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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

Forging Workers of Iron: The Politics of Memory and the Performance of Revolutionary Promise

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2020, v.60 no.3, pp.188-217
https://doi.org/10.25024/kj.2020.60.3.188
Jong Bum KWON (Webster University)
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Abstract

Commenting on the failure of the 1848 revolution in France, Marx famously wrote that history’s repetition comes first as tragedy and then as farce. I draw upon his lesson to reflect upon the politics of memory that have animated labor and popular protest in the afterlife of the April Student Revolution and Gwangju Uprising. “Forging” (in the title) gestures toward both creation and imitation, and “Workers of Iron” refers to the eponymous song of the labor movement and the figure of the specifically male workingclass hero. The song is still sung, but the figure appears with disbelief. Drawing upon ethnographic research on labor and other popular protests, I examine their performativity, in particular their aesthetic and affective productions, as practices of conjuring memories of heroic and violent opposition to the state. My analysis shows, however, that these practices are not motivated by belief or ideological commitment; rather, it is cynicism, doing while knowing that there is no belief. This “farce” suggests changes in working-class politics and subjectivities in post-authoritarian, neoliberal South Korea, revealing an emergent politics of precarity that anticipates the forms of sociality and performance that surfaced during the candlelight vigils in 2006, 2008, and 2016.

keywords
social movements labor protests candlelight vigil affect theory social memory

Korea Journal