North Korea Table of Contents
P'yongyang's Arch of Triumph, unveiled in April 1982,
on the site of Kim Il Sung's 1945 speech celebrating national
Courtesy Democratic People's Republic of Korea Mission to the United Nations
Preparations in Kim Il Sung Square, P'yongyang, for the
eightieth birthday celebration of Kim Il Sung, April 1992
Courtesy Tracy Woodward
Marxism did not present a political model for achieving socialism, only an opaque set of prescriptions. This political vacuum opened the way for the development of an indigenous political culture (see Political Ideology: The Role of Chuch'e, ch. 4). The strongest foreign influence on North Korea's leadership has been the Chinese communist model. Like Mao Zedong, Kim Il Sung has been very much a mass line leader, making frequent visits to factories and the countryside, sending cadres down to local levels to help policy implementation and to solicit local opinion, requiring small-group political study and so-called criticism and self-criticism, using periodic campaigns to mobilize people for production or education, and encouraging soldiers to engage in production in good "people's army" fashion.
The North Korean political system also differs in many respects from China and the former Soviet Union. The symbol of the KWP is a hammer and sickle with a superimposed writing brush, symbolizing the "three-class alliance" of workers, peasants, and intellectuals. Unlike Mao's China, the Kim regime has never excoriated intellectuals as a potential "new class" of exploiters; instead, it has followed an inclusive policy toward them, perhaps because postwar Korea was short of intellectuals and experts and because so many had left North Korea for South Korea in the 1945-50 period. For P'yongyang, the term intellectual refers to experts and technocrats, of which there are exceedingly few in North Korea. North Korea's political system is thus a mix of Marxism-Leninism, Korean nationalism, and indigenous political culture. The term that perhaps best captures this system is corporatism (see Glossary). Socialist corporatist doctrine has always preferred an organic politic to the liberal, pluralist conception: a corporeal body politic rather than a set of diverse groups and interests.
North Korea's goal of tight unity at home has produced a remarkable organicism, unprecedented in any existing communist regime. Kim Il Sung is not just the "iron-willed, ever-victorious commander," the "respected and beloved Great Leader"; he also is the "head and heart" of the body politic (even "the supreme brain of the nation"!). The flavor of this politics can be demonstrated through quotations taken from KWP newspapers in the spring of 1981:
Kim Il Sung ... is the great father of our people....Long is the history of the word father being used as a word representing love and reverence ... expressing the unbreak-able blood ties between the people and the leader. Father. This familiar word represents our people's single heart of boundless respect and loyalty.... The love shown by the Great Leader for our people is the love of kinship. Our respected and beloved Leader is the tender-hearted father of all the people.... Love of paternity ... is the noblest ideological sentiment possessed only by our people.
His heart is a traction power attracting the hearts of all people and a centripetal force uniting them as one.... Kim Il Sung is the great sun and great man ... thanks to this great heart, national independence is firmly guaranteed.
This type of language was especially strong when the succession of Kim Jong Il was publicly announced at the Sixth Party Congress in 1980. The KWP often is referred to as the "Mother" party, the mass line is said to provide "blood ties," the leader always is "fatherly," and the country is one big "family." Kim Il Sung is said to be paternal, devoted, and benevolent, and the people presumably respond with loyalty, obedience, and mutual love.
North Korean ideology buries Marxism-Leninism under the ubiquitous, always-trumpeted chuch'e idea. By the 1970s, chuch'e had triumphed fundamentally over Marxism-Leninism as the basic ideology of the regime, but the emphases were there from the beginning. Chuch'e is the opaque core of North Korean national solipsism (see Glossary).
National solipsism expresses an omnipotent theme found in North Korean written materials: an assumption that Korea is the center of the world, radiating outward the rays of chuch'e, especially to Third World countries that are thought by the North Koreans to be ready for chuch'e. The world tends toward Korea, with all eyes on Kim Il Sung. The presence of such an attitude is perhaps the most bizarre aspect of North Korea, but also one of the most noticeable. The model of ever-widening concentric circles--at the center of which is Kim Il Sung, next his family, next the guerrillas who fought with him, and then the KWP elite--is profoundly Korean and has characterized North Korea since 1946. This core circle controls everything at the top levels of the regime. The core moves outward and downward concentrically to encompass other elements of the population and provides the glue holding the system together. As the penumbra of workers and peasants is reached, trust gives way to control on a bureaucratic basis and to a mixture of normative and remunerative incentives. Nonetheless, the family remains the model for societal organization. An outer circle distinguishes the Korean from the foreign, a reflection of the extraordinary ethnic and linguistic unity of Koreans and Korea's history of exclusionism. Yet the circle keeps on expanding, as if to encompass foreigners under the mantle of Kim and his chuch'e idea.
Data as of June 1993
North Korea Table of Contents