In a way, I feel very much honored to be given this
responsibility to I reflect upon the power of transnational corporations or TNCs in Asia.
However, I must disqualify myself from this task in three ways. First, "People
Toiling under Pharaoh," which I helped to produce, is a report, not a book. It is a
report based on the 1976 consultation about TNCs held in Hong Kong. Many of the
discussions during this present consultation (the Christian Conference of Asia-World
Council of Churches ICCA-WCCI Joint Consultation on "The Church and TNCs" held
in the Philippines in 1980) are, in a way, the expansion and deepening of that same
consultation. However, I am not a specialist in the study of TNCs; therefore, I am not
really qualified to do a thorough socio-economic analysis of them at this time.
Secondly, I do not think it is possible to make what we call a trans-
or pan-Asian analysis. Some people might argue about that; but at this stage, such a
pan-Asian analysis - let alone a global analysis - of the realities of TNC power in a
concrete manner is impossible. This does not mean that we should not try. However, I want
to disclaim any intention of analyzing the power of TNCs in the Asiawide context.
Thirdly, I am going to speak on the issue of TNCs, the power of TNCs,
from what we might call a peoples perspective. This is because in Asia, particularly
in the work of Urban Rural Mission (URM), Documentation for Action Groups in Asia (DAGA)
and other organizations with which I have been involved, the concrete entity of the people
has been our primary concern. In this context, I feel a little inadequate to speak about
the people or even for the people. This is a very difficult task. You will see later some
of the problems that I have struggled to overcome in terms of talking about the people.
In this consultation, however, I believe that we have three basic tasks
that we have to begin to tackle. The first is that we somehow have to deepen our
understanding of the reality of the people - what I call the stories of the people.
Secondly, as much as possible, we must analyze the power realities of TNCs in the context
of the actual lives of the people. Thirdly, I think we should be clearly aware that we are
talking about this issue as a concerned group of Christians. Otherwise, we will be
confused about what we can or cannot do. Our Christian involvement in this issue should be
clarified through this consultation. Of course, all of the issues are not going to be
dealt with in my small presentation. This is scheduled as a keynote address, but I do not
think of it as such; rather, I am going to present some footnotes to this consultation.
In recent history, we are experiencing a giant new social organism
which we call the TNC. I think the definition of TNCs has many problems; but for now,
without defining it, let us recognize it as an organized reality with enormous power.
The giant corpus, people say, is not new, but I take issue with this
assumption and would maintain that it is a new phenomenon. We began to realize its new
dimensions of power rather recently, I should say, during the late-1960s. In fact, the
phenomenon of TNCs and their power is very difficult to grasp at this time because
information about them is not fully available. I do not know whether we are in a position,
particularly from my Asian location, even to be able to obtain adequate information to do
a serious analysis of TNCs.
We have been saying though that this new organization, this new social
corpus, is not a natural organism. It is a human social organism, however, equipped with
the best scientific minds, the most information, the greatest financial resources, the
most efficient technology and the most complex organization. It produces everything that
people can create from ordinary goods to cultural values. It claims it can solve all of
the problems of human history. It is a new political agency, a powerful agency with
political independence over sovereign nation-states. It is the most powerful, creative
social corpus ever to emerge in human history.
What puzzles us, however, about the power of TNCs is precisely this
point of its newness. Even if we had all of the information available about TNCs for
accurate analysis, all of the categories of social analysis would probably be very
strained. In recent years, how to understand this reality of TNCs in the world has been
the great question. I have tried to survey much of the literature on TNCs, but my
impression is that there is an inadequacy of concrete information and a lack of historical
perspective from which to grasp fully this new phenomenon. As for my compilation of the
report, "People Toiling under Pharaoh," rather than revealing the nature of TNCs
in Asia, it has revealed the lack of information about them.
However, if you look very carefully, much of the information on TNCs
comes from the TNCs themselves. It is not direct information gathered by us or the people.
Therefore, the small-scale case studies of TNCs have been most significant, informative
and helpful, as we have experienced in this consultation.
