitude¡± in life, and the cult of the ¡°leaders¡±. That largely the same people became the assiduous ideological servants of the Japanese war machine after 1939, hardly may be ascribed to the Japanese state coercion only; while the presence of such coercion is undeniable, the worship of the ¡°totalitarian values¡± among the Korean nationalist intelligentsia predated the onset of the full-scale invasion of China in 1937, and may be, in its main features, traced back to the Social Darwinist values learned already in the 1900-1910s and enshrined as the main pillar of Korea¡¯s nationalist ideology. The cooperation with the Japanese war machine was at least partly voluntarily, although it should not be, of course, teleologically seen upon as an ¡°inescapable¡± consequence of the Social Darwinist leanings of the 1900-1910s. However, the visible persistence of Social Darwinist nationalism throughout the seemingly ¡°liberal¡± 1920s – which became manifest in the beginning of the 1930s -  leads us to question the extent to which liberalism may become an ideological mainstaple of a peripheral (in a world-systemic sense of the word) bourgeoisie, given the uncertainty of its position in general, requirements of the cooperation with the ¡°core¡± (in our case, Japanese) ruling class, and difficulties in securing the safe ideological grounds in the combat against the leftist forces, which are always able to make an issue of the abysmal social inequalities and the tendency of the local capitalists to collaborate with the structures of political power seen as unjust (in Korea¡¯s case, the colonial state). It looks as if Korean bourgeoisie in the 1920s, as represented by the Tonga Ilbo circle, was approaching liberalism rather from the position of the political expediency than deeper ideological loyalty – and it was gradually abandoned as its usefulness was coming to the end. The liberalism resurfaced after Korean became independent from Japan in 1945, but very soon it developed, in South Korea, into a typical cold war liberal ideology, which emphasized anti-communism much stronger than individual freedom. But, as we have already seen, anti-communism was already a major part of the Korean bourgeois worldview in the 1920s-1930s.       




[1] Bertrand Russel, ¡°The Ancestry of Fascism¡± In In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1936), 89-108.

[2] George Mosse, The Fascist Revolution: Toward a General Theory of Fascism (New York: Howard Fertig, 1999), 1-44.  

[3] Joseph Sottile, ¡°The Fascist Era: Imperial Japan and the Axis Alliance in Historical Perspective¡±, In Bruce Reynolds (ed.), Japan in the Fascist Era (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004), 1-49.

[4] Stein Ugelvik Larsen, Fascism outside Europe: The European Impulse against Domestic Conditions in the Diffusion of the Global Fascism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2001), 720-732.

[5] Mario Sznajder, ¡°A Case of Non-European Fascism: Chilean National Socialism in the 1930s¡±, Journal of Contemporary History, 28:2 (1993): 269-296.

[6] Milind Wakankar, ¡°Body, Crowd, Identity: Genealogy of a Hindu Nationalist Ascetics¡±, Social Text, 45 (1995): 45-73.

[7] Chi  Sugǒl, Ilcheha Nongmin chohap undong yǒn¡¯gu: 1930nyǒndae hyǒngmyǒngjǒk nongmin chohap undong (A Study of the Peasant Unions Movement under the Japanese Colonial Rule: the Revolutionary Peasant Unions Movement of the 1930s) (Seoul: Yǒksa Pip¡¯yǒngsa, 1993)

[8] Yi Oksun, Singminji Chosǒn ǔi hǔimang kwa chǒlmang, Indo (Colonial Korea¡¯s Hope and Despair – India) (Seoul: P¡¯urǔn Yǒksa, 2006), 94-135.

[9] ¡°P¡¯asǔsissǔt¡¯ǔ dan ǔi wallyǒk sǒnggong, Mussolini ga sin naegak ǔl chojik¡± (Success of the naked force [politics], Mussolini forms the new cabinet), Tongnip Sinmun, November 8, 1922.

[10] ¡°Kongsandang Rama ch¡¯ongp¡¯aǒp sǒnǒn. Kongsandang, ¡®p¡¯asǔsissǔt¡¯ǔ¡¯ ch¡¯ungdol lo¡± (Communists declare general strike in Rome. Communists and ¡®fascists¡¯ are on the course towards a clash), Tonga Ilbo, 15 April, 1921.

[11] ¡°Iguk sin naegakwǒn, Mussolin ssi oesang kyǒm naesang¡± (Italy¡¯s new cabinet – Mr. Mussolini becomes both foreign and internal affairs minister), Tonga Ilbo, November 2, 1922.

