Revolutions from above: worker training as trasformismo in South Korea *.

Author:Moore, Phoebe

This article analyses a manifestation of social change in the once heralded Asian Tiger, South Korea (hereafter shortened to 'Korea'), and the mode of governance surrounding vocational education training (VET) strategies and other strategies of trasformismo (transformism) that aim to facilitate economic development and worker convergence with international standards. Workers are the fuel and fire of economic development and the backbone of any production system; they are vitally affected by global political economics but, paradoxically, are the most under-researched group in International Political Economics (IPE) (O'Brien, 2000: 89-99). With that in mind, this article presents a case study of Korean workers' experience of being 'trained' to adapt to hegemonic capitalist norms over several decades of state-led, Western-guided economic development in South Korea.

The notion of convergence, or the 'ability' of nations to replicate industrialised countries' development trajectories, was both implicitly and explicitly a part of IMF restructuring schemes such as those applied to South Korea in 1998 and onwards. Advanced industrial countries compose the core membership of the 'convergence club' (Magarinos, 2001), and benchmarking of 'best practices' for the creation of national wealth emanates from this base. Observers have noted a number of possible reasons for the failure of convergence strategies, many of which correspond to the discrepancies discussed by Rowley and Bae (2002). These include factors such as the mismatch of particular cultural value systems. (1) But as Paul Cammack has pointed out, experts at the World Bank believe they hold the solution to lagging nations' seeming inability to catch up with developed countries.

Cammack (2002a) (2) discusses the World Bank's intent to construct a Global Architecture of Governance (GAG), which is a metaphorical 'architecture' designed to guide convergence in a way that the Bank perceives to be the most effective. In 1999, World Bank President James D. Wolfensohn composed a comprehensive development framework (CDF) that provides a list of actions designed to aid developing countries to achieve 'structural and social aspects of development' (1999: 3; see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Comprehensive Development Framework A. Structural 1. Good and clean government 2. An effective legal and justice system 3. A well-organised and supervised financial system 4. A social safety net and social programs B. Human 5. Education and knowledge institutions 6. Health and population issues C. Physical 7. Water and Sewage 8. Energy 9. Roads, transportation and telecommunications 10. Sustainable development, environmental and cultural issues D. Specific strategies-rural, urban, and private sector 11. Rural strategy 12. Urban strategy 13. Private sector strategy 14. Special national consideration James D. Wolfensohn, 'A Proposal for a Comprehensive Development Framework', 21 January 1999. The framework recommends development within particular categories: structural, human and physical; and a wider category of 'specific strategies' that includes rural, urban, private sector and special national considerations. Wolfensohn believes that the World Bank and IMF are responsible for overseeing and providing surveillance for all nations' development, and that these institutions are in possession of a form of superlative knowledge supporting the best possible methods of national economic development. The GAG involves IMF intervention and the pastoral role that this UN, specialised agency has played in stories of restructuring across the globe. It advocates benchmarking, or the 'system of continuous improvements derived from systematic comparisons with world best practice' (Sklair, 2001a: 115).

The contradiction of the World Bank's disciplinary mandates within the GAG lies in its prescriptions for completion. A nation is expected to follow the guidelines of the CDF, but it must also take ownership of development (Cammack, 2002a: 41). Nations are expected to accept and digest the World Bank's decisions for the best practices of development, and to 'own' and to take charge of the implementation process of these practices. Without 'ownership', nations are predicted to remain less successful in restructuring. But how can a nation own a process of development that is so entrenched in the restrictive, ideological expectations defined by the World Bank, and by the global forces of speculators who demand evidence of 'best practices' and actively encourage a 'comprehensive development framework'?

This article looks at how South Korea claimed 'ownership', and mastered a particular process of knowledge production surrounding economic development and crisis-restructuring through the incorporation of VET, which is calculated to incorporate workers into a hegemony of development ideologies. Operationalising the Gramscian concept 'passive revolution', which exists in a case of unsuccessful hegemony, I look at the mode of governance under which these events have occurred.

I conclude that the conditions of government leadership surrounding training historically reflect those of a passive revolution, and are similar to those evident during the more contemporary period of crisis restructuring. This has occurred despite democratisation, but in most cases, the Korean government-led process of knowledge production is a response to the international forces and pressures involved in the construction of an architecture of governance.

Korean educators have acquired the characteristics, parameters and methods for accomplishing the right type of 'development', as defined by the World Bank from a distinguishable source. Adrian Leftwich stresses that it is 'Western "knowledge" about development, which defines what it is and how it (3) happens, and what should be done and by whom and to whom and with what objectives in mind' (2000: 64).

A population's consciousness of its own underdevelopment is managed by Western political and economic power, and is disseminated by government agencies and international institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank. The universalising of this knowledge is the final point of Gramscian hegemony. Gills emphasises that an integral hegemonic mode of accumulation requires not only an international division of labour, and a legitimate political order, but also 'an ideology which conditions historical consciousness to allow accumulation, and social order, to occur in that specific historical form' (1993: 189). Augelli and Murphy note that 'ideologies are always instruments of power, because it is only with a merging of thought and action that the historical role of humanity ... can be regained' (1988: 21).

The analysis here aims to inform a case study that demonstrates how the transformation and adaptation to ideologies of global capitalism, according to the principles put forward in the GAG, have been 'owned' by the semi-peripheral state South Korea in molecular stages through a government-led project toward ideological adaptation. Groups that seek hegemonic leadership build a common, consensual worldview among various social classes and forces (Bieler, 2001: 98), and present this worldview to subordinate groups as beneficial and necessary, and worth 'owning' nationally.

Education is an obvious institution with which to enforce a potentially dominant worldview, wherein elite groups use 'the tools of the war of position, the various ideological apparatuses ... to pre-empt the creation of an hegemony by the working class' (Showstack Sassoon, 1987: 210).

This article outlines the Korean state's accumulation strategies over time in relation to a series of attempted hegemonic projects. Findings appear to support a proposed historical continuity of the conditions for passive revolution. These events are traced over a historical period stretching from authoritarian developmentalism in 1948-1979, to the economic crisis of 1997 that resulted in a cacophony of recovery and reform. Along this historical timeline, I discuss government-regulated and-led VET because it is indicative of governments' efforts to force accumulation strategies forward.

The argument is divided into four sections. I first discuss the Gramscian concepts of passive revolution and trasformismo, in order to substantiate later claims emerging from empirical research of Korean VET (4) and other forms of social co-optation. The second section outlines the molecular changes of capitalism within the Korean economy that have occurred under three dictatorship regimes, from 1948 to the period of democratisation in the 1980s.

Over time, international pressures to globalise and to improve development and 'best practices' became increasingly pervasive, and this is noted throughout the historical periods in question. In the third section, I ask whether passive revolution has '"present" significance' (Gramsci, PN [Prison Notebooks]: 118), even after democratisation, leading into the late-1990s when the Asian economic crisis paved the way for IMF-guided restructuring. The section focuses on the trasformismo of restructured VET strategies, and highlights conditions of governance within which these have been affected.

The fourth section contains some final comments on the links between the theoretical analyses and empirical findings. I conclude that Korean economic development is continuing in the non-hegemonic environment of passive revolution, and thus that it opens up possibilities for worker dissent and contestation to emerge.

  1. Conditions for passive revolution

    A case of passive revolution can be noted when a government's accumulation strategies are elite-engineered, and do not succeed in garnering hegemonic consensus or the formation of a hegemonic historical bloc (5) from the wider society. It is a 'revolution without a revolution' (Adamson, 1980: 186), and a type of 'socio-economic modernisation [occurring] so that changes in...

To continue reading