My proposal in this presentation is not to neglect analytical efforts
to understand TNCs but rather to try to turn a little bit of our perspective from the TNCs
themselves to the experience of TNCs by the people. Therefore, I have chosen as the title
of my address "The Power of TNCs in the Stories of the Asian People." What
concerns us is not the TNCs: it is the life, the actual living of the people. Today it is
not so useful to repeat the claims of TNCs or to make counterclaims on the basis of
statistics, economics or other explanatory means. Rather, we want to explore the stories
of the people as a new historical perspective from which the reality of this giant social
corpus can somehow be grasped. This new perspective may be seen as a human story of people
in the world.
I. The Human Story of the People: Three Affirmations
I hope that this human story of people in the world and their
historical perspective can free us a little from the logic of our existing societies,
particularly from the rationality and logic of TNCs as a power which constantly confines,
surrounds and incorporates us. When I talk about the human story of people, it is for me
in many ways a new search to find another and different historical perspective from which
to examine power. The struggle is not to remain on a too simplistic level but to delve
into deeper concrete realities of history. We must break through some of the language
barriers and the enslavement of our thinking on the rational, ideological and analytical
levels. It is a struggle to break through these barriers and experience freely the
concrete context in which we are living. Therefore, I want to make three affirmations
about the human story of the people.
A. Stories of the People Reveal True Human History
First, this true human story is told by the people themselves out
of their common sense and wisdom. The storyteller I call "bodily selfhood." I
emphasize "bodily selfhood" in order to avoid the mental flight in which we
often can lapse. Let me give you an example.
A friend of mine, a woman, has been working in Urban Industrial Mission
(UIM) for a long time, since the late-1950s, therefore, for more than twenty years. One
time when I met her, she confessed that she no longer felt able to effectively carry out
mission with the workers.
"Why?" I asked. "What is the problem?"
Although she still understood the problems of the workers quite well,
she explained, she had realized recently that she no longer felt the same anger as the
workers, the anger that they experience in their day-to-day lives. This was such a
shocking experience for her that she was contemplating quitting because it was no longer
possible to bodily identify with the workers to the extent that she could share their
This sounds a little fundamentalistic in terms of the relationship
between UIM workers and the people; but in all our understanding of history, if we lose
our bodily or human identification with the basic concreteness of reality, our
understanding of history will notbe fruifful or powerful enough. Therefore, I emphasize
this bodily characteristic: the people who bodily experience historical reality in our
context, the context of the TNC phenomenon, have the best experience of this phenomenon
and are best equipped to tell the story of TNCs.
I will give you another example because this is the real point from
which I want to begin. During World War II in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the atom bomb was
exploded. Now how do we understand this experience? There can be many analyses of this
particular experience. Probably the best scientific approach to understand the destructive
character of the atom bomb would be by an atomic scientist who understands atomic physics.
Let us take Einstein. An Einstein can mobilize social scientists, religious ethicists from
theological seminaries, doctors, psychologists and military strategists to analyze exactly
how much destruction the atom bomb caused. He can mobilize all the knowledge that the TNC
has within its scientific grasp. But I wonder if that analysis will provide the quality of
experience, the quality of understanding of the ones who suffered from the atom bomb.
How do we grasp human history then? Of course, we need Einsteins and
all of the scientific analysis, etc. But it was many Japanese people who suffered and
Koreans too. Some say that there are now about 20,000 Koreans living who experienced the
atom bomb. Even if, at present, the knowledge of scientists about the atomic bomb is
greater and more persuasive, I still maintain that a qualitative understanding depends on
our efforts to collect all of the experiences and stories of the people who have suffered,
including those who died (of course, we cannot get their personal accounts but rather the
stories of friends and relatives who survived).
There is a certain impossibility of knowing the true experience of the
atom bomb, however. There is something mysterious about the suffering that the people
underwent. Throughout history, it is impossible to penetrate the reality of peoples
suffering. Therefore, I would like to affirm that the stories that the people tell about
their own suffering reveal the reality of history; and what is more, they have a parabolic
character: they reveal something much deeper than we usually think.
Peoples bodily experience is in two forms. One is the personal
body, and the other is the bodily communion of people. I use this term deliberately -
"bodily communion" - because I do not want to say "community"; I do
not want to say "structure." It is a bodily experience of being together. There
is a bodily communion. It is somewhat difficult to express; but in Korean, we call it Tong-chain
Ton g-whal-che. It means participating together, living together or having activities
together: this is a bodily experience. Both the personal body and the bodily communion of
people form the basis for telling the story of the history of the people.