[12] For example, there was an early brief report in 1925: ¡°Tok taet¡¯ongnyǒng huboja, ¡®p¡¯asisǔt¡¯ǔ¡¯ p¡¯a ¡®Ludǒndop¡¯ǔ¡¯ ch¡¯uch¡¯ǒn¡± (¡®Fascists¡¯ propose Ludendorff as presidential candidate in Germany), Tonga Ilbo, March 21, 1925.

[13] Takayoshi Matsuo (translated by S.Takiguchi), ¡°The Japanese Protestants in Korea, Part Two: The 1st March Movement and the Japanese Protestants¡±, Modern Asian Studies, 13, 4 (1979): 597-599.

[14] Cynn Hugh Heung-wo, The rebirth of Korea:  the reawakening of the people, its causes, and the outlook (New York: The Abingdon Press, 1920), 139-149.

[15] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Minjok kaejoron¡± In Chǒnjip (Collected Works), Vol. 17 (Seoul: Samjungdang), 179-181.

[16] Chang Kyusik, Ilche ha Han¡¯guk kidokkyo minjokchuǔi yǒn¡¯gu (Research on the Korean Christian Nationalism under the Japanese Colonial Rule) (Seoul: Hyean, 2001), 163-186.

[17] Yi Hŏnch¡¯ang, Han¡¯guk kyŏngje t¡¯ongsa (The Outline Economic History of Korea) (Seoul: Pŏmmunsa, 2006), 320-324.

[18] Cho Tonggŏl, Ilche ha Han¡¯guk nongmin undong sa (The History of Korea¡¯s Peasant Movement under the Japanese Rule) (Seoul: Han¡¯gilsa, 1979), 112, 248-258.

[19] Louise Young, Japan¡¯s Total Empire: Manchuria and the Culture of Wartime Imperialism (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 42.

[20] Carter J. Eckert, Offspring of Empire: the Koch¡¯ang Kims and the Colonial Origins of Korean Capitalism 1876-1945 (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991), 167-174.

[21] Hŏ Suyŏl, Kaebal ŏmnǔn kaebal (The Development without Development) (Seoul: Ŭnhaengnamu, 2005), 203.

[22] See, for example, ¡°Chǒnsi rǔl yesang, pisang ǔl chunbi: Chǒngno ǔi kunsa kongǒp¡± (Planning for the wartime, preparing for the emergencies: the military industry of Red Russia), Chungoe Ilbo, June 14, 1931.

[23] Yang Hyǒnhye, Yun Ch¡¯iho wa Kim Kyosin (Yun Ch¡¯iho and Kim Kyosin) (Seoul: Hanul, 1994), 34-56.

[24] Obviously, the first edition of the English translation by Richard Washburn Child (New York, C. Scribner's sons, 1928) was meant.

[25] Yun Ch¡¯iho Ilgi (Yun Ch¡¯iho¡¯s Diary), Vol. 9 (Seoul: T¡¯amgudang, 1971-1989), 197-198.

[26] Ibid, Vol. 10, 460-461.

[27] Ibid, Vol. 10, 125-126.

[28] He once compared in his diary the colonial conditions of Korea to the conditions of Judea under the Persian rule as described in the biblical Book of Nehemiah: ¡°See, we this day are but slaves in the land thou gravest to our forefathers that they might eat its fruit and enjoy its good gifts, and it yields a great income to the Kings whom thou hast set over us because of our sins.¡± (January 26, 1931). Ibid, Vol. 9, 325-326.

[29] Ibid, Vol. 11, 40-41.

[30] Ibid, Vol. 11, 208-211.

[31] Ibid, Vol. 11, 396-397.

[32] Ibid, Vol. 11, 404-405.

[33] Ibid, Vol. 11, 425-426.

[34] Ibid, Vol. 11, 463.

[35] Chǒng Chinsǒk, Han¡¯guk ǒllonsa yǒn¡¯gu (Studies on the History of Korean Media) (Seoul: Ilchogak, 1983), 137.

[36] Kim Tongmin,¡± Ilche ha sinmun kiǒp e kwanhan koch¡¯al¡± (Research on the Newspaper Enterprises under the Japanese Rule), In Kim Wangsǒk & Im Tonguk (ed.), Han¡¯guk ǒllon ǔi chǒngch¡¯i kyǒngjehak (Political Economy of the Korean Media) (Seoul: Ach¡¯im, 1990), 143.