The people must tell their own story for themselves. Their present
condition of life is that they are surrounded by languages external to their true desires
and hopes. These languages justify and rationalize the power groups of which the TNC is no
exception. TNCs merely use a more sophisticated and universalistic language to justify and
beautify their power and image. These languages, however, do not express the historical
reality of the people; instead, they select fragmentary pieces of the peoples
language and organize these into a rhetoric that is merely an "extension" of the
The telling of the story of the people reveals the reality of their
suffering and exposes the power-wielders language of "machination" as
hypocritical and false. In telling their story, the people act as their own spokesperson
rather than having somebody speak for them. To tell the story is to be the master of their
own language and creator of their own meaning. They tell their own dreams and visions.
They do not get intoxicated by the color television version of life.
The peoples language does not come from their heads first: it
comes first from their bodies, from their guts. It is a bodily language. They cry, sob,
agonize, fear, despair, get angry, curse, sigh, laugh, joke and rejoice -this is their
language first and foremost.
The bodies of the people are often subject to strain, injury, sale and
auction, poisoning, fragmentation, degradation and domination by forces outside of them.
The reclaiming of the human and communal body to be free and
participatory will engender the historical dynamics to change the experiences of the
people and, thus, release power for the people to move and to be in bodily communion.
B. The Human Story of the People Is One of Suffering
The second affirmation I want to make is that the human history of
the people is a history of suffering. Suffering is something undefinable although we try
to explain it throughout our lives, enlisting religions, philosophies and even social
What are the causes of suffering though? We have been grappling with
this all through human history. If we do not know the causes, we cannot solve the problem.
We cannot change the unexplained character of suffering, but neither can we be complacent
about suffering because it destroys us. Thus, our basic attitude about suffering is that
we try to overcome it whether we understand it or not.
Let me give you an example of what I mean by suffering. There is a
Korean term, "Han." Again, Han is very difficult to explain. It is
a feeling experienced by most women. It is an intense, accumulated, suppressed feeling of
injustice, a deep sense of indignation. It is a kind of universal feeling of all the
Korean people. When you are feeling oppression or exploitation, injustice or
discrimination, especially when you experience this innocently without any cause, you
One story goes like this. A woman was in love with a man, but he
abandoned her and took another woman. In ancient times, once a woman was taken by a man as
a lover, she could not get married again. She died as an unmarried woman and became a
ghost, a spirit, and this spirit would go into the people. Her Han was so violent
that at times it could make people crazy through all of its destructive acts.
I think the experience of suffering of the people creates a kind of Han,
a powerful Han. This Han separates the spirit of the people from the
body -sobbing, crying, feeling restless, destructive, crazy. This is the experience of
suffering, and I think that the people have Han in relation to TNCs when they
suffer under their power. According to what we have heard in this consultation, we must
have experienced Han. I am not speaking simply in a symbolic manner. To counter the
effects of suffering, that is, Han, we must mobilize the power of the people; the
source of power becomes the important question.
We must now look at another kind of suffering. We might even call this
the Han of Nature as well as the Han of the people.
We know that the people are blessed with the land and sea and Nature;
they are the gardeners of the natural world. They know how to tend their natural world,
even though at times Nature is violent. The people depend upon Nature and dare not make
her angry. They praise Natures beauty and harmony and do not make Nature the object
The story of the people is an orchestration of the natural rhythm of
natural life and human drama. In this regard, the wisdom of people has a lot to say.
Nature is to be seen, not only in economic terms, but also with the eyes of peoples
aesthetic sensitivity. But the new social organism of the TNC with its massive power of
science and technology spoils, exploits, poisons and breaks that balance, turning the
Garden into a wasteland where there is no shalom or koinonia between the
people and the Garden.
We also know that the story of the people is interwoven with the
experiences of suffering and joy, defeat and victory; yet up to the present time,
suffering overwhelms joy. The entrance of the giant corporate entity of the TNC in the
unfolding story of Asia has caused a great deal of experiences - positive and negative.
Depending upon ones perspective, the phenomenon of TNCs could be called
modernization for those who benefit and coercion for those who suffer.
Human suffering, however, and the God of Justice are incompatible. It
would be an unforgivable sin to explain the cause of suffering in terms of fate. There is
some mysterious illogicality in suffering. Because of this illogicality and the innocence
of peoples suffering, there arise profound yearnings for justice and vindication.
These become important dynamics that move the people.
In reaction to these living dynamics, the antagonist rationalizes the
irrationality and injustice of suffering in order to contain or divert the peoples
movement. Such rationalization takes many different forms: myth, religious doctrine,
ideology or even scientific rationale.
The story of the Suffering Servant and its equivalents in other
religions though represents the core of the peoples experience of suffering.
Christians confess that the Suffering Servant is the Messiah who liberates the suffering
people. On this theological plane, one could affirm that the suffering of the people can
have redemptive dynamics, especially their innocent suffering.
As we seek an explanation for suffering, we must not masochistically
rationalize suffering itself; for where there is suffering, there is an irresistible will
and power to overcome it. One should also not spiritualize suffering, for it is a total
and whole experience of the body, soul and spirit. Suffering is a bodily experience - a
personal as well as communal experience that has spiritual depth. The story of the people
is their experience of striving to overcome suffering and to banish all of the structures
- cultural, social and political - that undergird suffering.
C. The Story of the People Expresses Their Vision of the Future
I would like now to move to the third affirmation: an affirmation
that the human story of the people holds a new vision for tomorrow. The peoples
story expresses the vision of a future which is not a continuation of today, but a
qualitatively new "today." The rulers, however, have made the future of their
society an extension of the present as though history were a national continuum or a
progressive stairs upon which the powerful climb.
The peoples vision of tomorrow is the real manifestation of their
fundamental aspirations over and against the dictates of preconditioned plans of the
future, such as the picture of the year 2000 envisioned by the so-called futurists.
Because of their suffering under the present historical conditions, people dream dreams
and become masters of social imagination for their tomorrow.
The Korean tale of Hong Kil-dong illustrates this dimension of the
peoples story. Hong was an alienated youth, born of a Yangban (aristocrat)
father and a concubine of low social origin. Because of his "improper" birth, he
experienced discrimination. Hong organized a peoples justice party (Hwalbindang) to
rob the rich and distribute to the poor. The tale of Hong stirred the imagination of the
common people in 19th century Korea; for in addition to a redistribution of wealth, it
included the vision of Yuldo
- a sort of picture of the peoples tomorrow - where there would
be no discrimination or exploitation of the common people: Yuldo was a just society.
We need not romanticize the popular tale of Hong Kil-dong for others,
however. The important message for our purposes today is that the vision and dream of the
peoples tomorrow is a powerful ingredient in the story of the people, kindling a
"wild" imagination that leads to transcending dynamics and a transforming
movement of history.
I recall Samuel Parmars paper wherein he said that if we are
going to understand TNCs and the reality of their power in Asia the starting point should
be a new vision of the people. Thus, this element - a vision for tomorrow - is the basis
for understanding the reality of Asian peoples.
Let me remind you of the story of Jesus the Messiah, who lived among
the Galilean people and who interjected into the story of the people the powerful vision
of the Messianic Kingdom of shalom, justice and koinonia as powerful
transforming dynamics in human history. In this Messianic Kingdom, all of the people are
resurrected bodily and enjoy koinonia, justice and shalom under the
leadership of the Suffering Servant who has won the decisive battle against the Leviathan.
We see, therefore, that the story of the people is intertwined with the
religious story that the people believe in. We also see that the dimension of the future
enters into the drama and creates transcendent or transforming dynamics to break open the
closed and limited experience of the present life for an unfolding story of tomorrow.
The World Council of Churches (WCC) recently established some signposts
to the Messianic Kingdom through its focus on JPSS - Just, Participatory and Sustainable
Society. These social goals, however helpful they maybe, should be interpreted as the
predicate of the Messianic vision in the context of the peoples story in Asia.
II. People Toil under the Power of the Giant Corpus Called TNC
We have set the context to tell the story of the people toiling under
the giant corporate power called TNC. Now we are proposing to understand the TNC as a new
configuration of power in world history. What this means is that we should understand the
TNC in broad political terms in which are integrated its socio-economic, political and
cultural dimensions. Thus, the TNC is a giant power in the story of the people.