[37] Tonga Ilbo sasǒl sǒnjip (Selected Editorials of Tonga Ilbo), Vol. 2 (Seoul: Tonga Ilbo, 1984), 153-154.

[38] Kim Hakchun, Koha Song Chinu p¡¯yǒngjǒn (Critical Biography of Koha Song Chinu) (Seoul: Tonga Ilbo, 1990).

[39] Ibid, 218-220.

[40] Ibid, 238-239.

[41] Ibid, 170-171.

[42] Ibid, 198-200.

[43] Ibid, 210-212.

[44] Ibid, 267-268.

[45] Ibid, 366-367, 420-421.

[46] Ch¡¯oe Minji & Kim Minju, Ilche ha Minjok ǒllonsaron (On the National Media History under the Japanese Rule) (Seoul: Irwǒlsǒgak, 1978), 226-320.

[47] Chǒng Chinsǒk. Inmul han¡¯guk ǒllonsa (History of Korean media in Personages) (Seoul: Nanam, 1995), 227.

[48] Minzoku shinri oyobi gunshū shinri (Psychology of the Peoples and Crowd Psychology) (Tokyo : Bunmei shōin, 1915). This Japanese edition put together both best-known works by Le Bon, Les Lois psychologiques de l'évolution des peuples  and La psychologie des foules.

[49] Kakumei no shinri (Psychology of Revolution), translated by Maeda Chōta (Tokyo: Dainihon bunmei kyōkai jimushō, 1914).

[50] Gustave Le Bon, The Psychology of Revolution (Kitchener: Batoche Books, 2001), 57-69.

[51] Kim Hyǒnju, ¡°Yi Kwangsu ǔi munhwajǒk p¡¯asijǔm¡± (Yi Kwangsu¡¯s Cultural Fascism) In Kim Ch¡¯ǒl & Sin Hyǒnggi (ed.), Munhwa sok ǔi p¡¯asijǔm (Fascism in Literature) (Seoul: Samin, 2001), 103-107.

[52] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Chosǒn Minjok undong ǔi sam kich¡¯o saǒp¡± (Three Basic Lines of Work of Korea¡¯s National Movement), Tonggwan, 30 (1932): 13-15.

[53] Chang Kyusik, Ilche ha Han¡¯guk kidokkyo minjokchuǔi yǒn¡¯gu (Research on the Korean Christian Nationalism under the Japanese Colonial Rule), 334-349.

[54] Yi Kyǒnghun, Yi Kwangsu ǔi ch¡¯inil munhak yǒn¡¯gu (Studies upon Yi Kwangsu¡¯s Pro-Japanese Literature) (Seoul: T¡¯aehaksa, 1998), 34-35.

[55] Chang Kyusik, Ilche ha Han¡¯guk kidokkyo minjokchuǔi yǒn¡¯gu (Research on the Korean Christian Nationalism under the Japanese Colonial Rule), 140-153. Among the newer books on An Ch¡¯angho in English see: Kim Tschung-Sun & Michael Reinschmidt (ed), Strengthened Abilities: Assessing the Vision of Tosan Chang-Ho Ahn. (Los Angeles: Academia Koreana of Keimyung University, 1998).Yi was moved by An¡¯s patriotic speech already as a teenage student in Japan in 1907, and began studying Bible after that. Cho Yǒnhyǒn (ed.), Ch¡¯oe Namsǒn kwa Yi Kwangsu ǔi munhak (Literature of Ch¡¯oe Namsǒn and Yi Kwangsu) (Seoul: Saemunsa, 1981), III-35.

[56] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Tosan An Ch¡¯angho sǒnsaeng ege¡± (To Mr. Tosan An Ch¡¯angho), Kaebyǒk 62 (1925): 27-33.

[57] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Minjokchǒk Kyǒngnyun – 3¡± (National Plan of Action – 3), Tonga Ilbo, January 4, 1924.

[58] Yi Kyǒnghun, Yi Kwangsu ǔi ch¡¯inil munhak yǒn¡¯gu (Studies upon Yi Kwangsu¡¯s Pro-Japanese Literature), 121-124.

[59] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Yesul p¡¯ǒngka ǔi p¡¯yojun¡± (Criteria of the Judgement in the Arts), Tonggwang 1 (1926): 38-40.