One of the major concerns about the TNC is its enormous power which
disrupts the political life of the people. Some argue that the TNC is the engine of the
military-industrial complex, which forms the technocracy. Technocracy is a social system
in which technocrats and believers in science and technology form the dominant force in
society and seek to solve all social and human problems through its use. What this means
is that technocracy is a new system of politics where the political life of the people can
be limited in relation to technology. The fundamental problem is that the participatory
process is more and more curtailed through technocratic politics. Not only is political
control over the TNC difficult because of its enormous power, but most governments are
adopting their mode of operation based on corporations, especially on TNCs, where the sole
aim is to control all factors in society for a designated goal: profit or increased power.
The TNC is also difficult to control because it does not have a "political
constituency" in a liberal democratic sense, although it exercises power politically
and internationally as if it were a "sovereign state."
The political impact of the TNC in the Third World is very alarming.
Its own political power is overwhelming when compared to national governments, even when
disregarding the political backing of its home government. The TNC, once deeply
entrenched, can decidedly affect the national economy and can endanger national security.
Furthermore, the TNC in its home country (for example, the United States) acts under a
degree of legal control and popular restrictions; but when it moves to Third World
countries (they say "soft states"), it behaves like a lion in a jungle with no
respect for the national laws of the host country. Rather, it uses political power to
legislate laws to suit itself; and when laws are cumbersome, it uses illicit means, such
as bribery and blackmail. For awhile, the U.S. Senate was very concerned about this kind
of behavior exhibited by U.S.based TNCs.
Today TNCs act in the international arena as independent political
agents, accountable to no nation in a traditional sense. This is the reason why they are
called transnational corporations. The TNC is a "stateless state" with no
popular constituency. It has its own foreign policy and influences major international
issues, from war and peace to pollution.
What is the nature of this power, and what is its source of power? The
TNC is a new Leviathan, which is beyond the grasp of existing political analytical tools.
It is a giant social corpus that has control over science and technology, that dominates
the organizational process of global society, that commands the best information and, most
of all, that controls the productive system of nearly all nations, dominating the
production of items from baby food to oil. (We have described the TNC, however, as a blind
man would describe an elephant, that is, with only a partial picture of the elephant.)
The nature of TNC power is power without check; it is power in danger
of becoming an absolute power in a relative sense, not in a traditional sense. No
peoples power can control the TNC. This creates an unequal relationship in which the
TNC is powerful and the people are powerless. The suffering of the people is fundamentally
their powerlessness over their own destiny. TNC politics nullify political self-assertion,
peoples participation and their vision for an alternative political life. Thus, the
TNC inhibits political development in Third World nations.
When I try to analyze power, it helps me to approach the TNC in a
comprehensive manner because power is a concrete reality when exercised. Also, power is
comprehensive. Power is not merely a physical force: it requires organization; it involves
science, technology, language, legitimacy and moral character; it involves spiritual,
religious and physical character. Whatever means one person uses to push another person,
he or she is exercising power. It is an influence, a force. Here, I understand this power
as the antagonist in the drama of the people; thus, the structure of history is the story
of the people as protagonists. They are the storytellers, the story creators, they make
history. But the power is the antagonist preventing the unfolding of their stories. People
try to go to Yuldo, but the power blocks their way.
Therefore, the problem of the people, their problem of suffering, can
be described as the problem of powerlessness. We suffer because of powerlessness. Once the
Asahan Dam has been built (the huge dam that was built in Sumatra, Indonesia, displacing
many people and disrupting the environment), what can we do? We can do very little. It is
part of our life. Jam not saying that we must accept defeatism. I have personally
experienced recently that the understanding of human history in a very optimistic and,
even sometimes, triumphant way is a betrayal of the actual reality of the people. The fact
of powerlessness must be taken very seriously and so too must the power of TNCs.
What is the nature of this power, however? I am going to give a very
simple analysis. The power of TNCs is, in the first place, a new organizahon and social
existence, which we call a technocracy. "Technocracy" is broken down into two
parts: "techno" and "cracy"; "cracy" is power. Techno-cracy
is the power of technology and science. I try to describe TNCs as technocracy because
science and technology have acquired new characteristics.
Brzezinski is famous for founding the Trilateral Commission and for
being U.S. security advisor to former President Carter. He has written a small book called
Between Two Ages. In that book, he tries to describe how science and technology are
transforming the whole world organization. He says that "global village" is a
misnomer: it is not "global village"; it is "global city."