[60] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Udǒksong¡± (An Ode to the Virtues of Cows), Chosǒn mundan 4 (1925)

[61] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Yǒ ǔi chakkajǒk t¡¯aedo¡± (My Attitude as a Writer). Tonggwang 20 (1931): 81-85.

[62] Ibid, 81-82.

[63] Pak Yǒnghǔi, ¡°¡¯Munye swaedam¡¯ ǔl ilkkosǒ – sowi ¡®chosǒnin ǔi mangguk kǔnsǒng¡¯ ǔl uryǒ hanǔn Ch¡¯unwǒn Yi Kwangsu kun ege¡± (On having read the ¡°Serialized Talks on the Arts¡± – to Mr. Ch¡¯unwǒn Yi Kwangsu, who is anguished about the so-called ¡°lack of patriotism¡± in the Koreans). Kaebyǒk 65 (1926): 111-117. In 1933, Pak recanted his erstwhile leftist beliefs, and was actively cooperating with the Japanese wartime propaganda in 1937-1945. He was taken by the North Korean troops when they seized Seoul in the beginning of 1950-53 Korean War, and from this point his fate is completely unknown.

[64] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Chidojaron¡± (On Leadership). Tonggwang 23 (1931): 8-9.

[65] Chang Kyusik, Ilche ha Han¡¯guk kidokkyo minjokchuǔi yǒn¡¯gu (Research on the Korean Christian Nationalism under the Japanese Colonial Rule), 186-192.

[66] Kim Myǒngsik, ¡°Chido kwannyǒm kwa wǒndong seryǒk, Yi Kwangsu ssi ǔi ¡¯Chidojaron¡¯ pip¡¯an¡± (The Idea of Leadership and the Driving Forces – Critic of Mr. Yi Kwangsu¡¯s ¡°On Leadership¡±). Samch¡¯ǒnni 3:9 (1931): 17-20.

[67] Kim Myǒngsik, ¡°Yǒngungchuǔi wa p¡¯asijǔm, Yi Kwangsu ssi ǔi mong ǔl kyeham¡± (The Hero-worship and Fascism – Teaching Mr. Yi Kwangsu a Lesson). Tonggwang 31 (1932): 62-64.

[68] Cited in Kim Wŏnmo & Yi Kyŏnghun (ed.), Tongp¡¯o e koham: Ch¡¯unwŏn Yi Kwangsu Ch¡¯inil munhak (I Address my Countrymen – Ch¡¯unwŏn Yi Kwangsu¡¯s Pro-Japanese Literature) (Seoul: Ch¡¯ŏrhak kwa hyŏnsilsa, 1997), 155-157.

[69] Yi Kyǒnghun, Yi Kwangsu ǔi ch¡¯inil munhak yǒn¡¯gu (Studies upon Yi Kwangsu¡¯s Pro-Japanese Literature), 104.

[70] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Yasu eǔi pokkwi: Ch¡¯ŏngnyŏna, tan¡¯gyŏlhaya sidae ǔi ¸¶ kwa ssahoja¡± (Return to the State of the Beast, Youth, Unite to Fight Epoch¡¯s Evil!), Tonggwang 21 (1931): 43.

[71] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Yet chosǒnin ǔi kǔnbon todǒk: chǒnch¡¯ejuǔi wa kusilchuǔi insaenggwan¡± (The Basic Ethics of the Koreans of the Past: Totalitarism and the Duty-based View of the Human Life). Tonggwang 34 (1932): 2-4.

[72] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Pisangsi ǔi Pisangin¡± (Unusual People of the Emergency Times). Tonggwang 39 (1932): 2-3.

[73] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Chosǒn ch¡¯ǒngnyǒn ǔn, chagi rǔl ch¡¯owǒlhara¡± (Korean Youth, Transcend Itself!). Tonggwang 24 (1931): 43.

[74] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Sǒmgi nǔn saenghwal¡± (Life of Service). Tonggwang 18 (1931): 31-33.

[75] Yi Kwangsu, ¡°Tan¡¯gun nǔng¡± (The Tomb of Tan¡¯gun). Samch¡¯ǒlli 8:4 (1936): 41-46.

[76] Chu Yohan (ed.), An Tosan chǒnsǒ (The Complete Works by Tosan An Ch¡¯angho), Vol. 1 (Seoul: Pǒmyangsa ch¡¯ulp¡¯anbu, 1990), 475.