Even if you are living in a rural area, you are living in the city
because, Brzezinski says, satellites go around the globe constantly taking pictures. It is
effective. The rural villagers do not know about them, but satellites constantly take
pictures, and somebody does something with those pictures. This will eventually affect the
villagers; for even though the pictures have not directly reached the village yet, they
will affect what is going to happen in that particular place.
In other words, he is saying that Third World political leaders have no
possibility of imagining what is happening in the world - science and technology, its
organization, computers, communication - whatsoever. When I read this kind of information,
I feel threatened. The other day I was reading Time magazine and learned that there
is a satellite that takes pictures in such detail that even a cars license plate can
I do not want to be dramatic about this, but somehow there is a newness
about this science and technology which we cannot completely grasp at this time. That is
the reason why I try to understand the power of TNCs as technocracy because the TNC as a
corporate organism is an engine or agency which promotes science and technology and
utilizes it to affect our lives in their totality. It has an organizational principle
which provides social structure in a certain way. It creates certain values. It determines
what we should like and what we should not like.
Technocracy is a system of society composed of the believers and
holders of science and technology. Believers means those who believe that all human
problems can be solved through scientific and technological processes. These believers
take control of power in a given society and carry out their vision for society. We then
call this society a technocracy.
This technocracy has three components. The first is, of course, the
TNC, the economic corporate organization, which is the engine of technocracy. Secondly, it
has a government, which is increasingly organized in a technocratic manner. Decision
making is also increasingly dependent upon technocratic processes, and technocracy has its
inherent dynamics which affect the politics of a given society. (In other words, I raise
the question of whether the technocracy, when it takes over the government, is not making
democratic participation inherently impossible. This is a serious question that we must
ask. Is not democratic participation ruled out?) The third component is the military. This
particular component is very important be-cause here we begin to explain the
militarization of our societies.
In about 1960, American sociologists created a doctrine. It was the
ideology of the military as a modernizer or as a modernizing elite. Particularly in the
Third World, the military is the crude translator of technocratic dynamics in this kind of
environment. Therefore, inevitably, the basic problem common to our Third World societies
is that the TNC presence, the government and the military are organized into a
technocracy, not merely in terms of a political alliance, but by the inner logic of the
power of TNCs. In other words, there is a basic integration of our societies through the
functioning of the technocracy. This is being controlled, of course, by the TNCs.
When I say that TNCs have this magnitude of power and when I call TNCs
a sovereign power, this also means that they have no accountability to any nation or
people. In other words, this is a power which has no possibility of accountability. Maybe
I am stating the case too strongly, but I want to make this point because we have the
assumption that we can control technocracy.
The U.S. government, for example, somehow has wanted to control
technocracy; and if we have a peoples organization with so many people organized, we
believe that somehow we can control it. Thus, there is a basic assumption that we can
control TNCs, but we are not certain about the "controllability" of TNCs. In
other words, speaking somewhat theologically, is not technocracy a kind of absolute power,
not in moralistic terms, but in terms of its own dynamics? Because no one can have power
over and against the power of technology, therefore, technocracy is a power beyond
control, that is, it has a certain absolute character.
Secondly, we may describe the power of technocracy as a new Leviathan,
a new form of sovereign state. To explain its nature, technocracy uses science and
technology and, therefore, is by definition extremely rational and logical, even
mathematical. It uses mathematical logic as a way to extend its power. The computer is
also mathematical; it is organized in mathematical themes and complex ways, and according
to these themes, technology is created and implemented. Thus, the basic controlling
mechanism is mathematical. It is a very puzzling fact, however, that the power of TNCs,
whkh is supposed to be so rational, is, in fact, so irrational and cynical. I was rather
surprised during our sharing of national reports to discover that TNCs, which are known to
exploit people in a very rational and skillful way, also try to lie and cheat. In other
words, what I am trying to say is that the basic character of TNCs as a power is cynical
and very irrational. When they are not controlled, they become like lions in a jungle. I
see this as a new Leviathan.
III. Resources of the People over the Power of TNCs
The stories of the people are told in terms of their suffering and
their mastery over their own language, body and the future. For example, such storytelling
is not merely to communicate ones experience to others. To tell ones own story
is to be in charge of ones own language, ones own body, and, therefore, of
ones own destiny, the future. Thus, in the act of telling their story, the people
have already begun to exercise power. It is important, therefore, that people speak and
tell their story. I think this is one way in which we can begin to speak about and deal
with TNCs and the suffering they have caused. As we work out how to tell the story louder,
deeper and in more moving and persuasive ways, we can deal concretely with TNCs.
A second resource is somatic strength, bodily strength. I do not mean
force, although, of course, force is important, but rather I am speaking of the bodily
strength we feel when we experience history as a community or as a human body. Certain
dynamics emerge in our bodies because of our perception and experience. In other words, we
have to move; we cannot sit down all the time. This is fundamental. It is not just a
physical movement; this is a movement of action, an act; it is a bodily movement. We can
say it is a form of historical praxis. Community organization may be an example of the
bodily act. Politics by the people, of the people, is a bodily act.
Thirdly, I want to talk about social imagination and give one example
of this. In Korea, the March 1 Independence Movement of 1919 is regarded as the pivotal
experience in Korean history. A study of this movement shows that many people - ordinary
people - participated, even though they were not really very well organized in modern
political terms. We could say that they just acted spontaneously. Many scientists and
organizers believe that this kind of spontaneous act is not useful in political struggles,
which they feel must be tightly organized and controlled, but I must say this: the
language that emerged at that time was clearly some kind of
apocalyptic-language-of-the-indigenous-kind. The people were feeling apathetic and
dispossessed; they were discouraged and were not acting. Somehow, however, this
apocalyptic language got into their bodies; they suddenly became militant; they suddenly
changed. This phenomenon is very difficult to explain. In other word& the resources of
social imagination - the whole world is going to fall and the new world is going to come -
this kind of social imagination in apocalyptic language gives tremendous power and is a
Fourth, I would like to mention the spiritual strength of the people or
the mobilization of religious faiths in Asia. I think this aspect of our concern, even in
a discussion among Christians, is somehow much neglected or is sometimes underplayed or
distorted. The story of the people is a spiritual drama. Some social scientists define the
well-being of the people only in terms of the calories that make one physically healthy or
the goods that satisfy ones material needs, but this is a very cheap view of human
development. The story of the people contains an abundant life of spiritual struggle and
meaning. The spiritual strength of the people, in particular, is the very power that makes
them survive and strive for tomorrow. Therefore, the mobilization of our religious
strength is most important in terms of the resources of the people to deal with and to
fight the power of TNCs.
Finally, what I call the koinonia of the people is our abiding
resource. We talk about the solidarity of the people, but I would rather use this term, koinonia,
because it is a concrete experience of the people, like the koinonia we have
felt here. I think this experience, even a brief time of being together, gives us
tremendous resources and generates immeasurable amounts of energy. It is very difficult to
define koinonia precisely; but among the people, koinonia is a very
important resource and power to deal with many different and difficult situations. Just to
give you one example: How to deal with the question of defeat in a concrete situation is a
very important issue in our struggles. We do not always have victories. Thus, koinonia is
an important resource that enables us to deal with defeat, to deal with the situation of
not being able to understand, to deal with the sense of powerlessness. Koinonia includes
the characteristics of participation and sharing. The peoples language and body,
their role as gardeners and their spirit form a sort of paradoxical power of the
powerless. This is qualitatively different from the arbitrary, brute force of the ruling
power: it is the power of truth, love, peace and justice; it is the power of resistance
against injustice; it is the power of brotherhood and solidarity of the people, full of
The power of the people emerges when they have the solidarity of koinonia
among themselves. Their power is also their vision of their destiny; for when the
people move for tomorrow, their power rises. This kind of peoples power not only
counterbalances brute force, but it also challenges the nature and legitimacy of corporate
power, such as the TNC. The reality of the peoples power has some disturbing
effects, however, because there is no structural continuity between the power of the
people and the power of the powerful. The former exposes the irrationality and injustice
of the latter, thus, beginning the transformation of the power of the giant corpus. The
true human story of the people can then be created, which may be called "humanization
by the people."
Victory is not inherent in the story of the people, for no power can be
organized against the giant corporate power on its level. Victory is an impossibility.
Therefore,, the story of the suffering people has to be connected with the victorious
story of the historical miracle. Historical transformation is not achieved as the inherent
logic of history, but the suffering of the people brings about transformation, such as the
Ultimum Novum (New Tomorrow).
The first point pertinent to this discussion is the politics of the
Messiah. Now the term "messianic" is very dangerous to use: very dangerous in
the sense that "messianic" is sometimes associated with national chauvinism or
the TNC as the source of salvation, just as nationalism used in terms of the nation-state
is equally alarming. Messianism used in association with power- realities, like the TNC,
is demonic, satanic. It is not truly messianic because in Christian language the Messiah
is the Suffering Servant - the most adequate image of the Messiah in my opinion.
Servanthood is the true form of the Messiah. Not only is the Suffering Servant against the
power of injustice, but through the power of the Suffering Servant, the ontological status
of the power is negated. In other words, power is not supposed to exist in human life. The
arbitrary use of power does not have a place in the story of the people. But it is there.
It is an inevitable fact; it cannot be justified; it can never be explained.
This Suffering Servant is also a leader; He is supposed to save
everybody, not with his power, but through His suffering. It is here that we witness
Messianic koinonia with the people in which the Messiah has solidarity or koinonia
with the people who are suffering. It is here that the peoples politics come
into play and transform history, the power-reality, in the most fundamental way. This is
what I call the Archimedean point, the point from which we begin to think about the
reality of power. Thus, this fight against TNCs is not a question of whether we have a
little bit of control over TNCs and make them a little more human; rather, it is to
fundamentally transform their tendency to hold power.
Secondly, in the Christian understanding, the Messiah is of the people,
and the people are of the Messiah. In other words, the identity of the people and the
Messiah are united in the Suffering Servant. In the Christian understanding, therefore,
the first point of solidarity is in suffering. Solidarity should be like love, the
solidarity of love, the solidarity of struggle in a concrete sense. Here the implications
are related to my earlier story about my woman friend who had been working with the
laborers, who had a basis from which to participate when she shared their suffering. I
think this Messianic koinonia with the suffering of people gives us a kind of
theological foundation from which to delve into the stories of the people.
The third point relates to the cross and resurrection of the Messiah
with the people. We assume in our thinking that somehow social transformation and society
after the transformation is somehow explainable; the transition is somehow rationally
explainable; there is some theoretical linkage between the old and the new societies. On
the basis of this assumption, therefore, you can program the results. I question this
assumption. If we have this kind of assumption, we will fall again into a kind of
situation where the theory is not really a good theory if the transition is not good; the
theory is not working. In other words, with our theoretical foundation gone, we cannot
In the Christian faith, we never talk about the process of
cross-suffering and the victory over death as a continuum. But we believe in the
resurrection. For me, the resurrection is the overcoming of suffering, the overcoming of
death which is the ultimate destiny of suffering. This death, the cross and the
resurrection provide a structural understanding of the story of the people. However, this
story is, in a way, fundamentally disjunctive in that the story of suffering cannot easily
be connected to the story of resurrection.
Finally, the Messianic vision has two components. One component
involves the resurrection of the bodily people. The resurrection of the body is important.
We do not believe in immortality of the soul, and we do not believe that bodily
resurrection takes place only at the end of the world when people get up and begin to tell
their past stories. The resurrection takes place and its bodily movement begins here and
When the body is hit by a hammer, it resists. You have a pain in your
body because you react very violently. That is the pain; you do not feel pain if you do
not react. When you have been beaten up, you feel pain at first. After four or five
rounds, however, you do not have pain; the body does not react. When the body reacts, it
is a sign of life. In other words, this bodily resurrection should not be understood as an
abstract idea. This physical body that we possess is a spiritual body; there is no other
body besides this one.
A second dimension of the Messianic vision includes shalom, koinonia
and prosperity. Some people might question prosperity, but true prosperity must be
talked about by the people. Why not prosperity? Only justice? I do not want justice
without prosperity. Give me land, abundance - something concrete - something to eat and
enjoy. I do not want freedom only; that is too abstract. I do not want only koinonia; there
should be a good life. Some people will say that you should be ascetic and that
materialistic things are bad - not to the people! We must have this kind of concrete
vision of prosperity.
As the people go forward to the Messianic Kingdom of shalom,
koinonia, justice and prosperity, we can have hope. In this way, I hope we as
Christians can participate in the story of the people.
In conclusion, I would like to make one statement: The basic unit of
Christian praxis is koinonia. This koinonia is acting with Messianic
conviction, vision and style in the story of the people where the battle is going on
between power and powerless people. This is my vision - perhaps inadequate - about how to
participate in the struggle of the people against the power of TNCs.